Asperger’s Syndrome

At the age of 62, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s. It wasn’t a huge surprise. I’d read about Asperger’s and it did seem to describe me. As a child, I was considered academically gifted and great things were expected of me. But I was also considered shy, nervous, physically clumsy and a bit of a know-it-all.  I had few friends and suffered dreadfully with anxiety and depression. Later, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue. I felt like an outsider from another planet.

Indeed, people have the impression that people with Asperger’s (aspies) are like Mr Spock, the pointy-eared Vulcan from Star Trek – logical, unemotional and boringly dependable. We’re often portrayed as cold, unfriendly, tactless, opinionated, arrogant, and obsessive; preferring our own company and with a disdain for other people. All of this can be true – on the outside.

But what others don’t see is the internal struggle, for in many respects we’re just like everyone else. We want to love and be loved, we seek friendship and companionship. We need encouragement and like appreciation. We want our weaknesses supported and forgiven and to be accepted for whom we are. But it’s harder for us.

Today, equality and diversity are among the watchwords for a civilised society. It’s considered a good thing to respect people’s differences and treat everyone as equals regardless of gender, race, age, religion, mental or physical impairment, sexual orientation and so on.

Aspies deserve to be on this list. Asperger’s is not a choice; it’s a neurological condition, a developmental disorder. It is not a mental illness or learning disability. As such is a lifelong condition. You can’t cure it, only learn to live with it. And we don’t suffer from Asperger’s, we experience it.

What is Asperger’s?

Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder, one of a group of complex disorders characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties, and restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviour. It is named after the psychologist who first identified it in 1943, Dr Hans Asperger.

It is sometimes referred to as ‘high functioning autism’ because symptoms are less severe than full-blown autism. For instance, Asperger’s does not typically involve a speech delay. People with Asperger’s often have good language skills, but their speech patterns may be unusual, and they may not pick up on subtleties such as humour or sarcasm.

About 4 or 5 in every 1,000 have the condition whereas around 10 in 1,000 are autistic. It is 4 times more prevalent in men as women.

Asperger’s is NOT a mental illness or learning disability. Aspies are not damaged and don’t need fixing. They just process the world differently. They see things from a different perspective.

We have no idea what causes it. Somehow developmental changes occur in the womb that ‘rewire’ the neural connections in the brain, but we don’t know for sure. We do know, however, that it is not caused by a child’s upbringing (for instance there is no connection with cold, aloof parenting), nor is it due to psychological or emotional damage. Twin studies show that there is a strong genetic component.


Many people report a sense of relief when diagnosed. They’re glad to have an explanation for their difficulties and, perhaps, justification for past behaviours. It can also be a trigger for better informed aspies to learn new ways.

Asperger’s Characteristics

We must understand that Asperger’s does not affect everyone the same. There is a huge variation in characteristics within the criteria, and aspie personalities can differ enormously. Even so, many aspie’s identify with the following features:

1. Difficulties understanding non-verbal communication

This lies at the core of aspies’ difficulties with social interactions.

Psychologists tell us that less than 10% of the messages we receive from others comes from the use of words. Nearly 40% comes from verbal cues such as tone of voice, inflexion etc. and the remainder – over 50% – from body language, gesture, facial expression and so on. Aspies do not naturally pick up on these in the same way as our neuro-typical (NT) friends.

Most people can tell another’s feelings from their tone of voice and body language or intuitively – we can’t. Consequently we have problems seeing things from another’s point of view. For example, we don’t always know if a person is smiling because they wish us well, or intend to deceive us. This means that we often misjudge people, especially when meeting them for the first time. We’re easily taken in, thinking others are our friends when they are not.

We’re good with words, though. We understand the literal meanings of words, but get confused when words are not used literally. For example:

‘I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.’ (Which bridge?)

‘You’re trying to make a monkey of me.’ (What have monkeys got to do with it?)

‘You want jam on it!’ (No I don’t, I don’t like jam.)

This can get us into a lot of trouble, and we don’t always understand why. We’re particularly bad at picking up on sarcasm, playful teasing and figures of speech. Interrupting is another common problem since we don’t always pick up the social signals that enable conversations to move from one person to another.

We also have problems with the messages we give out. Our non-verbal communication is poor. Our facial expressions and gestures may be lacking or judged inappropriate, our voice and expression monotone. We often have a quirky sense of humour that isn’t always appreciated by others. Our hearts are in the right place but it doesn’t always show on our faces!

One feature of this is eye contact, a vital part of one-to-one interactions. As a result verbal conversation may not flow and we may come across as disinterested or rude. As a young man, when I met someone I would stare at the ceiling or the floor. I had to force myself to make eye contact with people. There’s a logical reason for this – since nonverbal cues such as facial twitches don’t mean anything to us or if we find them distracting, why look?

We cannot NOT communicate. We are constantly giving out messages, but when you have Aspergers you only pick up 10-20% of the full meaning. 80-90% is lost; consequently it takes longer to process social information.

2. Difficulties in relating to others in social situations

I have always dreaded parties, discos, informal gatherings, networking events and so on. I just don’t feel as if I fit in, and I often mess up when I try. I can recall making countless stupid remarks in an attempt to be witty or make conversation. As a twenty-something, alcohol often came to the rescue. If I was noticeably drunk, I reasoned, then no-one would expect anything of me, and I liked it that way.

