Understanding the Misunderstood

Understanding the         Misunderstood

                                       by Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

“Humans are hard-wired for social connection,” is a quote we hear often, especially these days. Yet, most people struggle to maintain meaningful relationships in their lives. I believe that in our culture even the best of us have been gradually influenced by the zeitgeist of self-centeredness and entitlement that has almost come to define US culture in some circles; therefore making meaningful connection with others more challenging due to our intolerance of human shortcomings and irregularities.

I am growing weary of seeing Facebook posts advising me to avoid “toxic people” or anyone who does not lift me up. What hubris. The joy that I have been given in my life was meant to lift and heal others who are struggling (they often appear “toxic”).

This article is an attempt to increase understanding and acceptance of everyone’s variations on “normal” behavior. We can all enjoy more close connections with people through a little more understanding and acceptance of our differences in perception.

Most people have some hidden characteristics, usually related to their individual brain functioning, which make them a mystery. Sometimes their mysterious ways are very frustrating. This article seeks to bring some understanding of how and why people function in mysterious, often frustrating ways.

There are numerous ways in which brains function differently. One is the fact that each person’s brain has strengths and weaknesses. One brain area functions stronger or weaker than another. 

We tend to focus on IQ, or how “smart” a person is in an academic sense; but intelligence comes in varied forms. One form is emotional intelligence. Some people are highly aware of subtle emotional cues given off by others, and almost intuitively know how to respond to others emotionally. However, most people really don’t have high emotional intelligence. The emotional center of the brain (nucleus accumbens) regulates how intensely we feel our emotions, how much we pay attention to them, and the degree to which we can accurately interpret our own and other people’s emotions. So if it is well-developed and balanced with the reasoning part of our brain (frontal cortex) we can regulate and respond to emotional stimulation appropriately. If not, we might under-react or over-react to emotional stimulation.

How well a person’s frontal lobe is developed can determine how well they make logical judgements. This part of our brains can be under-developed well into our 20’s, making us vulnerable to poor choices in life. Alcohol and other drugs also cause at least temporary impairment of the frontal lobe.

Intuition is another individual difference in brain functioning. Intuition is the ability to combine very subtle cues from our environment to make proper judgements about what is happening around us. People who are more intuitive have a larger corpus callosum, a nerve bundle that connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Sometimes this ability is interpreted as “psychic” because intuitive people often seem to know what is going to happen in the future. This is actually just highly informed predictions based on subtle environmental cues combined with judgement. Most people ignore intuition, so might seem clueless, and make bad choices for their future.

Another extremely puzzling difference in some people’s brain functioning is an extreme inability to properly interpret, respond to, and process emotional cues from others and even within oneself. When combined with an inability to communicate effectively, people are displaying a syndrome know as autism. The syndrome’s effects range from very mild to extreme. In it’s very mild form (formerly known as Aspergers syndrome) people usually go undiagnosed, therefore very misunderstood. While they function well in jobs and get by fairly well in some relationships these people are often seen as aloof, difficult, passive-aggressive, clueless, uncaring, or at least highly frustrating. Mild autism is far more common than anyone knows. It can be difficult to diagnose unless the individual is observed closely for weeks in a row. So, typically only friends, family, and domestic partners are impacted by the person’s autistic symptoms. Attempting an intimate relationship with mildly autistic people can be an exercise in frustration, and usually leaves both partners/spouses feeling profoundly lonely and misunderstood at times. The key to making a relationship with a mildly autistic person successful is to be patient, be yourself, calmly set boundaries in the relationship, respectfully ask for what you need in the relationship, and see and affirm their positive qualities. These people do have profoundly positive qualities. Many are literally geniuses in specific ways. Appreciate them and let them know it. They might not respond outwardly; but remember that they do have deep sensitive feelings, and need a lot of affirmation. Their feelings are usually locked inside, and they indeed report feeling somewhat imprisoned and helpless when they can’t express themselves. They can make wonderful kind, loyal friends. They often make modest progress in learning to feel and express emotions.

There are even more intense brain disorders that people might not display openly, and yet which affect their functioning in dynamic ways. These days, with proper medication, even schizophrenia can be hidden for a few people.

People who have experienced trauma, especially early in life, have difficulty in most any relationship. Their brains interpret many things as potential traumas. They might have anxiety and/or depression lurking just below the surface at all times. Some people can mask anxiety and depression masterfully. All of us have a tendency to learn to wear a mask of our choosing, depending on what we think is expected or will get us the best results in our lives. The perkiest people you know might be suffering under the surface (not to say that there are not some genuinely joyful people). That is why people are often so completely baffled when someone with whom they think they are familiar commits suicide. It is best to just remember that many people are suffering silently, and to treat them accordingly (i.e. be patient). Be as joyful as you can be around everyone; even the most difficult people. And, take advantage of every opportunity people give you to patiently, empathically listen to them without openly trying to “cheer them up” or give them advice.

