Archive for July, 2012
Let me tell you about a successful couple in their 40′s that I saw at my practice. The husband, David was a stockbroker and had partner in a prestigious firm. The wife, Marcia was a homemaker and volunteers at the local library. Their son, Andrew, 20, after dropping out of college in his sophomore year has come to live at home and they were having conflict on how to deal with this. Their son has worked at several jobs, but none of them lasted more than a few months. He is presently unemployed and hanging out with his friend when he is not at home. They told me the that they had a terrible argument that went something like this.
David: Why didn’t he go out on interviews this morning? We spent two hours marking job possibilities yesterday! He should’ve been on the 7:30 train!
Marcia: Keep your voice down. He’ll hear you.
David: So what? I want him to hear me. Let him see how I feel about all this.
Marcia: He knows how you feel. Why does he have to hear you putting him down all the time?
David: Putting him down? He’s the one who puts himself down! When he dropped out of college, he said he’d do better in the business world. So why the hell can’t he stick it out in any job?
Marcia: He’s just a sensitive type. It’s hard for him to get along with some of those bosses. You’re such a hot-shot businessman; why didn’t you ever spend any time with him teaching him how to get along in the real world?
David: Stop babying him, Marcia. Nobody ever taught me. He’s got to learn how to manage out there for himself. It’s time for him to grow up.
Marcia: Maybe if you didn’t make him feel so inadequate…
Andrew: Quit defending me, Ma. I can talk for myself.
Marcia: Were you listening to all this?
Andrew: Yeah, I love listening to the two of you fight about me.
David: Tell me, why the hell didn’t you go out on the interviews?!!
Marcia: Stop talking to him in that tone. He’s not one of your employees.
David: Face the facts, Marcia. Your son is lazy and you support it! At twenty years old, he should be either in college or standing on his own two feet, holding down a job.
Marcia: My son!? Why is it that whenever he doesn’t live up to your expectations, he’s my son, and when he makes you proud, he’s yours?
Andrew: When have I ever made him proud? Dad, you want to know why I didn’t go on the interviews? Because you chose them, not me. You didn’t once ask me what I wanted. You never do. You’re always deciding what’s best for me. You didn’t like the idea of my playing tennis so you pushed me to go out for baseball. You decided which college I should attend . It had to be a high-pressured place. The state school wasn’t good enough for you. Now you’re even deciding which job I should apply for. All you say is “This sounds good for you.” What have you ever known about what’s good for me?
David: Don’t blame me for your failures. Face it, you can’t keep a job. When I was your age I didn’t have a parent to fall back on. I paid my own way.
Andrew: Yeah, and you’ve never let me forget it.
Marcia (to David): David, you want him to be just like you. Some people take longer to find themselves.
David: Bull!! He’s lazy Maybe, if he were on his own, he’d start being responsible and productive!
Marcia: What are you saying, David? That you want to throw Andrew out of our house? What kind of father are you?
David: I’m a father who’s tired of supporting him while he lays around all day.
Marcia: If you throw Andy out, I’m going with him!
Andrew: Don’t drag me into your problems. You’re always making me your excuse to attack Dad. If you want to leave him, do it for your own reasons.
Marcia: Andy, you’re not being fair. All I’ve ever tried to do…
David: Marcia, don’t get so melodramatic.
Marcia: Melodramatic?! Easy for you to say! I’m not going to watch him fall on his face.
David: He’s on his face and it’s your fault. You’ve always pampered him. He’s never had to fend for himself. Let him move out and grow up!
Marcia: So not only is our son a failure, but I’m a failure as a mother! I’m leaving.
David: This is not about us. We’re not the problem. He is. Where are you going? I’m not finished talking to you.
Marcia: Well I’m finished talking to you.
David: You’re just like Andrew. Too much heat and you’re out of here.
Marcia: David, we’re sick of your bullying. Maybe once he’s away from you, he’ll get his act together.
Andrew: Will you both just shut up. Get off my case and let me lead my own life.
David: You want to lead your own life? Then support yourself!!
Andrew: Fine. You don’t want a son anyway. You just want a clone of yourself. Now you two can find someone else to fight about. I’m out of here.
The question is, ‘What is enough? How good is good enough? Good enough is as you are right now. I see this question come up all the time. A couple comes in for marriage counseling, and they ask me, ‘Am I good enough as a husband/wife, father/mother?’ Somebody’s at a job they like, but are they successful enough?. You may not trust your own judgment because it is “not good enough.” Instead, most look to others, comparing themselves with the world of fame and excess. You are then forced, by default, to depend on the “superior” judgment of others.
As a child, you may have learned not to trust your judgment: “It wasn’t good enough.” Well, it is true, as a child your judgment wasn’t very good back then, was it? The problem is that your judgment has gotten much better, but you still believe your judgment is the same. You fear that you judgment hasn’t grown up with you. This worry is still down there, interfering with your judgment in the present. So you can make ten good decisions in a row, but your old doubt about your judgment will rise up and sabotage the next one. It is as if you are telling yourself something like, “If I think it’s A, it must be B!” So you override your first choice and pull the plug on yourself. But you were right the first time. You have shot yourself in the foot. This conflict between wanting to trust your judgment and your fear of being wrong is very stressful. But when crunch time comes, you react to the pressure and operate out of fear of criticism, fear of punishment, fear of loss, from the past. In this way, you come up with a “solution” that makes everything worse. Not because your judgment is no good but because this decision was not made in reality. It was made based on fears from the past. When your judgment leads to an unfavorable outcome, you “confirm” your belief that your judgment cannot be trusted. It still isn’t good enough.
