Category: Self-improvement

The Fallacy of Change

Have you ever found yourself thinking, “life will be better when…”?

It seems the grass is always greener on the other side despite your circumstances.

In my clinical experience, I often here statements such as: “Life will be better when”…

“this test is over”

“this class is over”

“I graduate”

“I find a real person job”

“I get a significant other”

“I get married”

“I have a family with kids”

“I get a raise or promotion”

“I go on vacation”

“I retire”

 

People tend to have these thoughts on a regular basis. The problem with these thoughts is that when we accomplish those achievements, we don’t ever reach a point where we say, yes, life is better now, so I can be happy! You might finish a difficult exam and think, gee I’m so glad that’s over, but then there’s another condition to take its place standing in the way of your happiness or contentment. Essentially, we play a game of whack-a-mole with our happiness, and no one wins that game.

Now don’t get me wrong, life could feel easier with extra money or supportive relationships, etc., however, we often have many positive life circumstances existing in our present that are being neglected or ignored when it comes to letting yourself feel good in the here-and-now.

For example, you might have felt overwhelmed in high school and looked forward for those years to be over. Then you start college because you successfully made it through high school. In college, you begin to have the same types of doubts. Do you think to yourself, “I made it through high school, so now I can be content. I am glad to be struggling in college because it means I made it through high school and am now privileged to face a new challenge”?

Most people don’t let themselves enjoy their achievements or savor the present moment. The focus tends to stay on the future and what needs to change.

In truth, you wouldn’t get anywhere at all without the present moment. Life is a series of continual present moments. While it is important to have goals to strive for, all of the magic in life happens in the here-and-now.

So you might think that change is the key to your happiness, but that belief does you a disservice. You ALWAYS have everything you need to be content and the only thing standing in the way of that is your mindset. Even if you are having a bad day, you can change that by putting on some good music, chatting with a close friend, watching a funny video, spending quality time with a pet, taking a soothing bath, going for a nature walk, etc. Sometimes doing something you feel talented at can elevate your mood. Life will always throw challenges at you, so you’d be better off tackling them head on and being thankful for those challenges, since you probably worked hard in order for those challenges to pop up. Being frustrated at having to clean your house means you worked hard enough to be able to afford that house. Studying for a really difficult exam reflects the effort you put in to be able to take that class. If you’re single, then it reflects the other things in life you can nurture while you hold out for a match you deserve.

In other words, stop looking at your life in terms of what you don’t have. Instead, reflect on what you DO have and be thankful for it.

The Danger of Shoulds

Should is used in many languages with varying degrees of unhealthy consequences. The first type of ‘should’ has to do with expectations.

For example:

“I should be in a relationship”

“I should be working a 9-5 job”

“I should be getting married”

“We should have kids”

“I should have a real person job”

“I should have more friends”

The examples listed above are frequent statements I have heard with my clinical experience. People express that they feel inadequate or lacking in some way because in comparison to others, they do not meet the same circumstances. But where do those expectations come from? Is it a fact that everyone needs to be in a relationship, work a 9-5 job, get married, have kids, or have more friends?

The answer is no. There is no concrete rule, law, or human compulsion, that would force a person to fulfill the aforementioned criteria. So then why do people immerse themselves in misery and anxiety if they feel they are not meeting those criteria?

The truth is, we are all subject to long-term brainwashing. Starting from a young age, we take in various messages from our family, school, peers, the media, culture, zeitgeist, etc. Similar to a sponge, we absorb messages and ideas from what we are exposed to and internalize them without meaning to. I am not saying that we have no choice in the matter and that we just repeat everything we experience (because I’m sure you could disprove that pretty quickly). I am saying that those mediums have an influence and can lead to perceived expectations or social rules that ‘must’ be followed. When those social rules or expectations are not followed, it often leads to feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, or despair. Social media can make those matters worse because it encourages comparisons based on false representation and selective sharing. You aren’t seeing posts about everyone’s misery, poor life choices, loneliness, failures, or stress.

The second type of ‘should’ has to do with guilt and unsuccessful goal setting. This occurs when we tell ourselves that we ‘should’ be doing something else.

