A Journey To Manhood
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A Journey To Manhood

Been reading some interesting, diverse stuff lately which I’d like to share, for example, as reported by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jeffrey Marx in Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood. Gilman High School in Maryland has a highly successful football team. And its coaches have a few unusual rules — such as an ironclad rule that no Gilman football player should ever let another Gilman boy — teammate or not — eat lunch by himself. And the requirement that players constantly base their thoughts and actions on one simple question:
What can I do for others?:

“What happened that first day at Gilman [High School] was entirely unlike anything normally associated with high school football. It started with the signature exchange of the Gilman football program — this time between [head coach] Biff [Poggi] and the gathered throng of eighty boys, freshmen through seniors, who would spend the next week practicing together before being split into varsity and junior varsity teams.

” ‘What is our job?’ Biff asked on behalf of himself, Joe, and the eight other assistant coaches.

” ‘To love us,’ most of the boys yelled back. The older boys had already been through this routine more than enough times to know the proper answer. The younger boys, new to Gilman football, would soon catch on.

” ‘And what is your job?’ Biff shot back.

‘To love each other,’ the boys responded.

“I would quickly come to realize that this standard exchange — always initiated by Biff or [defensive coach] Joe [Ehrmann] — was just as much a part of Gilman football as running or tackling.

” ‘I don’t care if you’re big or small, huge muscles or no muscles, never even played football or star of the team — I don’t care about any of that stuff,’ Biff went on to tell the boys, who sat in the grass while he spoke. ‘If you’re here, then you’re one of us, and we love you. Simple as that.’ …

” ‘I expect greatness out of you,’ Biff once told the boys. ‘And the way we measure greatness is the impact you make on other people’s lives.’

“How would the boys make the most impact? Almost anything Biff ever talked about could be fashioned into at least a partial answer to that question.

“For one thing, they would make an impact by being inclusive rather than exclusive.

” ‘The rest of the world will always try to separate you,’ Biff said. ‘That’s almost a law of nature — gonna happen no matter what, right? The rest of the world will want to separate you by race, by socioeconomic status, by education levels, by religion, by neighborhood, by what kind of car you drive, by the clothes you wear, by athletic ability. You name it — always gonna be people who want to separate by that stuff. Well, if you let that happen now, then you’ll let it happen later. Don’t let it happen. If you’re one of us, then you won’t walk around putting people in boxes. Not now. Not ever. Because every single one of them has something to offer. Every single one of them is special. Look at me, boys.’

“They were looking.

” ‘We are a program of inclusion,’ Biff said. ‘We do not believe in separation.’

“The boys would also make an impact by breaking down cliques and stereotypes, by developing empathy and kindness for all.

” ‘What’s empathy?’ Biff asked them. ‘Feeling what?’

“‘Feeling what the other person feels,’ said senior Napoleon Sykes, one of the team captains, a small but solid wide receiver and hard-hitting defensive back who had already accepted a scholarship to play college football at Wake Forest.

” ‘Exactly right,’ Biff said. ‘Not feeling for someone, but with someone. If you can put yourself in another man’s shoes, that’s a great gift to have for a lifetime.’

“That was the whole idea behind Biff and Joe’s ironclad rule that no Gilman football player should ever let another Gilman boy — teammate or not — eat lunch by himself.

” ‘You happen to see another boy off by himself, go sit with him or bring him over to sit with you and your friends,’ Biff said. ‘I don’t care if you know him or not. I don’t care if he’s the best athlete in the school or the so-called nerd with his head always down in the books. You go get him and you make him feel wanted, you make him feel special. Simple, right? Well, that’s being a man built for others.’

“How else would the boys make an impact?

“By living with integrity … and not only when it is convenient to do so. Always.

“By seeking justice … because it is often hidden.

“By encouraging the oppressed . . . because they are always discouraged.

“Ultimately, Biff said, the boys would make the greatest overall impact on the world — would bring the most love and grace and healing to people — by constantly basing their thoughts and actions on one simple question: What can I do for you?

” ‘Not, what can I do to get a bigger bank account or a bigger house?’ Biff said. ‘Not, what can I do to get the prettiest girl? Not, what can I do to get the most power or authority or a better job title? Not, what can I do for me? The only question that really matters is this: How can I help you today?’

“Biff and Joe would constantly elaborate on all of this as the season progressed.

” ‘Because in case you haven’t noticed yet, we’re training you to be different,’ Biff said. ‘If we lose every game of the year, go oh-and-ten on the football field, as long as we try hard, I don’t care. You learn these lessons, and we’re ten-and-oh in the game of life.’ ”

with thanks to BJK

Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood
Author: Jeffrey Marx
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date: Copyright 2003 by Jeffrey Marx

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Mirror mirror on the wall…
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Mirror mirror on the wall…

I find narcissists fascinating to observe but difficult to work with. Psychotherapeutically many of them struggle with the process as they are often engaged in a fierce contest with the therapist as opposed to tackling underlying issues (although the fierce contest is an underlying issue). The following article from Psychology Today offers a tantalizing glimpse of a mirror hungry personality structure, enjoy.

