Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Enmeshed Parenting, Two

What is enmeshment? There are several definitions available on the internet. For example: family members become overinvolved in each other’s life, which precludes healthy functioning and compromises the development of individual autonomy and self-reliance; boundaries are blurred and a child may become trapped in the parent’s need to be seen as the rescuer, which results in the child failing to develop skills of self-direction and problem-solving. In this women’s experience, counselors have made some educated guesses about what her husband gets from the parent-child enmeshment. Daddy feels flattered and special because his daughter puts him on a pedestal and treats him feel like the most important person in the world. His needs are getting met this way—but teaching her to stand on her own two feet, problem solve effectively (even if she sometimes runs her proposed solution by him), and grow up into a mature woman with high levels of emotional intelligence is rarely achieved. This type of parenting is handicapping, not affirming. Yes, she is learning that she cannot live without her father. All things being equal, he will die before she does and she will have neither the skills to deal effectively with his death nor the skills to function as a balanced adult. And if he begins to express his desire for his daughter to mature and develop problem solving skills, she will try all the harder to keep all his attention directed toward her. More tomorrow.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Enmeshed Parenting

Recently I have received a spate of questions about when I perceive as parental ‘enmeshment.’ Here is just one example—and you can almost hear the woman’s desperation.

This is a second marriage for me. My husband really spoiled his only daughter (she is now age 25) and I mean really spoiled her! Her mother died when she was 11 and Daddy chose to be a single parent. It’s over the top! The girl is gorgeous and flatters him continually. If she wants money, Daddy forks it over. If she wants to talk because she is bored or lonesome or has had an experience in life that ‘frightened’ her, he spends hours on the phone and at her place. She married two years ago and if her husband so much as looks at her crosswise (her words), she is on the phone to Daddy multiple times day and night. Every little thing is a major crisis and, of course, she has NO problem-solving skills because ‘Daddy has always rushed around solving everything for her.’ I think she’s a 25-year-old in body and an 11-year-old emotionally and mentally. I have no idea what she will do when her Daddy dies. I do know that he and I have no meaningful relationship. It doesn’t matter what we have planned or what we are doing. His little girl comes first. In a restaurant he will go outside and talk to her, leaving me sitting patiently at the table. If I say anything about the time involved, he says “You don’t understand. My daughter NEEDS me!” It seems she always has a crisis, especially if she finds out what we are doing or where we are going. She views anyone that her Daddy likes—including me, his new wife as of one years ago—as a threat. She MUST be first with him and is sneakily manipulative. She is sugary sweet to me on the surface when we meet, and then trashes me to him behind my back and begs him to get rid of me because ’she’s not good enough for you.’ She’s done that with every friendship he’s had since her mother’s death. I do not know what he gets out of it. More tomorrow.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Love and the Brain

Admittedly, there are many different types of love. The love you have for a parent, a child, a spouse, a life-time best friend, or a pet appear to differ slightly—and it starts in the brain. Fortunately, the brain and heart are able to accommodate all of them, although it can be difficult at times to define which is which and even harder to set appropriate love boundaries. It seems that much of human love comes prepackaged with expectations for getting something in return. Parents want gratitude from their children; children, especially older children and even adult children, want money and gifts from their parents. Spouses and partners tend to have many expectations of each other, expectations that often represent wishful thinking and that no one is capable of fulfilling. There is a type of love that simply loves—with few if any expectations or demands in return. Loving is itself the reward, which is an ultruistic type of love and likely not often seen. Love is powerful. As Andrew Newberg MD pointed out, “(Love) has the power to alter the course of our lives, and even to change the course of history.”

