Artūrs Miksons
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It's a Friday afternoon, I have finally finished my workday, and there is just one thing on my mind: I can finally go to the supermarket and get those cookies I've been dreaming about my whole day. I get to the local store which is near my flat, I get near the aisle where there's bunch of cookies, and I'm standing there with a gaze, and I notice there's a little girl next to me. She's about four or five, let's call her Lucy. And Lucy has that same smile on her face like, "All of these are going to be mine!" At that moment, I just take one or two packs for myself, she sees how I do this, she's like, "Aha, this is how it works." She takes ten of them, puts them in her armpits and victoriously goes to the cashier's office. And you have that sensation there's like ponies and rainbows and the sun is shining and she's going to have a blastly Friday. I gather my stuff, get to the cashier's, and I notice we are in the same queue. Lucy is there with her mom, she's thrown all the cookies there in the basket and unfortunately, as life is, mom takes all the cookies out, just leaves one pack. And when she takes them out, you notice that the sunshine and rainbows slowly start to fade. And that's when Lucy starts to become a bit grim, she becomes a bit angry and starts to say, "Wait, wait, hold on there Sparky, what's going on?" And then she realizes this is not going to end well, and those rainbows and sunshine turn into rainy clouds and a thunderstorm, and that small sweet Lucy isn't sweet Lucy anymore. She becomes angry and shouts, and yells, "Why? Why are you doing this to me? Why? I want those cookies!" and so on and starts to cry suddenly. And then there's kind of a fuss around the situation - everybody looks at how the mom is going to react - and at this magical moment, all of you probably know, a magical thing happens. Somewhere from the store, the granny appears. (Laughter) She appears and starts to have an opinion, of course, on the matter. "Oh, in my time, things were different." Yada yada yada. Let's pause for a brief moment here. What you've just heard is basically a part of my daily life. Being a medical doctor and a psychotherapist, I hear a lot of stories which people go through. And there is this myth that you have to, as a doctor, distance yourself a bit from patients in order to not get too involved, too attached and so on, which is not quite true. When you are a psychotherapist, you need to actually let yourself feel to some degree, to some extent what the patient feels. How that works is not magic, it's simple biology. You have a part of your brain that is called the limbic system, which is responsible for how you feel, where your emotions, yours and mine, reside. And when you have an emotional reaction, it's never logical, it's neurophysiological, it's biology, it could be completely illogical. And when somebody feels something, you can start to feel in a similar manner. To give you an example, few years ago, me and my girlfriend were asked to babysit our friend's infant. Let's call him David. David is about eight, yeah, eight months old. We arrive at their place, we go in, and you have like a déjà vu feeling, like sunshine and rainbows and ponies. Everything is great, you go in, it's going to be a blasty evening. The parents leave; we have a very nice time with David. But the infant who is eight month old is at a very special age. Everything's kind of nice up until one point David notices something. "You're not my real parents, now, are you?" (Laughter) At which point, David starts to cry, as babies do. For five minutes. "Oh, David, it's going to be fine." "We just have to caress him, maybe put him to bed." Fifteen. OK, then. "Let's change the diaper." "Yeah, sure, let's change the diaper." We change the diaper. Twenty five, for Christ's sake. "Let's feed him?" "Yes, let's feed him!" We feed him. Forty. At this point, you start to have various ideas in your head, like, for example, "David! Shut up, David! Please shut up!" or that you would just leave him somewhere, or you could just ignore him for the rest of the evening. But you realize you can't do that. An hour. An hour and ten. And I remember so vividly, my girlfriend was holding David in her hands, and he's still crying, We're standing in the doorway, we look at each other, and we realize we're screwed! At that moment, what basically happens on a neurobiological level, you can't act out in this instance when you want to shake David, you want to put him away, you want to do something else. But it's interesting to notice in yourself how you actually feel. And how I actually felt at that moment was completely helpless, angry, in despair, scared at the same time, I don't know what to do. If you think about it, it's the same way how David feels. He's been abandoned by his parents - bastards left him all alone with these two strangers at home. God knows what they're doing. So he's abandoned, all alone, helpless, hopeless and scared. And the only thing you can do in this instance is to just be there with him and to feel him and to help him in his feelings what he's feeling. It's interesting, when we start to feel something, how our minds change, kind of to some degree tell us what we actually feel. Every single one of us has been born with a completely different set of a brain, how we experience feelings, how intensively that happens - but we experience all the same feelings. The odd thing is while we are growing up we are taught, mostly by our parents, what feelings to feel and not to feel. Stereotypes exist because to some degree, they are true. If we are very open about things, then if I ask the ladies of the audience you'll probably want your men to be emotional, right? I can just - "No." Someone said no. No? See? Proves my