World of Psychology Dr. John Grohol's daily update on all things in psychology and mental health. Since 1999. 2016-05-26T10:45:49Z J.J. Robertson <![CDATA[The Joy of No Sex]]> 2016-05-17T18:22:16Z 2016-05-26T10:45:49Z the joy of no sexFull disclosure: I work in advertising. It’s an industry where husky-voiced, hair-flicking women smolder in ads selling cat food and sneakers, and where shirtless hunks flex fuzz-free pecs to sell salad dressing and synthetic butter.

The following viewpoint will therefore get me into trouble, which I’m familiar with.

Here are two commonsense truisms:

  • While great sex is joyful, lousy sex is not.
  • Happiness is possible without a daily grind (I’m not talking coffee).

Yet for reasons such as the availability heuristic — a cognitive shortcut that encourages us to think of commonplace examples in our everyday environment when making decisions — we often overestimate the importance to our well-being of having regular sex. When we pause to think of the world around us, we more often remember non-nude pretzel-like scenarios in which we were happy.

When I asked 2,500 Americans to “take a moment to visualize your perfect day. What leisure or work activities would you do?,” fewer than ten percent of their descriptions featured sex. Among those who included sex on their “perfect day,” their sexual fantasies varied from getting steamy between the sheets with their spouse for longer than three minutes, to red-hot flings where nipples would be expertly attended to, rather than ham-fistedly twiddled like dials on a cooker (a little to the right, they might turn on).

Which activities did Americans cite more frequently than sex?

The nation’s No. 1 pastime in my study was “being with family” — regardless of whether that family was by blood or by friendship.

The popularity of being with family makes sense. Our species is psychologically primed to seek a sense of control over our lives, a sense of personal growth, and a sense that our actions matter. Such needs are often catered to when we’re with the family of our choice. For example:

  • Talking though challenges with trusted loved ones provides us with new ways and practical resources to tackle situations.
  • Hugging (even when clothed) releases the neuropeptide oxytocin, a mood regulator that can lower cortisol levels.
  • Sharing unfamiliar activities with family, such as hiking new trails, can increase dopamine levels, while toning wobbly buttocks far more effectively than two minutes of lovemaking. (According to sexual health expert Dr. Harry Fisch, roughly 45 percent of men ejaculate within 120 seconds of starting sex. That’s less time than Alicia Keys took to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl 47.)

Next time you’re exposed to a slew of come-hither ads, remember this:

  • Not everybody’s doing it. (According to a study by AARP, 60 percent of Americans over age 45 had sex less frequently than once a month in the last six months.)
  • It’s quality of sex that counts, not quantity.
  • Joy can be found in no sex.

To find out more, read Are You Buying This? What Americans Think About Money and Life From an Advertising Propagandist. Available on Amazon.


Psych Central Staff http:// <![CDATA[Could There Be One Cure for All Mental Illness?]]> 2016-05-17T18:17:24Z 2016-05-25T21:55:20Z Brains

“One treatment to cure them all, one technique to find them, one network to bring them all and in the heterogeneity bind them.”

Imagine: A cure all for ALL mental illnesses… sounds illogical, perhaps impossible, something straight out of fantasy, no? Well, at the SharpBrains Virtual Summit, Monitoring & Enhancing Brain Health in the Pervasive Neuroscience Era, where presenting cutting-edge innovative research was the norm, I was lucky to be witness to a truly tantalizing talk by psychologist Dr. Madeleine Goodkind that will likely change your perspective.

The current problem with finding a treatment that works for everyone is that each person’s presentation of mental illnesses is different, no one’s full set of symptoms and experiences are the same. And neither are their responses to treatment. This is something that Dr Goodkind is well aware of in her work treating veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

“With the 20 different symptoms of PTSD that we have, there are in fact over 600,000 different combinations that would all yield a diagnosis of PTSD, and this level of heterogeneity is in fact quite common in psychiatric diagnosis.”

As Dr. Goodkind explains, even within one mental illness, there are vastly diverse combinations of symptoms and responses to treatment, as well as comorbidity (i.e. shared symptoms) with many other disorders. Basically, it’s not clear cut, and neither is treatment success!

