Stories by tian dayton PhD on Medium

Stories by tian dayton PhD on Medium

How Twelve Step Programs Can Make You a Happier Person

Posted: March 21, 2018, 9:22 pm
Keep your “soles” in the room

March 20th has been designated International Day of Happiness by 193 member states of the United Nations, who have adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater attention and priority.

There is a philosophical shift in attitudes in which people all over the world are recognizing that ‘progress’ should be be measured not only by economic growth, but an increase in human happiness and wellbeing.

Today many researchers use the word happiness to cover a collection of qualities including “the experience of joy, contentment and positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California Riverside.

Pursuing goals of becoming rich and famous and going after high achievement are what media of all forms tout as pathways to happiness, but are they? Let’s start by looking at what studies are finding about what happiness isn’t. According to Emiliana Simon-Thomas PhD of Greter Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, happiness is not:

· Having all your personal needs met

· Always feeling satisfied with life

· Feeling pleasure all the time

· Never feeling negative emotions

It’s relationships, according to the longest running study from Harvard that began in 1938 (when Harvard was still all men), that are the most significant predictor of happiness.

Robert Waldinger one of the leads of the 75 year study said this about participants in his revealing and interesting TED Talk.(

“When we gathered together everything we knew about them about at age 50, it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”

Psychiatrist George Vaillant, who joined the team in 1968 and led the study from 1972 until 2004 further reflects that. “when the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment. But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”

While the findings demonstrated that this effect is the strongest for those who are married, it also shows that social connection of all kinds can provide the kind of community that leads to health and happiness.

So how does that relate to twelve step programs?

It is no secret in our profession that withdrawl and social isolation often go hand in hand with depression and relational trauma.Twelve step programs offer a solution. I have found over the years that those clients who attend them, often have an easier time changing their lives for the better and sustaining that change over time. Deep change doesn’t hinge on thinking the right thought or finally figuring out just what happened to you in your family or origin. Deep change comes from just what this research reveals, a sense of belonging and connection. People who enter recovery have deep yearning for new and more positive attachment figures and a more nourishing relationship with themselves. What twelve step programs provide is a container that is available on a daily basis that gives people a place to go to feel real, to drop down into their own human-ness. A room to go to into in which they can let their hair down, share what’s going on with them and then move on with their day. Those in recovery have immediate and pressing needs that therapy once or even twice a week cannot fully address. Therapy brings up powerful feelings and twelve step programs give those feelings a place to be shared as they continue to percolate throughout the week. And this sense of connection and belonging is re-patterning, we learn that connection can feel good, that we can open up with our fears and pain and not be put down or blamed for trying to be honest. We rebuild trust in life’s ability to repair and renew itself and we learn how to tolerate our own strong feelings in a room where other people are doing the same.

I always feel sad when people are not able to avail themselves of these programs for reasons such as “I don’t like the God emphasis” or “I just don’t believe in them”, because I have long been aware that the social connection that programs provide are part of what is most healing. While “working the program” is deeply beneficial, it has been my experience that simply “getting you soles into the room” adds greatly to a sense of personal well being and integrity. Opening up and sharing who we are and having that witnessed and accepted reduces shame and enhances a feeling of being connected rather than alone. The sense of relationship that those in recovery find brings a deep sense of joy and belonging that research is now finding are core to good physical and emotional health and a greater sense of well being.

Recovery puts great emphasis on the kinds of qualities that, it turns out, are building blocks of happiness. Emphasis on honesty, courage, integrity, emotional insight, discipline, faith and willingness, can and often do produce the kinds of states like well being and contentment that lead to a happier life. And twelve step programs teach us that good orderly direction and a sense of connection are good things that add meaning and purpose to our lives.

Reference: World of Psychology,5 Reliable Findings from Happiness Research, By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

How Twelve Step Programs Can Make You a Happier Person was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Codependency: What’s it All About?

Posted: February 26, 2018, 10:11 pm

The word codependency clearly touched a nerve when it first plowed its way into our common vernacular. Initially it grew out of the twelve step term co-addict, which was a way of describing the spouse of the addict; however as it didn’t really didn’t tell the right story, it morphed into co-dependent. It was a kind of grassroots way of naming the situation that a spouse found themselves in when they were connected in every way possible to an addict, married to them, having children with them and living their daily lives or trying to live them together.