This cycle of emotional reactivity continues unless you chose to explore your thinking. Yet, change is difficult. Perhaps, when you are confronted with evidence that you are not perfect, you get snappish, super critical, argumentative, defensive, withdrawn or resort to giving the silent treatment. Yet, this is all absurd because no one in the past or present has been perfect. No human is perfect. Just like you don’t flap your arms and fly, humans are not capable of being perfect. Perfect people never lose control. Perfect people never let bad things happen. Perfect people never get angry. Perfect people know everything. Perfect people always accurately predict the future. Perfect people never fail. Perfect people can read other people’s minds. Do you know anyone like this? You, like all humans has limitations and makes mistakes. The fact that you are human means you are not perfect or are imperfect. To be imperfect implies you will make mistakes. To be human is to make mistakes, to make mistakes is to be imperfect. And because you make mistakes you are insecure and worry about making a mistake. You may feel inferior because you made mistake, which only compounds your poor self image with layers of self-blame, discouragement, guilt, and anger. This amounts to layer upon layer of pain for being imperfect. An emotional pain where there is no place to bandage and relieve the hurt.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Let me describe a couple I was seeing, Ron, 45, a systems analyst and Andrea, 42, an emergency room nurse, are the parents of two teenage boys. Kenny, 16, the oldest, is having trouble in school. Andrea and Ron strongly disagree on how to deal with Kenny. The result is conflict between the couple and most likely, confusion for Kenny.
Andrea: Ron, you did it again!
Ron: What did I do? What are you talking about?
Andrea: I set the rules and you break them. How are these kids going to get a clear message if they don’t hear us speaking in one voice?
Ron: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Andrea: Cut the crap, Ron. You know about the lousy report card Kenny brought home last week. Dammit, Ron we agreed that he was going to sit and work his butt off for school. Remember the deal. No partying for two weeks. So why in hell did you let him go out with the guys last night? Do you have any idea what time he came in last night? No, of course not, you were sound asleep! And ya’ know what kills me? The first thing he said to me was, “Mom, don’t be mad. Dad said it was okay!”
Ron: Wait a second. The kid’s been working hard…
Andrea: Working hard! Why does he come home with a C average if he’s working so hard?
Ron: Since you told him that he’s grounded, he’s been working hard. He came to me and said “Dad, I need a break! All the guys are going to the basketball game. It’s the big game tonight.” You know that the team made the county championship. What was I going to tell the kid, he couldn’t go?!
Andrea: First of all, you should have discussed it with me. Don’t you realize he pulled a fast one on us.
Ron: How could I discuss this with you? You weren’t around!
Andrea: That’s exactly why he asked you! Because I wasn’t here! He’s a clever kid. He waited till I left so he could sweet-talk you.
Ron: That’s a lot of crap! You’re overreacting! The kid had an important basketball game. Don’t you remember what it was like when you were a kid?
Andrea: I didn’t come home with a report card with a C average. I worked hard.
Ron: So you were really a good student, he’s not such a great student. He’s more of a party guy.
Andrea: What party guy? It’s not as if he doesn’t have the potential! He’s just not living up to it. He’s always into basketball instead of in the books. How is he going to get into college? How’s he going to get ahead in life?
Ron: You’re always talking about “what is he going to do in the future?” What about right now? You know, this is the most important time in his life. If it were up to you, all he’d ever do is work. Is that what you want for him – to have no friends and no wonderful memories?
Andrea: When those friends are in good universities, he’ll be in some community college. He’s not going to get ahead like the rest of them. Then he’s going to look back and ask, “Why didn’t my parents push me more? Why didn’t they give me a good swift kick in the butt when I needed it, instead of giving in to my whining?” He’s going to come back and complain to us that we weren’t strict enough!
Ron: You run this house like it’s a boot camp! I don’t believe any kid would come back and say “I wish my parents were stricter with me!” He’s a good kid…
Andrea: Look Ron, it’s easy for you to talk. You’re just naturally brilliant. You sailed through school with almost no work. You got into one of the best universities in the country, you have a great career – so how could you understand! This kid needs discipline, he needs work. He’s not like you. He’s more like me. I had to work hard to do it. But he knows that you’re the macho father who likes to see his son party with the guys! We have to talk in one voice!
Ron: You want us to speak in one voice, which is your voice. It’s not my voice. You’re breaking his spirit.
Andrea: No, I’m not. I just want him to succeed in life and to have the opportunities that I never had. I know it’s hard for him to miss a basketball game but he’s got to get his priorities straight.
People devote a great deal of time and effort towards preventing mistakes. Thereby creating a side show, which diminishes their efficiency in dealing with the real problems at hand. Actually, making mistakes is unavoidable, and the mistake is less important in most cases, than what you do after you have made the mistake. If you are discouraged, demoralized and beset with guilt, you cannot face the situation. But if you are courageous, the predicament often leads to benefits, which would never have been possible without the original mistake. What is needed is not concern with what you have done wrong, but the determination to meet the demands of the moment. Making a mistake implies humiliation; it lowers your confidence, which changes self-respect into self-contempt. Self contempt is a way to manage your feelings of disrespect and self doubt. And as a result of your self contempt, you resort to looking at your peers to see what is acceptable.
