Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11 Tribute
Dear friends,

     Ten years ago on this day, in the early hours of the morning, I was crossing over the bridge into Manhattan when I suddenly heard my late mother's voice: "Do not go into the city. Go home, put on the TV." Being accustomed to hearing the voices of spirits who had passed on, I knew better than to defy my mother's advice from the other side. At the first opportunity, I turned the car around and crossed the bridge back towards my home. I rushed to turn on the TV and my husband, who was heading out to work, could not understand why I had come back home. I asked him to sit with me on the couch and watch the news, insisting that I felt something was going to happen. A few minutes later, my jaws dropped as the words "Breaking News" flashed across the screen and announced that a plane had just crashed into one of Manhattan's twin towers.    

     Ten years later today, we remember those who were senselessly murdered, those who died rescuing others, and the families they left behind. Let's honor them by remembering the power of unity which brought us healing and strength during such painful times and the flood of love that poured forth following the horrific attacks of 9/11. We demonstrated the greatest abilities of the human heart following the greatest tragedy to hit our nation, and that ever-powerful sense of unity got us through it all.

     Watching disaster strike on that faithful day of September, I felt as if I was... as if I was living a nightmare. Everything felt so surreal. I was going through the motions in sheer disbelief of what I was seeing and hearing. What truly impressed me was the love and unity that arose from the ashes of that gruesome day. It proved to me once again that we can conquer any troubles on our shoes by showing endless compassion for others in need.

     It was through comforting and healing others that we found comfort within us and were able to heal ourselves. It was through our hearts being broken that we expanded our love. The greatest lesson out of 9/11 was the danger of separation. We suddenly became aware of the danger of teaching any religion that does not promote love, unity, and acceptance, the danger of seeing others as less than ourselves, and what can come out of failing to realize that we are one. It is by dehumanizing another person that someone can commit a hideous crime without empathy such as murdering one person or, in the case of 9/11, thousands of human beings. This is the danger when any human being feels superior to another, feels entitled to more than another, feels that his or her way is better than any other and the only way to live by. This mentality pushes for conflict among us and will never allow us to gather in the commonalities we all share. If we continue to see only the differences among us, we will never reach the universal harmony we are meant to reach as a whole people. As I describe in my new book, Wholeliness, we can only change our future by bridging the gaps between us right now.

     Let's truly honor those whose lives were taken by continuing to spread that love and unity, not only on this day but every day! Let us celebrate every moment with which we were blessed and capture every opportunity to do good for our world. We must continue to persevere and evolve together by always remembering that WE ARE ONE. 

     Today, I will remember September 11 by lighting candles in my home to give light to the souls who passed on. I ask that you remember September 11 in your own special way and perform a random act of kindness for someone else.