For example:

“I should be doing my work/homework right now”

“I should be washing the dishes”

“I should exercise”

“I should quit smoking”

If you think about it, most of the time ‘should’ is used in this way, we already know we aren’t going to do that thing. Such as, “I should be doing my homework right now but I’m watching Netflix because I need a break”. But instead of just leaving it at that, many people turn that into a battle. They might still be watching Netflix but are stewing about feeling guilty over not doing their homework. They aren’t being productive OR allowing themselves to enjoy their Netflix break. That doesn’t make any sense and it certainly doesn’t help anything. This concept is not intended to provide encouragement for procrastination, rather serves to encourage healthy self-care and realistic goal setting. Let yourself have your Netflix break without guilt or self-deprecation. But then set a concrete goal to follow for when you will do your homework (and it must be realistic so as not to set yourself up for failure).

“I will let myself watch Netflix tonight and relax because I have worked very hard this week and deserve a break. However, I will spend three hours doing my homework tomorrow at 12pm, broken up into two 1.5 hour periods with a snack break in between”.

In the words of Albert Ellis, we need to stop “shoulding all over ourselves”. That’s right, stop shoulding yourself! It doesn’t help anything except fueling unnecessary misery and stress. So whenever you catch yourself using the word “should” “should have” or “shouldn’t”, think about what you are really saying to yourself and if it is realistic, unrealistic, productive or counterproductive.

Ultimately, be kind to yourself. After all, you will be the longest friend you will ever have.

 

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Part II- Horcruxes and Negative Core Beliefs

*I do not own Harry Potter, therefore, mention of characters/concepts are solely intended for educational and therapeutic gain.*


The concept of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was introduced in this previous HP Psychotherapy blog post. Remember that it is our thoughts and perceptions that cause us to feel the way we do.
To explain further, let’s take a look at different types of thoughts:

Core Belief: A deeply ingrained thought/belief that has been shaped over time and internalized. Core beliefs can be influenced by family, friends, the media, culture, zeitgeist, school, peers, etc. We are constantly bombarded with messages from different mediums, and we unintentionally adopt some of those messages as truths. A core belief can be positive or negative, but for our purposes we are only going to focus on negative core beliefs due to their destructive nature.

Example:
Ron Weasley grew up in the shadow of his older brothers. Bill, Charlie, and Percy were all known for their academic success and talents. Fred and George were popular due to their humor, wit, and quidditch skills. Even Ron’s younger sister, Ginny, has special status for being the only daughter in the family. Due to those circumstances, Ron internalized the belief that he would never be as good as his siblings. This thought generalized to “I’ll never be good enough”. I’d imagine that Molly and Arthur Weasley did their best to show affection and attention to each child equally, but maintaining a household, 7 children, and a demanding ministry of magic job would challenge anyone. Therefore, any time that they were observed giving attention to anyone other than Ron, he likely perceived those attentions as confirming his bias that he would never be good enough. In reverse, any time he received attention from his parents, he likely disregarded their efforts or downplayed the interaction in some way because his core belief of not being good enough would not allow him to accept those efforts. Ron’s internalized beliefs of inadequacy shaped his academic performance and interpersonal relationships. When Ron looked in the Mirror of Erised, he saw himself as quidditch captain holding the house cup. He envisioned a scenario where he could be popular, successful, and liked by everyone. The Mirror of Erised shows a person their deepest desires. Given his past experiences, Ron wants to feel special, successful, and well liked, much like how he perceives his older brothers.

If Ron had changed his core belief of not being good enough, he could have responded differently in the following situations throughout the books:
Harry being entered into the Triwizard Tournament, asking out Hermione to the yule ball, resentment toward the slug club, improving his academic performance, improved quidditch performance, leaving Harry and Hermione alone during the extended camping expedition in HP and the Deathly Hallows, etc.

Automatic Thoughts: Thoughts or ideas that happen in response to your present situations OR present reflection of situations that have already occurred.

How are core beliefs and automatic thoughts different? Automatic thoughts are influenced and guided by core beliefs held.
Example:
Core belief: “I will never be good enough. I am inadequate”.
We’ll use the following scenario to explain automatic thoughts: Harry and Hermione are invited to a slug club meeting by Professor Slughorn in front of Ron. Ron is excluded from the invitation.
Automatic thought: “Wow, he didn’t even know my name. I’m right here! Why wasn’t I invited too? Harry and Hermione are always the favorites. I might as well just not exist since I’m clearly not important. I’ll never be good enough”.
The above automatic thought was influenced by his core belief and was in response to a situation that had either been occurring or just occurred.

How can I change my automatic thoughts?