So instead of focusing on symptoms, Dr. Goodkind and coworkers looked to the source of the river and asked, “can we cut across psychiatric diagnosis and identify brain areas implicated in mental illnesses that could be a target for future treatments?”

To investigate, the researchers identified 193 studies that included over 15,000 healthy controls and patients with either major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and substance abuse disorders, as well as obsessive compulsive disorder, PTSD, and other anxiety disorders such as phobias.

They specifically used voxel-based morphology studies, a standardized statistical fMRI approach to identify differences in brain anatomy between groups of people. The method involves breaking the entire brain into three dimensional units of space called voxels, allowing the comparing of these digitized brain bits across patients in a study.

The result? They identified “three regions of the brain that commonly have decreased volumes across psychiatric illnesses, the left and right bilateral anterior insula, and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.”

They then looked at how these three regions function when healthy controls perform regular simple tasks, or when they are at rest in the fMRI and letting their minds wander. They found that these same three regions co-activate both when at rest and on task.

Outside of the brain scanner, they performed tests on participants to test their degree of cognitive functions, such as tests of memory, sustained attention and executive functioning, to see if there was any relationship between the size of these three brain structures and cognitive function. The results revealed that when these structures where smaller in volume this correlated with poorer performance on cognitive tests, yet test scores where better when the sizes of these three structures were larger.

Together the brain areas in question are part of a coherent network called the salience network. Salience network activity is associated with many processes required for healthy mental functioning such as detecting, integrating, and filtering irrelevant information, concentrating in the face of distractions, multitasking, planning, decision making and inhibiting impulses.

In fact, the insula has been described as the anatomical substrate in humans for awareness of themselves, others and the environment, with all of the structures being involved in self-awareness, interoception and emotional processing. It is no wonder that these three areas are the common neurobiological substrate for all of the mental illnesses assessed in the study!

So in Dr. Goodkind’s talk, did she suggest that we simply throw personalized symptom-based treatment to the wind? Did she simply design and test some kind of brain training treatment that enhances neuronal growth in these three areas and taa daa the world is cured of mental illness? While the realistic implications of her research are not so fantastical, they are just as profound:

“Can we do some cognitive, brain motivated training [or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation etc.] that can help patients with executive functioning and emotional regulation before they go into some treatment, because I think that the treatments that are symptom specific are important, but there are underlying brain deficits that may be present that we can address first to make treatment more effective.”

Or as Alvaro Fernandez, the CEO of SharpBrains mentioned at the summit, there could be phenomenal implications for improving the functioning of these three areas at the school level, helping prevent potential psychiatric problems before they even get given the opportunity to present themselves.

Thankfully, we may not have to wait too long to get a clearer idea of where this revolutionary research is taking us. Dr. Goodkind is continuing research into the cognitive training domain as we speak, and other researchers on the team, like Dr. Amit Etkin, are hunting out new ways to identify commonalities in the brain across psychiatric diagnosis…watch this space!


Goodkind, M., Eickhoff, S., Oathes, D., Jiang, Y., Chang, A., Jones-Hagata, L., Ortega, B., Zaiko, Y., Roach, E., Korgaonkar, M., Grieve, S., Galatzer-Levy, I., Fox, P., & Etkin, A. (2015). Identification of a Common Neurobiological Substrate for Mental Illness JAMA Psychiatry, 72 (4) DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.2206

This guest article originally appeared on the award-winning health and science blog and brain-themed community, BrainBlogger: Mental Illness — One Treatment to Cure Them All, One Network to Bind Them?

Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW <![CDATA[4 Steps to Setting Healthy Personal Boundaries]]> 2016-05-17T18:11:16Z 2016-05-25T15:45:04Z steps to setting healthy personal boundaries

Sometimes it just feels easier to please others than to stand up for what we really want. Why? Maybe we don’t like confrontation. Or maybe we just like making other people happy. That’s not a bad thing. It can feel great to give others what they want, but it’s important to recognize when they overstep the mark.