There are many reasons why people might end up with a defensive stance in life. Remember that they are defending against some pain inside of themselves. They might have arrived at a defensive place due to real reasons to be defensive. Be kind.

Numerous chemical imbalances are common. A chemical imbalance of any type can cause behavioral problems. Brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine are often imbalanced and can cause perceptual and behavioral abnormalities. Metabolic imbalances are common. Simple blood sugar imbalances can cause abnormal behaviors.

The bottom line is, we never really know what is going on in a person’s life in their physiology, their background, or in their environment. It brings to mind that advice so often heard: “Never take anything personally.” And, it also bears repeating: Be patient; be kind; be caring, no matter what. It will make you a lot happier and fulfilled. You have nothing to lose, but everything to gain.

                     Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.            October 8, 2020

The Privileged Ones

The Privileged Ones

The Privileged Ones

                                              Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

If you are surviving a life-threatening illness (or some other dire circumstance in life), you are one of the privileged ones. We who keep surviving, many of us joyfully, through great challenges are tapping into a power in the universe which many people never get to experience. Having that power surrounding and flowing through our lives is a rare privilege.

Though many years ago I adjusted to and accepted my lifetime of numerous life-threatening physical challenges, I naturally questioned why I had to go through this 67 years of struggle with conditions that could snuff out my happy life at any second. One day this past year I was meditating and spontaneously the thought, “Thank you for my amazing life,”came into my consciousness. It was a thought that just occurred through no effort of my own to be “positive” or grateful. It was a spontaneous thought. Ever since then I have been genuinely grateful for the totality of the 67 years of struggle, pain, and remarkable miraculous recoveries that I have experienced in finding ways to overcome or at least survive the harsh challenges that have occurred throughout my life despite having lived a temperate (healthy) life style my entire life.

To be fair, I must admit that my loving family provided a life that was privileged in many other ways as well. Their faith was tenaciously strong, I did live in exotic locales with their support, and life-enhancing experiences like travel and education.  At the same time, we all know that all the beauty in life can seem unfulfilling and like a mockery when you are struggling to survive in even the most beautiful circumstances. Yet, the power that has been sustaining me has kept me experiencing life on a different plane than those around me who experienced the same and even more privileges without any struggles. 

If you are struggling, surviving, and still at least somewhat joyful, you are experiencing a privilege like no other. A rare power flows in, around, and through you. The power that flows to and through you is also flowing through you to other people in the world. You are contributing to Hope (a most valuable quality, right now) in the universal consciousness. You can transmit power, hope and healing to others who  may be struggling with something, just by your showing up and living every day.

Demonstrate to others the power that heals, sustains and comforts those who are in darkness and sorrow. Live very day of your life grateful . . . joyful.

Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.,              August 9, 2020

To The “Vulnerable”

To The “Vulnerable”

                                                  To The “Vulnerable”

                                              Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

Those of us who are fighting for our lives every day are being reminded almost hourly by the media that we are highly “vulnerable” to death from the latest pandemic. We need to be careful not to internalize this message, forgetting that we can and will survive this one also. We have many resources for coping with chronic illness. Some resources are practical measures like good nutrition, medical management, personal distancing, face coverings, etc. Some resources are spiritual such as meditation, prayer, and personal supportive relationships.

Another caution is that we need to be able to focus on how worthy we are of taking every precaution we can to be as healthy as possible. There is a vocal minority calling for  total “freedom” to not take any precautions like personal distancing and the wearing of face coverings. This gives the message that these people don’t care about protecting us; and indeed they don’t.

The philosophy behind this call to “freedom” to protect their “liberties” is actually based on the philosophy of Survival of the Fittest (a term coined by biologist Charles Darwin to describe species that have survived through the centuries after others died off). The influenza pandemic of 1918 was ended using this method of infection control. Only the very healthy survived that pandemic. 500 million people were infected worldwide, and 50 million died. The influenza virus simply ran out of fuel. All of the most vulnerable had succumbed to it, and only the healthy immune population survived.

The world did not have the same resources and knowledge of infection control that we have today; but now, those of us who may have compromised health can survive a pandemic by relatively simple measures like distancing and face coverings, in addition to the common sense healthy practices like proper nutrition.

Try not to be too disappointed by the paranoid few who think that someone is trying to take away their liberties, and who are willing to sacrifice people with chronic health conditions in order to reach “herd immunity.” They are simply people whose dark side (we all have one) has taken over to some degree under the deep stress they are feeling from this pandemic. Any of us are capable of doing crazy things under enough of the right kinds of stress.

Those of us who are being referred to as the “vulnerable” ones need to take the best care of ourselves that we can, and keep a very appreciative attitude toward ourselves for our valiant battle against chronic illness. Keep stress to a minimum (forgive, meditate, pray, serve others) move on with a positive life being your best self!  

