The Toxic Tempest of Solo Worry


Do you worry alone?  Or do you share your worry with others?  Does it matter?  Apparently it does.  I recently heard Ned Hallowell speak about this topic and, as he described the pitfalls of solo worry, it gave me a bit of a personal epiphany I want to share.  Hallowell, an MD, is a leading authority on ADD and ADHD  and he is the Director of the Hallowell Centers in NYC and Sudbury, Massachusetts.  With eleven books to his credit, including Driven to Distraction (1994)  and Delivered from Distraction (2005) Hallowell certainly knows his way around the distracted mind.  However, it was advice he gave on the topic of worry that piqued my curiosity.  “Never worry alone.” Hallowell warned.   Since this is the opposite of what i do – I always worry alone – it really grabbed my attention.

Hallowell went on to add that when we worry alone, worry becomes toxic, we omit the facts, withdraw and isolate ourselves.   Worrying alone is what I do.  In fact, I go to great measures to pretend that everything is going be alright even when I really believe it is not.  I fake it.  I pretend.  I spend money I don’t have.  When I worry in silence, I slap a smile on it, maybe I become a bit sullen or snippy at times, but I do not trouble others with my worry.   What’s your worry strategy?   Can you relate to my terribly toxic strategy of independent struggle or do you have worry support in place?

Hallowell went on to say that those of us who worry alone miss out on the problem solving aspect of having a worry partner.  I would like to add, that when we worry alone, we fail to process the dilemma, the pain, the heartbreak, the fear, and thus may become stuck in the trauma of it.   Additionally, we abstain from the compassion others might provide us when we need it most.   I can absolutely attest to solo worry’s toxic powers, but until I heard Ned Hallowell speak, I simply hadn’t put it all together.

Worrying alone is dangerous, bad for your mental health and can lead to a host of bad things.  Get a therapist, get a worry partner, get a coach, get someone, but don’t go it alone.    The toxic tempest of solo worry is to be avoided at all cost lest this psychological storm wreak havoc in your life.  Don’t worry.  At least not alone.




In times of fear, have you ever found yourself losing interest in your goals and chasing new ones?  Some people think they have ADD or shiny ball syndrome, always chasing the next new thing, never sticking with one course of action but, instead, chasing every new dream that comes along?  Do you not stick up for yourself, but divert your anger into something trivial or more socially acceptable instead?   These are but a few of the ways you can avoid the hard stuff, the stuff you may believe, you just can’t handle.

Have you ever found that you cannot settle into one vision, one goal or one thing? Instead you keep losing interest, repeating patterns and running all over the place in a seemingly chaotic fashion?

Perhaps author, speaker and research professor Brené Brown (Rising StrongDaring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection etc.) can shed some light on your behavior.  Brown introduces us to the idea of “serpentining” as a protection strategy we use to avoid vulnerability.  Borrowing from the 70’s movie, “The Inlaws”, Brown describes a scene in which one of the characters tries to dodge flying bullets by moving in a serpentine fashion – zigging and zagging rather than moving in a straight line in order to avoid being an easy target.

As a protective strategy “serpentining” can be exhausting because, in the end, more energy is expended “serpentining” than facing the fear head on.   It may be helpful to examine your own places of resistance and invulnerability and notice where you find yourself doing the serpentine shuffle.  If you are truly dodging bullets, “serpentining” may have its place, but when facing up to challenges in our life, it is a protective strategy that requires closer examination

For a visual example and a bit of levity, you can view the ‘serpentining” clip from The InLaws here:

Platitudes and Attitudes – How to really change your life.

You see it a lot. All over the internet you can find piles of platitudes like the ones right here. Platitudes are oversimplifications often contain a grain of truth, but are trite and temporary encouragement that does nothing to effectively help you long term.

Be true to yourself.
Be yourself.
Be all that you can be!
Love is the answer.
Just do it!

They are so easy, these over simplifications, trite and unimaginative. To really improve yourself, you must begin with changing your thinking. No platitude or affirmation will do that. You must change your mind! Easy to say, but how do you do that?

