Edited by HENRY REED, Ph.D.
May 23,   2016
 The Stress Solution

The Stress Solution:

Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience

by Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, EdD, PhD

Reviewed by Henry Reed, Ph.D.

Empathy is in. It’s the emotional intelligence social IQ superpower. It requires imagination. It invokes intuition. We empathize by imagining being the other person, and drawing from within our understanding. It is the prime activity of the Intuitive Heart, and so I can’t but bring to your attention a new book on the subject—very scientific and inspirational, at the same time.

The Stress Solution: Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience, by Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D., Ph.D. builds on his previous, fantastic book, The Power of Empathy: A Practical Guide to Creating Intimacy, Self-understanding, and Lasting Love in Your Life.

Here are some things I  really like about this book:

First, I like how he defines empathy, in a new and different way, besides the usual way, which he also includes. Here’s his novel definition: “Seeing things as the really are.” I like that definition because it is an admission that we connect with the real world from within—empathy arises from within and is an intuitive response. We become one with what we empathize with, which is one goal of spiritual awareness.

Second, I like how he emphasizes being empathic with oneself. I recall an important time in my life when I kept complaining, “no one listens to me!” Finally, I got the message, “It is ME who is not listening to me!” So I began a program of giving myself big doses of my imitation of Carl Rogers. For every thought that appeared, I’d respond with reflective listening. Pretty cool! It really helped.

Third, I’m a big fan of using thought stopping, or story switching, to get myself out of a bad mood. I can catch myself thinking thoughts that bring me down. I now can recognize them more quickly and shift my focus to something more positive. If the negative thoughts won’t go away, I pull out my self-empathy routine to find out what’s going on. A whine is a pain that is not heard and keeps asking for an ear.

Fourth, I really like his conception of “performance addiction.” Similar to Type A mentality—that’s me!—and I find that when I feel stressed, I am probably trying to get myself to do something I don’t really feel like doing. Depression is my meat tenderizer and helps me get back on the path of, “chill out,” “loosen up a bit, will you?” and “go for a walk!”

The author covers all the bases. It’s worth reading, assuming you’ve got the time to spend with yourself that way.

 

To explore The Stress Solution on Amazon.com, click here!

 

Here’s what the publisher has to say about  the book:

      The amount of stress in America and throughout the world is rapidly rising. We work too much, sleep too little, love with half a heart, and wonder why we are unhappy and unhealthy. Half of Americans indicate they lie awake at night due to stress, while three quarters experience stress symptoms—either physical, psychological, or both.

     We know that personal and professional success does not come without sacrifice, but it should not ruin our health and leave our relationships devoid of love and intimacy. The Stress Solution will help readers take steps to free themselves from the obsession to excel; it will allow them to begin the process of finding meaning in both work and relationships. We need to go beyond material reward to establish genuine, healthy accomplishments throughout all parts of life. Many people throughout the world are discovering that what they thought would bring them happiness has put them in an emotional prison, but there is a path forward.

     Empathy is defined as the capacity to understand and respond to the unique aspects of another’s experience. It is our innate ability to decipher the objective truth—meaning perceiving without bias, the accurate reading of another—in situations and interactions. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on understanding how thoughts, feelings and behaviors are related. CBT focuses on changing how a person feels and behaves by correcting distorted thinking.

     Empathy-oriented CBT lowers stress and changes the brain in individuals, couples and families. The new combination of the power of empathy and CBT, as measured through the science of neurochemistry, will provide the most comprehensive self-help tool to date. Empathy calms the emotional brain so we can perceive accurately and thoughtfully. Neurochemistry allows us to produce our own natural chemicals that create calm, focused energy to do and be the best we can be. And finally, CBT corrects distorted thinking. These three components produce a synergy that enhances our lives and releases our potential.

The Stress Solution includes a cognitive distortions glossary for terms used throughout the book, exercises for examining past and recent events to identify biases in the thought process, including journal prompts and action plans. In addition to real-life success stories from Dr. Ciaramicoli’s thirty-five-year psychology practice, the book also includes an extensive appendix with multiple questionnaires to figure out one’s empathy quotient, stress scale, and determining how addicted one is to performance.

