Palm Trees in a Hurricane

Palm Trees in a Hurricane

Palm Trees In A Hurricane: Strength and Flexibility Under Pressure

                            Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

In a high school Psychology class we were  asked to share what tree we identified with. Everyone was choosing Oak, Maple, Sequoia, and other mighty trees, followed by sounds of approval from the class. When it came my turn I said, “Palm Tree,” immediately followed by uproarious laughter from the entire class seated in a beautiful new theater style classroom. “Palm Tree! What a wimpy tree!” many people jeered. I  assumed it was because those Okies had no real experience with Palm Trees. 

I had been born and reared on 5 lush hillside acres in Honolulu with a view of the Western hemisphere all the way to Molokai, and had observed over the years how the PalmTrees of all sizes and varieties withstood hurricane force winds and tsunamis. They were not only regal, graceful, beautiful, and full of vibrance, they were extremely resilient. Palm trees would bend over to the ground  in the torrential winds; then bounce right back up tall and proud.

A beautiful early life in paradise with prosperous, popular, beautiful parents and older sisters, for sure. Alas, I was born to a life of repeatedly overcoming adversity, despite having a life of privilege. 

At birth I was given a diagnosis of extreme infantile asthma that was predicted to kill me in 4 years. At age 4, I was given 7 years to live due to a very rare diagnosis (at the time) of early childhood onset diabetes. Seven years later, I was given 3 days to live at which time I was unplugged from life support machines and drugs after extreme brain damage and being in a vegetative state due to my brain being completely flattened in a landslide. After completing a grueling Ph.D. program at age 28 I went blind in both eyes. With 20/20 vision at age 50 during a very successful psychology career at a world-renowned chemical dependency treatment center and at a highly respected university, I was given 5 minutes to live as the cardiologists surrounded my bed in the ER following  a massive heart attack. I went on to receive multiple promotions in the healthcare field, over the next 12 years. (I finally said, ENOUGH of this!) To this day I still function like a “healthy” person, despite medical professionals reading my medical record for the  first time and not being able to contain their gallows laughter.

Early in my life I regarded myself as a weak person who somehow managed to beat the odds (strong will to live, supportive relationships, prayer/meditation, medical support, holistic life style, fierce determination); but none-the-less, “Weak Person” somehow defeating what “God” had actually intended for me (death).

Recently, I had  a sort of epiphany: I am actually an extremely Strong resilient flexible person who faces AND OVERCOMES adversity every minute of every day and night; and who like a Palm Tree bends to the ground in the hurricanes and tsunamis of my life; then bounces back upright and proud, holding my head up to the sun and the tropical breezes. I am truly grateful and joyful.

This new very real experience of myself as extremely Strong has significantly enhanced my healing.

               Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.,    March 19,2023

Survival of the Friendliest

Survival of the Friendliest

                                         Survival of the Friendliest:

                                               Defining  Yourself

                                      Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

“Survival of the Fittest” is the widely accepted Darwinian theory of evolution that states: “The fittest individuals of a species survives through centuries despite harsh conditions and environmental changes that destroy others in that group.” I have often wondered how someone like me, born with life-threatening illnesses which increased over the years survives and thrives through 70 years if it is only the “fittest” who survive. (I am happy and functioning like a “healthy’ 70 year old, despite a medical chart that would make you weep.)

My question was answered while I watched a documentary on how dogs are hypothesized to have evolved from wolves. Though closely related, today’s wolves and dogs are genetically very different; however a gene has been isolated in dogs which wolves do not have. Scientists call it the “Friendliness Gene.”

Wolves who were curious and hungry ventured closer and closer to the primitive human tribes thousands of years ago. The more adventurous, calm and friendly they were towards humans determined how well they ate. The “friendly” ones were treated to food and even shelter by humans. Over hundreds of years bonds formed, and these friendly wolves outlived their more aggressive counterparts. It was not how physically “fit” they were that gave them an edge on very fit wolves. It was friendliness, and willingness to try and reach outside the normal way of doing things.

