Author name: Leif


How to Remove the Chip on Your Shoulder

How to Remove the Chip on Your Shoulder – BY LEIF PETERSON, LPC, NCC As men, we have all probably had the experience of feeling angry when we feel disrespected. It might be from another driver flipping us the bird, getting cut off or being honked at. It might be the tone of a boss or customer that feels demeaning or overly demanding. It might be a partner, or someone we are interested in, being hit on by another man. These experiences can swirl around in our heads for hours, days, weeks, years. What is it about being disrespected that causes such rage, anxiety, or depression? We have received the message, either from parents, friends and/or culture, that being seen as weak will lead to lower status, less chance of romantic partners and less earning potential. The sad truth is that this is at least partially true. According to a study referenced in an article on the American Psychogical Association Website (APA), “each inch above average may be worth $789 more per year.” They’re talking about height here fellas, just to be clear. Ok, so give yourself some grace if you have a pattern of ruminating on incidents during which you felt disrespected, or flew into a rage when someone cut you off in traffic, or feel resentment when you try to connect with people on dating apps and get infrequent and unenthusiastic engagement. All these things can feel like existential threats, because our brains are going off data from hundreds of thousands of years of evolution during which being larger, stronger and having traditionally masculine characteristics meant surviving and passing on our genes. The pressure from these survival instincts has contributed to a crisis in men’s mental health, about which men often feel unable to share openly due to fear they might be seen as weak. Men’s Mental Health: A Silent Crisis In recent years, there has been a growing awareness about mental health, yet the conversation often overlooks a critical demographic: men. Despite societal advances, men’s mental health remains a relatively under-discussed topic, wrapped in layers of cultural expectations and traditional gender roles. This silence and stigma can have devastating consequences, affecting not only individual men but also their families and communities.  The Stigma and Its Roots Historically, men have been conditioned to embody strength, stoicism, and self-sufficiency. Emotions, particularly those perceived as vulnerabilities like sadness or fear, have often been culturally sidelined as signs of weakness. This portrayal contributes to a dangerous narrative that seeking help or even discussing mental health struggles becomes a source of shame. The “man up” mentality pervades many societies and dictates that men should suppress their emotions. This approach can deter men from accessing mental health resources or confiding in others about their struggles. Such conditions foster isolation and exacerbate mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Statistics Highlighting the Crisis The statistics paint a stark picture of men’s mental health: Men are less likely than women to seek mental health treatment.  Suicide rates among men are significantly higher compared to women. According to the World Health Organization, nearly three times as many men as women die by suicide. Substance abuse is more prevalent among men, which can often be a form of self-medication for untreated mental health issues. Men are less likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression, partly due to underreporting and partly due to the presentation of symptoms which may differ from typical diagnostic criteria. Men are more likely to mask depression, anxiety and the effects of unprocessed trauma with substance use or anger, as these are seen as more socially acceptable than being incompetent or weak.   Barriers to Seeking Help Several barriers prevent men from seeking help for mental health issues: Social Stigma: The fear of being perceived as weak or less masculine can deter men from acknowledging their struggles. Lack of Awareness:  Many men are unaware of the signs of mental health deterioration and do not realize when it is time to seek help.  Inadequate Support Systems: Men might have fewer social connections or less intimate relationships where they feel comfortable discussing mental health. Resource Accessibility: Mental health services are often not tailored to address specific male issues, which can make men feel alienated from available support mechanisms. Moving Forward: Addressing the Crisis To combat this crisis, several steps must be taken: Increasing Awareness and Education: By promoting mental health literacy specifically targeted at men, we can break down the myths surrounding mental health and masculinity. Encouraging Open Conversations: Creating spaces where men feel safe to discuss their mental health without judgment can help break the cycle of silence. Tailoring Mental Health Resources: Developing resources that resonate with men and address their unique needs can encourage more men to seek help. Role Models: Public figures and influencers being open about their mental health struggles can have a powerful impact on changing public perceptions.  Multiple gold-winning Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is a good example, read more here The Solution Addressing men’s mental health is not just about helping men; it’s about healing communities and families. It requires dismantling outdated stereotypes and encouraging men to understand and take care of their mental well-being. By shifting societal attitudes and improving resources, we can hope to not only save lives but also enhance the quality of life for countless individuals who suffer in silence. Let’s ensure that our fathers, brothers, sons, and friends know that it’s okay not to be okay and that help is not only available but also accessible.  Men’s Mental Health: Coping with a Smile Alright, fellas, it’s time to put down that “man up” card and pick up something more useful, like a sense of humor. Who says talking about mental health must be all doom and gloom? Let’s tackle this subject with a bit of laughter, because, as the saying goes, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, just wait, someone else will.” Recognizing the Signs (Hint: It’s Not Just a Case


