Maté, Gabor. When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection. Turner, 2003.
If people are resistant to say no, eventually the body itself will. Stress adversely affecting mental health is commonly accepted; however, stress being the etiology (origin) of physical diseases has been slower to acceptance as an idea. Maté rejects the mind-body dualistic philosophy so common as a starting point for medical treatment in Western medicine. Being emotionally neglected, disavowing desires and values, parentification, and trauma, and other significant stressors tax the body with floods of stress chemicals. These physiological stresses manifest in a body even where and when its owner does not “feel stressed”. Maté breaks down explanation of psychological anatomy (that is, the anatomy that regulates, stress, calm, emotion, and other psychological processes) as well as describes robust medical scholarly literature that shows a correlation and in some cases causation of chronic disease from stress. Maté argues that is causation were king, disease development would strike a perfect correlation with behavior; that is, everyone who does something that is known to be a problem (for example, smoking cigarettes with known carcinogens) would develop the problem (in the cigarette example, cancer). However, perfect correlation does not exist. Some people heavily smoke and don’t get cancer; others do smoke and do cancer, and life experience seems to partly moderate disease experience. Maté cites research that shows the development of cancer of smokers is likely due to the interact of genetics, behavior, and psychological states (like stress) brought about by life experience. The linking system to the mind-body is the immune system. Hormones and other chemical messengers can wreak havoc on the immune system, causing it to lower its defenses (and errant cells normally destroyed are able to grow into a malignant tumor) or even attack the body itself (autoimmune disorders like lupus). Conversely, he cites research that cancer patients who had group therapy as part of their treatment plan actually were statistically more likely to be alive or in remission years later. One key fact is that these stress hormone secretions are triggered by automatic responses to stress and trauma programmed over years. Often, the treads for these automatic responses are programmed in early childhood when a loving, steady caretaker is needed to avoid automatic stressful responses from becoming entrenched. That steady caretaker likely had the same automatic stress responses programmed into them. Blaming someone for their disease is irresponsible and unkind and unwarranted even under the stress-disease model. Rather, understanding the stress-disease connection can become a channel for true kindness and empathy and more holistic medical treatment. Mental health care can understand how the health of the body can grip mental health, and “traditional” M.D.’s can grasp a truer picture of a client’s health by inquiring about their stress and how moderating its influence can facilitate body health. Maté has a well-reasoned and documented argument that hits home the mind-body connection for people and couples. Readers will gain a fuller picture of mind-body health as a single entity.
See Also: Trauma
Neff, Kristin. Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. William Morris, 2011.
Much in the self-help domain focuses on increasing self-esteem for adults and children, but Neff illustrates how the self-esteem focus misses the target for true growth and health. Rather than self-esteem being a marker for actually being a healthy person, it has a person thinking that they are a healthy, accomplished person. Self-compassion guides people into accepting themselves where they actually are, with their inventory of strengths and weaknesses, and not over-emphasizing or under-estimating them. Neff explains the tenets of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. These pillars allow people to live in the moment and identify humanely with others. Those practicing self-compassion neither deride themselves as below others nor hoist themselves as better than others. Authentic connection is facilitated by seeing oneself as an imperfect human being like every other person. The soothing and kindness we would show a friend also has to show up in a relationship to ourselves. Judgment that we would never dream of heaping on another person needs to vanish in our own relationship with ourselves. Otherwise, Neff argues, negativity and harshness (or the reverse, grandiosity) cloud our relationship to others by blocking vulnerable, equal-footing connecting. Self-compassion allows for gently acknowledging one’s mistakes with degrading or demoralizing or dismissing (for example, being irritable with a partner) which aligns with being open to practicing solid relationship skills such as delivering needed apologies. Neff presents academic research and vulnerable personal experience (albeit anecdotal) that documents the three components to self-compassion and how those components can help readers with emotional resilience, personal growth, parenting, and love relationships. Cultivation of self-compassion can come from the book’s many activities based around the three components, including basic mindfulness and self-kindness. Tangential skills such as boosting gratitude and extending forgiveness are also offered. Readers will also find ways to wish kindness on the world as much as oneself through mantras and a frank and self-compassionate self-assessment of strengths and weaknesses. Neff finds self-compassion and self-validation as more critical than validation and compassion from others. While self-compassion is absolutely key, other research (such as attachment research) finds us very socially oriented as needing love and validating from others, and Neff approaches viewing wanting validation from others as “neediness”. That aside, Neff makes a compelling case as to why self-compassion is critical to one’s mental health and one’s love relationship.
