Dr. Mark Mayfield: “Work on yourself”

Work on yourself: The greatest place to start is with yourself. Going to a therapist, enrolling in a yoga class, seeing a spiritual advisor, are all steps you can take personally to make sure you are in a place to help others. In my opinion the antithesis to loneliness is Identity, Purpose, and Hope. If […]

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Work on yourself: The greatest place to start is with yourself. Going to a therapist, enrolling in a yoga class, seeing a spiritual advisor, are all steps you can take personally to make sure you are in a place to help others. In my opinion the antithesis to loneliness is Identity, Purpose, and Hope. If you have those three things you are much more available to develop connections and create community.

As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Mark Mayfield, a licensed professional counselor (LPC), a Board Certified Counselor, and the Founder and CEO of Mayfield Counseling Centers.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

I grew up in a small town in Southern California, had a great group of friends, and was successful in school. Prior to my fourth-grade year my parents informed me that we would be moving to Colorado. This up-ended my life. I didn’t know anyone in Colorado and I had to start all over making friends. I was a unique kid. I was different. I looked like a white version of Steve Urkel from that 90’s TV show “Family Matters”. My pants were too high, I had braces, glasses, was socially awkward, and very clumsy. Making friends did not happen. After several years of being ostracized, bullying from several boys began. Every day I would be shoved into a locker, thrown into a trash can, given a swirly, verbally assaulted, and pushed down or tripped in the hallway. Going to school became a nightmare. I became very sick the spring semester of my 6th grade year. I was 12 years old. I contracted a migraine headache that would last over 6 months. During that period of being poked, prodded, and tested, I decided I wanted the pain to end and I attempted to end my life. After my stint in the hospital, my family and I began to receive counseling, and it was determined that my migraine headaches were a physical representation of emotional and mental pain. Counseling saved my life. From that point on I always knew I would be a counselor, I just didn’t know what path I would take. I started out as a youth minister/clergy in a popular Colorado mountain town, but after a completed suicide and an overdose, I quickly began to realize my training needed bolstered and I went back to school to get my masters and PhD in Counseling. Since my graduation from my masters in Counseling I have worked with hundreds of thousands of youth and their families helping them find the same restoration and healing I found with my counselor so many years earlier.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Many years ago, I used to run court ordered groups for adolescents. I would run groups for adolescents that were caught dealing drugs, and adolescents that were caught using drugs. The group became so popular with the court system I was asked to develop groups that worked with convicted adolescent gang-members. In one specific group (which lasted 36 weeks) I had this young man that, for 12 weeks, would not say anything. He was probably 17 years old and a part of a local gang. His silence held power and after 12 weeks I was tired of him holding the power, so I confronted him. He immediately got up, got in my face, and started cussing me out. I calmly sat there and allowed him to finish. When he was done berating me, I asked if he felt better. He looked at me with a confused look on his face and stated, “you’re not going to hit me?”. I said “no”. He turned around and sat back down in his chair, with the rest of the group looking on. In that moment I had broken a stereotype for this young man. I showed him that it was okay to emote, to be mad, and to let it out. He later became a leader in the group and disclosed that he had been in the gang since birth (parents were the O.G.’s or Original Gangsters). He wanted to get out of the gang and make something of his life but if he did, he would most likely die. We were able to work with his probation officers and get him moved to a different state where he could start over without fear. That was over 10 years ago, and I often think about him and how he is doing.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Several exciting things:

My new book “Help! My Teen is Self-Injuring: A Crisis Manual for Parents” will be available as a free e-book download in the next couple of months.

I just signed a deal with a publisher to write the book “The Loneliness Epidemic”

My non-profit counseling practice is looking to expand into a third location to help individuals, couples and families find Clarity, Hope, and Purpose through low-cost, accessible, and quality mental health services.

My non-profit counseling practice is also dreaming about developing a transitional housing program for teenagers aging out of the foster-care system. The program would provide a safe place for them to live while the received job skills, life skills, counseling, medication management, coaching, etc.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

I am a suicide survivor, so I have firsthand experience of what it is like to be in the pit of loneliness and depression with little to no hope insight.

I have been a counselor with diverse populations for over 10 years and have seen the effects of loneliness in my clients (suicidality, self-injury, depression, anxiety, drug use, etc.).

I have been signed as an author by a publishing house to write a book on this subject.

I am a fierce advocate for mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health and believe that health in these four areas is the antithesis of loneliness.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?

This is a complex answer that will need to go beyond this article. In my research and in my opinion the three main reasons that being lonely can harm one’s health are as follows:

Mentally: The state of one’s mental health is highly correlative to their emotional, spiritual, and physical health. There is a direct link to how our thinking effects how we are. Toxic thoughts can and will cause low levels of inflammation in our bodies that can lead to other forms of sickness. The more isolated we are the lonelier we are and the more stuck within ourselves we become. This becomes an insidious cycle that will perpetuate our loneliness and confirm the toxic stories about ourselves (e.g. I’m not loved, I’m not valued, I’m not appreciated, heard, seen, etc.)

Emotionally: Mental and emotional health often go hand in hand and in this case it is true. The toxic cycle continues from our mental health to our emotional health. The lonelier we become the more embedded our negative story cycle becomes. We begin to expect negative things to happen and we have the potential to further isolate ourselves because we don’t want to get hurt. The more we isolate the more painful it can become and the only option is to numb or disassociate from our emotions. When we do this, we become unaware of how our body is receiving external stimuli.