Just remember, YOU are the “fittest” due to your ability to survive all that you have been through. You are tough and resilient.

               Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.,              May 21, 2020

Seeing Beyond the Surface

Seeing Beyond the Surface

                                            Seeing Beyond the Surface

                                              Christopher Knippers Ph.D.

The greatest lesson I have learned in life is to see beyond the surface. Beyond the surface of circumstances, beyond the surface of people, even beyond the surface of my physical environment. 

My favorite activity is snorkeling. No matter what the water looks like on the surface, it is much more magical beyond the surface: Teaming with vibrant life, activity, mystery, and occasionally treasure . There is a whole exciting world beyond the surface.

I have been in jobs that were, on the surface, very stressful and unfulfilling. Jobs which I quite frankly felt were beneath my abilities and already-developed potentials; yet something that I detected just beyond the surface of those situations kept me going to work everyday instead of moving on. In one particular case, I just kept seeing something beyond what was actually going on in the immediate circumstances of that workplace and its extremely difficult personalities. Then one day while on vacation in Hawaii trying to de-stress, I received a call from my boss who had been challenging to work with. She said the owners of the corporation had told her to call me and offer me her job. At first, I thought this was one of her bizarre jokes; but I discovered she was quite serious and not at all too happy about having to make the call. That turned out to be a dynamic, fulfilling job in which I had to fulfill my potential and much more, receiving praise from not only the owners of the corporation but everyone with whom I worked. The company thrived like never before under my leadership; and due to relationships I developed, partnerships were forged with people with whom the corporation had been trying to partner for years. Beyond the surface of that job was a treasure.

Likewise, I have been in personal relationships that were difficult to say the least. People who, on the surface, were  overly dramatic, demanding, and even cruel at times. But I always remembered what my psychologist, Claire Etheridge told me when I was 30 years old: “Christopher, always look beyond the surface of what a difficult person is presenting, and find the love they possess inside. Nearly everyone has a loving nature often hidden deep within them. Their defenses are hiding it; but when you see it, and speak to it, the loving nature will come out.” 

Well that sounded like “woo woo” pop psychology to me, but I had nothing to lose. I was in difficult relationships I could not escape at the time. I tried it the next time I felt intimidated and threatened by an authority in my life. I looked closely into the person’s eyes during a very difficult conversation in which I felt judged, and criticized. I imagined the person’s loving nature and remembered the few times I had witnessed a softer side of him. I could actually detect another person inside his defensive nature. I spoke softly in response to his harsh tone, and told him the truth that I saw that he is a good, caring person. He stopped short. His tone softened. We communicated clearly and productively and reached full agreement on an emotionally-charged  controversial issue. I had to repeat this type of process with him only a few more times throughout the many more years of our relationship. He was healed of much of his anxiety and despair through me being able to see and bring forth his more loving confident side. I was healed by being able to see past the characteristics in him that were intimidating to me.

I have used the approach of looking beyond the person’s defensive surface and finding their love in other very significant relationships. New life and miracles have occurred in both our lives as a result. 

Circumstances in my life, as in anyone else’s life, often appear bleak. I have to remember to look beyond the surface of what I am currently experiencing. This always involves some degree of contemplation, or meditation. I always receive some reward for my effort. 

This morning, I was reflecting on how stagnant my life seemed. Then my senses were hit with the strong fragrance of the roses in another room my sister had given to me from her garden the day before. Immediately, it occurred to me that the roses symbolized things in my life that were beautiful though not visible. The fragrance symbolized the evidence of unseen beauty in my life. I just had to tune in and become aware of it. 

On the surface life can look unremarkable, or even dismal. But, looking beyond the surface of life, perhaps through brief meditation, can reveal a whole new world, much like the world that is revealed just below the surface of the sea. 

I encourage you to look beyond the surface of whatever or whoever is difficult for you (including yourself), and respond to the situation or person as if you see the good that is beyond the surface; not the difficulty that is on the surface. Relationships will develop in more positive ways as you consistently acknowledge the good that you begin to see in people. Fulfillment will develop in your life as you acknowledge the good in yourself, in others, and the beauty beyond your circumstances.

Your life and the people in it have much hidden beauty for you to discover.

Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.           April 26, 2020

Coping With Crisis

                                                   Coping in a Crisis

                                             Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

With the threat of a mysterious virus looming over the world, and with the added burdens of financial crisis for some and a loss of life purpose for others there is a rare type of stress in the world consciousness at present. Stress can permeate the very atmosphere of the world when millions of minds are focussed on crisis. Even the healthy person with financial security and purposeful activity is affected by what is in the general consciousness of the population all around them. That much stress in a society (in this case the entire world) has a profound effect on everyone’s mind and body, no matter what that person’s personal situation. So everyone is dealing with some significant level of internal if not external stress. Some people more than others. It is important for you to protect yourself from the ravages of this atmospheric stress. Further, it is most important to be a force of hope and calm as much as possible.