We hate rules made by others, including and perhaps especially social rules!

Ironically, many aspies have no problem giving talks or contributing to meetings providing they can prepare. Aspies like sharing information and being in control, but being in unstructured situations brings on anxiety.

Aspies can learn social skills to some extent, but the inner feelings don’t easily go away. We can learn to adjust our behaviour to suit different social situations. We can learn to understand social rules and when something may cause embarrassment. Even though we are more Interested in making significant contributions to a conversation, we can learn to engage in small talk (however much we dislike it). We can learn how to start and end conversations, and how to avoid being over-critical.

Above all, we can learn to listen and show that we’re listening. Sometimes it’s an effort, but isn’t that true for NTs too?

3. Friendships

Most Aspie’s have difficulty making friends. I only have one friend from school, one from my student days, and only a handful from the years since. We like to have friends, but usually have few or none. Why?

Firstly, obviously the problems of social interaction and communication make it hard to get to know people and let them know us. We get bored easily and shy away from socialising. We don’t feel the same need to belong.

Secondly, although we may believe we can be good friends, interesting and fun to be with, it has to be on our own terms. We are self-orientated. We can be stubborn. For example, we may not answer the phone unless convenient to us and resent uninvited visitors and interruptions, especially when we’re busy pursuing a cherished interest.

Thirdly, we don’t always hold back on the truth as we see it, and our narrow range of interests, bluntness, honesty and logic doesn’t necessarily make us popular. I used to try to make friends by being helpful, sharing my knowledge and interests and letting people know the right way to do things. Unsurprisingly they didn’t always appreciate my concern and I couldn’t understand why!

An ex-girlfriend called me a ‘people-pleaser’. At first I thought this was a compliment, but now I understand. Aspies hate rejection and are easily hurt. Sometimes we try to win approval by being over-friendly, over-helpful. We misunderstand the boundaries – and that’s a big part of having the condition.

4. Emotions

Aspies’ natural instincts are to logical problem-solving rather than an emotional response. Perhaps that’s why people generally think that we don’t have emotions – but we do. Oh yes we do, and our emotions can run very deep.

The problem is, we can’t always say or show what we’re feeling, and at other times we display extreme emotion. We aren’t always sure which emotion is appropriate, and we may express our feelings in unpredictable ways. We are prone to angry outbursts, but anger is probably not the underlying emotion which may be anxiety, frustration, sadness or irritation. When things get too much and we can’t figure out a response we may yell and scream and smash things. It brings us no pleasure; we don’t enjoy making a spectacle of ourselves.

Alternatively, we may sink into a depressive episode. Anxiety and depression are a daily reality for most Aspies. It may not show, though: we may be calm on the outside while screaming on the inside. Many aspies succumb to chronic fatigue from the sheer effort of trying to appear ‘normal’ on the outside.

Whether we explode or stop functioning when things get on top of us, we call it a ‘meltdown’. Some meltdowns are sudden, intense, intimidating; some are slow burning and can take weeks to get over. I’ve had a slow burner every few years requiring clinical support. Two steps forward, one step back – the story of my life.

5. Restricted and repetitive behaviour

Aspies are known for our set routines and resistance to change. We have strong preference for routine, order and have preferred ways of doing things. A trained eye can easily spot that I have Aspergers from the way I organise my CD collection, display my books, plan my meals and arrange my photo albums! We can be very irritable and distressed if the unexpected happens or if arrangements are changed. Once a pattern is established or a plan is made, it’s stuck to resolutely.

Typically, we have an unusual preoccupation with a narrow range of specific subjects and an intense ability to focus on them. Aspies often seek out other people to talk to about our interests. The discussion is usually one-sided. We can be more interest in getting our knowledge across than listening to feedback.

We can be fixated on specific topics, objects, people, activities and so on to the exclusion of all else, and a dogged determination to pursue them. Perfectionism can be a problem – a fear of attempting we’re not sure we can excel at it. We can be very upset with ourselves if we fall short of our high standards.

Although I said earlier that people with Asperger’s don’t like social rules, rules are very important to us. As much as we hate other people’s rules, we like our own and insist that they be obeyed. For example, we may become angry with drivers who break traffic rules, a game is not played fairly or someone is caught cheating. And we don’t like to be hurried.

6. Sensitivity

Ironically, aspies can be both hyper- (over) sensitive and hypo- (under) sensitive.

As a child, I was called ‘highly strung’. It was made clear that this was a bad thing and brought much criticism my way. I had a recurring dream which I still remember clearly to this day. I was curled up in a large wooden chest, listening to the sounds of the world outside and safe from them.

Over-stimulation can lead to odd movements to make us feel in control and which annoy others. ‘Stimming’ – self-stimulation – is common. This can take the form of tapping, playing with our fingers or hair, rocking, flapping, spinning or flicking objects.