Personal boundaries are how we set our personal limits. They are how we separate ourselves as individuals from the influence and intentions of others. They are an essential tool for communicating our needs, our integrity and our self-worth, both to others and to ourselves.

Without them, negative emotions such as resentment, guilt, frustration or shame could take hold. Your relationships may become frayed, and your self-respect could suffer.

If this sounds familiar, it might be time to set some new life rules in place.

1. Identify your red flag areas.

Take time to define your red flags — the areas in your life that commonly seem to suffer from a lack of personal boundaries.

Here are a few to consider:

  • Money: Are you comfortable lending it? When do you expect someone to return it?
  • Time: How do you like to spend your time? Do some people continually expect you to drop everything for them? When is it acceptable for someone else’s time to take priority over yours?
  • Physical boundaries: Think about what you consider to be your personal space. Do you like receiving hugs? From whom? How do you feel about others touching your personal belongings? For example, in what situation (if any) is it OK for a family member or friend to look through your closet while you’re not there?
  • Emotional boundaries: Accept your emotions. If something makes you feel sad or angry, don’t be ashamed to feel it. Don’t let other people tell you how you feel. Become aware of that internal line between others’ emotions and your own. You don’t have to feel the same way as others do about any given situation. Recognize when people are expecting you to feel or react a certain way, just because that’s how they feel.

2. Write your boundaries down.

Boundaries take courage and will to create. Don’t be vague about them. Just the act of writing them down will force you to analyze your needs and intentions and you’ll be able to clarify exactly what is and is not acceptable in your dealings with others.

It also sends a strong signal to your psyche that you mean business, and you’ll find it easier to stand up for yourself in the long run.

3. Be clear and direct.

It’s your responsibility to communicate your boundaries clearly to others. Remember, these boundaries are personal. And they deserve to be respected. Explain yourself in a neutral, graceful tone. It’s fine to be frank, as long as you keep it respectful. Being direct is not the same thing as being rude.

Some examples of what you might say:

  • When a friend asks you for money: “As a rule, I don’t lend money to friends. Is there any other way I could help you out?”
  • When your relative asks to borrow your car: “I’m afraid I don’t lend anything worth more than $1,000.”
  • When you are faced with anger: “I can’t engage with you if you’re yelling at me. Please speak to me in a different tone of voice.”
  • When your colleague asks you take on an additional project: “I’m sorry, I have to decline. Right now it’s important to focus on the projects I already have. I may have time to help out by ‘x’ date, please do ask me again around then.”

Of course, there will be moments when you don’t know your what your personal boundary is. You don’t always have to come up with answers on the spot. Say something like, “Let me sleep on that. I’ll give you my decision tomorrow.”

4. Stay firm.

Once you have stated your boundary, commit to it. Be consistent. Backing out invites people to ignore your needs. You don’t have to defend yourself. Sometimes the best explanation is, “Because I don’t want to,” or “Because I am not willing to do that.” If someone persists, say, “Please stop asking me about that. I told you how I felt last time we spoke.”

Revisit your written list from time to time, amend or change it if necessary, but take pride in it.

Having personal boundaries is about respecting your own needs. Even when other people’s needs seem more important than yours, remember that you can’t take care of others before taking care of yourself.

Remember: saying no to others is a way of saying yes to yourself!


Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. <![CDATA[Identifying How You’d Like to Spend Your Days]]> 2016-05-17T18:05:07Z 2016-05-25T10:45:02Z identifying how you'd like to spend your daysI recently penned a piece about the importance of being selective. Because the reality is that we can’t do everything. Our time is limited. And trying to do everything only stops us from focusing on what matters most (to us). It overshadows it. One day might run into the next, and before we know it, a week has flown by. And yet we feel empty and unfulfilled. We feel aimless.

This might be because we’re unclear about what is actually significant to us. We might not know our priorities. Maybe we’ve been so busy focusing on the minutiae — checking off random tasks and chores — that we’ve neglected the bigger picture. Maybe we’ve been so busy following other people’s definitions of success and productivity and meaning that we’ve neglected to consider what feels true and right for us.

These questions can help you name what’s important to you and discover how you’d like to spend your days.

