Tag Archives: fear

“just stop it!” comments on alcoholism

back in august, i wrote a little post about addictions. here are two things commenters had to say:

#1  thanks for sharing this. i believe too much alcohol can’t help you better to stop it, you have to love your health and love your life. do something better, you can do physical activities instead of drinking too much.

#2 taking alcohol occasionally is okay but being addicted to it is not healthy anymore. health is wealth, so better start doing something about it. stop it and enjoy life.

both of these comments illustrate the typical mindsets of people who either know nothing about addiction or who are afraid of addiction (or both).

people who don’t know much about addiction don’t understand that people who are struggling with addiction already know things like “too much alcohol can’t help” or “health is wealth”. in fact, at least half of them beat themselves up with that knowledge a hundred times a day. once you’ve been using for a little while, guess what, you’ve figured out that it’s unhealthy and that it would be a pretty darn good idea to stop or at least decrease it.

it’s the same with advice. let’s take “stop it and enjoy life”. once again, the thought of stopping it has occurred to the person a thousand times.

and enjoying life? what if it feels like enjoying life seems impossible without the alcohol (or drug, or gambling, or whatever the person is dealing with). what if the person couldn’t enjoy life to begin with, and stopping the addiction would just bring her back to an unbearably bleak and painful life?

words such as “you can do physical activities instead of drinking too much” are supremely unhelpful for a number of reasons, e.g.

  • as said before, the person who is addicted already knows that
  • at least at the beginning, you don’t get nearly as much a kick out of the physical activity as the addictive activity (that goes for other activities as well)
  • substitutions only work under certain circumstances. how’d you like it if i said, “you’re boyfriend just died? don’t worry, just get yourself another one – here, take john, he’s got a moustache, too”

the most troublesome part is the attitude, and the unthinkingness (nice word, huh?) if the person offering these comments thought for a moment, they could realize that the person with the addiction already knows that stopping would be a good idea. implicit in truisms like the ones above is the message, “you’re too stupid/naïve to have figured this out on your own, so now i’m telling you something that everyone else but you knows.”

the above and the lack of thoughtfulness portray disregard. the message is “this person i’m talking to is not worth thinking about; what i have to say is more important”.

what comes with all of this is a lack of empathy. “i’m not going to stop and reflect on how i would feel if someone gave me unsolicited advice about something painful in my life.”

and why? most of the time it comes down to fear. fear of having my life entangled with the difficulties of another when my own may already be difficult to bear. and fear that by getting closer to the addiction, i might get “infected”. humans have a deep-seated fear of “catching” diseases not only of the body but also of the mind. the fact that this is irrational drives the fear even more underground, which just makes it more potent because it gets to roam around uncontrolled. (now there’s an interesting thought – the parallel between that suppressed fear and the underground, uncontrolled drug trade).


alcoholism and everyday addictions

the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous are sometimes summarized in these seven words:

i can’t
god can
i better let god

these pithy words come from the first three steps:

1. we admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable
2. we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves would restore us to sanity.
3. we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him.

depending on one’s interpretation, that can sound quite defeatist (“i can’t / i’m powerless”) and cultish (“i better let god / turn over our will”).

in my occasional musings on how the 12 steps can be used outside of traditional addiction recovery (for example, here are some thoughts on step 3) i’d like to propose that these seven pithy words and these three steps can be useful for anyone as a guide in their lives.

we admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.

it may not be alcohol, it may not be drugs, food, work, cigarettes or caffeine – but the truth is that there are a lot of things inside and outside of ourselves that we are powerless over, and that feel totally overwhelming. i have no power over the traffic, you have no power over your boss, joe has no power over politics. but it goes deeper than that – it is our reactions to these things that truly trouble us – the feelings of helplessness, the endless worry, the anger. we hate these feelings, so we run to do something about them – TV, romance novels, potato chips, blackjack chips. at the root of that are fear and pain and avoidance of fear and pain through escape into instant gratification. so how about:

step 1: we are run by fear and pain and avoidance of them, and that the endless cycling between those two is exhausting and overwhelming – it is insanity.

we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves would restore us to sanity.