People with Asperger’s are commonly intolerant of excessive sensory stimulation. For example:

  • Bright lights may be difficult to cope with or even physically painful. They can cause sickness and headaches and prevent sleep.
  • Similarly sounds. High pitched sounds can be painful. Small sounds made by others may annoy. Sleep is easily disturbed, for instance by a ticking clock, traffic noise or someone snoring. Sounds we control don’t bother us, though. We like our own music played loud but cannot abide other people’s.
  • Certain textures or clothing may be highly irritating, especially tight clothing like ties, rings and clothes that scratch or itch.
  • Being touched can cause irritation or discomfort, and tickling can be torture! We may be especially sensitive to kinaesthetic stimuli such as heat, cold, water, wind or rain.
  • Certain smells or colours may irritate and cause stress, e.g. flower scents, spices or animal smells.
  • Foods of certain tastes or textures may annoy or cause retching – e.g. custard, cheese, fat, slimy foods.

All these can lead us to seeking or avoiding thing that others find perfectly tolerable. For instance, crowds, hectic activity and busyness bother us. We find them threatening and confusing. Every sense is on alert, looking for danger, unsure if we should be afraid or not. This takes effort and is exhausting, another reasons why aspies are prone to chronic fatigue.

On the other hand, aspies can also be hypo-reactive to stimuli in the environment. We may not feel pain when hurt and leave an injury unnoticed. A full bladder or hunger pains may not register, and we may be unable to process certain sounds. Once again, our senses are letting us down.

7. Motor skills

People with Aspergers are often physically clumsy. Our motor skills are underdeveloped, our balance, fine motor skills and coordination poor. Naturally this causes problems with physical activities such as sports, intricate activities like modelling and handicrafts and dancing.

8. Strengths

Knowing the struggles that Asperger’s people face and how they come across to others, it may surprise you that many top companies – including Microsoft (founded by aspie Bill Gates) actively seek them out for employment because of the qualities they bring. Asperger’s individuals can be remarkably intelligent. After all, Einstein was one, as was Alan Turing!

Aspies are often very articulate, numerate, logical good with detail. We have excellent concentration and dogged persistence. We are honest, loyal and dependable. Give us a role that meets our skills and preoccupations and we are in our element.

It may be that these are the qualities upon which civilisation depends. ‘After all,’ wrote Asperger’s diagnosee Temple Grandin, ‘the really social people did not invent the first stone spear. It was probably invented by an Aspie who chipped away at rocks while the other people socialised around the campfire. Without autism we might still be living in caves!’

©David Lawrence Preston, 31.3.18

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Anxiety is distress prompted by abnormal worry or apprehension. It is usually accompani9ed by a feeling of loss of control.

Most of us experience it from time to time, but if allowed to get out of hand, the body becomes highly sensitised, with physical effects including headaches, ulcers, muscle tension and lack of energy.

Many things can trigger anxiety. When we stay within familiar territory (physical or psychological), we feel most comfortable; any new experience can trigger anxious feelings. The unconscious part of the mind likes us to stick to existing habits and, acting through the nervous system, makes us feel uneasy when we move out of our comfort zone.

Chronic anxiety is a long term condition recognised by the psychiatric profession as a mental illness. It is often treated with anti-depressant or anti-anxiety mediation. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is also widely used.

As an Aspergic, I know from painful experience that there are not always easy solutions for chronic anxiety. However clients past and present have found the following approached useful:

  1. Understand why you react this way. Identify the thoughts and beliefs that trigger the anxiety response and work on them using the I-T-I-A Formula.Keep active. A busy mind has less opportunity to focus on anxieties.
  2. Talk to a caring friend, relative or therapist, someone who’ll listen without judging you. Often when you talk things through, problems don’t seem quite so bad.
  3. When you have a problem, concentrate on finding solutions rather than focussing on the problem.
  4. You’ll never eliminate anxiety by avoiding the things that cause it. For instance, if driving in traffic brings on anxious feelings, drive on progressively busier and busier roads until you have de-sensitised yourself.This is the basis of the ‘extinction’ technique. Put yourself in anxiety provoking situation and (in theory at least) you eventually learn that there’s nothing to be worried about.
  5. Remind yourself of – and be grateful for – all the good things in your life. List them. Think about them. There are plenty! Remember, there is no anxiety in the world, just people thinking anxious thoughts.

And remember, see anxiety as another name for a challenge and you can accomplish miracles!

David Lawrence Preston, 25.5.2019

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Anger – hot coals and cool thoughts

‘Holding anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.’

 The Buddha


Anger has had a bad press. It’s generally thought to be a bad thing and, sure, it can be harmful when unjustified and badly handled. It raises our stress levels, and if it continues causes no end of physical and mental health problems..

However there’s another side to it:

Properly controlled and directed anger can be constructive if it generates creative energy

Anger is a normal, healthy emotion when managed well. Anger has driven countless individuals to struggle against slavery, poverty, apartheid and other injustices. A disgusted ‘I’ve had enough!’ can turn your life around if it spurs you to action.

Anger can also motivate others, for instance, the sports coach who gets the best out of his team because they are scared of his reaction if they play badly.

If you never responded with justified anger, you could storing up trouble. If you don’t let people know when you are upset with their behaviour, they’re likely to go on doing it. Then the feelings grow, gnawing away at your self respect.

