Schizophrenia

All people have behavioural and psychological traits, such as being happy, being sad, being angry, having belief in a thing, being talkative, flinching from danger, being self centred and so on. The list is very long and changes subtly from culture to culture. When one of these becomes dominant they can progress into a disorder and then into a mental illness.

 

Frequently these disorders and mental illnesses can be managed by treatment, which can  include therapy, lifestyle changes and possibly medication. Most of these disorders are where there is an over expression or under expression of a normal human trait, possibly due to a chemical/hormone imbalance or a behavioural trait that is learned and can be unlearned.

 

Then there is schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is defined by positive and negative traits. Positive traits are behaviours and experiences that most people don’t have while negative traits are an absence of traits most people do have. An example of a positive trait is the soft drink dispenser asking you about your day where no one else hears it or experiences it (this excludes pranks or “smart dispensers” that talk to everyone), while an example of a negative trait is an absence of joy.

 

Along with positive and negative traits there is frequently a cognitive dysfunction. To a mainstream person, a person with schizophrenia will use chains of logic that almost make sense, but don’t. Dysfunction can also be lost memories, lost skill sets (I use to be able to do this, but now I can’t) and strange beliefs.

 

As with all conditions, schizophrenia presents on a spectrum. Simplistically we can look at a simple linear functionality spectrum, from managing fine in the community without medication, managing with medication and treatment, to not managing. However the reality is that the spectrum is multi-axial. That is based on how much of each of the above signs and symptoms are present and how capable is the person experiencing this is able to compensate and manage.

 

Schizoaffective disorder is a combination of Schizophrenia and Affective (mood) Disorder, where both symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorder are present, but not quite enough of either to diagnose the person in either category. Often people will receive this diagnosis before being upgrade, if necessary, to the schizophrenia diagnosis later.

 

Please note that this is all a simplified version of what schizophrenia is and is not a diagnostic guideline.

 

Often people diagnosed with schizophrenia will be referred to, or refer to themselves, as schizophrenic. This is very common in mental illnesses and some other illnesses – to mistake oneself for the diagnosis. I am schizophrenic, I am autistic, I am diabetic, I am broken armian, I am chronic pain, I am momentary headache. The fact is, you are a person first, diagnosed with one or more of these issues as a description – not an identity.

 

Highly creative people are able to look at disparate information and make sense out of it. Examples of some of these creative people are artists and scientists. This ability is all about making unusual links and then testing to see if it is feasible and doable. Uncreative people are not able to make these links and follow more traditional means of connecting information together. People diagnosed with schizophrenia are thought to lack the second part of this ability – testing. That is, reality testing to check if it is feasible and doable. The hypothesis is that people with schizophrenia lack the important reality testing part that rejects ideas, thoughts and visions that shouldn’t work and/or exist and instead assume that these ideas are real and accurate.

 

Another angle on this hypothesis is that the brain misfires certain inputs (stimuli from outside the body, such as sight, touch, smell etc) or the processing of internal inputs (memories, thoughts) and ends up with a bizarre result. This bizarre result is then accepted as accurate rather than rejected before the conscious mind is aware of it. All brains misfire and come up with unusual result, but generally these ideas are rejected before much attention is given to them. A hypothesis about schizophrenia is that either this rejection isn’t very good, or that there are so many misfires that the brain assumes it must be true. Any lie told often enough takes on a hint of truth, so enough repeats of the wrong idea will start to seem right.

 

Schizophrenia seems to have a genetic component. If you have a family member with schizophrenia traits, then it is more likely that you will inherit it. This isn’t much of an increase though. Instead of it being about 1 in 200 people, you are now 1 in 100 people – which is not much of a shift. It can also be spontaneous, with no family history of schizophrenia. Most often it is developed during the early to mid teens. Some mind altering substances are thought to cause schizophrenia in some people, but the evidence for this is weak. Did the drug cause schizophrenia, or was the person already experiencing some symptoms that they were trying to treat with illicit drugs? Which was first? Or even if there were no preceding symptoms of schizophrenia, was the person going to develop them anyway, and drugs were a correlation rather than a causation? What has been evidenced is that some illicit drugs have a higher correlation with schizophrenia diagnosis than others.

 

Not all people with schizophrenia need treatment. It is estimated that roughly 1 in 3 people who experience these symptoms manage themselves without input from mental health teams and or medication. They experience full and generally happy lives. Another 1 in 3 of these people respond well to treatment, where they find the skills learned through therapy and or antipsychotic medication mean they can lead a fairly high quality community life. Unfortunately it is estimated that roughly 1 in 3 people don’t respond well to medication or therapeutic input, struggling to find meaning and quality in their life. The exact statistics are difficult to get as not all people who experience symptoms are diagnosed or have any interaction with mental health.

 

If you are in the last of these 3 subcategories, take heart. Many people who didn’t respond well to the medical model of treatment found good support from peers (those with similar experiences) via the Hearing Voices Network – a worldwide organisation. Even those in the first two categories have frequently found positive value in connecting to others. It isn’t for everyone, but it does exist and can help.

 

Another thing to look into is the recovery model. The idea here is that you have a thing, and it is big and somewhat disruptive. How can you manage that big and disruptive thing, minimising its impact? And wherever that big thing doesn’t disrupt your life, how much comfort and meaning can you get? Recovery is about recognising that this diagnosis is about a thing you have, it isn’t defining you. I have an arm – does that make me an arm? No. I am a person who is more than my arm. You have schizophrenia, that doesn’t make you schizophrenia.

Little Dog Syndrome

This is an analogy that I have thought up – it isn’t a clinical disorder. However it is an interesting perspective that can be useful.

Cats are gods. They know they are gods. They know that other cats are also gods. When they meet each other, sometimes they have a fight, but mostly they nod their head and basically say “sup”, as in “what’s up?” Cats don’t growl at humans or creatures passing by the fence, flying in the trees and so on. They know they are gods. They don’t have to prove it. If you can’t see their godhood, that is your loss.

Chihuahuas, on the other hand, wish they were rottweilers. They like to prance about, bark loudly and growl at everything to prove that they are rottweilers, despite their physical appearance. If you look at them, you see their posturing and say to yourself “wow – a powerful dog”. Really, though, despite their bluster, they only harm they can give you is a small nip, unless they trip you up and manage to get you in the jugular or something.

Generally they are all noise and no really threat.

They hate it when you know that. They must prove to you, impress upon you, that they are big and powerful and worthy of respect, which they only see in the form of fear.

