The other day, I made a demonstration video on the effect of depressive and activating stimuli on the output of the Body-Mind Reader. Making that video was a pain. I’m new to Youtube production, but I rather imagine those of you who do this sort of thing, have had days like this, where nothing goes right. Take 1: Barrage of text messages. New Tik Tok video for you! Call the bank! Take 2: Cat walks on keyboard. Take 3: Internet goes on the fritz. You get the picture.
The experiment involved having the subject listen to sad music while recalling memories of painful losses in love or money or health. This caused great sadness. Then the subject watched a stimulating sex video. Positive and negative feelings are each associated reliably with a particular pattern of change in one’s Energy and Control. At the end of the day, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him so depressed. I was worried about him. But I showed up at his house this morning, and he looks great. He had good dreams last night, and for the first time in a long time, woke up without having to deal with obsessional negative thinking.
What just happened there? On a certain level, we could say that he benefited from exposure therapy. Like you might do, say for a spider phobia.
Exposure therapy is no picnic, but it can work. The deal is, your therapist will expose you to spiders. Maybe first by looking at pictures, or by talking about spiders. Then by making you go to the zoo and look at the tarantulas. Finally, perhaps by visiting the zoo on hands-on day and letting the tarantula walk on you. (Yikes! My spider phobia goes into overdrive just thinking about it.) The theory is, you can habituate to anything. In other words, after awhile you get used to spiders. Problem solved.
Life would be grand if this always worked. The problem is, not every negative thought extinguishes itself. A key component of my subject’s depression is rumination over negative thoughts. Mostly, “I’m a failure” but also “I’ll never love again” or “I’ll never make money again.” This thinking makes him feel terrible, and it doesn’t change anything — in fact makes it difficult for him to change things. Yet he’s been doing it for at least three years. When is it going to extinguish? Freud wrote about this in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” here specifically referring to the recurrent nightmares of veterans with PTSD. There’s a great summary in Dr. Bill’s book “A Basic Theory of Neuropsychoanalysis.”
There are a couple of explanations of why my subject felt so much better after our cruel experiment. One is, it was an exercise in mindfulness.The Buddhists have understood this for thousands of years. A modern Buddhist priest might tell an anxious patient, observe yourself as if you were a scientist observing an experiment. Watch and take note of your panic attack. Hm, my heart is racing, I’m all sweaty, I feel anxious. Amazing how well that works. Modern cognitive-behavioral therapists might take the same approach, without the religious connotations.
Interestingly, that is precisely, explicitly what we were doing. I asked the subject to wear the Body-Mind Reader, and he could see the see the screen as easily as I could. He was literally doing an experiment on himself, and it worked.Here, we made the implicit explicit; the unconscious, conscious. Just being able to see it is enough.
Granted, it’s not what I would recommend. I’m a positive sort of guy, I’d rather have you think pleasant thoughts, and watch how it moves you into the green. But I’ll admit, this kind of exposure therapy — combined with a clear visual indicator that shows just how much damage negative thinking is doing to your body and mind — does seem to work.
A heartfelt thanks to Mr. M, who so graciously volunteered his time and neurotransmitters to this project. He suffered so you don’t have to.