But going to the other extreme is just as bad. If you are continually angry or every trivial event triggers angry feelings, there’s little chance of you being taken seriously and every chance you’ll make yourself ill. This is what the Buddha meant when he said, ‘You will not be punished for your anger, but by your anger.’ In other words, you are the one who has to live with it.

The trick is to know when and how to be angry. You always have the choice to respond with anger or not; no-one can force you to be angry unless you want to. This is not what most of us have been taught to believe – but it’s true.

What causes anger?

Anger has one source only: some expectation is not being met. Something in the environment is not to your liking.


There are two sorts of anger:

  1. One is the quick outburst, which may be intense but is soon over and swiftly forgotten. This is usually harmless, and is an effective way of releasing pent-up emotions. Just make sure you get your feelings across without breaking anything, injuring another person or (if it’s important to you) damage your long-term relationship.
  1. The other is the slow burning type, which is not so easy to get over. The pressure builds up until one day it erupts, triggered by some trivial incident which isn’t itself the reason for the blow up – the real cause is the suppressed emotion. Try not to let this happen: it’s always better to express your feelings immediately, not wait until resentment has hardened.

How about you? How do you deal with anger. Do you try not to show it? Or let fly? Do you believe it’s better to express your anger or keep quiet? How did your family deal with anger when you were a child? Is there something in your background that makes you react the way you do?

Seven tips for coping with anger

I’ve gone through angry phases in my life and had to learn to deal with it. Here are seven steps that I’ve found helpful:

Take a deep breath and count to ten

If you feel anger coming on, before lashing out, stop, take a deep breath, count to ten and exhale slowly. It really does work.

Interrogate yourself

Ask yourself:

  • Is my anger justified?
  • Have I got my facts straight?
  • Did the other person mean any harm?
  • Am I reacting like this because I’m over-tired, stressed or just fed up?
  • Am I taking it out on an innocent person?
  • Am I likely to do something I’ll later regret?
  • Will it get the outcomes I want?

Examine your motives

Behind a great deal of anger is an attempt to make someone feel guilty, or manipulate them into doing what you want. Ask yourself if you are being reasonable. Would it be OK for others to demand that you always comply with their expectations? So why should you they fall in line with yours? Isn’t it better to become more tolerant and accepting?

Become more assertive

Find a way to release your anger by becoming more assertive. Say how you feel appropriately and immediately, not some time later when memories have faded and resentment has built up. If you feel things are getting too heated, walk away. Go for a stroll to cool down.

Mentally rehearse

If you anticipate an angry confrontation, think it through and mentally rehearse. Decide what you want to achieve and write down the points you want to make.

Don’t stew

Once you’ve had your say, forget it. Don’t stew over what you could have said. There’s no point.

Own your anger – and let others own theirs

Finally, if someone is angry with you, remember, it’s not your anger – it’s theirs, and you don’t have to match it if you don’t want to.

©David Lawrence Preston 19.9.2018

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Guilt – A Useless Emotion

Mae West: ‘For a long time I was ashamed of the way I lived.’

 Interviewer: ‘Did you reform?’

 Mae West: ‘No, I’m not ashamed any more.’

Guilt is anger turned in on yourself. It is one of the most common emotions, and one of the most disabling. It is also one of the most useless.

Many people fret needlessly over things which they could have done little to change. Others feel guilty even when they know they’ve done nothing wrong. And others spend their whole lives punishing themselves for not being the person they (or their parents) think they should be.

Guilt looks to the past which is, of course, impossible to change. But we can change what we think about it. Dwelling on something that can’t be changed is energy consuming and self-esteem destroying. Everything that happened happened for a reason. Look for the lesson. Don’t keep repeating the same mistakes.

However, a twinge of guilt can trigger a positive response if it’s handled well. It can motivate you to put things right.

If you feel guilty about something:

  1. Reflect on the situation. What message is the guilt trying to convey? Why are you punishing yourself in this way? Did you really err? Is someone else trying to manipulate you into feeling guilty? What are you trying to achieve? You may find you had no reason to feel as guilty in the first place.
  2. If your guilt is not justified because you have done nothing wrong, or couldn’t have prevented what happened, let it go.
  3. If you genuinely did make a mistake or could have done better, let the other person know  and apologise. Then do what you can to put it right and make a commitment not to do it again in the future.
  4. Then forget it at move on. If you can do nothing more about it – either because events have moved on or you’ve lost touch with the other person – you’ve nothing to gain by dwelling on it, and neither have they.

Give me the serenity to accept what I can’t change,

The courage to change what I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

©David Lawrence Preston, 3.7.2018

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10 years hiding in a room

A young friend of mine, Naomi, has spent the past ten years hiding in her room with the curtains closed, scared to go out because she dreads being seen in public. On the rare occasions she ventures out, she smothers herself in makeup and wears a floppy hat or balaclava, scarf and baggy clothing to conceal her features. A slim, pretty woman, she spends a disproportionate amount of time looking in a mirror.


Naomi has been diagnosed with a condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or BDD. BDD sufferers are obsessively preoccupied with thoughts about their appearance. They believe that some aspect of their physical makeup – usually the face, skin or hair – is so blemished they must take drastic measures to hide it.