  • What inspires you?
  • What do you love about the morning? Afternoon? Evening?
  • What do you find yourself daydreaming about?
  • What do you wish you could take off your to-do list? (Is it really necessary? Maybe you can simply delete it. Or maybe you can delegate it by asking a loved one for help or hiring a professional.)
  • What does your ideal day look like — from the moment you get up to the time you fall into bed?
  • What does a good day look like?
  • What have you always wanted to try but don’t because you think you’re too old? (You’re not.)
  • What do you want to feel like when you go to bed?
  • What do you want to feel like when you wake up?
  • What are the top five things that are most important to you in this world?
  • How do you define a “fulfilling life”?
  • What would this look like day to day? Maybe during the course of a week?
  • What matters least to you but find yourself doing every day anyway? This might be checking social media (before you know it, you’re down the rabbit hole). This might be a specific commitment.
  • What do you need to genuinely relax?
  • What are the activities that make you feel alive (invigorated, rejuvenated, energized)?
  • What’s one thing you can add to every day that puts a smile on your face?
  • What are your personal guidelines that you can use for saying yes to something?
  • What are your guidelines for saying no?
  • What do you love about your life right now?

Pick the questions that resonate with you, and respond to them in a journal. If you’re unsure of your answers, do some experimenting. Carry a small notebook with you, and jot down what catches your eye; what you like and don’t like; what surprises you; what you really want; what nourishes you deeply. Jot down your thoughts and feelings — how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking at different points of the day. See if you can spot any patterns that might reveal your priorities or any other key insights.

Give yourself permission and the opportunity to think about what’s important to you — and then give yourself permission and the opportunity to fill your days with those meaningful things.


John Amodeo, PhD <![CDATA[Surprising Ways that Shame Can Serve Us]]> 2016-05-25T05:37:20Z 2016-05-24T21:55:08Z Pixabay image by Sevenheads

We often hear about the destructive aspects of shame — how it’s toxic to our happiness and well-being. As a psychotherapist, I continually see how shame holds people back. But can there be a healthy and helpful aspect to shame?

Shame is that painful sense that tells us we’re flawed and defective. Bret Lyon and Sheila Rubin, who lead popular workshops for helping professionals, describe shame as “a primary emotion and a freeze state, which has a profound effect on personal development and relationship success.”

Believing that there is something inherently wrong with us, we’re robbed of the capacity to feel good about ourselves, accept ourselves, and affirm our basic goodness, which has a crippling effect on our lives. Such shame may be so painful that we dissociate from it — no longer even noticing it.

Many therapists, including myself, have written about the destructive quality of shame. But shame also has a positive aspect. If we try to jettison shame each time it arises, we will not avail ourselves of its constructive potential.

It takes robust self-worth to notice shame without being ashamed of our shame. If we can draw upon inner resources, we can become mindful of shame when it arises, which then opens the possibility of differentiating between destructive shame and shame as an ally. If we can catch our shame before it pulls us down the slippery slope of self-denigration (succumbing to a shame spiral), we might learn something about ourselves.

Allowing Ourselves to Be Imperfect

We spill a glass of water in a restaurant and people turn around to stare at us. We feel that uncomfortable surge of shame as we imagine how we’re being perceived negatively.

If we tend to carry toxic shame, we may curse under our breath and tell ourselves how dumb we are. “I wasn’t paying attention! I made a mess. I feel badly about myself!” This is a paralyzing, destructive shame that freezes us.

Bringing some gentle mindfulness to the situation offers the possibility of repair and healing. We can notice the shame without getting swept away by it. If we can hold on to our self-worth during that embarrassing moment, we can remind ourselves that we’re an imperfect human being. Making a mistake doesn’t mean that something is wrong with us; it simply means that we’re just like everyone else. We’re a part of the human condition.

A light sense of shame might offer relief. It’s a sober reminder that we don’t need to pretend that we’re perfect in order to be respected, accepted, or loved. This healthy shame makes us more supple and human. Maybe we can find some humor around our imperfections. It’s ok to be ourselves with a full array of strengths and limitations.