Rottweilers fear that you look at them and think they are a chihuahua. So they have to defend their territory and be the biggest, scariest dog on the block. Go past their designated space? Barking ensues. Meet another dog, they must prove they are the dominant beast. Because when two dogs meet, only one can be the rottweiler, so the others must be the chihuahua.

When dogs look in the mirror, they see a chihuahua, regardless of what others see, regardless of their breed. “I could be bigger, more ferocious, more feared” they think, “that little dog – it is pathetic. That is nothing to be feared. That’s what others see. I have to be more ferocious”.

For a dog, there is nothing more terrifying than someone else seeing that you are weak. Even with the best of intentions, any reassurance that they are not weak, small and insignificant highlights that you can see that they think they are, and you will be seen as the enemy. Trying to help these people is a good way of getting your fingers nipped. Praising them for how big and fearful they are is a way to appeal to their delusion. It can keep you safe for a while, but it is time limited.

Mostly little dogs don’t get help with their fear, because first they have to acknowledge that they are, indeed, little dogs. And that is terrifying for them.

Domestic cats mass about the same as a little dog. Big cats, like tigers and lions, massively outweigh the biggest dogs. Yet domestic cats know they are gods, so don’t care, while little dogs only see themselves as inadequate big dogs.

So when you see one of these dog people yapping at you, realise that their yapping is telling you what they see in the mirror – a little dog wishing they were big and ferocious. Do what cats do. Get out of the way, see them for the dog they are and mostly ignore it. Be a god.

== please note, I have met some really nice chihuahuas, rottweilers and some very insecure cats. This is a thought idea rather than a statement that all chihuahuas have issues.

 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissus was a mythical character from ancient Greek times who was the son of the river god Cephissus and nymph Liriope. He was physically beautiful, but disdained those who loved him. The goddess Nemesis learned of him and drew him to a pool of water, where Narcissus saw his own reflection, fell in love with his own image and starved to death rather than leave the picture of perfection.

This myth gave rise to the term Narcissism – an exaggerated opinion of self and self worth, which lead to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), previously called megalomania. NPD should only be diagnosed by specialists, and while it is easy to see someone acting egotistical and self centred and label them as NPD, the odds are you are just dealing with a selfish person.

People often mix up the meanings of NPD and psychopathy (sometimes referred to as sociopathy). While they are both personality disorders, they are polar opposites. Both can be devastatingly harmful to others. Psychopaths don’t get empathetic feedback from others and so don’t really care what you think, just don’t get in their way too much. Narcissists need you to have positive feelings for them. There is far more to psychopathy, but that isn’t the scope of this entry.

Narcissists fear being exposed as frauds, being seen as weak, incapable or vulnerable. This fear requires them to create an image of perfection for everyone to admire. Narcissists need admiration of others. This fear of exposure makes it very hard for them to get help as they first have to admit to someone else that they need help and expose their vulnerabilities to a therapist to work on the core fear of exposure.

It is thought that roughly 1 in 100 people have NPD to some pathological level, although it is hard to truly gauge as people who could be given an NPD diagnosis don’t tend to come forward to be assessed. While the prevalence could be as low as 50% male vs 50% female, it is thought to be as high as 75% male vs 25% female. Mostly it is considered to be more likely a male trait, but certainly not exclusive.

The American Diagnostics and Statistics Manual version 5 (DSM V) states the following:

[TLDR – To have NPD, the condition must hinder the individual and others in specific ways and be characterised by some antagonism, grandiosity (feelings of entitlement) and attention seeking, but not be a recent or brief thing or explained by some other condition or circumstance.]

“The essential features of a personality disorder are impairments in personality (self and interpersonal) functioning and the presence of pathological personality traits. To diagnose narcissistic personality disorder, the following criteria must be met:

Significant impairments in personality functioning manifest by:

  1. Impairments in self functioning (a or b):
  2. Identity: Excessive reference to others for self-definition and self-esteem regulation; exaggerated self-appraisal may be inflated or deflated, or vacillate between extremes; emotional regulation mirrors fluctuations in self-esteem.
  3. Self-direction: Goal-setting is based on gaining approval from others; personal standards are unreasonably high in order to see oneself as exceptional, or too low based on a sense of entitlement; often unaware of own motivations.

AND

Impairments in interpersonal functioning (a or b):

  1. Empathy: Impaired ability to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others; excessively attuned to reactions of others, but only if perceived as relevant to self; over- or underestimate of own effect on others.
  2. Intimacy: Relationships largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation; mutuality  constrained by little genuine interest in others‟ experiences and predominance of a need for personal gain

Pathological personality traits in the following domain:

  1. Antagonism, characterized by:
  2. Grandiosity: Feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert;  self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescending toward others.
  3. Attention seeking: Excessive attempts to attract and be the focus of the attention of others; admiration seeking.
  4. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are relatively stable across time and consistent across situations.
  5. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not better understood as normative for the individual’s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment.
  6. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not solely due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., severe head trauma).”

While the exact mechanism for why the disorder occurs is unclear (could be a genetic component, environmental component, developmental delay etc), the traits often begin in adolescence and get stronger. Many teens show some of the traits – being self centred and reactive is often what it means to be a teen, the traits in most teens are not overrepresented and will diminish in time. When the traits get stronger and don’t resolve the NPD diagnosis may become relevant.

It is easy to over pathologise being confident and assertive as NPD. Being sure of yourself and your capabilities is not a hallmark of NPD. What is a better tell is what happens if you are told you are wrong. If you check to see if you are, or take on board suggestions from others, then you do not have NPD. If you feel threatened and retaliate to reclaim your feeling of comfort, then perhaps you should speak to a professional therapist.

The core of the disorder appears to be the fear of the self being weak, and the need to prove that isn’t true. That very need to prove capability and brilliance proves the weakness. A person who knows they have ability just goes quietly along and does what they need to do. They don’t need others to congratulate them, admire them or reassure them. They just do it. The occasional thanks is nice, but not required.

It is tempting to pathologise the human need to be recognised as worthwhile, and have your actions validated. The difference between this human need and NPD is in two parts: the first is that when most people are validated, it assures them they are on track – it is a confirmation rather than a requirement; the second is how the person seeks that validation and what they do if the person is told they are doing the thing wrong – NPD people will attack if they are not validated and will seek the validation using negative manipulation or cajoling, while other people will check to see if they need to change what they are doing to better match reasonable societal expectations.

If you have read this and think … oh dear, perhaps I have NPD, then by all means go and talk to a therapist and get yourself checked out. In Australia, go to your doctor, express your concerns and get a referral to a suitable therapist. You can learn to decrease your fear and empathically connect better to others.

