Psychology Addict # 53 | Thoughts – Key Players in The Field of Well-Being.

in psychology •  2 months ago  (edited)

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It had been almost one hour chatting with Clarice. I always prefer to call people than message them. But Clarice said she couldn’t talk. I respected her choice. She’d been very upset with her boyfriend of 8 years. “He is hostile and moody. He has been like this for months now and I’m afraid I cannot cope anymore”. She expressed first, and then asked me: Can you please talk to him, Abigail?

I knew Dennis had no interest in talking to anyone. Although, I also knew that if Dennis didn’t stop to re-evaluate things soon, he would be risking to lose one of the things he once claimed to be the greatest treasure of his life: Clarice.

A few months back, after years of hard-labour, Dennis accomplished something he had been working towards for most of his adult life: to leave his job and develop his very own project. Dennis had it all: a lovely girlfriend, enough money to pay the bills, and a cosy office in the comfort of his house. He had also, it seems, acquired a super power: mind reading. As of late Dennis had been claiming that all his loved ones were looking down on him. “You have no respect for me!” he repeatedly pronounced. He was so convinced about this he didn’t even double-check. He just acted upon these self-defeating assumptions and ignited a pattern of negative interaction with his family, where to begin with, none existed. Sadly though, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I am not exactly sure when things turned sour in Dennis’s head but one of the things he confessed was that “this new life, wasn’t really what he had envisioned”. I suspect that the disappointment might have sparked his low mood, shaken his self-esteem and set in motion a mode of thinking that just caused him (and his family) to suffer.

Feelings & Emotions – False Positives

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Last week @leaky remarked - on his comment to my post -, “society tends to talk about mental health in terms of feelings and emotions.” This immediately made me think of Dennis, who feels disrespected, lost and disappointed. To make matters worse Dennis reacts to these feelings as if they are pieces of evidence for what is happening around him.

The Buddhist philosophy teaches that we shan’t base our judgements on our feelings. For, feelings just are. It also advises that instead of reacting to emotions as if they actually mean something, just let them come and go. Unfortunately though, for some people, negative feelings are here to stay. They seem to come one after another in all shapes and forms without a break: “I feel sad”, “I feel angry”, “I feel hopeless”. These feelings then act as some sort of lens through which one distortedly and solely begins to see the world. When one allows this mode of thinking to become automatic, one’s feelings and actions will reinforce each other in a vicious-cycle. I have seen this repeatedly.

After her divorce Patty “felt ugly”. The cycle began: feel ugly – binge eat – feel guilty – lack energy – stop being active – feel ugly … you get the picture. As for Dennis, the cycle appeared to be: “felt unloved/disrespected” – behave with hostility – withdraw from girlfriend and family – felt lonely – became more hostile, and so forth.

There is, however, a delicate line that can be crossed in such cases: if action is not take to break this cycle one may actually end up persuading family and friends of one’s self-defeating perspective and depressive views. I recall a couple of times when I met Patty and thought to myself “Gosh, Patty used to be so healthy”, in the same way Clarice confessed in exasperation: “Dennis is becoming unbearable!”.

@ruth-girl described how this chain of events unfold in her short fiction Letter, where the emotional distress of her character eventually became:

... a tranquil black hole. A magnet of negativitiy that would turn all light around her into shadows.

Thoughts – The Heart of the Matter

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Dennis explained to me that his psychological distress resulted from his feelings and emotions (which, according to him reflected the absolute truth). Just like @leaky20 pointed out in his statement, something which is understandable. For example, throughout the history of psychiatry depression has always been regarded as an emotional disorder. Also, we live in a society that encourages us “to be in touch” with our feelings. However, what happens when our feelings reflect an inaccurate reality? What to do with our emotions when they have the potential to set us off on a downward spiral?

Well, there exists a rich body of evidence demonstrating that depressed mood (or indeed, depression) walk hand-in-hand with negative thoughts. Cognitive therapists express that in such scenarios ‘thoughts’ are the most overlooked symptom. Yet, they are actually the very element that gives rise to lethargy and a sense of inadequacy, just to name a few. I once asked Patty: what is going through your mind? She said, I look at myself in the mirror and think: I am overweight. While Dennis, after examining his new lifestyle, reflected: “is this it?” to then think: “this does not make me happy.”