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Love, Love, and the Brain

“What is love?” Good question. Love as a form of attachment and nurturing can be found in species other than humans—although non-humans do not seem to exhibit romantic love as do human beings. Romantic love is a horse of a different color, as the old saying goes. A combination of brain-body chemicals and romantic ideals or expectations can cause a tsunami so powerful that it provides a chemical illusion of love (although it rarely lasts much longer than a eighteen months to two years—unless the two individuals live on opposite sides of the country and see each other infrequently). This type of love is often seen in adolescents as well as in adults of every age. Just look at Hollywood! Examples abound on a daily basis of individuals who ‘fell in love’ but decided within months or years that it no longer exists—often because they perceive the other as ‘not meeting their needs.’ Where does love being? Biologists tend to agree (2004 studies by J. Roughgarden) that love is a belief that exists primarily, if not only, in one’s brain and mind. More Tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Telomere Lengthening Strategies

A study at UCSF led by Elizabeth Fernandez, Elizabeth (entitled "Lifestyle Changes May Lengthen Telomeres, A Measure of Cell Aging”) evaluated lifestyle changes that included a plant-based menu (high in fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains, and low in fat and refined carbohydrates); moderate exercise such as walking 30 minutes a day for six days a week); stress reduction strategies, and social support. The group that made the lifestyle changes reportedly experienced a 'significant' increase in telomere length of approximately ten (10 percent). In general, strategies that strengthen the immune system are also thought to help slow down the shortening of telomeres. That’s just another reason, in my brain’s opinion, for adopting a Longevity Lifestyle. It matters!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mediterranean Eating Style

Especially since the research by Elizabeth Blackburn, there is continuing interest in the relationship between telomere length and aging and what can contributes to longer telomeres. Immaculata De Vivo, Associate Professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, studied whether following a Mediterranean style of eating was associated with longer telomere length. After adjusting for other potentially influential factors, the study results showed that greater adherence to a Mediterranean eating style was significantly associated with longer telomeres. Interestingly, longer telomere length reflected the overall Mediterranean dietary pattern and not just one factor within that pattern. A Mediterranean style of eating is also being recommended for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. And to the extent that appropriate portion control exists, it can also help maintain a weight that is within recommended ranges, another stress-reducer. 

Monday, January 23, 2017


Did you know that Elizabeth Blackburn, working with Joseph Gall at Yale University is generally credited with discovering the unusual nature of telomeres? According to research led by DalgĂ„rd (study conclusions were printed in the International Journal of Epidemiology, a telomere is a region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes. When your cells divide and multiply, naturally the DNA must divide and replicate, as well. Telomeres cap off each end of each DNA strand much like the little plastic pieces on each end of a shoelace. These telomere “caps” get a bit shorter with each replication unless they are balanced by the enzyme Telomerase, which can help prevent the shortening. When you are out of caps you’re out of replication potential, which has everything to do with length of life. In other words, as telomeres shorten, eventually cells reach their replicative limit and progress into old age. Several questions were about what can be done, if anything to slow the rate of shortening. More tomorrow.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Sayings #3

1.   Every time someone comes up with a foolproof solution, along comes a more talented fool.
2.   I'll bet you $4,567 you can't guess how much I owe my bookie.
3.   Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.
4.   If you keep your feet firmly on the ground, you'll have trouble putting on your pants.
5.   A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing.
6.   Ever stop to think and forget to start again?
7.   When I married Ms. Right, I had no idea her first name was Always.