I am no financial expert, and presently no one has the exact medical remedy for the virus that threatens the world; however a large part of our personal battles have to do with our perspectives and attitudes which are even key factors in boosting our immune system (both physical and mental Immune systems). I do have a great deal of training, personal experience, and expertise in how to have healthy perspectives and attitudes to help us through this crisis with which we are all having to deal right now. 

I have witnessed and experienced some miraculous positive results from the practice of some key principles in overcoming a time of crisis.  Here are some verified effective steps you can take to increase your ability to remain as healthy as you can be at this point:

  1. Remember your past experiences in dealing with crisis. Most adults over 30 have faced times when they saw no way out of a crisis, but they made it somehow. Remember those times and know that you can make it out of this crisis, also. You don’t have to see the answer now, just know that there are answers and solutions that can help you; then be determined to have faith that you will find those answers or that those solutions will find you.
  2. Talk to someone you trust about your feelings. Talk to someone who will listen, and who will not be a negative influence. No one needs to be a Suzy Sunshine right now, but at least avoid gloom and doom conversations about all the negative things that could possibly happen. 
  3. Maintain messages of Hope in your mind. Repeat affirmations. For example: “I will get through this.” “All is working out well.” “There are solutions.”                                                          Be careful what you allow your mind to be filled with. The media can sensationalize the negative. Be careful how much of this you absorb. While we all want to be well-informed, don’t make this crisis the main thing you focus on. Focus on hope.
  4. Make sure you practice your own spiritual principles of comfort, hope and power. If you don’t have a current belief system, certainly explore a spiritual philosophy that you can practice. You may know someone who has spiritual practices that work well for them. Seek them out. Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that people who have faith in a Higher Power are significantly more resilient in a crisis than those of little faith. It is during times of crisis that are not explained in current scientific knowledge that Faith becomes so extremely useful.
  5. Meditate. Sit quietly for at least 10 minutes a day, take some deep slow breaths while telling yourself that you are relaxed. Notice the muscles of your body relaxing from head to toe. Picture a peaceful place in detail, and continue telling yourself a positive affirmation such as “All is well.” You can do this throughout the day at intervals as often as you wish. Your body and your mind will be significantly healthier. You immune system will strengthen with every meditation session.

      Nature can be a meditation. Focus on the beauty and wonder of nature.

  1. Boost your immune system. Large doses of vitamin C, the B vitamins, and vitamin D (immune system boosting formulas can be purchased over the counter) help boost your immune system. Exercise is also an immune system booster. With daily meditation, exercise, a healthy diet, and vitamin supplementation, you will boost you immune system. Avoid the immune system suppressants such as alcohol, negative thinking, inactivity.
  2. Maintain healthy supportive relationships. Reach out in any way possible to the important people in your life. If you have become strained in family or friend relationships, reach out anyway. Be kind in any “physically distant” encounters you may have by giving a smile and a hello.

      In practicing healthy attitudes and perspectives in life, you will be a dynamic force of healing in the world by the mental and spiritual energy that you are adding to the atmosphere of the universe. Remember that your thoughts and attitudes travel through the universe much like electrical energy that other people receive. (This is actually proven in scientific labs.) The solution does exist, and the more you add hope and confidence to the general mood of the universe, the closer we will be to finding victory over crisis.

Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.               April 11, 2020

Relationships 101

Relationships 101

                                         Relationships 101

                                    Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

Relationships can be healing or harmful. It is often up to you how they will go, no matter who you are dealing with.

There are some simple principles of success to remember in your relationships with family, friends, colleagues, your spouse, your children, strangers with whom you interact; and most importantly in your relationship with yourself. Following these principles will change your life dynamically.

Respect is the foundation of successful relationships. We are all so different in our genetics, our perspectives, our experiences, our strengths, our weaknesses. We cannot possibly understand everyone in our lives. We don’t have to understand everyone; even our closest relationships. We can respect and actually appreciate the differences.

Respect is simply remembering that everyone needs to be treated with caring, nonjudgmental attitudes and responses. Caring applies even when the person is being disrespectful towards you. Reacting to disrespect with defensiveness, outrage or counter-attack is simply not effective unless you want to appear intimidating and you want them to fear you. Then, out of fear, they might be more careful  how they treat you, but they sure won’t actually respect you. 

Treat your attacker with respect. They won’t be expecting it. I have applied this principle numerous times when I am being treated disrespectfully and it stuns the attacker. They always end up listening to me as I respond to their disrespect by explaining to them that they have so many wonderful qualities within themselves that I can see. Then I name the qualities I believe are in them. It halts people in their tracks when you respond with kindness and respect to their attack.

Express respect to the close relationships in your life, especially your romantic partner and children. Daily reminders of the things you admire about them is such a boost to their feelings about themselves and about life, they can begin to fulfill their potentials. They will eventually abandon their defensive behaviors, and your relationship with them can flow in positive directions.

