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

A Difficult Patient

A Difficult Patient

Anyone over the age of 60 can remember when your doctor was someone who took the time to carefully listen to you, make a diagnosis with minimal tests, and was someone you trusted to make the best decisions for how to treat your condition. Well, perhaps you are one of the fortunate few who still has physicians like that; however I and many of my family friends and patients are having very different experiences in the past 20 years. We have found that we have to double check whatever our doctor diagnoses, and whatever they recommend for testing, and treatment of the condition. We are having to stay well informed on medical conditions as well as their testing and treatments. Then be very assertive in telling doctors what we know and what we will and will not agree to do.

I discussed this with my cardiologist who recently retired. He said that medicine changed with the advent of managed care, insurance companies that do not want to pay, a rash of frivolous malpractice lawsuits, and arcane standards of medical record-keeping. He said that all of that left little time for  spending time listening to patients, carefully making diagnoses, and considering which overwhelming number of new medications pushed by pharmaceutical reps were actually the best. He retired early because he refused to give in to the new way of practicing medicine. His medical group was pressuring him to spend a maximum of 10 minutes with each patient, prescribe more expensive tests, and push more drugs. He retired instead.

Don’t trust a diagnosis if your intuition is telling you it might not be correct. One recent example of that is a woman who recently told me how her physician gave her some very invasive, expensive tests and diagnosed her as being allergic to an overwhelming number of foods. She not only endured these tests, but had to go on such a restricted diet she decided to just take her chances on eating the healthy diet she had been eating before the tests. Nothing happened to her, so she sought a second opinion. The new doctor reviewed the tests she had done earlier and informed her that the tests she had were not even for any food allergies, but instead were for allergies that were common to most adults. She had mild seasonal allergies, but no allergies to any foods.

Many years ago I was diagnosed as being in irreversible brain death; but went on to get a Ph.D. anyway. Many years later I was given 5 minutes to live in the emergency room; but 6 weeks later went back to a very demanding job in a famous institution, and received promotions year after year.

Medical testing is another area in which to do your homework. Being type 1 diabetic it is almost impossible for me to fast from eating with any safety; so I refused a colonoscopy. I then found out that there was an alternative that was completely non-invasive and involved no fasting. My doctors at first refused to give me that test. It became a game of who blinked first. (My Dutch last name should have given them a clue of who they were dealing with.) Eventually they gave in, and after that test came back negative they finally admitted that it was actually more accurate than a colonoscopy. Yet, doctors are still pushing expensive invasive colonoscopies as the only route to take.

I was told by a reputable cardiologist that I needed a preventative procedure. I knew that fluorescein was used in that procedure and I am allergic to it, so I told him. He said that he would use something else. He used fluorescein anyway, and I developed kidney damage from it, so needed to go on dialysis years later.

Pharmaceuticals are another huge problem. The pharmaceutical industry, which sponsored opiate addiction and fatal overdose through lying about the affects of their drugs like OxyContin (and convinced doctors to also lie) are spinning out a dizzying array of drugs to treat everything imaginable (even things you didn’t know were a problem, like occasional sadness). Since they lied about fatal side effects of opiates even after a tragic number of young people started dying, don’t you think they would not hesitate to lie about the effects and side-effects of other drugs? Yet, your doctor is likely getting most of their medical education these days from slick, sharply dressed salespeople who bribe them with gifts and even Maui vacations (disguised as medical conferences). By the way, there is significant research showing that sugar pills are just as effective at treating depression as SSRI’s. Save a little money and buy Tic Tacs if you are feeling down. Better yet, buy chocolate-coated coffee beans. Those do have a significant effect on mood.

I have spoken to numerous people whose doctors lied to them about the side effects of medications, and these people have ended up with terrible disabilities. I have had two recent incidences of doctors telling me that a drug they were prescribing was completely safe for me. I ended up doing my own research and found that these drugs can cause kidney damage (I am on dialysis); so I refused to take them. In in one case I had to change specialists because the doctor was so angry with me for not taking the drug. By the way, the drugs in both cases were not even to treat any symptom I was having, but it had been shown in “some studies” to “possibly prevent” problems down the line. Well, I guess it would have prevented further problems from developing down-the-line, because I would have been dead from the kidney disease that it had worsened.

Be assertive with your doctor. They do not necessarily have your best interest at heart and may not be paying close attention to you. Do your homework. Read the information provided in writing by the pharmacy with your prescriptions, or go online. Do not rely on whatever any medical or pharmaceutical professional tells you. Get a second or third opinion for any diagnosis you are given. I have been saved from very high-risk, completely unnecessary surgeries this way. Assign a medical power of attorney who agrees with you and who is assertive, in case you are unable to make your own medical decisions.