is there something greater than fear and avoidance of fear? god? maybe for some. how about for those uncomfortable with or plainly disinterested in the idea of god? the 12 steps are informed by underlying principles such as honesty, hope, courage, integrity, love, justice and service – all positive, life-affirming, values that are greater than our little egos and ids, our inner factories that constantly crank out more fear and fear avoidance. here is my proposition, then:

step 2: we remind ourselves that by holding on to our values, we can rise above fear and instant gratification and leave insanity behind.

we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him.

the awareness that there is an alternative to fear, pain and instant gratification is a good start but it is not enough. a lot of us are aware that there are problems. we need to make a decision to do something with that awareness. this decision, by the way, needs to happen on a daily, hourly, sometimes minute-by-minute basis. fear and pain and our desire to escape them are incredibly strong; if we want to let go of them as prime motivators for our lives, we need to counter them with our values, virtues and beliefs on an almost constant basis. one of my favourite quotes is freud’s about us having but a “thin veneer of civilization”. i firmly believe if we are to keep this world going, maybe even make it a better place, we need to do everything we can to make this veneer stronger and thicker. we literally need to become more civil. isn’t that one of the main goals of democracry (a concept deeply informed by civility): to create and nurture an environment where citizens need not be governed by fear? just as we need to keep working on and fighting for democracy, we need to keep building our own personal virtues and values. here is my suggestion for step 3:

step 3: we decided to lead our lives by our virtues and values.

i would be very interested in hearing your thoughts about this.

researching motivation

a beautiful body, a calm mind, health into old age, a job that makes you bounce out of the bed in the morning with excitement – aaah, we all want it. and for many of us, these dreams area attainable.

what often stands in the way is our sluggish attitude towards changing our ways to make those great things come true.

once in a while this really bugs me and i sit there frowning, pondering the mysteries of motivation. today i went on a hunt to see what other equally puzzled people have found. here are five researchers who are working on interesting angles:

jeff stone: how hypocrisy motivates change
in their article, stone and fernandez wrote:

“the dissonance and the need to restore consistency are induced by subsequently making people aware of the fact that they themselves have failed to practice the target behavior in the past. mindfulness for past failures is accomplished by having people examine or generate a list of their reasons for not performing the behavior when they had the opportunity.”

when a person has the realization, the co-authors wrote, they begin to feel discomfort which then leads them to feel motivated to make a change.

one study in particular asked students to help develop an aids prevention and education program. during the process, students talked publically about important safe sex acts and half of them were later asked to write down their own personal behaviors. others were also asked to video tape messages about safe sex.

“it’s really most effective when people publically advocate to people and allow people to discover on their own – or lead them to discover on their own – that they don’t perform the behaviors that they tell others to do,” stone said.

the researchers found that those students who were realized that their words did not necessarily follow their actions were most likely to report that they would change.

this is tied to a person’s perceptions of self-integrity and also to honesty and sincerity. “following a hypocritical act,” the co-authors wrote, “maintaining or restoring these perceptions of self-integrity requires that people act in a more honest and sincere manner than in the past. thus, when they behave like a hypocrite, people become motivated to be honest and sincere about the norms for behavior, which is most directly accomplished by bringing their behavior into line with the proposed course for action.”

what motivates older people?
an excerpt from the online book when i’m 64 by the committee on aging frontiers in social psychology, personality and adult developmental psychology:

older people might have unique motives for change: for example, they might be especially and uniquely family oriented, and thus, wish to be less of a burden to their families, or they might be motivated to maintain an exercise program in order to retain physical functioning. or they might be uniquely motivated by a behavior change that would promote global good. for instance, older adults might be willing to make a contribution to the needs of one generation in hopes that their contribution might flow through to other generations.

stephen intille – cell phone health
dr. stephen intille from MIT is

developing and evaluating software for a common mobile phone that uses context-aware, tailored, just-in-time presentation of information and operant conditioning, a training technique, to encourage brisk walking. the system uses subtle audio cues as positive reinforcement. the prototype is an example of a ubiquitous computing health intervention that presents behavior-specific prompts and encourages incremental behavior change using successive approximation. to evaluate the effectiveness of the system, it is being deployed in a population of finnish mobile phone users. the impact of the technology on physical activity and feelings about fitness and readiness to engage in physical activity will be measured.