Correcting Our Tendency to Blame Others

I was recently looking for a parking spot in a busy lot. A driver seemed ready to pull out of a space. As their car was idling without backing up, I noticed myself getting impatient. “Doesn’t he know I’m waiting? How oblivious to my needs!”

Finally, the spot opened up and I disembarked and did some shopping. After re-entering my car, I checked messages on my cell. As I was backing out, I noticed a car waiting for my spot! Yikes! I was doing the same thing that I criticized someone else for doing! I felt the shame of having been so judgmental.

In this disconcerting moment, I smiled to myself, shook my head a bit, and noticed a touch of friendly shame. It got my attention—reminding me to be more accepting of others and not so self-centered. We all have reasons for doing what we do. We all get absorbed in our “stuff” sometimes. It’s just part of the human condition.

Being Mindfully Gentle with Ourselves

My shame in the above example was a good reminder to be more gentle with myself and others. We’re all a little insensitive to others’ needs sometimes. We don’t have total control over refraining from doing or saying things that hurt people sometimes. But we do have control over noticing the shame that tells us when we’ve crossed someone’s boundaries.

This healthy shame can get our attention and keep our lives and relationships healthy. Perhaps we notice this instructive shame as we’re about to say something hurtful or send a nasty email. Or, when we’ve violated someone’s dignity with a harsh word or insensitive action, we can apologize or find some way to repair broken trust. Gradually, such friendly shame may help us become more empathically attuned to each other. We can respond to others with greater wisdom and love, without needing the shame to remind us to be more sensitive.

Mindfulness practice is a helpful path to notice what is happening inside us when we’re reacting automatically rather than responding with a more conscious choice. We can gently turn our attention to how we’re feeling inside when someone does or says something that riles us. Perhaps old shame or fear is getting activated, which might trigger an angry reaction or shutting down.

Toxic shame is a debilitating and painful emotion that stifles our well-being and creativity. It may make us so cautious that we don’t take intelligent risks in our lives. Healthy shame arises from something in us that wants to stay positively connected to our fellow humans. From a survival standpoint we need to be connected and cooperative if our tribe is to survive. Shame tells us when we’ve strayed into some self-centered stance that disconnects us from the tribe and threatens our personal and collective well-being.

Let’s notice shame when it arises. Is it the toxic variety that diminishes us? Or might there be a redeeming aspect to it? A small dose of shame is sometimes a healthy thing—useful for personal development, repairing broken trust, and building a healthy community and society.

Please consider liking my Facebook page.


Pixabay image by Sevenheads

Therese J. Borchard <![CDATA[The Life-Saving Power of Purpose]]> 2016-05-16T20:13:26Z 2016-05-24T15:45:49Z P1030193Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Two years ago I tested that theory.

I’ve always been depressed. I must have emerged from my mother’s womb with an overactive amygdala and a deficient prefrontal cortex — creative brain wiring that generates panic and sadness. I was almost hospitalized in the fourth grade because I simply could not stop crying.

However, since December of 2008, when the market crashed, I hadn’t been able to surface into the land of the living and do things like pick up the kids from school and be at places like swim practice without hearing constant death thoughts (“I wish I were dead”). They were persistent, loud, and maddening.

For five years I tried countless medication combinations, saw my psychiatrist every few weeks, worked with a therapist, and swam two and a half miles every day. Still, I was doing death math — the type of arithmetic where you add up the ages of all your ancestors who have died and divide that number by the number of forebears to get the median age of death — the number that determines how long you have to hang on for.

So I tried the holistic route. I worked with a functional doctor and spent four months of my writing salary on 20 different tests to find the underlying cause of my depression. I eliminated dairy, gluten, caffeine, and sugar from my diet. I began taking a probiotic, liquid vitamin D and B-12, GABA, L-Theanine, SAMe, and 15 other kinds of vitamins and supplements.

I did 90 minutes of Bikram yoga twice a week. I enrolled in the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the hospital and began to meditate for 45 minutes every day. One morning shortly after my last class in spring 2014, my death thoughts were more grinding than ever.

“WHEN? Just tell me WHEN can I die?”

I tried to let them go as I meditated, gulped down my kale-pineapple smoothie, and started stretching for my run.