I respect many of my medical specialists; and there are many medical professionals who are ethical. They are necessary in our lives; but increasingly we are going to be responsible for our own safety when it comes to the diagnosis, testing and treatment of our medical conditions.

I inform my specialists early on that I am going to be assertive with them, and that I take it as a compliment to be called a difficult patient. Be a “difficult patient.”

                 Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.,     09/19/2019

Expectations and Happiness

Expectations and Happiness

 Expectations, Adaptation and the Link to Happiness

                                   Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

Our expectations in life color every experience we have in life. Our expectations can be a double-edged sword; sometimes leading us to pursue achievements in life that we would not have otherwise pursued, but other times leading us to profound disappointment in life. Some people are good at adapting to the disappointments and adjusting their expectations without becoming cynical, but others develop a cynical or depressed outlook.

Our success in relationships, work, and all aspects of life is significantly effected by our expectations and our ability to manage disappointment when some aspect of life does not fulfill our expectations.

For example, romantic couples are often disappointed when their relationship is no longer “exciting” and the rush of hormones of a new relationship start to subside. You may stop being hypnotized by the other person’s charming qualities, and they no longer get a pass for having any human defects. The relationship becomes at least a little more routine, seeing each other is no linger quite the thrill it used to be, and sex eventually becomes somewhat routine. The relationship might even seem disappointing, so it seems that a terrible mistake was made by ever thinking that this person could be “The One.” After all, “I expected that they would have some flaws, but certainly not these flaws.” In relationships that succeed both partners are able to gradually accept that their loved one has a particular shortcoming they had always hoped they wouldn’t have to deal with, and they focus on qualities they appreciate. While at the same time, they maintain reasonable boundaries such as, “I will never allow myself to be abused; or to live with an addict.” You can’t be faulted for having boundaries in any relationship. Expect disappointments in relationships; but not abuse.

Addictions of all kinds are often driven by unrealistic expectations. Some people are always chasing a higher high in life, not realizing that life can’t always feel great.

We all have certain expectations in life. Most of us likely have fairly realistic expectations. One of those realistic expectations that keeps us sane is the expectation that not everything we expect or want in life happens; or at least not in the timeframe we might expect. In other words, most people are able to adapt to disappointment, and keep moving forward in some productive way. Some will try harder at what they were pursuing, or will try another pathway to the goal that was blocked; others will set new goals. Some might just wait patiently for the right timing for pursuing their goal again. A small percentage of people give up and are bitter or depressed when their expectations are not met.

A few people respond to disappointment by going beyond severe depression, to suicide. There are many reasons why people take their own lives, and we still don’t completely understand the suicidal mind. A major disappointment can lead to a feeling of being forever trapped in a hopeless situation in life. This is a very common impression that suicidal people report. Many times a situation is indeed traumatic and would be difficult for most anyone to endure. It would take a long period of time, support, and other resources for any person to come to terms with certain traumas or losses which cause a few people to give up all hope. Most people are eventually able to adapt to the overwhelming trauma or loss, and go on to lead productive fulfilling lives.

There is a subcategory of suicidal ideation that stems from people having unrealistically high expectations of themselves and of life. They buy into the myth that “you really can have it all.” Some people get through adulthood with these plaguing expectations, never really admitting to anyone just how high their expectations are nor how disappointed they are in themselves and their life. They define themselves by their disappointments and perceived failures to achieve perfection. They have learned that others really would not understand their high expectations, and would indeed judge them or even shame them for having such high expectations. But one day in secret and often without warning, they decide that they have lost the stamina to continue reaching for the highest stars. They realize that all of their successes and accolades over the years have not ever been “enough” to satisfy their expectations of themselves or of life. Facing this disappointment every day when they look in the mirror is just too much for them. They don’t say a word, because “no one would understand.” Therefore, many high-achieving people take their own lives in despair and utter disappointment, even at what some might say is the height of their success. There have been many celebrity deaths in recent decades which might fit this scenario. 

The only lesson for those of us who have a very high-achiever in our lives is to never ever judge them for their high expectations; but to gradually give them messages that you value them for just “being,” not for “doing” nor for whatever they have achieved. “I just love your company, and would love you even if you had never achieved all the status.” “What I love is your humor, your smile, your open attitude about your anger and sadness, your willingness to just be human and have flaws.” And, if you are the one who has overly high expectations of yourself, chill out!