Now picture the mid 1980s when people were streaming into conferences and twelve step rooms or buying books on codependency because they had a somewhat nebulous sense that whatever this word meant, it applied to them. Those of us in the addictions field recognized that people were identifying with the kinds of family dynamics that surrounded addiction; the inter-personal fusion, the blurred boundaries, the sense of a loss of personal identity. And from codependency grew the adult children of alcoholics/addicts phenomenon. But codependency was taken up by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons.

Tongue in cheek (sort of) it became difficult to know if codependency applied to addicted families or just anyone who grew up in the 1950’s. Did all of those pre-packaged ways of living life …. followed by the kind of social upheaval, the sixties, that made everyone’s heads spin cause some identity disorder?Were all of our parents alcoholics?

Was this vague sense of not having a consolidated sense of self something that everyone felt, or were there reasons it existed that could be understood and worked on?

Let’s Think….

Codependency as a term has obviously somewhat lost it’s original meaning.

It’s come to refer to a wide category like neurotic, to be thought of as a set of behaviors, “I was being so codependent last night, sort of thing, or I’m codependent with my daughter”. But using the word as this sort of catch all descriptor does remove it from its more serious roots. Codependency has become the new neurotic, neurotic perhaps referring to a way we are within ourselves while codependent, a way we are within relationships.

So should we leave the term there and just accept that there is so much social identification with it that its meaning has just had to stretch to encompass a;; of it? Or is it useful for a moment, to deconstruct it, strip it back to its original intent and grow it again from there. To clarify from a more shall we say researched point of view as to how it began and how it has grown?

A Deeper Look….

The research on attachment and trauma that has emerged over the last two decades allows us to trace a path for codependency, that provides a window into its evolution, at least within the recovery and mental health fields. From the trauma perspective, I see codependency as a form of hyper-vigilance, based on feeling anxious around deep, relational connection. In my book Emotional Sobriety in the chapter “Codependency Revisited”, I put it this way,

“When we get scared, our left brain, the language part of the brain, becomes overwhelmed and shuts down…. What remains very active, however, is the emotional scanning system in our right brain. The part of our brain that scans and remains hypervigilant is, in fact, working overtime when we are scared — codependency in the making. Children who regularly experience relational trauma often learn that they can fend off trouble if they can stay hyperfocused on reading the other person’s emotional signals (van der Kolk, 1997). They can become very adept at reading other people’s moods, often to the exclusion of their own. They become more in touch with what those around them are feeling, than what they are feeling. They become habitually outer-focused and may lose touch with what is going on inside of them.

But here is the key in terms of developing a sense of self: The very fact that when frightened we lose access to our thinking function, where we make sense of what’s happening, think through and integrate our emotions, and consolidate our sense of self-in-relation-to others, is why being in a chronic state of fear interferes with our ability to develop a sense of self.

Codependents spend a lot of time managing the world around them so that they can feel less anxious.” But at the expense of learning to manage themselves and the ins and outs of their own, inner world.

Here’s More On The Family Connection

From the attachment point of view, babies come into this world needing to literally fasten themselves onto their caregivers, not only because it feels good or calms them or makes them happy which of course it does, but because they need to survive. They’re like turtles on their backs, limbs flailing. If they cry out and no one comes, they experience it as life threatening, they are alone in the world and no one can hear their wail. That’s the very beginning.

So codependency in its deepest sense can begin very, very early. It’s fear based, a terror that our overpowering need to attach to our primary caregivers, will not necessarily be met with an equally powerful urge to connect with us. And this creates deep anxiety. Babies look into the faces of their parent to see if they are OK. OK with the world (because their parent is their world) OK with themselves (because what their parents think and feel toward them is what they think and feel about themselves) and OK with life, (because their parents are the gatekeepers of life and all it holds). If when this child looks into their parent’s face for reassurance and love they instead find rejection and disinterest, the child will feel disheartened to their very core.

And here it all begins.

This disheartened child may set about a life long repetitive pattern designed, at its roots, to turn their parent’s sour face into a happy one. They will craft their behavior to get that face to smile back at them, to gaze at them with affection, to register approval. Their attention will become outwardly focused. Their first thought will be to study the face of someone else, so that they can alter their own behavior to minimize rejection and maximize acceptance. They will by extension learn to scan other people and situations for signs of acceptance or rejection and they will adjust their own inner compass to fit in.