If you have read this and think … oh dear, my family member / close friend / boss may have NPD, then there are a few things that are a good idea to do. First of all, assess the damage that person is doing to others (including yourself). If there is no significant emotional harm, social harm or financial harm, then they probably don’t have NPD. NPD requires both the person to have a fragile ego and be causing problems with other people because of it. By all means, go see a therapist to discuss your concerns and get some specific help in working out if this person who is affecting you fits the profile – going through all the possibilities is beyond the scope of this article.

If your conclusion is that this person does fit the NPD profile, then you need to ensure you protect yourself first. These people are often incredibly charismatic and have a reality distortion field. If you see through these, they feel exposed and threatened by you and will act against you.

The charisma is the narcissists learned ability to manipulate the affection and awe of those around them to validate their need to be loved and respected despite their fear that they are inadequate. Unfortunately most people are prone to fall for these as the manipulation methods rely on hijacking normal social interactions and tuning them for their own exaggerated benefit. The reality distortion field (named after the Steve Jobs effect) is where reality seems to be different around these people. They can convince people that black is white, giraffes are short and that things that you thought happened didn’t, oh and by the way, you are responsible for that thing that went bad. This can leave you very confused about what is right and proper, wondering if you are really the one who needs help because there is clearly something wrong with you.

When a person with NPD fails to charm you, or you fail to admire them, or you seem immune to their reality distortion field, they will feel threatened by you. The fear they have is that you can see through to their true self, whom they feel is pathetic and worthless. While it is tempting to try to convince them that you can see their true self and want to nurture it, to help them grow to not be what they fear, the majority of people diagnosed with NPD will see you as a threat and will take steps to protect themselves from the perceived threat. This will take the form of crass social manipulation, threats, erratic mood swings, childish tantrums and possibly direct attack. In effect, they will try to bully you into submission, demonise you, and try to convince others that you are some kind of evil. The charismatic nature of the condition means that people will begin to believe the person with NPD, or keep giving them the benefit of the doubt. In short, you can’t nurture them back to a healthy balance.

Sometimes it is best to walk away. Only if the person with NPD recognises themselves for what they are and seek help on their own (by all means encourage, but don’t push), will they have a chance to work through the diagnosis and recover their sense of inherent self worth rather than fabricating a facade of competence.

The Illusion of Normal

The Illusion of Normal

 

I just want to be normal.

 

It is a very nice statement and most people will know exactly what you mean. Except they don’t. I want to be a dragon. It has mostly the same concept and foundation. This is because normal doesn’t exist. Sorry, neither does the dragon. Average might, but average is a purely local phenomena. The error in this way of thinking is that we are looking at ourselves in the negative rather than the positive.

 

Let us explore normal for a few moments. Normal is defined as an adjective giving the attribute as “conforming to a standard, usual, typical, or as expected”, or a noun naming something as “the usual, average, or typical state or condition.” I can talk about a normal 6 mm nut with a 10 mm hex outer using the fine thread pitch made of mild steel that is zinc coated… at this point I haven’t really defined normal anymore. I have defined a specific something, and this nut in my hand is normal to that specific definition.

 

Let us switch that to apples and go backwards. I am holding a normal apple in my hand. We know it is mostly spherical and has two divots that are opposite to each other. If I put the stem divot at the top, then the flower divot is at the bottom, because this is a normal apple. We know it has seeds in the middle and that if we were to cut the apple in half horizontally to the current orientation it would have 5 cavities for the seeds.  Sounds pretty normal so far. What colour is the apple? What colour is the pulp inside it? What species is it? How big is it? What does it taste like? If I specify the type and breed of apple we can now narrow some of these answers down, but some others we can’t. Normal is useless without being very specific.

 

Abnormal is easier. The nut in my hand has seven sides. That isn’t normal- usually a nut has is 4, 6 or 8 sides, 7 is just crazy. The apple I hold in my hand isn’t spherical, it is more banana shaped, has indigo skin and tastes like an olive. That isn’t normal either.

 

When we say we want to be normal, we mean to say we want to not seem abnormal. We want to be missed or overlooked. We don’t want to be noticed. Yet we have this idea of what we are supposed to be, and we aren’t it. This notion shifts from person to person. I talk more about that with hair later.

 

What is a normal human? About half the population of humans are female, another almost half are male and a few percent in the middle are “it’s complicated”. Most people identify as straight. Most people are wrong. Over 70% of people who identified as “straight” upon closer examination admitted that they were technically bisexual, but defaulted to or leaned more towards straight. There was also a percentage that ignored the evidence of their activities and contorted their definition to make them conform to this idea of “straight”. Similarly when we look at male/female/it’s complicated, each one of these is in a minority of some sort, and that “sort” is modified to suit the argument that target group is making at the time. More often than not, it’s complicated have more right to identify as a minority, but what does that really mean?

 

What colour is the normal human’s skin? The average skin colour is brown, but even then, what shade of brown? And how many humans have that skin colour? Suddenly this gets much harder to answer. We could take every skin pigmentation of every human on Earth (and nearby satellites *nods head to the current humans in space*) and determine what is the mean skin tone. Then we compare that average to the human population and count up how many humans actually have that same skin tone and discover that it is only a small handful. If we increase the tolerance of “same” we might increase it to 1% of the population. That means that 99% of the population has abnormal skin tone. If we increase the tolerance again to 10% of the population, that still means that 90% of the population is abnormal. If we increase the tolerance higher than 10%, how big is the range of skin tones accepted to be “average” and “normal” now?

 

A friend of mine visited a remote part of Thailand about 30 years ago. She was blond, pale and short. Here in Perth Australia that is. When she went to this village in Thailand, she was freakishly tall, incredible pale and was informed by the local authorities that she needed to have a guard to ensure she wasn’t attacked for her long blond hair. What happened to normal? In Perth she always wished to be “normal sized”, that is, taller. When she was in the village in Thailand, she was considered too tall and her colouration was weird.

 

Between 150,000 and 80,000 years ago humans as we know them nearly went extinct. A few times. The population of current humans around the world can be traced back to a bottleneck of almost 2,000 humans at some point in this time space and that the human population didn’t really get much bigger than this for quite a while (possibly 100,000 years). All humans on Earth trace their ancestry back to these 2,000 people. This is more complicated than it sounds though, as there might be lines that have died out from humans that were alive at this time, but now ignored because their descendants didn’t make it. The point, though, is that right there we have a small number of original humans to average rather than 7 billion mutated humans. This population of humans lived in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

The average skin colour of these people would be quite dark brown, the average hair would likely to have been curley and black, and the average eye colour was dark brown. If you don’t have these stats, you are an abnormal freak. A mutant. Abnormal.