As he tells it, the man was a 21-year-old on break from college and eager to try a new sex act with his girlfriend. Well, technically she was not his girlfriend because “she thought we were dating. I knew better, but she was way too hot to bother correcting.” He convinced a friend to hide in the closet and film the act so as to record his prowess for posterity. The plan went amok and the woman fled his apartment wrapped only in a fouled sheet. How do we know this intimate detail? It’s on his Web site.

The man in question, Tucker Max, has built a publishing empire out of such moments, cataloging them online and in books that have sold more than 2 million copies. Max, who spawned the literary genre “fratire,” boasts that he gets about five sexual offers a day via email, Facebook, and Twitter alone.

“This is the norm for pretty much any male celeb,” says Max. “I’m just the first guy who ever wrote stuff down in a really funny, really honest, really compelling way. I’m famous for this sh*t.”

Tucker Max and his ilk stoke our attention and our ire —sometimes in equal measure. They are a decidedly mixed bag; therein lies one of the many paradoxes of narcissism and the primary reason narcissists are so difficult to identify and understand. If narcissists were just jerks, they would be easy to avoid. The fact that they are entertaining and exciting as well as aggressive and manipulative makes them compelling in the real world and as subjects of psychological scrutiny.

A cross section of the narcissist’s ego will reveal high levels of self-esteem, grandiosity, self-focus, and self-importance. They think they are more physically attractive and intelligent than just about everyone, and would rather be admired than liked. They are enraged when told they aren’t beautiful or brilliant but aren’t affected much if told they are jerks.

Odious as these qualities may be, we’ve all got a narcissistic streak within. Narcissism is a stable trait that varies in degree from person to person. Some aspects, including confidence and self-sufficiency, are healthy and adaptive. It is only at the extreme end of the spectrum that narcissism becomes a disorder, often because toxic levels of vanity, entitlement, and exploitativeness are on display. The idea that narcissism is a constellation of traits that exists on a continuum, rather than a single, dichotomous label (you are or are not narcissistic), is reflected in plans to jettison the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder in the forthcoming DSM-V, the diagnostic manual for clinicians.

Narcissists thrive in big, anonymous cities, entertainment-related fields (think reality TV), and leadership situations where they can dazzle and dominate others without having to cooperate or suffer the consequences of a bad reputation. “A narcissist monk would not be good, but to be Kanye West and a narcissist is fantastic,” notes University of South Alabama psychologist Peter Jonason, an expert on mating psychology and the darker side of human nature.

Narcissism tends to peak in adolescence and decline with age. Psychologist Frederick Stinson and his colleagues conducted face-to-face interviews with 34,653 adults and found that men are more narcissistic than women across the lifespan. Male and female narcissists both share a marked need for attention, the propensity to manipulate, and a keen interest in charming the other sex. This bent is so strong that some psychologists, including Jonason and graduate student Nicholas Holtzman of Washington University in St. Louis, argue that narcissism may have evolved as a strategy to secure sexual partners in the short-term. The ways in which narcissists of both genders pursue their quarry reinforces this possibility.

Women who score high on tests of narcissism consistently dress more provocatively than their more modest counterparts; male narcissists resort to displays of wit and braggadocio —in other words, both narcissistic men and women engage in time-tested sexual strategies. They also report more short-term hook-ups and a greater desire for this type of union. This relentless short-term focus is a key to both their dark charm and to the predictable downward trajectory of their relationships.

II Beware the Opening Gambit

Narcissists will be thrilled to hear that as a group they are rated as more attractive and likable than everyone else at first appearance. Simine Vazire of Washington University and her colleagues found that narcissists have a distinct physical signature. They’re considered more stylishly clad, cheerful, and physically appealing at first sight than are those who score lower in narcissism. In Vazire’s study, the narcissistic women were impeccably groomed and the men were more chiseled than their non-preening peers. Indeed, a range of studies find a robust link between narcissism and physical attractiveness, and narcissists’ tactics for standing out are well-documented, often by themselves. Case in point: the VH-1 self-declared pickup artist Mystery, who sports platform shoes, black fingernails, and just enough odd accessories (goggles/velvet hat) to give shy women a built-in icebreaker.

While narcissists often love the sound of their own voice, they don’t always sound pretty to others. Nicholas Holtzman and Michael Strube found that subjects who scored higher in narcissism engaged in more disagreeable verbal behaviors, arguing and cursing more—and using more sexual language than their more modest counterparts.

