Tag Archives: anxiety

Anxious about the future? Exploring the past might help.

I have always loved stories about Robin Hood. I watched every movie that came out, read every version of the book I could find; even took up archery. I don’t know what I loved more, the humour in the stories or the clever ways with which Robin always managed to get the best of Sheriff of Nottingham. Either way, the underlying theme of justice and fairness in the various versions of these folktales spoke to me and have very likely permeated my worldview with respect to how I view wealth, power and oppression.

So it was quite a pleasant surprise this summer when hiking up to the Trifels castle above Durnstein, Austria, I discovered that this was the place where Richard the Lionheart was held for ransom by King Leopold V around 1193-94, the era from which the Robin Hood stories emerge. The view of the Danube from the top of the hill was beautiful and for a moment I was able to transport myself back in time and imagine I was seeing the world through King Richard’s eyes. Would captivity have made him immune to the beauty of the place? A song he wrote at the time might give us the impression that he was.

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As I made my descent back down the worn steps on the steep face of the hill, I was struck by the permanence of the rock and the fleetingness of life and wondered how many people had made their way up and down the pathway over the centuries: royalty, clergy, soldiers, peasants, merchants, slaves…tourists? Did their breath catch in their chest as the trees parted to expose another extraordinary view? Or were their eyes cast down, under the weight of some burden? Did they see the castle as an amazing feat of architecture? Strategic military installation? A monument to oppression? Could they have imagined how much the world would change around it or what meaning would still cling to it (or not) 900 years later?

These questions surfaced at many of the other museums, cathedrals, castles, galleries and bridges that we explored as we journeyed through in Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia. Many of the sites were hundreds of years old, others much less, yet each chronicled perspectives on what mattered- power, wealth, art, people- carved into stone, captured on canvas or cast in iron.  These tributes to bygone eras left us wondering about both the accomplishments and the suffering: “Did they matter and what do they mean now?”

As a reading companion on this journey I took the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Austrian neurologist, psychologist and holocaust survivor, Viktor E. Frankl. Having been held in four different concentration camps during WW II, his reflections come with insights that can only be acquired by someone who has experienced life with less than the bare essentials required for survival after being stripped of all the credentials and belongings that shaped his identify before his imprisonment. Seeing history through his lens of “transitoriness” challenges us to locate ourselves not in a deterministic past where things cannot be undone, but in the full potential of a future in which we can decide who we will aspire to be as quickly as our very next action. To that end he lays bare both the degree of man’s inhumanity to man as well as the power of hope to transform suffering into something meaningful.

It was hard not to be impressed by the amazing architecture, art and engineering that was present at every turn on our journey and at the same time feel the weight of the many who died in the creation and defence of not only these monuments but the philosophy and religion that flourished within and around them. Whose life had more meaning? The ones captured in the portraits hung in the galleries of the fortresses or the ones who carried the stones to build those same fortresses? We can speculate all we would like, but I believe Viktor Frankl would tell us that it would depend on the individual and the meaning they found in how they faced their challenges.

In the forward to Man’s Search for Meaning, Harold Kushner writes that Frankl’s most enduring insight is that “forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you” (p.11). Maybe that’s why I loved the Robin Hood stories so much- he didn’t give up after losing his land, title and wealth. While I would not advocate taking the law into your own hands, his response to stand up for fairness, justice and mercy continues to resonate centuries later.

Every era is rife with challenges and this point in history is no different. If we are not anxious about whether we can do better that our predecessors, knowing what we now know, then perhaps we don’t understand that who we are and how we respond to the world around us matters. Embracing that anxiety as part of the challenge of finding our life purpose and making meaning is important. While the future may judge us harshly as we fumble with trying to make the right or best decision, I think Viktor Frankl would tell us to aim high and to accept bravely the challenges that come with that. This video of him speaking in 1972 speaks to that point.

For  great perspectives on philosophical and spiritual anxiety, check out Hoagie’s Blog Hop by clicking here or on the icon below.

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https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/mans-search-for-meaning/id476023633?mt=11 Retrieved, August 27, 2017.