 

Is that fair? I look around my office and dark skin is rare, I consider my friends and again dark skin is rare. So what is normal?

 

I have conversations with women. I know, it’s odd. But anyway, I recall many a conversation where a lass has stated she is dissatisfied with her hair and wishes for a different amount of curl – more or less – or a different shade/colour, or a longer/shorter style and so on. Basically, whatever she doesn’t have. This is almost always followed by another lass in the conversation stating they love that hair that has so recently been impugned, and wish they had it because it isn’t what they have. I listen to the tails of straighteners, hair dyes and endless hair cuts and stylings.

 

I don’t really get it.

 

Anyway,  what I do get from this is that each of them is comparing themselves to some model of hair that makes their own hair less than satisfactory. Each of these models is vastly different from one person to the next. Imagine the hair you want, find a person who has that hair and ask them what their ideal hair would be and I estimate a high percentage of respondents will state a different hair type to what they have. They’ve got your ideal, but they think it is wrong.

 

Women are not the only ones that fall for this trope. I just picked on hair and a couple of conversations I sat around as a bridge to hang a concept off.

 

The result of this is that each of these people are looking at themselves as wrong when compared to this ideal of hair or other aspect, an ideal that shifts from person to person. My solution is to look at my hair and be satisfied with it. Sure, I’d like a little  more hair on my increasing bald spot, but meh. Not enough to do something about it. I look at it as a graceful way to age… *cries in the corner*. No, seriously. It’s good enough and it suits me. Because it is me. If you want to dye your hair, go for it. I hope you enjoy the colour.

 

When we start to look at ourselves and see the amazing and awesome aspects about ourselves, we begin to define ourselves in the positive. My skin is me coloured, my hair is my hair, my intelligence is at my level, my compassion is me, my means of communication is mine. I like who I am.

 

About 20 years ago I didn’t like who I was. I recognised that I was doing things that I detested. I treated people badly and I blamed everyone else for so many things. Sometimes I was right, but mostly I wasn’t. Even then, in my self-despair and loathing, I found things to like about myself. I was fit, I was young and full of potential. From this pit of despair, I had three directions to go – up, down or sideways. Up meant improving me, sideways meant eventual meaningless death, down meant more of the same. I put the resources I had (not much at the time) into changing the things I didn’t like about me, and into developing and encouraging the things that I did like.

 

The point of the above paragraph is that change can be defined as positive. I was growing and becoming. There was a huge temptation to define myself as faulty, as bad, as wrong. Define myself in the negative. I indulged in that for a bit and just dug my pit of despair deeper. On reflection at the time, I realised this just wasn’t helping. Thus I switched strategies to define myself positively.

 

Do I want to be like everyone else? No. Partly because I can’t work out which everyone else I want to be like, and partly because I don’t want to not be me. What I really wanted was to be a better me, but that started out with acknowledging what was good about me, even the bits I thought were bad at the time. And acknowledging that these aspects can grow and improve. And recognising that that growth doesn’t make the old me faulty and defective. Just young and learning.

 

Consider your birth. Perhaps for the sake of less awkward, a few days after your birth. The odds are you didn’t talk in any recognisable human language, didn’t ride a bicycle, didn’t walk, didn’t do math and a host of other things that you do now. That you isn’t defective, it is young. It isn’t someone else, it is you, a young and unlearned you. You then learned all (most?) of these things later. If there is an aspect about yourself that you identify now as needing improvement, or having the potential of improvement, that doesn’t make that aspect right now faulty or wrong, just like newly born you wasn’t faulty or wrong. It is just an aspect in potential.

 

Defining ourselves in the negative, against a fictitious “normal” or an ever changing “average” does defines us as wrong. This leads to despair and never being good enough. Defining ourselves in the positive, as growing people, gives us the ability to love ourselves as we are now while at the same time recognising that we can grow and still be us. I recommend this defining ourselves in the positive strategy. It is more useful.

Contributing factors to Mental Illness

Factors that lead to mental illness are biological factors, environmental factors and circumstantial factors. No single one of these is the be all and end all of mental illness and generally people have two or even three of these present.

 

Biological factors are looking at genetics, which includes both DNA and epigenetics. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the chain of G, T, A, and C rungs that are the blueprint for making a human. Your DNA defines how to make you, while my DNA defines how to make me. Not each rung is an on switch, nor an off switch – it is far more complicated than that. The rungs bunch together and are called genes. They define how certain groups of things work, and some of these things seems quite unconnected. One of these genes in canines, for example, connect the aggressive response to the rigidity of the ear and a few other factors. When you breed aggression out of foxes, you get domestic dog looking foxes. Epigenetics is a faster environmental response system that is built into your body for how to interpret different parts of the DNA. Eating bitter plants (such as broccoli and brussel sprouts) turns more of your anti-cancer epigenes on. This isn’t changing our DNA, it is changing how our body interprets the DNA. As we get older we don’t mind bitter plants as much, as that is when we need the cancer fighting foods, while when we are younger and can be more easily poisoned by eating the wrong bitter plants, we don’t like bitter much at all. Some epigenetic switches have been found to last as little as 6 months.

 

What we consume and what we experience affects us. It can also affect our children. The Dutch Winter Hunger is a fascinating discovery of how epigenetics not only switch the genes on and off for one generation, but last several generations down the line. When looking at biological sources of mental illness we look at your genogram, that is your children, your siblings, your parents, your parents siblings and your grandparents. Do any of them have odd behaviours or diagnoses? If there is a few, then the odds are that your experience is being influenced by hereditary genetics. This can lead to a nature vs nurture debate, which I’ll cover a bit later when I talk about environment. This is the nature part.

 

Some drug use can change some of these switches. We all have some genetic switches that when flipped will promote ill health. Paracelsus points out that all drugs are poisons, what matters is the dose. That is, if the does is right, the drug is useful, if the does is wrong, it creates harm. Illicit drugs are hard to control the dose and often we take far more of them than we should or need, thus we run the risk of taking doses high enough that we promote mental illness. Getting drunk on alcohol will make most people act oddly while the alcohol is in their system, but once they sober up the expectation is that the temporary insanity will go away. Drink too much for too long and your behaviour may last longer than the alcohol in your system. Illicit drugs are more likely to create persistent effects because you’ve flipped a genetic switch (or at least, that is the current thinking on how this works). Sometimes we are poisoned by toxins in our environment and sometimes by what we choose to consume. Sometimes we pass on these altered epigenetics to our children.