There are voices all around you saying you should be better than you are. Winning is everything: “Your brother did better than that.” “Why don’t you have a job like his?” “Nobody else needs as much help as you do.” You may forget it is impossible to always please others, and you begin to think less of yourself when you fail to make everyone happy all the time. You may not even be able to see how you have made your life unmanageable. You just realize that reality is hopelessly flawed. You feel that you have let yourself down, no matter how hard you try to live up to your ideals This is the reason that you may have guilt, anger, anxiety or depression.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Many people are so consumed with work and finances that they have come to sacrifice the very relationship they are working to support. This reminds me of a couple I saw a few months ago. Brad, a 34 year old accountant, and Kathy, a 35 year old sales rep for a cosmetic firm, have been married for five years. They have no children and as this dialog reveals, they hardly have time for each other.
Kathy: Hi. Can I talk to you?
Brad: Can it wait till later? I’m really wasted. Talking’s about the last thing I want to do right now. I’ve had people pulling on me all day long. I need a break.
K: I’m not people, Brad. I’m your wife. I need to talk to you. Is that asking too much?
B: (Sighs) Oh, here we go again. Listen, I don’t want to fight with you. I just want to be left alone.
K: Dammit, put your book down. What do I have to do? Get on my hands and knees and beg you to give me a moment of your precious time?
B: You have to make this difficult. Don’t you? You know, Kathy, it’s impossible to say no to you. You want to talk; I want to be left alone. But of course, your needs are more important than mine.
K: Well, you tell me Brad, how am I supposed to feel when every time I want to talk to you, you want to be left alone? Maybe, you just see it as coincidence but to me it’s crystal clear – you have no interest in being with me.
B: I have no interest in being with anyone right now. You want to take it personally, fine. Feel like the poor rejected wife but that’s not what it’s about. I’m not pushing you away. I’ve just had a very hard day.
K: That’s the problem. Every day is a hard day for you and every day is an “I’ve – got – to – be – alone -day.” B: Okay, you win. What is it you want? K: What is it I want!!? Dammit, Brad I want you. I want a husband, a friend. The only thing I am to you right now is one more burden in a difficult day.
B: Cut the dramatics, Kathy. You want to guilt trip me or do you want to talk? I’m giving you the time, even though it’s not the right time for me.
K: Is it ever the right time for you? You know Brad, you’re either too busy, too tired, or too involved with TV or a book. Tell me, do I have to schedule an appointment to be with you?
B: Oh, you’re really into feeling sorry for yourself. Well, forget it, I’m not buying. I’m not the bastard you think I am. You created the problem here, Kathy, not me. Instead of nagging me, you could have sat next to me. It’ too bad you don’t understand my need to relax.
K: You know, it’s always got to be on your terms. I just don’t feel like snuggling next to you (sarcastically); I want to have a conversation; I want your input, I want you to respond. Is that such an unfair demand? Am I really crowding you Brad?
B: You want to be nasty? I can be nasty too. It’s not talk you want. It’s constant attention. I’m just not allowed to do my own thing. I feel so crowded by you.
K: So why stay together? You only want to do your own thing. There’s no place for me in your life. So, what’s the point of being married?
B: Maybe there’s no point. If marriage means being stuck together like glue, then maybe we should break the bond…
There are two reasons why people seek to control things that are beyond their command. The first is fear about discomfort. This comes from the idea that you can only be happy when your world is secure, safe, and predictable. The second type is fear of rejection. This results, partly, from believing that you can only feel good about yourself if other people recognize, accept, and like you. Fear is what makes you overreact when you think others are not doing as they ‘should’. Why? Because you perceive their behavior as a threat to either your sense of security, your self-image – or both. As you and others strive to reduce anything that is considered a threat, the mind begins to form a framework of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ that trigger fearful over-reactions. For example:
- ‘Life must be secure, orderly and predictable.’
- ‘I must get what I want.’
- ‘I must have the things I think that I need.’
- ‘I must not get what I don’t want.’
- ‘I must not experience discomfort.’
- ‘I need to avoid situations in which I feel uncomfortable.’
- ‘I should be able to live my life as I want to.’
- ‘I must prepare for anything that may possibly go wrong.’
- ‘It is disastrous when I don’t get what I need.’
- ‘I can’t stand it when things go wrong.’
You have been brought up with the shoulds, musts, and oughts, the voice of the internal editor that tells you what you cannot or must not do. You scold yourself with this inner voice: “if only I had,” or “if only I had not.” You willingly deny your deepest desires in order to live as society tells you. What happens is that you often end up living your parents’ lives, or striving for those things that others think are so important, such as money, position and so called power.
There are many should and must in that we learn in life. Lets say you go to a restaurant. You may feel, “People should always be polite. I must always be on time. I must always get good service. Food should always taste good. I should get what I pay for.” The culprit for these emotional thoughts, usually lies in one of the three core “musts”:
“Must” #1 (a demand on yourself): “I MUST do well and get approval, or else I’m worthless.” This demand causes anxiety, depression, and lack of assertiveness.
“Must” #2 (a demand on others): “You MUST treat me reasonably, considerately, and lovingly, or else you’re no good.” This “must” leads to resentment, hostility, and violence.
“Must” #3 (a demand on situations): “Life MUST be fair, easy, and hassle-free, or else it’s awful.” This thinking is associated with hopelessness, procrastination, and addictions.
