Everyone Talks About ​The Body Keeps the Score​. A Different Kind of Book Deserves Our Attention.


I like to talk to my therapy clients about anxious cows. In a group of peacefully grazing cows, just the scent of one nervous member of the herd can make the other cows jumpy. With ears pricked and tails wagging, they’ll seek out a friendly cow they know, perhaps one that seems a little calmer, and the pair will begin licking each other’s heads, lowering their heart rates with a nice, juicy tongue massage.

We’re not all that different from cows. We all have ways of cheering each other up and calming each other down. A member of a work team worries about a deadline, and suddenly everyone’s a little on edge (and then heads out for a relaxing drink at happy hour). Your partner is annoyed by a neighbor’s noisy renovation project, and before you know it, you are, too.

I find that talking to my clients about cows, elephants, or even insects can be helpful. I live and work on Capitol Hill in Washington, where you will find The body keeps the count in all lending libraries, but I have never seen a copy of By Frans de Waal The politics of chimpanzees. Maybe that The book should be omnipresent. In my experience, when the animal world is let into the therapy room, people relax a little. They begin to see how a dreaded trip home or a conflict at the office is a brilliant opportunity to observe anxiety among a group of animals, to metaphorically pull out a naturalist’s notebook and record patterns.

Much of the therapy world is disconnected from the natural world. We focus on personality types, attachment styles, and diagnoses supported by Diagnostic and statistical manual (diagnoses we would never give to a cow because they are just…cows.) But our emphasis on human uniqueness, however well-intentioned, has backfired in a pattern of labeling a host of adaptations as dysfunctional. We turn to treatments that focus on the individual, rather than looking at how our behaviors are part of a group dynamic. We have become less concerned with our place in the grand story of life.

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Humans are not unknowable unicorns. We are products of evolution. Our behavior is influenced by the processes that govern the natural world. Our families and communities are natural systems doing their best to survive and thrive. When I was writing my last book, Faithful to you, It was important to me to use examples from nature to help people think about human relationships, because we can learn something about ourselves when we study other natural systems, whether it’s a village of prairie dogs, a termite mound, or a troop of fungi.

When a client was embarrassed about herself for being too competitive with her colleagues, I suggested she read up on elephant hierarchies at the bar. When a manager wondered why she couldn’t seem to inspire some of her team members, I pointed out that 25 percent of the ants in a colony barely do any work. Maybe the answer to why you or your child are handling a situation in a particular way isn’t buried in a pile of psychological research or a therapist’s TikTok dance. Maybe it’s that you are creatures doing your best to survive out there, just like every other creature on this planet.

I bring the natural world into the therapy room not to excuse behaviors, but to help my clients become curious about how they and the people in their group end up acting the way they do. When people see behaviors as adaptive, rather than dysfunctional, they are more likely to stop blaming themselves. They also stop trying to change others. Instead, they become interested in how patterns develop and how they can change. his are part of the automatic functioning of the group. They begin to wonder: How can I learn to regulate my own anxiety when there is no one else around to metaphorically lick my head? and How can I stop my fellow cows from getting on my nerves so much?

Because that That’s what makes humans unique: the ability to step out of the automatic and activate our own best thinking. The ability to not always have to follow the pack. To calmly talk into your phone: “Well, Mom, I think about that a little differently.”

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Of course, learning to act differently requires a lot of observation. We can learn something about how to observe our fellow human beings (and ourselves) from researchers who study the natural world. Below are some books I often recommend to my therapy clients.

If you feel overwhelmed by conflict and drama in your relationships, there is no better book than De Waals. The politics of chimpanzeesAfter meeting a 30-year-old chimpanzee who acts like a child to gain sympathy and a female who tricks two warring males into grooming each other, she’ll never experience Thanksgiving with her family the same way again.

If you’re trying to build a community or want to feel more connected to your existing friends, By Caitlin O’Connell Wild rituals He’ll have you stealing ideas from the elephant families he’s studied for decades. When I learned that zebras greet each other with playful nips, it got me thinking about how my friends might benefit from an elaborate handshake or a goofy bow.

I learned about the eager cow licking from By Ashley Ward The social life of animalsAn excellent read for those who tend to be too hard on themselves and need a comforting laugh. You’ll learn that cockroaches who live isolated childhoods often have a hard time finding love, and how locusts chew the butt of the locust in front of them to keep the swarm moving in the same direction. (I’ll leave it up to you to decide which area of ​​your life this metaphor is most useful in.)

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If you lie awake at night worrying about the future of America, By Thomas Seeley Honeybee Democracy We’ll show you how bees move their tiny behinds to make important decisions about the future of the hive. Who doesn’t love a story with a dance contest?

No book can replace the value of going out into nature. Even 10 minutes outdoors It may be enough To reduce stress and improve mood. Feeling connected to the natural world also helps us to be aware of the global challenges we face and the role we can play in getting out of these messes. So get outside. Notice which way a sunflower turns or what triggers a fight between the neighborhood birds. Head out to the farm and watch your anxiety rise and fall.

I like to ask my therapy clients, “What will keep you curious about your own functioning?” While curiosity is not unique to humans, it is certainly our superpower. Taking an interest in life in all its forms, allowing ourselves to feel delighted, inspired, and a little convicted, is a strategy I encourage you to try. Chances are you’ll teach your therapist something. return.





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