Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tylenol for psychological pain?

When someone stubs their toe or twists their ankle, no one responds to the individual’s ensuing expression of pain with, “Just be strong, you can endure it!” We quickly recognize that such experience is truly painful and the person’s physiological and emotional response to the painful experience is involuntary and expected.

 I do notice, however,  that when an individual experiences some particular instance of social trauma, perhaps being excluded from a group or rejected by a loved one, many times they are quickly reminded to “Be strong” and “Don’t react” or “Don’t get too emotional” or “Don’t let other people affect your feelings so much.”

In the book “Subliminal, How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior” author Leonard Mlodinow mentions, “It is fascinating that the pain of a stubbed toe and the sting of a snubbed advance share a space in your brain.”

Our brain really does seem to go through a similar process when we experience psychological pain as when we experience physical pain. Many times though, we are chided for expressions of emotion when it relates to psychological pain when such reactions are equally involuntary as emotions resulting from physical pain.

I am going through intense bursts of psychological pain right now. The pain can get so bad. Feeling rejected by a loved one and losing my cat Nephe—and so suddenly—can be absolutely devastating. Words become futile as I attempt to describe what I’m feeling—what I’ve gone through the past couple of weeks. I am under no delusion that others haven’t gone through similar…or worse.

In my efforts to find a solution to my pain, I’ve often thought, “They have pills to quash the pangs of physical distress, why not for acute, psychological triggers?”  As it turns out, Tylenol actually deadens psychological pain. A study is mentioned in the book referenced above that seems to suggest Tylenol’s ability to reduce pain among individuals who have been socially excluded. Hmm, I’ll have to try it.    (read the book for further details, its one of the best one's I've skimmed in a while)

P.S. Please don’t suggest alcohol. I almost never drink.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Is Christianity based on natural human desires?

Christianity offers plenty of reassuring thoughts to one’s natural, human desires.  Heaven, for instance, offers the believer a place where they can enjoy both creative and leadership pursuits for the rest of eternity (highly-valued human activities you may notice).  A place where one can luxuriate in the sheer bliss of perfect harmony amidst the love of their Creator together with their loved ones. This seems nothing less than utopian; a scenario no one in their right mind would want to forego.  We are told that we can fix our eyes on the seen—this finite, ragged, squalid, morally and physically wretched life down here (which, by the way, we have created ourselves, due to our sinful nature), or, we can fix our eyes on the unseen—the eternal life and world that is to come after death (2 Corinthians 4:18).  Once we escape this temporary life here, we have another fantastic life waiting for us in heaven, provided that we only believe and remain faithful throughout our earthly lives.

Almost every Christian I have known or met seems to want to enjoy this life to the fullest as well as enjoy a blissful existence in heaven too; they want to have their faith and eat it too.  Although they always go off in monologues about how “their hope and true happiness is not in this world” their hidden desires betray their words.  Their true desires of wanting to find happiness, peace and contentment on earth will usually surface in one way or another.

Achieving comfort is a purely human, biological motive.   When talking to a Christian, you’ll hear that one of the main reasons given so that you convert to their belief-system is because “You’ll be so much happier and fulfilled…you’ll gain a new peace and purpose and perspective…a relationship that will guide you throughout your life here on Earth”.  They go further, insisting, that whatever predicament you are in, you’ll always have an invisible friend at your side there to console you.

The fact that a Christian desires a happier, more contented, more peaceful life here and now, shows that they are just as much seekers of earthly happiness as everyone else on the planet.   On the other hand, if you don’t hear a Christian’s sermon on happiness and purpose, you’ll often hear Christians say it’s “not about finding happiness and contentment, but a relationship with Jesus is the act of ‘taking up one’s cross and following Jesus". They mean if life’s not always about peace and contentment and experiencing the changed life, it’s about trials and tribulations, persecutions and periods of temptation, unhappiness and suffering.

What they’re really saying is that dedicating your life to Christ will have ups and downs.  How is that for an answer? An answer that entertains all possibilities is not an answer! The simple answer is “life has its ups and down”--we need not invoke a supernatural cause to this. It’s superfluous.

Whatever life-style one chooses to embrace, there is a possibility for contentedness and peace and there is also a possibility for struggles and pain.  Christianity offers no more and certainly no better answers to life’s situations than any other religious or non-religious stance.  Although all religions have aspects that are good for society to embrace, (e.g. a self-less lifestyle, willingness to help others in need) there are aspects to it that are far more deleterious and threatening to the progression of society.

We are affected by our genes and our genes interaction with the environment we were born into.  Of course, some of our life experiences are shaped by our choices, but, for the most part, we do not specifically choose the most influential contributors of our comfort (or happiness levels?), like whether or not we: suffer from a mental disorder, have a healthy body, loose a child to suicide, have a high (or low) I.Q., inherit lots of money, or are born in a poor country.   These factors, as well as many others influence our lives and our relative levels of comfort and contentment many orders of magnitude beyond our particular choice of religious belief.  Granted, religious belief can delude us into a form of happiness.  Though, such is not based upon reality.

It is a very crucial and humbling to recognize this fact—that so much of our lives are based primarily on the luck of where we were born and our general health—not so much on how hard we applied ourselves and certainly, not how much we prayed or trusted in an invisible deity.  There are known--though not always accessible-- ways to increase our relative levels of comfort.  We can improve our health and education levels and both of these will have a direct impact on our level of contentment.   Increased knowledge, of course, appears to bring us more opportunities and an ameliorated rational for making the best of a plethora of daily choices.