So, you can see now how Patty’s and Dennis’ thoughts prompted their emotions. But because this is an automatic process, they don’t have the time to realise it. Next thing they found themselves entrapped in some sort of psychological prison for which walls they inadvertently built. Walls that appear very real, but only because they feel real.

Within those walls, like of those of any prison, Dennis and Patty learnt some “bad” things: to read other people’s mind and jump to unrealistic conclusions: “my ex thinks I am stupid”, “my father thinks I am a fool who just spends all day long at home”. Dennis and Patty also adopted rumination to pass the time by hand picking a negative aspect of any situation and dwelling on it. Consequently, turning the entire situation into a bad one. Rumination can be exceedingly draining and destructive. And finally, they began to reject anything positive. I told Dennis: “Dennis, Clarice said you mean the world to her. That you are the best thing that ever happened to her”. He replied: “She tells me that too. But, it’s only to make me feel better”.

➟Have you ever found yourself thinking like this?

Rationalizing Distressing Thoughts

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This mode of thinking is very harsh, it takes an enormous toll on one’s emotions and negatively influences behaviour. To say that you just have to put an end to it is not enough. Especially if it has become commonplace in your existence.

But, there is something else you can do: challenge these thoughts!

First, you have to learn to spot them when they pop up (spot the thoughts, not the feelings they give rise to). As soon as you shine the spotlight on them adopt a critical approach. For example:

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Once you adopt this approach you’ll realise how meaningless and arbitrary most of your depressing thoughts are. To make this effective you need to allocate some time to write them down. Writing will allow you to address them with more objectivity and pinpoint more efficiently the distortions and generalizations that bring you down. Please note that doing all this in your head (without writing) may just lead to more confusion. And remember, what you are challenging here is not how you feel, but the thoughts that prompt the upsetting emotions.

To facilitate this activity you can ask yourself questions such as the following:

➟ Why am I feeling blue right now? ➟ What is going through my mind?
➟ What are my actual thoughts?

Upon identifying the distressful thoughts the “challenging” process must take place immediately. Here, it’s very important that you are truthful with yourself. This is not about trying to “feel happy”. For instance, Patty knew she had gained weight. Her bathroom scales and her clothes told her so day-in, day-out. What good would Patty get out of this activity if she were to challenge her thoughts like this: “No, I am not overweight!”. None! Because deep down she’d know she was not being honest with herself.

The main goal when challenging your negative thoughts is to define the real problem, and if there is any, break it down and implement a plan to address it. You will soon learn that, more often than not, uncomfortable emotions simply indicate that you give way too much credit to the depressing thoughts that permeate your mind.

You may be sceptical about all this. But I would like to inform you that this technique is at the heart of the cognitive method. In cognitive therapy settings this sort of activity (the action plan) begins to yield positive outcomes following a daily practice (from 15 to 20 mins) Ref..This helps clients to be visited by less negative thoughts, become more resilient, and develop specific ways to tackle emotional distress.

You see, the point in seeing life through a more rational, realistic perspective is that it allows genuine sadness (which features no distortions) to be a means of learning and personal growth, at the same time it turns joy into a source of fulfilment and gratefulness.

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The name and small details about the individuals featuring in this post have been changed in order to protect their privacy.

Image source:1, 2, 3, 4

Reference List:

Beck, J. S. (2011), Cognitive Behaviour Therapy – Basics and Beyond, New York – London, The Guilford Press.

Conklin, L. R., & Strunk, D. R. (January 01, 2015). A session-to-session examination of homework engagement in cognitive therapy for depression: Do patients experience immediate benefits?. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 72, 56-62.

Gilbert, P. (2007), Psychotherapy and Counselling for Depression, New York – London – Sigapure, Sage.


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Dear Reader,

Thank you very much for taking the time to read my writings once more. Now I am interested in learning how you manage your own distressing thoughts. If you have a technique that could be useful to help others, please feel free to share here with us.

All the best to you all :)

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Great article. It really highlights many of the cognitive distortions that people tend to have, such as:

Emotional reasoning
Mind reading
Selective attention and negativity bias
And disqualifying the positive.

Recognizing these distortions can play a big factor in a persons understanding their own thought patterns.