 

Here’s some questions they asked of the author, and some great answers. Be sure to read this interview.

 What is Empathic CBT?

The new combination of the power of empathy, brain science and cognitive behavioral therapy will provide people with a comprehensive self-help tool to lessen stress and balance. Empathy calms the emotional brain so we can perceive accurately and thoughtfully. Being able to perceive accurately is crucial to reducing stress, as old biased thinking, based on early conditioning, distorts reality and causes unnecessary tension. Knowledge regarding neurochemistry allows us to produce our own natural chemicals that create calm, focused energy to do and be the best we can be. Finally, CBT corrects distorted thinking. These three components produce a synergy that enhances our lives, reduces the stress in our lives and releases our potential.

Empathy, brain science and CBT combine in one practical formula to reduce the inordinate amount of stress in our society and in our world. I have been practicing with these three elements for more than 35 years I believe that this unique formula will allow you to lessen the stress in your marriage, family and work-life if you are committed to doing the necessary work.

You mention prejudice being a cause of stress in your book, how so?

Whenever we encounter someone who we have an inherent prejudice against, whether conscious or unconscious, we begin to experience a degree of stress. When we are stressed we release the stress hormone cortisol, which limits our capacity for empathy while also causing repetitive negative thinking. If you have prejudices against several types of people it is likely that your cortisol levels will be consistently high. In addition to causing negative thinking cortisol also causes weight gain, inflammation, hair loss, breaks down muscle tissue, causes flabbiness, depression, anxiety and memory loss.

Why have our stress rates risen so dramatically?

Studies indicate that Americans have fewer friends; trust has decreased as well as empathy while prejudice has increased. Half of Americans lie awake at night due to job stress and three quarters indicate they suffer from emotional or physical stress symptoms daily.  We have become a society that places a great emphasis on achievement, status and appearance and far less on character and relationships. People from all walks of life have been discovering that what they thought would bring them happiness and contentment has caught them in an emotional prison that is stress-filled and energy depleting. Many people have learned how to achieve, but they do not know how to love and make lasting deep friendships, and this lack of love and relational connections is the missing ingredient that plagues their lives. Our political climate, with presidential candidates emphasis on aggression, insults, lying and lack of integrity is symbolic of the de-emphasis of the importance of character and empathy currently dominating our elected officials, the corporate world and influencing our society.                                              

What is the definition of empathy?

Empathy is the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another. It is essentially everyday mind reading. Empathy is part of our genetic endowment; it is not an emotion or a feeling but a capacity that is innately present. We are born with this capacity, and if not developed, it will atrophy like an unused muscle. I know from leading group sessions for more than 25 years that human beings can be taught how to expand their empathic range in ways that will reap profound benefits.

In recent years, research on empathy has exploded. We now know we have empathy neurons, called mirror neurons. These cells have dramatically changed our comprehension of how we understand each other. Mirror neurons send messages to our limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. The empathic connection then releases the neurotransmitters dopamine (creating a sense of desire), endorphins (pleasure and relaxation), and oxytocin (compassion and connection

How come empathy is often confused with sympathy?

Empathy is often confused with sympathy. Sympathy, as opposed to empathy, occurs when we identify with another persons’ experience even if we do not know if our experiences are similar. You hear a neighbor is being transferred to Texas and you immediately respond how sorry you are that her family has to move. She responds by telling you that she is going to work for her sister’s clothing chain as a buyer and it’s the job of a lifetime, plus she and her husband will be near family and close to her old university and college friends. You realize, with embarrassment, that your quick reaction was not factual but emotional, projecting how you would feel rather than slowing down and gathering the facts.

How does being empathic lessen our stress levels?