8.   My wife got 8 out of 10 on her driver's test … the other two guys managed to jump out of her way.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Back to Webster’s dictionary. Humiliated is defined as reducing a person to a lower position in the person’s own eyes or in the eyes of others; injuring their dignity and self-respect, especially publicly. My brain’s opinion is that no one can embarrass or humiliate you unless you permit that, unless you agree with their assessment and tell your brain to believe it. If you believe that you are just as valuable as anyone else, albeit each brain is unique, then your brain must agree to perceive itself as being reduced to a lower position as compared to the other individual. My brain is somewhat dyslexic and early in my career I allowed myself to be embarrassed and even humiliated at times because I found spelling so challenging. No longer. I now thank other brains for helping me correct something that is difficult for my brain, which in no way diminishes who I am or puts me a step down from the person who has found a spelling error on one of my presentation slide. But that perspective finds its start in the brain—just like everything else. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Sometimes embarrassment reflects a sense of low self-worth, unhealthy comparisons between yourself and others, or even a wish you had not agreed to something. The other day I was making a presentation and asked a young woman if she would be comfortable with me using a conversation we had had as an illustration since I thought it could serve as a positive model for others. “Sure,” she had replied. “I’m okay with that if it will help to make things clearer for others present.” So I took her at her word and did just that. Later in the week I discovered that she was telling people, “I was so embarrassed when the speaker started talking about me. In fact, I felt humiliated.” Unfortunately, she did not choose to talk to me about it. Where did this come from? Somewhere in her brain. Perhaps her personal level of self-worth was uncomfortable being the center of attention, however briefly. Maybe she didn’t view our conversation as positively as I had. Nevertheless, your brain believes what you tell it. If you tell it that you are embarrassed or humiliated it will believe that and hang onto it. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mistakes, 2

In general embarrassment is a choice, so I recommend you stop choosing it. I know I’ll make mistakes this year, learn from them (hopefully) and get busy making more. Some are humorous, some are sad, some are irritating, and some lead to doing things in a new and better way—assuming, that is, that you learn from your mistakes. Look up any dictionary and you’ll likely find a plethora of examples related to embarrassment, such as: A state of discomfort arising from being bashful or from having broken a social rule or from feeling personal humiliation or confusion due to hesitation or difficulty in making a choice . . . and so on. Actully, nt can be helpful or unhelpful. If you have violated an important social rule, a sense of In general embarrassment is a choice, so I recommend you stop choosing it. I know I’ll make mistakes this year, learn from them (hopefully) and get busy making more. Some are humorous, some are sad, some are irritating, and some lead to doing things in a new and better way—assuming, that is, that you learn from your mistakes. Look up any dictionary and you’ll likely find a plethora of examples related to embarrassment, such as: A state of discomfort arising from being bashful or from having broken a social rule or from feeling personal humiliation or confusion due to hesitation or difficulty in making a choice . . . and so on. In actuality, embarrassment can be helpful or unhelpful. If you have violated an important social rule, a sense of embarrassment can help you recognize that and make a different choice—you learn from your mistake and decide to avoid breaking that social rule in the future (or not) and let the embarrassment go.   

Monday, January 16, 2017


My cell phone rang this morning and a disconsolate “brain” began commiserating that it was only the middle of January and the mistakes (especially in relation to the one New Year resolution that had been made) were already piling up. I said, “That’s likely a good thing,” and explained that mistakes help you to recognize yourself as a human being. Everyone makes mistakes—if he or she is doing anything, that is. The only people who make no mistakes are those who have died, and sometimes a serious mistake triggered that death.  I like the words of Neil Gaiman: “Hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something.” The caller went on to say, “But I am so embarrassed!” More tomorrow.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Your Environment

In a laboratory setting, scientists often study cells carefully to learn about their structure and functions and to identify when they are healthy and well or unhealthy and ailing. Gradually they learned the importance of looking at the cell’s environment first, rather than investigating the cell itself to determine a cause for its failure to thrive. The bottom line: in a healthy environment, the cells thrive. In an unhealthy and less-than-optimal environment, the cells falter. No doubt you have seen this in the lives of people, each with their 50 trillion cells like a huge condominium complex or an oceanic coral reef. Counselors sometimes refer to the child who is exhibiting unhealthy, dysfunctional behaviors as ‘the identified patient.’ If you spend your time trying to figure out what is wrong with the child, you may never identify the cause’ of the unhealthy, dysfunctional behaviors. If, on the other hand, you study the environment in which the child is living and identify the functionality or dysfunctionality of the family system (especially dynamics between the parents and other adults), a cause’ is often quite easy to identify. The child ‘looks like the patient’ but is often mirroring or acting out the dysfunctional family dynamics.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A miniaturized You