Understanding how the mind works is a real challenge. It is human nature to look for the easy way, it is called cognitive conservatism and while it easier, it is also often less effective. Platitudes, slogans, affirmations, “daily thoughts” on Facebook or elsewhere, can bring momentary relief, but real change is elusive with these methods.

We share the basic machinery and functions of the mind, but each person has different data circulating and operating within and different experiences and innate tendencies can give us very different neural pathways. Therefore, a given stimulus can exact a profoundly different response from two different people. This is because the operating system itself and the perception of the data is different. This data is comprised of experiences, beliefs, thoughts and feelings, personality traits and inheritances that make up the inner workings of your mind and lay down those neural pathways. Additionally, if you really think about it, there are thoughts and there is the interpreter of the thoughts. Are you your thoughts? I didn’t think so, but you experience and interpret them.

Have you ever questioned your thoughts?

Thoughts come to you seemingly unbidden and tend to be accepted as fact. Thoughts are constantly bubbling up and whether we are awake or asleep our “24/7/365 until we die” mind is working. It is a bit radical but you can and should begin to question your mind. There are endless theories about where our thoughts come from.

One I like is family systems theory which suggests that each of us has an internal family made up of us at various ages/stages. Examples are the child, the rebellious teen, the adult etc. We also internalize the voices of others such as our parents, our grandparents our teachers. This means there are many voices in the average mind and thoughts can come from those internalized parts. With all due respect to psychologist Richard Schwarz, I am overly simplifying the concept, but you get the picture. Further, those parts can take roles such as the role of the persecutor and/or also the persecuted, the good child, the bad seed and many more forms. How many times do you hear those internalized voices/thoughts each day? Did you know that you can stop and question any thought?

One of the nice ways is to use a simple technique popularized by Byron Katie (a new age thought guru). Don’t be put off by the new age label, the technique is a good one.

There are four steps:
1) Ask your self if it is true.
2) Ask yourself if you can absolutely know that it is true.
3) How do you react, what happens when you do believe this thought?
4) Who would you be without the thought? Visualize yourself without the thought and the attitude it creates.

There is a 5th step, which I am omitting since it borders on a significant new age theory that is not meant for this post and not really necessary here. My 5th step would be to ask if this thought is helping your or hurting you and if you are better off with it or without it. The questioning process is important because the interpreter (you) takes control of the thought.

Humans have a tendency to anticipate and mind read in stressful situations. This often (but not always) helps us to avoid danger at times of high stress or immediate harm. However, in normal circumstances, our subconscious can be triggered into believing that there is imminent danger – even if it only to our precious ego. We then may resist curiosity and not dig for additional information and simply react by jumping to a conclusion.

Again, in times of high stress or danger, this may be appropriate, but it can also lead to people shooting innocent people who knock at their door. When we are confronted by challenges in our day to day life, we often get triggered into responding as though danger or harm were present. Why do we do this? One of the reasons is the way we talk to ourselves. Our subconscious is the reactor and if it hears us saying that something is “killing” us, it just may believe that this is so, thus you get an instantaneous reaction.

How many times are we sure we KNOW what someone else is thinking and/or what their motives are?

I’ll give you an example: The other day, I went to run an errand. As I backed out of my driveway I noticed that my mailbox was sadly bent. It had obviously been struck! Not only that, just a few hours earlier a paving truck has parked just about 20 yards away. I had seen them backing up onto my street. No one was anywhere to be seen. As I headed out on my errand and my mind went to work – I was angry. “How dare they!” I thought. After running my errand, I raced home to confront the miscreants. Still no one anywhere in sight. An hour or so later, as I headed out to my walk, I saw them packing up.

I decided just to be curious and I inquired of the foreman in a conversational manner. He was very polite and came to look at the mailbox with me. Obviously, someone had hit it we agreed, but there were no tire marks in the surrounding mulch and his equipment would have flatted it and left tire marks. We walked over to his crew and he asked them how far they had backed up – to confirm. They had not backed up that far – all three agreed. The foreman said he would have come and told me if they hit it…just what I would expect. I believed them – they did not seem evasive at all. I simply asked questions and my angst disappeared.

