Drop the Mask

The playwright Martha Boesing said, “The question laid out for each of us is whether to hold on or drop the mask.”

What does that mean, really?  What is the mask is Boesing addressing?

I think that she means the mask that each of us dons over time—particuarly in childhood and adolescence and young adulthood—in response to myriad stresses and anxieties, but also in response to praise and rewards and “successes.”

Each of us is vulnerable to doing an ongoing calculus of how the world around us is responding to our core goals, passions, emotions, perspectives, appearance, choices, etc.  And we then can unconsciously edit ourSELVES to please others by taking fewer risks, not rocking the boat, abandoning some of our unique perspectives, opting to shelf our creative pursuits, making sure we keep quiet about our true opinions, growing a thick skin to not register injuries, even (in extreme cases) avoiding intimate relationships (whether friendships or romantic connections), altogether.

Of course, the greatest toll of donning a mask is that we then often avoid engaging in intimate relationships with ourSELVES.  We—who we really are—go underground and hide out, for fear of being misunderstood, judged, unlovable, exquisitely vulnerable and in pain.

That would be a profound enough loss, but the parts of ourselves we bury—the parts underground or behind the mask—don’t wait quietly to be discovered.  They want to exist.  They want to be known.  They struggle for air.  And keeping them from emerging causes anxiety and depression and sleeplessness and, certainly, all manner of physical infirmities, including autoimmune conditions, headaches, backaches, high blood pressure, arrhythmias, probably even cancer.

If we could only let go and let the masks drop, we could express ourSELVES and realize the potential gains of our core creative instincts and gifts, our inborn ability to love ourselves and others.  We could be more courageous in all things for having stopped running from the truth about one thing—who we truly are, absent all the unconscious camouflage—the masks.  We could resonate with the talents and struggles and triumphs and fears and passions of others because we would be in touch with our own.

How can we achieve this?  One way is by retracing our steps.  At some point in our journey through this life we encountered resistance.  If we can identify where and when and how that happened—often in very early chapters of our life stories—we can see that our masks materialized when we were far younger, far more vulnerable and far less able to decide whether to don them, or not.

We can then take small steps to remove our masks.  We can start telling the truth about our relationships and ourselves.  We can start pursuing goals we find truly worthy of our time and our hearts.  We can start embracing other people for their potential and finding synergy with the best of them.

Mind you, this process needn’t take years.  The road back to YOU, the process of dropping the mask, is a process of guided introspection.  It is also a process of gathering resolve.  It is a process of setting aside paper tigers from the past that inspire fear, but have no real claws.

Begin the journey.  You are worth it.  You always were.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Click HERE to schedule a complimentary discovery call with Dr. Keith Ablow.

ALAN GROSS: THIS WEEK’S PAIN-2-POWER PERSON OF THE WEEK

Alan Gross is this week’s Pain-2-Power Person of the Week.  Mr. Gross was arrested in Cuba in 2009 and charged with importing banned technology in order to create secret Internet services for Cuba’s Jewish community.  He spent five years in jail in Cuba.  He emigrated to Israel in 2017, but divides his time between there and the United States.

Acts of courage like that of Alan Gross, who was apparently willing to take a tremendous risk in order to promote the cause of freedom, are part and parcel of the Pain-2-Power Prescription.  Helping the truth to win isn’t without cost or pain, but it is the path to power—for the person who leads the way and those who follow.

I don’t know how many Cubans used any Internet services Mr. Gross allegedly provided, but the protests for freedom in Cuba would seem to testify to more information reaching the island.  And knowledge is power.

The United States and twenty other countries have now called on Cuba to stop mass arrests of protesters who have taken to the streets in an unprecedented display of defiance, despite police crackdowns and a shutdown of the Internet.  The protesters want what Alan Gross and other heroes have long wanted for them:  An end to the 62-year-old dictatorship that has stripped Cubans of their human rights.

Mr. Gross recently spoke out in defense of the protesters.  See, five years in prison didn’t shut him up.  See, you have to be careful trying to silence heroic people.  They don’t take well to it.

The United States should welcome Cubans fleeing tyranny, rather than warning them that they will be turned away at our shores.  Might that invitation cause some diplomatic pain, as we stand for the truth.  Sure.  But power always follows a willingness to experience pain, when that willingness is for the best of reasons.

I have no idea what Alan Gross experienced in prison in Cuba for five years.  Being locked up and kept from loved ones would be enough, but I suspect he suffered far more than even that.  He was imprisoned because he was identified as one who would not cower to an oppressive regime.  He was imprisoned because he wanted to make a difference in this world—bringing light to darkness.  And that’s why he’s this week’s Pain-2-Power Person of the Week.