 

The Dutch Winter Hunger, mentioned above, was directly involved with a generation of children born during an induced famine. These children were born underweight and never grew to the full height of the rest of their family. This is not too unexpected. They also had a higher incidence of illness and disease when compared to their brothers and sisters born outside of the famine. What was unexpected was that the children born to these now adult’s, who were born in relative prosperity, were also seemed to have an increase in disease (the previously thought decline in weight appears to just be a statistical anomaly that was cancelled out later), as were their children. We are waiting to find out what the next generation does. The effects of drugs and toxins that lead to poor mental health on the next generation is still being explored… watch this space. But slowly, because it takes a lot of time to breed humans. It will be interesting to see what more examination of this specific famine have. Lab tests done with animals and plants have also corroborated inter-generational epigenetic inheritance.

 

Environmental factors are more about society, culture, subculture and parenting. This is the nurture side of the “debate”. The debate is a bit silly. It is trying to create a false dichotomy. Is who I am a result of my nature or my nurture? The answer is both. Sometimes more one than the other, but both nonetheless.

 

Society is the land you are in, culture is the assumptions of your family (often based on heritage), subculture is the values of your friends and peers, and parenting is the parental environment aside from all of these. Each of these creates a set of values and problem solving strategies and assumptions within us. When they work well with our personal view of the world and interaction with events, life is generally pleasant and easy. When there is conflict between our society, culture, subculture and/or parental environment, then often we find conflict within ourselves. Sometimes one or more of these environments can be harmful to us, in which case we again find conflict within ourselves. This conflict can become behavioural or emotional (feeling) regulation issues, commonly regarded as mental illness.

 

Coinsider being raised in a culture that defines blue eyed people as probably possessed by demons while brown eyed people are naturally resistant to such possession. A child will not be able to inherently know that this is cultural belief is considered strange by wider society. Children often assume the beliefs of their parents and local community are true. When that grown child is arrested by blue eyed police officers for doing something that the family believes is okay, such as burning down heretical places of worship, the assumption is going to be that the blue eyed police officers are possessed by demons. If the person ever works out that the values and life assumptions given to them by their parents and community are in error, that person is going to have a tough time adjusting to society. Society is going to seem shallow and full of errors. And it is. Mostly that majority of people who grow up in mainstream society have excellent ways to excuse all of the little errors, mistakes and outrages that surround us. People who come into this society see these errors for what they are – foolish and wrong.

 

When our environment harms us in subtle or overt ways, we learn ways to minimise the harm and make it seem alright. We humans survive. When we find ourselves no longer in a harmful situation, we don’t adapt well to peace and safety. Many mood disorders stem from this environmental harm. Mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder and so on frequently stem from surviving hostile situations and not adjusting to non-hostility.

 

Sometimes the environmental factor is quite short lived. At this point we steer a bit away from thinking of it as nurture and define it more as circumstantial. That is, the circumstances in which you have found yourself is very stressful. A natural consequence of high and/or ongoing stress is changed behaviour.

 

Each of us has a certain amount of buffer space where we can be faced with adversity and adapt and overcome it without significant effect on ourselves. Buffer space is the concept behind stress tolerance and resilience. Stress tolerance is how much stress (unbalanced pressure) we can endure before it causes us problems. Resilience is how quickly does that stress tolerance come back. Each person has a different amount of both of these – some have little, some have lots. At some point, every person’s buffer can be overwhelmed. I posted a few weeks ago about torture. The point of torture is to overwhelm a person’s buffer space. Go read that if you want to know more.

 

Humans break, and upon breaking they change. When this change hinders us, it promotes mental ill health.

 

Often we want to personalise disaster – “why is this happening to me?”, “everything comes in threes”, “it’s like the universe is out to get me”. In the vast majority of times the disasters are not personal, they just happen randomly. Human perception of random is poor. We tend to think of random as an even distribution of events rather than recognising that events clump. Consider crossing the road away from traffic lights. The drivers are not in communication with each other and they don’t care about you. They are just driving. Yet they tend to clump up together at some times and spread out at other times. This is great for us at the side of the road, we just wait for the spread out bits to cross the road, rather than cross when the cars clump together. Unless the cars clump so much that they stop, that is. Events do that too. We think the spread out bits of bad luck (that is events that we don’t like) are lucky for us while the clumped up bits feel personal, because then we have some measure of control over it… right?

 

When enough local events go wrong for us we use up our buffer to deal with the first few events and then fail to have the resources to manage the next few events. This is when we humans tend to fall down and fail a bit. This risks mental illness, that is behavioural change and/or perception of the world change, of either a short term or long term nature.

 

Each of these causes can create different behaviours and management methods of the world. When we continue to interface with the world in a mostly successful way, we call them behavioural traits and no one really cares. When we move to the next level of management, where it is going okay, but wider society thinks it is odd, we frequently call the behaviour eccentric, different, annoying and/or special. When we fail to manage okay and our life becomes disordered or intolerable for various reasons, we call that mental illness.
For some, only one of these factors contributed to their mental illness. For others a combination of factors contributed. The mental illness is not defined by the contributing factor(s), it is defined by the effect it has on you now.

Breaking down mental illness

Mental illness comes in three major categories: cognitive disorder, mood disorder and/or positive/negative symptoms. While these aren’t the technical boundaries, this is the way that I consider mental illness to help break down the many subtleties into manageable portions. Mental illness isn’t just character trait, or a bit of an oddity. It is where the symptom, for various reasons, interferes with the smooth running of your life.

 

Cognitive disorder is about how we understand, what we think is real about the world and what we conclude from the evidence that we think is real. A component of this is perception, which comes in two flavours. Is the thing present and what is the threshold of meaning for the thing. If the unicorn is present, then it is something that I need to assess as far as risk and benefit. If it seems present but isn’t, then my assessment is automatically going to be in error. The assessment of risk vs benefit adjusts my behaviour towards the unicorn. If it is a risk to my health, then I need to be careful of it, while if it is there to charm those pesky fairies away, then I don’t need to be worried about the risk of the unicorn, I need to be worried about the risk of the fairies and the benefit the unicorn is going to have because of that risk. If we swap the unicorn, in this thought experiment, to a car, a risk of the car is that it will run me over. A benefit of the car is it can take me places very quickly. If I underestimate the risk of the car, I am in danger of being run over by it. If I overestimate the risk of the car, it may hinder the benefit the car can give me.