Help Your Dopamine System Help You

Help Your Dopamine System Help You – BY LEIF PETERSON, LPC, NCC Addiction is a complex issue that can manifest in various forms, including substance abuse, gambling, gaming, overeating, compulsive internet, or social media scrolling and others. Later in this blog I will write about my personal story of addiction and how my dopamine system was affected.  First, I’ll lay out the scope of the problem and explain how the dopamine system plays a part.  Here are some general statistics on addiction: Substance Abuse: According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in the United States, approximately 20.4 million adults had a substance use disorder in 2019. Opioid addiction is a significant concern, with over 2 million Americans suffering from opioid use disorder (OUD) in 2018, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Alcohol addiction is prevalent globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that harmful use of alcohol results in approximately 3 million deaths each year. Smoking: Tobacco addiction remains a global health challenge. The WHO estimates that there are over 1 billion smokers worldwide, with tobacco-related illnesses causing around 8 million deaths annually. Gambling Addiction: The prevalence of gambling addiction varies by country and region. In the United States, it’s estimated that around 2-3% of the population has a gambling problem, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. Internet and Gaming Addiction: Internet and gaming addiction are relatively newer concerns. The prevalence rates vary widely across studies, but some suggest that around 1-10% of gamers may experience significant gaming-related problems.  Some form of internet-related problems are prevalent in my clientele.  Effects on Mental Health: Addiction often co-occurs with mental health disorders. For example, individuals with substance use disorders are more likely to have mood disorders like depression or anxiety. Addiction can also have severe social and economic consequences, including strained relationships, financial problems, and legal issues. Treatment and Recovery: Despite the challenges, effective treatments are available for addiction. These can include therapy, medication, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Recovery Dharma and SMART Recovery, and lifestyle changes. Recovery from addiction is possible with appropriate support and resources. However, it often requires long-term management and commitment. How does dopamine reinforce addiction? The feeling of pleasure is how a healthy brain identifies and reinforces beneficial behaviors, such as eating, socializing, and sex. Our brains are wired to increase the odds that we will repeat pleasurable activities. The neurotransmitter dopamine is central to this. Whenever the reward circuit is activated by a healthy, pleasurable experience, a burst of dopamine signals that something important is happening that needs to be remembered. This dopamine signal causes changes in neural connectivity that make it easier to repeat the activity again and again without thinking about it, leading to the formation of habits. Just as drugs produce intense euphoria, they also produce much larger surges of dopamine, powerfully reinforcing the connection between consumption of the drug, the resulting pleasure, and all the external cues linked to the experience. Large surges of dopamine “teach” the brain to seek drugs and other addictive behavior at the expense of other, healthier goals and activities. Cues in a person’s daily routine or environment that have become linked with drug use because of changes to the reward circuit can trigger uncontrollable cravings whenever the person is exposed to these cues, even if the drug itself is not available. This learned “reflex” can last a long time, even in people who haven’t used drugs in many years. For example, people who have been drug free for a decade can experience cravings when returning to an old neighborhood or house where they used drugs, or smell something like cigarette smoke which can be linked to nicotine addiction or another addictive behavior to which smoking was linked. Like riding a bike, the brain remembers. Why are drugs more addictive than natural rewards? For the brain, the difference between normal rewards and drug rewards can be likened to the difference between someone whispering into your ear and someone shouting into a microphone. Just as we turn down the volume on a radio that is too loud, the brain of someone who misuses drugs adjusts by producing fewer neurotransmitters naturally in the reward circuit, or by reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals. As a result, the person’s ability to experience pleasure from naturally rewarding (i.e., reinforcing) activities is also reduced. This is why a person who misuses drugs eventually feels flat, without motivation, lifeless, and/or depressed, and is unable to enjoy things that were previously pleasurable. Now, the person needs to keep taking drugs to experience even a normal level of reward—which only makes the problem worse, like a vicious cycle. Also, the person will often need to take larger amounts of the drug to produce the familiar high—an effect known as tolerance. I Know How It Feels to Have a Disordered Dopamine System After becoming paralyzed from a fall right before my 18th birthday, I was given opioids to cope with the substantial pain associated with that injury.  I can still remember one of the first times I was given a shot of a powerful opioid when I was lying in a hospital bed, unable to move my body below my chest.  I felt devastated by this injury and did not know how I was going to get through it.  After receiving that shot of an opioid medication, it changed my mental state instantaneously.  I was still paralyzed, I was still laying in that hospital bed not knowing what my life would look like going forward, but with the opioids flooding my brain with dopamine, increasing pleasure and inhibiting stress and anxiety, it suddenly did not feel as devastating.  It felt tolerable.  It did the job that it was supposed to do at the moment.  The problem developed when I kept taking opioid medications for years, and at increasingly higher amounts, to cope with physical and emotional pain caused by


