WHY TALKING TO YOURSELF ISN’T CRAZY

Somehow, the idea of talking to yourself got a bad reputation as a sign of mental instability.  Think of the television stereotype of the afflicted fellow mumbling to himself at the bus stop. But the truth is that talking to yourself can be a very powerful way to fight anxiety and depression and set the stage for extraordinary personal empowerment.

 

Who’s Listening, Anyhow? 

The reason that talking to yourself can be so powerful is that none of us is just the person we see in the mirror today—with the social skills we have honed, the financial resources we have at hand and a maturity level consistent with being an adult.  In nearly every one of us resides a less well-adjusted self which is still struggling with the disappointments, fears and pain of childhood.  And that self can feel very isolated and alone, because we tend to want to bury it or build thick walls around it.  Let’s call that part of you “the struggling self.”

 

The Struggling Self Often Has No Voice, But It Never Stays Quiet Forever

The struggling self is usually banished from consciousness because all of us want to feel strong.  So we hide the part of us that really feels the full weight of being bullied or unloved—or worse.  We hide it from others and we hide it from ourselves.  And then we push it further and further away using all manner of shields—accumulating power or wealth or being seductive or overeating or drinking too much alcohol or using too much marijuana.

Deprived of being heard, relegated to an echo chamber deep inside us, the struggling self communicates its plight through a lexicon of feelings like anxiety, depression and irritability.

 

We May Refuse to Listen to the Struggling Self, But It Will Listen to Us

When we experience unwieldy feelings of anxiety, or disturbing feelings of depression, or destabilizing anger, one way to overcome them is to identify the most vulnerable time period we’ve lived through—perhaps when we lost someone close to us in childhood, or perhaps when we were powerless to stop someone from hurting us—and literally talk out loud to that younger, more vulnerable self.

What words might you use?  Here’s an example:  Think about a woman in her 50s whose youngest child is leaving for college.  She’s feeling something more intense than empty-nest syndrome, though.  She feels panicked.  And she’s able to identify her father leaving her mother, when she was just 11-years-old, as the source of some of her distress.  She might talk out loud to that younger part of herself and say something like, “Listen, I know I haven’t been willing to think about what you went through when Dad left the house.  You were eleven.  I get it. It had to make you feel completely panicked.  And, then, Dad seemed to stay away forever.  Well, I promise to take the time to go through those feelings with you, to really explore them and listen to them.  And I want to try to comfort you and make you know I care about you.  What might help you out?  What do you need?  Time to think.  Time to walk. Time to read?”

Believe or not, the part of the woman that hasn’t healed since age 11 can hear that kindness and be reassured by it.  And that can be the beginning of reduced anxiety and increased mood.

 

Figure Out How Your Struggling Self Got Created

Each of us who struggles with low mood or anxiety or, for that matter, obsessiveness or problems paying attention, should spend the time to try to discern how the part of ourselves causing this trouble got created and left behind.  Unearthing that storyline is necessary to make the upcoming, healing chapters possible.

 

Need to Be Introduced?

Sometimes it helps to have someone skilled at helping to uncover the struggling self, to define how he or she got created and left behind, and to then make real, healing contact with it.  That’s where a counselor or therapist comes in.  And getting one to make a proper introduction of you to your struggling self will be one of the best investments you ever make.

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Founder, The Ablow Center

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Moses: Personal Empowerment Personified

In the Book of Exodus, Moses encounters a burning bush that was engulfed in flames and, yet, not consumed by them.  It is here that God anoints Moses to go to the Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of slavery, to the Promised Land.

You may not have applied the story to your own life, but it is the very essence of personal empowerment.  Here’s why I think it is worth internalizing:  Moses is quick to tell God why he isn’t the right person for the job.  After all, he’s slow of speech and has personal flaws. But God reassures Moses that he is doubting the immeasurable force that gave him a voice, to begin with, and which now calls him to greatness.  When Moses asks by what name he should call God when he visits the Pharaoh, God tells him (roughly translated) that His name is “I am who I am.”

The point is that Moses has a great journey before him and a great calling.  Both have been put in his heart by God.  It matters not that he isn’t glib.  It matters not that he is imperfect.  It matters that he shows faithenough to believe in his heart that he can achieve a great and worthy mission.

 

Imperfections Are Not Stop Signs

You aren’t perfect, either.  You have likely lived through turbulent chapters of your own life story. You may have fallen short and erred, more than once in life.  But the key is still finding the faith to stay on the road to your destiny—the work you were meant to do in this world, from all time.  Said another way, the key to personal empowerment is faith.