This creates a whole new paradigm for how a chronically ill person can outlive (or at least survive) more than some more physically fit types. There are other traits we have that determine our quality of life and, in many cases, our quantity of life.

Think of yourself in terms of your personal qualities which help you adapt to the conditions of your life. Name and focus on your characteristics that have helped you survive, and in some cases, thrive in life. That is how you define your ability to live a meaningful life. Not some random genetic code which is thought of as “fit.”

By focusing on your positive personal qualities and survival mechanisms you will live a much higher quality life; and those qualities will strengthen. Define yourself in terms of your strengths, not your illness nor your hardships. The words you use to describe yourself make a huge difference in how you behave, feel, and fulfill your purpose in life.

You might not be considered physically fit; but you may have qualities much more powerful in human existence. Emphasize those qualities and you will thrive.

Christopher Knippers, Ph.D. 12/12/2022

Healing Through The Aloha Way

The Way of Aloha: Healing for Body, Mind, Spirit, World   

                                     Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

Healing can be facilitated through our perception of life.  Aloha* is a way of life, including a way of perceiving all of creation, which brought a healing harmonious life to a select culture in Hawaii beginning many centuries ago. Aloha is basically a perception of all of creation as being interdependent, united, sacred, and deserving of respect. No real distinction is made between the natural world (land, sea, plants, animals) and humans. All are beloved by one Creator; and the way to harmony and healing in life is through recognition of the practice of Aloha, sacredness and value of all creation.

This world/life view is diametrically opposed to the prevailing world views which emphasize domination, competition, and superiority of one over another. The Aloha Way can be summed up in, “Cooperation, not domination.” 

This approach to the world and all of its inhabitants has always upset the status quo. Religious and political systems often control their followers through creating a false division among its people, through engendering fear that some people don’t recognize the inherent superiority of the dominant class. And, because of the inherent value of our natural resources, one group tries to dominate the use of these resources. In the Aloha culture the goal is cooperation with all of creation.

Ever since the beautiful culture of Aloha being practiced many centuries ago in the Hawaiian archipelago by a small group of Pacific Islanders there have been violent clashes with invaders oppressing those who practiced it. Even today we are beginning to see a sort of invasion by entitled greedy visitors to Hawaii trampling over the Aloha spirit of the islands by disrespecting sacred lands, seas, flora and fauna.

King Kamehameha III overcame centuries of opposition to the practice of Aloha (think of it as a “religion”), and once again made it possible for people to dance hula (a vital art of the observation of Aloha), and other rituals/practices celebrating Aloha, along with allowing Christianity and other practices in the island nation . Even as recently as the 1940’s there were schools for Hawaiians which forbade the practice of hula and even the speaking of the Hawaiian language. That seems to have all been settled by now, and there are a small number of Hawaiians still observing and practicing the way of Aloha. True Hawaiians do show Aloha even to entitled, greedy, disrespectful invaders.

Many spiritual leaders throughout history have attempted to promote similar approaches to living (including the Christ). They have all had their influences, but the Way of Aloha and other similar approaches to life have not met with the support of prevailing religious and political philosophies which hold tight to their “power” over the populace by promoting fear, competitiveness, and addiction to power..

As a Caucasian “Hawaiian-by-birth” I was influenced strongly by Aloha as were my Christian missionary parents. I attempt to practice the Aloha Way. It is extremely challenging to go against the grain of the dominant world culture; but I still try.

 I hope you will join me in practicing Aloha. We will find healing and harmony in our lives.

                            Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.,  09/24/2022

* This writing is meant to present the essence of Aloha culture. Much more thorough  explorations of this amazing culture can be found in other writings. 

