Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Vol #1, Col #14: Learning to Resolve

Col14_ResolutionCoping with death is considered one of, if not the most difficult aspect of human existence. But with every death, there is opportunity for rebirth and renewal. As the leaves fall off the trees in autumn and the plants shrivel up and fade, they lay the surface for new life come spring: acting as the foundation for fresh crops and sustenance for small organisms, which in turn become food sources for larger forms of life.

This is not to say that any death can simply be replaced by a birth. But rather this analogy is meant to illustrate that whether we are speaking about the physical parting of a human soul, the termination of a longstanding relationship, the loss of a job or even the metaphorical demise of an aspect of one self, all deaths produce means of new life through reflection, learning and growth. Even thinking about one’s own mortality has an effect on humans: causing us to conceive of thoughts and ideas we never did before or participating in activities we’ve been “putting off”.

While the shock of death causes us emotional pain – a pain we all deal with very differently – the important thing is to never allow oneself to dwell indefinitely. We, as a part of the earth and animal kingdom, cannot control the inevitability of death (though sometimes science makes scary attempts to do so). We can, however, control how we deal with death. And so, as we usher in the New Year, along with our annual resolutions, it only seemed appropriate to speak about learning from our pasts and using that learning to benefit our futures.

As a personal fitness trainer and an accredited nutritional expert boasting 35 years of experience working with all walks of life, a question my mom all too commonly encounters around this season is, “why do so many (an estimated 75%, in fact!) New Year’s resolutions fail?,” given that weight loss ranks among the highest in terms of resolution popularity.

Beyond just setting unrealistic and/or vague goals, researchers Mukhopadhyay and Johar point out that the very way in which many of us psychologically conceive of our self-promises may actually be setting us up to crash and burn. As their 2005 study entitled, Where There Is a Will, Is There a Way? Effects of Lay Theories of Self-Control on Setting and Keeping Resolutions, revealed resolution setters are not able to effectively accomplish what they’ve set out to do if they “believe” (and that’s the key word in this sentence) they lack inherent self-control. Moreover, the very phrasing of one’s resolutions (ie: the utilization of absolute terms such as “never” or “always”) may prove detrimental.

To this, psychologist Dr. Kit Yarrow adds that being dedicated to one’s goals may not be enough to resist temptation or bar pre-established psychological cues. Accordingly, she suggests for maximum effectiveness, one need to further change their routine as well as potentially the environment that is linked to the bad habits they’re trying to break. For example, if you always gorge on Cheetos and cola while watching the tele in your living room, repositioning your furniture, changing the location at which you spend your recreational time or adjusting the time period you commit to leisure within the same setting, can literally rewire your brain circuitry, thereby aiding in fulfilling your goals of self-renewal.

By far, the biggest contributor to resolution success or failure remains truly understanding what you’re getting yourself into. Prochaska and DiClemente’s “Stages of Change” model, first introduced in the late 1970s in a study that followed smokers who repeatedly tried to quit and repeatedly relapsed, reaffirms the necessity of introspection when grappling with goal setting. As they explain, a thorough investigation of the following three questions is a MUST before undergoing any action(s):
  • Do you have the resources and knowledge to successfully make a lasting change? (defined as the “Readiness to Change”)

  • Is there anything preventing you from changing? (defined as the “Barriers to Change”)

  • What might trigger a return to a former behaviour(s)? (defined as the “Expectations and Circumstances Associated with Relapse”)
In other words, “the devil’s in the details.” One must recognize that the motivation driving a resolution is an acknowledgement of something you are currently dissatisfied with in your life. In essence, you wish to allow a negative aspect of yourself to die in an effort to generate a more positive future: a new way of living. Once you’ve TRULY and FULLY acknowledged this, making lame excuses, such as you lack self-efficacy, is increasingly LESS convincing to yourself and others. Perhaps that in itself could be your resolution - to develop stronger will power – I did provide you with tips on how to do so just a few issues ago…just saying. Don’t “resolve” to fail.

It’s commonly understood that it takes 28 days to break a bad habit and solidify a new proactive one. For the nicotine inhalers out there, they say, on average, it takes eight (yes, you read correctly) attempts to finally kick cigs to the curb. So, even if you’ve had minimal success in the past, do yourself a favour and “try, try again.”

Remember that breaking down large goals into smaller attainable milestones and providing yourself with access to moral support via your friends or the regular affirmation of your ability to start anew is ESSENTIAL. If you’ve spent this past year with me concluding that conducting an intensive introspection is much too daunting, perhaps working on a single New Year’s resolution will prove a good place for you to start ;)

Monday, 30 November 2015

Vol #1, Col #13: Bah Humbug!

giving1I’m pretty darn conflicted about Christmas. Some may even claim I’m a bit “grinchy”. While I agree with its sentiments, its modern day practise frankly makes me feel like removing myself from all associated celebrations of it entirely. For that matter, come on, Halloween isn’t even allowed its moment in the spotlight, without battling interference from wreaths, bows and whathaveyou just down the aisle in any retail outlet.