Narcissists’ language and demeanor is often geared toward one objective: to maintain power in an interaction. Psychologist Anita Vangelisti of the University of Texas at Austin found that tactics in the narcissists’ toolbox include bragging, refocusing the topic of conversation, making exaggerated hand movements, talking loudly, and showing disinterest by “glazing over” when others speak.

In the sexual realm, promiscuity is a key strategy that allows narcissists to maintain control. Think the “principle of least interest,” in which the partner with the least interest in a relationship has the greatest power. “I allow a woman to feel the gift of really wanting me whenever I feel she needs to feel that,” notes Mystery in The Pickup Artist: The New and Improved Art of Seduction. “Every three weeks or so I remind her that I continue to have options, and continue to choose her.”

Promiscuity is a key behavioral ingredient also, because narcissists are always searching for a better deal. Psychologists Joshua Foster at the University of South Alabama and W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia found that when narcissists think their partner is committed, they are even more willing to cheat, presumably because they feel that they are more likely to get away with it. And narcissists get a rush out of convincing partners to do things or engage in sexual acts that they would normally eschew.

Because control is so important to narcissists, they can abruptly lose their charm if destabilized or threatened. This two-faced behavior is often the first clue to their true character. They get angry when rejected, overreacting to small slights and punishing those who do not support their grandiose image of themselves. One study even found that when spurned, highly narcissistic individuals “punished” other research participants who had nothing to do with the rejection itself.

Narcissists get away with these unsavory antics because, at least initially, they are so charming. Psychologist Mitja D. Back of Johannes Gutenberg-University in Mainz, Germany, and his colleagues deconstructed the “charismatic air” that many narcissists exude: attractiveness, competence, interpersonal warmth, and humor. Among a pool of college students, those reporting higher levels of entitlement tended to be the most popular students in the class. In a separate study, Back and his colleagues found that while students expected charming individuals to like others more, people with “self-centered values” actually dislike others more.

Clearly, narcissists are easily misread. The picture is further complicated by the fact that, as Back and his colleagues demonstrate, both extraverts and narcissists have an interpersonal style that endears them to others. So to conclude that a person may be narcissistic based on energetic and self-assured body movements, friendly facial expressions, and original introductions would be to dismiss many non-narcissists.

Narcissists’ manipulative bent can be a lever for social influence as much as for exploitation. This is why narcissism and leadership often go hand in hand. The fun-loving narcissist may enjoy widespread networking and dominating a social group not because they want to exploit every person in their path, but simply because they desire the positive reinforcement of others. More intentionally exploitative behavior is considered Machiavellian and, at the extreme, psychopathic.

Together with narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy form a cluster of distinct but related traits known as the “dark triad.” In this disagreeable constellation, narcissism is the gentlest star. Narcissism is linked much more tightly to extraversion than are the other two, suggesting that narcissism may be the most positive, social, and outgoing component of this triad. And when narcissists do behave negatively and aggressively, they tend to do so in response to social exclusion. Machiavellian and psychopathic types are more hostile to physical provocation.

III Solving Core Narcissistic Riddles

In 1984, psychologist Robert Emmons posed the original narcissistic paradox: He noted that narcissists simultaneously devalue others even as they need others’ admiration. Back’s research on narcissism now allows psychologists to resolve this long-standing paradox. It appears that narcissists seek out people who maintain their high positive self-image, at the same time intentionally avoiding and putting down people who may give them a harsh dose of realism. “Seeking admiration is like a drug for narcissists,” notes Back. “In the long run it becomes difficult because others won’t applaud them, so they always have to search for new acquaintances from whom they get the next fix.” This could explain why narcissists so frequently change their social contexts and maintain only weak ties to others.

Another long-standing mystery concerns the developmental pathway to narcissism. Is narcissism the result of indiscriminate parental praise, or of coldness and rejection? Freud believed narcissism resulted from some combination of the two. Recent research by Lorna Otway and Vivian Vignoles suggests that Freud may have been right: The whiplash combination of parental coldness and excessive parental admiration is more strongly related to maladaptive narcissism than is either attitude alone.

The researchers argue that this “combination of childhood experiences may help to explain the paradoxical combination of grandiosity and fragility that is so characteristic of adult narcissists.” The narcissist who receives indiscriminate praise from his or her caregiver as well as signals of coldness and rejection may come to distrust the praise and exist in a perpetual state of insecurity. Back argues that peers also contribute to this dynamic, in that their positive first impressions fade: “Narcissists are popular so they get positive feedback, but are then devalued in the long term,” when people learn their true colors.

Inconsistent feedback can breed a deep craving for admiration in a person with narcissistic tendencies —hence the quest for fleeting ego boosts. In the sexual realm, a narcissist may be satisfied just knowing a person finds him or her attractive. “I feel so much better about myself when I know that a girl likes me enough to sleep with me,” notes Mystery in his book.