Now in her early thirties, Naomi’s problems started in adolescence. She was teased for her red hair and puppy fat at school and became excessively shy and depressed. She left school without any qualifications and took a series of poorly paid jobs in shop and cafés before withdrawing from the world. Today she relies on social security handouts and her mother’s generosity to get by.

Nobody knows what causes BDD, although there are likely to be a complex mixture of genetic, developmental and social factors. In Naomi’s case, there is no history of childhood abuse or neglect and no major health concerns. She has always been an introvert. She has a narrow range of interests which she pursues with intensity. She is obsessed by ‘class’ and ‘style’ and is something of a perfectionist. Anything that attracts her interest fully engages her to the exclusion of all else, giving the impression of extreme selfishness.

Her obsession has led her to save up for laser treatment for her skin at an expensive London clinic. Local doctors and psychologists have tried to deter her, stressing that there is nothing wrong with her skin, but to no avail. Experience shows that cosmetic procedures have little hope of relieving her distress and every prospect of making it worse, especially if the treatment goes wrong. But you can’t tell her; she gets extremely angry if anyone points this out.

Clinicians estimate that around 2% of the population suffer from BDD, and it affects men and women equally. It is closely associated with other mental illnesses such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Social Anxiety Disorder and high levels of suicide. Quality of life is understandably poor – lack of natural sunlight can cause major health problems, as can social isolation, few career opportunities and lack of direction.

Diagnosis and treatment are currently problematic. BDD sufferers go to great lengths to conceal their condition and few general practitioners seem to recognise it. Some medications have been shown to help, especially the antidepressant group SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). Naomi has been resistant to psychiatric intervention, although Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has a reasonable track record at helping confront and reprogramming irrational fears.

Sadly, unless she decides to engage, there is little prospect of her getting better, placing additional pressures on her family. And sadly, diagnoses of BDD are likely to get worse as people are becoming more preoccupied with their image and appearance than ever before.

©David Lawrence Preston 8.6.2018

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Your Inner Power

We all have a unique and wonderful power within us which holds the key to our ultimate happiness and fulfillment. It originates from the way we think, and what we imagine, say and do.

This inner power is non-physical. When we are attuned to it and allow it to guide and support us we are enriched in every way. We are happy, prosperous and at peace. We have the courage to follow our dreams.

There’s a Native American parable about an Indian brave who found an eagle’s egg when out hunting. He took it back to his village and placed it among some eggs being hatched by a hen. In due course, the eaglet was hatched along with the baby chicks. As it grew, it scratched the earth with its claws and pecked at worms on the ground. It learned how to flap its wings like the other baby chicks. It even clucked like a chicken.

Then one day when he was old, he looked up and saw a magnificent bird gliding across the clear blue sky. He was in awe. ‘What’s that?’ he asked the chicken next to him. ‘That’s the Golden Eagle, the king of the birds,’ came the reply, ‘but don’t you try that. We can’t fly. We are chickens.’ The old eagle never gave it another thought and died, as he had lived, thinking he was a chicken.

You are an ‘eagle’. But do you think, feel and act like one? Or do you think and behave more like a chicken?

Oprah Winfrey once said: ‘People do what they know how to do, and when they know better they do better.’ In other words, we all have the means to raise our consciousness, improve our lives, be happier and play our part in making the world a kinder, more loving place.

Some find this a rather frightening prospect. At the start of a recent seminar, I promised participants that they would feel happier, more fulfilled, less stressed and more at peace with themselves if they took on board the ideas presented that day. Immediately a smartly dressed lady rose from her seat and left. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘I’ve made a mistake. This isn’t for me.’

Down the years I have acquired a vast number of insights and shared them with thousands through my teaching, speaking and coaching. They have worked for everyone who applied them. But don’t take my word for it – find out for yourself. You will soon find out how powerful they are.

What Do You Really Want?

When it comes to deciding what we want out of life, most of us set our horizons low. Generally people want to be happy, healthy, prosperous and secure; to feel good about themselves, have a circle of friends, good family relationships, peace of mind, and work which is personally fulfilling and makes full use of their talents; a variety of social and leisure pursuits, happiness and fun. They also want to be respected by others, to love and be loved, and be free.

Does this ring true for you?

  • Do you love what you do?
  • When you feel frustrated, do you still maintain a deep feeling that what you’re doing is right for you?
  • Is there anything you’d rather be doing?
  • Do you cope easily with the stress in your life?
  • Do you have a positive attitude most days?
  • Are you prosperous?
  • Do you enjoy rewarding relationships with most of the people you meet?
  • Do you feel enthusiastic about life generally?

In the past, a sign of success was having time that wasn’t committed to earning a living. Do you find a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment from your, or do you work mainly for the money?  If you work only to earn money, you will always feel poor! There are many unhappy millionaires, and many relatively poor people who enjoy contentment and peace of mind.

Imagine the kind of life you would like to lead. Think about this carefully. Be aware that one of the main reasons why people don’t get what they want out of life is that they’re not clear on what they want.

Which of these are these important to you?