I guess you could say I feel the same way about a lot of things. Take communism, for example. In theory, the eradication of the class system sounds wonderful – equal treatment for all - yes mam! In application, well I think it goes without saying that humanity has a funny way of buggering things up when they’re put into effect. But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion. Today my friends, we are here to speak on the art of sincere gift giving and in this circumstance, sincere can be taken as synonymous with “mature”.

As all dislikes originate from some sort of negative experience or trauma, it’s only fair of me to explain how I came to possess such a repugnant disposition in accordance with what is supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year”.

Back in sixth grade, right before the Xmas holidays, I was sitting in class anxiously awaiting the final dismissal bell. For no apparent reason, my teacher, who we nicknamed “The Slaydriver” due to her rather forceful means of discipline, announced loudly to the entire class, “I’m sure all of you know by now there is no Santa Claus.” Yes, there I was feeling ashamed to admit I still thought the jolly bearded man in red was real. I was further mortified to discover I was the ONLY kid in class under this misconception, but moreover angry with my parents for having “lied” to me for so long.

I remember crying all the way home and confronting my mother about the topic. As much as she tried to explain it was “just tradition” and “every parent” apparently puts their children through this ruse, I felt deceived and made her promise she’d never lie to me again. That however is only part one of the story…

My dislike for the celebration in question was further enhanced when one year I was working retail on Boxing Day and my cash register, debit machine and credit card swiper went out of commission simultaneously. Accordingly, I was left with no choice but to do all the calculations by hand. Math’s never been my forte and having an insane amount of shoppers yelling at me to work quicker certainly didn’t help.

Finally, my “bah humbug” attitude was solidified as I got older and everything started to feel “obligatory”. When you’re a member of a family characterized by several broken marriages, remarriages and stepsiblings, trying to include everyone in the gift giving escapades adds up real fast. Since when is a holiday associated with “glee” supposed to make you broke? There’s nothing very fun about that.

If the above wasn’t bad enough, I started to find myself in a situation with a certain unnamed relative wherein anytime they’d purchase me a gift, there’d be an additional unseen price tag attached; something I refer to as the “Trojan horse of gift giving.” Somehow just because I accepted something I thought was given out of generosity, I was manipulated into doing this or that for said individual…and if I failed to comply, I was reminded how much money was spent on me and how my non-compliance was apparently indicative of a lack of appreciation. Coined by psychologists in the 1960s as “the guilt trip”, this is by far the WORST of the gift giving practises and is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to psychologically control and abuse someone.

When it comes to the art of sincere gift giving, I believe Sean Connery’s character in the movie, Finding Forrester summed it up perfectly, “the way to a [person’s] heart is an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.” After all, doing so indicates that you were obtaining a gift for this individual purely because they happened to be on your mind and you wanted to do something to brighten their day. In this context, please note that the term “gift” does NOT simply refer to a commodity purchased at a store, but rather can include sending a note to someone you’ve fallen out of touch with recently just to remind them that even though you do not speak often, they still are very important to you or preparing someone their favourite dish after they’ve had an extra long day at work. Genuine acts of kindness toward complete strangers, such as helping an elderly woman or man carry their groceries to the car, are by far the most meaningful as you have no direct relation to said individuals.

What I’m trying to get at is this: REAL gifts are given from the HEART to the recipient “just cause” and with NO strings attached or expectations of reciprocation. NO holiday – whether we’re talking Xmas, a birthday or Valentine’s - should ever make you feel obligated to do something for someone you wouldn’t normally do. On the other side of the equation, a mature recipient acknowledges and appreciates the “effort” put forth and never maintains a price limit of what should be spent on him/her nor compares gifts from different givers. As the old saying goes, “it IS the thought that counts.”

As all of you go out and spend far more than you can afford this year just to participate in a practise of an annual celebration that has lost all relation to its genesis, I ask you to remember what I’ve written above and perhaps try to see that the TRUE gift of Christmas is the ability to spend time with your loved ones. They may drive you crazy and have ridiculous habits, but not everyone has a family or friends to share wonderful moments with. In sum, gift giving should NEVER define a relationship. A relationship should be defined by the gifts we do for each other WITHOUT obligation.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Vol #1, Col #12: Your Fiscal Future

02_11_2008 - 15.30.48 - TIMNEWS - ST-Marshmallow-08vc26251.jpg.jpgI recently experienced two very different conversations with two very different friends. While one ended with me affectionately quipping, “welcome to the world of adulthood,” the other’s grand finale made me feel like a mother scolding her child. The irony? The subject matter of both conversations was exactly the same.
Conversation one occurred between myself and a fellow musician who I’ve got quite a number of years over. He’s been popular and successful in the scene for some time now: winning awards, selling out shows and even being allocated grant monies.

While all of this looks fab on paper, anyone whose passion is artistic in nature knows that especially in today’s economic times, it’s become increasingly unfeasible if not impossible to make a sole living via this means. The fact that Lady Gaga, arguably the current biggest thing in music (for better or for worse) has declared bankruptcy after EVERY SINGLE ONE of her past four tours speaks for itself.

