Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bargaining With Your Past Creates Regret in the Present

Along the lines of what we’ve been talking about…. Ruminating about lost love, pain, and regret from the past… we all know how deeply these things can haunt us and pierce our hearts well into our presents. This article has something rather healing to say about all of that. As well as some useful advice. What do you think?

Instead of regret, know that bad decisions were meant to be self-preserving.
Published on February 11, 2014 by Suzanne Lachmann, Psy. D.  in Me Before We

Your life has been a string of events that leads you to where you are now – in part determined by doors opened, doors closed, and the history, decisions and happenings that contribute to who and where you are today. When you look back on your life so far, how do you feel? Optimally, there are no regrets. But in reality for many, when you're having difficulty feeling okay with where you are now, you may look back with regret and grieve lost opportunities, lost relationships, no-win situations, and unfortunate decisions that you perceive as having affected the trajectory of your life – if only you hadn't married your ex; if only you hadn't put your career on hold to have children, if only... The list in your head of imagined and impossible negotiations to bring your loved one back or to gain access to that better life you should have had can painfully distort your thinking.

In this process, you grieve the loss of what you perceive would have been. You see yourself as having lost something, or the idea of something that is profoundly meaningful to you, and the experience is every bit as real as suffering after any kind of traumatic event.

When you feel despair at what could have been, and imagine how you could have contributed to a "better" outcome than what actually happened, you are participating in a form of "bargaining," which is one of Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief. When you fantasize different paths and different outcomes, you are participating in “retroactive bargaining." What could you have done differently to avoid the remorse, regret and shame you now feel?

It is a common experience to look back at aspects of your life with regret, but for most people it isn't the only motivation for fantasizing about the past. Instead, many psychologists, myself included, believe that almost everything you do is meant to be self-preserving, even if it turns out to be self-destructive instead. During challenging times in your past, you undertook certain actions and beliefs in an effort to manage or avoid difficult situations and uncomfortable experiences. When you fantasize about things coming out differently than they have, you are attempting to transform the experience, albeit briefly – to allow yourself a respite from regret and other painful reminders of past “mistakes.” This process lets you briefly have the outcome you want.

Unfortunately, fantasy allows only a brief respite. You made the choices you made and have become the person you are. In the present, reality is reality, loss is loss, and nothing can be shifted by renegotiating your actions in the past. Retroactive bargaining is a band-aid that can make you feel temporarily better, but can leave you feeling worse when you come back to now and are painfully reminded yet again how things actually turned out.

That said, retroactive bargaining yields important information. Noticing a particular time or area of your life that you fixate on may indicate that there is loss in your life that you have not allowed yourself to adequately grieve. The event could even have happened 20 years ago or longer, but at the time you weren't able to give it the attention it needed to heal.

Ultimately, instead of engaging in retroactive bargaining, work on forgiving yourself for the decisions and actions in your past that you wish you could have changed. Yes, hindsight can illuminate how differently you could have handled something. But what gets lost, is context. As you engage in retroactive bargaining, you are doing it with all the knowledge you have now without taking into account what you knew and who you were at the time. There were reasons and forces and more factors than you could possibly have been aware of that compelled your choices and the outcome.

If you find yourself in the cycle of regret, replaying a scene in your head and sculpting a different outcome, try to acknowledge that there are reasons you did what you did at the time. Understand that your past self didn’t have the wealth of knowledge or perspective your current self does. Putting your past in context and acknowledging that there were more forces at play than you may have considered at the time can help you feel more accepting of the person you are now.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why Love Literally Hurts

Somewhat serendipitously I happened across this article this morning that illustrates just why love and being ignored can hurt so much, as we were discussing yesterday. There is, in fact, a medically significant reason for it. This is something that affect people in general, not just those of us with BPD, though I suspect that those of us that are affected with being hypsersensitive to so many thing are likely to feel this even more grievously. Take a look.