Empathy releases the hormone oxytocin, also called the love hormone, or the connecting hormone. While cortisol makes us fearful, oxytocin makes us feel comfortable, secure and in a position to give and receive empathy. Oxytocin reduces anxiety, reduces the release of cortisol, reduces addictive craving, and most importantly reduces aggression, fear and bias.

We now know we have empathy neurons, called mirror neurons. These cells have dramatically changed our comprehension of how we understand each other. Mirror neurons send messages to our limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. The empathic connection then releases the neurotransmitters dopamine (creating a sense of desire), endorphins (pleasure and relaxation), and oxytocin (compassion and connection). Research has confirmed that empathy training creates trust and causes a neurochemical change that produces a sense of security to allow for a deeper understanding of one another.

How do we rid ourselves of old negative stories we created about ourselves?

Early in life we create a novel, a fictitious story about ourselves that we write based on what we think is being reflected back to us from those around us-as if we are looking at ourselves in a mirror. If the mirrors you are looking into are cracked or inaccurate, you get a distorted view of yourself as you would in a circus mirror. As a result you create an inaccurate story about yourself and this story sets the stage for an irrational belief system. We cannot change your story alone, we are all too subjective. We need a group of people in our lives that will give us honest feedback so that we can obtain an accurate view of who we are today, a more objective account than the one we came to believe earlier in life.

Do we need to talk about the past to reduce our stress and anxiety levels?

The only time it is necessary to focus on the past is if it interferes with the present, otherwise it is not necessary to explore. Once we understand the origin of our old conditioning and how our past can create distorted views of ourselves and others we can begin the process of perceiving others and ourselves more accurately.

 What is missing in our society that so many successful people lead unsatisfied lives?

Americans currently trust fewer people, have less empathy for others and combined with these factors we have developed a society that tends to value achievement more than character and image more than quality relationships.

Why is being authentic so important to reducing stress?

When we substitute our inherent personality for one that is trying to please to gain acceptance and love it is a failing proposition, pretense is a burden that is depleting and it also makes it difficult to maintain intimacy, as closeness to others is based on being able to open, genuine and vulnerable. Authenticity attracts others in powerful ways and allows us to feel comfortable in our own skin. Authentic relating enlivens the spirit and gives us the energy and confidence to go out into the world, tolerate stress and maintain resilience so that we can come home with our self-respect and integrity intact.

What is Performance Addiction?

Performance addiction is the belief that perfecting appearance and achieving status will secure love and respect. It is an irrational belief system learned from early familial experiences and reinforced by our material/appearance driven society.

My first recognition of Performance Addiction came about largely as a result of my work with a group of individuals who embodied so many of the qualities that are highly regarded in professional and public life. There resumes were very impressive but I noticed that despite their capabilities, they seemed to have little regard for their personal achievements and their own physical appearance. They all seemed to be scoreboard watchers.  Every day, they took inventory of how well or how terribly they were performing, how attractive or dreadful they looked in the mirror.

You speak of Image Love in your book? What is Image Love?

Empathy is the heart of the relationship skills needed to help Performance addicts move past Image Love to Real Love. Performance addicts have tremendous difficulty loving, they base there own lovability on their daily performance and unfortunately they expect the same of their partner. They are constantly comparing and contrasting themselves and their partner to others. They find it easy to fall in love, the binding and blinding effects of sex in the early phases of a relationship creates an illusion, am image of love. The blinding part is pure physical attraction-lust, raging hormones, and sexual excitement. The blinding part is a screen of illusion obscuring the love object, the partner who is a source of sexual devotion. The partner is a source of escape and ecstasy, an object of desire.  This is what I call Image Love.

To explore The Stress Solution on Amazon.com, click here!

 

Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, EdD, PhD, is the author of The Stress Solution: Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience. He is a licensed clinical psychologist and the chief medical officer of soundmindz.org, a popular mental health platform. He has been on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and chief psychologist of Metrowest Medical Center. The author of several books, including The Power of Empathy and Performance Addiction, he lives with his family in Massachusetts and his website is www.balanceyoursuccess.com.

 

 

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