  • Being able to live as you choose and do what you want, making your own choices, not beholden to others.
  • Being able to use your time as you wish.
  • Knowing that life has some meaning for you and that you feel good about what you do.
  • Health – being free from illness and having sufficient energy to carry you through each day.
  • Enjoying the people you live with, including your partner, your children and wider family.
  • The pleasure that comes from an active, varied and fulfilling social life.
  • Interests and pastimes that provide enjoyment and take your mind off the pressures of life.
  • The satisfaction of knowing that you have made a contribution to society. You don’t have to make a global impact –  helping those around you is just as important.
  • Enjoying life and trusting that things work out for the best.
  • Feeling good about yourself and growing as an individual.
  • Being comfortable with yourself as a spiritual being.
  • Have I missed any?

Many people have never given these questions much thought; but without clarity our inner power is stifled, like the eagle that thinks it’s a chicken!

©David Lawrence Preston, 6.5.18, all rights reserved.

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The Molecules of Emotion

Anyone who has ever felt sick with worry or cried at the cinema knows that there is a close connection between our thoughts, emotions and bodily state, but only in the last couple of decades has the medical establishment acknowledged this connection and begun to take it seriously. The reason was that scientists could find no discernible means by which the brain, nervous system and immune system communicated with each other, and hence could not explain how the mind could possibly bring about physical changes.

Dr Candace Pert changed all that. She discovered the biochemical mechanisms through which mind-body communication takes place. As a result of her work, and that work of other great PNI (Psycho-Neuro-Immunology) pioneers such as Cannon, Ader, Felten and the rest, no serious medic today would deny that our thoughts and emotions affect our health. No longer can we regard the body and mind as distinct from each other – they function together as a single unit, an interconnected whole.

The Molecules of Emotion is an account of Dr Pert’s life and work from her graduation in 1970 until its publication in 1997. The first chapter sets the scene, a scientific explanation of ligands, peptides and receptor sites cleverly woven into her account of how she approaches lecturing to an expert audience.  The next few chapters describe the defining period on her life when, as a young scientist trying to make her mark, she fought off those who said it couldn’t be done and discovered the opiate receptor in the brain. She then found herself at odds with those in power who resented her challenge to established scientific thinking and who weren’t ready to be confronted by – shock horror!!! – a woman shaking things up. Indeed, this episode sets the tone for much of the book. She frequently returns to the 1970’s style feminism, concluding that her difficulties in getting the credit to which she was entitled were due to her gender rather than the dirty tricks and ruthlessness of professional colleagues.

Personally, as one who gave up chemistry and biology at an early age, I found the book tough going in places, but the ‘difficult’ passages soon give way to more reader friendly narrative. Parts are stomach churning; her description of making a frothy milkshake-like mixture from the brains of the recently deceased is not for the faint-hearted, but an essential part of her research. She describes research that would later signpost an effective treatment for HIV, an easily synthesised polypeptide that would block one of the receptor sites by which the virus gains access to the body. Complicated, yes, but even so, the author makes it as clear as possible for the uninitiated like me. I learned a great deal, and, thanks to a clear and comprehensive index at the back, will use the book as a source of reference in the future.

Besides, for me, the science is not the only point of the book, for behind the technical details lies a fascinating human interest story of a determined young woman doing unconventional research in a staid and conservative environment. Indeed, her first major breakthrough would not have happened if she’d obeyed her superior’s instruction to discontinue that line of research. Then as the story unfolds, we learn how she was denied her share in a prestigious award, even though she did most of the research; her difficulties combining he professional life with her family life; her 10 year struggle to get funding for research; and how she founding of a research institute with a state-of-the-art laboratory only to have the funding withdrawn after falling foul of the intriguingly unnamed ‘Second Biggest Drug Company on the Planet’. She tells how she sabotaged her chances of gaining a Nobel Prize nomination by refusing to support the nomination of a group of (male) rivals who she felt had stolen her ideas.

Later breakthroughs in HIV/AIDS and cancer treatments followed, each as hard-fought as the last. By then, she had become more resilient, and her anger and frustration had given way to mindfulness and acceptance. For out of her research had come the realisation that forgiveness and a positive attitude in the face of adversity are important for maintaining wellbeing, and that toxic emotions must be expressed and worked through.

meridiansThe final chapters offer an eight part programme for a healthy lifestyle. By then, she had discovered meditation, consciousness and chakra-based energy medicine. She had become an apostle for integrating mainstream, science-based medicine with holistic healthcare, and acknowledged the interaction between ‘healer’ and ‘client’ as an important part of the healing process. She had also stumbled across the notion of information exchange as the basis of understanding biological life, referring to neuropeptides and receptors as ‘information molecules’.

The Molecules of Emotion has been criticised by the more scientifically minded as focussing too much on the human interest story and veering too far towards the ‘woo-woo’ in its final chapters, and by science-phobics as too heavy on technical detail.  But science is an unfolding process. Scientifically, the world has moved on since The Molecules of Emotion was first published. We know a great deal more about the mechanisms by which our mental and emotional processes affect the biochemical make up of the body and manifest as health and wellbeing or dysfunction and disease. As a result, health practitioners (including doctors) are no longer reluctant to discuss with clients how their beliefs and lifestyle choices impact on their health, and more and more clients readily embrace holistic healing approaches alongside conventional medicine.

Dr Pert made some important discoveries, then, not content to keep them to herself, fought hard to bring them to our attention. Her work validates what common sense has always told us – that the mind and body are intimately connected. For me, this book is an essential read for anyone engaged in medicine/healthcare and/or healing, either as a practitioner, educator, policymaker or administrator.