Recognizing ones cognitive distortions and challenging the unhelpful thoughts is a very CBT like approach which is an evidence based therapeutic practice (as you know). I think that your advice to the couple is really good. It will likely take practice but with time it could have a big impact on them in a positive way.

Below is a CBT worksheet that lists many of the common cognitive distortions that people have. You may find it helpful as a worksheet to give them. They can practice recognizing their own cognitive distortions.

Something that a friend of mine recently pointed out to me and which is sort of relevant to this idea of thinking in terms of feelings and even to buddhism in a way, is that people often say that they "just want to be happy." The problem with this is that happiness is not a state of being, happiness is an emotion. A person cannot live in a state of permanent happiness anymore than they can live in a state of permanent anger. Happiness tends to be fleeting just like our other emotions. So instead of striving to always feel happy it may be more realistic for a person to feel content in life. If they feel content then they are doing pretty good overall lol.

I hope it works out for Clarice and Dennis and they take your advice of challenging their negative cognitive distortions :)

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I love the illustration of jumping to conclusions 😆 . Incredible visuals for these cognitive distortions. THANK YOU @leaky!

I was very interested in your (and your friend's) observation about happiness. It has been a while since I have been drafting a few things about it (e.g. Its architecture and the pursuit of it). It seems to me that there is a general misunderstanding of what happiness really is, I think sometimes people even confuse it with thrills and highs. This is a topic that interests me very much :)

Thank you for stopping by @leaky20 and also for your invaluable contribution to this discussion.

I wish you & your wife a wonderful evening.
All the best,

Abigail

I agree that the happiness topic can be very interesting. I'm sure you know more about it than I do.

Thanks for the well wishes. All the best to you and your family as well :)

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Hi Abigail,
Another great article that is so personal. I find trying to penetrate someone's depression is one of the hardest things. So I'll jump to your question at the end: Do I have a technique for handling distressing thoughts? May I have a two-part answer?

  1. If one of my family members is in danger, I have no technique. I obsess about their safety.

  2. If it's not about my family, I act. No matter the situation or problem, I get up and do something. By asserting control over my environment, I counteract the sense of powerlessness and frustration that comes with depression. Maybe I'll just clean a long-neglected drawer (you may not have one of those--I have several😁). Best to help someone or something. That really gives a lift.

A very important discussion. As usual, I come away thoughtful--and also with the commitment to try and be more understanding of people who are depressed and cannot bring themselves to act.

Thank you for making me thoughtful, and for sharing your considerable wisdom with our community.

Happy thoughts,🌞 and peace,🌿

With affection and respect,
Your friend
AG 😇

Your two-part reply is more than welcome @agmoore2 😊 . I always tend to care about those who live with the individual undergoing psychological distress. I feel great empathy for them. Low/depressed mood is indeed similar to a black hole, in you it replaces your inner-light by obsessive worry. I have noticed this in many others too.

The latter part of your reply, for me, just reflects how as much as we (humans) are thinkers, we are also doers. I have found that nothing counterbalances the sense of powerlessness than taking action! This works really well for me as well (cooking, running, Yoga and so forth :))

Thank you for your constant support my dear friend.
With much love, as always ❤ :)

I haven't tried cooking. It would have to be energetic cooking, involving a lot of stirring and whipping 😁

I understand my obsessive worry about family. It's actually getting worse with age, and I believe I know why. When I was a child two of my brothers suffered catastrophic illnesses. These illnesses went on for years, endangered their lives, stole their childhoods. I still feel the deep sorrow of that if I dwell at all on what happened to them. So, now, when my grandchild or my children are ill or in danger... I feel a panic. Coping mechanisms developed over the years are probably not as strong as they were, and my response is very primitive, very childlike. Almost a post-traumatic stress reaction. Understanding helps a little, but doesn't stop the panic. Behavior modification might actually work, in this case.

You see how your articles lead to reflection and forward action?

Have a great, wonderful, sunny (or rainy) Portugal day.

With great respect, and affection,
AG 💛

Right, I read this comment yesterday just before turning off, but only now did I find the time to reply to it with the deserved care and attention. But first of all, let me tell you how sorry I feel about your brothers' childhood circumstances and also the distress that has caused you then and still now. But, like you said, understanding helps (even if a little).