point! So, to some degree you want him to be emotional, but if you're very open to yourself, you don't want the whole emotional spectrum. You want him to be firm and stable, a man on a high horse - or Mercedes, whatever you prefer. But you don't want that embarrassment, the shame, the fear, the excessive jealousy. You don't want that, do you? The same question would be for the men. You do want your lady next to you to be emotional, right? Of course not. You want her to be on the shy side, maybe be afraid sometimes. You're going again ride on your high horse and your Mercedes, and save them from despair, but ... good girls don't get angry, do they? You don't like the hysteria, you don't like the anger. These are the stereotypes that are taught to kids already from day one, to basically eradicate some of the feelings that they have. And the more the years go by, you start to actually think you don't feel something, and then you put your feelings somewhere else. You start to think you're angry at somebody else, you start to think you're afraid or ashamed of something else, which is not quite true. To maybe not talk so much broadly and saying everything about you, I'd like to share the story about me, how my feelings get in the way of my work. Four months ago, I received one of the worst phone calls you can get. In the evening, when I finished my work, my mom called me and told me those words I was always afraid to hear from her: that my father had passed away. And I remember when I came home, how filled with rage I was. I screamed and I yelled, I broke some furniture in my apartment. And my girlfriend was there to see that thing happening to me. Of course, the funeral goes by and life goes on. Then you start to notice something interesting, that some weeks have passed, and walking on the streets to work, I don't even think about my dad in any way, any shape or form, but I'm looking at the people around me, and I notice a feeling in myself: I hate every single one of them. I hate their smile, even hate babies that I see. You start to notice, What the hell is happening to me? You get to work, you're angry at your colleagues. You want to tell them how important it is to cherish relationships, how important it is to do stuff, to do things on time, not to let things go, and so on and so on and so on. Months have passed, and I was asked to do this TED Talk. I was preparing the speech for my TED Talk, and every single time I did it, I realized it is not good enough. This isn't good enough, that isn't good enough. At some point, I even had the idea I'm going to cancel this whole TED thing. I called up my mom and said, "You know, I think I'm going to give up all this TED thing. I don't want to do it." And she said, "Why?" "Well, because, I don't know, because I am going to stand there and don't know what I'm going to say and so on." And then it hit me, why I didn't want to be here. It's not because I don't know what to say. I give lectures all the time. I know what I am going to talk about. The reason why I didn't want to be here because I know I would feel something standing right here. What I am actually feeling right now. I notice my heart racing. I notice that I'm sad that he is not here. He's not going to call me after this lecture. I notice that I'm angry that that's an inevitable thing of life. At the same time, I'm to some degree maybe scared or ashamed: What if I drop a tear while I'm talking to you? How awful is that going to look? But I didn't finish the story about Lucy, did I? If we go back to Lucy, Lucy's mom could've done anything. She could've told her, "That's not how a girl behaves. Look at that granny who's shouting at you. Look at the man, that tall man behind you, he is looking weirdly at you." I'm looking what was actually happening. And she didn't just keep silent and not say anything. She didn't devalue her, she didn't condemn her, she didn't do anything of the sort. All she did was to get the groceries that she had, took Lucy on her arms, and I heard her just so vaguely that Lucy continued to tell mom, "I want those cookies so badly," and "I wanted them." And the only thing Lucy's mom said to Lucy was, "I know, honey. I know you did. But it's OK to be angry, it's OK to be sad." And I remember I'm walking home from this very simple scene any one of you has maybe already seen. I go in my apartment. My girlfriend meets me. She asks me, "Well, how was your day?" I said, "I started off with a smile on my face," said, "I just saw a girl not get any cookies." She's like, "What? Are you OK?" I'm probably in a psychotic state right now. I said no. I told her the whole story about the store. And at some point I notice that my smile turns into a single tear that I have. She asked me, "Why are you crying? Is everything OK?" I said "No. I miss him, like a lot." And the hardest thing about feelings, actually, is that it's easy, to some degree, to think about them in your head. But it's much harder to actually express them out loud. And all of my patients every single time ask me one of the same questions: "What's the difference that I tell you that I'm angry, I'm scared, I'm helpless, I'm hopeless, I'm happy? What's the difference?" And I tell them, "This is the difference, that somebody's here - this time it's me - who actually doesn't just understand what you are going through, but I feel what you're feeling to a certain amount." Question always is, The experiences we have in life, how will that impact your and my ability to, let's say, be there with somebody and feel these feelings? The same way as David needed somebody to be there, the same way Lucy needed somebody to be there, even I need somebody there to be there for me. And I hope every single one of you has the experience that not somebody understands you, but somebody feels you. Thank you. (Applause)