Even the narcissist’s awareness that they are narcissistic is paradoxical. Graduate student Erica Carlson and her colleagues found that college students scoring high in narcissism rated themselves more intelligent, physically attractive, likable, and funny than others, as well as more power-oriented, impulsive, arrogant, and prone to exaggerate their abilities! In other words, they knew exactly how others viewed them. The study found that narcissists were even aware that their reputations worsened over time. They just didn’t care.

How can narcissists maintain their inflated self-image even though they know how they are perceived by others? Carlson argues that such people “might think arrogance is a positive trait, like extraversion.” Narcissists may also have unique coping mechanisms that allow them to reframe negative reactions. “They know that in certain situations [such as on first meeting] they are better than others and they use this positive information to generally reinterpret other experiences,” notes Back. Narcissists may conclude that others are just jealous (“haters!”), or just not smart enough to realize how “bitchin'” they really are.

IV Proceed with Caution: The Narcissist as Romantic Partner

The narcissistic blend of flash and callousness, light and dark—coupled with a relentless focus on short-term objectives—ensures no shortage of sexual and romantic partners at the outset, many of whom will leave the relationship hurt and baffled. Once again, first impressions quickly go sour. Campbell and his colleagues found that people who date narcissists are highly satisfied for about four months, at which point they report a rapid decline in relations. Ironically, the four-month mark is when people start to reach peak satisfaction when dating non-narcissists. Yet the initial excitement and charm offered by the narcissist is hard to resist. “When I eat chocolate cake, 20 minutes later I’m under my desk wanting to die,” jokes Campbell. “When I eat broccoli, in 20 minutes I feel good. But given the choice I always eat the cake.”

In the long term, both men and women get frustrated with narcissistic partners, but since more men are interested in short-term flings, narcissistic women don’t tend to bother men as much as narcissistic men frustrate women.

Narcissistic men tend to attract women who crave drama. Empathic women who are “caretakers” may also be drawn to narcissistic men, thinking erroneously that they will be able to alter negative traits.

Women’s attraction to narcissistic traits may also depend, in part, on where she is in her ovulatory cycle. In a study conducted by Steven Gangestad at the University of New Mexico, 237 women watched videotapes of men compete for a lunch date. On days when women were at high fertility, they were much more attracted to displays of social presence (e.g., composure, eye contact) and competitiveness (e.g., derogation of competitors), both of which signal the confidence that is the narcissist’s hallmark.

Men with narcissistic tendencies place much more emphasis on physical appearance than on an empathic partner, and not merely for the arm-candy factor one might expect. Narcissists are interested in “tens” [gorgeous women] in part because they believe such women may be most susceptible to their manipulative tactics! “Players” like Mystery argue that the interest of a great-looking woman is piqued by playful yet ambiguous comments (“negs”) because such a woman is so used to being approached through flattery and to being in control of an interaction. “Not so fast! It’s too early in the relationship for you to touch me like that,” or “You have interesting eyes” are two such lines. “A neg is not an insult, just a judgment call on your part,” argues Mystery in The Pickup Artist: The New and Improved Art of Seduction. “The better-looking the girl, the more aggressive you must be.”

Narcissistic men walk an especially fine line when it comes to attracting women, because assertiveness is sexy, whereas dominance, often laced with aggression, is not. The key may be where the narcissist’s boldness is directed. Psychologist Lauri Jensen-Campbell found that dominance alone isn’t sexually appealing, but the interaction of dominance and prosocial behaviors is very attractive. Psychologist Jeffrey Snyder found that male dominance was attractive (for both a short-term and long-term affair) in the context of an athletic competition, but not when men used force or threat of force in informal decision-making among peers. Women appear to be very attuned to cues that men may direct their aggression toward a female.

In the realm of friendship, Jonason and his colleagues find that narcissistic women seek out higher-status opposite-sex friends whereas narcissistic men tend to have other male friends, sometimes called “wingmen,” who also have a short-term mating strategy and can help each other exploit women. “Women are looking to get something from the guys, and guys are looking for a teammate to take advantage of the world,” notes Jonason.

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that narcissism is neither absolutely good nor bad. Narcissism can be adaptive or maladaptive, appealing or appalling, depending on how charm and cunning are deployed. Anyone can mix and match narcissistic traits —including confidence, self-sufficiency, and assertiveness —with more communal traits such as cooperation and empathy, to be effective in any situation.

Still, you may be wondering whether you are are a full-fledged card-carrying narcissist. You could always go online and take the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) to find out if this is the case. But if you truly are a narcissist, you probably already know it —and you don’t care!

5 Signs of a Stealth Narcissist

Flashy clothing and sky-high confidence are the “public” face of narcissism. Here are a few additional cues, some contradictory, in keeping with the narcissist’s paradoxical nature.