Dr. Keith Ablow

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Your Story Doesn’t Have -30- Written Yet

When I worked at Newsweek magazine for a short time, then as a columnist for the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post, I learned to type -30- at the end of any piece I had written and filed, in order to let the editor know that there was no further content—not another paragraph or disclaimer or diagram or photo credit—beyond that signoff.

It isn’t clear how the -30- tradition started, but there are plenty of theories.  Some suggest that early Roman writers ended their pieces with XXX (the Roman numeral, of course, for 30).  Another theory is that, during the Civil War, the first message sent to a press association by telegraph was 30 words in length and, therefore, the sender ended the message with that number—which stuck for all future communications to the press.

In any case, I have needed to remind myself more than once during my life, at moments of adversity, sometimes very late at night or very, very early in the morning, that God has written no -30- at the end of my life story.  And, since you are reading this blog, the same is true for you.  There’s more of your life story to come.  Many, many things can still happen.  Very good things.

Human beings know this, instinctively, even if we sometimes forget it when it comes to our own life stories.  No one walks out of a movie theater because the main character is in a jam or even in the midst of deep despair.  People look at their watches and think something like, “Hmm, there’s half an hour left, I wonder what will happen.”

I wonder.  Wonder is a terrific antidote to despair by the way.  If you encounter darkness, let yourself wonder how the light will dawn, again.  Remind yourself that you haven’t written -30- at the end of your story and that most anything can happen—including spectacular comebacks.

Pain, my Friends, is always about becoming more powerful.  Every single time.

ONward.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Click HERE to schedule a complimentary discovery call with Dr. Keith Ablow.

Pain-2-Power, Stoicism, “The Obstacle is the Way,” and Covid-19

Stoics, like Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca, asserted that virtue, in and of itself, was sufficient for happiness.  That is one reason stoics are resilient in the face of adversity; coping with hardship, showing character during hardship and even looking at hardship as a possible source of gifts are all part of the philosophy.

As we confront Covid-19, including the Delta variant currently causing so much hardship in so many places, we shouldn’t forget the Stoic (and Pain-2-Power) notion.  We can not only accept the challenges that Covid-19 poses, we can resolve to distinguish ourselves in confronting them.  We can resolve to demonstrate virtue in moving forward with our work, building our companies, defending our freedoms and helping on another, in myriad ways, through these rough times.

None of this is meant to minimize the grief experienced on the part of those who have lost or will lose loved ones.  None of it is meant to minimize the suffering of those who contract Covid.  It is meant only as a reminder that every adversity contains within it the seed of strength.

One other thing: Do not be surprised if, in confronting Covid with all our ingenuity as a species, we happen to find other sources of power. Whether any of us agrees or disagrees with using viral mRNA as an immunization against Covid, the undertaking of such a massive, unprecedented experiment could yield insights into how to treat other diseases—like cancer.

When the Universe or God delivers hardship and pain, never lose sight of the fact that new sources of power might be delivered right along with it.  The SEEING takes strength, of course.  And that’s the point.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Click HERE to schedule a complimentary discovery call with Dr. Keith Ablow.

DR. BEN CARSON: THE PAIN-2-POWER PERSON OF THE WEEK

I am reminded, again, of why I supported Dr. Ben Carson when he ran for President of the United States and held a fundraiser for him at my home. Carson is the definition of Pain-2-Power.

Dr. Carson, who I first met when I was a student at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, is, of course, the legendary neurosurgeon who, back in 1987, separated 7-month old West German Siamese twins joined at the head.  The procedure lasted 22 hours, required Carson lead a surgical team of 70 individuals and involved a technique never before even tried:  reducing the body temperature of the twins to 68 degrees and stopping, which stopped their hearts and all blood flow.  The twins lived.  While understandably facing massive continuing neurological challenges, they returned home.  Then Carson performed the surgery four more times on other twins in the same predicament.

Carson grew up very poor and very angry in Detroit and found himself in the midst of street violence that could have ended his life or the life of others.  It got this bad:

In general I was a good kid. It usually took a lot to make me mad. But once I reached the boiling point, I lost all rational control. Totally without thinking, when my anger was aroused, I grabbed the nearest brick, rock, or stick to bash someone. It was as if I had no conscious will in the matter.

