Music and art are amazing things.
Music has a habit of getting us pumped up, chilled out, maybe even a little frisky, but what does music have to do with the brain and, in particular, our mental well-being?
I remember in high school there were all kinds of jokes going around about how some genres are correlated with suicidality and violence and there is some merit to that, at least according to studies released in the early 2000s. Pop and rap lyrics over the last 20 years have also gotten sexually violent in promoting aggression, not to mention music videos becoming more and more suggestive and/or explicit (Rich, M. et al. 1998; Cruz, C., & Bushman, B.J., 2014). Further, music videos and lyrics may also be affecting self-image in both boys and girls (Mulgrew, K.E., Volcevski-Kostas, D., & Rendell, P.G., 2014; Flynn, M.A., Park, S-Y., Morin, D.T., & Stana, A., 2015; Flynn, M.A., Craig, C.M., Anderson, C.N., & Holody, K.J., 2016). This is all before getting into music media and addictive behaviour (Collinson, L., Jodge, L., Stanley, J, & Wilson, N, 2015).
All citations will follow this posting along with hyperlinks to articles and/or abstracts. What I really want to focus on is how we can bend music and lyrics to fit our own needs outside of what the media has either presented explicitly or what is perceived implicitly.
For example, nude art. The most basic expression in hand-made art is the naked human form. In fact, many art programs will first instruct on how to depict basic human forms - hands, face, genitals - before moving on to adding clothing, movement, and alike. Nude art, however, is very rarely pornographic. Matt Fradd, a Catholic Apologist and Public Speaker, addressed this issue very well in two parts, both having to do with intention. First is the intention of the artist. Is the artist attempting to pay homage to the naked human form in all its beauty or are they trying to abuse the body? Are they attempting to arouse the audience sexually or intellectually? Second is the intention of the viewer. Does the viewer get their rocks off by looking at nude portraits? Is the viewer seeking to improve their artistic capabilities in viewing this image? If either of the intentions are for sexual gratification then the image becomes pornographic.
Equally with music. Regardless of what the artists and/or lyricists say there is explicitly sexual, violent, and subversive content available and it was made for the purpose of gratification, release, or subversion. A great example of this is 50 Cent (aka Curtis J. Jackson III) Candy Shop which is very explicitly about sex, violence, and drug use - even in the clean version. I heard a girl singing this to herself the other day who was at max 12 years old which is only slightly impressive because the song came out in 2005. Sexualization and violence in pop music is nothing new, either, simply looking at by Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Nine Inch Nails, Tove Lo, Maroon 5, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Jay-Z, Madonna, Motley Crue, REM, Jane's Addiction, Saving Abel, Katy Perry, Kesha, Taio Cruz, Nicki Minaj, and alike... and those are just artists I am thinking of off the top of my head!
But what of the good of music? As mentioned at the top music can be very motivational. Athletes have favourites they listen to before hitting their respective fields and courts which sometimes include violent and subversive tunes but they are able to bypass that factor (although there are psychologists who would argue that some sports, such as boxing and hockey, are sublimations or ways for people to release their violent tendencies in a socially acceptable way). Good music, which I would describe as being upbeat in tone and non-violent/sexual in lyrics isn't as few and far between as people may think.
Find what you like and let me know your thoughts on music that makes you happy either by replying below or emailing me. I will update the post later with my picks.
Collinson, L., Judge, L., Stanley, J., & Wilson, N. (2015). Portrayal of violence, weapons, antisocial behaviour, and alcohol: Study of televised music videos in New Zealand. New Zealand Medical Journal, 128.
Flynn, M.A., Craig, C.M., Anderson, C.N., & Holody, K.J. (2016). Objectification in popular music lyrics: An examination of gender and genre differences. Sex Roles.
Flynn, M.A., Park, S-Y, Morin, D.T., & Stana, A. (2015). Anything but real: Body idealization and objectification of MTV docusoap characters. Sex Roles, 72(5-6).
Mulgrew, K.E., Volcevski-Kostas, D., & Rendell, P.G. (2013). The effect of music video clips on adolescent boys' body image, mood, and schema activation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence.
Rich, M., Woods, E.R., Goodman, E., Emans, S.J., & DuRant, R.H. (1998). Aggressors or victims: Gender and race in music video violence. Pediatrics, 101(4).
One of the "Trending" items according to Facebook today has to do with a young lady who decided not to attend her high school graduation but more specifically how the mother asked long-time advice columnist for the Washington Post Miss Manners (aka Judith Martin).