Bragging about one’s perfect family (no one’s family is perfect).

Hypergenerosity in public to demonstrate that one has power, but coldness once the camera is off.

Hypersensitive and insecure. This includes imagining criticism where it doesn’t exist and getting depressed by perceived criticism.”Vulnerable” narcissists are self-centered and overly defensive.

Prone to a vast array of negative emotions including depression, anxiety, self-consciousness, and shame owing to not being given their “due.” Such feelings can be an indication of egocentricity and self-absorption.

Repeatedly puts down other people, especially inferiors and strangers. Loves to talk about him or herself and mentions others mainly to name-drop.

Are You in Love With a Narcissist?

If you find yourself repeatedly pursuing people who need to be the center of attention, consider how to de-narcissify your encounters:

Slow down. Don’t put so much stock in your initial attraction. Be open-minded to non-flashy people.
Observe a variety of settings. Extraverts can be very hard to distinguish from narcissists. Assess a person in multiple contexts before getting in too deep, and solicit honest input from friends.
Consider the venue. If you frequent bars and clubs, you are more likely to encounter narcissists on the prowl.
Examine why you may be attracted to narcissists. If you are searching for an ambitious person who is not “too nice,” you are likely drawn to narcissists. What needs of yours do narcissists exploit?
Get out as soon as you can. Don’t try to change him or her. Remember, this person enjoys being a narcissist. The more emotionally attached you get, the easier it will be for the narcissist to manipulate you.
Take control of the situation. “The situation you are in does not necessarily reflect your personality,” says W. Keith Campell in When You Love a Man Who Loves Himself.
“Responsibility is the ability to respond.”

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If- Rudyard Kipling
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If- Rudyard Kipling

If—

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

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Stop being so bloody hard on yourself.
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Stop being so bloody hard on yourself.

I love sitting in public places and letting curiosity wash over me as I observe the human condition. People fascinate me, watching the ways we move and communicate with one another never gets old. Recently though, I’ve become acutely aware of the ways in which we diminish ourselves and make our selves smaller and at this time of year, it seems like a plague.

Many want to lose weight and start volunteering, write their first novel and go to yoga every single day, go vegan, travel or save enough money to have some sort of procedure done that will make them more beautiful.

Perhaps it’s your house. You want to get a bigger one or a cleaner one or fix everything in the one you already have that you’ve been putting off forever so that you can finally throw the very fancy dinner parties you think you ought to be hosting. This is just the sort of nonsense that we think about when December’s tinsel-glittering hedonism finally ends, leaving us exhausted, over-indulged and totally guilt-ridden.

I love the idea of new beginnings—that symbolically we get a fresh year spread out before us, pristine as a morning meadow after a heavy snow before we’ve stomped all over it and the dogs have peed on it and before the world has turned it into a messy pile of grey slush. Clean slates are a wonderful concept. Embrace your fresh start this January, but don’t use it as an excuse to beat the hell out of yourself for no good reason.

I’m uncomfortable with the self-loathing that accompanies so many of our New Year’s resolutions. Healthy self-improvement and goal setting, those are great, great things. Each year I hope to be a little better off than the year before: a little healthier, a little happier, a little closer on my journey towards enlightenment. But like most of us, I find myself taking it too far. Often, what begins as a desire to better ourselves turns into low self-esteem’s free-for-all, end of the old year, start of the new, blowout bash.

Can we please stop with all the I’m-not-good-enoughs? This year, beginning now, let’s end the incessant auditing of our flaws and broadcasting them to everyone we know.

There is only one resolution we need to make this year:

Stop apologizing for not being perfect.

Of all our bad habits, this is one of the most insidious awful vices we have. It’s so ingrained, so automatic, so expected that most of us probably don’t even realize how much we do it or that we’re doing it at all.

Don’t know what I’m talking about?

A friend visits and before they get in the door you’re already talking about how messy your house is.

In response to a compliment on your new outfit, your immediate comeback is “This old thing? I just got it at the Goodwill. It was only 99 cents. I think it makes my butt look like the back end of a bus.”

I recently complimented a friend who’s been going through a hard time on his healthy appearance.

“Ugh, I have a cold. My nose is bright red and my lips are chapped. Can you see this massive zit on my forehead?”

As soon as I made a point of noticing, I realized that everyone everywhere was constantly apologizing for not being perfect.

Before a spectacular christmas meal at a friend’s house, my hostess apologized in advance. She couldn’t decide on a recipe. It didn’t turn out the way she wanted. The main course was dry. It probably wasn’t very good. Did I mention that the meal was spectacular?

After yoga, I hear my fellow yogis heading to the showers, defeated sometimes, discussing the shortcomings of their practice.

We apologize and announce our imperfections for several reasons.

Part of it is preemptive.