As you know too well anxiety is linked to fear and the amygdala plays a central role there. The amygdala also plays an important part in consolidating and storing memories of stressful experiences. A part of it (the BLA) appears to be directly affected, following a stressful event, by a rise in glucocorticoid levels.

See, neuron in the amygdala of rats which underwent intense stress (through a controlled procedure that injected corticosterone in them) sprouted more dendrites, which caused them to display increased anxiety compared to the controls ref.. This suggests how trauma (or indeed PTSD) can result from traumatic events, and indicates how brain systems affect one another in times of stress.

All this to say that a hyperactive amygdala may contribute to the well-established vividness of emotionally significant memories ref.. It is no wonder why you feel the way you feel when a family member ins under threat :/ .

But, what drew my attention the most in your comment was when you said "this is worsening with age". Well, as you also know well, the automatic reaction such situations elicit just reinforce the neurobiological mechanisms underlying it. CBT proposes that a deliberate change in the thoughts (by rationalizing them) and the reactions these events prompt, would break some of these brain cell connections and form new ones elsewhere :)

I am so sorry @agmoore, I got absolutely carried away here. While writing to you (who I hold so dear), having my post-lunch coffee, and listening to some calming music.

I send you and your brothers bags and bags of love :*
I will leave you alone now :D

I'm so sorry Abigail, that I did that to you. It's the Internet, but you create a circle of trust and confidence.

My childhood challenges are not unique--surely there are many people who can relate. Children across the world and across time have been exposed to situations of extreme stress--war, deprivation, abuse. I think the children of our earliest ancestors must have faced danger every day. An adaptive amygdala is probably an essential survival mechanism (as is true for soldiers at war), which is misplaced in times of calm.

CBT for me! My family will be grateful to be free of my worrying brow 😅

Thank you for your thoughtful answer. Enjoy your morning, your day, your weekend. I certainly will enjoy mine. For me, most days the sun shines 🌞, no matter the weather.

With great appreciation, respect and affection,
Your friend
AG❥

❤️😊

What you said about feelings is very important to me. We make it our main focus. I regularly meet a certain type of person. These people are very depressed and usually alone. This isolation from what could give them positive and good experiences and thoughts is self-inflicted, without the person consciously noticing it or seeking to end the isolation in the sense of giving instead of expecting. Many of my clients (in that particular place) are single older women who have a long history of illness and already have a caregiver they never get along with and who is regularly complained about and expressed a lack of trust.

At some point these people end up in my social counselling service and find that I am "nice". This friendliness is "dangerous" in so far as I can replace the carers and people like to come back to discuss their affairs with me instead of with the legal carer. What characterizes these people is a lack of empathy towards others, little understanding for the needs of the world around them, but a lot of self-pity.

If I am courageous, I ask the client if I may be honest and as a rule I share my impression of her and say in an approximate way (shortened here): " You have a very negative effect on your fellow human beings. You overburden people with the fact that you have great emotional distress, which you reveal unfiltered. People feel deterred and instead of showing compassion, they try to get rid of you. What if instead you don't tell everything at once and focus on what is important at the moment?"

Sometimes clients react surprisingly insightfully to these statements. Others are offended and do not see their share in what is hurting their feelings.

Meanwhile I know that I don't have helper syndrome and better not fall for the fact that these women are just looking for a way to avoid having to deal with their legal caregiver or a therapist. In any case, they are either people who never do therapy and avoid any situation in which they are responsible. For my part, I think these women suffer because they withhold generosity and trust from their fellow men and therefore suffer from "giving too little". This coincides with the spiral which you have mentioned here and which leads further and further into depressing thoughts.

Furthermore, I don't think you have to worry too much if you are a wife or a relative or a friend. This makes those who have depressing thoughts even more depressed because they notice that their negativity affects their environment and people distance themselves inwardly (from worry or helplessness to great anger that the depressed person takes up so much space and pulls others down).

Depression (or depressing thoughts) is basically a crisis with great potential. People don't have it for nothing and they can be congratulated because they go through a phase of life where they question things. This is a natural process and should not be slowed down or condemned by the world around us because they wish the person concerned "to return to normal and the way he was". That's what it's all about: not to live as before.

