This blog is about---You! Each and every post is about you. Use it to challenge your usual patterns, as a tool for self-discovery, to stimulate your thinking, to learn about yourself and to answer your questions about others.
Highlighting the humanity and individuality of our elders
Abraham Nievod, Ph.D, J.D. is attempting to change people's understanding of the elderlywith his documentary photography project titled, Portraits of Aging and Dementia. His awareness of this issue developed as a result of his work as a neurologist and doing evaluations of competency for the elderly and the mentally disabled for the courts and for other therapists. Many times the legal issues are decided for the elderly by people who've never seen them, never met them. When he realized this, he began going to the elderly person (usually housed in some sort of assisted living situation), photographing them and including the picture with his report. (One judge commented that it was the first time he had ever seen anyone for whom he had made a competency decision!)
This picture including effort grew into the portrait project. As he went to seek out these individuals, he observed how they were living in such an isolated, circumscribed world with very limited horizons. He decided that he wanted to show the elders in an individualized, personal way. He told parts of a few of their stories: One person was one of the first women Marines. One man was sold as a child; 40 years later, his brother became a government official, tracked him down and introduced him to his mother and father for the first time. One man he photographed standing in front of a painting that he had done in earlier years as an artist. Dr. Nievod is trying to counterbalance the tendency for people to begin treating them differently once a person gets labeled as incompetent. (An unfortunate fact, according to Dr. Nievod is that sometimes the judgment that someone is incompetent to deal with their own business matters is based on a 10 minute test, the MMSE-mini mental status examination score).
A basic description of dementia is memory impairment and disturbances in executive function*, however, there are now thirteen different kinds of dementia identified. Also, anxiety and other mood disorders can effect executive function.
There is usually a difference between the assessment of a 32 year old accident victim and an 88 year old accident victim. It is this unfairness that is highlighted by the project.
The elderly must be protected from being taken advantage of. Elder abuse is something to be aware exists. It is important to remember that even though a person is older, slower, less sharp, not as strong as a younger person, that they are still a unique individual, may still be quite capable of making choices and decisions for themselves and, should be treated with the regard expected for any adult.
For the California laws pertaining to this topic, see Probate Code Section 810-813.
*Executive function refers to such abilities as using abstract concepts, to reason, to plan, organize, and carry out actions in one's own rational self-interest, ability to use logic.
How self-confidence can shine out from you and help you drop unnecessary defensiveness.
Lots of defensiveness in a personality comes from low self-confidence. Having defenses is not all bad, in fact, we need to have some. Psychological defenses are part of how we handle all the dilemmas, unanswerable questions, unpleasantness from others, and many other difficulties that are a natural part of life. But, some people are too defended. They don't ever open up to others and, thus, rob themselves and those close to them of the experience of emotional intimacy. They can never admit to a mistake. You are highly unlikely to ever hear an apology or a true one anyway, from them! They guard their inner thoughts and feelings behind an iron gate.
How does a person come to be so very guarded? Often they had parents who were very critical or they may have been reared by shaming parents. Some parents even think it's funny to ridicule children. Children are very impressionable and ridiculing makes them believe there must be something wrong with them. Many parents don't realize how much power they have, psychologically over their children; these demeaning interactions, repeated many times over the course of a childhood, can have lifelong effects on the adult personality.
A self-confident individual usually uses defenses less and only when necessary. When they do need to protect themselves, they are more likely to do it with something like humor or sublimation.
(The less confident, more guarded person will use defenses such as a passive aggressive defense, apathetic withdrawal, denial, rationalization, or devaluation - to name a few.) If you think it's unpleasant to interact with such a person, think about what it's like to live inside that armory!
If you can't ever take any feedback from anyone and think about yourself a little (self-reflect), if others can't assert themselves toward you, if you can't listen openly enough to let in a new idea, not much personal growth can happen for you.
So, build your self confidence and your defenses will automatically be reduced; you won't need them so much! How do you build self-confidence? Paradoxically, psychotherapy is a good component in a program to build self-confidence. I say paradoxically because you have to be willing to look at the tough stuff, to cry about it, to face your personal demons, to give up long-held miss beliefs or illusions. You have to be willing to question your own behavior in the presence of another. You have to be able to go back the next week and face that person (the therapist) after having revealed your deepest, darkest secret. You have to take personal risks. You have to try doing things a different way. You have to be willing to go out of your comfort zone, to function in the unfamiliar, to try new things. You will have to change.