Dr Candace Pert, The Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel The Way You Feel, Pocket Books, 1999, ISBN- 13: 978-0-6710-3397-2


Copyright David Lawrence Preston, 25.3.18. All rights reserved.

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The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

Fear is at the root of many emotional problems.

  • Fear paralyses; it introduces hesitation and doubt.
  • It creates inner panic; you lose your reason and sense of proportion.
  • Fear looks to the past; it replays images of failure, hurt and disappointment – a reminder that the past could repeat itself.
  • It de-motivates and sabotages self-esteem.
  • Fear can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. You often get what you fear simply because you focus too much of your attention on it.

The irony is that fear is a natural response designed to protect you. It’s a warning, telling you to take care.

When you perceive yourself in danger, your unconscious brings about powerful physical changes. The hormonal glands give your body a shot of adrenaline, your heart beats faster, you breathe more rapidly, take in more oxygen, blood thickens and is diverted to the muscles to give them extra strength. This is the ‘fight or flight response’ – you’re ready for action, and that could be a great blessing. Many people have showed superhuman strength when faced with fear.

Misguided perceptions

The problem arises when the perception of danger is misguided. Many people suffer from unfounded fears; often they know they are irrational, but are unable to do anything about it. For instance, many people are terrified of house spiders, even though very few people have ever been harmed by one. Fear of balloons – the sort found at children’s parties – is widespread. I’ve also come across people terrified of red traffic lights, wheelbarrows, rubber gloves and even going to the toilet! And thousands are held back in their careers by a fear of speaking up at meetings or public speaking, even though it’s hardly life-threatening.

There are over three hundred terms for irrational fears of one sort or another (agoraphobia, claustrophobia, hydrophobia, arachnophobia etc.). What’s happening? These unfortunate individuals are being misled by their own senses. It probably happens to you too sometimes.

Have you ever taken a ride on a fairground simulator, one that promises you all the thrills and spills of a bob sleigh run, a speedboat, glider or Formula One car? Although you know you’re seated in a metal box which never leaves the ground, watching lights flickering on a screen, feeling your seat moving, it’s possible to feel sick with fear. But you’re not really in danger – your brain has merely been fooled into thinking you are.

Realise that, although many fears are instinctive, most are the result of conditioned responses. The perceived danger is not real or of such low probability that it’s not worth getting worked up about. Remember the mnemonic: False Expectations Appearing Real. Fear projects your mind into the future and focusses on what may go wrong. The extent of your fear is directly proportional to your pessimism.

Handling fear

The best way to deal with any kind of fear is to try and understand it. Recognize the fear as soon as it occurs. What’s causing it? Where is it coming from? What’s it trying to tell you?

One of the most debilitating fears is the fear of failure. If you go through life ruled by a fear of failing, failure is guaranteed. When things don’t work out, observe where you are going wrong, make corrections and try again. Don’t call it failure – call it ‘experience’ and learn from it.

Another common fear is the fear of rejection. People go to ridiculous lengths to avoid it. The only way to deal with rejection is to refuse to entertain and don’t allow it to undermine your confidence and self-belief. Other people’s rejection can only hurt you if you have first rejected yourself. Realise that nobody can please all the people all of the time.

Remember, many successful people have been rejected many times, including Colonel Sanders (of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame), actor Sylvester Styllone (Rocky) (both of whom were turned down over 1,000 times), the Beatles, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Richard Branson.

All too often, as Franklin D. Roosevelt famously remarked, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’

Thirty-odd years ago, Dr Susan Jeffers wrote a ground-breaking book called ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’. It’s a must read. Dr Jeffers taught us not to surrender to fear, but harness it. Focus on your goal not the fear, and remember courage is not the absence of fear, but being willing to proceed in spite of it.

©David Lawrence Preston, 27.1.18

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6 Tips for Inner Peace

Inner peace if destroyed by mental tension. The source of most mental tension is the ego – that part of our psyche which constructs the image of ourselves we like to present to the world.  Your ego is your idea of who you should be and who you would like others to think you are.

How do we put the ego in its rightful place and create inner peace for ourselves? Here’s six thoughts:

1. Give up the need to be right

Giving up the need to be right has nothing to do with whether you actually are right or not (which is often a moot point), but avoiding making others wrong.

Let everyone have their say and keep your counsel. Unless you absolutely must (e.g. in a difficult negotiation situation), avoid arguments and disagreements and refuse to respond to provocation.

In the greater scheme of things, you and your adversary are at one, so look for ways you can both be right. That’s win-win.

2. Stop judging

A judgement is ‘a view or declaration of what is good, right or fair.’ Some judgements are necessary because they help us to make sound decisions. Take driving for instance: judging speed, distance and direction are essential for our safety.

But there are other kinds of judgements: judging what is good or bad, better, worse, right, wrong, moral, immoral and so on. These are judgements of the ego.

Stop judging other people. Who are you to judge them? How can you condemn the path they have chosen? What right have you to make statements about what they are doing and where they need to be?

 3. Get away from ‘what’s in it for me’

‘What’s in it for me’ is the mantra of the ego. Its first instinct is to protect and take care of itself.