This list of ironclad shoulds and musts guide your expectations about how you and other people should act. You may have such ingrained ideas of what you “should” be doing, thinking and feeling that you torture yourself with thoughts of how they are not acting, thinking and feeling as they “should.” The inner play by play announcer uses shoulds to criticize everything in comparison to an unachievable ideal. This leads to sadness, anxiety, anger, and many obsessive kinds of behavior.
The exaggerations that arise from these shoulds and musts are related to a perfectionist attitude. Perfectionists try to gain and keep their respect by thinking in absolute terms: “I must not make a mistake that will embarrass me.” “I perform well or my friends will not like me.” Yet, your worth as an individual is not measured by the perfection of your actions. All humans have strengths and weaknesses and varying abilities. You may fail at something, but that alone does not mean you are a failure or that you cannot succeed at another time or in a different situation. Thinking in terms of or “musts” puts a heavy burden on you and only makes you miserable when you fail. If you realize that, however desirable your goals may be, you will not suddenly become a failure if you do not accomplish them.
When you or others fall short, you can feel severely disappointed. You can feel that you or they have failed, which is unacceptable and must be changed. You may reason that if you have to power to change yourself and the world, but you do not succeed in doing so, then you are be to blame. You must not be trying hard enough. Or perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with you, which gets in the way of achieving your potential. This is where self-blame sets in. “I should have done better.” “I always screw things up.” “It’s my own fault, I should have…”
These musts and shoulds are beliefs about what is indisputably the best and right way for how things unfold. They perceive the worst case scenario when life does not go as they had wanted. As a result, you are often in the position of judging and finding fault (in yourself and in others) when things don’t happen as they should. Yet, events are seldom as bad as they seem. It is your interpretation of their significance that can be upsetting. If you choose to regard every situation, no matter how insignificant, as a disaster, you will never find any peace of mind.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Human beings are gifted with the ability to imagine the ideal. You can envision a happier world. You can envision a better version of yourself. And you are given the gift of self-knowledge, the ability to evaluate yourself compared to your ideals. This ability to imagine something better is your blessing and your curse. Your ideals give you knowledge that you and the world around you are not as good as it could be. As you are presented with this knowledge, you may strive to change yourself and the world, to be a better place. When you envision something better, you try to create it. Sometimes you succeed in creating something new and amazing. You need these ideals, these ideals of perfection are functional. They bring out the best in you. They give your life direction and purpose.
So what is wrong with trying to better yourself? We all want to be better than we are. America is the Self-Improvement Capital of the Galaxy! You may want to be smarter, happier, thinner, richer, wittier, more popular, more lovable, more successful than you are right now. You can’t see why you should settle for being less than all you can be. However, you know that your reality does not always measure up to your ideals. Perfectionists can really beat up on themselves. As unreasonable as it is, perfectionists blame themselves for not being perfect.
People who strive for unachievable ideals wind up feeling inferior, inadequate, worthless and guilty. To relieve these painful feelings, they resolve to do better next time, still not knowing how good is good enough. They try to motivate themselves by comparing themselves to their more successful friends and relatives, only to find that this unfavorable comparison confirms their underlying feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. By trying to motivate someone to succeed by criticizing them, only confirms their painful feelings of inferiority, inadequacy and worthlessness. Their emotional thoughts appear in statements like: “Why didn’t I…? I can’t believe I forgot to…This is just awful…” You may know people like this. You may live with them, you may work with them, it may be you. Why do people torture themselves like this? Why is it that you cannot be satisfied with yourself as you are? Why are you constantly striving to be better? You know that you’ll never be perfect, so why do you set yourself up for inevitable disappointment?
How would you even go about defining perfection? Each human has a different vision of what perfection is. I think that perfection implies that I get my way. If I get my way, it can imply that my preferred taste is the best. How can you really argue taste? You make choices that suit your preferred taste. The problem arises when you seek to control others to suit your preferences. You do not really know what is best, but may feel that your way is the only way to solve the problem.
It seems so unfair! You are given the ability to imagine perfection, but not the means to attain it. Everything always falls short of what you imagine it could be. You can envision it, but you can’t do it. You get no points in your own eyes, for coming in second place. Like an Olympian who wins a Silver Medal, you are left with the endless striving for the Holy Grail of Betterness.
You begin to have a dominating critical voice in your head that says you are awful and unworthy of respect since you cannot solve problems perfectly. This internal critic comes from the lifetime of put-downs from siblings, parents, extended family member, teachers, friends or anyone else who you trusted when you were a child. This may show up as emotional thoughts like, “I must be better than I am.” Unfortunately, this emotional thought cannot tell you when to stop bettering yourself. It cannot tell you how good is good enough. So you push, push, push, to be better and better, until you go over the edge. In an attempt to create you ideal, you may even try to control people, which lead to hurt when they don’t cooperate to bring about the outcome you see as the best. So, you end up frustrated because, despite your best efforts, many things in life are always beyond your command.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Several years into her marriage, Jessica Carr discovered a receipt on her husband’s desk for a late lunch at a waterfront restaurant in Seattle, 45 miles from the farm she shares with him in Orting, Wash. He had told her he’d spent that whole day in business meetings.
“Uh-oh,” Ms. Carr, now 38, remembers thinking. She’d thought her husband had seemed emotionally distant because he was overwhelmed by raising two small children. Now, she worried something else was going on.
Ms. Carr, who owns a horse training, breeding and boarding business, confronted her husband. “What were you doing, and why did you lie to me?” she asked. She braced herself for the answer, and it surprised her: He’d just needed a little time alone.