Plank, Liz. For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity. St. Martin’s Press, 2019.
Patriarchal rules insidiously and overtly harming women have received much attention for awareness and remediation. Much less discussed is how a patriarchal society with pronounced and severe gender roles has harmed men. Men are locked from being vulnerable, seen as a primary or significant caretakers, sharing emotion, needing mental health support for conditions such as a depression, asking for directions, seeking more than sex, being too close to other men, and from not being the breadwinner or choosing to opt out of the work force as stay-at-home fathers. Plank provides anecdotal evidence from her New York City non-scientific experiment (where participants self-selected) on masculinity with couples’ therapist Esther Perel where men approached them for free advice about women. With prodding, men disclosed to Perel and Plank their reluctance to be vulnerable and deviate from the narrow code of masculinity. Raising daughters to be assertive and career-minded is no longer as revolutionary as it once was; Plank argues to finish the revolution sons’ emotional intelligence, including vulnerability and caring for others, must be prioritized. Letting men be human with wants, needs, fears, vulnerabilities means better mental health for us. Plank claims it may also sweep from the personal to the economical (men would no longer feel pressure to avoid careers deemed feminine such as nursing) to the political (less terrorism and hatred in the world). Plank includes research from relationship scientists, sociologists, doctors, and public health experts. Each chapter anecdotally presents the arenas that rigid gender roles harm men (several are health, work, emotions, romantic relationships, friendships with other men, on a macro-economic level). Plank has emphatically not delivered a relationship how-to, but because toxic masculinity can affect straight or gay romantic relationships in both relationship dynamics and in a whole host of wider arenas Plank discuses, this is an excellent book for couples to consider the sweep of how a rigid gender role of a “real” man has impacted their relationship.
Strauss, Claudia J. Talking to Anxiety: Simple Ways to Support Someone in Your Life Who Has Anxiety. New American Library, 2004.
Anxiety is not borne alone solely in the mind of a single person. It holds concomitant interpersonal affects as well. People who care about that person, such as a romantic partners, friends, siblings, or parents are part are interpersonally affected. Because of their love and empathy, they can feel a wide range of emotions from the person with depression including but not limited to their own anxiety, frustration, tenderness, and fear. Anxiety, like other mental health conditions, affects wide-reaching facets of a person’s life: physical changes, emotional tolls, mental functioning such as a concentration. Relational and familial systems are also affected. While an individual alone receives the diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, the anxiety of that one individual shapes (and is shaped by) the whole system. The text is written to the average adult without clinical jargon. There are plenty of lists, example things to say or avoid saying to be supportive, and ways to explain anxiety to children in a family system when they have a relative experiencing anxiety. The book can be an excellent adjunct to therapy for the person with anxiety if they would find this helpful and not overwhelming to read, and this would be great for a loved one who has someone receiving therapy to understand more about the pervasive nature of anxiety. If a loved one is concerned that their person might be dealing with clinical anxiety but is not seeking help, the book has prompts available to start the conversation about seeking mental health treatment. Strauss structures the book with an anxiety overview, statement prompts that may generally be helpful or generally not so much, how to embody presence to support an anxious person without words, how to speak with kids age-appropriately when they are watching a loved one struggle with anxiety, and how caregivers can care for themselves as well. There is a resource list, but at this point some of the informational resources like books may be superseded or out of date as far as advances in assessment, treatment, and the neuroscience of anxiety. Strauss is college English faculty, but Talking with Anxiety was reviewed by people in the mental health/counseling fields at the time of publication. The guidance offered in this book never suffices as a substitute for what to do or say with your unique person that you love who is experiencing anxiety.
Strauss, Claudia. Talking to Depression: Simple Ways to Connect When Someone in Your Life is Depressed. New American Library, 2004.
