DNA, Determination, and Destiny

DNA, Determination, and Destiny

                                       Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

There is a certain subtle bullying in our culture of people who struggle with health, psychological challenges, finances and relationships. This does not happen in all cultures. In many cultures people who struggle in any way are simply given more support.

People who are convinced that we have control of our own destiny regardless of our challenges will tell us to just push through, think positive, look at all the paraplegic athletes, “I overcame hardship therefore so can you!” This is based on the false notions that we do have total control of our lives, and that we all have the same basic abilities. This reasoning goes: “It’s all up to you how your life turns out. It’s all in your mental attitude.” Most people like to think we control our own destiny.

Some people do not take into consideration the thousands of factors in the world that determine the outcome of any individual’s life. There are thousands of influences on our “destiny.” Some are tangible, and some are unseen.

While environmental factors (e.g. parenting, culture, experiences) do have significant influence on our behaviors and thoughts, the most profound influence is your DNA. Genetics is the most influential factor in determining how a person responds to everything in life. Yes, of course environmental factors play a starring role; and your cognitive state is indeed important. Numerous people have gone beyond their poor genetics, and their poor environment by a persistent determination to succeed. Miracles do happen. Rain falls on the just and the unjust. However, the way you perceive and respond to miracles, rain, luck, whatever, is still influenced by your DNA.

So, your best bet at having a happy, healthy, fulfilling life and relationships is to choose your grandparents wisely.

If you have read any of my writings you know that I do strongly believe that practicing realistic thinking, holistic health (e.g. nutrition and exercise), and having a spiritual connection changes your life and gives you a boost no matter what. All of that notwithstanding, your genetic makeup is going to be the dominant force in how your life turns out.

At the outset, I must confess that I am one of those people who thinks it is vital to consider how I am responsible for any challenging situation in my my life whether it be health, relationships, finances, etc.; and how I can improve. However, I am increasingly aware of what a highly significant role genetics/DNA, and individual neurological functioning plays on our behavior and in our ability to be healthy in any area of life. 

I will also confess to being very weary of people not taking responsibility for their actions. Refusing to take into consideration that their behavior played a role their misfortune. Blame is almost the zeitgeist currently. I just heard parents on a news program blaming Snap Chat for their son ordering drugs and overdosing; never mentioning a word about his or their responsibility in the ordering of drugs on the internet without a prescription in the first place. I do believe that it is important for all of us to be as responsible as possible in the choices we make in any aspect of our lives. However, I am increasingly aware of the biological determinants of the way we perceive things and the choices we make in responding to those perceptions.

In years past I have waxed eloquent on how we can control our outcomes in life through practicing holistic health: Proper nutrition, exercise; meditation; spirituality; and cognitive adjustment. For over 40 years I have been cajoling readers and patients to change their physical and emotional challenges by practicing holistic health. 

My father used to tell my older sisters and I to just “Straighten up and fly right!” I have sounded a bit like that in the past when it came to overcoming physical and emotional challenges. Well, perhaps many people are just not as capable of making the leap from disadvantaged to overcomer. Maybe some people are genetically hindered from just straightening up and flying right.

I am discovering that there is a profound genetic and neurobiological difference between the paraplegic Romanian orphan who becomes an Olympic star, and the fully functioning well-educated middle class young adult who can’t seem to get out of his mother’s basement and aspire to be so much as a person who learns to ask, “Do you want fries with that.” Both may just be responding to their genetic makeup, and the coding of their DNA.

Some of the more commonly-known traits affected by DNA include physiological characteristics, cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, motor skills, creativity, energy level, and longevity. However, there are lesser-known traits also influenced by genetics/DNA such as financial acumen, social skills, competitive vs. cooperative nature, perception, motivational level, and personality traits.