That's why at the beginning I didn't quite agree with what you said about Dennis, but as I know you, it may represent the thoughts of the people around us that somebody has everything: a good job, a dear family and a safe home etc. etc. etc.

You can shock someone by saying, "Congratulations on your depression/dark thoughts." This statement is not meant to be a false joke, but a surprise. Sometimes people only start to listen attentively when they are provoked or even annoyed.

I much agree with the buddhist attempt as you know:) Happy to find that people more and more bring this way of seeing things into their lives. In the mainstream though it further will be misunderstood and striving for happiness an empty phrase. Well, that's how the stream goes ;-)

Thank you for another interesting and good read. Kisses!

Erika 😃,

You have a talent for presenting different angles from which ideas and concepts can also be seen :)

I read your comment twice, but I am still left with a few questions:

Sometimes clients react surprisingly insightfully to these statements. Others are offended and do not see their share in what is hurting their feelings.

I wonder what is the fine line that separate those who can actually look inwards and those who will resist reflection about the self. The timing? Their personality? The nature of their distress?

You are very courageous indeed in attempting to yank people out of their misery through these observations. But I do agree with you that sometimes, some individuals tend to become more proactive after feeling irritated. It is almost as if their energy is diverted by that sort of emotion.

I am interested in how you described depression here. I see your point in highlighting the benefit of being in a state of questioning things. But, I have an observation to make. The questions raised and constructed by a depressive mind can mostly lead to misconstrued findings. No?

Finally:

For my part, I think these women suffer because they withhold generosity and trust from their fellow men and therefore suffer from "giving too little".

I suppose loneliness does that to you. My view on this would be more in the lines that, because of loneliness, they forgot how to be generous and kind towards their fellow men. Maybe their suffering originates from the inability of not being able to give more, due to no longer knowing how.

You inspire me Erika. You help me to think out of the box! Thank you for this ❤ 😊

A big, tight hug all the way from Portugal :*
PS: I trust you and the family had an awesome time in Italy!

I am happy to have served as an inspiration. Thank you, that's a nice compliment!

I wonder what is the fine line that separate those who can actually look inwards and those who will resist reflection about the self. The timing? Their personality? The nature of their distress?

I would make it dependent on how the favor of the hour can be used by the counselor, in this case me. So yes, rather the timing. Personality and plight must be well understood by me, the consultant. If I feel ready, if things are set on green, I take this courage and then I can carefully and compassionately express open observations without myself radiating a part of anger or irritation. Basically, any person who is not completely mentally disturbed is able to thematize reflection about themselves.

I don't know if Rüdiger Dahlke is available in English, he often speaks of "sickness/crisis as an opportunity". I see it the same way.

I am interested in how you described depression here. I see your point in highlighting the benefit of being in a state of questioning things. But, I have an observation to make. The questions raised and constructed by a depressive mind can mostly lead to misconstrued findings. No?

Not necessarily, no. There is something about depression that doesn't want to be quiet and that presents the world as grey, bad and worthless. I think it is important that these observations are taken up to the extent that they can lead to further questions that torment a depressed person. He wonders what life is all about, he finds other people insensitive and superficial, often even disturbing and disgusting. ... As long as there is an aggressive part in addition to depression - which it often is - aggression can be made an issue. Because what is pressed down in the true sense of the word wants to be brought to the surface. The questions about the meaning of relationships, work and environment - I'll bet and I can say from experience - are asked by many depressed people.

The wrongly understood results you speak of are for me rather the moments in which a depressed person is not in contact with his fellow world and tries to settle everything with himself and fails. That's why dialogue and exchange with other people is so important, otherwise you can't get out of isolation. Depressed people like to withdraw because they feel that they are a burden for their fellow human beings. That's very sad and not exactly what they need. Rather living life around them, in the sense that other people keep their joie de vivre despite the depressed. A fixed structure and task in life that gives meaning (which often needs to be found anew). That is why I find it so important to tell a depressed person openly that he overstrains his fellow human beings and to appeal to his compassion and to remind him that his acquaintances, family, colleagues or friends and also doctors have only limited capacities and that excessive silence or unfiltered talking would also unsettle the depressed person himself - in the opposite role - and bring him to the edge of his ideas.