A couple of things happened here:
1) At first, I lost my curiosity and believed that I knew what had happened – this caused a reaction.
2) I did not absolutely know this (I hadn’t seen it happen).
3) My reactions when I believed this was a cause of stress and grief. I did not allow for other possibilities which I might have seen if I got curious.
5) I saw the thought that someone had damaged my mailbox I was infuriated – this is painful. I choose another thought since the mailbox needs to be replaced any way 🙂 and thus no angst.

So forget about platitudes, change your attitude into being curious about those thoughts. Don’t be afraid to keep the helpful ones and let go of the unhelpful ones. Take an example from your life and apply the four/five steps, you just might find yourself more open minded and at peace. Give it try. I would love to hear what you think.

Thoughts – The Cosmos within.

On the television show “Cosmos”, Neil deGrasse Tyson takes us on a fantastic journey into faraway realms outside of solar system. Here, at Psych-hacker, we explore realms deep in the inner world of our psyche. Let’s begin by examining our thoughts. What precisely are thoughts? Where do they come from and why do the create so much pain for us?

Thoughts often seem like a fluffy bunch of mind-candy or endless chatter that keeps us occupied inside while we experience what is going on outside. It’s like having a running commentary interpreting everything that you see and experience as you move through your life. This ongoing chatter is the voice of the inner interpreter. While some thoughts seem harmless, they are always shaping our reality and interpreting our experiences for us. So, let’s not search the “Cosmos” today, we have more important work to do within. Instead, we will tap into the secret world of your psyche where you live and create your life.


Many of us are thinking a lot these days. We are overstimulated by the information age and we live in a state of chronic anxiety striving to keep up with an endless flow of information – much of it low quality and irrelevant to our lives. News stories from around the globe, sensationalized tragedies and heartbreaking news events that are both titillating and, too often, pointless. Thousands of voices scream at us all day long and, as if that were note enough, there is the savage sucking sound of social media and countless other intrusions.

What are you thinking? No really, what are you thinking? Most of the time we are providing ourselves with an endless stream of horrors that fit our belief that the world is out of control, people suck and it’s every man or woman for themselves. Stressful? Not much really. I lie of course! The endless dangers of the world at large are magnified and the risks amplified and exaggerated. A mind on fear can be more destructive than a mind on anything else.

Have you ever feared your own mind more than the world at large? Are you less concerned with what others say than having to listen to a nagging, pessimistic mind that will endlessly replay your failures? Can you relate to this? When this happens you have become a prisoner of your own mind as your life begins to follow a narrowly scripted path dictated by fearful and limiting thoughts such as:

“Please don’t fail!” because if you do then I will BE a failure.”

“Please don’t fail! Because then everyone will SEE that I am a failure.”

“Actually, I already believe I’m a failure, so please don’t SHOW it!”

With a fear of, and a focus on failure, as a starting point, how can you ever hope to WIN?

Thoughts are indeed things. Whether you believe they can instantly manifest as some new age gurus espouse, one thing is true: Your thoughts precede your actions and your actions create your reality. Many of our thoughts are directed in that we are either thinking about the future or replaying the past. Thoughts come to us like an endless parade of mental billboards. I like to use the metaphor of clouds, so let’s play with this a bit. Thoughts are like clouds in many ways.

Big puffy white clouds often dot sunny blue skies even on the most glorious days. They drift across the sky moving quickly into and out of view just as some thoughts move into and out of our awareness. These clouds do not alter the day in anyway as the casually drift by, we notice them, but there is no impact.

Other clouds hint at and threaten rain dampening our spirits. They may never bring rain, but the mere threat causes us to alter our plans and to keep an eye on the sky. They erase our serenity keeping attention focused on the possibility of rain.