First it is helpful to determine your personal negative core beliefs to get a sense of what influences your inner-monologues. Then you may want to set up the following format like the one used in the previous CBT blog post to work through the process:
Negative Thought: This is the same as an automatic thought. Write your negative thought here in a concise sentence. You will not use this line to explain, defend, or challenge the thought, only to state that thought as is.
Distorted Perception: What makes that negative thought irrational?
Cognitive Reframing: Start with an affirmation of your feelings. Then use real facts and evidence to contradict your negative thought.

Example using Ron’s situation:

Negative Automatic Thought: “Wow, he didn’t even know my name. I’m right here! Why wasn’t I invited too? Harry and Hermione are always the favorites. I might as well just not exist since I’m clearly not important. I’ll never be good enough”.

Distorted Perception(s): (1) Not being invited to the Slug club means I am not good enough. (2) If I’m not good enough then I’m not worthy to exist, (3) My entire future of success and worth relies on whether or not I am invited to the Slug club. (4) You are a failure or a waste of space if you are not invited to the Slug club

Cognitive Reframing: Although I feel sad and rejected for not being invited to the Slug club, the reality is that I have demonstrated success in many areas of my life. I helped recover the Sorcerer’s Stone, the Chamber of Secrets, made the quidditch team, helped win quidditch matches, battled death eaters in the department of mysteries, flew an enchanted car to school, performed well in defense against the dark arts, and achieved 7 passing marks in my O.W.L.s. Harry and Hermione say that they dislike Slug club meetings and Harry only attends because Dumbledore wants them to get close for some reason. There are plenty of witches and wizards who have been successful that have not been invited to the Slug club. My worth does not solely depend on my level of success, as I have a lot of family and friends who care for me and I am a loyal and supportive friend in return. There is much more to my life than attending Slug club meetings. I have the potential to achieve the goals I set for myself.

**A separate and non-Harry Potter related blog post will focus on different types of negative thoughts that are commonly used.**


Psychotherapy Activity: Negative Core Beliefs and Horcruxes

A horcrux is a concealed piece of one’s soul devised from violating nature through murder combined with some undisclosed ritual that binds it to an object. It is said to be the most evil type of dark magic imaginable. Voldemort creates seven horcruxes (8 if you include Harry) in order to live forever. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry, Ron and Hermione, all take turns wearing one of Voldemort’s horcruxes (Salazar Slytherin’s locket) as they struggle to find a way to destroy it. They had to take turns wearing the locket because they noticed that it would make them all very irritable, negative, and hurtful toward each other after prolonged periods.

The locket appeared to plant ideas in each wearer’s mind that triggered his or her previously established negative core beliefs. When Harry wore the locket, he felt more alone, hopeless, desperate, an imposter, and insignificant. When Hermione wore the locket, she likely began to question her own intellect or usefulness (given her fear of failing). When Ron wore the locket, he became more jealous, irritable, helpless, and insignificant. It was the effect from wearing the locket that drove him to leave Harry and Hermione in the forest. Wisely, Dumbledore foresaw Ron’s potential challenge and bequeathed him the deluminator so that he could return to them once his mind became more rational.

Unfortunately, we all have negative core beliefs that influence our automatic thoughts. It is as if we all wear horcruxes from time to time. They whisper negative ideas and perceptions that either aren’t true or don’t have to become true. You could choose an item of jewelry, a tattoo, or some other bodily accessory that represents a horcrux in your life. You could also carry around a crystal, stone, coin, or some other relevant object in your pocket. It serves as a reminder that those thoughts are not actually a part of you, but a culmination of negative beliefs derived from experiences or observations that you accepted within you.

We can become so used to wearing our horcruxes that we sometimes look to them for comfort in familiarity. You are essentially feeding your mind poison every time you indulge a negative automatic thought. Life is hard enough without adding your own self-deprecating spin on it. Without your horcrux(es), you will notice that your life is more pleasant than you previously thought, and your potential will improve as a result. So get out your imaginary sword of Gryffindor, basilisk fang, or fiend fire spell and work on destroying your horcruxes one by one.