“It seemed selfish to take the time for myself, but sometimes I need to unplug,” says Rich Carr, 49, owner of an interactive marketing company.
I love asking happy long-time married couples to tell me the secrets to their successful union. Over and over, I hear this answer: “We give each other space.”
Having enough space, or privacy, in a relationship is even more important to a couple’s happiness than a good sex life, according to a recent unpublished analysis of data from an ongoing federally funded longitudinal study. And women tend to be more unhappy with the amount of space in their marriage than men.
Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, has been studying 373 married couples for the past 25 years. When she asked participants if they felt they had enough “privacy or time for self” in their relationship, 29% said no.
Dr. Orbuch recently analyzed one year of data from her study and found more wives than husbands (31% versus 26%) reported not having enough space. She believes this is because women often have less time to themselves than men. Even when women have jobs outside the home, they still are typically the primary caregivers of children or aging parents. And because they also tend to have more friends than men, they often have more social obligations.
Dr. Orbuch asked participants if they were unhappy in their marriages. Of those who reported being unhappy, 11.5% said the reason was lack of privacy or time for self. That is a more common answer than the 6% who said they were unhappy with their sex lives.
“When individuals have their own friends, their own set of interests, when they are able to define themselves not by their spouse or relationship, that makes them happier and less bored,” says Dr. Orbuch, author of the book “Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great.” Space gives people time to process thoughts, pursue hobbies and relax without responsibilities to others. And the time apart gives partners something new to talk about. “Space brings excitement and novelty,” Dr. Orbuch says.
A person’s need for space is a function of innate personality, and of their “attachment style,” which is determined in infancy largely by the way we are parented, experts say.
People who had affectionate, nurturing parents are comfortable with both being close to others and being alone; they have a “secure” attachment style.
Those whose parents were inconsistently available to them emotionally often have an “anxious” attachment style. They crave closeness, fear abandonment—and need and want less space. Those whose parents were rejecting often have an “avoidant” attachment style, resisting closeness and seeking space because they fear they will be hurt.
People who fear closeness tend to seek out people who are warm and inviting. This is how someone who needs a lot of space ends up with a partner who hates to be alone.
Couples can work out their space issues, if they understand each other’s different needs and why. “Underneath, both individuals want love,” says Vondie Lozano, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Glendora, Calif. The space-seeking partner’s need may be greater because he probably has fewer social connections, Dr. Lozano says. “When the couple can see he is just afraid of being hurt and she is just afraid of being abandoned, and it all goes back to their families,” then they can stop taking it personally, she says.
Individuals who don’t get the space they need will find a way to create distance, Dr. Lozano cautions. They may lash out or withdraw. “If you don’t give them their physical space, they will take emotional space,” she says.
Mr. Carr grew up in an Air Force family, moved around a lot and often lived on farms. He says this upbringing made him self-sufficient. He experienced periods of isolation after each move, because it would take time to make new friends. He learned to entertain himself by riding horses and hiking in the woods.
Ms. Carr says she would like less space because she spends a lot of time alone in her work day, doing chores and riding.
Earlier in the marriage, Mr. Carr sometimes would schedule a meeting in Seattle and spend an afternoon walking around Pike Place Market. “That meeting with business representatives took half an hour, and my meeting with myself took two,” he says. He often took back-to-back business trips.
At home, he often snapped at his kids, grunted at his wife or sat there, scowling. “I needed to get some stuff out of my head,” he says. Ms. Carr tried not to take her husband’s grumpiness and distraction personally, but it was hard. “I started to pull back because I thought he wasn’t happy with me,” she says.
Around this time, the Carrs overheard a couple, whom they didn’t know, arguing. Each presented his or her view, then calmly discussed it. At one point, the husband noted they were late for an appointment and suggested they talk again the next day. “I saw that and thought, ‘We need to schedule time to talk, to visit and discuss what we each need to get done,’ ” Ms. Carr says.
Now, the Carrs have marriage meetings. At 5:30 each morning, espressos in hand, they sit for an hour by a wall of windows overlooking Mount Rainier, catching up on personal stuff. Then they call up their joint calendar online and discuss the day’s schedule—including the personal time each one will need. “What works is making this a part of a normal conversation,” Mr. Carr says.
After the meeting, he goes for a walk of a half-hour or more with his Labrador retriever. Some afternoons, he sits in an old chair overlooking the pasture in back of the main stable. For a “major reset,” he schedules a stay at a business retreat center in Austin, Texas. This year and last, he spent three days alone at a rented cabin in the woods, Father’s Day gifts from his wife and kids. “When I give him his space to do what he wants,” Ms. Carr says, “he is more engaged, more excited and more rejuvenated when he comes home.”
Here’s how to negotiate for more space without hurting your partner.
• Be specific. Say, ‘I need the afternoon to myself.’ Simply saying ‘I need space’ sends confusing signals.
• Explain why more space makes you happy, so your partner knows it’s not about him or her.
• Enjoy the space you take. Guilt defeats the purpose, says Barbara F. Okun, counseling psychology professor at Northeastern University.
• No secrets. Tell your spouse what you did and with whom when you were away.
• Don’t get carried away. Too much space weakens your connection.
• Don’t forget to schedule couple time and family time, too.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
Innovation is the name of the game these days — in business, in science and technology, even in art. We all want to get those big ideas, but most of us really have no idea what sets off those sparks of insight. Science can help! In the past few years, neuroscientists and psychologists have started to gain a better understanding of the creative process. Some triggers of innovation may be surprisingly simple. Here are five things that may well increase the odds of having an “Aha!” moment.