Although my friend has more than got the goods, he’s come to the conclusion that he needs to develop a sound financial strategy to better cover his day-to-day living expenses, which in turn will allow him to continue to fuel his passion without burning out. Accordingly, he’s decided to go back to school for retraining in an unrelated, but stable field and is currently working two jobs.

Conversely, conversation two erupted after I invited a girlfriend of mine to attend a couple of trial yoga classes with me, being offered at a mere five bucks a pop. Now I understand that given the job market is, particularly in this city, less than optimal right now, many of us are scraping to get by, but frankly considering my aforementioned friend still lives at home rent-free and works full-time, I couldn’t comprehend how it was possible she claimed to not even have $5 to spare to take part in an activity in which she’d expressed interest on more than one occasion.

I began to grill her – asking her to outline for me in detail exactly what her expenses were on a monthly basis. Not surprisingly, because she admitted to frequently shopping when she was either bored or in a bad mood, she was spending exorbitant amounts of money unnecessarily and had yet to put any substantial monies into savings (translation: she was living paycheck-to-paycheck).

It’s not that friend number one was/is more analytical or intelligent than friend number two, nor was/is age (as in years) the distinguishing factor; something confirmed by the fact that friend number two is actually older than the both of us! Their differed perspectives simply come down to sight, with my latter friend suffering from a serious case of psychological myopia. This, of course, brings us to today’s topic of discourse:

Financial goal setting (well life goal setting, in general) via the practise of “delaying gratification” is a MAJOR aspect of developing psychological maturity, and I’m not just saying this ‘cause my pops happens to be a insurance broker.

Defined by the Encyclopedia of Psychology as, “the ability to forgo an immediate pleasure or reward in order to gain a more substantial one later,” learning to delay gratification goes hand-in-hand with learning to enhance one’s self-control. Psychologically-speaking, the problem for many of us stems from the fact that society promotes self-motivation and personal responsibility as desirable personality traits to possess, while at the same time suffocating us with advertising campaigns promoting indulgence and frivolousness, suggesting we can “have it all”. The fact is this: no, you can’t. As I learned a long time ago and hope to impart onto you, anything that is worth fighting for will NOT come without its challenges and small sacrifices are NECESSARY in order to achieve large payoffs.

Developing self-control is only possible once one is able to identify the emotions and motivations driving his/her behaviour(s). Notice once again how it always comes back to good old introspection! It is true that some people are genetically hardwired with poorer impulse control, however even they can learn how to delay gratification with some practise. “Suppression” (ie: putting the steps toward accomplishing one’s goals out of mind) is actually useful here. For instance, if one sets up an automatic monthly transfer of a set amount of funds between their chequing and savings accounts, they are more likely to save that money than if they were physically making the transfers themselves.

After this, it’s all a matter of goal setting and “global processing” (ie: focusing on the big picture – your ENTIRE life). Importantly, goals that are defined using measurable and concrete terms (ie: I want to have X amount of dollars in savings by the time I reach X age) ensure a higher likelihood of staying on target.

Sidenote: Do NOT, I repeat do NOT, change your spending habits until you reach your goals, even if in the meantime you’ve got yourself a snazzy promotion; this is a major pitfall too many fall into. Goals most certainly change throughout your life, but the road to them, one that is slow and steady, should not.

While it’s totally fine and common to give yourself small rewards along the way for sticking to the program, you don’t want to let these rewards get out of hand thereby undermining the bigger objectives you’re working toward. Great ways to keep yourself in check include: practising meditation and internal coaching (ie: self-talk) as well as drawing “mental equivalences” each time you feel compelled to impulse buy (ie: one of this item is equivalent to X of this item, which would I rather have?). Monitoring your progress, too, is in it of itself motivating.

As students of psychological maturity, we essentially need to learn to turn OFF our natural (and socially programmed) tendency toward “temporal discounting” and turn ON the process of “metacognition”. In other words, as psychologist Walter Mischel puts it, we need to master the skill of “strategically allocating our attention.”

Financial experts report that anymore you need at least a million bucks (yes, you read correctly) in the bank by the time you’re 60 to ensure a comfortable (NOT luxurious or extravagant) retirement. That ain’t just gonna happen over night and I wouldn’t hedge my bets on the lottery!

Aside from helping you learn to save, Mischel’s 1970s “marshmallow” experiment on the subject at hand revealed a notable correlation between higher levels of self-control and better life outcomes (ie: higher marks in school and higher paying jobs) as well as lower incidence of risk-taking behaviour and the development of personal vices such as: drug addiction and overeating. In sum, learn to delay gratification – it’s not just money in the bank!

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Vol #1, Col #11: ‘In Jest’ You Say?