Journal or visualize the following steps:
1. What does your horcrux look like?
2. What feelings or vibrations does it give off?
3. What does it feel like against your skin?
4. Imagine that you have been wearing it for a while. You feel your energy and positivity drain with each passing moment. What is your horcrux whispering to you?
5. Write down the messages you are getting from your horcrux.
6. What experiences have you had that have shaped those messages or ideas?
7. How might your life be different without those experiences?
8. Take some time to think of facts and evidence that contradict your horcrux messages.
9. What are some positive or productive things you can do to actively contradict your horcrux messages? (Make sure to incorporate time in your schedule to accommodate doing some of those things every week).
10. Take your negative horcrux thought and write down the opposite statement. If your horcrux thought was something like, “You are stupid”, or “You will never amount to anything”, then write “I am intelligent,” “I am skilled”, “I am smart where it matters to me,” or “I possess the tools to be successful”, etc.
11. Repeat those affirming statements to yourself over and over while imagining the horcrux burning into ashes in your palm.
12. Take a deep breath in and notice the peace you feel without your horcrux whispering lies. Just as you accepted your negative core beliefs over time, you can use that same process to internalize new positive core beliefs that can help guide you to helpful or healthy automatic thoughts and actions.


Please note that these therapy exercises do not qualify as stand-alone treatments and it is recommended that you seek help from a licensed professional mental health provider.

Contact me with questions or to schedule an appointment:

E-Mail: jmorrismhc@gmail.com

Voicemail: (248) 923-1408

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Categorization and Personality

*I do not own Harry Potter, therefore, mention of characters/concepts are solely intended for educational and therapeutic gain.*


Categorization

It is human nature to understand your world in terms of categories. In the NPR podcast, Invisibilia, they discuss Rize Coffee Shop in Midtown Manhattan. Rize Coffee Shop tapped into people’s need to categorize objects for a sense of understanding and belonging. They set out two tip jars every day with different categories to compete. One day they would have kittens vs. puppies, Apple vs. Samsung, cassette tape vs. vinyl, etc. They quickly discovered that putting their tip jars into two categorizes increased the number of tips received. This ties into the human innate desire to differentiate themselves and declare a category. When customers were asked for explanations for their chosen category, they would make comments such as, “dog people are chatty” or “cat people like to stay home”, etc. Those customer comments bring Henri Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory to the forefront. Social Identity Theory suggests that a person’s sense of identity is based on their group membership. People tend to increase their self-image through promoting the group they belong to and criticizing the groups they don’t belong to, creating an “us versus them” mentality. Through this process, there is a tendency to exaggerate differences between groups and similarities within the same group. Categorization helps us to understand objects and identify them, thus helping us to understand ourselves through our group memberships. Perceived knowledge about certain categories often guide responses to that thing, serving as a mental shortcut to save time and brain power.

Categorization is a very important factor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Students are sorted into one of four categories on their first day before they even get a chance to sit down and eat after a long journey on the Hogwarts Express. From the moment the Sorting Hat makes his decision, your fate is sealed in how you will understand your personal identity, behave toward others, make friends, and succeed in your 7 years as a student. The following are various characterizations associated with each Hogwarts House:

Gryffindor: Brave, daring, adventurous, determined and chivalrous. Often associated with heroism and “doing the right thing”.

Hufflepuff: Hardworking, dedicated, patient, loyal and fair. Often associated with “doing what is nice”. They are welcoming to anyone who feels they do not fit in the other three houses.

Ravenclaw: Intelligent, witty, creative, clever and quirky. Often associated with “doing what is wise”.

Slytherin: Proud, ambitious, cunning, resourceful, intelligent and determined. They are often associated with evil due to the witches and wizards who choose a dark path, yet many Slytherins choose a light path. Their motto is to “do what is necessary”, including selective loyalty and intelligence used with specific intent.

Each house develops a picture of personality traits and corresponding behavior for each member. For example, a student who might have been difficult to place (a hatstall) could have modified their actions based on placement. Hermione Granger was placed in Gryffindor even though she was the cleverest and most intelligent student in her year, thus qualifying her for Ravenclaw. Had she been in Ravenclaw, one could expect that she would not have turned into the rule-breaking, brave, and daring witch she turned out to be. Severus Snape could have done well in Gryffindor at a young age, yet he was sorted into Slytherin and utilized his traits to get ahead and fit in somewhere instead of “doing what was right”.

The question to consider is this: Does personality exist?

This dilemma was discussed in yet another NPR Invisibilia podcast. According to scientific contributors in Invisibilia, many experts in the field reject the existence of personality. Research has shown that people are predictable only because we see them in situations where their behavior is guided by that situation and the roles or relationships they are occupying at the time.