Imagine that you could miniaturize yourself, not actually but metaphorically in your mind’s eye, of course. If you could really do this, shrink yourself to the size of a single cell and then somehow stand back and study the environment around you, what you would see as yourself would not be a single entity but a bustling community of more than 50 trillion individual cells. Most of the cell’s structures are referred to as organelles, which are its ‘miniature organs,’ suspended within a jelly-like cytoplasm. These organelles are miniature versions of tissues and organs of your own body. Each nucleus-containing cell (eukaryote) possesses the functional equivalent of your nervous system, digestive, respiratory, excretory, endocrine, skeletal, circulatory, skin, and immune systems. Groups of specialized cells that form the tissues and organs of the nervous system, are concerned with reading and responding to environmental stimuli. The nervous system’s job is to perceive the environment around it (both inside and outside the body) and coordinate the behavior of all the cells in your vast cellular community.

(Lipton, Bruce, PhD. The Biology of Belief)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Epigenetic 'Dials'

Imagine that ‘test pattern’ on that antiquated TV screen represents a pattern encoded on a specific gene, say the pattern for blue eyes, since that represents my eye color. There are dials, and switches on the TV, however, that allow you to alter the ‘test pattern’ for blue eyes. By adjusting the dials and switches, you can alter color, hue, and contrast while not changing the original pattern for ‘blue eyes.’ [Look at your eyes through a magnifying glass. What do you see? I see a gray-blue color with little flecks of green and gold. This means that my eyes take on a slightly different hue depending on the color of clothing I am wearing.] To use this metaphor, studies of epigenetic dials have shown that they can create 2,000 plus variations from the same gene blueprint. Consequently, there are many blue eyes on this planet, each set likely having a slightly different pattern and hue—because each person’s external and internal environments differ slightly, just like their fingerprint.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

TV Metaphor

Studies have shown that single cells (at least those with a nucleus known as eukarotes) are capable of learning through environmental experiences. They are able to create cellular memories, which they pass on to their offspring. They are also capable of influencing your genes, which means that genes are not set in concrete at birth. Environmental influences (e.g., stress, nutrition, emotions) can modify the genes without changing their basic blueprint. Those modifications can be passed on to future generations. Dr. Lipton in his book The Biology of Belief, offered a metaphor to help people understand this process more clearly. In the last century, when TV programming stopped at midnight, a ‘test pattern’ would appear on the screen after the normal programming signed off. He pointed out that most test patterns looked like a dart board with a bull’s eye in the middle. Imagine that this pattern is encoded in a gene. A pattern for blue eyes, for example, since my eyes are blue. But there is not just one shade of blue eyes on the planet. More tomorrow.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Good News!

Next to male-female brain differences, an area of interest seems to revolve around the science of Epigenetics. You may want to read work by Bruce Lipton PhD, arguable the foremost authority today on research in that area. What is Epigenetics? It is the study of the molecular mechanisms by which environment controls activities of the genes and is one of the most active areas of scientific research. People sometimes say, “I’ve got the genes I’ve got and there is nothing I can do about it.” Oh yes there is. You are not a victim of your genes. In some sense you are master or mistress of your life. The science of Epigenetics has shown that you are able to create a life overflowing with peace, happiness, and love. Genes contribute about 30% to who you are. In their book YOU: The Owner’s Manual, Michael A. Roisen MD, and Mehmet C. Oz MD, pointed out that 70 percent of how long and how well you live is in your hands. It's high time to get busy managing the 70 percentif you are not already doing that!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Sayings- #2

1.   Never tell your problems to anyone, because 20 percent don't care and the other 80 percent are glad you have them.
2.   Doesn't expecting the unexpected mean that the unexpected is actually expected?
3.   Take my advice — I'm not using it.
4.   I hate it when people use big words just to make themselves sound perspicacious.
5.   Hospitality is the art of making guests feel like they're at home when you wish they were.
6.   Television may insult your intelligence, but nothing rubs it in like a computer.