fear, romance and motivation
vladas griskevicius (university of minnesota) suggests that the effectiveness of persuasion tactics can be dramatically changed by two primal emotions – fear and romantic desire.

in the forthcoming paper “fear and loving in las vegas: evolution, emotion, and persuasion,” griskevicius and his co-authors find that the emotion we are currently feeling has a strong effect on whether we decide to conform or to go against the grain “being afraid especially leads people to go along with the crowd, activating a ‘safety-in-numbers’ psychology,” says griskevicius. “a feeling of lust, however, motivates people to go it alone, activating a desire to be seen as unique. feeling scared or amorous can greatly change the way people make decisions.”

power motivates
the thought of acquiring power motivates people to act.  in the wake of barack obama’s “yes we can” victory, a study has emerged from stanford about what motivates people to take action. the prime mover, say researchers, is acquiring a position of power.

specifically, it is people’s new, more elevated perception of themselves after assuming a position with more power that inspires them to take more risks and pursue goals more confidently. taking on a formal position of power”be it managerial, political, or cultural”gives people the illusion they have more control over their organization and their world, which, in turn, can propel them to go for the gusto. in the best-case scenarios, this can lead to achieving unimaginable accomplishments. in the worst, it can lead to poor decision making and devastating losses.

inability to regulate feelings at the root of fear of flying?

a guest post by captain tom, on the topic of fear of flying that we’ve discussed on and off here on this blog.

first, by way of introduction, i’m both an airline captain and a licensed therapist. working with people who have trouble with flying has been my specialty for twenty-eight years.

i am fully trained in hypnotherapy and in NLP (neurolinguistic programming). i studied both years ago in my search for things that would help me treat fear of flying clients. i found hypnotherapy to be very “hit or miss”, too unreliable. NLP works with mild cases of flight anxiety.

over the years, my work has been focused on work with people unable to find help any place else. thus, we give away ” free ” the help that some other sites charge for. for free help, see the SOAR library and other free help is available at the fear of flying web site

we also offer free group phone sessions every wednesday night.

there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the cause of fear of flying. it is not caused by a bad flight; most people on a bad flight don’t develop fear of flying. difficulty with flying is caused by insufficient ability to regulate feelings when facing uncertainty.

research since the advent of the functional MRI just eight years ago has helps us understand how the brain works. we now recognize that the ability to regulate feelings is learned and that the part of the brain that does this regulation requires stimulation of the right kind during the first two years of life. the right kind of stimulation requires a caregiver who is empathically attuned to the infant and responds to the infant’s signals, rather than simply providing for the infant according to an agenda set by the caregiver.

if the child is afraid, the caregiver needs to tune into the child’s fear in a way the child really knows the caregiver feels the same way. thus the child knows he or she is not alone.

then, the magic happens; the caregiver then lets the child know that ” though the child’s fear is 100% shared ” the adult has an additional point of view, which is that it is not the end of the world; it will work out alright.

many of us, obviously, didn’t get such optimal early development. thus, when facing uncertainty, we control our anxiety by being in control of the situation, or by having a way to out of it.

that works fairly well on the ground ” except for annoying those who regard us as control freaks. but when flying, there is uncertainty, of course. and, not being in control and not having a way out, there is no way to regulate the feelings.

therapists try to help with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), but anxiety can develop so rapidly that CBT techniques cannot keep up with the anxiety build-up.

hypnosis is pretty “hit or miss”. if it helps on one flight, it can fail to help on another flight.

medications are not to be recommended ” according to the world health organization ” because when sedated, the passenger doesn’t move around enough to protect against DVT, deep vein thrombosis. if a DVT clot forms, it is a serious and potentially life-threatening problem.

also, use of medications ” according to research ” is only helpful in very mild cases of fear of flying. in more severe cases, medications make the flight worse!

i have tried to give a good understanding of the cause and cure of fear of flying in a video here and here.