For example, Peter Pettigrew was very close with James, Sirius, and Remus, when at Hogwarts. He was loyal to them at the time because their friendship provided a situation for him to feel protected, popular, and successful. Upon graduation, Voldemort gained more power and the situation seemed less hopeful for Voldemort’s opposition. Although we do not know much about Peter’s childhood, it is likely that he learned from family at a young age that he needed to look out for himself and adapt to situations to survive. Peter did not view this as being good or bad, it’s just what he learned and valued. Therefore, when the time came, he betrayed his friends to survive and succeed in life. In his new situation as a death eater, Peter adapted to each change, such as nursing Voldemort back to health, cutting off his arm for Voldermort’s resurrection, and even that split second of remorse at the Malfoy Manor dungeon with Harry, which ultimately cost him his life.

Another example is Severus Snape. As a Hogwarts student, he became friends with future death eaters within the Slytherin house, mostly due to being a victim of frequent bullying by others. He felt that he fit in with the would-be Voldemort supporters, therefore, he became a death eater after graduation. In hindsight, if the sorting hat had put him in Gryffindor, it is likely that James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter, would not have bullied him. There would have been no need to become friends with the pre-death eaters in Slytherin house. Therefore, Lily would never have been angry with Snape for his choices and they might have ended up together. With Lily’s love and respect, Snape would have acted entirely different and would not have succumbed to his abusive nature learned by his own abusive childhood upbringing.

What does this mean for you?

People limit themselves based on their perceptions of their personalities or traits. I often hear people make self-deprecating comments such as: “I’m a lazy person”, “I’m not smart”, “I’m bad at math”, “I’m a terrible person,” “I’m unlovable”, “I’m ugly”, or “I’m a failure”.

These are beliefs people have internalized over time due to various situations and circumstances. Some take cues from the media, society, negative comments from family or peers, etc. Those self-deprecating thoughts not only make people feel miserable, but they brain-wash individuals to believe they are stuck with those labels and will always be that way. If you believe that you’re hopeless at math, how likely is it that you will challenge yourself to get better and prove yourself wrong? If you think you’re lazy, how likely is it that you will choose to be productive instead of staying on the couch? If you believe you’re a terrible person, wouldn’t that then influence you to respond negatively to others?

Any of us can choose to make different decisions at any time. If we believe that our personalities are fixed, then we make excuses not to grow or change for the better. Take a good look at your negative thoughts and see if you can challenge them. Be willing to break your self-imposed glass ceiling to reach your goals and make choices you want to be proud of.

Seek out a mental health professional for cognitive behavioral therapy, because it’s our thoughts that cause us to feel the way we do.

*Check out this Daily Thought Log from Therapistaid.com for monitoring your negative thoughts.*


Please note that these therapy exercises do not qualify as stand-alone treatments and it is recommended that you seek help from a licensed professional mental health provider.

Contact me with questions or to schedule an appointment:

E-Mail: jmorrismhc@gmail.com

Voicemail: (248) 923-1408

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Teenage Development and Emotionality

*I do not own Harry Potter, therefore, mention of characters/concepts are solely intended for educational and therapeutic gain.*


Teenage Development

Characters change and develop greatly throughout the Harry Potter series. Readers get to explore Harry and his friends navigate mood swings, identity confusion, budding romance, peer relationships, self-esteem, and of course, fighting the Dark Lord. Neuro-imaging of the teenage/adolescent brain shows that the brain does not fully develop until the mid-20’s. The prefrontal cortex responsible for planning, decision-making, judgment, and insight, is the last part of the brain to fully develop. Additionally, the amygdala and limbic system are emotional areas in the brain that are more developed in adolescence than the prefrontal cortex. Therefore, adolescents are more emotional with less capacity to make rational decisions. It is believed that the imbalance between those parts of the brain contribute to the commonly perceived increased moodiness and stress response. Harry and his friends often make dangerous and impulsive decisions for the good of others. One might question how much of their actions relate to age, Gryffindor qualities, or hero complex (perhaps all three). Poor Harry was extremely angsty in Order of the Phoenix when he felt ignored and marginalized.

Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory of life development provides another glimpse into the adolescent mind. We first meet Harry and his friends on the tail end of Industry versus inferiority, the fourth stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. Industry versus inferiority occurs during childhood between the ages of 5 and 12. Specifically looking at Hogwarts ages 11 and 12, the peer group gains greater significance and becomes a major contributing factor of the adolescent’s self-esteem. For example, they often feel the need to win approval of their peers by proving their worth, skills, and accomplishments for developing pride. If encouraged or reinforced properly, they will feel industrious and confident in their abilities. If this is not supported, then the adolescent will feel inferior, thus doubting his or her own abilities and struggling to reach their full potential. In other words, if they aren’t successful developing the specific skill they feel society is demanding then they could adopt feelings of inferiority. In contrast, some failure or adversity may be helpful in developing modesty. A balance between competence and modesty is key. Success in this stage is referred to as “competence”.