Still, other clouds are ominous warnings of impending storms. These clouds cause you to seek shelter and to hide helplessly hoping that they pass soon and without too much damage. Some actually bring storms – big storms – and we shiver when we see them and begin to fret over what might be coming. The more sinisiter clouds loom big and dark and we run from them or get caught up in their path. Once they have exploded their pent up energy they pass by leaving damage in their path. We all know those sinister thoughts, the outbursts they cause, the damage they do, the odd way we feel better after we have unleashed our fury on others. What were you thinking just before those clouds began to build?

These clouds, and the storms they create, feel so real that we never stop to question them and we are swept up into them. You can question your thoughts because unlike clouds they are generated in YOUR mind and live only in YOUR head. True, they can feel uncontrollable, real, truthful, as they arise unbidden from some swampy primordial part of our subconscious. These thoughts are generated by the beliefs you hold both conscious and unconscious.

The more unconscious the thought, the more dangerous and powerful it is because we cannot see a clear line between the thoughts and the hidden beliefs that generated it. This is because our operating system was programmed when we were young children unaware and unable to question what we were experiencing. Survival demanded that we adjust to the environment presented or possibly die. This is the beauty of the subconscious – it thinks faster than we consciously can and responds faster too; This can also be the danger of it too. As children, we are not able to know if our interpretations and thoughts were real – we felt fear and that was enough! The more fear that accompanied the insertion of the programming, the more tightly held the belief can be because deep fear creates trauma for our nervous system.

In short, most of us are operating our lives with programming we obtained as children. As adults, we can now question our thinking and find those thoughts that are not serving us in any way. Questioning a thought’s validity and value is the first step to reducing its hold on you. Changing beliefs often seems like impossible work, so I invite you to begin by questioning your thoughts. Take a few of your troublesome thoughts and begin looking at them and questioning them. Thoughts are either effective in that they help you or ineffective if they do not. Spend a little time look at your thoughts – Effective or ineffective?

It’s really quite simple, but why is it so hard?


“To get along with yourself give yourself unconditional self-acceptance. Don’t make your worthiness as a person depend on your good performances. Accept yourself as “good” just because you are alive, human and unique – which you will always be until you die – whether or not you do well and whether or not you are approved by others.”

Albert Ellis, Ph.D.


For most people self-acceptance may seem more achievable than self-love which can feel awkward, narcissistic and unattainable. It’s a radical idea for many; we live in a cultural of shame and self-loathing. In fact, self-loathing appears to be a cultural norm hidden under the cover of dysfunction, drugs, alcohol, anger and violence, anti-social behavior, social media addictions, celebrity worship, cosmetic surgery, diet addictions, drop out and withdrawal from society and a myriad of other forms. Have you been chasing the elusive magic wand of self-esteem?

Albert Ellis believes that the concept of self-esteem is a dangerous hoax. It encourages us to keep our lives on hold until we feel better about ourselves and to keep chasing something which does not exist. This belief creates an unhealthy state of dependency on something conditional and outside of ourselves.

We believe that if we take just one more workshop, follow one more guru, get one more insight, we will have arrived at this mythical place called “self-esteem”. Isn’t it time to stop the chase and accept yourself right now? If you are interested, please find at least 5 reasons why you are okay (maybe better than ok).

Mean World Syndrome – How not to let TV create your view of reality.

I came upon this tweet by Steve Handel at I confess, I had never heard of “Mean World Syndrome” or it’s opposite “Friendly World Syndrome”. For today, let me introduce my readers to the former. Please check out this post by Steve.

How to Overcome Mean World Syndrome

Self-Talk – Why the Hidden Conversation in Your Head Matters

Self-talk matters. What we say to ourselves influences our view of the world, the actions we take and the actions we don’t take, the quality of our relationships, whether we are happy or not, successful or not and so much more. We observe events. We interpret events.