Reflections of a 69 Year Old Man: The 8th Stage of Life

Reflections of a 69 Year Old Man: The 8th Stage of Life

There are 8 stages of psychological development through which humans go throughout their lifetime, according to psychologist Erik Erikson. The final stage (after age 65) is Integrity vs. Despair. This stage involves a review of one’s life, ideally resulting in a sense of integrity. I recently went through this existential process. This is a summary of that process:

I was born into a missionary family in Hawaii in 1952. My parents were highly sophisticated, intelligent, musically-gifted, beautiful charming people with very high standards. My older sisters were known for their beauty, giftedness, and were much-admired. Don’t let “missionary” fool you. We lived an upper-middle-class life style. I loved and still love the magical islands of Aloha. Higher Power was profoundly real to me in that paradise as a very young child.

I had extreme medical challenges from birth beginning with asthma (birth), continuing with diabetes (age 4), brain-death/landslide (age 11), blindness in both eyes after receiving a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology (age 28), a major heart attack and quadruple bypass at the pinnacle of my career (age 50), and end-stage renal disease/dialysis (age 62). Miraculously and by the grace of God I continue living a happy life and function like a “healthy” person, as I have all of my life.

However, medical challenges defined me since age 4, at least in my own mind. People who knew were sometimes cruel, telling a 5 year old child he was cursed by God, and being denied a few job promotions as an adult. Even my mother and my sisters went through a period of years when they distanced me due to not approving of who I chose to love (eventually they all 3 made amends, and my sisters remain loving and supportive). My father was consistently my biggest supporter.

None-the-less, I learned to use the very high intelligence, attractive appearance, creativity and ability to “charm” that I had inherited. My parents, though at times harsh, supported me and encouraged me to live up to my potential from day one, through their last breaths. 

I developed a fierce determination to succeed in life and “make a difference” in the lives of people. I remain devoted to helping children at all stages of development, animals, and the land

My “accomplishments” despite ongoing life-threatening medical conditions and overwhelming anxiety/Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (primarily from the landslide and from the years of blindness) include starring roles in musicals, winning academic contests, receiving a Ph.D. from a rigorous university, writing a successful book (highly praised to this day), receiving high recognition as a public speaker and as a university instructor, as well as helping numerous billionaires, celebrities as well as less fortunate people attain a happier more fulfilling life. Looking back, I can see that all of this came as extremely challenging and difficult; though at the time I never thought there was an alternative to driving home to success.

Unfortunately, all of this success did not interpret into confidence. I was deeply (I emphasize “deep” under the surface) insecure, which held me back in many ways, but mostly in relationships. Thank God for the few people who saw past my walls which manifested in rage, entitlement, arrogance and shyness (God forbid anyone should find the damaged person underneath the facade). They are close friends (one person stands out as a major God-send) to this day, and I sincerely pray for blessings in their lives.

As I write this I reflect on what is truly important to me now that I am no longer a slave to success in a career. What is most important in life is relationships and truly making deep meaningful connection with people. I want to encourage everyone in my life to see the beauty inside of them.

I heard a concept from the book Clues (Van Edwards,   ): Consistently exuding warmth and confidence is key to being effective in any relationship. I want to consistently exude warmth and confidence, as well as genuine connection and ultimately a healing love.

I can relate to a verse I saw posted on social media: Never forget how far you have come. All of the times you’ve pushed on even when you felt you couldn’t. All the times you got out of bed no matter how hard it was. All the times you wanted to give up but fought through another day. Never forget the strength you’ve gained along the way. (    )

I give glory to our Creator, all the people who chose to believe in me, and to myself who chose to keep trying. Thank God, today I am alive, happy, and have a strong faith.

                        Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.,    March 4 2022

A New World is Forming

A New World is Forming

Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

Paradise appears on the horizon in a vast churning gleaming sea of clear blue, green, and slightly violet waters teaming with multicolored  fish and coral. Lush tropical foliage, colorful fragrant blossoms with the sounds of birds singing in the trees waving in the trade winds of Hawaii create a peaceful ethereal world of pure enchantment.