Ultimately, though, Carson wrestled his anger to the ground and used his pain to as fuel to find his power—which, lucky for lots of neurosurgical patients—turned out to be his remarkably gifted hands.

During his campaign for the 2016 Presidential election, Carson was the consummate gentleman.  His quiet, studied, enormously powerful intellect and empathy were mistaken for a lack of energy by too many voters, and we missed the chance to be led by a man who I believe would have achieved the status of Lincoln or Jefferson—a man who once said, “I was asked by an NPR reporter once why don’t I talk about race that often. I said, ‘It’s because I’m a neurosurgeon.’ And she thought that was a strange response … I said, ‘You see, when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are.’”

Now, Ben Carson, who is, of course, black, is speaking out about the evils of Critical Race Theory, which asserts that white people are inherently racist and that the challenges black people face succeeding is due to their status as victims of whites.  He knows better.  He knows that there are many factors that determine the challenges that any individual encounters in life and that overcoming them depends chiefly on the decision to make the most of one’s life.  He doesn’t want people in pain in America to run from their adversities to embrace a victim mentality and leave it at that.  He wants them to stand firm, stand tall and make the most of themselves by, as I see it, turning their personal pain into their personal power.

Here’s one other Ben Carson quote:

You have the ability to choose which way you want to go. You have to believe great things are going to happen in your life. Do everything you can – prepare, pray and achieve – to make it happen.

If that isn’t true to Pain-2-Power Principles, I don’t know what could be.  And that is why Dr. Ben Carson is this week’s Pain-2-Power Person of the Week.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Click HERE to schedule a complimentary discovery call with Dr. Keith Ablow.

Why is it Critical to Determine if “They” as a Pronoun is Scientifically Defensible?

We stand at an interesting moment in our culture, as do other cultures around the world.  Many millions of people are now being invited to identify themselves not as one gender or another—even if the gender does not match their biological sex.  They are being asked if they identify as no gender at all, but rather as an amalgam of female and male.  And they wish or insist to be referred to as “they” by family, friends, teachers, employers or anyone else.

It is among the most urgent frontiers for scientific inquiry to investigate whether there is a scientific basis upon which the “I am they” movement (an extension of the transgender movement) can be defended.  Because if all of science were to be unable to demonstrate underpinnings of firmly believing that one is not male, nor female, then it might be wise to consider whether that belief is a disordered way of thinking that, traditionally, has been considered illness.

Why?  Why would I rank this subject of scientific inquiry on par with, say, cancer research?  It is because the unexamined acceptance of a massive assertion like “I am they” paves the way for adapting our culture—including our language, of course—in massive ways.  It paves the way for people to insist on all manner of things as real, without the kind of foundation that society has relied upon to grow and to confront challenges. As strange as it may seem, a close cousin of “I am they” could be the assertion that one is disabled, when there is no evidence to suggest it, other than that belief.  Another close cousin could of “I am they” could be the assertion that one has had cancer and defeated it, through a new way of dancing.  If a person can be “they,” then a person can believe, without any diagnostic test whatsoever backing up the assertion, that he or she or “they,” had a massive brain tumor causing headaches (without a CT scan or MRI to corroborate that) and that eating Cheerios cereal made it go away.

The “I am they” movement is, therefore, a direct challenge to all of science.  And if science isn’t going to stand up for itself when under assault, it is going to be a thing of the past.  Note, for instance, how easy it has become for an important government agency to assert at one moment that masks prevent infection with Covid-19 and to assert at another moment that they do not, or that they might, under particular circumstances.

With all the news about UFOs lately, how long do you think it will be before human beings begin asserting they are actually aliens and insisting they be addressed as such.  Funny, right?  No.  It will happen.

Why would I, the Founder of Pain-2-Power, want science to address the “I am they” movement?  Because the presence of the “I am they” movement (and others), if untrue and embraced unchecked, can shake what we might call the true self movement.  It can urge people—including those in the “I am they” movement and others forced to accept it—to exit the path leading to toward true, core identity, from which true strength derives, in favor of a fiction that sets the stage for future problems like depression, anxiety and weakness.

Let’s resolve to do what will be, in some ways and for some people, the painful work of determining if there is a basis for an individual to be regarded and addressed as “they.”  That is the powerful way forward.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Click HERE to schedule a complimentary discovery call with Dr. Keith Ablow.