Respecting yourself involves standing up for your own needs and desires. You can do this with respect for others even if you think that someone is not meeting your needs or is standing in the way of your goals. There is never a need to tear someone else down in the process of being assertive about what you want. Come from a place of confidence and strength at all times. 

Never, ever, ever criticize. It is totally counter-productive, and in the long run exacerbates the other person’s problem behavior. If they are acting like an idiot, it is because they need you to build them up, not put them down.

Relate to people’s human struggles rather than judging them for having problems. When someone is having a problem, the last thing they need to hear is, “You can create your own success or failure in life. Just pick yourself up and have a better attitude.” Various versions of this philosophy reigned supreme in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Many success books were written about creating your own destiny. Males were particularly vulnerable to this misguided philosophy. Later, female CEO’s picked it up and started convincing women that they should be super-stars at work, have an immaculate house, and be the best Mom in the world, all at the same time. It all sounded so good; but we found that while the basic idea of having a more positive attitude was good, it was exactly not what a person who is in the midst of a struggle needs to hear. It makes matters worse. While a person is in the midst of crisis, hearing, “You can do better,” makes them feel shame and inadequacy, not encouragement. What is being said is that you should be super-human. A totally unrealistic and unhealthy expectation. I am especially infuriated when I hear someone who happened to be blessed with perfect genetics say that everyone can achieve the perfect health that they have. 

This philosophy may even be one factor in the continuing rise of suicides in our culture, especially in middle age and older males who were over-exposed to this “be strong and fearless” philosophy. Being strong and fearless is great in theory, but it doesn’t address the human condition, and the human need to be validated for having human doubts, fears and inner conflicts. 

Emotions, even the so-called “negative” ones are meant to be a guide to us. We are meant to have them, meant to feel them, and meant to listen to the messages that they are giving us. When we allow ourselves to feel our feelings, and occasionally have a “dark” time in life, we will emerge from that place with new vitality. But if you try to instantly change the emotion, you get stuck and never learn wha that emotion came along to teach you. You will evolve from any difficult emotional state. The analogy I like is, “ride the wave” of that emotion. It will lead you to a calm shore.  Journal about your feelings. Volumes of research indicate significant personal growth from journaling.

You can help a person going through a difficult time by relating in any way you can to what they are going through. A person going through life’s challenges can benefit from someone who can relate to the struggle and be present with them while they work it out.

Relating to people’s humanness requires that you face your own inner conflicts and be open about them to the right people. Some of the world’s greatest leaders displayed both an inner strength and a vulnerability to which people could relate. Abraham Lincoln is one example of a great strong leader who could also admit his vulnerability.

There are answers to life’s struggles, but finding the answers is born out of caring human relationships with someone who can come along side you and be present with you while you seek answers.

Restraint involves recognizing that all of us have strengths and weaknesses; even you! When we recognize our own strengths and weaknesses we are much less likely to make a big deal out of other’s weaknesses (or, strengths, for that matter). It is less likely that you will give into the human tendency to want to “fix” someone else’s dysfunctional behavior. Restrain yourself from trying to fix someone else. Instead, be supportive.

Often when we are facing other people’s bad behavior, especially when it affects or impedes our goals or self-image, we can become outraged. We might want to really let someone have it or at least teach them a lesson in a kind or unkind way. Many relationships are destroyed by this. We can become so focussed on a shortcoming  someone has, until we no longer see their strengths. When this happens a relationship can become a real struggle, and the person we love can become built up in our minds as a bad person, depriving yourself and the other person of a happier life and the invaluable support that you can give each other.

The reality is, no one is perfect. You are blind to many of your own imperfections. That is human nature. In this blinded state you can become convinced that you have evolved far beyond most people, including the person you loved most.

Many people buy into a narrative that says every relationship in life needs to be happy and supportive at all times. That is simply not the reality. The best relationships have challenges a small part of the time.

Let things go that are not life and death matters. Of course never stay in an abusive relationship; but just be careful what you are calling “abusive.” Unless someone habitually tries to control or intimidate you, you are likely just dealing with someone’s annoying character flaw which may or may not change. 

When you are ready to give up on a relationship, it is time to do a careful analysis of the person’s strengths and see if they are worth you putting up with some of their weaknesses as well. Also, do a careful self-analysis. You have been overlooking your own weaknesses while focusing on theirs.

However you decide to deal with a relationship conflict speak to the person and treat them as if it was the last time you will ever interact with them again. It might well be.

Relationships are the only way we truly learn about ourselves and about our world. Have a variety of relationships, even with people who disagree with you, or who are not the kind of people with whom you would want to be close. Embrace the challenges inherent in any relationship. You can learn a great deal about yourself and life from some of the most unlikely sources.