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Finding Your Community

There have been many times in my life when I really struggled to find community, longing for a place where I could feel like I “fit in”. Growing up on a farm close to a small rural hamlet I  experienced community as a double edged sword: everybody knew you and your family making it easy to find things to talk about and participate in a variety of activities with people you knew and there was a certain comfort in that. But it was also really difficult at to find people who had some of the unique interests and perspectives that I had which, despite the familiarity, could still feel lonely. So as quickly as I could, I left home to find “my” community. And here is what I learned on that journey:

  1.  One community may not meet all of your needs. I have heard many people express a feeling of being “let down” by a certain group because they thought because they shared one commonality, that somehow all their needs for acceptance and understanding would be met there. We are complex and evolving beings and we may be drawn to different communities for a variety of reasons. You may need to reach out to different communities to find who you are looking for.
  2. Communities can evolve and change. Sometimes a change in leadership,  direction, demographics or even a change in you can change the “fit” of a community. Sometimes it is a change that feels good but just as often it might be a change that feels wrong. Sometimes you stay because you are a part of this change and sometimes you leave because you are not: both can be equally difficult.
  3. Sometimes it will be up to you to create community. One of the most daring things you can ever do is to say “I see there is a need…is anyone with me?” It can make  you feel vulnerable and it may start off as a community of one until it builds to a community of two or three or more.
  4. Community need not be restricted to a specific place. With the advent of social media, online communities offer unique opportunities for connection. For example, coming from the northerly community that I do, most of my access to the gifted community (outside of the time I spend with my gifted students) is online or at the various conferences like the NAGC that I am able to attend.
  5. Don’t underestimate your de facto communities. Whether it is the neighbourhood you live in, where you work or the places you spend your free time, you may be surprised who and what you find when  you linger where the people gather. Wendell Berry writes: Community, I am beginning to understand, is made through a skill I have never learned or valued: the ability to pass time with people you do not and will not know well, talking about nothing in particular, with no end in mind, just to build trust, just to be sure of each other, just to be neighborly. A community is not something that you have, like a camcorder or a breakfast nook. No, it is something you do. And you have to do it all the time. When there is a fire or a flood or some kind of crisis or even just a BBQ, this  community is the one that may well surprise you the most.

We know that community is important, but finding it or creating it can be a challenge. Perhaps that is why this quote  by  Stendhal resonates so much with me: “One can acquire everything in solitude except character.”  We need communities not only for belonging, but also to challenge us to discover who we are and who we want to be. According to Dabrowski, this can be the source of much anxiety, but is also a very positive thing!

This blog is part of a blog hop community that will share many other perspectives on community if you follow this link or click on the graphic below!

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Let the Season be the Gift

Last year in my December blog post ‘Tis the Season to be…Anxious? I wrote: “I have learned to…submit myself to the comfort and joy of the traditions and make a firm budget to govern all forms of giving.”  As the holiday season approaches I can honestly say that I am looking forward to it because I know what is coming. From decorating to baking, family gatherings to which Christmas movies we’ll watch, there is a certain order to it all that is familiar yet flexible. Keeping it all within a reasonable budget (time and money) alleviates the stress which allows me to be reflective about what the season means to me as well as consider what is coming in the year ahead.

And there are so many things to consider. The new challenges that adolescent children bring and face. A community that is feeling the pressures of an economic downturn. The political, environmental, and economic state of the world. And in just a few short sentences I can feel some of the anxiety slip back. But I know what to do because I believe that on some level all the music, food, fellowship and Christmas “messages” are part of the preparation we will need to face whatever is coming. And with that I would like to share an original Christmas song that has been playing in my heart for many years. It’s for my children, your children and the child within us all.

For more links on how to Surviving the Holidays with a Houseful o’ Gifted click on the icon below:

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Understanding Overexcitabilities: The Basics

Overexcitability is part of the larger Theory of Positive Disintegration. (TPD) developed by Kazmierz Dabrowski. TPD is an important theory offering insight into personality development and the role anxiety and psychoneuroses play in reaching one’s developmental potential. Looking at the overexcitabilities independent of TPD is problematic as they drive developmental potential and need to be understood and supported in that context.

WHO experiences TPD? At the 2014 International Dabrowski Congress there seemed to be some controversy over the use overexcitability scales particularly as a predictor of giftedness. This makes sense as Dabrowski believed that the percentage of the population that experience positive disintegration is somewhere around 30-35% while giftedness is considered to occur in 2% of the population. While research indicates that the overexcitabilities occur to a larger degree within the gifted population, they are not exclusive to gifted individuals.

WHAT is “overexcitability”? “Overexcitability is a characteristic of the nervous system involving higher than average sensitivity to stimuli (a lower threshold to stimuli) and a higher than average response to stimuli.  Dabrowski described five main types of overexcitability: psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational and emotional, and emphasized that the latter three are critical to development and in particular, that emotional overexcitability drives and guides higher development.” (Taken from PositiveDisintegration.com.)

WHEN is it an overexcitability vs “something else”?  The key element here is focus. A child with an intellectual overexcitability may exhibit ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) behaviors until they are given a task that they find intellectually stimulating at which time they are able to focus. Sometimes this incredible focus can look like OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). There are also times when an emotional excitability can look like a trauma response. And there are also times when there can be a dual diagnosis where an individual has been diagnosed with ADHD and be gifted as well. Webb et al. have done a great job of working through Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of the Gifted which you can find here. This article does a great job of describing how the intensities and sensitivities can manifest themselves in gifted children.