1. Take a shower.
A seemingly mindless task — showering, fishing or driving — might help spur creative thoughts, as the mind wanders from “lather-rinse-repeat” to a recent problem, and then back again. There’s even history to back this up.
As the ancient Greek engineer Vetruvius told us, Archimedes was lounging in a public bath when he noticed the water level go up and down as people got in and out. He suddenly realized that water could help him calculate the density of gold. “This alteration [of thoughts] may be very useful for churning the creative process,” says Jonathan Schooler, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Downtime also seems to reset the brain. In an upcoming study in Psychological Science, Schooler and his colleagues gave volunteers creativity problems followed by a period of rest. During that rest period, some were assigned a demanding task that kept the brain fully occupied, while a second group got a simpler task that allowed for mind wandering. A third group was given no task at all. Afterward, they all went back to try to complete the original problems. Those who could let their minds wander during the resting time were more likely to solve the creativity problems.
Researchers aren’t quite sure why mindless tasks help the creative process, Schooler says, but it could be that such tasks allow two different brain networks that aren’t usually turned on at the same time to be active. Schooler says: “It’s possible that there’s some opportunity for cross talk that’s useful.”
2. Work in a blue room.
As we grow up, colors take on specific associations — red means danger, and blue connotes peace and tranquility. Those associations affect how we think. In one experiment, people facing a red computer screen did better at detail-oriented tasks like proofreading. Volunteers who faced a blue screen did better at creative tasks. That study appeared in 2009 in the journal Science. Why the difference? Red makes us anxious, and “anxiety causes you to focus,” says Mark Beeman, an associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University who studies the neuroscience of creativity. Blue, he says, tells us we can relax and let the imagination roam free.
3. Live abroad.
Want to discover a new planet? Live in a foreign land. That’s what German-born astronomer William Herschel did while living in England in 1781 — he found the planet Uranus. He’s just one of many great scientists, artists, writers and composers who spent significant time living far from their native turf. A week in Paris isn’t enough to light the creative spark, delightful though that trip may be. The foreign sojourn has to be long enough to challenge your habitual ways of thinking and living.
People who had lived abroad performed better on creative problems and tasks, such as drawing alien creatures, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. They bested people who had traveled for only a brief time, or who had never left home. The researchers think adapting to a new culture may spur some sort of psychological transformation that enhances creativity.
4. Watch a funny video.
Mood matters when it comes to creativity. Anxiety focuses a person, but good cheer and contentment liberate creativity. It “might not just relax your scope of interest, but actually broaden it further,” allowing you to look at a problem in new ways and come up with a solution, says Beeman. It could be as simple as seeing a YouTube video of a laughing baby. That’s one of the images that boosted the creativity in a 2010 study in Psychological Science. Mood-boosting music helped, too. Beeman’s own research has indicated that a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex is activated. That brain region is linked to decision-making, empathy and emotion. Gearing it up may help the brain reach new insights by detecting ideas it may have otherwise ignored.
5. Sleep on it.
Sleep helps generate new ideas in several ways. During sleep, the brain consolidates memories. That act of consolidation actually reorganizes thoughts, much like organizing books on a shelf. The new arrangement can help extract knowledge and generate new associations. And that half-awake period right before you fall asleep or when you wake up may also help you focus on a problem.
Legend has it that Thomas Edison came up with an invention to harness the insights generated during those half-awake moments. When he catnapped, he would hold a handful of ball bearings above a pie plate. If he fell asleep, the ball bearings would fall, waking him up to write down his thoughts.
But you don’t need noisy ball bearings to gain the benefit of sleep. Just waiting a day to tackle a problem again takes advantage of the consolidation process, increasing the odds that new solutions to the problem will emerge. But don’t expect this to work every time. Beeman says the sleep-on-it solution works best when people feel that they are getting close to an answer that is most likely to be solved by waiting a day. In his own research, he found it’s those “it’s on the tip of my tongue” moments that are most likely solved with sleep.
“When you’re stuck on a problem,” Beeman says, “getting away from it for a while helps.” Especially if you’re in the tub. In a blue room. Watching the Marx brothers.
This article is part of Joe’s Big Idea, an NPR project to explore how innovations come about.
The question of what sparks innovation and creativity has been the source of fascination for centuries, and our era is no exception. Recent books on the subject include:
Aha! The New Neuroscience of Creative Insight, by John Kounios and Mark Beeman (Random House, 2011).
Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012).
Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2011).
Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation, by Steven Johnson (Riverhead, 2011).Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Eating disorders aren’t just a problem for teens and young women.
Many women over 50 grapple with issues related to body image and food, a new study finds.
Two-thirds of 1,849 women surveyed by researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine said they were unhappy with their overall appearance. More than 70 percent said they were trying to lose weight. Nearly 8 percent reported purging within the last year, and about 4 percent reporting binge eating at least once a week.
About 28 percent of the women reported past experience with eating disorders. But the survey found that many older women with eating disorders had no previous history with them. The findings were just published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
For more, we talked with psychologist Cynthia Bulik, the lead researcher on the survey and director of the UNC Eating Disorders Program. She’s also the author of The Woman in the Mirror: How To Stop Confusing What You Look Like With Who You Are.
Here are highlights from our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Q: What factors do you think are influencing the growing prevalence of eating disorders in women over 50?