Col11_JestEthel Barrymore, of the “royally-”deemed acting clan, once said, “you grow up the day you have your first real laugh…at yourself.” While Ethel was no psychologist, her words contain undeniable wisdom about human nature and the road to maturity: the ability to find humour within one’s own action(s) and/or reaction(s) is only possible once one is able to acknowledge his/her chosen behavioural responses as disproportionate (and ridiculous) to their impetus. In other words, as Spanish performer Diana Raquel Sainz purported, you can only laugh at yourself once you’re able to admit your faults and imperfections. In turn, this act promotes self-empowerment and growth. While the aforementioned is an important life lesson to learn, so too is knowing when humour is appropriate, welcome and in “good taste”. Allow me to explain:

About a month or so ago, I was hired on as a subcontracted agent to assist a website design firm with administrative, accounting and content updating duties. At first, I was completely stoked about the position given that all of the staff members were within my age range, the hours were flexible, work days didn’t typically start until noon and on top of that, the pay was decent.

I’m not certain whether to conclude my manager was sexist (ie: all of the other staff members were male) or just had some sort of superiority complex, but what started out as what I just brushed off as harmless wisecracking soon developed into constant assaults on my character for no reason I could conceive of, considering he never indicated he was anything but satisfied with my work. It became pretty evident to me that his use of thinly veiled insults passed off as “joking” (at my expense) was his means of maintaining control. I am after all more academically accredited than him, among other things.

Beyond paving the road to personal psychological maturity, Social Science academics have noted that humour serves many important cognitive, affective, physiological and social functions: it’s a proven “pick-me-up”, a tension reliever, a means of forging bonds with other individuals/groups, an effective teaching strategy, a way to lessen hostilities or simmer debates when they get out of hand, a vehicle for broaching taboo subject matter, a form of arousal and there’s even evidence to support there’s some truth behind the old adage, “laughter is the best medicine.”

Relevant to my recent job experience however is the anthropological finding that humour in the form of “mockery”, “ridicule” and “belittlement” is frequently used as a powerful symbolic weapon within pre-industrial Caribbean cultures to gain status, maintain the current pecking order and/or reaffirm social mores. The popularity of racist jokes within North American adds credence to this finding as their humour rests in pointing out widespread stereotypes of given ethnic groups, which only works to perpetuate said stereotypes. Moreover, it has been proposed that jokes rooted in discrimination stem from the subconscious fear of the dominant class that one day they’ll be overtaken by those they oppress. Ironically, these types of jokes are often “owned” by members of the minority groups they seek to insult; something that can be interpreted as an act of subversion/defence against ridicule OR the internalization of beliefs about one’s group held by the dominant class (Eck!).

Suffice it to say that for all of the joy incongruity, verbal wit, minor accidents (particularly those involving getting hit in the genital regions or stepping on animal feces), slips of the tongue and absurdity brings, humour can equally dampen your spirits, if done mindlessly or worst, maliciously.

To elicit the former, psychotherapist and mirthologist Steven Sultanoff offers the following five suggestions to ensure that one is using humour (in interpersonal settings) correctly and appropriately:
  • Only use humour if the target/recipient of your humour has previously used humour with you.

  • Only use humour when you have an established strong relationship with the target/recipient.

  • Only use humour in socially appropriate and light-hearted situations. Although some use humour to eliminate tension, Sultanoff suggests that this could lead to potentially undesirable reactions if taken too far.

  • If ever in doubt about one’s relationship with a target/recipient, test the waters first with self-depreciating humour to gauge the target/recipient’s response.

  • And finally (and MOST importantly), humour is used most effectively when employed to poke fun at a situation, NOT at another person or group of people.
To this, Hugh LaFollette & Niall Shanks of American Philosophical Quarterly add that humour is context-dependent, and relies largely on a listener’s current state. Even if a listener has the cognitive capacity and necessary information to find a particular joke or situation humourous, there are factors that may interfere with the processing of a funny stimulus including: one’s current psychological (mood) and cognitive/physiological state (ie: if they are experiencing pain), the environment (ie: if telling jokes seems inappropriate), and one’s ability to employ “psychic distance” (ie: the ability to detach from one’s personal beliefs and see situations from varying perspectives). Gender contributes even more complication to these theories seeing as guys can and do regularly tear each other ‘new ones’ without getting offended…or at least not showing they’re offended as socialization dictates that “real” men never display their feelings (but that’s a whole nother can of worms).

In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with a few final thoughts to mull over next time you’re contemplating adding some mirth to the mix:
1) ALL jokes are based on some sense of truth (albeit often exaggerated),

2) know your audience before you engage in displays of your wit, and finally

3) reserve your hilarity for its true purpose (ie: to produce happiness). If you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say it at all – coating it with the “oh I was just kidding” excuse is just as lousy as trying to convince someone that you only slept with their significant other because you were drunk. In two letters, it’s b.s. 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Vol #1, Col #10: Honesty IS a Virtue

Col10_LiesIt starts out with a slight exaggeration (typically characterized by the use of superlatives): I would NEVER this, it was the WORST experience of my ENTIRE life, she’s COMPLETELY obsessed with me. Then slowly but surely, what was once only a mild embellishment transforms into a full-on alternate reality. The more the story is repeated (to others AND importantly, oneself), the more it seemingly gains “credence”, purely due to its imposed familiarity. If one is not careful, this defense mechanism, rooted in an unconscious desire to preserve one’s self image (aka “to save face”) and/or avoid punishment could become “pathological”, wherein the liar him/herself can no longer separate his/her fabrications from the truth.