Psychologists have discovered the neural link between social and physical pain
By Eric Jaffe

Most of us see the connection between social and physical pain as a figurative one. We agree that “love hurts,” but we don’t think it hurts the way that, say, being kicked in the shin hurts. At the same time, life often presents a compelling argument that the two types of pain share a common source. Old couples frequently mak

e the news because they can’t physically survive without one another. In one example from early 2012, Marjorie and James Landis of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, who’d been married for 65 years, died just 88 minutes apart.

Truth is you don’t have to be a sentimentalist to believe in broken hearts — being a subscriber to the New England Journal of Medicine will do. A few years ago a group of doctors at Johns Hopkins University reported a rare but lethal heart condition caused by acute emotional distress. The problem is technically known as “stress cardiomyopathy,” but the press likes to call it “broken heart syndrome,” and medical professionals don’t object to the nickname.

Behavioral science is catching up with the anecdotes, too. In the past few years, psychology researchers have found a good deal of literal truth embedded in the metaphorical phrases comparing love to pain. Neuroimaging studies have shown that brain regions involved in processing physical pain overlap considerably with those tied to social anguish. The connection is so strong that traditional bodily painkillers seem capable of relieving our emotional wounds. Love may actually hurt, like hurt hurt, after all.

A Neural Couple

Hints of a neural tie between social and physical pain emerged, quite unexpectedly, in the late 1970s. APS Fellow Jaak Panksepp, an animal researcher, was studying social attachment in puppies. The infant dogs cried when they were separated from their mothers, but these distress calls were much less intense in those that had been given a low dose of morphine, Panksepp reported in Biological Psychiatry. The study’s implication was profound: If an opiate could dull emotional angst, perhaps the brain processed social and physical pain in similar ways.

Panksepp’s findings on social distress were replicated in a number of other species — monkeys, guinea pigs, rats, chickens. The concept was hard to test in people, however, until the rise of neuroimaging decades later.

A breakthrough occurred in an fMRI study led by APS Fellow Naomi Eisenberger of University of California, Los Angeles. The researchers knew which areas of the brain became active during physical pain: the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which serves as an alarm for distress, and the right ventral prefrontal cortex (RVPFC), which regulates it. They decided to induce social pain in test participants to see how those areas responded.

Eisenberger and colleagues fed participants into a brain imaging machine and hooked them into a game called Cyberball — essentially a game of virtual catch. Participants were under the impression that two other people would be playing as well. In actuality, the other players were computer presets controlled by the researchers.

Some test participants experienced “implicit” exclusion during the game. They watched as the other two players tossed the virtual ball, but were told that technical difficulties had prevented them from joining the fun. Others experienced “explicit” exclusion. In these cases, the computer players included the participant for seven tosses, then kept the ball away for the next 45 throws.

When Eisenberger and colleagues analyzed the neural images of exclusion, they discovered “a pattern of activations very similar to those found in studies of physical pain.” During implicit exclusion, the ACC acted up while the RVPFC stayed at normal levels. (The brain might have recognized this exclusion as accidental, and therefore not painful enough to merit corrective measures.) During explicit social exclusion, however, both ACC and RVPFC activity increased in participants.

The study inspired a new line of research on neural similarities between social and physical pain. “Understanding the underlying commonalities between physical and social pain unearths new perspectives on issues such as … why it ‘hurts’ to lose someone we love,” the researchers concluded in a 2003 issue of Science.

In a review of studies conducted since this seminal work, published in the February 2012 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, Eisenberger offered a potential evolutionary reason for the relationship. Early humans needed social bonds to survive: things like acquiring food, eluding predators, and nursing offspring are all easier done in partnership with others. Maybe over time this social alert system piggybacked onto the physical pain system so people could recognize social distress and quickly correct it.

“In other words,” wrote Eisenberger, “to the extent that being separated from a caregiver or from the social group is detrimental to survival, feeling ‘hurt’ by this separation may have been an adaptive way to prevent it.”

Physical Pain Dies, Lost Love Doesn’t

Psychologists believe that physical pain has two separate components. There is the sensory component, which gives basic information about the damage, such as its intensity and location. There’s also an affective component, which is a more qualitative interpretation of the injury, such as how distressing it is.