Harry lived with the Dursley’s for most of this stage, therefore, he developed a sense of inferiority and modesty in his abilities due to his cold, discouraging, and bullying environment from family, adults, and peers. Harry was not able to reach his full potential until starting Hogwarts and realizing that he was talented and skilled at magic (quidditch!). Harry managed to remain modest even through his celebrity status and attention gained from heroic antics. Ron seemed to struggle with inferiority due to his perception of being overshadowed by his siblings. Instead of working to improve his performance, he remained stuck in feeling insecure in comparison of others. Hermione successfully achieved competence with the exception of her anxiety related to perfectionism.

The fifth stage of psychosocial development is identity vs. role confusion, and it occurs between ages 12-18. During this stage, adolescents look for personal identity through exploring values, beliefs and goals. This is when each individual strives to belong to society and discover where they will fit in, whether through career, building a family, interpersonal relationships, or community. Essentially they begin to learn which roles they will occupy as adults. Erikson believed that two identities are involved with self-exploration: sexual and occupational. Sexual identity refers to examining their gender role expectations and body image changes. Adolescents are often uncomfortable with their bodies as they go through puberty, and successful integration of the stage leads to “fidelity”, when self-confidence allows acceptance of others based on integrity in spite of their differences. Exploration and trial aids identity formation based on information experienced. A failure to establish said identity leads to role confusion or identity crisis, often leading to depression or anxiety. Harry was forced into his personal identity due to the prophecy and entanglement with Voldemort. However, Harry did struggle to relate with his peers due to their frequent mistrust and judgment. It seems as though Harry’s perceived destiny was strong enough to carry him through to a healthy identity formation, even with a massive hero complex. Hermione was often tested by her activism attempts with SPEW and other magical creatures. It was also a struggle for her to figure out her role as an intelligent muggle-born witch. Hermione became more comfortable in her own skin as a result of her trials and experiences, thus successfully developing a personal identity. Ron struggled with role confusion in his family roles AND his friendship roles. Ron’s theme of feeling overshadowed and inferior was carried into his role confusion, thus leading to irrational decision making, impulsivity, and frequent fights with his friends. Ron’s character arc improved at the end of the series with the help of some much needed self-reflection and Dumbledore’s deluminator.

So How Does This Help?

If you are a teen or adolescent, you might find some comfort in knowing that the discomfort and awkwardness you often feel is normal. If you feel that you are struggling with inferiority or role confusion, then you may want to seek out help from a professional to discuss the underpinnings contributing to your situation. As a parent, this information serves as a reminder of just how much your child has to balance in this world that seems to become more complicated every day. Remember that no one should have to face their problems alone. Harry had his best friends and adult support network to help him get through his challenges. No matter who you are, everyone deserves to have a support network and a therapist to talk to.

Reflection Questions to Promote Successful Competence and Identity:

  • What are my skills and talents?
  • Which skills or talents were natural for you?
  • Which skills or talents did you have to work hard at for improvement?
  • What are your peers like?
  • Among your peers, who can you speak to most freely without judgment?
  • Where can you meet new peers outside of school?
  • What would you do with the majority of your time if you didn’t have to worry about money?
  • Who would you want to surround yourself with in 5 years from now? In 10 years?
  • What skills do you have to give back to the community?
  • Do those skills and talents match up with your interests? Explain
  • What are you doing when you feel most content? Who are you with?
  • How would you describe yourself to a stranger? to a friend? to family? to a coworker or boss?
  • What gender roles did you grow up observing?
  • Do you agree with those gender roles? If not, what would you like to change or be different?
  • If you struggle with body image, what is influencing your self-criticism?
  • What do you think it would feel like to fully accept your body and mind? Describe
  • How would you treat or speak to others if you held that full self-acceptance of body and mind?

Please note that the aforementioned therapy information does not qualify as stand-alone treatment and it is recommended that you seek help from a licensed professional mental health provider.

Thank you for reading this Harry Potter psychotherapy entry. For personalized professional support, please contact me to schedule an appointment at:

E-mail: jmorrismhc@gmail.com

Voicemail: 248-923-1408.