 

Another common cognitive error is faulty pattern recognition such as false beliefs and unclear/confused thinking. We humans are pattern recognition machines. This ability allows us to predict what comes next, such as when the gap in traffic will happen before we cross the road. We try to identify patterns and create heuristics to predict the next occurrences and the best way to deal with them. This gap is too small, this one is taking too long, etc. Sometimes we create patterns where there aren’t patterns. Every time I score beyond 5,000 in this game, a gap in the traffic appears. It may coincidentally happen a few times, but if my crossing the road relies on me scoring over 5,000, then my thought is in error and it hinders my life. Here I have equated to disparate things as if one things causes another, when really it doesn’t. Humans make these mistakes all of the time and only slowly let them go. The difference between a human trait (making this mistake) and a mental disorder is the magnitude of both the gap in connecting the disparate items and the consequence of doing so. As with most human traits, they don’t become a disorder until it creates significant disorder in your life.

 

Sometimes we create links that are very concrete but wrong, as described above. Sometimes we create links that are very short lived but wrong, such as this pen is a demon that is sucking my soul and spilling its life ink onto the paper. The paper is made from the tongue of a troll which was killed by Jesus when he was walking across the water to make the red sea into blood. When he did this, his finger fell off and was transmuted into a pen, which I now hold. This chain of story is trying to make all the elements that do exist fit into the ever shifting fantasy that is running through my thoughts. It is like trying to reconcile the real world on a dream understanding. This fails the real world test, thus making it very hard to actually make plans for how to better my or other’s lives.

 

Mood disorders are where the feelings we have are either too low, too high, and/or too rapid to be useful to our ability to work out an appropriate action to the event we are experiencing. First of all, let us separate the feeling from the emotion. We feel things internally, such as anger, fear, sadness, disgust, joy, and surprise. Feelings inform us of the environment and prime us to a default action based on the feeling. We emote (display) emotions, such as anger, fear, sadness, disgust, joy and surprise. Emotions communicate our feelings assessment to others. Be aware that people frequently mix the two up.

 

Consider something you are seeing. What you are seeing is light photons passing through your eye and hitting your retina. Your retina does some basic processing and passes the signal electrochemically into your brain. It goes via two channels. The fastests is to your danger pattern recognition centre, the amygdala and hypothalamus, located at the top of your spine inside your skull, just above the nape of your neck. It tries to quickly identify potential harm to you. If detected it gives you a suitable feeling and default action to manage this danger. If not detected, then you either don’t feel much, or if the assessment is of general benefit, you feel joy and again have a default action to deal with this. A few fractions of a second later the second channel kicks in.

 

This second channel is in your occipital region. Place your horizontal hand flat on your skull above the nape of your neck so that your hand is touching that bit that your spine touches your skull. Now place your other hand above that, higher on the back of your skull. That second hand is your occipital region. This is the light processing part of your brain. It is trying to work out what you are seeing and creating a three dimensional (3D) map of the world. It identifies that the thing you are seeing at the moment is a computer screen and what it’s basic use is. This report goes to the thinking part of your brain (ok, the whole brain is thinking, but this is simplified, right?) which is around your forehead. That part of your brain works out what to do based on the feeling and the report from your sensory translation – in this case of light the occipital region, but each sensory input has its own processing centre. So long as it isn’t an emergency you get to chose what to do.

 

When it is an emergency, the feeling is dialled right up by your danger sense and you automatically do the recommended action, like dodge or run. If it isn’t an emergency then you get a chance to think about your actions in light of the feeling driven recommended reaction. In a mood disorder this feeling is too low, so no warning comes and there is no motivation for you to do anything, no sense of urgency. If the feeling is too high, it is hard to think clearly and you find yourself reacting to everything instead of rationally acting. When the feelings cycle too fast, you can’t settle down on anything concrete for long enough to make a good choice.

 

We touched on positive symptoms a little earlier when talking about unicorns. If you experience something that most humans don’t, then it is considered a positive symptom. Most humans don’t see the unicorn, but you do. Testing the existence of the unicorn will show that it isn’t actually there, however most people experiencing positive symptoms are incredibly reluctant to test their belief. Other examples of positive symptoms include feeling insects crossing your body or crawling inside your body when they aren’t there, or perceiving people’s faces as whirlpools of smeared colour. Thought positive symptoms can include paranoia (unknown things are out to get you), conspiracy thinking (there is an evil plot by reptiles to control the ape people) and so on. Generally these positive symptoms are referred to as hallucinations and frequently respond very well to medication.

 

Negative symptoms are things that are missing when compared to the average human. The inability to feel joy, the absence of wanting to speak and no desire to form relationships with people are common examples. Not seeing peoples heads would be a positive symptom rather than a negative one (as it adds to perception rather than being an absence of perception). Unfortunately medication doesn’t help this one as much, so the solution is more complex than “here, take this pill”.

 

Each of these three branches can lead to mental ill health if they feed a behaviour that interferes with your life in a significant way. That is what changes the trait or experience into a disorder – that you find your life in dis-order. Many people feel the presence of god, which some would argue to be a positive symptom, yet lead perfectly average lives. The presence of this feeling does not mean that they have mentally ill health. Having strong feelings can mean that I am passionate without meaning that I am ill. Believing that the world is flat doesn’t stop me from going on a plane to attend a global conference of flat earthers – it might define me as odd, but not ill.
So, in a nutshell, three different ways that our thought process can hinder our lives. However the processes aren’t the only defining factor for mental illness, the consequence to us for that process is.