WHERE can you find strategies to cope? Again, as I work through understanding Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration it is very important to note that the overexcitabilities are not distributed in equal measure and the various dynamisms do not contribute to developmental potential in the same way. Every child is unique so there is no cookie cutter fix. That said, this article at SENGifted is a great place to start to put together something that may work for you and your child. There are also some specific strategies relevant to specific overexcitabilities here.

WHY does it help to have an understanding of Dabrowski’s theory? In my experience of working with individuals who experience emotional and intellectual overexcitabilities, the danger of seeing this independent of personality development through positive disintegration is that there can be a tendency to pathologize it into a behavior problem rather than work to understand and acknowledge the transformative work that is taking place.  The approach we use in supporting children with overexcitabilities is the difference between them seeing their sensitivities as “bad” “immature” or  “overreactions” and developing a self-understanding to how they experience the world as part of a quest to become their best person. For parents and teachers here is the gift/burden: “The richer the developmental potential, the greater number and variety of conflicting and mutually opposing elements are brought into play, and the more disequilibrium is produced.” (p. 64. Theory of Levels of Emotional Development, 1977.)

HOW we handle overexcitabilities can make all the difference. The first and most important step is to manage our own reactions. How we respond to that “intense response to stimuli” will go a long way to nurturing the safety and trust required to build a relationship where the adult can empower the child through finding strategies that will help regulate responses but not inhibit developmental potential.

For more information/perspectives on overexcitabilities you can follow Hoagies Blog Hop at the link below.

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Anxiety: From Gordon Neufeld to Kazimierz Dabrowski and beyond

If you consider anxiety from the standpoint of the role it has played in the survival of our species it is more hero than villain. The flight or fight response in an ancient ecosystem is not much different than the knee jerk reaction that steers us away from situations that appear risky. Without it, we would not only be incredibly vulnerable to the “predators” in our environment but our ability to assess other danger would be impaired. As a diagnosable disorder it becomes less heroic as it can inhibit us from fully participating in the experience of living. It can also present itself in a wide array of circumstances with varying degrees intensities which can often make it difficult to discern or impossible to miss. So what is important to know when you are working with or parenting an anxious child?

Where I like to begin with understanding and addressing anxiety is the work of Gordon Neufeld whose book Hold On To Your Kids addresses it from the perspective of parental attachment. His work revolves around the idea that children have an “orienting instinct” which compels them to find their direction from a source of authority and comfort. This “attachment bond” in their early life is with their parent and can be a powerful ally in keeping children safe from influences that may not have their best interests at heart. Parents also play a powerful role in signalling to their children who may be trusted when they are in new situations. The communication between the parents and other adults involved with the child can indicate the sharing of this attachment bond. This is why the relationship between the teacher and parent is so crucial. It signals to the child that their parent trusts this other adult to be the child’s source of authority and comfort (safety) when the parent is absent. Something as simple as meeting and greeting the other adult in the child’s life with warmth and respect can go a long way in alleviating anxiety. As parent or “other” adult in a child’s life, we have a huge responsibility in maintaining that authority and comfort (safety).

My second “go to” theory for understanding and addressing anxiety is the work of Kazimierz Dabrowski. Anxiety plays a pivotal role in his theory of positive disintegration which can be described as the process by which one becomes actively involved in crafting/cultivating one’s personality and engaging in the work of moving to a “higher” level. While this in itself may sound as simple as maturation, the intensity of the experience will vary and for some individuals this becoming one’s own person through “separation” from the perceived expectations the world can be fraught with anxiety as they wrestle over “fitting in” and potentially the sacrificing the “self” or not fitting in favour of claiming their “selfhood” risking loneliness. This can once again be exacerbated by gifted characteristics that make it difficult to “fit in” given intellectual abilities, learning disabilities, areas of passion, intensities and sensitivities. Once again the responsibility of the adult is creating the safety for this anxious self discovery to occur, with the added understanding of the child’s need now to challenge that authority to find and set new boundaries as they do this important work.

Seeing anxiety as natural and helpful can often go a long way in helping anxious children understand that there is nothing wrong with them for feeling this way. But when the anxiety becomes so strong that it interferes with quality of life, having support in overcoming them is necessary. From learning breathing exercises to setting up a step by step program, there are many tools available to work through anxiety. I like the AnxietyBC.com website where they have strategies and resources directed at youth, adults and parents when honouring the need for attachment and disintegration is not enough.

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