I began letting go of my overly high expectations of myself when I was in my late 30’s after I received my first book contract with a major publisher. I was so very proud, and thought, “Oh, my parents are finally going to be extremely proud of me!” I excitedly called them and told them the great news. There was silence at first, then they almost simultaneously said, “Well, did you get a contract for your next book?” I was stunned at first, then I threw back my head and laughed. It was literally funny to me. I had insight into why I was so hard on myself all my life, never feeling good enough. Please don’t get me wrong. My parents were wonderful, dynamic, loving people and I am actually very grateful for the high standards that they instilled in me, and for the genuine love they showed me all my life. They saw tremendous potential in me and believed that setting the bar higher was the way to bring that out. But, I have to admit the message that “You are good enough just the way you are,” was not explicitly communicated to me by them until many years later.

Adjusting your expectations of life can be a balancing act. You want expectations to be realistic but not too low. The measure of a realistic expectation is different for each individual; but know that an expectation of life or yourself which leaves you always feeling that you are not good enough indicates that your expectations are too high. By finding appreciation for yourself and your life in your current state is never wrong. Appreciation of ourselves and of life generally leads us forward and higher in life anyway; so placing some manufactured expectation on yourself is not really necessary to motivate you. What truly motivates people to fulfill their own potential is being able to appreciate oneself in the present. Then, you are able to see your potential, and move toward it with compassion for yourself when you don’t always reach the mark.

Appreciate where you are in life. Savor each moment of your life, appreciate yourself for who and what you are in the present, pay attention to the potential you begin to naturally see in yourself and in your life; and pursue your potential gently.

Christopher Kni[pers, Ph.D.                             August 17, 2019

The Healing Between

The Healing Between

 This is a 1600 word article submitted to The Bellevue Literary Review. A bit long for a “blog” post; but definitely about one of the most important means of “Healing,” on all levels.

                                        Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

Healing of the body and the mind can come in diverse, and sometimes mysterious ways. It is often a factor that you would not expect that brings a healing process to life. I experienced this as a young Clinical Psychology intern who had just learned all of the quantifiable methods of helping to bring about healing in a wounded patient. But there was a process of healing that I had not learned in my very rigorous training. I learned it when a man entered my office presenting the most challenging case I had heard since my internship in a high security prison. 

He was a handsome 40 year old man who had been a successful executive in one of Southern California’s most respected and important corporations. He had the upper-middle-class ideal of life: A job he loved; a beautiful intelligent wife; a healthy happy 2-year-old daughter; and a custom home on the west side of Los Angeles. Yet he slowly walked into my office looking somewhat disheveled, slightly stooped over, and his eyes looking at the floor as he introduced himself. He was hardly the man that the person who referred him had described to me.

Sean confirmed the facts of his background to me and then began unemotionally relating the reason for his current state of crippling depression, overwhelming sense of loss, unemployment, and being on the brink of bankruptcy. He spoke softly in a monotone, like someone who was barely conscious.

Seven months earlier, Sean, his wife and 2 year-old daughter were returning from their favorite restaurant where Sean and his wife each had a single glass of wine with dinner. He felt perfectly good when he got behind the wheel of their Mercedes and headed home on the 405 freeway. Suddenly, the next thing he knew a car swerved into the passenger side of his car where his wife was sitting with their 2-year-old daughter strapped into the child safety seat directly behind. Sean was unharmed but he heard absolutely no sound coming from his profusely bleeding wife and his badly mangled little girl.

Sean spent the next 2  months in complete shock and was unable to leave his house. People from his church brought him food, sat with him, gave him advice on how to move on with his life, urged him to get out of the house; but Sean could not move from his emotional dungeon. After 2 months of self-imposed incarceration in his own home, he occasionally accepted invitations to meals at friends’ houses; but these outings only exacerbated his depression.

Though very understanding and supportive, his company had no choice but to replace him after six months of absence from his highly responsible position in the company. Sean was not suicidal, but he was unable to function in any meaningful way due to the ongoing state of severe depression which had not only left him emotionally unable to function, but he was now physically unable to sustain activity of any kind before experiencing complete exhaustion. Sean spent his days closed in his house with the drapes drawn, leaving only every couple of days to get food.

Eventually, his home foreclosed, and he moved to low-income housing in a high-crime neighborhood of Los Angeles. He barely noticed the change. His surroundings actually were a better match for his feelings about himself and his life. Appropriate punishment for the death of his wife and daughter.

Sean had been blaming himself all along for their deaths, even though the police officers had immediately determined that the accident was 100% the fault of the other driver whose blood alcohol level was beyond the legal limit. “I’m sure that I could have done something to prevent the accident if only I had been more alert! If only I had not had that one glass of wine!” 