The deeper, Inner Self has different priorities. It sees the bigger picture. It is concerned with what’s most likely to benefit all and how you can help.

4. Don’t take yourself too seriously

Ego-dominated people feed off others’ approval. They are preoccupied with their reputation and easily take offence. They are easy targets since they are easily upset and become aggressive when they feel under attack.

Learn not to take offence at what others say or do. Remember, when someone disagrees with you or criticises you, they’re judging only your outward appearance, not the real you. Step back – there’s always a lighter side!

5. Put a stop to jealousy

Jealousy is born of fear. The ego is dominated by fear. It begrudges others their talents and achievements, not recognising that one person’s success can benefit all.

In order to feel jealous, you must compare yourself unfavourably with others. Let go of the need to compare yourself with others. Take pleasure in their good fortune. Wish them happiness. What matters is not what others have or do, but how far you have progressed along your path.

6. Constantly remind yourself who you are

Constantly remind yourself you are Infinite Intelligence in human form. Stop looking outside yourself and instead look within to where lasting peace and joy may be found.

Before long, you won’t need to remind yourself any more – you’ll just know it.

The difference it makes

When you discover the truth about yourself, that you in essence are a spiritual being, your self-image is no longer based on your physical features. Your deepest values are non-physical – happiness, peace, love, truth and so on. You transcend your previous limitations.

You are equally aware of others as spiritual beings on their own journey. You see them in terms of their virtues, values and talents. Love is your predominant feeling towards them.

You take responsibility for your thoughts, words and actions because you know they are the seeds of your future harvest. You approach problems differently. You know that if you want change you must focus on ’causes’ because it is absurd to expect ‘effects’ to deal with themselves. You are self-reliant, at ease with yourself and warm and respectful towards others.

Isn’t this what you want?

©David Lawrence Preston, 23.6.2017

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How to Books, 2007

Emotional Intelligence

‘Being emotionally intelligent means that you know what emotions you and others have, how strong they are, and what causes them. ‘Coming out’ emotionally is about being honest about your feelings, asking for what you want and above all learning to express yourself from the heart.’

Dr Claude Steiner

Two or three decades ago, it was widely believed that success in life was largely down to intellect. Psychologists devoted a great deal of effort to measure this, producing psychometric tests galore for measuring IQ (Intelligence Quotient). Then in the early 1990s, Daniel Goleman wrote a bestselling book that argued that the most successful people are not those with high intellect, but those who have EI – Emotional Intelligence.

He identified the five ‘domains’ of EQ as:

  1. Knowing your emotions.
  2. Managing your own emotions.
  3. Motivating yourself.
  4. Recognising and understanding other people’s emotions.
  5. Managing relationships, i.e., managing the emotions of others.

Emotions are problematic for many people. Humans are naturally more inclined to act emotionally than ‘logically’, but badly handled, they can cause no end of difficulties. People who are lacking in ’emotional intelligence’ – i.e. the ability to relate to and handle emotions (theirs and other people’s) – find most areas of life a struggle and have difficulty enjoying life to the full. And there is incontrovertible evidence that emotional disorders are responsible for most illness and that happy, positive people who acknowledge and express their emotions freely enjoy better than average health.

Emotions have a purpose

Emotions attempt to steer us towards what seems comfortable and away from anything which seems uncomfortable. That’s their job. But they are not always grounded in ‘reality’. They are born out of our perceptions of what is pleasurable and what could cause discomfort or pain. But what happens if our perceptions are misguided? For example, say you are facing a difficult situation, such as a job interview or examination. Your stomach is churning. You want to ‘bottle out’. If you do, you’ll avoid the uncomfortable feelings, but you may also be missing out on a golden opportunity. What should you do?

If the opportunity is attractive enough, you go ahead anyway, ignoring the feelings. You know the benefits will outweigh the dis-benefits in the longer term. If you went with your feelings, you would be the loser. There are times when it’s best to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway!’

Just because something feels wrong, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is wrong. Similarly, just because something feels right, it doesn’t automatically follow that it is right.

Ignoring or suppressing emotions is dangerous. Discounting feelings in the short term in order to deal with a current situation is one thing, but ignoring or suppressing in the long term them is extremely dangerou and can result in serious physical and psychological illness. Good health demands facing up to uncomfortable or painful emotions, recognising them, working them through and resolving them.

Empathy versus sympathy

The ability to empathise with others is a vital skill for success and happiness. But empathy is not the same as sympathy. Empathy is the ability to see the other’s world as he or she sees it while remaining emotionally detached. Sympathy is feeling sorry for the person, and runs the danger of being sucked in and emotionally involved.  Nobody helps another by taking on their emotional ‘stuff’, any more than you can help a person escape from a deep well by jumping in with them!

Know yourself

You cannot always prevent yourself from feeling an emotion, since you are human! But you can and must learn how to manage your emotions, and become ‘emotionally intelligent’. Self awareness is the first step.

Emotional Intelligence is a huge subject. But remember – EI (Emotional Intelligence) is much less fixed than IQ. It can develop over time and responds to research, training, coaching and feedback.

©Feeling Good All the Time, 11.5.2017

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How to Books, 2010