PAIN-2-POWER PERSON OF THE WEEK: BALTIMORE ORIOLES’ TREY MANCINI

Trey Mancini knows what it is to come back from adversity.  We could learn something from him.  See, in March, 2020, Mancini was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer.  More people die from stage 3 colon cancer than survive it.  Mancini needed surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment to save his life.  He left the game of baseball for 565 days, then stepped back into the batter’s box for his first at-bat of the 2021 season to a standing ovation from the Orioles’ fans.

Mancini is batting a respectable .256 this season and has played in the vast, vast majority of Orioles’ games.  That’s a remarkable enough feat for someone who had to take a-year-and-a-half away from playing professional baseball.  No, not “remarkable enough.” It’s stunning.

But Mancini had something more in store, not only for the fans in Baltimore who already loved him, but for the rest of us who may not have known about him and now can only marvel at his grit, determination and faith.  Trey Mancini just hit 35 home runs in the first round of this year’s Home Run Derby, setting an all-time record.  35.  Let me say that one more time:  Trey Mancini hit 35 home runs in one night after coming back from stage 3 colon cancer that could have killed him.

The fact that Mancini did this while wearing a Baltimore Orioles’ uniform cannot be overstated.  Baltimore is a city that knows all about comebacks.  I know that because I watched the city’s resurgence under the leadership of the late Mayor William Donald Schaefer while I was a medical student at Johns Hopkins from 1983 to 1987.  Just one of the many facts about Schaefer is that, when the city really felt down on itself, he had Charles Street, one of the main retail/residential streets in the city, repaved with tar mixed with crystalline material that glistened in the sun.  One more fact:  Schaefer effectively stole the National Aquarium from Washington, DC. and planted it at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.  He was no political slouch.  And he loved the city with every fiber of his being.

I watched William Donald Schaefer cry on television when the Baltimore Colts left Baltimore in the middle of the night.  And I heard him vow to bring a football franchise—which turned out to be the Ravens—back to the city.  I never forgot the determination in his voice, despite those tears.

Now, Trey Mancini, the survivor, the slugger, the hero will be forever part of Baltimore lore.  And more than that, he will be an inspiration to millions of people battling cancer and looking to hit it out of the park.  And that’s why Trey Mancini is also the Pain-2-Power Person of the Week.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Click HERE to schedule a complimentary discovery call with Dr. Keith Ablow.

When You Talk, is it YOU Actually Speaking?

Strange question, right?  It sounds almost rhetorical.  But, it isn’t.  Because the voices we use in life—the roles we adopt—are rarely from our core selves.  We say things we don’t really mean, deep down.  We avoid saying things we do believe, but worry will cost us prestige or cause us to be scorned.  We pursue goals we don’t really treasure, in our heart of hearts.  We maintain interpersonal connections when we know those relationships aren’t good for us.  We shy away from relationships out of fear, when they could be transformational.

Using your real voice, anchored deep and firmly in your very soul is the work of a lifetime.  It is the ultimate journey, and it goes a long way to reducing anxiety and alleviating low mood.  That’s because anxiety and depression are often fueled by the underlying sense that we are not speaking with our own voices—that we are playing a roles, not living authentic lives.

How does this happen—this speaking in other voices?  We get scared.  We worry that we won’t be loved by parents if we say what we really think as kids.  We fear that seeing things for what they really are around us will leave us terrified or paralyzed or alone?  We notice that wearing the “right” clothes or having the “right” position or saying the popular things everyone else is will get us invited to the right birthday parties as a kid or the right dinner parties as an adult.

The thing is:  Faking won’t work.  Speaking in a voice not your own will not only be dispiriting to you; it will ring hollow to others.  Because you can’t fake anything in this life.  Not really.  The whole universe is set up to resonate with the truth.

Can you recapture your voice?  Can you own it, once and for all?  You can.  It will take some work, but nothing like the work it is to try to “act” like a character you are not and have others not notice.

You can begin by voicing one firmly-held opinion that you have believed “for the longest time.”  You can begin by buying a single canvas to start painting.  You can begin by reading those books you’ve been meaning to, “since you can remember.”  You can sign up for a course.  You can call a friend you love, but haven’t seen.

You can also just get quiet.  Meditate.  Use fewer words and listen more.  Engage in a healing relationship with a psychiatrist or psychologist or life coach who you can speak freely to, from your core.  The tide of self will come rolling in.  It has to.  It has been waiting for you to take down the dam in its way.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Click HERE to schedule a complimentary discovery call with Dr. Keith Ablow.

Why Your Story Matters

Every one of us has a story.  The roots of each of our stories reaches deeper than we can remember and has chapters in previous generations.  Some of the “backstory” that set the stage for your journey, challenges and gifts involves psychological dynamics that unfolded many years ago, setting the stage for the kind of parenting you received and the messages you heard about whether to follow your dreams or ignore them, take risks or not, insist on truth and real love or not.