I suppose loneliness does that to you. My view on this would be more in the lines that, because of loneliness, they forgot how to be generous and kind towards their fellow men. Maybe their suffering originates from the inability of not being able to give more, due to no longer knowing how.

I agree. They can learn again how to do that.

I feel very hugged :-D and give it back to you. Thank you, we made it home in one piece. I will write a little about the trip within the next days. Greet your hubby and whoever maybe interested to receive it from a German woman :))

The comment section is always as good as the article itself.
I was lurking around here for the last few months, but I welcome your writing.
While I don't have many "negative" thoughts, I see around me people with anguishes and if they had access to your article maybe some of them would actively try it.
I will try to make the blog (and SteemSTEM blogs in general) more visible from the outside.

Have a wonderful week.

How do you select the background and font color here? :D

Hey @alexdory :D

I am sorry for meddling between you and Erika here! But, I just wanted to let you know that it's wonderful seeing around :)

It is very nice of you to attempt to get a wider reach for SteemSTEM blogs!

I wish you all the best :*

Hi @alexdory,

I guess your reply was addressed to Abigail?

Yeah, the comments on her articles are always interesting to read, as well as the contents of the blog, I agree. :)

I was using SteemSTEM.io to comment so I guess that's why I replied to the wrong comment :D
Anyway glad to see you both writing.

Nothing would stop me from writing. :-D
Where are you from, may I ask?

Romania.
A little late with my response but personal matters took me through your country, this week.
I used to have more free time last year. I hope it will change soon.

Nice piece of text. There are actually two things there that triggered me when reading.

(1) Breaking a cycle is tough, although this is very often the only way to move away from the down-spiral.

(2) One often thinks that we know what anyone else would think about us. This is however far from being true and a cross-check should be mandatory. Talking is often the only way to get things clarified (and I am personally very bad at this... assuming too many things... please ask @lamouthe about it :D ).

@lemouth, I am very pleased to hear this post has sparked these reflections in you. And, I couldn't agree more with the two points you have made here.

Breaking the cycle in such cases is incredibly hard, because it requires energy and determination. Two things that are severely depleted by negative thoughts. Some people need months to make the first step out of the cycle. While others, become so paralyzed they need the aid of anti-depressant medication to do so.

Talking and listening without assumptions and judgments is, like you said, the most efficient way to get rid of mistaken, distorted assumptions. These are skills hard to master. But, recognizing our limitations towards them is already a great start! :)

I wish you, @lamouthe and the boys a wonderful weekend ahead!
All the best to you guys!

Many things require energy and determination and this is lacking more and more, from my experience with the young adults (20-25 y.o.), where, funnily enough, I listen a lot (I am doing a psychologist job without being one, sometimes).

I wish you a nice week-end too! We will continue painting! :)

I listen a lot (I am doing a psychologist job without being one, sometimes).

😊

What a good way to say it in short terms: what people think about us can be far from being true. Cross-checking is always a good idea and oh boy, can one be enlightened by doing this.

You cannot be bad at this once you know the benefits ;-)

Those are indeed the first steps to improvements!





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A friend of mine told me a few days ago that emotions have ways of beclouding someone's sense of judgment. Now I'm trying to relate it with the Buddhist philosophy that you cited

The Buddhist philosophy teaches that we shan’t base our judgements on our feelings

Now I'm beginning to understand what my friend said.

I'm glad I'm reading your post now, Abbey. Amazing piece as usual. I've learnt a lot from it. Stay blessed and much love.

PS: We're currently having our S.I.N annual blockchain conference here in Nigeria

Ow Sammi, it's so nice of you to let me know this post has contributed for you to develop some new understanding. This is very humbling and truly encouraging 😊 I am a big fan of the Buddhist philosophy. As odd as it seems its teachings are often intertwined with psychological studies and theories :)

You take care and have fun in the conference.

PS: I saw (and skimmed) your post on Travel Chain. I shall read it later with more care and attention. I believe this is something my husband will be very interested in learning about ;)

I'm sending you bags of love from Portugal Sammi.
The sun is shining again here after two days of gentle rain :D

I'm really honoured dearest Abbey. Stay good and have a blessed day.

Nice

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