There, in “lies” (pardon the pun) the problem with lying: it is IMPOSSIBLE, even for the most “honest” people going, to stretch the truth just ONCE…especially once they’ve gotten caught. Accordingly, whoever came up with the expression “little white lie” obviously wasn’t all that acquainted with the act of deceit. In other words, there’s a reason the expression “web of lies” is equally well-known.

Now, it’s important to point out that even the most objective scientifically-oriented individuals are not immune to living within their own skewed perceptions and over-exaggerations of life events. However, there’s a HUGE difference between merely failing to consider another person’s perception and PURPOSEFULLY manipulating the truth. In sum, you CANNOT and DO NOT accidentally lie.

As psychology enthusiast Dr. Raymond Lloyd Richard explains: “when you tell a lie you make a deliberate, conscious effort to deceive someone, and that deception, at its psychological core, is an act of aggression. This aggression derives from two interrelated unconscious motivations, one about not knowing (ie: a desire to cover up a “lack” in order to prevent feelings of inadequacy), and the other about something you do know (ie: a response to knowing that someone has failed you). Therefore, your lies become cunning weapons of revenge in a psychological battle to inflict pain on those who hurt you. That is, when someone treats you critically, you feel hurt, shamed and afraid; and then, as an angry response to that hurt, you tell lies in a fabricated sense of invulnerability to hide your painful shame, while causing injury to that person.”

Richard makes it sound a lot more vindictive than most of us consider. After all, lying typically begins in our “innocent” childhoods as a means to either avoid punishment or obtain reward: the two drives behind ALL human activity. The thing is though as we age and begin to establish adult relationships, particularly of the romantic variety, lying becomes increasingly dangerous because there are considerably higher stakes at play. While I do not condone conning one’s parents in order to gain more recreational time or the like, playing with another person’s heart, I think it goes without saying, has a lot more serious consequences.

Despite our ongoing inoculation with the profession “honesty is the best policy” since childhood, lying, for many, has become second nature. The fact that our culture is built on distortions of the truth surely doesn’t help. From political promises to airbrushed celebrities and even the very way in which we recount our historical beginnings, if it’s not a deliberate INCLUSION of invented facts with which we’re contending, we’re faced with a calculated EXCLUSION of specific details intended to alter actuality to suit one’s own interests or needs. Moreover, we’ve allotted pretense its own designation as a form of entertainment…reality tv anyone? Finally, the examples of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Toothfairy prove that lying (at least, via storytelling) is culturally sanctioned; something that makes navigating this subject even more precarious! Though the act/art (depending upon who you ask) of lying seems to teeter the scales of moral ambiguity, from a psychological stance, let me assure you lying is a sign of immaturity and almost certainly an attempt to avoid responsibility.

And so, while there’s an ongoing joke among male comedians that one should never tell a woman if she
looks “fat” or “unattractive” in a given outfit, from a psychological AND female stance, I have to STRONGLY disagree. As I’ve relayed to my boyfriend on several occasions, “if you don’t think I look fantastic, why would I want to embarrass myself in front of a whole bunch of strangers who are far more likely to judge me negatively given they are not emotionally attached to me?” As Richard states, “If others reject you because you are honest, then you never had their love in the first place.” In other words, quite simply, don’t lie. It’s never honest ;)

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Vol #1, Col #9: Provoked Jealousy

Col9_RomanticJealousyBefore society started to invent ways for us to develop insecurities (ie: media messages of unrealistic perfection, among other things) that cause us to engage in irrational attacks of others, jealousy existed in its most basic form: rooted in a fight to ensure the survival of one’s kin. As psychologists Ofer and Azzia Zur of the Zur Institute explain, “jealousy is a territorial emotion that stems from a biological imperative to breed and carry on our genes.”

According to evolutionary psychology, jealousy manifests as fear of sexual infidelity in males, because in ancient times this would result in having to provide for children that “carry on another man’s traits;” thereby lessening the evolutionary fitness of one’s lineage. As for women, the fear of emotional infidelity is too rooted in our evolutionary beginnings in that if a man developed affection for a different mate, this would result in abandonment. As women did not have the means nor opportunity to provide for themselves or their children, fear for the worst (ie: death) was justified.

Romantic or “provoked” jealousy, then, as I’m sure is evident even from the brief description above, is a very different beast than unprovoked jealous which we discussed last week. For starters, oftentimes it is all TOO rational. Allow me to explain:

A close girlfriend of mine has been dating her significant other for several years. Though she is not by any stretch insecure, some of his behaviours would make any woman question the stability of their relationship. For example, though they never formally dated nor do they maintain an apparent sense of “closeness” friendship-wise, my friend’s boyfriend insists on visiting a woman he once fooled around with each year. Moreover, he’s willing to drive out of town to do so.