Remember to show respect to everyone, including yourself. Relate to others rather than judging them. Use restraint in dealing with other’s shortcomings. Relationships will heal and guide you in some unexpected and marvelous ways.

            Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.,                   March 19, 2020

Plugging Into the Power Source

Plugging Into the Power Source

                                            Plugging Into the Power Source

                                                Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

We psychologists are ever searching for keys to good mental and holistic health. We always end up reworking some very ancient ideas, thousands of years old. Some clever author writes a book making it sound like a brand new breakthrough, it becomes a best-seller; and the process continues to this day. 

Some of the ideas we recycle are: In order to be healthy you must freely feel and express your emotions to a nonjudgmental person (since “nonjudgemental person” is sadly rare one generally has to pay for this); relax; be “yourself”; fulfill your potential; think positively about yourself.

When I began my psychology training in the 1970’s, the field of psychology had just recently begun to again acknowledge (after hundreds of years in the dark) the spiritual aspect of humans as being an essential part of overall psychological health. It again became OK to talk about practices such as meditation in order to help a person connect to the spiritual aspect of themselves. We were encouraged to call it “higher consciousness.” Nowadays it has been relabeled “mindfulness” (think, best-seller). 

Even though “spirituality” was acceptable to talk about in therapy, it was still not OK to talk about prayer for some reason. Perhaps it still seemed too controversial, unrealistic, or naive to academics. I do remember the words “wishful thinking” being taught in relation to prayer. But, at the same time we were also told in my Ph.D. program that we were to stop automatically labeling a patient as “schizophrenic” just because they reported that they talked to God. There had to be a few other criteria to earn the label of schizophrenic. Though back in the 1960’s people actually were sometimes labeled “schizophrenic” if they believed that they had a close relationship with God.

In the 1980’s a very skeptical physician began research into the phenomenon of prayer as a factor in people’s healing. Much to his surprise, his carefully scientifically controlled studies repeatedly yielded results showing that prayer was a significant factor in the healing of terminal illnesses. Regardless of the religion of the person praying, and regardless of whether or not the patient receiving prayer had any faith or any knowledge of the prayers there was still a significant improvement in patients receiving prayers. This research, though often replicated by other skeptics, never made much of an impression on the national psyche, and was not taught in even parochial universities (unless I was the psych professor at the time), even though the research was scientifically flawless. (I believe it was simply not popular with the religious community, nor with the skeptics.)

I, along with untold millions of people of hundreds of faith philosophies and cultures around the planet have experienced significant benefits from praying on a regular basis. You would think it would get more press; but it still does not. Perhaps most people are too intimidated by the minority of spiritual bullies in the world who openly mock and ridicule people who “believe” in something greater than themselves, and who talk to that power. Meditation, “OK”; but prayer, “naive and silly.” So, in this day of god-forbid offending someone who does not believe like you do, we academics and mental health professionals have come to believe best to just keep it to yourself and still enjoy the benefits of prayer.

I have to admit that there are zealots in every religious system who have given religion a very bad reputation with their judgement and hypocrisy. Many live opposite to the teachings of most religious figures including Jesus the Christ, whom they claim to love and worship. So, I’ll give a break to anyone who has been a victim of bad religion (a hypocritical religion that teaches a punitive as opposed to unconditionally loving god figure); and certainly abuse survivors of their church cannot be faulted for shying away from trust in a Higher Power. 

Also, I do understand those who point to how prayer has been trivialized over recent years by people such as some political or religious leaders who are caught like deer in the headlights over the horrific increase in violence. Since they have no real solutions to offer, they mindlessly say, “I offer my thoughts and prayers to the victims.” Prayer has come to be seen by some as something passive, and as a means of brushing off people who are asking for tangible help.

There are also those who preach a sort of God-as-vending-machine type of religion. Understandably, a turn-off.

But, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. At least on a deeply personal level, prayer is indeed extremely healing and helpful on numerous levels of human experience. In fact, prayer is an aspect of a personal relationship with one’s Higher Power (God, Spirit, energy force, or whatever makes sense to you). A “safe” personal relationship is what everyone is seeking: A relationship with someone who listens, genuinely cares about you, and is non-judgmental. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to experience true miracles through prayer, we have not only received a non-judgmental listener, but one with actual tangible power that often intervenes in the circumstances of our ives; and one who occasionally talks back to us (in a form of thought, not an audible voice) with life-changing wisdom. If this seems naive or quaint wishful thinking to some people, so-be-it. The reality is, prayer truly works miracles for billions of people. These billions of people are certainly more joyful than the general population (as validated and replicated in scientific research). Nothing wrong with joy.

I just heard a report that over 7 million people currently use an app that can listen carefully to what you are saying and can respond with appropriate feedback to let you know that it understood what you were saying. It offers no advice and of course cannot intervene in your life’s circumstances. It merely offers sympathetic-sounding feedback. None-the-less, this app is growing wildly in popularity. The reason you haven’t heard of it is that people are ashamed to admit that they talk openly to an artificial intelligence, and that it makes them feel better. People who use this app report feeling validated and calmer for being able to freely express themselves to a “non-judgmental friend” (a term that has become almost an oxymoron).