May the Divine Bless You All,
Carmen Harra

Thursday, September 08, 2011


 I want to teach you what addiction is, what is considered to be an addiction, and, most importantly, I want to help you break free of your addiction. If you or anyone you know is battling an addiction of any kind, be it physical, emotional, mental, or any other type, I want you to stay tuned and listen to this show.  
          As a clinical psychologist of more than 20 years, I’ve witnessed my fair share of clients who suffer from addiction. But what I’ve also witnessed is that addiction can apply to just about anything which creates an over-dependency. When we think of addiction, we mostly think of a dependency on drugs or alcohol. But addiction can take many different shapes: sure, we can become addicted to cigarettes, but did you know we can become addicted to food, certain TV programs, or even a person? If this is true, then we must all be addicted to reality TV!
          By definition, an addiction is: “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming to such an extent that stopping it causes severe trauma.” As a nation, we are undoubtedly addicted to food, especially the processed king. As individuals, we can become addicted to a love interest to the point that we suffer psychological trauma if we remove ourselves from that person. Unfortunately, we as individuals tend to mimic what we see being done on a larger scale (clothing trends are an example of this). If America as a whole is overly-dependent on something, the individual people are likely to follow suit in their own personal lives.
          Addiction is the contradiction of moderation. Addiction removes our minds, bodies, and souls from complete balance and harmony and it indulges us completely into one dependency. When we are addicted, we fall out of alignment with the universe, with each other, and with ourselves. The worst part of addiction is that it has nothing to do with discipline: lack of will-power is not to be blamed for addiction. People who are alcoholics or cigarette smokers are often blamed for being too easily tempted or too weak to quit. But addiction transcends the power of our free will and begins to interfere with our brain function, causing us to literally “need” more and more of the substance because, our brain tells us, if we don’t receive what we need, we will suffer great harm.
How Addiction Works:
Especially in the case of drugs, addiction is the result of our brain functions. Drugs are chemicals. They work in the brain by tapping into the brain's communication system and interfering with the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter. This similarity in structure "fools" receptors and allows the drugs to lock onto and activate the nerve cells, leading to abnormal messages being transmitted through the network.
Other drugs, such as amphetamine or cocaine, can cause the nerve cells to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals. This disruption produces a greatly amplified message, ultimately disrupting communication channels. The difference in effect is similar to the difference between someone whispering into your ear and someone shouting into a microphone.
Our brains categorize anything which brings us pleasure into the “reward” compartment. This means that our brains send messages to our bodies of wanting more and more of this pleasurable feeing. Hello, this is what we call food cravings! Someone who is addicted to sexual intercourse doesn’t just want to have sex, they need it or they will begin to feel horrible withdrawal symptoms.
But what leads to an addiction in the first place? Often, an addiction arises as the opportunity to fill a subconscious void. An addict has something, somewhere, missing. Take the example of a teenager growing up without a father who turns to smoking marijuana occasionally. Soon, she becomes addicted to it.  Though she may not realize it and may not believe this is the cause of her problem, the missing father figure and its ill effects on her life have become the perfect breeding ground for an addiction to form. To some extent, we all have a void somewhere in the deeper levels of our minds and it’s caused by outside factors which are out of our control (like negative events in life). Very few people are completely whole. It is crucial that we each identify our voids, understand what effects these “empty spaces” within ourselves have had on us, and what the voids have been filled with.
          So how do you distinguish between normal tendencies and addictions? At what point does something become an “addiction” and no longer a habit or feeling? A tendency has turned into an addiction when withdrawing from the tendency causes great pain and frustration. We should never become so tied to anything in life that having to live without it causes us to suffer. If your dependency on something is impairing your day-to-day life, such as affecting your job performance or your social skills, it may have turned into an addiction.
Types of Addiction: I’ve classified all forms of addiction into five general types:
Substance abuse: Substance abuse includes addiction to alcohol and drugs, including prescription drugs. This addiction affects the chemistry of the brain and easily causes dependence because the brain begins to crave the substance being ingested. Although thought to be the most common addiction in America, my theory is that substance abuse is second to emotional addictions.
Nicotine addiction: I put nicotine addiction into its own separate category because an addiction to this substance might just be the worst type of all addictions. It also hits close to home because my husband passed away of lung cancer after being addicted to cigarettes for more than 40 years. 
Behavioral addiction: Behavioral addictions include being addicted to risky behavior, compulsive and constant shopping, hoarding goods, hoarding animals, etc. Your external behavior becomes out of control, and addicted to something, because it’s trying to meet your chemical needs on the inside.
Emotional addiction: EMOTIONAL ADDICTION IS THE MOST UNNOTICED ADDICTION WE ALL HAVE. Emotional addiction most frequently means being addicted to another person. I have so many female clients who suffer endlessly if they are separated from their “love addiction.” They cannot live without their love interest, they cannot function, and they cannot stop thinking about the person. Emotional addictions can also range from wishing constant ill on others, self-pity, self-loathing, constantly criticizing others, and so on. Have you ever worked with someone who criticized you nonstop? I sure have, and I’ve recognized their behavior as an emotional addiction to critiquing. As a general rule of thumb: if you’re not in control of your emotional state, you’re addicted to it.
Mental addiction: A mental addiction can mean being addicted to a state of mind. People can be addicted to being depressed, addicted to a specific philosophy, or have “delusions of grandeur.” To a certain degree, all addictions are mental because they are driven primarily by a psychological need for something.
Do you or anyone you know fit into these categories of addiction? Feel free to call me and seek my opinion.

Breaking Free of Addiction:
In order to break free of addiction, we have to literally rewire the nerve cells in our brain. Addiction is caused essentially by a pattern in the brain: a group of nerve cells interacting with another group of nerve cells over and over again. When this happens, the two groups of nerve cells create a bond and are very likely to continue interacting. Over time, this pattern of the same interaction manifests itself in our repeated actions. Our behavior is created through this mental pattern. If you want to put an end to your addiction, you have to put an end to the pattern in your brain. By behaving differently, you will give these two groups of nerve cells less and less reason to interact together. It’s like causing them to lose interest in their conversation. Once these two nerve cell groups break away from each other and are no longer interacting, it will become so much easier to also break away of your addiction. Let’s take a look at how to control behavior and make this happen.
I’ve compiled five easy steps you or your loved one can begin today to gain control over an addiction:
1.) Acknowledge and Desire: The first step to breaking free of addiction is to acknowledge that an addiction is present in your life. Confess to yourself that addiction is harming your life in more ways than one, that it’s impairing you from living freely, and that you don’t deserve to live trapped in the debilitating state of addiction. You have to belittle the role of addiction: no longer call it by the title “addiction,” call it an “impediment,” and treat it like one. If you begin to see your addiction as a hindrance to your life, you will have the desire to break free of addiction. You have to want to leave that life behind you more than anything else.