Torture – An Exposé

Torture is used by humans on humans to achieve two main outcomes. Dominance and manipulation. These are frequently related to each other.
Dominance is about the perpetrator demonstrating that they are in charge, that the perpetrator has choice and that the victim is not in charge and does not have choice. The perpetrator needs to do this because they do not feel that the victim is powerless or lesser and therefore must prove it on them by the application of various torture techniques. This torture repositions the power dynamic between the two to demonstrate the perpetrators power over the victim.
Manipulation is where the perpetrator wants the victim to change. That is, the perpetrator wants the victim to do something different to what they were going to do, behave in a way that is different to how they were going to behave and think in a different way to how they were going to think.
Both of these tell us a great deal about the perpetrator. A perpetrator doesn’t need to dominate a person that they already overpower or manipulate a person into doing what they were already going to do. All it proves is that the perpetrator feels inadequate or out of control, whether they are or not is irrelevant.
There are some fairly common techniques used in torture. The fundamental underlying aspect of torture is to change the core value of the victim from strength to compliance. If you are a victim, always remember you had to be seen as strong by the perpetrator for them to want to torture you. Mainly because they feel weak.
Physical punishment has two key elements, using pain to illicit fear as motivators. The first element is to weaken the will. This pain and fear fills part of our attention making it harder to think clearly. Consider when you have stubbed your toe, hit your thumb with a hammer, or slammed your hand in the door. I am pretty sure that most of your attention was on the pain and choice of swear words rather than considering the implications of astrophysics or any of your fields of interest. Your attention is on the pain, or fear of pain. It is not on thinking logically.
The second key element is fear avoidance. Ivan Pavlov is considered the first published scientists to discuss classical conditioning. His thought experiment regarding dogs, food and bells created an association in the dog’s reflexes between the ringing of the bell and the expectation of food via reward. Punishment is another form of conditioning. We don’t want to get hurt, so we do the thing (or don’t do the thing), in order to avoid the predicted pain. The torturer will ensure that you know what it is you are avoiding. The torturer will also use rewards as relief from the pain and fear to increase certain behaviours.
The perpetrator can inflict pain on the victim at will, thus demonstrating their physical dominance. The more sadistic perpetrator will want to leave marks to prove their power and ongoing dominance in a more permanent way. However it is rarely physical dominance that the perpetrator is after, they are just using it as a tool for what they really want. Psychological dominance.
Psychological manipulation uses similar techniques to the above. Overloading the mind and conditioning reflexes. This can be done via a host of techniques such as sleep deprivation, food deprivation, deprivation of liberty, creating an environment of fear, bombarding the victim with information, social isolation, financial deprivation and manipulating their emotions.
There is another aspect that is really important to all of these techniques. Convincing the victim that what they thought they were doing, thinking or feeling was wrong. This can be done via gas lighting (undermining core beliefs), emotional manipulation, invalidating the person’s integrity, changing goal posts (you can never be right) and making it not worth arguing. There are many more techniques than these, of course. The common underlying principle is to make the victim doubt the fact or value they knew and trusted, and replace it with the fact or value the perpetrator wants the victim to take on board.
Overloading the victims mind means that the victim can’t evaluate the information before storing it. Think of it like putting groceries away. When you realise you are about to put some rotten food in the cupboard, you stop, put it aside and throw it out. If I give you several tons of food to store in big boxes with a tight time limit, you won’t check all the food, you’ll just put it in the cupboard. By overloading the thinking mind, the victim can’t analyse and judge the information coming in and will just store the rotten idea without critical analysis.
Isolating the victim from safety, other trusted people and time is all about giving the person no good reference point to compare the new information to. If you are in a boat on the ocean on a cloudy night, you don’t know which way you are going. If you have a compass, you might have a clue, but if the perpetrator discredits the compass then you are lost again. The perpetrator needs to make the victim distrust all their means of finding themselves. This means discrediting friends, authorities and repositories of knowledge. By undermining the idea of right and wrong, the victim finds it hard to judge the idea for whether it is good or rotten.
When we feel stressed we pull back from life a little to help manage the important situations better. This is prioritising and on a short term basis makes sense. We deal with what we can and shrug off what we can’t. When the problem isn’t solved, we pull back more, and then more and so on as the problem persists. We isolate ourselves from friends because we just can’t deal with that distraction, from going out because it seems too hard and frequently find ourselves under resourced in many ways. We begin to doubt ourselves and avoid those who can help us. We frequently find our sleep pattern and food pattern become broken, messing with our bodies sense of rhythm. Sometimes we subconsciously do this to push us into crisis, where we are willing to take on new solutions to problems that aren’t being solved using our usual methods. Sometimes these are great solutions, sometimes they are bad. Sometimes we don’t find a solution and just crash and burn.
In effect, we torture ourselves when we are stressed. Those who perpetrate torture on others have hijacked this normal self-change process in humans for their own purposes. Torturers come in three major categories. Professionals are rare, hobbyists are also rare (that is, they know what they are doing and have tried to get good at it, also quite rare) and then there is the unwitting torturer who is just automatically compensating for their low self-image by harming others (very common). This last category have evolved their techniques out of a need to survive their own mind.
Once we know the process of torture and the reasons why people do it, we can recognise it in the wild. This gives victims the ability to interfere with the process, either by defending themselves from the tools used against them, avoiding the perpetrator or getting help from counsellors, police etc. It also gives the unwitting perpetrator the ability to recognise what they are doing and look go through a similar method to undo their methods. I highly recommend that unwitting perpetrators to get some good counselling to help change their behaviours and, very importantly, address the underlying reason why they are doing this.

Taking time

When our brains are running efficiently, we plan complicated processes out quite well and parallel process things efficiently.
 
Consider making a cup of tea.
1) boil the kettle
2) wait for it to boil
3) get a cup out
4) get a bag out
5) put the bag in the cup
6) pour the boiled water into the cup
7) get the sugar out
8) get a spoon out
9) use the spoon to put one spoon of sugar into the cup of water and tea bag
10) wait for a few minutes
11) get the milk out
12) pour the milk into the cup
13) put the sugar away
14) put the milk away
 
This is a serial process. Only one thing happens at a time. Nothing in parallel.
 
1) boil the kettle – 2) get a cup out – 3) get a bag out – 4) put the bag in the cup -5) get the sugar out – 6) get a spoon out – 7) use the spoon to put one spoon of sugar into the cup of water and tea bag 8) wait for the water boil 9) pour the boiled water into the cup – 10) get the milk out – 11) put the sugar away 12) wait for a few minutes 13) pour the milk into the cup 14) put the milk away
 
Be reordering the process a little, the same steps are taken, the same result is gained, but the steps with the “-” are taking no “time” because in the series version you would just be sitting idle instead of doing something. This parallel version saves a few minutes from the entire process. It is parallel tasking (mutli tasking is trying to do two things at the same time, instead of allowing autonomous processes to continue, like the kettle boiling without supervision).
 
With increased efficiency, there is still idle moments. I tend to use these to make breakfast, pack my lunch, put my shoes on etc.
 
There is only so many diverse tasks your brain can track before making mistakes. On good days I can track a good many tasks. On bad days I can’t even make a cup of tea efficiently.
 
Different things contribute to a “bad day”. Lack of sleep, medication, grief, illness, a significant cognitive distraction (thinking about an unrelated task), pain and so on.
 
Once you recognise that you are doing this, slow down the amount of parallel tasking to be more serial. Yes it will make each task take longer, but with less errors, it will lead to less overall frustration and less fixing the mistakes.
 
We are allowed to have times where we are less efficient. If it persists, then it is worth doing something about it. Figure out what is the cause and make the appropriate change.