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Death Anxiety

*I do not own Harry Potter, therefore, mention of characters/concepts are solely intended for educational and therapeutic gain.*


A fear of death is a healthy protector for many, however, some take it too far by limiting their experiences or making unhealthy choices. There are many complex layers to death anxiety. Some fear potential pain associated with dying. Others fear the unknown of what will happen to them after they die. Themes include, forgotten legacy, lack of power, irrelevance, loss of control, nothingness, divine justice, and being alone.

Death anxiety was often explored in the Harry Potter series, mostly through Lord Voldemort’s character. Voldemort meets criteria for a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder due to various behaviors reported throughout the books (such as animal abuse, hurting others, stealing, lying, lack of remorse and empathy, etc.) Due to his personality disorder, Voldemort handled his death anxiety in an unhealthy way. As a Hogwarts student, Tom Riddle (Voldemort’s given name) was obsessed with finding a way to split his soul into seven pieces in order to live forever. Splitting one’s soul involves killing a person and attaching the soul to an object. Above all, Tom valued power and immortality. In French, “vol” means flight, “de” signifies from, and “mort” is death. Put together, Voldemort means “flight from death”, an accurate depiction of his internal struggle.

How do we help Tom through his existential crisis?

According to Yalom, existential therapy challenges the anxiety experienced through confrontation of the givens of existence. Anxiety arises from living or dying, freedom, responsibility or choice, isolation or loving, and meaning or meaninglessness. In attempting to be immortal, Tom was avoiding the inevitability that he would eventually die. In being immortal, Tom would have escaped his perceived consequences from his misdeeds. Tom’s behavior would not have improved until he could understand that dying was inevitable, regardless of power. Additionally, Tom’s desire to murder may have reflected his curiosity and obsession with death. Tom’s lack of empathy and aversion to interpersonal connection would make this next part difficult, however, he desperately lacked a healthy meaning or purpose in his life. His main drive was to wield power over others, repress non-magical or muggle-born individuals, and live forever. Viktor Frankl practiced logotherapy, a therapy intervention focusing on helping individuals find their own personal life meaning and purpose. Without it, individuals often feel lost or depressed.

Enough about Moldy Voldy, what does this mean for me?

The matter of what happens after death can’t be answered here. However, it is certain that a fulfilled life experiences some form of meaning or purpose (unique to each person). It is helpful to consider Yalom’s givens of existence: living/dying, freedom, responsibility/choice, isolation/loving, and meaning/meaninglessness. Don’t be afraid to discuss these complex topics with open-minded friends and family. Practice exploring these topics by journaling or discussing the following questions:

  • Imagine yourself at age 85.
    • What would you like to claim as an accomplishment(s) when looking back on your life?
    • What makes those accomplishments meaningful?
    • What would you like your relationships to look like with friends and family?
    • How do those answers compare with your present situation or lifestyle?
    • What are some realistic steps you can take toward achieving that version of you at age 85?
  • What are some of your best qualities?
  • What is freedom?
    • Is there a cost?
    • What cost are you willing to pay?
  • What does the word ‘responsibility’ bring up for you?
    • Describe your relationship with responsibility.
  • How do you feel about change?
    • Is that view helping or hurting you?
  • What is love?
    • Do you feel more experienced with love or isolation?
    • Answer this question within different categories of relationships (such as family, friends, romance, etc.)
    • What role do your relationships have in your life?
    • Do your interpersonal connections bring you overall enjoyment? How do they compare?
  • What is the significance of meaning vs. meaninglessness?
    • How do these concepts relate to potential current life struggles?
    • Do you think you hold accurate views of your own meaning?
    • What do others say about your opinions of yourself?
  • If you had a magic wand, what would you change to make your life better now?
  • Change is not necessarily the key to happiness. We could always come up with things that need to change in order for life to be better. There’s no guarantee of tomorrow.
    • Given the tools and current realities in your life, what can you utilize to make enjoyment and meaning for your life today?

Yalom, V., & Bugental, J.T. (1997). Support in existential-humanistic psychotherapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 7(2), 119-128.


Please note that these therapy exercises do not qualify as stand-alone treatments and it is recommended that you seek help from a licensed professional mental health provider.

Contact me with questions or to schedule an appointment:

E-Mail: jmorrismhc@gmail.com

Voicemail: (248) 923-1408

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