Because we are so accustomed to cataloging everything we believe is wrong with us, naturally we assume that everyone else is scrutinizing us equally (they aren’t). In response to this imagined judgment, we begin to feel self-conscious, then guilty, believing that we’ve done something wrong. We’re compelled to apologize then for not being perfect.

Our apologies are also defenses. Again, because we believe others are nitpicking us the way we nitpick ourselves, we insult ourselves before anyone else has the chance. People often do this with a self-perceived “imperfection”, lets take weight for example. A persons interior narrative may sound something like…

“I’ve gained some weight in the past year and it’s all in the belly. I hate my belly fat and I feel like everywhere I go people are looking at it. In my mind, this belly fat is the elephant in the room and I feel like people are looking at me and judging my flabby mid-section and I can’t bear to imagine what they might silently be thinking, so I immediately acknowledge the fat before they have a chance to, admitting my shame because God forbid I’d have the nerve to gain a few pounds and not be ashamed of myself. I’m apologetic even for making others have to look at a chubbier me.”

In a culture of self-deprecation, it’s easy to confuse shame and humility. They aren’t the same thing. To be humble is good, but to hate yourself isn’t. In many cases, we may apologize for our successes because we don’t want to seem like we’re bragging or full of ourselves, or worse because we feel we don’t deserve them in the first place.

Make the new year gracious. Give yourself permission to be proud, to be imperfect, to be exactly as you are right now. Let your resolutions focus on kindness and loving what you have rather than criticizing yourself for what you think you lack.

Resolve to stop apologizing for being who you are. Welcome your friends into your too small, messy house without the remodeled kitchen you wish you had. Wear the dress you love, rock your manky jeans that you love and if someone gives you a compliment, don’t try to talk them out of it. All you have to do is smile and say “Thank you.”

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Reader submission: ” Let the darkness find you if it must”
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Reader submission: ” Let the darkness find you if it must”

“Let the darkness find you if it must. Throw off the quick and tempting escapes, and seek help only from those who would teach you to grow, feed your soul, embrace your heart, but would not steal away your journey.”

~ Jennifer DeLucy

I wish that life was easier. I wish we didn’t suffer heartbreaks and disappointments. I wish we didn’t get fired or crash our cars or that the people we most loved didn’t get cancer or go crazy. No one should lose their homes or their children, but sadly, these things happen every day.

Sometimes our hardships can be so overwhelming that we become paralyzed. We’re trapped in fear or grief, unable to take even the tiniest step towards recovery and in these moments what we need most is a guide—someone or something to give hope and illuminate the path toward healing.

I can’t take away what’s happened and I can’t promise that nothing bad will ever happen again, but I can share my tools for coping and I promise, I’ve learned them all the hard way.

Here’s how to take the first steps to the way out:

1. Know that it’s going to be ok.

This is temporary. I’ve had days where my suffering seemed truly insurmountable, like I really couldn’t survive another moment, but I did and miraculously, sometimes even just days later, things got a lot better.

2. Forget an explanation.

Often during hard times, we fixate on the cause of the situation. One of the human race’s most persistent questions is why do bad things happen? And why do they happen to people who don’t deserve them? Here is the only answer to that question—they just do. Questioning the hows and whys of tragedy is a futile waste of time.

The point is not to sit around and wonder how the Universe could let terrible things happen or to ask why bad things happen to good people. Instead, we must ask what can we do to help? How can we serve? What can we do to make things better and in what ways can we rise above adversity to demonstrate the magnificence and resilience of the human spirit when shit gets real?

3. Banish the Blame.

In a rough patch it’s easy to fixate on whom to blame for the problems, but again, this is a waste of time and leads to guilt and shame. Guilt and shame add to paralysis and stagnation. They are tricks that trap and prevent healing. We look for an enemy, even if it is ourselves, but there are no real enemies in this world. That is simply an illusion and a distraction.

When we blame, what we really want to know is if there is a way this could have been prevented, and yes, sometimes it could have been because you or someone else made a poor choice, but the important thing to remember is that it wasn’t prevented. It happened and it can’t be erased. Now, rather than dwelling on the “if onlys,” deal with the realities.

4. Treat Yourself Exceptionally Well.

Maybe the hardships are piling up and maybe other people are dumping on you, stiffing you or dissing you. No one can control what other people do, but what we can control is how we treat ourselves. Since you can’t make others do right, then it’s your responsibility to respect yourself. When you are kind to yourself, when you treat yourself, pamper yourself, give yourself a break, the Universe sees that you realize you deserve better and it responds in kind.

5. Get Healthy and Strong.

I know it’s easier to stay in bed and eat cookies and watch series, but sedentary behavior is just another part of the trap. It fools us into thinking we’re comfortable or that we’re shutting out our problems, but those problems are still there and they’re going to stay there until we deal with them, so toss the denial and get moving.

