How to stay sane
These are reading notes from “How to stay sane”, a small handy book full of advice. It has good signal-to-noise ratio, which is rare enough in the self-help genre.
How to Stay Sane
- Relating to others
- Personal narrative
- What am I feeling now?
- What am I thinking now?
- What am I doing at this moment?
- How am I breathing?
==> keep diaries! No need to be fancy. Just quick notes and a quick star rating for each day can go a long way.
Relating to others
Concept of “mentalization”: ability to understand our inner mental processes and explain them
Exercises for couples: the daily/weekly temperature reading. Reserve 30mins to 1hr and treat this as a meeting. Topics to tackle:
- New information
- Questions (they don’t need answers necessarily)
- Complaints with recommendations for change
- Wishes, hopes and dreams
To maintain healthy brains we need to keep learning. To keep learning we need to stay at the edge (but not too far out!) of our comfort zone.
Exercise: draw the comfort/uncomfort zone. At the center, things that feels completely comfortable. Then around it things that that feel occasionally okay, then draw another circle around that containing things that don’t feel comfortable, etc.
What we feel all depends on the story we tell ourselves. It’s useful to step back and become aware of our own biases.
Focus on breathing for 60s straight (quick meditation)
Focus on running thoughts with a pen/paper next to you. Then label each thought before jumping to the next. At the end, group thoughts together so you have an idea, in aggregate, of what your brain thinks most about. Do this weekly and you’ll have an idea of how your mental health evolves.
Focus on breathing, and mentally call each of the phases:
- Top of in-breath
- Bottom of out-breath
Try to map your entire family with a tree. Each node is a person. Label it with:
- year of birth
- whether it’s a female (circle) or male (square)
- up to 5 adjectives describing this person
- male: square
- female: circle
- adopted: with a dotted line
- pregnancy: triangle
- miscarriage: crossed out triangle
- abortion: triple crossed-out triangle
- death: crossed-out
- distant relationships: dotted
- cut-off relationships: dotted with 2 slashes in the middle
- close relationships: double line
- violent relationships: zig-zag lines
- emotional abuse: wavy line
- “focussed on” relationships: arrow line
Questions to ask once you have the map in front of you:
- What are you noticing? What are your feelings?
- Think about the things you wanted or didn’t want to mimic in your family. Did any of these choices impact your life? How? What are the ones still operating now?
- How many of these past relationships still affect your current relationships?
- Which family member are you most similar to? Which of their qualities do you closely identify with?
- Thin about the earliest messages you got from each family member. What do you think is important in life? Where have your rules for living come from? For example, how much do you feel you can reveal about yourself to other people?
- How is love expressed in your family? How is caring shown? What happened if someone needed extra help? How would they get support? How do you get support when you need it?
- How were emotions expressed in your family? How were emotions contained/repressed?
- How were the children treated and brought up? How were they disciplined?
- What is your fantasy of a happy family? How does this compare to the reality represented on the map you just drew?
- What did your parents get right?
- How have the various family members related to each other, and how has that affected your life?
- Look for family crisis. Is there a pattern? Have there been any complete breakdowns of contact between sibligs, for instance? Can you identify blaming patterns?
- What are the patterns for divorce in your parents' family?
- Look at the patterns of the relationships between all the people on your map. Who got on? Who was engaged? Scapegoat? Outcast? Is there a culture of favouritism?
- Who has had mental-heath problems? Where did this come from? Illness or caused by external events? Any traumatic experience being passed down from generation to generation?
- Look at your own relationship between you and your mother. Look at her relationship with her own mother. Do the same for your father and his father. Look at their relationships with both their parents.
- What is the pattern of the relationship to authority in your family? What were your grandparents' individual relationships with authority like? your parents'? Yours? How have their relationships with authority impacted upon yours? Repeat this question with regard to the opposite sex, ethnic minorities, poor/rich people, etc
- How did the patterns you have noticed help to shape your character, your identity?
- What are the beliefs about the “right way” of doing things in your family? What is the right way to make small talk or embark on a romantic relationship for instance? What are the shared values, spoken or unspoken?
- Do you feel in debit or credit, as far as affection and attention go? Do you feel understood by or unknown to your family of origin?
- How were the expectations you have of relationships formed?
- Are there any jobs or occupations that each generation seems to take up? Any hobbies?
- How do the people on the genogram talk about the other people on the genogram? Have you noticed that before? How has it influenced how you talk about other people?
- What was it like to be with your siblings when your parents were not present? Who played that role? Were you dismissed or valued? Do you feel there is safety in numbers? Or do you feel cowed by large groups? If it is hard for you to be in a group today, can you trace where this came from by looking at your family genogram?
- What are the stories that the older generation frequently told the younger generation? Are you passing them on in your turn? Are there similar rhythms to the stories you tell each other? Do you tell no stories at all?
- How did your parents use television? Has this been passed down? Think about how food has been eaten in your family. Sitting around a table as a group? In front of TV?
- What has been your ancestors' attitude towards religion? Has this affected you?
- How open or secretive has your family been? With people inside/outside the family? What is your own attitude towards secrets?
- What is the emotional legacy you have inherited? Which ways of believeing, behaving, thinking and feeling have you inherited from your ancestors?
- What has been your conditioning as to the right and wrongs ways of doing things?
- Was thinking more highly regarded than feeling or doing in your family? Or was being able to emote or to act given more approval? What is the legacy of this for you?
- What stands out as the most important (postive and negative) things you have learnt from being in your family?
- What are the male and female attitudes towards work in your family? Sex? Money?
- what part does immigration or emigration play in your family? Or staying put? How does this affect you today?
- How are you tackling this exercise? How do you imagine your ancestors' attitude towards it?