The mother, clearly dismayed by her daughter's decision not to attend her high school graduation - which most parents rightfully consider to be a major milestone in their child's life - asked Miss Manners if their daughter's non-attendance was okay and whether or not the gifts she would have received should be returned. They also cited that the daughter does not like parties.
Miss Manners laid into both the daughter and the parents:
D: According to Miss Manners the daughter did exhibit thoroughly rude and callous behaviour and it would be okay to return the gifts because, although generally an inappropriate gesture, the daughter went one step further in ignoring her guests' attendance for her special day. Such an insult bypasses gift etiquette.
P: Miss Manners does not absolve the parents of responsibility (which is why I loved reading this column. Rude children are often the product of rude parents). After reinforcing that the parents should return gifts and work with the daughter (my addition) to write letters of apologies to attending guests, well-wishers, and gift-givers the response goes on to say that besides not teaching good manners to their child the parents should also be ashamed for throwing a party for a young woman who doesn't like parties.
Based on the parents' letter to Miss Manners I would say that this is a growing social anxiety that has been cultivating for quite some time and without attention or care. I have a sister who is graduating this year (YAY!) who has severe anxiety and depression, so much so that she had to be home-schooled for the last couple of years. Throwing a party for her (after inviting guests) would guarantee this exact pattern of behaviour.
This is where prevention and intervention collide.
To Parents: Do yourselves a favour and pop over to the Psychology Tools website where there are a handful of screening and assessment tools that, although no longer in general use remain highly reliable and valid sources for identifying the possibility of chronic distress in your child (possibly in yourselves). Do not take these as diagnosis! I recommend them for the contemplative process of identifying needs. A needs analysis is one of the first steps in the therapeutic process. Talk to your kids about how they are feeling on a regular basis and get involved in their lives no matter their numerical/chronological age.
To Youth: Do your absolute best to attend your graduation ceremony and associated parties. If you are feeling distressed for any reason let your parents know RIGHT AWAY, even if you cannot describe what it is you are feeling, and maybe ask to visit a mental health clinic or your family doctor about seeing a counsellor. We are here to help.
I challenge you to go to Google Scholar and use keywords having to do with food and mental health and not get more than 500,000 search results including some hundred-or-so-thousand from the last 20 years.
There is a distinct and irrevocable correlation between what we place in our stomach and what goes on in our brain that has been studied, at length, and yet there is a key piece that I find to be missing. Similar to how ex-religious tend to say that the notion of being a Child of God had no personal meaning I think the correlation between food and brain also lacks personal meaning... a practicality is lost somewhere in the interpretation. When we try to incorporate these things into our lives we get the overwhelming sense that something is missing and then simply lose the motivation to carry forward.
When I talk about food and mental health to my clients I try to provide practical options and make the push more real through several steps but ultimately nothing takes hold without relevance. For example: Goal Setting exercises. I, like many other therapists, use SMART Goal exercises. The goals are laid out and explained under the categories of Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Losing weight is a fantastic goal but if it carries no practical meaning you will end up using that 3 month gym membership for a week. Equally, eating healthy can be motivating and exciting for a few days and then you're off the wagon and back to making gourmet frozen dinners.
There are three aspects that I find important to practical, goal-set, relevant healthy eating:
1) What is in the food doesn't matter! Counting calories and eliminating certain foods from your diet are strenuous and unnecessary unless for a specific and diagnosed health concern (ie. removing gluten because of an allergy or inefficiency of your body to metabolize it). What matters is how you cook it (baked vs. fried), how much you eat (portion control: stop filling the plate), and how fast you eat it (it takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to relay the "Full" message to your brain).
2) Variety really is the spice of life! There are amazing websites and social media attention paid to changing up your eating routine. Tasty is a foodie's dream page on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and alike, posting short videos and full recipes of some awesome dishes. Supercook has quickly become a favourite site of mine for showing recipes based on what you already have in the home and you can create an account to track recipes and so much more.
3) Cook for others! Many of you reading this page have one or both of: Having heard that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach (works on women, too); or, have a significant other in your life either who you have wooed enough to start dating or who you want to woo. Cooking for others is a great way to socialize, learn portions, make something new, and (hopefully) build confidence.
Food is not the enemy.
WAY, way back when it was considered risqué to even show part of a stocking... kind of a fun thought experiment to think about social media back then and people sending in ankle pictures. Now, sending pictures of penises over text, SnapChat, and Twitter appears to be some bizarre norm.