How did such a magical paradise come into being? It was not always peaceful nor beautiful. In fact it was a violent fiery explosion followed by a seeming void from which came this enchanting world to which we flock by the millions each year. Hawaii was formed from centuries of boiling hot pressure building and finally exploding from the floor of a spectacular Pacific Ocean. Very gradually paradise was formed over millennia through many tropical storms blowing across a barren rocky landscape, migrating birds planting seeds, and eventually migrating Polynesians bringing their culture of Aloha to these nascent islands. Many cultural revolutions occurred through the centuries trying to destroy Aloha, but the Aloha of the original Polynesians prevailed. It took extreme pressure and eventual explosions along with thousands of years of nature creating paradise out of this  blank canvas in order to have a new world. 

We look at our current world in 2021 and desperately try to explain the chaos, violence, explosiveness, and shocking attitudes of even a few of our closest friends and relatives who seem to have gone mad. What is happening!?

Much like the pressure of a volcanic eruption the world’s cultures have all been in processes of great disruption and eruption with pressure building for centuries. Society is under tremendous pressure and is beginning to explode. People’s darker natures are being triggered and are being exposed by the uncertainty and stress of cultural revolution, pandemics, economic inequities, uncertainty, and a void of clear leadership. Millions of people live in fear. There is currently a void of confident, rational leadership in the world; so every interest group is trying to exploit the uncertainty to promote their own agenda as the answer.

There are also people giving in to their natural (for many reasons) nature of Love. Millions of people of literally all ages are doing amazingly kind and charitable deeds in the world: Feeding the hungry; housing the homeless; caring for the true “victims” (children, the disabled, elderly); healing through medicine and through just being a supportive presence in people’s lives.

The masses would rather hear about the events that justify their own fears and their own sense of failure; therefore it is rare to hear about these loving people in the media.

The greatest division in our world is the division between the 2 great forces in our human natures: Fear and Love. Our basic nature is exposed in times of great stress.

Our world is indeed in a time of great revolution and transition.

 It is the resulting chaos and uncertainty which eventually explodes into conditions which lead to a new world. All great cultural transformations begin with pressure, which leads to explosion, which leads to chaos and uncertainty, which leads to change and a new world order.

The brilliant psychiatrist Carl Jung who revolutionized our understanding of psychology, anthropology and spirituality warned us many years ago that our “Shadow Self” was a mighty force with which to be reckoned. He said that we all have potent personal characteristics that we try to keep hidden but which none-the-less do exist within us and bubble up to the surface to surprise and dismay us in times of stress. These characteristics are necessary, especially when we need a strong defense as when the “Mother Bear” in us comes out if our kids are being harmed. Other times this Shadow Self emerges when we are frightened (angry, anxious, etc.) causing us to over-react to a relatively minor threat to our well-being, or a threat to the image we want to have of ourselves (our persona.

Our entire world seems to be in a process of getting in touch with the Shadow Self. The political divisiveness, the economic inequities, the pandemic seem to have triggered a tectonic shift in our very souls. We have all been at least slightly shifted off our axis.

Carl Jung said, “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”   He also said, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”

The pain we are experiencing in ourselves and in our world is all part of coming to a new consciousness; a new world. The pain and conflict must be exposed in order to make way for the new world order we have been desiring for centuries.

In many people the pain is manifesting as fear and it’s other manifestations such as anxiety, and anger. Fear/Anger, while often necessary, can bring out the worst in people, especially when we do not take the effort to realize the lessons we need to learn from anger/fear and then move on. Some people make a life style of anger and fear. When I was a psychology  intern in maximum security prison, most of my inmate patients truly believed that anger was their guiding force or higher power. Today, I see people holding onto their anger and even fear as if their ives depended on it.

I also see people who are all the more determined to bring out the love within them as the rest of society becomes more fearful/angry. There are millions of people in the world doing amazingly selfless, unconditionally loving acts of kindness and compassion. It is the people who get in touch with the unconditional love within them who will prevail and establish the new world order after the eruptions of fiery anger burn out.

Be a force of Love in these uncertain, chaotic times. Love prevails and plants the seeds of paradise.

Live Aloha.

                         Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.        July 12, 2021

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