W.H. Murray, the famed Scottish mountaineer and writer who served as deputy to Eric Shipton on the Everest Reconnaissance Expedition of 1951, put it this way:

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:  that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves, too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way.  I have learned a deep respect for Goethe’s couplets:  “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.  Begin it now.”

 

Your Personal Empowerment Serves You and the Rest of the World

In The Seven Wonders(which I co-authored with Glenn Beck), we wrote about the notion of a polestar, which is spoken of in Hinduism, Taoism, Chinese popular religion, Siberian shamanism and other spiritual traditions.  This star, in direct line with the earth’s axis of rotation, is thought of as the anchor of the entire solar system.  And in ancient Vedic wisdom, the polestar is literally Dhruva—a prince who, at age seven, sought out God, despite being told he was too young for such a quest.  He is undaunted, ultimately meets God and is rewarded with his kingdom’s throne.

Glenn and I wrote, “In this sense, the entire universe, according to Vedism, can revolve around one person’s inner resolve to find truth and pursue his or her destiny.”

One of my favorite books is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  In that book he writes, [If you avoid your calling] “you shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.”

Sure, that sounds like pretty heady stuff.  But it is true whether you teach students with passion, defend legal clients with excellence, write in a way that moves people, heal others through your work in a health profession or inspire children as their mother or father, grandmother or grandfather.

 

Personal Empowerment and The Ablow Center

The blend of spiritual counseling, life coaching and mentoring I offer to clients is designed to find and harness inner resolve—to deliver personal empowerment to clients, no matter the ways in which they may feel limited, no matter the hurdles they may have encountered, no matter how many times they may have tripped and fallen.  All of those challenges are actually part of a person’s singular life story, which is part of a greater plan to hone that person for the important journey ahead.

In a very real way we are all Moses.  We may doubt ourselves.  We may doubt our callings.  But the self is miraculous and our callings are gifts from a higher power.  We need only to believe.

 

Keith Ablow

 

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THE WOMAN WITH BURNING FEET

Years ago, I treated an elderly woman who was sent to me because her feet burned relentlessly, from her ankles to the tips of her toes. She could hardly walk. She wept from the pain.

I wrote about this woman, previously [https://www.foxnews.com/health/the-woman-with-burning-feet], but my latest work, as a spiritual counselor and life coach, has made me aware of how God was operating in her life and in our work together.

Internists and neurologists and an endocrinologist had examined this woman repeatedly and had ruled out the usual suspects: an autoimmune disorder, shingles, neuropathy from diabetes. So, they sent her to me because they suspected her problems had to be “in her head.”

Near the end of our first session, she stopped telling me the history of the severe and unusual pain in her feet and looked me directly in the eyes. “You know,” she said, “You remind me of my grandson.”

I was trained not to dismiss such comments as pleasantries or mere coincidence. Everything in the context of a session might have meaning. “Tell me about him,” I said.

“We’re very close,” she said. “He’s always been there for me. Even now, when he’s away, he writes to me every week.”

“I’m glad you have him in your life,” I said. “Has he moved far away?”

“No, no,” she said. “He hasn’t moved. He’s in the army. He’s serving in the Middle East now.”

“I understand.” I wondered whether his absence was involved in this woman’s pain—if only emotionally. “Is he in great danger?” I asked her. “What does he write to you about?”

“He says he’s safe,” she told me. “He says he’ll be OK. The thing that bothers him the most is the heat. It’s so hot there. The sand is the biggest thing. It gets hot like fire. Even with his boots, it burns his . . .”

I glanced down at her feet.

She glanced down at her feet.

“No,” she said, “That can’t be it.”

“He tells you the sand burns his feet,” I said.

She shook her head and squinted down at her feet, again. “Yes, he does, but . . .”

I sat with this woman for about four meetings over the course of a month or so, and listened to

her tell me just how much I reminded her of her grandson, just how much she really did miss him, how worried she was that he would be killed, how it reminded her of losing her son decades earlier. And, gradually, the pain in her feet went away.

Was that a miracle? Well, it was if you consider the workings of human empathy to be a miracle, which I happen to. I believe that God (or the Universe, if you prefer) is really the healer, and I am helping my clients access that healing energy. I believe it is, indeed, miraculous that a grandmother’s feet can burn because she resonates so completely with the suffering of the grandson she loves. I believe it is miraculous that she could communicate this to a complete stranger (me) with the cautious opening line, “You remind me of my grandson.” I believe it is a miracle that listening to her in a nonjudgmental, “loving” way would help to heal her pain.

The human mind and human body are connected at levels we know precious little about. That’s why this woman’s doctors had sent her to me, even if it was with a dismissive tone, even a bit of contempt that her problems were “in her head.” They knew that mysteries of the soul are behind many mysteries of mind and body.