Part of your story is encoded in the DNA passed down to you through the generations, too.  Are you muscular and athletic or not?  Are you particularly intuitive or not?  Are you analytically minded or not?  Are you vulnerable to physical illnesses that can disrupt your momentum?  Are you more challenged with weight issues or a tendency toward addiction or a tendency toward obsessiveness?

In order to optimize your life story you need to know everything you can about all the contributions made to it by as many different factors as possible.  What did you live through as a child and adolescent and young adult that shaped your perspectives?  What did your parents live through?  What did their parents live through?  How did the chapters of your life story, to date, reflect unconscious dynamics set in motion by events or influences over which you had no control?

Once you know what has shaped your life story, you have the power to write much more compelling chapters going forward.  You can SEE more clearly how to choose how you wish to act, purely from your core, not as a set of automatic reflexes triggered by conditioning and, therefore, outside your control.

Why put in the work, though?  What difference does it really make whether you get to the bottom of “who you are” and what you are here to do and what you really value?  The answer is simple:  You have elemental, essential worth as part of the fabric of humanity.  You are a thread in the great tapestry of what is being created on this planet.  You and your story matter.

If you free yourself from old, tired influences and habits, in order to be a better listener for your kids, then all the effort of getting to your core self will have been well worth it.  If you burrow to the core of what you value, in order to pursue a profession, or participate in an art form, or put effort into political goals you find meaningful, then not only do you become self-actualized, but all those with whom you interact are elevated.

Only the true, self-actualized you can deliver what the world around you needs and deserves from you.  Yes, it may feel like a risk to burrow to your core and find where your feet feel most solidly planted.  But, I promise you that that perceived risk is a paper tiger.  The real risk is not taking that journey—the journey of a lifetime.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Click HERE to schedule a complimentary discovery call with Dr. Keith Ablow.

Re-Invent Yourself? No. Re-Embrace YourSELF.

People talk about reinventing themselves, as though adopting a new focus for work or a new outlook after a painful divorce or even a new “look” is enough to change the trajectory of their existences.  Certainly, I applaud those who hit rough patches or hurdles and don’t give up, instead summoning new interests and perspectives with which to engage the world.  But, ultimately, there’s no re-creating oneself.  That’s because we are born with a unique self is immutable and indestructible.  The journey of a lifetime, the journey that surely can be painful, but which makes us more and more powerful, is re-embracing our true selves.

What does that mean?  It means that each of us is born with a core ability to think for ourselves, to voice our thoughts, to dream and to manifest those dreams.  We circle this core, in orbits near or far, but what we really need is to embrace it.  We need to go home to it.  That’s where our feet will feel firmly planted.  That’s where our fears will dissipate.  That’s where we can harness intuition and imagination and intelligence to write the best next chapters of our life stories.

There’s nothing left to reinvent once you have truly re-embraced yourSELF.

Re-embracing yourSELF isn’t as daunting as it might sound.  Think of it as a “trust fall.”  Most everyone remembers what it felt like to overcome the anxiety about letting yourself fall backwards, knowing you would hit the ground—hard—if your friend or sibling didn’t do as he or she promised and catch you.  Well, embracing yourSELF is like a trust fall into the unfailing hands of God, or of the Universe, if you like.  It is a trust fall into your own hands, which are, when you claim your greatest potential, the hands of God.

Whether you were “meant” to be a teacher or scientific researcher or entrepreneur or artist or writer or chef, once you accept that fact and re-embrace yourSELF, you won’t be of two minds about moving forward to manifest your greatest gifts.  You won’t be hoping the next wardrobe or job will make all the difference in the world.  You won’t even be thinking that winning the lottery would be the answer to your prayers.  Because wardrobes and jobs and money come and goes.  The self is eternal.  It is waiting for you to live its story.  It is, in fact, the only non-fiction version of your life that you can live.

Do you need to paint?  Do you need to help care for children?  Do you need to cultivate crops, study the stars, defend the innocent as an attorney, invent a new product, reverse an injustice?  If you aren’t pursuing what matters to you, what really matters to you, it’s time to take a step in that direction.  It must be, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog.  Because if you are, your SELF is waiting for you to be truer to it, waiting for you to re-embrace it.

Dr. Keith Ablow

Click HERE to schedule a complimentary discovery call with Dr. Keith Ablow.