Volumes could be, and have been written about many aspects of “prayer”; however, right now, the only aspect of prayer I want to emphasize is the aspect that heals through developing a close personal relationship with a non-judgmental listener who also has untold power.

I highly recommend getting in touch with what you believe about a Higher Power in your life, then sitting quietly each day and begin expressing your thoughts to this Power. It will transform you, and your world.

                           Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.,  01/09/2020

The Care and Maintenance of Your Brain

The Care and Maintenance of Your Brain

Your brain is the command center for every aspect of your life. The brain maintains the whole body in an optimal state relative to the environment in order to maximize the chances of a healthy life physically, mentally, and emotionally; yet in holistic health writings (including mine) it receives the least attention of all human functions. The brain guides and directs all activities of the body, mind (cognition ), perception, and emotional experience. It sorely needs some attention in order to do its job. A heathy brain can aid in the restoration of broken physiological processes, and has a central role in helping you create a more fulfilling existence through how you perceive the environment, the activities of your life,  and through the way you process your emotions.

Step One, in caring for your brain is to feed it what it likes; and avoid feeding it what it does not like. It likes vitamin rich foods found in produce. It is particularly fond of the B vitamins. Since the fuel that it actually runs on is carbohydrates, it needs some complex carbohydrates. I know this sounds like really good news to those of us who love pasta and pastries, but too much of a good thing is never really a good thing. (There is actually no proof that the brain likes jelly fish nor anything found in jelly fish.)

Another fact is that the use of alcohol actually shrinks the brain. So lay off the booze for optimal brain functioning. And, as much as culture, politicians, and big corporations want us all to ignore decades-old research, marijuana use is also associated with decreased brain size. And, yes, “size does matter.” Looks like my ultra-conservative parents were right on these points. (However, I still doubt that I’ll go to hell for dancing.)

Step Two is to Move! (Maybe even dance.) Your brain likes aerobic exercise. So, get your heart pumping and your muscles moving as much as possible. Your brain will increase in size and function.

Step Three is to feed your brain the Information that it needs. The brain processes vast amounts of information. Too vast to be processed consciously; however, the brain does process, register, and store information on an unconscious level. This unconscious information is still directing the brain’s actions, therefore unconscious information is directing the actions of the body and emotions. That is one of many reasons why meditation is growing exponentially in popularity. It reaches the unconscious level of brain programming, so that you can reprogram any misinformation you might have taken in and stored up. Essentially letting your body, mind and emotions know that you have a lot more power than the manipulators in our culture want you to believe, and that there is really nothing to fear. With this information on your subconscious level your mind and body will relax, your blood pressure will stabilize, along with numerous other health and well-being benefits. Repeating to yourself affirmations of your worth, personal power, and well-being is also a powerful tool in programing the brain.

Some other facts that are helpful to know about the brain include the fact that aging in and of itself does not cause brain cells to “die.” You can kill cells from alcohol and other drug use, but not from just aging, eating healthfully, and exercising. Another interesting fact is that the claim, “we only use 10% of our brains” is absolutely false. We use the whole brain. Just make sure you are doing all you can to make it a healthy whole brain.

I am glad to report that the brain can regenerate. I have put mine to the test, to the extreme. The last neurosurgeon to take an up-close look at my actual exposed brain stated categorically that my brain was shot-through with rocks and bones (the tragic result of a very massive landslide in which my brain was trying to stop a boulder the size of a sofa); and that nothing could be done to fish those rock and bone fragments out. My response was to take a few days off from straining my brain (in a coma), then take an IQ test a few weeks later qualifying me for Mensa; then eventually getting a Ph.D. I do believe the brain is able to regenerate. To prove the brain’s regenerating capacity for yourself I highly recommend NOT trying to stop a boulder with your head, as I did. Instead, research has shown that learning new skills and new information helps your brain cells grow and regenerate. Do that.

May you always have the best possible life and the healthiest possible brain!

                         Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.,   11/20/2019

Recommended Reading on the Brain: The Human Brain Book (Carter, R. Et al., 2019, New York, DK Publishing)

Adversity + Joy = Power

Adversity + Joy = Power

As a person managing adversity every day of your life you have more power than you realize, especially if that adversity is a chronic physical or mental condition. If you have a chronic challenge in your life and you choose to just keep going in a positive direction in your life, you have likely been given the gift of joy. This combination of forging through adversity while accepting and maintaining joy in your life results in a power that can change the lives of others around you, can change society, and can change the world.