We filter those events and process them through lenses known as our beliefs. Many of those beliefs came from others i.e. society, family and friends and many others. They also come from misinterpretations of experiences and events that happened a long time ago. Many are not logical and when scrutinized in the cold light of day (outside of your head)they do not hold up to logical reasoning and yet we let them become our reality. One reason for this is that many of our beliefs and interpretations were formed when we were very young. Our bodies may change and grow old, but sometimes our beliefs remain set in stone if we leave them unexamined. Too often we do not examine them even when they create havoc in our lives.

To summarize one more time: We observe events. We interpret and process events through our filters or beliefs. This is especially important since it creates our reality. Reality is highly subjective since each of us has beliefs that influence our interpretation of what happens to us and what we say to ourselves. The language we speak to ourselves is the most important of all as it constructs and reflects our reality.

Here is an example: Joe’s wife Penny tells him she is tired of him always leaving the toilet seat up at night. Penny says that every time she uses the potty at night, her posterior drops onto the cold hard porcelain. Penny has asked Joe many times not to leave the seat up, but Joe forgets. Penny believes that this is because Joe is an insensitive jerk and doesn’t listen to her or care that it upsets her. Joe is annoyed that Penny keeps finding fault with everything he does and sees her nagging as an attempt to control him. He will not allow anyone to do that. Penny and Joe are not speaking except in terse angry sound bites.

Observable Fact: Joe sometimes leaves the toilet seat up at night. He knows it bothers Penny, but he has trouble remembering when he’s half a sleep. (Self-talk: Joe wonders how he supposed to remember when he is half asleep. He wishes Penny were not such a nag.)

Observable Fact: Penny gets upset when Joe forgets and she receives a nasty middle of the night potty surprise. (Self-talk: Penny tells herself that Joe doesn’t care about her. Otherwise, he would not forget this and subject her to such discomfort.)

Observable Fact: Penny complains to Joe. (Self-talk – Penny tells herself if Joe really cared, he would make this effort, but he is an insensitive jerk. After all the things he has done for him, she tells herself, why can’t he do this small thing?)

Observable Fact: Joe rebuffs Penny’s complaint with anger and a few choice words. (Self-Talk – Feeling under attack, Joe tells himself it’s no big deal and Penny should put it down herself if it matters to her. She is not the boss of him and is always nagging him.)

Penny and Joe are at odds not so much because of the toilet seat, but because of their interpretation of events (including past events) and the meaning they have added to them. There is no conversation that is productive, just arguing and distance because each believes they have the facts. They are engaging in mindreading, projection and exaggeration. They use extreme words like every and always and never.

For Joe and Penny, reason has gone out the window and both are responding through highly charged emotional filters. The event itself is small; the interpretation each has made is big and can lead to the unraveling of a relationship. The events matter far less than what each party tells their self about the event. Penny believes that Joe does not care about her and if that is the case, she thinks to herself, she should leave him because she deserves better. Joe believes that Penny doesn’t think he can do anything right and secretly feels that he cannot. He tells himself that Penny is a hopeless nag and he would be better off finding someone else. If they split up, their future is predictable: Rinse, Lather, Repeat.

If each leaves the relationship without looking at the underlying dynamics, they will most likely jettison one partner for another and repeat the same sad pattern. Why? It is because the other person is not the problem, although we often shift the blame away from ourselves to support what we believe. When each minor conflict is processed through emotional filters both parties can avoid looking at the role they are playing in this drama.

I work with clients one on one and we work at separating facts from emotional fiction and unhelpful beliefs. This is how real sustainable change takes place. Several coaching slots are available for this important work. If you are interested in changing your self-defeating patterns, please contact me at for more information.

A Taxing Day and One year Later.

Yesterday was a bit challenging for me. First, it was tax day and like a good procrastinator I kicked the can down the road until the very last minute. I spent 3 days doing last minute scrambling to get it done. Tax prep is sort of like colonoscopy prep and, yes, I did procrastinate doing that too.
Procrastinators are often deadline sensitive people and they don’t get enough motivation to tackle unpleasant tasks until the threat of a deadline moves them. It is a habit that I am working on. Fear and perfectionism are often hiding in the shadows of the procrastinator’s psyche and we avoid dealing with either of these gremlins until panic takes over.