2.) Regain Trust in Yourself: Often when someone is addicted to something, they lose trust in themselves and experience feelings of self-disappointment. They begin to believe that they are stuck in a perpetual cycle of dependency and lack the confidence to believe that they can overcome addiction. You must rediscover your trust in yourself. If needed, write out a contract between you and yourself in which you state that you WILL conquer your addiction and will be true to yourself every step of the way. Even sign it at the bottom!

3.) Replace and Rearrange: Replace your addiction with a new and healthy habit. Rearrange your life so that there is no place for the addiction! If your addiction is shopping, steer clear of shopping centers. If it’s alcohol, don’t attend gatherings where you know you’ll be pressured to drink. Create your own circumstances and make your life an addiction-free zone.

4.) Find Support: There is nothing wrong with joining a support group. Seek the comfort of your loved ones who will encourage you unconditionally and give you strength during this tough time. You should rely on them.

5.) Maintain and Balance: The most important part of breaking through addiction is maintenance. You have to be able to maintain your results over time—for the rest of your life. Every day that you can enjoy without giving in to your addiction is an amazing accomplishment. Remember, NOTHING HAS POWER OVER YOU UNLESS YOU ALLOW IT!
Addictions signal a body, mind, or spirit that is out of balance, out of touch with reality, and out of alignment with the universe. As the greatest teachers of all time including Jesus, Buddha, and Gandhi believed: “everything in moderation.” This is one teaching we should adopt as our daily mantra.

The Reality Shows

The reality show spectrum has taken over television, and, by extent, our lives. The Real Housewives of every city in America have become household names and the Kardashians have become idols of international success. Given this recent and  undeniable “reality frenzy,” we can't help but ask ourselves: why are we so obsessed with reality TV?

    Is it that reality TV portrays real life, and we can't help but be drawn to something we sympathize with? The equation can't be that simple. It is that these sorts of shows carefully combine reality with fantasy to set up a lifestyle which we envy yet relate to. 
    What we the viewers want to see in reality TV are essentially two elements: characters and progress. We want to watch someone who is truly a character: someone funny, someone who deals with the same issues that we do, only in an exaggerated way or under unusual circumstances. Take the Kardashians again as an example: sure, any mother of multiple children can relate to Kris Jenner on raising kids and making sure they turn out right, but how many mothers can relate to having world-famous children who fly on their own private jets or go to photo shoots every other day? Then, we want to see progress. As the seasons go on, we want to see the characters mature, better themselves, and learn from their past mistakes. On Dancing with the Stars, we want to see the performers come up with more and more creative moves and challenge themselves further. These two elements are crucial in keeping us glued to the tube.
    But the effects of reality TV have certainly not all been positive. Having your life publicly displayed to the nation is bound to receive plenty of harsh criticism. We have witnessed reality TV stars who haven't been able to handle such pressure. Take Russell Armstrong as an example: already suffering from personal and marital problems before the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills hit the air, Armstrong couldn't tolerate the national exposure and the consequences which come with it and sadly took his own life as a result. As a clinical psychologist, I am led to believe by Armstrong’s behavior that he was already suffering from depression and perhaps a hint of bipolar disorder before the show aired and amplified his unbalanced emotional state. 
    Reality show characters reflect a lifestyle that we want yet don't want, the drama that we hate to encounter in our own lives yet can't wait to witness in the lives of others, and the opportunity to voice our opinions. Have you noticed that social networks and reality TV have risen hand-in-hand? Many reality TV shows have become quite interactive through social media, forums, and, of course, viewer voting. 
    You identify yourself with the characters in these shows. You see yourself in the character and even see the possibility of becoming well-known, just like them. It opens a door in your mind and makes you think: “hey, if she can become famous, so can I!” This is a status which, in the past, we used to think was impossible to reach. Reality TV makes fame and the wealth that come with it accessible to the minds of millions. 
    On another token, reality TV takes the focus off of your own reality. It makes you dream and forget your own problems for the time being. It allows you to become involved in that drama and as you watch it unfold in front of you, you are captivated by it and disconnect from the drama in your own life. You can literally plug into another source of drama. This is why gossip and tabloids have forever lived with fervent popularity in the American culture. We temporarily embed ourselves in the story of another. 
    As for the future of television, there is no saying whether reality TV will stick around for the years to come or if it will be replaced by a different genre which will become the new American favorite. What is safe to say, however, is that reality TV has left quite the mark on the history of American television, and I, for one, will be tuning in to watch what comes next.