Initial studies that followed Eisenberger’s pioneering work focused on the affective component. (The ACC, for instance, is closely related to affective pain — so much so that animals without that part of their brain can feel pain but aren’t bothered by it.) As a result, researchers began to think that while the qualitative aspects of social and physical pain might overlap, the sensory components might not.

Recently that thinking has changed. A group of researchers, led by Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan, believed that social pain might have a hidden sensory component that hadn’t been found because games like Cyberball just weren’t painful enough. So instead they recruited 40 test participants and subjected them to a far more intense social injury: the sight of an ex-lover who’d broken up with them.

Kross and colleagues brought test participants into a brain imaging machine and had them complete two multi-part tasks. One was a social task: Participants viewed pictures of the former romantic partner while thinking about the breakup, then viewed pictures of a good friend. The other was a physical task: Participants felt a very hot stimulation on their forearm, and also felt another that was just warm.

As expected from prior research, activity in areas associated with affective pain (such as the ACC) increased during the more intense tasks (seeing the “ex” and feeling the strong heat). But activity in areas linked with physical pain, such as the somatosensory cortex and the dorsal posterior insula, also increased during these tasks. The results suggested that social and physical pain have more in common than merely causing distress — they share sensory brain regions too.

“These results give new meaning to the idea that rejection ‘hurts,’” the researchers concluded in a 2011 issue ofProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Still it’s not quite accurate to say that physical and social pain are exactly the same. As other research suggests, social pain may actually be much worse in the long run. A kick to the groin might feel just as bad as a breakup in the moment, but while the physical aching goes away, the memory of lost love can linger forever.

A research group led by Zhansheng Chen at Purdue University recently demonstrated this difference in a series of experiments. During two self-reports, people recalled more details of a past betrayal than a past physical injury and also felt more pain in the present, even though both events had been equally painful when they first occurred. During two cognitive tests, people performed a tough word association task significantly more slowly when recalling emotional pain than when recalling physical pain.

“Our findings confirmed that social pain is easily relived, whereas physical pain is not,” the researchers reported in a 2008 issue of Psychological Science.

Heart-Shaped Box (of Tylenol)

There is a bright side to the new line of research linking social and physical pain: Remedies for one may well double as therapy for the other. A group of psychological researchers, led by C. Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky, recently tested whether acetaminophen — the main ingredient in Tylenol — could relieve the pain ofemotional distress as effectively as it relieves bodily aches.

In one experiment, some test participants took a 500-mg dose of acetaminophen twice a day for three weeks, while others took a placebo. All 62 participants provided self-reports on a “hurt feelings” scale designed to measure social exclusion. After Day 9, people who took the pain pill reported significantly lower levels of hurt feelings than those who took a placebo.

As a follow-up study, DeWall and colleagues gave either acetaminophen or a placebo to 25 test participants for three weeks, then brought them into the lab to play Cyberball. When participants were excluded from the game, those in the acetaminophen group showed significantly lower activity in their ACC than those in the placebo group — a sign that the painkiller was relieving social pain just as it normally did physical pain.

“For some, social exclusion is an inescapable and frequent experience,” the authors conclude in a 2010 issue of Psychological Science. “Our findings suggest that an over-the-counter painkiller normally used to relieve physical aches and pains can also at least temporarily mitigate social-pain-related distress.”

The effect breaks both ways. In another report from Psychological Science, published in 2009, a research group led by Sarah Master of University of California, Los Angeles, found that social support could relieve the intensity of physical pain — and that the supportive person didn’t even have to be present for the soothing to occur.

Master and colleagues recruited 25 women who’d been in relationships for at least six months and brought them into the lab with their romantic partner. They determined each woman’s pain threshold, then subjected her to a series of six-second heat stimulations. Half of the stimulations were given at the threshold pain level, half were given one degree (Celsius) higher.

