Sònia Cervantes: Interview With Hermano Mayor’s Psychologist

“You live or survive” is the latest book by the Barcelona psychologist. We chat with her.

Sònia Cervantes is especially known for her role in the television program  Hermano Mayor, in which she guided young people with problems when it came to relating to others and their families. 

But beyond her media side (which is not limited to her appearances on said program) Sònia is, fundamentally, a psychologist and therapist.

Meeting with Sònia Cervantes, psychologist and writer

From this facet of hers, which has to do with the curiosity to understand the functioning of the human mind, not only her professional career as a psychologist was born, but also, to this day, two books: Living with a teenager and Do you live or survive ? The latter has been published recently, and through this interview with Sònia we intend to explore some of the ideas that have shaped the content of her pages.

Adrián Triglia : If you had to give a single example that would capture the difference between “you live” and “you survive”, what would it be?

Sònia Cervantes : Survival implies going to the same restaurant every day, with the same menu and even with the probability that it will make you feel bad again because sometimes the dishes are not entirely healthy; but you have it close to home and it’s the only thing you know. Survival implies trying different restaurants, changing the menu, daring to try new flavors at the risk that you might not like some of them and deciding on a daily basis which one you like the most. Get out of the comfort zone. That it is not bad, or even that it is, but it is what there is and what is known, does not mean that it is good.

AT: What kind of experiences that you have had in your practice do you think have influenced you the most when writing the book?

SC: All those in which the people in front of me made a great effort to try not to suffer and paradoxically have ended up suffering. The very dangerous triad: overthinking, dependent profile with low self-esteem and avoidant personality pattern. The Molotov cocktail to end up suffering uselessly because it is not productive suffering but quite the opposite, blocking and paralyzing.

AT: In your book you also point out that attention can cause us to get “trapped” constantly thinking about the possible negative consequences of our actions. What do you think are the keys to solve this?

SC: Living in the here and now without becoming persistent soothsayers of future misfortunes. Stopping living in Ysilandia . What if I’m wrong? What if it goes wrong? What if I fail? … I would say to them: What if it goes right? Or better yet, what if it happens, what will you do? It is the eternal struggle between coping and avoidance. The  anticipatory anxiety, far from prepared for the worst (which have always told us) puts us in the worst of situations: in the survival mode.

AT: There are several elements that are often linked to conformity and perpetual permanence in what is known as a comfort zone. For example, procrastination, or the tendency to think that everything bad that happens cannot be controlled or avoided. Which would you say is more harmful?

SC: Both since they anchor you to inactivity and suffering. If you made a list of your top 10 fears, 9 of them would never happen. The non-reality that you mount in your head is much worse than the existing reality, if that movie that you have formed exists. If it is in your hands to change, get down to work; If not, accept the situation or change the attitude with which you deal with it. Do not wait for things to happen, make them happen but do not build realities that have not yet happened. When they come, you’ll take care of it.

AT: In the book you also talk about toxic relationships. Do you think that this is basically a problem of how people are being educated inside and outside of schools?

SC: Almost everything has its origin in lack of education or bad education and at the same time almost everything has its solution in education or re-education. I think we all educate: school, family and society. Not all responsibility may fall on the school context. The growing presence of toxic relationships in people under 18 years of age has been growing alarmingly and exponentially in recent years. We must be doing something wrong so that the generation with more access to information on the history of humanity and with more equal education is regressing to typical macho behaviors of 60 or 70 years ago. Overprotection, the misuse of social networks and certain social references of what a relationship should be are taking their toll on this generation. We are fostering insecure, dependent and low self-esteem profiles that will easily fall into toxic relationships.

AT: The passive attitude that you point to as an element that stagnates us in our way of living life can be reinforced by distractions. Do you think that the use of the Internet, with all the information that can be found on the Internet, makes it easier for people to find new goals and hobbies that produce well-being? Or does it tend to be used as a distraction to kill time, rather?

SC: An excess of information can turn into a real infoxication. We are highly stimulated and bombarded on a daily basis but it is also in our hands to disconnect more often. It is not the social networks or the fact that the internet exists that is the cause of the problem, it is the misuse or overuse that we make of all this. We should learn to turn off daily at a certain time and dedicate ourselves to other activities and to relate to those around us. Doing “cleaning” the phone and devices is not bad either. Does the world end if we remove the WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter application from our devices? Not at all. We can call those who we WhatsApp and we can check our profiles on the networks from the tablet or computer, without having to carry them on the mobile 24 hours a day. Try it for a week and then decide if you want to continue chained to your smartphone or not.

AT: What do you think about that aspect of psychology that has been called “positive psychology”? To what extent do you think it can be useful?

SC: It is clear that the key to our well-being and also to our psychological discomfort, in the absence of highly stressful events that can explain it, is in our thoughts and in our way of interpreting reality, because even in bad times not everyone responds in the same way. It is true that positive our mind has very beneficial effects on our emotions and our body in general; But too much positivity can also be detrimental. I do not like to sell smoke or the motorcycle with phrases like “you must be happy”, “nothing happens, think positive” because it is not always possible. We must learn to be bad, to deal with suffering and to accept our mental storms always with the commitment to change. Acceptance without compromise is resignation. It is useful what helps us to face suffering, not to avoid it or make it appear that nothing is wrong.

8. There are strong criticisms directed against the philosophy of positive thinking, and one of them has to do with the idea that, if we believe that our experiences depend basically on our way of thinking, if we feel bad it will be because of us as individuals . Do you think that in certain contexts optimism can be harmful?

SC: We are not just what we think, not even what we feel or what we do. We are the set of all this plus the experiences lived. The reductionism to which everything is in our thinking can have the paradoxical effect of becoming hyper-reflective, obsessive and generating a great feeling of guilt. Yes, it is true that our way of processing information can be a source of well-being or suffering, I do not deny that but it is also true that we must see ourselves as something global, accept our weaknesses and stop trying to BE happy to seek to BE as happy as possible throughout our day to day. We have the right to be sad, to get angry, to complain, to be grumpy and even to have negative thoughts.

AT: Many people who are directly or indirectly engaged in psychology believe that the role of psychologists is mythologized. What do you think it is due to?

SC: I do not share that opinion, but if that is the case, it may be due to many years of indoctrination by certain professionals instead of the support and reeducation that a patient needs. There are many “guru” and prophet in this profession who deify themselves, seriously damaging the profession in particular and its patients in general. We must not tell people what to do, we must make them reflect on what they are doing and give them tools if they commit to making changes in their lives. Look for three fundamental things: Self-knowledge, acceptance and commitment. Let’s not forget that a psychologist is another person who also suffers and is sad. He only plays with an advantage: he knows tools to end or at least deal with that suffering. Or can’t a dentist have cavities?

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