Yesterday was also the 1 year anniversary of the Boston Marathon. Here in the Boston area, it was a time to reflect upon the tragic events that took place. Much has transpired in that year and the survivors and their rescuers have demonstrated courage and perseverance in the face of tragedy.
Though most of us have not faced such tragedy, can you think of a time in your life when you failed or suffered a severe loss or set back? Have you been able to recover from it? Did you do so with the support of others or did you manage by yourself?

Resilience is the ability to bounce back quickly from a loss or setback. Healing is faster when the pain is not hidden and you keep your heart open, but it is not easy.

The late Elizabeth Edwards who faced her own challenges very publically said:
“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”

Do you have an inspirational story to share? I’d love to hear it.


First, let me thank all of you have stopped by and visited, commented or are following. I am very excited that you are interested in these topics and I hope you will join in the fray!

Why do I write about emotions? I write about emotions because emotions rule the world not thoughts, not logic. Emotions can hijack the most logical of us and run away with our reason. The language we speak to each other is the language of emotions. Feelings can end a discussion because they cannot be argued with. Yet, we learn little about emotions, how to manage them and how to even understand which one is operative. It is why I believe so strongly that we all must learn about our emotional life just as we learn about any other aspect of our health.

Emotions can be tricky hiding in the bush masquerading as something else (example fear hides as “dislike”). Further, your emotions are often dictated by the socio-economic structure you operate in. Are we courageous enough to question our emotions and find the root? Are we brave enough to look at the social constraints that induce and or force negative thoughts and emotions upon us? Can we free ourselves from any of this? Your psychological freedom depends on your doing so and education is the key. That is my goal. Why? Because I have often felt like the proverbial stranger in a strange land and learning the landscape of emotions has been necessary.

Dan Goleman is famous for coining the term “emotional intelligence” to discuss how successful people manage their emotions to their advantage. However, the data supporting Goleman’s concept of emotional intelligence is weak. I prefer to think of this area as emotional skill rather than intelligence. Intelligence implies and innate ability that one is born with and has or does not have. Skill is something that can be learned or acquired. This is why I believe this distinction is critically important.

Think about it. What runs your life – how you feel? How you think? Are you sure? How skilled are you emotionally? Would you be better of if you had better skills?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please don’t be shy – that’s another blog!

The Invisible Fence.

After today, I am going to break from discussing shame – it is a very large topic and one we will revisit many times. The reason that I feel we must keep chipping away at shame is that shame is “A Master of Disguise”. Shame has the ability to create limits that are actually lies as it covers its own stealthy tracks. More importantly, Shame like fear, anxiety and other affiliated emotions are self-sealing. That is that they engage in behavior that reinforces and seals the belief inside where it grows unchallenged. It seems that even our feelings like power and will run rampant when we do not challenge them. Logic is often used by such feelings to justify keeping them in place. “I would feel good about myself if only ______.”

Shame, fear and anxiety are deceptive to us at times. They are protective in nature, but can grow to be more punishing than the original intention – they take on a life of their own and begin limiting our behavior creating an invisible fence in our minds. Much like those cruel shock collars, shame, fear and anxiety take on the same methodology – when we get too close to an imagined boundary, we get zapped! Some people suffer shame attacks, others anxiety attacks and still others over-reactive fear responses that are grossly out of proportion to the stimulus.

Why do I write about these emotions and limits? Because like all humans, I have had my share of afflictions and I believe that we must use the latest knowledge and tools to hack out way out of the limits that impose smallness and limited lives upon us. Each and everyone of us has a right to be here and to grow in the direction we choose. To do that requires removing a lot of invisible fences.

Much of the time you will not see your invisible fence for what it is, you will need help. That help can come in the form of a friend, a support group, a great coach, a good therapist. The point is you must know it is there in order to challenge and remove it. Sometimes, you will just have to jump the fence take the shock and realize it did not kill you, then do it over and over again – a process of systematic desensitization.