Because she didn’t want to start an argument, my friend remained silent on this issue for quite some time. However, this year she asked if she could come along for the visit considering that her boyfriend has assured her many times, “there is nothing going on.” Interestingly, this year’s plans somehow fell apart last minute and so the two women were never able to meet.

My friend’s boyfriend could honestly be telling the truth – that there is “nothing to be worried about.” BUT it seems pretty clear that he’s going to an awful lot of bother to maintain a bizarre “relationship” with a woman who doesn’t even have a place on his close friends list. Further the fact that this year’s meet-up – the first time my friend had ever asked to come along - got cancelled, seems a little suspect.

The most interesting aspect of this entire situation however is my friend’s boyfriend’s hypocritical behaviour. Undoubtedly as a result of the fact that he’s been cheated on several times in past relationships, he consistently “projects” his fears of infidelity onto my friend and is very protective when it comes to who she can associate with. In this way, he is attributing his OWN unacknowledged feelings and paranoia to HER as though they were HER issues, when in reality, they are HIS. At times, he has even gone so far as to accuse of her struggling with self esteem issues, and therefore feeling as though she’s going to lose him to a more desirable partner.

As an objective third party in this equation, my friend’s loyalty and commitment to her boyfriend, not to mention her self-assurance, is highly evident. Given this, his concerns are unfounded. As for his desire to continue empty relationships with other potential partners? Well, it could be one of two things:
  • a subconscious impulse to ensure that if for any reason my friend breaks it off with him or worse breaks his heart, he will not be alone (ie: he’s afraid of being alone)
  • more likely, it’s because he feels unworthy of love (due to past trauma evoked by those who have cheated on him) and irrespective of my girlfriend’s affection toward him, he has a need to feel desirable by others in order to fill a void in his self esteem.
I make no claims to being a relationship expert – believe me I’ve had my own run of questionable boyfriends – however, one advantage to combating jealousy that we clearly have in today’s world as opposed to our evolutionary past is this: equitable communication.

My girlfriend is strong, sophisticated, educated and career-oriented. She does not rely on her partner for provisions nor does she “need” him in order to survive. But before any genuine trust (the foundation of any healthy adult mature relationship) can be established, my friend’s boyfriend needs to face his fears and also acknowledge my friend’s perspective.

Unlike her evolutionary foremothers, my friend is not fearful of losing her mate and therefore her life. If she’s projecting any feelings of jealousy, it’s purely because she doesn’t feel as though she’s a priority. By no means am I suggesting that my friend’s boyfriend needs to sacrifice his social life in order to devote 100% of his time to her – that too is unhealthy and often leads to co-dependency. Rather, like so many of us running in the rat race, he needs to figure out the work/life/friends/romance balance.

Though we often encounter ads that try to convince us we can have it all – act like we’re single, but still have a loving mate to come home to - the joke is on those who fall for such absurdity. Life works in stages and you can live many different experiences throughout, but (and this is a BIG but) if you hope to maintain strong healthy relationships with anyone, you must first own up to your shit and secondly, treat those you care about with love, compassion and understanding. After all, if you don’t make their feelings a priority, why should they make yours one? In sum, learn how to talk WITH each other and ALWAYS ALWAYS be honest with others, but importantly too, yourself.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Vol #1, Col #8: Green Eyes

Col8_EnvyThis past summer, I attended the wedding celebration of a dear friend of mine. Because I strongly believe that one should get decked out for special occasions (and well, I like any excuse to dress up really. On that note, I can’t wait for Halloween!), I purchased myself a fine little Jessica Rabbit-inspired number and styled my hair and makeup a la the 1940s era. Not to toot my own horn, but if I do say so myself, I looked rather smashing. Indeed, my friend the bride and I were exchanging compliments all night.

Before the formal ceremony began, I excused myself from my date in order to “powder my nose.” While I was in the loo, I encountered an older woman (likely in her 50s or 60s) who was accompanied by a little girl I can only assume was her grandchild. Upon seeing me, the little girl’s face lit up. She turned to the older woman and expressed she was a great fan of my personal style.
Despite being in the position of “rolemodel”, the older woman commented under her breath (but loud enough so I could hear) in a snarky tone, “Well, some people feel they need to get all dressed up for weddings.” At this point, it’s imperative to note that the older lady was draped head-to-toe in a bland well-worn tracksuit; her hair and makeup equally appeared neglected. I should also note that while there were a few other stragglers dressed questionably for such a formal gala, the aforementioned older woman definitely took the cake in terms of a clear lack of effort.