Mental Illness Diagnosis: A Learning Opportunity

A mental illness diagnosis is a description of the behaviour(s) and trait(s) you are using to manage your life such that you or someone else is in significant discomfort or distress. If the beavhour(s) and/or trait(s) change to reduce said discomfort/distress to negligible amounts, the diagnosis can be removed. You heal.
Mental illness diagnoses are not given to people who have alternative behaviour traits that make life awesome. Only the opposite. Being different and unique is not a symptom of mental illness, just the discomfort and distress caused by poor behaviours and traits are.
It is quite possible to change the way you behave. Behaviour is a learned thing. We learn new skills all of the time. Some behaviours are due to ill fitting reactions to stimuli. These can be re-learned to be different. Instead of having to act in a certain way to a presented stimuli (life event), we can learn to act in a different way. Our emotional reaction is separated from our chosen physical action. Given some practice, our emotional reaction will adjust to our new survival methods.
No two brains are the same, although many fall within the definition of “neruo-typical”. Each person has their own subtly different way of doing things. Consider how many different ways people make 2-minute noodles. Ask around, you’ll find a whole host of answers (mine is the best, by the way). No solution is definitively wrong (unless it explodes or kills someone). You can make 2-minute noodles on the stove, in the microwave, out camping, using a solar oven, eat them raw… all depending on personal preference and current access to equipment. Similarly, the way we chose to act to life events will be different and unique. Sometimes we need to learn better ways. Doing things differently to me doesn’t mean you are wrong, just different. Wrong is not measured as different, it is measured by the amount of discomfort and distress it causes. Even then, it isn’t wrong, there is just better available.
That brings us to “right”. Right ways (note the plural) are ways that progress you with minimal discomfort and distress. Substituting a poor solution with a better one doesn’t make you faulty, wrong or ill. It means you have learned, evolved and grown. There is nothing wrong with that. Every time we learn, we evolve and grow. That’s the point of life. If you stayed the same as when you were born, you certainly wouldn’t be reading this!
A solution is right when it is good enough. Perfect is nice, but it isn’t needed (and perfect doesn’t actually exist anyway). Good enough is when your solution works for you and your group (family, friends, society etc). A behaviour that works just for me at the expense of others is less good when compared to one that works for me and others. Once I have learned a behaviour, or preferably heuristic (rules that mostly work most of the time so it isn’t one solution for one problem, but a way of solving life problems with good enough solutions), that is good enough, I need to keep at it.
We are frequently tempted to view a behaviour that leads to discomfort and distress as an indication of a fault within ourselves. This is natural but faulty. Any skill you develop will include failure. The failures as you learn don’t mean you are a failure, it means you are learning. If you are learning, then you are awesome. So don’t stop because you are afraid to make a mistake. Heck, if you’ve received a mental illness diagnosis, it just means you have some specific learning to do to grow to change that diagnosis.
You aren’t alone in your learning journey. Sometimes a teacher or guide is helpful, sometimes gaining some education, and or sometimes some medication can help. If you are stuck, get some help.
So work out what you need to learn and go out and learn it!

Problems

Problems crop up all of the time. A problem is something that affects our lives adversely. When we win $100 in a raffle, we don’t consider it a problem, unless that winning is going to lead us to be tempted to purchase something bad for us. It is at the point that the thing harms us that the thing becomes a problem. In this example, winning the $100 is not the problem, purchasing harmful things is.

Understanding the Problem

Frequently we identify that a problem exists and then go about trying to fix the problem. Yet the point of identifying that a problem exists may mislead you in identifying what the actual problem is. In our example above with winning $100, one could consider that the problem is receiving $100, which enables a bad habit, or the purchasing of the harmful things, which is the outcome of the bad habit. However the problem is the habit and what drives that habit.

If we misidentify the problem, we can spend a great deal of effort in trying to fix what isn’t actually contributing to the problem. Wouldn’t it be better to be able to hold $100 and not spend it on harmful things? Avoiding $100 is not a good long term solution. However it may be a good short term step while addressing the long term problem.

Sometimes we want to lay the blame at someone else’s feet – they shouldn’t have given me the $100 – when the problem is actually our own. Sometimes we take ownership of a problem this is actually someone else’s fault – I shouldn’t have worn that outfit, or walked down that hallway – as if we can control their actions by what we do. Frequently though, we miss-estimate what share of responsibility we own vs the other, or try to give blame in a blameless situation.

It is important to not get caught in the blame game. Blame helps us identify what some of our strategies should look like, but it doesn’t actually fix the problem. So it’s their fault. Or your fault. Or both of your fault. Or an unforseen circumstance. Great. Now what are you going to do about it?

Evaluating the Problem

Once we have identified some of the causal components of the problem, we need to evaluate the problem. Is it an immediate life problem (not being run over by a truck), a life changing problem (such as renal failure), a social crisis (a fight with one’s partner or best friend), or a momentary problem (purchasing the wrong book at the store) and so on. Each of these requires a different level of personal resources to address it.

Where is the best location to spend those personal resources and how much should you expend? Should they be on surviving the moment? After all, there is no point in saving your money for tomorrow if you aren’t alive to use it… however you also shouldn’t put everything into surviving this momentary speed bump if you don’t need to either. It is also important to note that this isn’t a dichotomy. You can spend some personal resources now and more later on this problem.

Personal resources includes financial, social, psychological/emotional, and material resources. There are more, but these are the major categories. It is worth noting your personal resources for the bigger problems so you have a clear understanding of what you might bring to bear on the problem if it is needed.

I frequently see people burn their social bridges out by not addressing the real problem and being caught in a nasty loop, or over spend their finances on something that is actually fairly trivial, or fail to put enough resources into finding housing as their lease expires and so on. Many crises could be averted by carefully putting your resources into the solution more intelligently.

Evaluating the Solution

This is an important task to perform as you are implementing your solution and at the end of your solution intervention. Is your intervention working? Are your personal resources going to the right place and having the desired result? Do you need to adjust your plan? Did it actually work?

If you find your resources running out  faster than expected, or no change is being noted in the problem, or you seem to be in a loop of repeat similar problems, then your solution is failing. It is time to stop, go back to the beginning and try again. Did you actually figure out what the problem was and a suitable solution?

If your solution was to change the world – good luck. It’s really big and you are but one person. There are many things that need to change in this world to make it better, and slowly they are changing because of the number of people putting effort towards that change. Feel free to join them for a long term solution. However between now and that long term, what are you going to do to adjust yourself to the world and situation you find yourself in? It is through changing ourselves that we change the world.