I desperately wanted to hug him and assure him that he was not responsible for the accident or the deaths of his beloved wife and daughter. I wanted to convince him that he would be able to get beyond this tragedy and live a life that would honor the memory of his wife and child. But, I too felt frozen. Frozen in despair, a devastating inconsolable sense of loss, overwhelming guilt and shame. After almost an hour of listening intently to his gut-wrenching story my mind struggled for just the right words to give him an educated healing response. I desperately wanted to be objective, but it was too late. The analytical function of my brain was drowned out by my emotions. My mind was blank, but my emotions were raw and overflowing. I had become completely caught up in my patient’s experience. Not just empathizing with him or feeling sympathy for him; but experiencing the experience of loss and trauma with him simultaneously.

Tears streamed down my face; and while chocking back sobs, I said, “I am so sorry. There is nothing I can say.” For the first time Sean looked me in the eyes. With some strength and feeling in his voice, he said, “That’s okay. I’ll see you in 2 weeks.” With that, he left my office and drove away.

I felt embarrassed, and deeply disappointed in myself. Here I was supposed to be the objective professional providing comfort and actual solutions for an emotionally broken grieving man, but instead I had broken down emotionally myself. I was sure he had said he would be back in two weeks instead of the more typical one week, because he did not plan on coming back at all. I kept his time-slot open in the unlikely event that he would return.

Two weeks later just before 8:00 P.M., in walked a truly handsome, well-dressed and groomed 40 year-old man with a strong gate looking me in the eye and confidently saying, “Thank you for what you did for me 2 weeks ago. My life changed immediately after our session. I went hime, cried uncontrollably for the first time since the accident, slept through the night for the first time in 7 months, got up, called a recruiter, and was hired for a great executive position the next week. I’m still sad, but I let go of the guilt, and I am capable of thinking more clearly now. I have more energy every day.”

“Sean, what was it about our last session that made such a difference for you?” I was truly puzzled.

“For the first time since the accident someone actually listened and felt what I was feeling. Not giving me advice, or telling me that everything was going to be alright. That it was not my fault. That God had a plan. That my wife and daughter were in a better place. You did none of that. You did not tell me how I should be thinking or feeling. You felt what I had been unable to feel for 7 months. Your genuine emotion and tears freed me from my paralysis. I’m a new man, thanks to you.”

I was as dumbfounded at hearing this as I was at experiencing his devastation 2 weeks earlier. I was in awe of what had happened to him, as well as what had happened to me in that whole experience.

It took weeks of reflection on that experience to begin to understand the dynamics of how that became such an unexpected healing event. With the help of a colleague, Dr. William Heard author of The Healing Between (Jossey Bass, 1993), I learned what had happened: A broken man came to me sharing his deepest experience while being completely open, authentic, and vulnerable; and I responded with my full and complete focus on him while also being fully present cognitively and emotionally. I was also being open, authentic, and vulnerable in my receiving of his communication. Healing occurred between his open sharing and my open listening.

I never again actually cried openly during a therapy session, but I did always allow myself to have a truly authentic response to people who were being truly authentic with me. I allow myself to express my true emotion both verbally and nonverbally in response to what i am hearing and perceiving from a patient. My practice of psychotherapy changed and has been much more fulfilling, effective, and often amazing.

Transpersonal Psychology studies this phenomenon taking into account processes that are experienced in psychotherapy which go beyond the five senses, and include the dynamic forces that take place when humans make an emotional and cognitive connection with each other simultaneously. This type of deep connection allows people to enter into each other’s experiences on a deep emotional as well as cognitive level rather than simply understand each other’s experiences on a cognitive level. Many people believe that there is actually a connection on a spiritual level in these deep human interactions. Other scientists believe that it is a neurological phenomenon in which a yet-unidentified set of neurons in the brain signal neural receptors in the other person’s brain as two people interact with each other and feel a deep connection with each other.

In whatever way you want to conceptualize it, I learned that there is a healing phenomenon that takes place when a person goes beyond an initial cognitive understanding of another person and listens deeply with feeling, rather than with a mere intellectual understanding. A healing takes place between the intellectual and the emotional, and perhaps the spiritual as well, which might not be quantified but is nevertheless real. It is listening with your entire being that can set in motion a healing process in both the giver and receiver of communication. When one person openly authentically shares their true self, and another person receives their sharing openly and authentically, then healing occurs between them.

May you have healing relationships.                 Christopher Knippers         July 13, 2019