My, how far we have fallen.
I am really disturbed that no secular biology or psychology bothers to uphold the greatness of the human person for its intrinsic value - the value something holds simply for existing, focusing rather ruthlessly on extrinsic value - the value we place on a thing. It is no surprise, then, that the human person has lost intrinsic value and we now focus on the value we place on the body.
More accurately, says the person reading as I type, the value we place on specific parts of the body.
May 19 was the first National Send Nudes Day basically meaning that yesterday was the day that social media moderators got their fill of teen and young adult genitals. For those unaware, SnapChat, Twitter, Facebook, other social media networks, internet service providers, cell phone providers, and telecommunications service providers all log what goes through their feeds. Doesn't take a great stretch of logic to figure out that these images were logged and organized by an employee that we only hope is nice enough not to take a few home for their own enjoyment.
And don't kid yourself, parents. It is youth and young adults between 15 and 21 that make up a solid 80% of these images. Even though it is pictures of themselves they could be charged with distributing child pornography and the person asking, even if underage, is also guilty of multiple criminal offenses.
Which begs the question, "What the hell is wrong with us?" There is a blatant hypocrisy, I find, when it comes to media and the body in that these always focus on women and this is a 5000 year old problem starting with the first recorded contraceptives (concoctions placed in the woman's vagina in Egypt and China) to genital mutilation (Africa and South America) to pessaries (Western Europe) and then pornography and various forms of sexual contact electronically took over with men blackmailing, coercing, or (less often than the other two) kindly asking for women to bare themselves in pixels.
Empowerment through obedience?
We understand ourselves first and foremost through our bodies. Psychologists have been saying this for decades. Understanding ourselves as male or female physically is our first glance at who we can and will be later in life. Simple fact is that (A) the gender binary is both necessary and sufficient for early development and (B) there are complimentary differences between the sexes that must be respected in order to achieve sex and gender equality. I will submit that men have disrespected the differences for centuries if today's neo-feminists submit that their ideal form of equality and education is neither.
Our bodies, however, are not a sufficient understanding of our self. Funny how early religious and non-religious philosophers called out the separation of body and self (soul/spirit) as borderline heretical because they knew that body and self are intricately connected. What happens to one happens effects the other regardless of the physicality of one and the immaterialism of the other.
This post is getting long and I think I covered the main points so I can get to where I am going.
I think my generation holds those who were the last to be pushed to have meaning and motivation in their lives because I remember quite clearly learning about careers, language, culture, and independence from very early in life. The world I remember even up to my teenage years was worth developing.
A while back I did a quick write-up on weathertainment and how constantly inundating with doomsday reports about global warming and extreme weather was messing with our heads, so much so that it was a factor in the former diagnosis Seasonal Affective Disorder - a climate-/weather-related depression. In the same mindset I wager that social and mass media force-feeding of negative futures citing disease, war, overpopulation, and alike are responsible for a lack of motivation and searching for meaning in the last two-and-a-half decades.
In my mind meaningfulness and motivation are cyclical and inter-relating giving rise to action, desire, and development. Without them we become stuck in various ruts which serve only to keep us down and away from our true potential. If this all sounds somewhat spiritual - it should. Spirituality is man's search for meaning. We find that meaning in many different ways but one thing that is consistent is that meaningful and motivating paths are those that develop the person in themselves and/or their relationships. Those who find their meaning in violence or are motivated by greed continually falter regardless of how successful they appear on the outside.
The reason I even bring any of this up is because of the number of depression rating scales I have completed with youth and young adults compared to those in their 30s to 60s where one of the traits of depression is a lack of motivation and sense of meaning - a sense of urgency. A sense that there is something that a person wants to do that they are unable to do... or, worse, a sense that a person does not desire.
Meaningfulness is an active process. We set goals for ourselves and, when done properly, find ways to achieve those goals through action and commitment. Nothing of any worth comes from sedentary living. With the internal and external disconnections that come with social media and overuse of electronics we make developments further into meaninglessness because the little we do has no value. We need to take drugs (including prescription medication) and alcohol in order to feel things that motivated people get from doing something of value such as reaching a goal or creating something with their own hands or intellect.
Depression, anxiety, anger, despair... these negative characteristics of our psychological life are amplified by a lack of meaning, motivation, and value. To learn more about how to improve these aspects please contact me anytime.
Just a way to get a few thoughts across outside of the office. In this blog you may even find entries that assist in your healing without needing a session