Power is defined as the capacity to influence others and/or the course of events. Joy is an inner spark of positive energy that has a life of its own regardless of what is going on in life. It persists even through unhappy circumstances when you are feeling a loss or disappointment. Joy still has a spark inside you and will radiate from your personality after the loss and disappointment have been resolved and you are able to feel happiness again. Happiness is a positive mood when you are celebrating gratitude for all the good things in your life, but celebrating is not possible in the face of loss; yet the inner spark of joy in your being can remain, giving you hope and a sense of peace.

I consider joy to be a “gift” because it is often of a supernatural nature. It is natural not to be joyful in the face of adversity. But people who have found this “pearl of great price” do not let it go even when they are not able to radiate happiness, and must go through that human process of grieving. There is some choice in possessing joy because you must receive the gift; and also you must be grateful for the fact that you are able to continue moving forward in your life despite the adversity. In that sense, you are choosing joy.

What many people are unaware of is the power that they possess when adversity and joy exist simultaneously within them. This coexistence of opposing forces creates an unstoppable force in the world that is not limited by the “laws of nature.” So often people are consumed with managing the adversity and feeling gratitude until they don’t realize just how powerful they are. People with physical or mental challenges get very focussed on their own survival, and miss what a powerful influence they are capable of having on others. They don’t realize that their joy in the face of adversity has created the ability to have significant influence in the lives of people, whether they know the people personally or not. They can prevent the suicide of a stranger at whom they smile on the subway. They can help thousands of people coping with a natural disaster  miles away by sincerely praying for their well-being. The mere presence of a joyful person in the same room can change the life course of anyone around them.

My favorite psychological study was conducted by Dr. Elaine Hatfield at the University of Hawaii. It profoundly illustrates the influence that we humans have on each other whether we are conscious of it or not. She had people who were strangers sit in a room silently facing away from each other for a short period of time. Those who had measured highly angry at the beginning of the silent experiment, measured happier at the end of this short time period of being in the presence of the people who had measured “happy” in the beginning. Unfortunately, the reverse was also true. The previously happy subjects had also been influenced by the angry ones and measured “angrier” after silent exposure to the angry subjects. This just illustrates the influence that we all have on each other without even knowing it. The power that exists within you as a person persisting through adversity coupled with your joy has created a powerful dynamic force beyond even the “natural” influence of human emotion on each other. Your power can actually heal; and unmanaged, it can be destructive

With great power comes great responsibility. It is up to you to manage that power and be very careful how you are using it. That is one reason it is so important for you to realize that you possess this power. It can have very positive or very negative effects on others. Your anger or fear when allowed to grow to rage or outrage can destroy as easily as your joy can heal. You must certainly feel all of the human emotions, but deal with them constructively and swiftly; then get back to the business of having a positive influence of others. For whatever reason you have been given a gift and it is your responsibility to use it wisely. 

You cannot afford to become caught up in the handwringing or rage of a society consumed with their fears of politicians, “bad people,” or anyone who disagrees with their perspective. Ignore those social media posts, resist the temptation to cheer a journalist or leader who points out all the fearful things in the world. Fear/rage is the opposite of what the world needs now. Just stay the course with your knowledge that the Power which sustains you and gives you joy in the face of adversity can heal the world. Be the light and joy that the world does need.

One of the ways you can mange this gift is to realize its Source and seek wisdom daily in how you will use the gift. Stay in close touch with the Source. Listen to the Source through meditation and conscious mindfulness throughout your day. Your gift is powerful and so is your responsibility in using that power.

You need not fear becoming egotistical or delusional with your power. The kind of power that you possess is completely different than what has come to be known as the “power” of a celebrity or politician who thinks that their influence is of their own superiority to others. If you were that narcissistic you would not have the kind of power you have. Your type of power cannot coexist with narcissism. I imagine that if you started a religion, got a poofy hairstyle and went on television to display your “power,” I’m sure you would fall flat; so don’t try it. Your power is a quiet power. Many people will likely want to be around you, and will hopefully appreciate you. You might even start a movement of sorts; but it is doubtful that your power would translate into stardom, or an oversized ego. You are much too aware of the true Source of your gift of joy and power for that to happen.

I will leave you with a powerful philosophy from Letters of the Scattered Brotherhood (Harper Collins, 1948).

“The kingdom of Heaven is happiness because those who have found it and abide in it have become aware of the beauty of the infinite Spirit. Those who live in that kingdom know that everything must me met and challenged with a shout. Challenge everything with the Spirit of joy. This may seem a hard saying for it seems to leave out pity. No, the lifting quality if confidence, of faith in ultimate victory, heals, sustains and comforts those in darkness and sorrow. If you can keep your inspiration confidently,  many of the discouraging human attributes will be purified. The secret is — and this is what you are here for — to find the pearl of great price, to keep from losing it, from letting it grow dull and to remember that it has the power to release from those characteristics which have held you a prisoner to your own limitations. This is being on the side of the angels.”

             Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.,                 October 6, 2019