How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry

I am sane, you are eccentric, he is mad.

Personality disorders can be divided into two kinds: 1) people who can’t get out of crisis; 2) people who have gotten out of them. This book will guide you such that you will avoid the two extremes. One should remain stable and flexible. This book also delves into the brain development and how our brain works. Spirit and Appetite pulls Reason. The brain consists of 3 separate structures. Your brain stem will respond to danger, and save your life. Our early childhood experiences shaped our brain matter. The right brain controls emotions and instincts. The left brain governs primary language, logic and reasoning. Left brain development is slower than the right one. By age 2, our brains will have distinct patterns already. People with severe childhood trauma find it difficult to adjust. Find patterns to be saner and happier. Outside psychotherapy, you can focus on these 4 areas: (1) self-observation; (2) relating to others; (3) stress; (4) personal narrative. Self-observation is about being accepting and non-judging of your emotions and thoughts. Increasing self-awareness is part of this. We all need nurturing relationships. Right type of stress creates positive stimulation. You may have hidden beliefs since young, even before you could speak.

Contrary to some people’s belief, romance is not necessarily a prerequisite for happiness; but some of our relationships do need to be nurturing ones: a nurturing relationship might be a therapist, a teacher, a lover, a friend, or our children – someone who not only listens but reads between the lines and perhaps even gently challenges us. – Philippa Perry

Self-Observation. This is not self-obsession. You are not taken over by obsessive feelings. It will make us more receptive to things in life. Do not be used by your feelings. Separate yourself from your feelings. Self-Observation is a form of re-parenting and re-learning. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. There are basically two types of people: ‘Internally Referenced People’ and ‘Externally Referenced People’. Think about where you lie on this spectrum. Practise the grounding exercise once in a while. We are not simply rational beings led by reason and intellect. Humans are largely unable to make decisions without their emotions. It is a fact of life. A lack of emotions will result in chaos. Even if you are unaware of how you are feeling, it will still have an influence on you. Re-examine your beliefs from time to time. Sometimes, emotions form for no apparent reasons and there is no need to analyse them. The left brain often makes up reason retrospectively. A feeling itself is not immoral, but actions can be immoral. Spend some time exploring your feelings. If you write down what happened in your day, researchers show people who keep diaries then to have better moods and fewer moments of anxiety. Writing is a form of expressing your emotions. Gratitude lists help improve life’s satisfaction. Writing is also a good way for self-observation. Write down your dreams and your response to them. Try stream-of-consciousness writing. Practice the art of focused attention. Research also show that people who meditate report increase in powers of concentration. Our head is always full of random chatter, some of which are hateful. Self-awareness will allow you to realize that so that you can move away from them. You can even practise self-awareness when running. In general, self-awareness improves relationships.

From birth to death, each of us needs others who seek us out, show interest in discovering who we are and help us feel safe. – Philippa Perry

Relating to Others. Just like birds, humans like to flock together. Other people are one of the best resources for being sane. The relationship between patient and psychotherapist can play a big part in the process of patient’s recovery. To experience genuine dialogue, you need to be open and vulnerable. Monologue can be disguised as dialogue too. Mentalization refers to ‘the ability to understand our inner experience, and from that, work out accurately the other person’s feelings’. You need to know what it is like to be understood before you can understand others. Our happiness has a lot to do with the relationships with others around us. Staying connected with others is vital. There is no ‘how to’ have good relationships. Thinking too much might cause you to try the other person as an object rather than an equal. Even if you act caring, you need to take the other party’s culture into consideration as well. Manners differ from culture to culture. In most relationships, we start off by engaging in small talk. Small talk is necessary to build a relationship. People talk about the weather not because they are interested in it, but you see whether you can respond and agree in a positive manner to the other party. Sometimes, misreading occurs. You might objectify the person or the relationship can become an ‘I’ & ‘I’ sort. Trust can work two ways as well. If you are too distrusting, you will be lonely. But if you are too trusting, you might get manipulated. The trick is to hold your views lightly and try to find out more about others. We can all learn from children. There is an exercise you can do to strengthen relationships with others. 1) Appreciations – Share what you appreciate about the other person. 2) New Information – Share new events and developments in your life and how these have impacted you. 3) Questions – Question all assumptions that you have of the group. 4) Complaints with recommendations for change – Do not be defensive when hearing it. Instead, listen first. A relationship is not about identifying right or wrong. It is about concern at how the other party feels. 5) Wishes, Hopes and Dreams – Get the encouragement you need by sharing them with others. Sharing vulnerabilities improves the relationship as well. Be mindful of the way you act in front of others. To resist urges, write them down in a diary instead, but not act on them. Feel superior over others is not a good substitute on companionship as well. You must not impose solitary confinement on yourself at all costs.

Stress. You need to keep your brain fit as well. The brain is like a muscle which requires adequate levels of stress to be in tip top condition. Learning must take place in a certain zone, where it cannot be too comfortable, nor too uncomfortable. This is the good-stress zone that people know about. In rats, a stimulating environment can overcome some of the effects of lead poisoning. Learning has the effect of boosting your immune system as well. Intellectual pursuits aren’t enough, physical activity is important too. Better blood circulation results in better learning. It does off-set some the mental decline that is associated with ageing. Exercise helps to combat depression. In a study conducted on nuns, Dr Snowden found that those who had university degrees were also more keen on learning and improving themselves. Keeping your brain active also helps combat dementia. Good stress fires up our creative juices. The thrill that comes with something helps produce a hormone known as dopamine. Learning a new skill will help you build more brain reserve. Do not feel vulnerable that you don’t know anything yet. Every new skill you learn will increase neural connections. Ideas don’t come from nothing. You need to try things, read and learn. ‘Feel the shame and learn something anyway’. There are different forms of learning. Learning gives us less time to be bored and under-stimulated. Draw your own circles of comfort. The trick is to expand your comfort zone in small steps. If you do not challenge your limits, your comfort zone will shrink back again.

A novel, or a book on philosophy, is going to use both sides of the brain: not only will you have feelings about what you read, but your mind will also get more of a work-out because you will make connections between what you are learning and what you already recognize. – Philippa Perry

The more we learn, the more we are able, by linking our areas of knowledge together, to come up with creative ideas…Thus the more we know, the more we can create. – Philippa Perry

What’s the Story? Re-write the narratives that define you. Our response to the world comes from our previous stories. These stories are influenced by other factors too, like mass media. Our minds are formed by narratives. Stories help to provide structure. They also play an integral part in writing and culture. It helps us think objectively. The use of imagination helps us escape reality for the moment. A story is also flexible. A lot of money will not change your emotional well-being. It is a challenge to create something that is true to yourself. Humans are primed to use stories. Do not watch too much bad television or you will be subtly influenced by the media. Learn to seek out optimistic stories instead. There are plenty of benefits for being optimistic. Start with a habit of looking for the positives in any situation. This requires much practice and won’t come naturally. Increase your tolerance for vulnerable feelings. Optimism means practising on the positive fall-out rather than the negative. If you keep visualizing something negative, it might backfire on you as it might influence the words/actions you use in reality. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is important to understand your past. If you keep job-hopping, the problem is more likely to lie with you than the other company. Some of your present actions are closely tied with how you behaved in the past. You can change your filters over time. The key thing to note is that you can set yourself free and not be burdened by your past. All of us need to navigate between rigidity and chaos and find the middle ground.

Conclusion and Exercises. By practising self-observation, nurturing relationships, seek good stress. The book gives some examples of self-observation.

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