If a grandmother’s feet can burn like fire because she loves her grandson, and his life is at risk, then certainly we should understand that migraines and stomach pains and back pain and muscle weakness and a host of other physical conditions can have their roots in emotional disturbances. That’s one of the reasons I started www.theablowcenter.com.

Sometimes, the mind—or spirit or soul—makes itself known through the body. And, then, healing has to take place at the level of mind and soul, as well.

Keith Ablow, MD

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How Could Psychiatry and Psychology Forget About Faith?

Here’s an interesting fact: During my four years of medical school and four years of psychiatry residency training, the total number of hours devoted to spirituality and faith were . . . zero. That’s right, not a single hour was devoted to exploring the place of faith in overcoming medical illness or psychological suffering.

That’s stunning, given that a myriad of data support the healing potential of prayer and of belief in a higher power—regardless of one’s particular religion.

The house of medicine seems so hostile to anything that cannot be weighed and measured that it has locked the door to the house of God. Yet, great power lies in acknowledging that human beings can find comfort and confidence and even a cure for their anxiety and problems of mood by being reminded that they are unconditionally loved and have a sacred purpose in life.

It’s one thing to suffer terrible emotional pain. It’s another to know, at a very deep level, that a determined journey through that pain will lead, inevitably, to some of the most important parts of their existences. And that happens to be true—for everyone, every single time.

Only once I completed my training in pastoral counseling did I understand the full healing power of human empathy from a counselor, coupled with faith in an all-powerful source of sustaining love. Helping people identify the self-defeating patterns in their lives (often fueled by emotional trauma early in life) turns out to be only half the equation. The other half is helping people recognize that immeasurable forces of healing can be unleashed when we allow ourselves to believe that they will—when we have faith.

Many clients have told me that understanding the roots of their suffering doesn’t give them a clear roadmap on how to change their lives to prevent it, in the future. But once human beings have real faith, they don’t need a map. They can move in the directions dictated by their hearts (once freed from the past) and feel confident they will never be truly lost.

My practice of blending life coaching, pastoral counseling and motivational mentoring is designed to finally join together the two halves of healing: fully understanding one’s life story and having complete faith that it can and will include wonderful new chapters.

Keith Ablow

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Starting a New Chapter of Your Life Story

Getting a start-up off the ground is something I know about. I launched a medical company and a charity fundraising company, amongst others. And I’ve noticed that the process has a lot in common with launching the next phase of your life.

I think “starting up” is a three step process.

• Coming up with a compelling idea
• Identifying psychological hurdles in your way
• Taking a first, concrete step

 

The Idea

First, you have to have a compelling idea—compelling to you. That’s the vision piece. What do you want to change about your life or manifest in your life? That certainly involves introspection, and it should involve consultation with a trusted advisor or advisors. That’s the work I love to do.

The vision can be taking your current work to the next level, deepening a personal relationship in your life, freeing yourself from a complicated and painful relationship, embarking on a new path of education, mastering a new skill, pivoting to a different profession, enhancing your spiritual foundation or any number of other changes.

 

The Hurdles

The next step is examining psychological hurdles that are preventing you from getting started, or from getting started in the most powerful way possible. That’s pretty hard to do alone and has become part of my calling. Those hurdles may be emotional ones related to self-doubt or to the way you think about risk and reward. A good life coach or counselor (or, sometimes, a really insightful friend) can help you clear them, with ease.

 

A Concrete Step

The third step is . . . taking a first concrete step. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you want to write a book, it can be as simple as registering for the best online workshop on the topic. That’s what did it for me and got me started on my six published mystery novels. If you want to write a screenplay, it can be committing to attend the right seminar. If you want to run for office, it can be committing to one hour of consulting with a political consultant. Have you thought about starting a company (or your next one)? Maybe it’s time to ask three of your most trusted friends to listen to the idea. Just taking that first step makes it real. Yet, lots of people need some encouragement to take that first one.

 

Paul Coehlo wrote, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Sometimes, all the universe needs is concrete evidence that you’re ready, that you’re serious and that you’re going forward, to the next chapter of your life story.

Keith Ablow, MD

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Even Fictional Stories Need to Tell the Truth

We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. –Pablo Picasso

One of the joys of writing my six psychological thrillers, featuring forensic psychiatrist Frank Clevenger was when my editor would say, “I don’t know if Frank would do that. Is that really an authentic way he would act?”