A: “I think part of this is that our society has made it not OK to age. Many industries have put enormous pressure on women to continue to look young even as they age. So I think part of this is a nasty side effect of what I call the ’70 is the new 50′ movement. Women are feeling like they need to go to extreme measures to continue to look thin and attractive and young.”
Q: How big of a change are you seeing versus previous research?
A: “One study was done in Austria a while back, but we can’t compare them because they are different countries at different times. One thing that this country [the United States] lacks is good epidemiological data to really look at trends. So we have no idea if this was any different 10 years ago. One possibility is that we really are seeing an increase in eating disorders in older women. Another possibility is that no one’s ever bothered to ask, and so it has been this way all along.”
Q: How does the obesity epidemic factor into this?
A: “Basically as the world is getting bigger and more obese, our societal ideals haven’t changed. So the distance between what you are seeing in the mirror, and the societal ideal is becoming greater. That contributes to even more dissatisfaction, because the ideal seems so unattainable. And that’s driving some of these extreme weight-control behaviors.”
Q: What options are available for older women who may have an eating disorder?
A: “Part of the problem is that a lot of our treatments were actually developed for adolescent and young adult women. One of the things we know, for example, is for youth, family involvement is important. So one thing we’ve been doing is bringing partners in, if they have a committed partner, and getting them involved in the treatment and the recovery process. And that seems to be a very innovative and positive way to treat eating disorders in women over 50.”
Q: Is there anything else you think our readers should know?
A: “A message to the women is, if they can look in a mirror every day and say something positive about themselves that has nothing to do with their physical appearance, that’s going to really help break through how stuck we are in this negative body image. Those wonderful characteristics will persist long after traditional adolescent female beauty fades with age. And for the health care professionals, the message is: Keep eating disorders on your radar screen, no matter what the age of the patient. Just because someone is over 50 doesn’t mean they’re not at risk.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
You may think listening is just what you do when you’re not talking. But that’s not true. Listening is hard work. Communication is 10% information and 90% emotion. People often say the same things over and over because they don’t feel their emotions have been heard. It’s easy for a listener to jump over feelings and give advice, share facts, or try to minimize the problem rather than really hear what’s being said. When we refuse to hear someone else’s feelings, we are telling that person: “Your feelings are not okay You have no right to feel that way.” But feelings are neither right nor wrong; it’s what we do with them that’s right or wrong.
Almost everyone feels good when they have been listened to, “taken seriously” enough to have someone really focus on what they’re saying. Conversely, the absence of “someone to talk to” (meaning a good listener) can cause serious problems in people’s lives, affect how they feel about themselves and others, and contribute to feelings of anger and hostility. Clearly, you feel better when you feel heard. And you feel better when you feel understood. In order to be understood, you must be listened to. Often it is more important to feel heard than to actually get what you said you wanted. The basic element of communication is effective listening, whether that be in the family or in any other life situation: school, work, family, friends.
What is “effective listening”? Just that — more or less what you like someone else to do when paying attention to what you’re saying: all the indications of “paying attention,” such as looking at the person, nodding, smiling (if it’s not a terribly serious conversation), perhaps sitting down across from or near the person. Effective listening is active participation in a conversation. It is an activity which helps the speaker become understood. The listener must actually hear and not assume what is said. Active listeners sit or stand alertly, maintain eye contact with the speaker, concentrate on the speaker’s words, make verbal responses, and summarize parts of what has been said when clarity is needed.
As with other emotional needs, the need to be heard is a survival need. Humans are all interdependent. In other words, many of your basic needs depend on the cooperation of others. But first you must know and communicate your needs. For example, if you are a passenger in a car and you feel unsafe, you must communicate your feelings. If the driver ignores you, your life may literally be threatened. If you are not heard, you cannot communicate your needs. It is understandable, then, that you feel frustrated or worse when you do not feel heard. Many arguments stem from someone being trigger happy with a disagreement, cutting the other person off with a “That’s ridiculous!” or other shut-off comment before hearing the full message, and without even trying to understand it.
You cannot learn anything from others if you try to do all the talking. Therefore, let speakers finish out their own sentences. Don’t interrupt them to interject your own thoughts. You need to pay attention to the tone of the words and the nonverbal cues of the speaker. Sometimes, these things undermine the actual meanings of the words themselves. For instance, someone might be telling you that he or she is not upset, but the tone or the body language might tell you otherwise.
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You learned about communicating your needs in the earliest training ground of your childhood. When you were helpless a infant your caregivers kept you alive by supplying food, shelter and emotional warmth. To get what you wanted, as babies you cried, and when you could speak, you learned to ask. Ideally your caregivers reassured you that your needs were important, and taught you how to express these needs clearly. If your primary caregivers were too busy, or emotionally distant, you may have learned your needs weren’t important. Worse yet, you may have been punished when you asked for help, and discovered that expressing or even having needs is dangerous.
Often you assume you know how another person feels based on your own experiences. For example, when you hear the word “tree” what kind of tree springs to mind? Personally, I see a birch tree. Someone from the tropics might see a palm tree. Same word, different interpretations. Granted, misinterpreting information about a tree is not earth-shattering and probably won’t cause any real damage. But differing impressions and experiences with such loaded concepts as anger, confusion, need and commitment can lead to some major glitches in the communication process.