I hurried out the door before my daughter could see my tears.

“Eighty-two. That was the last number I came up with.”

“Thirty-nine years from now?!?”

I ran and ran, and when I arrived at Hospital Point at the Naval Academy — a rock path that borders the Severn River — I stopped and let out a deep wail from a place I didn’t know existed in me. A raw and unprocessed pain surfaced.

And then I conceded. “I give up!” I yelled to God. “I give up on not wanting to die. I give up on wanting from this life any kind of joy. Right here, right now, I give you ever ounce of my being. Just use me to help another person escape this kind of agony.”

There were a few moments of peace. The kind of delicious equanimity amidst symptoms that bestselling author Toni Bernhard describes in her book How to Be Sick. And I knew I had stumbled upon my answer.

It wasn’t any combination of medications that could save me, although the right mix could help me stay stable. The antidote wasn’t a specific diet or a meditation practice, although both are important to staying resilient. I simply needed to get out of the way and devote the fragile, delicate parts of my heart to a WHY, and my WHY was never so clear as on that early May morning: to help persons who suffer from the same kind of chronic, treatment-resistant depression as I do, people who are tormented by constant death thoughts.

Later I read the words of Holocaust survivor and famous psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, MD, PhD, in the classic, Man’s Search for Meaning:

We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation — just think of an incurable disease as inoperable cancer — we are challenged to change ourselves.

I knew that the cure for my bitterness lie in using my pain for service. I could experience peace even in the midst of my suffering if I could find a way to use my bruises and sores for the good of others. All I needed was a medium that would allow me to reach out to others in loving compassion.

So two years ago from this week, I started a support group for persons with chronic depression on Facebook, Group Beyond Blue, which now has over 4000 members. A few months later I launched a new online community, Project Hope & Beyond, which now has over 12,000 members.

Research supports the idea that aligning ourselves with a cause and helping others can be a pathway to peace. According to a 2002 study in Pain Management Nursing, nurses suffering from chronic pain experienced declines in their pain intensity and decreased levels of disability and depression when they began to serve as peer volunteers for others also suffering from chronic pain. “Despite encountering challenges, the rewards of this altruistic endeavor outweighed any frustrations experienced by volunteers with chronic pain,” says the abstract.

Dr. Frankl’s “logotherapy” is based on the belief that human nature is motivated by the search for a life purpose. If we devote our time and energy toward finding and pursuing the ultimate meaning of our life, we are able to transcend our suffering. It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel it. However, the meaning holds our hurt in a context that gives us peace.

I am a big believer in logotherapy now, in pouring your heart into a mission that can become your life purpose.

I have made changes to my diet in the last year, which I believe made a significant difference in my mood. I continue to meditate, swim, work with a psychiatrist, and do everything else I can to stay sane. I still do occasionally get death thoughts, especially when I eat something made with sugar or white flour, or when I work too many hours. But they are not nearly as persistent or painful as they once were for six years of my life.

Obviously, I’m not cured. However, I know that something changed on that May morning I cried next to the Severn River. I discovered my WHY.


Continue the conversation on Psych Central’s depression forums or on Project Hope & Beyond, a different kind of depression community.

Artwork by the talented Anya Getter.

Originally posted on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.

Brandi-Ann Uyemura, M.A. <![CDATA[Best of Our Blogs: May 24, 2016]]> 2016-05-23T19:39:54Z 2016-05-24T10:30:04Z Open Book On NightstandI’ve been guilty of doing it late at night-staying up to pound through various books, blog posts, and rigorously searching for the “right” way to do things. Anything less than that would cost me unbearable shame and validate a deeply hidden sense of unworthiness.

After stacks of books couldn’t “cure” me, I realized the answers rarely rested in those pages. Before I could do any permanent change, I needed to revisit my belief of conditional worthiness. Regardless of what I did or said or accomplished, I deserved love, compassion, kindness, acceptance and forgiveness. If I wasn’t willing to first give it to myself, I would never be able to receive it from someone else.