And that’s codependency.

It is a perversion of a very natural desire to adapt our own behavior to fit into the group. We are pack animals and we naturally want to vibrate in tune with those around us. But when those around us cannot attune themselves to us, when they cannot be pleased or when our primary caregiver’s mood rules the environment, then what’s a kid to do?

So What’s Next?

Seeing codependency as a set of behaviors tends to mean that we think that changing our behaviors is the solution to becoming less codependent.

And there is one more problem that I see a lot in recovery and therapy and that is that we over correct. Once we decide we’re codependent (or worse once a therapist tells us we are) we think that pulling away from the natural and caring behaviors that accompany connection and intimacy and constructing a slalom course of boundaries that virtually no one can jump, is the solution. But it’s not. This is not an intellectual fix. Its origins are deep and its healing needs to be deep. No one in our fast paced world really wants to say that. However, the slow way is the quick way. If we start a true healing process each day becomes a quiet celebration, not only because we feel the cumulative nature of our healing, but we’re not wasting time just repeating what isn’t working.

Although behavior changes are always a part of change and recovery, it may be useful to reexamine the roots of codependency in light of neurological findings. It might be healing to examine the parenting styles that we grew up with in order to understand how we got the way we got, were we scared all the time and that fear triggered us to please others instead of tuning in on ourselves? Everyone does this to some extent and needs to in order to swim with the shoal; it is when we tune into others at the exclusion of tuning into ourselves that it can cause a problem.

Really it’s a gradual rebuilding of our own sense of self within in the context of relationships that creates long lasting healing. It is knowing that pathologizing other people is not the answer, nor is pathologizing ourselves. It’s healing that yearning child a day at a time, crying the tears, giving shape and voice to the rage at feeling hurt, and forgiving ourselves for being human and others for being human too. And daily learning to let caring and goodness into all those secret places that need it and, dare I say it, being grateful for the wonderful life we have that allows us to examine these sorts of issues that are far beyond survival of the body and much more a survival of the spirit.


Dayton, Tian, 2007, Emotional Sobreity: From Relationship Trauma to Resilience and Balance, Deerfield Beach, Health Communications, HCI.

van der Kolk, B. A. 1987. Psychological Trauma. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.

Codependency: What’s it All About? was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Posted: February 15, 2018, 3:13 pm


Thank you Mary, what a kind note! Happy Valentines Day to you! (even a day late)

Posted: February 15, 2018, 3:12 pm

Thank you Mary, what a kind note! Happy Valentines Day to you! (even a day late)

This Valentine’s Day Write a Love Letter to YOUR SELF!

Posted: February 12, 2018, 11:28 pm

This Valentine’s Day….write a love letter to you SELF, to your own heart!

So often our focus of love is on the other person, but an important part of loving another is to know how to love ourselves, to hold our own heart in our own hands and give it love, compassion and tenderness. So this Valentine’s Day try doing something just for you.

You know best what your heart wants to hear and how to say it.

Click this link and and give a gift of love to yourself!

Letter Writing:

Happy Valentine’s Day to ME!!!

This Valentine’s Day Write a Love Letter to YOUR SELF! was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

You are so right Kajsa, I couldn’t agree with you more

Posted: February 12, 2018, 2:45 pm

You are so right Kajsa, I couldn’t agree with you more

You got it exactly….it

Posted: February 12, 2018, 2:44 pm

You got it exactly….it is from my years of working with trauma that I came to this….and I too found it riviting when I did….

Thank you for sharing this…..and

Posted: February 12, 2018, 2:43 pm

Thank you for sharing this…..and I tend to agree with your therapist….sometimes part of solving/resolving is learning to see things differently…

This Valentine’s Day Write a Love Letter to YOUR SELF!

Posted: February 12, 2018, 2:36 pm

This Valentine’s Day….write a love letter to you SELF, to your own heart!

So often our focus of love is on the other person, but an important part of loving another is to know how to love ourselves, to hold our own heart in our own hands and give it love, compassion and tenderness. So this Valentine’s Day try doing something just for you.

You know best what your heart wants to hear and how to say it.

Click this link and and give a gift of love to yourself!

Letter Writing:

Happy Valentine’s Day to ME!!!