Of course, Clevenger wasn’t real. He was my fictional creation—the lead character in Denial, Projection, Compulsion, Psychopath, Murder Suicide and The Architect. Yet, I had built Clevenger a core persona. Sure, he was addicted to drugs. Yes, he was addicted to sex. But he never failed to come through when the truth was at stake. He was a broken man, who was, nonetheless, tireless in solving mysteries, whether they be murder mysteries or the more personal psychological mysteries of the other characters that populated my novels.

My editor once shared Raymond Chandler’s description of the perfect detective with me and suggested it applied to Clevenger:

But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.

He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him.

The story is this man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.

The wonder of writing fiction is creating truths within it. Those truths may be inherent in the characters one creates, or the storyline they populate, or in both. So I always advise writers to know their main character, inside and out. What would he or she do in this situation or that situation? What would he or she feel in this situation or that one?
It is impossible to create such a character without knowing oneself pretty well. Otherwise, the same avoidance of core beliefs and emotions that afflict the writer in his or her own life will afflict the main character in that writer’s work.

One of my favorite authors is the late and great Harry Crews, a great novelist who hadn’t sold a single book until he stopped trying to hide who he really was. Here’s the way he wrote about what happened when he finally stopped faking:

I was sitting in a tiny room at the typewriter trying not to wake up my eight-year old Son. Beside me in boxes were manuscripts. All rejected. Rejected because they were no good. I’d written five novels and hundreds and hundreds of short stories. I’d written ten years, and not a word had seen print . . . I was a writer. A fiction writer. And a goddamn good one. It was in me somewhere, but something had gone horribly wrong . . . I turned and looked at all that worthless work stacked against the wall. Why was it all so goddamn bad? Because by then I knew the work I had done, and was doing, was no good. I had worked just hard enough and had learned just enough to know that I wasn’t neglected or overlooked by several thousand dumb publishers of one kind or another. No, I was a twenty-four karat fake; that was the trouble.

For many and complicated reasons, circumstances had collaborated to make me ashamed that I was a tenant farmer’s son. As weak and warped as it is, and as difficult as it is even now to admit it, I was so humiliated by the fact that I was from the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in the worst hookworm and rickets part of Georgia I could not bear to think of it, and worse to believe it. Everything I had written had been out of a fear and loathing for what I was and who I was. It was all out of an effort to pretend otherwise. I believe to this day, and will always believe, that in that moment I literally saved my life, because the next thought—and it was more than a thought, it was dead-solid conviction—was that all I had going for me in the world or would ever have was that swamp, all those goddamn mules, all the other beautiful and dreadful and sorry circumstances that had made me the Grit I am and will always be. Once I realized that the way I saw the world and man’s condition in it would always be exactly and inevitably shaped by everything which up to that moment had only shamed me, once I realized that, I was home free.

Yes, indeed. He was home free. He went on to publish many acclaimed novels. His biography Blood, Bone and Marrow, written by Ted Geltner, was published in 2016.

That’s why I always start coaching fiction writers or editing their work by getting to know them. Their creations are subject to many of the underlying psychological forces to which they themselves are also subject. I’ve been writing books since about 1991 and practicing psychiatry since about 1992. That’s probably no coincidence. Burrowing to the truth is essential in art—even in writing fiction—as it is in living life.

Keith Ablow, MD

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Human Beings as Works of Art

In my view, being human means having the capacity to experience and to give love (often, through a miracle called human empathy) and to reason and make choices. It also means having the opportunity to embrace the truth about oneself, including one’s life story, back to its early chapters, in order to make sense of the effects these chapters have had upon one’s psyche and soul. As human beings we then have the remarkable potential to change and become more truthful, more intuitive, more loving, more creative and more successful. None of this would be possible, in my opinion, without human beings having a spiritual core—a miraculous internal self. You may see that core as a gift from the universe or a gift from Nature or a gift from God.

But, it is a gift.

I see every human being as a masterpiece, in the making. No work of art is created without new brushstrokes being added, or wise edits being made, or without the willingness to believe that one has a destiny to fulfill.

I once purchased a beautiful painting of a man and woman dancing together at sunset, in an apartment bathed by the last light of the day. Before I bought it, I looked at the back of the canvas, where the artist had written in pen, “2002-2005-2010-2015.” I asked him what the years meant.

“Those are the years I went back to the painting, to finish it,” he said.

“Is it finished now?” I asked.

“It is if you buy it,” he said. “Otherwise, I’ll probably keep at it.”

So it is with the art of living. We never finish the work of becoming the people we were meant to be, from all time. But every day is an opportunity to get closer and closer to that spectacular goal.

Being human allows for the ultimate transformation of one’s life story, because each of us is on a unique and important path in life. My work is helping a client find that path and find the stability, commitment and courage to travel it.

Keith Ablow, MD

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