When an intrapsychic (inside a person) condition like depression affects one person, the effect is not solely internal to that individual. People who care about that person, such as a romantic partners, friends, siblings, or parents are part are interpersonally affected. Because of their love and empathy, they can feel a wide range of emotions from the person with depression including but not limited to anxiety, tenderness, and fear. Depression manifests in various ways for different people, but often, sleep changes, eating changes, and energy level occur. If a partner shares home or children with a person going through depression, that partner may find themselves taking on more of the caretaking load with all of their other responsibilities in addition to emotions. If the person’s work is affected, financial stress can be added on to the partner relationally. Depression is a condition inside of one person but rarely is one person affected. Strauss understands the role that emotional attunement with loved ones plays in a person with depression. Professional help is often required as a critical part of experiencing and treating depression. However, it is the loved ones in daily life who spend the majority of time with the person experiencing depression. They are the vital, hands-on-the-ground-whole-life gateway to love and connection, day in and day out. This book is meant as an additional boon to therapy where those who love someone with depression can find ways to help their person by staying connected, avoid disconnection with unhelpful or supportive phrases, and learn also how to take care of themselves through the process. The book is easy to read with clear and straightforward text. Few citations are in the text, no academic jargon used, and the language reads as people talk: general and conversational. Strauss begins in part one with frequently as questions about depression, overviewing symptoms and treatments and describing in a general way what depression feels like. Parts two and three focus on verbal and nonverbal mechanisms to embody being a safe, emotionally supportive loved one. Part four helps readers assess if a person might be suicidal (if you suspect your loved one is suicidal or are concerned but aren’t sure, you or your person reaching out to professional help immediately is critical). Part five offers guidance on handling situations like being rebuffed from your person with depression. Because the person with depression might be a your co-parent, part six shares how to be supportive and open with children about depression in age-appropriate ways. The final part shares how caretakers can take their of their own well-being through the process. One important takeaway is that while Strauss is not a mental health clinician (she is an English instructor and communication consultant), book reviewers held positions in social work, counselor education, and clinical psychology at the time of publication.
Most of these articles are going to be free online. If the article is not freely available, I will indicate that. In that case, check with your local librarians! Please first ask your librarian at your local library before buying online – many times you can get an article at no cost through one of your library’s databases or interlibrary loan.
Brown, Brene. “Shame v. Guilt.” Brene Brown, 14 Jan. 2013, https://brenebrown.com/blog/2013/01/14/shame-v-guilt
Davis, Vauna. “Recognizing the Red Flags of Shame.” Reach 10, n.d., https://reach10.org/recognizing-red-flags-shame/
- See the Map of Emotions in the body
Dermendzhiyska, Elitsa. “How You Attach to People May Explain A Lot About Your Inner World.” The Guardian, 10 Jan. 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/jan/10/psychotherapy-childhood-mental-health
Diamond, Jed. “Shame: The Silent Killer of Relationships.” Good Therapy, 21 Nov. 2012, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/shame-relationships-men-women-1121127
Greenberg, Sarah. “When Your ‘Person’ Has Depression.” Psychology Today, 8 July 2020, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifes-work/202007/when-your-person-has-depression
Lanese, Nicoletta. “Fight or Flight: The Sympathetic Nervous System.” 9 May 2019, https://www.livescience.com/65446-sympathetic-nervous-system.html
Lehmiller, Justin. “The Difference Between a ‘Hopeless Romantic’ and a ‘Hopeful Romantic’.” Sex & Psychology, 22 March 2021, https://www.lehmiller.com/blog/2021/3/22/the-difference-between-a-hopeless-romantic-and-a-hopeful-romantic
Lusinski, Natalie. “Couples Who Talk About Their Mental Health Are Happier, According to a New Study.” Bustle, 8 Feb. 2019, https://www.bustle.com/p/couples-who-talk-about-their-mental-health-are-happier-according-to-new-study-15937446
Martin, Sharon. “5 Tips for Setting Boundaries (Without Feeling Guilty).” PsychCentral, 25 Oct. 2019, https://psychcentral.com/blog/imperfect/2019/06/5-tips-for-setting-boundaries-without-feeling-guilty
Martin, Sharon. “How To Figure Out What Boundaries You Need.” PsychCentral, 25 Oct. 2019, https://psychcentral.com/blog/imperfect/2019/10/how-to-figure-out-what-boundaries-you-need
Shpancer, Noam. “Emotional Acceptance: Why Feeling Bad is Good.” Psychology Today, 8 Sept. 2010, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/insight-therapy/201009/emotional-acceptance-why-feeling-bad-is-good
“Toxic Stress.” Center on the Developing Child, n.d., https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/toxic-stress/
Vilhauer, Jennice. “3 Signs You Are About To Emotionally Derail.” Psychology Today, 30 June 2020, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-forward/202006/3-signs-you-are-about-emotionally-derail*
* Currently says, “You are unauthorized to view this page”, but as the rest of the blog is available, hopefully this will correct on PT.
Weber, Jill. “How to Express Your Feelings.” Psychology Today, 27 Nov. 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/having-sex-wanting-intimacy/201911/how-express-your-feelings