7.   I bought a vacuum cleaner six months ago and so far all it's been doing is gathering dust.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Short-term Memory

Short-term memory most likely is involved primarily in the short-term storage of information lasting from thirty seconds to several days, but does not entail the manipulation or organization of material held in memory as does working memory. Different parts of the brain are involved in different types of memory. For example, short-term memory primarily takes place in the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex. If the information is designed to be stored long term, it passes through the hippocampus and is then transferred to the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in language and perception for permanent storage. No surprise, the hippocampus (think ‘search engine’) is also involved in attempting to retrieve the stored information. Because short-term memories typically need to be recalled for a much shorter amount of time (where did you park your car?) than long-term memories, the brain’s ability to store short-term items is more limited. Paying mindful awareness can assist in maintaining short term memory (finding your car after a store-shopping spree). Short-term memory loss may be observed when a person can recall something that happened 15 years ago but cannot recall what happened 15 minutes ago. Insufficient supplies of oxygen to the brain can negatively impact short-term memory along with alcohol and drug abuse, concussions and other trauma to the head, medical conditions such as seizures, epilepsy, and depression. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Brain’s Working Memory

Is working memory synonymous with short-term memory? Although there is some debate, they appear to differ. Working memory and short-term memory appear to engage different neural subsystems within the prefrontal cortex and parietal areas. Working memory also seems to develop later and at a slower pace than short-term memory. Multiple definitions have been proposed for working memory:  a system for both temporary storage and manipulation of information, which is necessary for a wide range of cognitive tasks; a passive store component plus attentional control; a core executive function utilizing the prefrontal cortex and some parietal areas and responsible for processes involved with reasoning, manipulation of stored information, decision making, and behaviors. One example suggests that repeating digits in the same order they were presented would be a short-term memory task, while repeating the digits backwards would be a working memory task.Working memory can be impaired by alcohol abuse and by acute and chronic psychological stress. Exposure to chronic stress can lead to profound working memory deficits along with dendritic atrophy. The bad news: the more stress in one's life the lower the efficiency of working memory in performing simple cognitive tasks. The good news: study participants who performed exercises that reduced the intrusion of negative thoughts showed an increase in their working memory capacity. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Be the Change…

I have always liked what I believed was a quote by Gandhi. Turns out, according to a New York Times article by Brian Morton entitled “Falser Words Were Never Spoken,” there is no evidence that Gandhi ever said that. According to Morton the closest verifiable remark from Gandhi is: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him ... We need not wait to see what others do." I’ll take that. Anecdotal experiences have shown that when a person creates the vision of positive change and puts in the personal work to hone that vision in his or her life, the brain changes—and the response of other brains to that individual also changes. Whining and grousing and complaining just reinforce a negative perspective. So wherever that quote originated (Be the change you wish to see in the world), it challenged me to be the best that I can be—for my own brain as well as for the brains of others.


Monday, January 2, 2017

It’s Here!

Page two in the new book of your life. What did you write yesterday? What will you write today and the next 363 days or so? You write every waking minute of every daynot only etching your choices and behaviors into your own brain, heart, and immune system, but also engraving yourself and your behaviors into the brains, hearts, and immune systems of others. By now, I trust you know that everything starts in your brain; that it can only do what it thinks it can do; and that you are the one who must tell it what it can do. It’s the old Henry Ford aphorism: If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. Rather than outlining a plethora of New Year’s resolutions that you think you ‘should’ make but that you have little intention of actually ‘doing’ for the rest of the year, pick one thing. Your style of self-talk, for example. Strangely enough, your brain believes whatever you tell it so if your mindset is, another year older and deeper in debt, your brain will follow through on that and help move even deeper in debt. On the other hand, if your mindset is, Goody, goody! Another year in which to make a positive difference in someone’s life! (and that someone may be you because genuine improvement needs to begin at home), your brain will help you discover a path to follow that can work for you. Happy 2017!