Perhaps she had given up on herself long ago, perhaps she didn’t buy into socially constructed ideas of formality or tradition, perhaps she never conceived of herself as an attractive woman, irrespective of the deep-seated subconscious underpinnings informing her reaction, one thing was/is clear: she felt threatened by me. Like defensiveness and “people pleasing”, unprovoked jealousy (aka cattiness or envy) comes from a place of insecurity. As academic/author James Leonard Park explains, unprovoked “jealousy arises because of three [related] factors:

1) comparison
2) competition and
3) the fear of being replaced”.

Now, the important factor that distinguishes unprovoked jealousy versus provoked jealousy (we’ll be discussing this next week) is “rational thinking” or a lack thereof, I should say. In the above described example, it is not as though I deliberately selected my outfit and styling in an attempt to “show up” the older woman. For that matter, we had never been acquainted before that very moment nor did either of us know the other would be in attendance. Yet, somehow, on a subconscious level, my appearance was perceived by her as an “attack” to her self-concept. Accordingly, instead of acknowledging the truth of the matter (ie: that she was under-dressed), she projected her insecurities onto me via criticism in an attempt to regain her confidence and win back the perceived lost respect from her “granddaughter”.

As per Park’s three factors, the older woman compared herself to me, saw me as competition in terms of being a potential rolemodel for the little girl, and because the older woman feared being replaced in her position as rolemodel, she used the only ammunition she had available to her: defensive criticism. As we’ve already discussed at length, this falls into the psychologically IMmature response category.

I’d be bending the truth if I didn’t come right out and say we all get jealous (myself included) from time-to-time. What sets apart the psychologically mature and immature however is how said “green” feelings are dealt with:

How to Overcome Unprovoked Jealousy
  • For starters, acknowledge there will ALWAYS be those who are MORE talented, beautiful, intelligent, well-off than you are etc. BUT also acknowledge that you will be perceived exactly that same way by others.

  • Develop a self concept defined by what Parks refers to as “irreplac-ability”, in which you identify all of the factors about yourself that make you uniquely you. Take pride in your uniqueness.

  • Self-talk is crucial: if you find yourself becoming catty toward someone (and this applies to guys and gals alike, don’t kid yourself), ask yourself what it is about this other individual that you find so threatening?

  • And finally, acknowledge that those you’re jealous of can actually be fantastic resources as well as sources of motivation. If they have something you don’t have but want, instead of wasting energy putting them down (and making yourself look like a jerk in the process), re-direct that energy toward self-developing exercises in which you strive to achieve that which you feel you are lacking. Respect what others have to offer and what you can learn from them. Who knows? They may even turn out to become some of your greatest allies.
One final caveat: There’s nothing “sexy” about real life arguments between women. Any guy who thinks that “cat fights” will miraculously turn into stripteases in which he’ll merit an invitation for a threesome in an idiot.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Vol #1, Col #7: En Garde!

As our discussion of “dissociative anonymity” proved, having a disagreement with a stranger, even if it leads to verbal abuse, is an entirely different ballgame than arguing with someone to whom you have personalities, either professionally or personally. Unfortunately, no matter how much you love or respect someone (and vise versa), sometimes things are still said and done that really can’t be taken back. Unlike what the childhood rhyme would suggest, words can AND do cause considerable pain.

Emotions can be both wonderful and debilitating sensations,often simultaneously. As Courtney Love so eloquently put it, “I love so much I hate.” Because emotions like psychoactive substances can become overwhelming to one’s being (mentally, physically and spiritually), developing self-control,learning coping strategies and importantly, mature conflict resolution is essential to one’s very survival. In fact, as a course in criminology I once took taught me, the number one type of homicide is that which occurs between two males, 18-24, fighting over the same female mate. Yes…love can kill.

In any argument, you will find yourself in one of two roles: that of the instigator or that of the retaliator. While both terms conjure up negative connotations, it’s important to understand that conflict in itself is NOT necessarily a bad thing. Rather, it’s how you deal with it that determines whether the outcome is positive or negative. In fact, many psychologists argue that conflict can be the breeding ground for both self and relationship growth.For example, though initiating emotional discussions is not anyone’s particular cup of tea, dealing with issues when they occur (as opposed to bottling up one’s feelings) is a more mature and healthy response in that it prevents resentment, which can lead to subconscious attempts to sabotage the offender,from building up. Likewise, while it may not be a pleasant experience to hear someone out in terms of how you’ve hurt or offended them (it bruises one’s ego after all), allowing yourself to get defensive and failing to validate the  other party’s feelings only ever makes small conflicts turn into maelstroms. With this said, if you’ve got to tango, you need to learn the moves. In any conflict:

1)     It’s important to talk openly, calmly and honestly:

If you don’t feel comfortable in expressing yourself candidly, you may want to contemplate what the relationship in question actually means to you. Those who love, respect and value you will accept you,warts and all. That’s their job as is yours to reciprocate. Accordingly, if you’ve done something stupid, wrong, hurtful, whathaveyou, be mature and own up to it. Accepting responsibility for your actions is one of the first major steps to growing up.