Meanwhile the woman took part in a series of tasks to measure which had a mitigating effect on the pain. Some involved direct contact (holding the partner’s hand, a stranger’s hand, or an object) while others involved visual contact (viewing the partner’s photo, a stranger’s photo, or an object). In the end, contact involving a romantic partner — both direct and visual alike — led to significantly lower pain ratings compared to the other tasks. In fact, looking at a partner’s picture led to slightly lower pain ratings than actually holding his hand.

At least for all the hurt love causes, it has an equally powerful ability to heal.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Taking It Personally

In the world that is me, I am the center of it. As humans we’re fairly self-centered creatures. Society has programmed us to think this is a bad thing, but really it’s just the nature of existence. We see, we live, we experience from our perspective first and foremost. That is all I mean when I say I’m self-centered. Maybe I should say self-centric. Then, of course, you expand your perspective with sympathy, compassion, and empathy to encompass the experience of others.

Sometimes I think though, with BPD we can get stuck in a pit of our own small world. Where everything feels like it’s directly aimed at, or directed towards us. Not even in just a way that “life happens, gotta flow with it,” way, but when something happens or changes that we don’t want or expect, it feels like an attack or like someone is doing it to us on purpose; maybe because they no longer care, they don’t like us anymore, they found someone else, they want us to hurt, they’re really just the biggest asshole that ever existed, etc…. These are the blown up nasty exaggerations of thoughts that bang around in my mind anyways.

For example, when I went to visit my Sister, I was supposed to see another friend as well, but some things came up and our plans had to be cancelled. Completely legitimate life things that had nothing to do with me.  I was intensely disappointed. The more I thought about it, the sadder and more depressed I got. I felt rejected. I felt like maybe they just really didn’t want to see me. Maybe I did something wrong and they didn’t want to be friends anymore. That the only reason they wanted to see me in the first place was for such-and-such a reason and now they’re tossing me aside because they found someone else. I found myself in tears that I was being rejected and abandoned for completely (probably) made up self- centric reasons.

It’s like that with so many things. I don’t intend to, but I make these completely innocuous events all about myself, instead of putting myself in the other persons shoes, and remembering to think about them from their perspective.  I don’t mean to, because really all I can feel is that I’m  hurting, I’m depressed, I’m in pain, and I’m feeling intensely rejected. It takes a tremendous force of will try and pull yourself out of that and think… No. Stop. Really this person is not intentionally trying to make you feel sad. They are not trying to make you depressed. They are not trying to hurt you. (Unless they’re actually an abusive person!) This person is just a person with their own life and sometimes life things come up and get in the way. Those life things are ENTIRELY SEPARATE events that have nothing to do with me/you. They are not things should be taken personally.

Part of the reason I think I take things so personally is I invest so much of my self-worth in the desire for others to love me, like I talked about the other day. So when those things come up, I forget that they’re completely unrelated things to me. All I think about is, this person doesn’t want to see me? This person doesn’t want to be with me? They couldn’t have done this thing some other time? That must mean something [terrible] right?  Well, wrong. Really, really wrong. Because other people generally don’t think this way. All other people think is, “Damn this thing came up, can we reschedule? Awesome we’ll catch each other another time.” They don’t have so much of their self-worth, rejection, abandonment… invested in every day to day encounter the way that we so often can. For us it can be devastating, when for someone else, they may feel bad to have to cancel (as any normal person would) but they’re not out to get us, they simply had something unavoidable happen in their own life that they had to deal with.

That doesn’t mean they care any less, it just means that life got in the way for a moment.

It’s very difficult to not take things so personally. Especially the more and more invested we are in someone the more afraid we are of losing that love, and subsequently about losing how we feel about ourselves. This is why it’s important to try work on trying to step outside of our own perspective and put ourselves in the other persons shoes when these thoughts take over. We can get very upset about things that we don’t have to be getting upset about. It takes effort and practice to try and put yourself in the other persons place and just realize that it’s plain and simple life stuff, not some big grand scheme taking hold, but it’s an exercise that is extremely worthwhile in preserving not only our relationships, but our own mental health and happiness. 

***When I talk about losing someone's love, this can be a significant other, family, friends... anyone you care about. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...