As you peruse our top posts this week, I hope you will do so mindfully. Read each with the awareness that while there may be best ways to approach a situation, making a mistake and messing up does not mean you are a failure. It does not mean you are a terrible person. It means you are human, a work in progress, and on the road to becoming a better version of you.

How to Confront an Abusive Person
(The Exhausted Woman) – You’ve allowed someone to abuse you whether physical and emotional or even spiritual and financial. You don’t have to live this way any longer. Let this post free you from abusive behavior forever.

Symptom of the Day: Physical Restlessness
(Bipolar Laid Bare) – More than 75% of all bipolar patients experience it. Learn more about the symptom that puts you at risk for violence, substance abuse and other risky behavior.

What Are Healthy Boundaries and Why Do I Need Them?
(Happily Imperfect) – You’re frustrated. You feel take advantage of. Yet, you won’t set boundaries. Here’s why and why they are so important.

Not a Joiner? Understand and Manage Your Discomfort in Groups
(Childhood Emotional Neglect) – Are you uncomfortable in group settings? Feeling left out, inferior and invisible may have to do with these three things.

Are You a “Giving Tree?”
(Mentoring & Recovery) – What does a childhood book have to do with your current life? Shannon shares how The Giving Tree woke her up to her codependency.

Laura Yeager <![CDATA[Why You Should Support Your Child’s Interests]]> 2016-05-16T17:57:42Z 2016-05-23T21:55:42Z why you should support your child's interestsMy 11-year-old son Tommy collects stuffed bananas. You know, stuffed banana plush toys. He found his first one (and all of them, in fact) at the thrift store. This initial stuffed fruit was not just an ordinary banana, it was a stuffed Rastafarian banana complete with dreadlocks.

“What is this?” he asked.

“It’s a Rastafarian banana,” I said with glee.

Needless to say, Tommy had to have it. The price was right — $3. We bought it and took it home.

This purchase brought on an extensive Internet research project on the Rastafarian religion. In his reading on the Internet, Tommy discovered that:

  • Rastafarianism was born in the slums of Jamaica in the 1920s
  • Rastas believe in the divinity of Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian Emperor
  • The religion was founded by Marcus Garvey and involves the ritualistic use of marijuana.

From one little thrift store purchase, Tommy got a whole education on a world religion. We then introduced Bob Marley as a prime example of a Rasta. Tommy had grown up listening to Marley’s music. He particularly liked “Three Little Birds.” Tommy then made the “dreadlock connection” between his new banana and Marley.

Yes, indeed, everything was going to be all right.

Tommy wanted more. Bananas, that is.

He started going to the thrift store regularly with me. In the days to follow, he found two more stuffed bananas, but these weren’t Rastafarians. The one he called “Clown Banana” because it had a red nose and neon-colored hair. The other one was just your basic stuffed banana with no outstanding features; although that one was plain, he loved it just the same.

Of course, Tommy liked the new stuffed bananas he found, but he truly wanted another Rastafarian banana. One day, we prayed very hard.

“Dear Jesus,” Tommy said. “Please let me find a Rastafarian banana at the thrift store.”

We drove in quiet hope. I was afraid he was going to be disappointed and throw a small tantrum when he didn’t find this exotic banana in the pile of used plush toys. We went into the thrift store. Tommy raced directly to the stuffed toys. I lingered behind, examining a pair of glass candlesticks marked $2 on a shelf.

“Oh, my gosh,” I heard Tommy say.

“What?” I said, approaching him.

And then, I saw it. Tommy had found a second stuffed Rastafarian banana. (Needless to say, Tommy became a great believer in the power of prayer that day.)

“What are the odds of finding exactly what you were looking for?” I asked in disbelief. “You found another Rasta banana!” Not knowing what else to say, I said, “Praise the Lord!”

Tommy was jubilant. And so was I.

Tommy now had four stuffed bananas.

His grandmother found the fifth one. She too liked to haunt the thrift store. This banana had a beard and a mustache and wore a red and white bandana. He was kind of a hippie banana. Grandma was so excited about her find that she wanted to personally hand-deliver the precious thing to Tommy. When he saw it, he was overjoyed.