There is even something called “transgenerational transmission” which refers to environmental exposure which affected a relative (usually a parent) also affecting the next generation which was not exposed to that environment. In more simple words, the environmental influences which affected your ancestors might be affecting you also, even though you were never exposed to that particular environment. If your ancestors lived through great trauma and hardship, you might also have a tendency to feel anxiety and stress. By the same token, if your ancestors successfully overcame hardship, or simply had a really nice life you might have a tendency to be resilient or joyful.

In some cases people can bypass or in some way compensate for a lousy batch of DNA. Many people, through intense determination can overcome devastating circumstances, or DNA that is less than ideal. Holistic health practices are still going to be helpful in living your best life regardless of your genetic predispositions. But be sure to not judge yourself and others. The determinants of certain behaviors might just be factors which are out of conscious control.

Everyone, regardless of genetics or environment has the potential for great value in this world. Regardless of how your DNA lined up, or how conducive your environment has been, you can’t go wrong by focussing on your strengths, your passions; and being kind.

                          Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.,  April 18, 2021

2020 A Year of Miracles

2020 A Year of Miracles

2020 A Year of Miracles

                                         by Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

“2020 a year of miracles” might sound like I am in denial or at least insensitive to all the challenges being experienced by many people right now; however, the reality is, it has been a year of miracles in my life.

My primary home has been in Palm Springs since the late 90’s. We have also had a beach home since around 2000; but my medical specialists were in Palm Springs. I discovered that the desert, despite its elderly population and its reputation as a playground of the rich and famous, has less than first rate medical care with the exception of oncology and to some degree cardiac surgery. I certainly could not find competent medical care for diabetes, ophthalmology, nephrology, nor cardiology (after Dr. Hackshaw retired). 

In 2019 we went to the beach for the summer and I decided to see a few specialists in Newport Beach where Hoag Medical Care has had a reputation for excellence since the year and month of my birth. I assembled a team of specialists over the summer and was very happy with the treatment I was receiving. I decided to stay at the beach so I could follow up with my excellent team of doctors.

The vision in my left eye had been greatly impaired for over 4 years. The “best specialists” in Palm Springs had been unable to even diagnose the problem, much less treat it. However in one session with my new ophthalmologist in Newport Beach, he quickly diagnosed and treated the eye in 10 minutes; and I immediately regained full sight in that eye. It was a surreal experience.

After several sessions with a new cardiologist (a very charming but tough young woman) my heart function which had been predicted to worsen, began dramatically improving. She even helped clear up neuropathy, which had almost grounded me from my primary form of recreation, long walks on the beach.

I had been diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension which was unresponsive to medications (did you know that Viagra was actually created for pulmonary hypertension?); however a pulmonologist at Hoag did a thorough workup and my lungs began improving (no Viagra involved).

My new diabetic specialist takes a very unique approach to his role as physician. It is difficult to capture his unique approach; but I will just say he is very approachable, professional without any sense of superiority of formality, very encouraging, optimistic, and is matter of fact in his style. He was determined to obtain for me what many other doctors had said was impossible for me. He got me a modern Continuous Glucose Monitoring System (no finger sticks/blood draws required), followed by a state-of-the-art insulin pump so that I no longer had to inject insulin 4 times a day (nor at all)). All of this 100% covered by insurance (thanks to his coding) after many years of personally paying hundreds of dollars a month for diabetic supplies and insulin. Having blood sugar control immediately began happening after 63 years of daily (actually hourly) struggle. I no longer worry about my blood sugar control.

In the new beautiful dialysis clinic with the most efficient professional staff I’ve ever experienced, my attitude toward those 3 times a week, 4 hour sessions of dialysis was no longer something I dreaded. My kidney function is much improved.

My new primary care physician is another charming take-charge young woman who has helped me tremendously, and acts as a coordinator for my overall healthcare.

So, while 2020 has been much too challenging for many people, I just have to report that miracles have continued to happen.

I can only expect that the amazing things that have occurred in my life this year are a precursor to great things to come.

Thank you, God!

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