Give the body the nutrients and exercise it needs. A healthy, nourished brain will be able to function better, make better choices and regulate the emotions.

6. Reach Out.

Don’t isolate. We all need other people. During tough times, it’s easy to turn into a hermit because of depression, lack of energy or humiliation. Don’t listen to pessimistic thoughts that will try to convince you that you’re going to be judged or that no one is there for you because it’s simply not true. There are plenty of people who want to help, even strangers. Ask for help and help will come. Reach out to loved ones and be honest about your struggles. Be specific about what you need and what will help the most.

Everyone is a dysfunctional jerk?

Find support groups, mental health care (most communities have free services), talk to a spiritual leader (it’s their job to help you for free!), reach out via social media. Facebook has a million different groups that users can join to discuss, vent, learn or commiserate with people who’ve been through similar issues.

7. Reverse Your Gaze.

Look outward and help others: It may seem a bit counter-intuitive for someone who needs help to go out and assist others, but trust me on this one. When things become difficult in my life, unmanageable even, I know it’s time to volunteer and to throw myself into being productive and making the world a better place. I’m not exactly sure how this works, but it does. Maybe it’s good karma, maybe it’s a distraction or maybe it’s simply knowing that you’re doing something right, but helping other people in need, even when you yourself are in need, soothes that jagged feeling.

8. Don’t Invalidate Your Own Suffering and Don’t Let Anyone Else Do It Either.

Every day I hear people telling themselves it could be worse. I’ve had tough times when toxic people have told me to suck it up because someone somewhere else has it worse. Of course they do. There’s always someone worse off. For every person who has lost their home to a tornado, there’s a limbless, blind, starving orphan begging on the streets of Calcutta who has it way worse, but just because that orphan exists doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed your own suffering too. When the man with two broken legs shrugs off his pain and says that he feels badly about feeling badly about his broken legs because there are people dying of cancer, he is invalidating his own suffering. Again with the guilt and shame.

Look, it’s ok to accept pain even if others are in worse pain. Own your hardship, because when you own it, the pain is controlled, and when you can control suffering, healing begins.

9. Find the Meaning.

There is a lesson in everything. Look for it. All of our experiences on earth have meaning and significance and we can harness all of them, good and bad, hopeless and terrible, to help make ourselves stronger, wiser and more compassionate individuals.

When life’s problems are overwhelming, see this as a cue to rise to the occasion.

10. Face it Head On.

So many of us run from our problems. We numb ourselves with alcohol, drugs, shopping, eating, sex. We believe we’re treating ourselves when we do this. We’re convinced that we’re taking the edge off, maybe having a little fun for once. Stop lying. Addictions add to problems and make things a lot worse. Whatever you run from will chase you. Be brave, give up pretend analgesics and solve those problems.

11. Give Up Expectations.

The resolutions to problems or the end of suffering may not arrive exactly as imagined. In fact, things may get worse before they get better. Clinging to a certain outcome may be prolonging the torment because that outcome simply isn’t possible or isn’t truly the best solution right now. Be open to a different version of a happy ending.

12. Find Inspiration.

I’m a big fan of cheesy, inspirational anything—quotes, stories, books, websites, PBS pledge drive specials presented by various New Age gurus. I love that stuff and I surround myself with it all day every day. Search for inspiration.

Hold close those things which give strength or hope. For me, it’s re-reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder as well as all of the Anne of Green Gables Books. I like to live by one of Anne Shirley’s favorite quotes: “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet.”

Another thing I do is tape my favorite quotes all over the house where I can see them often.

13. Stop Fighting.

Last year, I found myself in an awful predicament, for which I could find no logical or immediate resolution and I worked myself into a horrific state of anxiety over the fact that no matter what, I just could not fix this. I went to one of my sisters with the problem and her advice was this: “Do nothing. Continue living your life and making good choices for yourself. Stop fighting with this problem and looking for a solution. Sit back and give it the time to work itself out.” I decided to take her advice, though it felt pretty radical at the time.

Almost a year later, the problem indeed worked itself out with no help from me whatsoever. It simply needed time that I wasn’t, at first, willing to give it. Since then, I learned that most problems will work themselves out eventually.

Hard times are temporary and like all storms, they will eventually end. Give thanks for your trials, though it’s difficult, because those who can survive end up stronger, more graceful, wiser and more beautiful for what they’ve endured.

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What emotions look like.
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What emotions look like.

Chests puffing up with pride — and happiness felt head to toe — are sensations as real as they are universal. And now we can make an atlas of them.

Researchers have long known that emotions are connected to a range of physiological changes, from nervous job candidates’ sweaty palms to the racing pulse that results from hearing a strange noise at night. But new research reveals that emotional states are universally associated with certain bodily sensations, regardless of individuals’ culture or language.

