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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

During Crisis, Understanding Yourself is Vital

     First and foremost, please accept my deep apologies for not blogging in over two years! What can I say?  Life has been hectic.  I miss writing as it is very therapeutic for me so I hope to continue it as best as I can.  As I reflect on it, I think I have been too consumed with my own life and so disconnected from what has been happening all around. I am back now and I would like to shed light on a very important topic dear to my heart. Do let me know what your thoughts are (favorable or unfavorable)! Here it goes...       
      During a crisis, we experience a stress response, which is also known as "fight or flight." In the past week, there have been two crises deeply affecting me. My home country of Nepal is experiencing devastation of incomprehensible proportion due to a massive earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.8, that hit my beautiful country of birth on April 25, 2015.  Over 7,000 lives perished and still counting. Entire villages completely wiped out, centuries old monuments and temples symbolizing our beautiful cultural heritage turned into rubble and debris everywhere. Ever since, there are have been so many aftershocks and the people are being re-traumatized. Two days after Nepal's earthquake, just 20 minutes away, in my home city of Baltimore, an important social justice movement was born.  I felt sandwiched between my two homes and it was quite unsettling to the say the least. Emotions were running high and still are. Erratic sleep and eating patterns emerged. Self-care was compromised. That is what happens during a stress response. Our primitive brain gets activated and our sophisticated brain shuts down.  Pure instincts, raw emotions surface. Survival is our main purpose. Logic and reason go out the window.

     When survival becomes our primary purpose, then it becomes essential "to know thyself" otherwise things may unfold quite differently than we intended it to. This starts with our emotional self-awareness. Emotions are essential to our survival. Without fear, we could not save ourselves from danger. However, with too much fear, we could become immobile and not save ourselves from danger or mobilize in ways that are harmful to us and become self-sabotaging. It is a balancing act, like many aspects of Life. 

      One day last week after the earthquake hit Nepal, I was conversing with a very senior (he knew B.F. Skinner) clinical psychologist colleague about religion, philosophy, and mental health. He shared that love and fear are the essential emotions we have to work through. I shared that I felt it was love and anger. Then, he responded that anger is just a mechanism to express fear. I have been thinking about my colleague's comment all this week as I read the news about Nepal, Baltimore, and other places where crisis is unfolding. People have been saying things and doing things that seem so out of character for them. The rhetoric sound so hurtful and angry, but I know these folks are kind, loving individuals.  I know this because I am a seasoned psychotherapist who have worked with a diverse group of people for many years and they are all loving, kind people.  I have family and friends who are experiencing what my patients experience and they are loving, kind people.  I experience what they experience. We all have one thing in common. We all struggle with our emotions, especially during times of crisis. We are all humans. 

      It is natural to feel a range of emotions. It is human to do so. All emotions are okay. Nobody has any right to tell another how to feel or how not to feel. If they do, understand that it is more about them than about you. However, it is what we do with our emotions that determines our survival when crisis hits.  Crises have this imminent power to open up old emotional wounds that may or may not have anything to do with the crisis itself, and leave us hanging to fend for ourselves. This makes us vulnerable because we are all humans.  We are not alone because we are all human.

      When an external crisis hits, an internal turmoil gets ignited. In order to prevent an internal, psychological crisis, it is imperative that we all work through our emotions otherwise we say or do things we may regret later.  This also helps us to channel them in healthy ways so we are in a better place to listen and understand others for a better tomorrow.  We know we are in a better place when we do not feel the need to judge, ridicule, hurt, or "unfriend" others who express different emotions or see the world differently because we understand that this is not a personal attack.  It is that they have some work to do when it comes to their emotions. The President, world and faith leaders, doctors, media people, poor people, rich people, people of all shades of color, children, seniors, etc. are all vulnerable because we are all human.

      It is imperative that we work through our own emotions so we can work towards forgiveness, peace, social justice, and happiness. Without it, humanity in and of itself is at risk. Wanting it is not enough. We have to work hard at it. Together. It is the human thing to do. 

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world."   ~Mahatma Gandhi