Most people are pretty adept at transmitting factual information – names, dates, numbers – to one another. But how about your feelings, wishes, understanding, concerns and decisions? That’s when things get messy. Subjective information is full of gray areas, a fogginess generated by fear, expectations, resentments, assumptions, jargon and past experience. You bring all of these elements to your face-to-face encounters with others. Good communication is more than just sending a message; it involves making sure that the message you send is the message received; and that the message you receive is the message that was sent. Easier said than done.
Every communicative act is based on something that conveys meaning, and that conveyance is the message. The communication process is triggered when the sender makes a conscious or an unconscious decision to share the message with another person—the receiver. The message may be either verbal (spoken or written) or nonverbal (body language, physical appearance, or vocal tone). Messages may also come from the context—or place and time—of the communication. For instance, if you choose to make a critical comment to someone, the place and the time you choose to make that comment will make a big impact on how it will be received.
Every message is sent and received through one of our five senses—it is seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled. The sensory media through which messages are sent and received are communication channels. In a work setting, messages may be seen through body movement, letters, memos, newsletters, bulletin board notices, signs, emails, and so on. Messages that are heard come through conversations, interviews, presentations, telephones, radios, and other audio media. Sight and sound are the two most frequent communication channels used in our society. When the receiver gets the message (through seeing, hearing, feeling, touching, or smelling), he or she will usually give feedback (return message) unconsciously or consciously. Thus, the communications process is on-going.
Effective communication occurs when your actions and words match. If they don’t, then the sender or receiver is responsible for offering clarity or asking for it. This requires an awareness of your feelings, words, body language, and how we communicate them to others. People who are successful communicators take full responsibility for success in the communication process. These people take responsibility for being certain that you understand what they are saying. They recognize that barriers to good communications exist so they speak in simple, grammatical, and understandable terms. They also give examples, ask for feedback, put what they said previously in different words, and make it easy for you to gain the true intent of their communications. However, this in no way frees the listener from responsibility from the process. Without proper listening, communication does not occur.
The worst assumption a sender can make is that the message will be received as intended. So many things can go wrong during the communications process that you should always assume that something will go wrong and frequently check in with the receive to make sure they are understanding your message. Barriers to good communications are always present. For instance, the language itself can be a barrier—unclear wording, slang, jargon, the tone. Another barrier is the failure of the sender to realize that his or her body language might contradict the spoken message. Poor listening skills can also constitute a barrier.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
You have conversations every day. They can be with your children, your parents, family members and spouses; with colleagues, coworkers or with the boss; with friends and neighbors; with tenants, and landlords. Sometimes these conversations are about the big issues of race, religion, gender and politics. More often than not they are about common everyday concerns. At work, conversations involving feedback on poor performance are difficult for both managers and employees. In families, conversations about disciplining children and how household chores should be shared are often difficult. Neighbors get into damaging arguments about dogs, noise and parking problems, then go to court, or move. Most of people wish they could avoid the conversations about money that they sometimes face with your spouse, children parents, and siblings.
You may put these conversations off for as long as you can because you know they are likely to involve a heated argument, blame or accusations, often end up in an emotional outburst of tears or anger. It is simply not safe to get into them! The stakes are high. You might make a fool of yourself, damage a relationship forever, or make it impossible to work constructively with someone in the future. At the same time, you probably realize that swinging from a stony silence into an emotional rage and then back again, is not good in any relationship.
You can start to improve your communication skills by recognizing four of the most common mistakes you are likely to make that can make communication difficult.
1) You talk too much! When you talk about something that is sensitive, personal and difficult, you may talk around the subject, not being specific, trying to be polite, hoping the other person will somehow pick up the meaning. Plan what you need to say, then choose the most simple way of saying it. The fewer words you use to open a conversation and explain the problem as you see it, the safer you will be. However, you may talk so much that the person you are speaking with is unable to figure out what you are getting at. You only succeed in adding confusion to an already difficult conversation. You know when things aren’t going well. You may by accident, say something exaggerated or accusing, which causes the other person to take a defensive posture.
2) You think you know everything! When you feel strongly about something you are usually convinced that you have got all the facts at your finger tips and that you know exactly what is going on. You are also quite sure that you know who is right and who is wrong! So you go into a conversation primarily to get the other person to agree with you. You unconsciously say to yourself: If I can just get him/her to see, or: If they will just do. Then they will see I’m right.” So the more the other person resists, perhaps because they are trying to offer their own viewpoint, the harder you push to get your way. However, you rarely, if ever, know all the facts in a complex conversation, and you cannot always be right! You must go into difficult conversations about complex issues prepared to listen, and prepared to consider the viewpoint of the other person.
3) You blame everyone except yourself! It is tempting to see every problem as the fault of someone else. If they would perform to the agreed to your standards, if they would just stick to the rules, if they would do what they promised; then there would not be a problem. The fact is that if you are part of the situation, you are in some way also part of the problem. Are you sure you made your instructions clear? Did you clarify priorities? Did you set clear standards? Did you get commitment to these standards? You need to remember that you may be as much part of the problem as anyone else.
4) You go straight to action! It is tempting to offer an immediate solution to the problem in a difficult conversation, so you can end it quickly. Avoid this temptation! Slow down. You need to hear all sides of the story, and the other person needs to know that their opinions and feelings have been heard. If you push too quickly for your own solution it is likely that others will not be committed to the outcome. You will think you have solved the problem only to find that nothing changes and you are back to square one after the conversation.
These four mistakes account for many of the problems you face in difficult conversations. If you can avoid them you will find that your communication skills will improve noticeably.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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