2)      To avoid defensive reactions which bar communications, learn to preface your complaints with statements of care:

For example, before launching into how the offender has hurt you, say something gentle along the following lines: “I’d really like us to be able to have an open and mature relationship with each other so that we can better understand each other’s perspectives. With that said, I’d like to speak with you about what happened the other day. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but (this)and (this action) really hurt my feelings.”

I know this may seem like a bunch of gobbly-goop, but honestly, just making a few statements such as those above before participating in a full-on emotional discourse can save you from getting into a further conflict about the argument itself! There are a few important aspects of the above preface worth mentioning:

 a) the emphasis on what you desire in your relationship with the other person. By stating outright how much you value the other person, their perspective and what ideally you’d like to work toward with them relationship-wise, it minimizes the chance of a defensive reaction by reaffirming your words are coming from a place of care and a desire to fix issues, rather than create them.

b) the emphasis on ‘speaking with’ the individual, rather than ‘speaking’ to them. Subtle changes in word phrasing can result in dramatic effects, both for the better or worst. By using the expression “speak with” in this context rather than “to speak to”, it illustrates your desire for cooperative non-confrontational discussion as opposed to lecturing or belittling which again, for obvious reasons, will minimize the chance of a defensive reaction.

c) the emphasis on owning your feelings. Again, though subtle, stating that you felt hurt (ie: an ‘I statement’)as opposed to “YOU HURT ME” (ie: a ‘You Statement’) makes a world of difference in terms of the reaction it’ll merit. By owning your feelings in discussions,it allows you to explain your point-of-view, while at the same time compelling the offender to validate your feelings by demonstrating empathy. 

3)     If there’s a chance things will get heated, set ground rules for discussion such as allotting each speaker a time limit to express their concerns, while making it clear that personal attacks will not be tolerated.

If one or both parties begins to “brickwall” (ie: gets so emotional that there’s no logic in their words and they’re effectively only spewing fire from a defensive stance), it may be best to leave the “scene of the crime” until you’ve both had a chance to cool down. Note however it’s important to not leave the discussion hanging in limbo for too long as that too could breed further problems.

4)     Avoid both saying and accepting the “I’m Fine” statement:

In a word, it’s b.s. If there’s a distinct frustration,anger, annoyance etc. in someone’s tone of voice and they tell you “they’re fine”, don’t buy it. That’s not license to poke and prod them however as this will likely only piss them off further. A more successful approach would be stating something along the lines of, “I don’t wish to irritate you, but it seems to me there is something on your mind. If you’d like to speak about it,I’d be happy to listen. I’m just concerned is all.” As with the last suggested phrasing, there are some key aspects to point out here:

a)      the emphasis on not wishing to create further problems and a genuine concern for the individual’s well being. By including both of these considerations in your approach, it should help the individual feel “safe” in expressing their concerns as well as calm any anger that may be brewing, even if what has gotten them riled up in the first place directly involved something you said or did. 

b)      the use of “it seems to me” and “I’m concerned”: Again both of these phrasings indicate an owning of your emotions without putting words into the other party’s mouth. If the individual is using the “I’m Fine” statement, the last thing you want to do is assume you know what’s bothering them. NEVER assume anything in a conflict - people will and do surprise you.

c)       the emphasis on when THEY’D like to speak about what’s ailing them. You’ve effectively put the ball in the other person’s court, BUT IMPORTANTLY ALSO indicated you’d like to resolve the issue. This demonstrates a mature approach and again should help the individual open up in a more timely and calm manner.

5)     ALWAYS avoid childish “I told you so”-like remarks as well as passive aggressiveness (ie:acting like everything is fine, only to turn around seemingly of nowhere and explode). I believe this is self-explanatory.

6)      Learn the Art of Forgiving and Letting Go:

You’ve heard the expression, “focus on the task at hand.”While usually uttered in reference to the workplace, it would do you a great service to also employ said suggestion when it comes to conflict resolution.Ongoing guilt-tripping is psychological abuse intended to manipulate and establish unfair power dynamics in a relationship. It’s a low move and accomplishes nothing...nothing positive anyway.

Conflicts, as I stated near the beginning of this piece, can serve as a tremendous source of growth, but that’s only if you allow yourself and others to move forward, learn from your mistakes and let go.

As for forgiving others, set limits and know them. Some acts are altogether unforgiveable – that’s a given -- but remember, forgiveness benefits you just as much as the offender. Studies have proven that maintaining grudges not only affects individuals on an emotional level, but further can affect one’s physical health. The same goes for living with guilt.  

And finally…

7)      Remember, there is a HUGE difference from the listener’s perspective in terms of being outright called a derogatory comment VERSUS having one’s actions labelled as symptomatic of that derogatory comment (ie: you are a bitch vs. you are being a bitch).

Yes, that’s right folks, for clarity purposes, I’m referencing yet again the concept of the “personal attack.” The former statement above implies a permanent character trait that one cannot change, while the latter points out that while you are clearly displeased with the individual’s current choices/behaviour, you still love/respect them. Criticize actions, not individuals. In other words, this week’s lesson: fight fair.