Physical: In my opinion, this is the final stage in the isolation and loneliness cycle. If we don’t care for ourselves mentally and emotionally and confront the negative cycles which lead to loneliness, we will damage our bodies through sickness. The toxicity of our mind and emotions will lead to levels of inflammation in our bodies that will perpetuation sickness.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

This too is a bigger conversation.

The fundamental framework of a healthy society is connection, community, and relationships. We can see this throughout history. When a society was focused on connection, community, and relationships they thrived, when they didn’t, they began to falter. In my opinion the deepest desire of every human being is to be seen, valued, loved, and accepted without judgment. This takes work, intentionality, effort, humility, consistency, honesty etc. I believe that we are becoming a lazy society, hiding behind our screens and platforms. It has become a you vs. me; us vs. them focus rather than truly seeing the humanity of the other person. We focus on what divides us more than we focus on what unites us. This mindset is perpetuating and deepening the loneliness crisis

The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.

Relationships take proximity: What this means is that to be in relationship with someone we must be in constant physical proximity with the individual. We are relational beings that thrive off of personal contact. In fact, our brain does not reach its fullest potential unless it is in a safe, trusting relationship with someone else. Think of it like exercising. When we work towards a goal of running a marathon, we must exercise to prepare or the cardiovascular system, the muscles, etc. won’t be strengthened to do what they need to do. This is the same thing with our brain. If we do not exercise the relational parts of our mind and our brain, we will not be healthy. This cannot be exercised over a screen. It has to be done face-to-face.

Relationships take intentionality: Let’s be honest, relationships take work. It takes time and effort to get to know someone. It takes time and effort to trust someone. It takes time and effort to work through difficulties in a relationship. It takes time and effort to be teachable and humble. It takes a reciprocal intentionality to reach out and engage. I remember reading a story about the end of communism in eastern Europe in the late 80’s. When the media entered the came upon orphanages with rows of cribs. The children in these orphanages were receiving a couple meals a day and a diaper change or two, but many of them were withering away and dying (failure to thrive scenario). Why? Because they didn’t have the intentional connection they needed.

An over-use of screens has the potential to “arrest” our relational brain: Studies are currently being done to understand the effects of the overuse of screens. Preliminary studies show that parts of the emotional and relational brain are being stunted or arrested in their development. Why? Because as I’ve stated before, we are relational beings and our brain develops in relationship.

Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.

Put down the phone/device: I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in public and have seen people at a restaurant with their families on their phones. Please hear me say that I am not against phones or devices, I actually believe that they have a lot more good to offer than bad. BUT they need to be handled responsibly. I wish I could give you a formula, but in all honesty this needs to be determined by your family culture (meaning what is best for you personally and your family). I cannot tell you what that should look like. What I can tell you is that the more you look up and engage someone face-to-face, eye-to-eye, the less lonely you or the other person will be.

Work on yourself: The greatest place to start is with yourself. Going to a therapist, enrolling in a yoga class, seeing a spiritual advisor, are all steps you can take personally to make sure you are in a place to help others. In my opinion the antithesis to loneliness is Identity, Purpose, and Hope. If you have those three things you are much more available to develop connections and create community.

Learn to see the humanity of others: Let’s be honest. We need to stop fighting about who is right and who is wrong. There was a time when we could agree to disagree and still be friends. With the advent of social media, this has become more difficult. We need to learn to have conversations, to be curious, intentional, and honoring of those around us. We need to remember that we are all human beings with stories, traumas, hurts, joys, achievements, and successes. If someone is struggling we should walk with them without trying to fix or judge. If someone is successful we should celebrate with joy! If we don’t understand an idea or an opinion we should lean it and be curious. If we can do these things I believe a large part of this problem will go away.

Advocate for those that may not have a voice (or haven’t found it yet): When we do the first two, the this one should become a logical next step. Instead of deepening the segregation of our society (in all forms) those who understand their Identity and Purpose and have Hope, have a responsibility to walk alongside those who don’t yet.

Be intentional to create community: A safe, trusting, and vulnerable community is the next step. For those that have figured or are figuring things out it should be their responsibility to pay attention to those in need (similar to step 3). If someone is hurting sit with them, if someone is hungry take them a meal, if someone is successful celebrate with them. Like I’ve stated before, this takes consistency and intentionality.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Frankly, I think we need to stop airing our opinions that attack on social media. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have an opinion, but I’d rather see social media as a platform for celebration and encouragement. I would also like to see those who have influence be the ones to set the example. Let’s learn to love, respect, and honor those that are different than us, let’s learn from each other, grow from each other, respect each other (even if we don’t agree…or should I say especially if we don’t agree).

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Honestly, I would choose someone like Jimmy Fallon, Ellen DeGeneres, Tyler Perry, Peyton Manning, Oprah, Barack or Michelle Obama. Why? Because they are using their influence to make the world a better place for everyone!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: @TheDrMayfield

Podcast: Candid Conversations with Dr. Mayfield (itunes, google play, etc.)

Instagram: drmark24

Website: www.drmayfield.com

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!

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