Draw on Inspiration from Many Sources for Internal Comfort

Draw on Inspiration from Many Sources for Internal Comfort – BY LEIF PETERSON, LPC, NCC Introduction Drawing on inspiration from many sources for internal comfort involves finding support and motivation. The goal is to build up tools for coping with distressing thoughts and emotions using inspiration from things we encounter in the world. Emotional health is essential when navigating life’s obstacles. Therapists and counselors are vital in offering professional guidance and support to assist individuals in discovering their strengths, coping skills, and strategies for personal development. Their understanding and methods help people, partners, and families achieve peace, strength, and an optimistic mindset, leading to positive transformations and improved overall quality of life. Almost everyone can connect with the experience of hearing a critical internal voice. The severity and frequency of this critical voice varies and is often louder and more persistent when people struggle with depression, anxiety or traumatic stress symptoms. This voice may sound like it’s coming from someone else, maybe a critical parent or childhood bullies: ‘You are so stupid!’, ‘You’re ugly!’, ‘Everyone else can figure out how to live life as a normal person, but you keep screwing up!’. Or it may sound like it’s coming from you and take the ‘I’ form: ‘I am always going to be alone,’ ‘I am an imposter,’ ‘If people really knew me, they would not want to be near me and definitely wouldn’t love me’. Now these critical thoughts, or voices, may be trying to do something good for us, like push us to keep being better or improving, but often they get so extreme that they just end up leading to constant anxiety, tension, withdrawal from the world and eventual collapse. So, how can we tame these vicious internal voices? Example of How Do Develop an Internal Resource Here is an example that highlights how I, as a professional counselor, may help someone develop an internal, comforting resource: Watch the clip below, and then I will explain how you can use this to develop a comforting internal voice: Little Miss Sunshine Clip: View Here Olive, the little girl in the clip, is afraid that if she tries, if she puts herself out there, she will be humiliated and rejected. The way her grandpa responds is a splendid example of someone being accepting, nurturing, and encouraging. The grandpa gives Olive support in the way she needs it. Olive refers to her dad as “hating losers.” We receive messages from friends, family, society, etc., about how we should be in the world, and what is valued. The father’s own insecurities cause him to have a skewed view, classifying everything through the lens of winning or losing. He has a strongly critical internal voice, which he externalizes onto his family. Olive notices this message from her dad and internalizes it, which manifests as self-consciousness and probably some anxiety. Where do the negative messages that tend to repeat in your mind come from? Sometimes identifying the original sources for your critical inner voice can help to realize that it is not just coming from inside; it’s not just you who is hearing these messages. When I collaborate with clients who have an intensely critical inner voice (which is pretty much everyone who is coming to counseling for help), I often prompt them to identify people from their own lives who have been accepting and nurturing. Unfortunately, not everyone has someone like this in their life. In those cases, using a fictional character, like Olive’s grandpa from the movie clip, is the next best thing. Using this character, I would prompt a client to imagine how he would respond to their critical inner voice. What would he say? How would he look at you when he is expressing compassion? Would it feel comforting for him to give you a hug? Who in your life would you want him to say, ‘We’ll tell ‘em all to go to hell!’. Take a moment right now to imagine this comforting grandfatherly figure saying these supportive, nurturing things to you. How does it feel in your body when you imagine this? If you feel even a hint of comfort from imagining this, I invite you to sit with this feeling. Breathe into it, like you are stoking the embers of a warm fire, allowing the warmth to fill you from within. How does this feel? What is happening with the tension in your body, with the critical inner voice? Hopefully, tension is releasing, and the critical voice is quieting. If you feel a resistance to letting this comfort in, either through increased tension, or a fogginess or numbness, it’s okay, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. It may mean you’ve been through trauma or grew up in an environment where safety and vulnerability was not possible, was not safe. If this is the case, try to give yourself some grace, and I encourage you to seek professional counseling or therapy, either from the great therapists at Calming Presence Counseling, or another trauma-informed practice. The supportive, nurturing, and most importantly, accepting nature, of Olive’s relationship with her grandpa allows her to express her worries, and feel reassured, and then she is emotionally regulated enough to go to sleep. When we feel anxious, worried, or scared, it is difficult to let go of those thoughts. In counseling, we can work on developing robust internal resources that you can call upon to comfort yourself in these moments. We can also discuss how to communicate your needs in relationships, so you are more likely to receive the kind of support you need the most. Sometimes we need to comfort ourselves when our interpersonal relationships are not working well, or we are alone. During those times you can use your internal resources. Other times, we will want to ask for our needs to be met through important relationships with others, and that is when we can use our honed communication skills to ask for our needs to be met.

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