Once More With Feeling

More than 700 participants in Finland, Sweden and Taiwan participated in experiments aimed at mapping their bodily sensations in connection with specific emotions. Participants viewed emotion-laden words, videos, facial expressions and stories. They then self-reported areas of their bodies that felt different than before they’d viewed the material. By coloring in two computer-generated silhouettes — one to note areas of increased bodily sensation and the second to mark areas of decreased sensation — participants were able to provide researchers with a broad base of data showing both positive and negative bodily responses to different emotions.

Researchers found statistically discrete areas for each emotion tested, such as happiness, contempt and love, that were consistent regardless of respondents’ nationality. Afterward, researchers applied controls to reduce the risk that participants may have been biased by sensation-specific phrases common to many languages (such as the English “cold feet” as a metaphor for fear, reluctance or hesitation). The results are published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hot-Headed

Although each emotion produced a specific map of bodily sensation, researchers did identify some areas of overlap. Basic emotions, such as anger and fear, caused an increase in sensation in the upper chest area, likely corresponding to increases in pulse and respiration rate. Happiness was the only emotion tested that increased sensation all over the body.

The findings enhance researchers’ understanding of how we process emotions. Despite differences in culture and language, it appears our physical experience of feelings is remarkably consistent across different populations. The researchers believe that further development of these bodily sensation maps may one day result in a new way of identifying and treating emotional disorders.

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The Velveteen Rabbit
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The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit, written by Margery Williams, is about a stuffed rabbit who is neglected, then loved and then discarded by the unavoidable pains of life. And just before the rabbit is to be burned and destroyed, he is instead made real because he has been loved.

The velveteen rabbit remained hopeful, a dreamer and sensitive to life.

Even though the rabbit was so well loved that he had holes, patches and a button to replace his missing eye, the wearing out was from being thoroughly loved. And when it comes to intimate relationships, the trials, tribulations and shadow side of love have the most powerful opportunities to alter who a person is.

When a heart is broken, one can permanently shatter like Humpty Dumpty, or become soft and more real, altered and not broken.

The irony of a intimate love is that the person who was once so beautiful and attractive becomes a source of pain. Yet only when we are cheated on, abandoned, taken advantage of, abused, betrayed, judged, blamed and neglected do we have the opportunity to become real, to see the full scope of life and the entire depth of love.

Ideally, the person we are with will treat us with love, but in reality most of us are still seeking and discovering what love is. People who do not know love, will not act or be loving, to others or themselves.

Every loving relationship has the full scope of life.

How people respond to painful events reveals their qualities of soul. And only when we are hurt is there the potential to deepen the sensitivities and understanding of the people we love—our own self included. It is rare for a person who loves us to be deliberate in causing pain. Normally, the people who we love and hurt us do so because they are dwelling in a personal hell and cause harm unintentionally.

Often times, the pain people inflict on the ones closest to them is the exact pain they inflict on themselves internally, at the deepest levels.

People communicate who they are, from where they are at.

There is a silly ideal in quasi-new age culture that enlightenment is some state of always being happy and content, a bubble of upwelling bliss that giggles at every instance and takes nothing personally. Fortunately, bliss-bubbles burst, reality always sets in. And the deeper truths of who and what we are, and what love is, present themselves. The incomplete surface level ideals of love can mature only in the presence of pain because then we understand compassion, forgiveness, tenderness and have respect for all that life has to offer.

Many religions preach love and most people claim love, but do we really take time to understand Love ?

The bible (yes i know some of you are switching off as i mention the bible…)has a wonderful list of loving traits. Love is patient, kind, does not envy nor boast and is not proud. Love does not dishonor others, nor seek gain for oneself. Love is patient, not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. Love rejoices with truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

When we become a velveteen lover, we become real.

Just as the velveteen rabbit became real from being worn thin and discarded because of love, we also know what love is once we discover and embody loving traits. More than knowledge, love transcends thought and feeling and gives a state of understanding of oneself, others, and the world. Love gives us the ability to be real, to work with the emotional cycles of day and night and to see past superficial skin to the eternal beauty within.

Love allows us to be alive, and to endure, and be stronger for being worn thin.

Love makes us real.

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Rise Up
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Rise Up

The Rising:

Ian McCallum

One day
your soul will call to you
with a holy rage.
“Rise up!” it will say …
Stand up inside your own skin.
Unmask your unlived life …
feast on your animal heart.
Unfasten your fist …
let loose the medicine
in your own hand.
Show me the lines …
I will show you the spoor
of the ancestors.
Show me the creases …
I will show you
the way to water.
Show me the folds …
I will show you the furrows
for your healing.
“Look!” it will say …
the line of life has four paths –
one with a mirror
one with a mask,
one with a fist,
one with a heart.
One day,
your soul will call to you
with a holy rage.

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