Voting with our Fingertips: A Movement Against Techno-Trash

Posted: January 23, 2018, 6:36 pm
Too Much Information

Technologies of all sorts are profoundly shaping what we hold in our collective unconscious; that shared subliminal space named by Carl Jung creator of Jungian analysis, that goes beyond Freud’s concept of an individual unconscious.

Whether through TV streaming channels, newsrooms or the internet, technology is inevitably shaping who we are and who we will become. And it can become addictive in which case we’re no longer able to stop, to modulate, to make intelligent decisions about what we’re looking at or participating in. Instead of viewing sites, sites start viewing us; boring cyber holes into our preferences and offering up more. We replace our relationships to people with a relationship to a screen. We’re no longer in charge, they are…and the truth of it is there is no “they”.

What can we do to bridle this incredible power, to have a collective voice in shaping it? Are we merely helpless consumers or can we rethink our role in all of this?

The advent of television in the 1950’s, led to the appearance of perfect families piped daily into the homes of America. Where did post WW11 baby boomers suddenly get the idea that families of four were natural or desirable if not from Leave it to Beaver and I Love Lucy? Why the indelible image of the working father and the stay at home mom?

Then the war in Vietnam entered the living rooms of young Americans and mobilized a generation. No longer “out there somewhere” the shocking realities of combat were televised on the six o’clock news, horrifying a generation that had not seen war, but grew up in the shadow of WW11; deeply affecting and uniting boomers in a sweeping, anti-war movement.

And fast forward to today and the 24 hour news channels that are inserting a drip, drip, drip feeding tube of fear and anxiety into our collective unconscious. We see news amped up, repeated over and over again and advertised like laundry detergent. These channels have created a phenomenon that has come to have a life of it’s own, blurring the line of what it means to be “well-informed” until it is worthless. We simply do not need to know all of this, it is in fact disturbing our peace and even creating the kind of anxiety that can lead to unrest.

Hollywood which let’s face it has gone its way without a soul, can tear apart the moral fabric of the country and still make billions of dollars calling it “entertainment”. Hollywood has likely been responsible for more violence than can be conceived and many of the new series on pay TV rely on violence to bring viewers, their characters are thin, their scripts are superficial and their nod to good values flimsy, simply scotch taped on for effect.

While there is money to be made, we are in danger of becoming commodities, “eyeballs”, “viewers” and little more.

In the 1950’s TV had a somewhat controlled message, seeking to instill the kinds of post war values that engendered good citizenry and wholesome values. Technology today, for better or worse, has no such oversight.

Too Many Voices: Too Much News

There is much fear from people of conscience about how information of all kinds is being disseminated and concern as to how to put the genie back in the bottle. But can it be?

Can we really look to old models of supervision when, in today’s world, there appears to be none? When each and every person has their finger on the keys and can type messages into social media and respond to them instantaneously? When there is in fact, such a phenomenon as messaging and information “going viral”?

Is this capacity for anyone to enter the conversation just one more thing to fear or could the solution lie in it as well? Could it in fact, be a saving grace? Does the internet the great equalizer, offer a way for ordinary people to enter the conversation and vote with their fingertips in much the same way as we vote with our feet on election day?

Anyone can say anything, any time.

Technology gives our current society, an opportunity to speak up as a collective (beause it’s afterall all about connecting), about what is being sold to our children and grandchildren. A chance to raise awareness about what we’re daily ingesting into our individual and our collective unconscious because make no mistake about it, these little devices we are glued to have just that kind of power. If we do not limit the amount of time we spend mindlessly surfing and staring then these very activities will limit us. They will begin to eat away are our ability to choose what we want to fill our minds with, because these are just the sorts of passive activities that seep into our unconscious and begin to shape us without our conscious awareness.

Maybe it’s time for us to be the oversight, for a users revolution. Why should we rely on large companies and politocos to take responsibility for the values disseminated by our media, when they are profiting from and propogating the outrageous, the alarming and the polarizing?

For starters we have tremendous power in one very important way. We can stop watching. We can turn our TVs off when we see content that is cheap and salacious, content that teaches bad values and trains violence. We can strengthen a conversation that could become a movement. We can vote with our fingertips. And we can make our opinions known through social media of all kinds. We can tweet, respond and write. We can garner the power of the collective both as discriminating consumers and vocal opponents of techno-trash.Time to make our voices on this heard and felt, time to shape the marketplace that’s shaping us.

Voting with our Fingertips: A Movement Against Techno-Trash was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.