When you have an experienced, (confident themselves), accepting, therapist, it is possible to do this and it is healing. As you go through this process, you become less of a stranger to yourself and less afraid of revealing something ugly to others. More self-knowledge leads to more self confidence leads to less rigorous use of defense mechanisms.
The other thing you can do, which I have discussed in a previous blog, is to provide yourself with positive self-talk. Start now replacing those old negative messages you were inundated with as a youngster with good, positive messages. For example, at the end of each Yoga class that I do, I say one positive affirmation to myself, like, "You did something good for yourself." or, "You spent sometime today helping your body to be healthy." Simple as that! Jack La Lanne, one of the first famous health and fitness promoters told people that he encouraged himself after every workout by saying to himself as he left the gym, "You did it again, Jack!" There are so many times during the day when you can help yourself this way. If you commute, use some of that time to review your accomplishments.
In some cultures it would be unseemly to tout your success to others. That's all right - you don't have to become obnoxious to be more self confident! Just do it mentally, in your own head. If you worked hard at something and it came to fruition, acknowledge yourself. Try to find personal qualities in yourself that you like and notice them, develop them. Try not to go through life wearing a virtual suit of armor---you will miss out on so much. Share your joy with others!
Was one or both of your parents a problem drinker? In the midst of a crisis is when some people feel most alive, at their best, competent and confident- at the controls. On the other hand, most people are, at the least, taken aback in a crisis; they may have to take a moment to gather themselves. It is common to experience a state of confusion in the immediate, when a crisis strikes. Sometimes fear is felt. It isn't unusual to be a little off-center for awhile in the aftermath of a crisis. And yet, there are those who will always step to the forefront and take over in a crisis with no hesitation. They will assume responsibility for others or for the situation and may even seem to overextend themselves in helping and burdening themselves with the problem. So, while most people would rather avoid a crisis, there are some who move toward it and find themselves most comfortable in the middle of chaos.
If you have ever wondered whether alcoholism affected your childhood, these are some of the characteristics of those who have come to be referred to as Adult Children of Alcoholics. This term comes from an idea that has been so important to people who have struggled to understand why certain problems keep cropping up in their life over and over again. The development of this concept and understanding how children growing up in alcoholic homes can be affected has been instrumental in answering that question. Some ACA's have felt tremendous relief when they found out there was a reason why.
"In many alcoholic homes only terror exists...Children and spouses frequently experience intensely frightening and physically dangerous situations." The adult who grew up this way is so accustomed to drastic events, that they have become, in a sense, comfortable in them. At the very least, we can say that it is familiar. Taking responsibility is learned early on. When the adults in the home are unable to take responsibility, usually one of the children will learn to do this. They become a temporary surrogate adult, out of necessity, so it is second nature to continue to do this in their own actual adult life.
"...young Billy told me how he was taking the air out of the car tires so dad wouldn't drive when he was drinking. His youngest sister, Ann, was putting water in dad's vodka bottle; his oldest sister was putting apple cider in dad's whiskey." Ideally children should be focused on school and encouraged to play. But in an alcoholic home, they learn to be very watchful and to try to manage things to prevent disaster. They become used to feeling overburdened. This leads to the adult who is often referred to as one 'who does too much'. They continue to overcompensate even when it is no longer necessary. As they say, old habits die hard. Even though friends may say things to them such as, You work too hard!! or, You'll be burned out by the time you're forty!, they really don't understand what their friends are trying to tell them. It is just second nature to them to do too much, to be over-responsible and to live an over-burdened life because they were trained to do that in childhood.
In fact, people who suffer these aftereffects of growing up in an alcoholic family and have not identified them do often begin to have physical symptoms earlier than their peers simply because they push too hard. (We all need time to recuperate, time to restore our energy.) After all, how do you know how to let go at the end of a hard day, or relax on a vacation if you didn't dare lose yourself in play as a child, for fear a calamity would occur?
+Alcoholism in a family is nothing to be ashamed of.+ There are programs and therapists who can help resolve the problems that sometimes result from the presence of alcoholism in a family. If you think that parental drinking affected you, seek out a therapist to talk to about this. Or, try out some Al-Anon meetings. Help for these and other effects from growing up close to an alcoholic, exists.
Quotes were from the book It Will Never Happen To Me by Claudia Black, PhD, MSW