Banana No. 6 was a Ninja banana complete with a black eye patch, also found at the thrift store.

Tommy now had what anyone would call a whole stuffed banana collection. He adored his bananas. He liked to put them to sleep in little baskets I found especially for this purpose. He liked to line them all up on the living room couch and take pictures of them. They were his babies, his favorite toys.

What is my point in telling you all this?

My point is that your child’s passions, no matter how strange they may be, should be nurtured. This is not rocket science, but it is important.

Having a banana collection gives Tommy a hobby — an odd one, but a hobby nevertheless. And from assembling this collection, he’s learned so much. Just the mere fact that he was curious enough to get onto the computer and Google “Rastafarians” makes me happy. Every parent hopes that her child will want to drink in new knowledge, and that’s just what Tommy did.

Parents need to be smart and make the most of their child’s interests.

Tommy is not into football. He’s not into basketball or baseball. He doesn’t like hockey like his best friend Christian does. We tried karate. We tried hip-hop dancing. We tried it all.

Tommy’s passion is collecting stuffed bananas.

What is your child’s passion? Don’t dismiss it if it’s not a “normal” one. Go with the flow. Your child’s interests make them who they are.

Tommy will never forget the day he prayed to God for a stuffed Rastafarian banana and got it. Again, the whole experience has made him a much stronger believer in God and his religion. What more can I ask for?

Viva the wacky passions of our children! Who knows where they may lead?


Sarah Newman, MA <![CDATA[How Quitting Facebook Helped My Mental Health]]> 2016-05-25T01:25:26Z 2016-05-23T15:45:32Z quitting FacebookAbout a year ago, I quit Facebook. It had become a place for me to experience disappointment and agitation. Distant relatives whom I hadn’t seen in years were messaging me for favors. The presidential election was gearing up and people were getting very vocal about politics. And some of my best friends were dropping out of the site or not sharing anything anymore.

I decided it was time to close my account and do something more positive with my time. It was hard to break the habit, but there was much to be gained.

I stopped broadcasting my opinions

I am not my opinions. The world wasn’t put in front of me so I could sit there and pass my imperial judgment on each and every thing. I was put on this earth to live, not to sit around opining on the news of the day.

It’s common on Facebook for people to post their opinions in an effort to make themselves known — to paint a picture of who they are. But that picture can never be accurate. It’s just a small sample of a much deeper personality that can never fully be conveyed on such a medium.

Leaving Facebook meant I could just do me. I now have to focus on my own life and what I really want. Since I’m no longer trying to uphold an image I want people to have of me, I’ve become more open to new possibilities. In the timeless words of Lao Tzu, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Defensiveness and perfectionism fell away; open-mindedness remains. I practice finding silver linings and avoid being critical.

I stopped feeling alienated by the opinions of others

Instead of promoting inclusiveness or social bonding, sometimes social media seems like a place to go when we want to be offended. Some of my friends/followers aren’t like me. They have different backgrounds, religions, occupations, and sensibilities. In real time, I can sense differences and put them aside. That can’t be done on Facebook.

Furthermore, there are some things you don’t want to know about your biology partner from high school, but social media promotes the broadcasting of that person’s beliefs whether you want to see them or not. Imagine that it’s 1993 and you didn’t just discover that Hannah believes all the bees are dying off because Prince George eats organic-only. Sounds like a lot simpler life, doesn’t it? Certainly less cluttered with information you never really wanted to know anyway.

I stopped comparing myself

Social media is a great place to present the best parts of our life while cropping out all the hardship. We’re convinced that life is easier, more successful, and more fun for everyone else. Everyone else can afford a vacation, a new car, space camp for their kids, and a subscription service for their English bulldog.

The grass is not always greener. Everyone meets with hardship. And not everyone experiences real joy and gratitude. The important things in life that really pay dividends can’t be captured in a Facebook post.

I stopped wasting time

I don’t know how many times a day I would automatically type “FAC” into my web browser and have it autofill “Facebook.” Sometimes I didn’t even remember keying it in. I’d find myself on my feed wondering, “Why am I here? What am I doing?”

Any social media can become a bad habit. It robs you of productivity and gives you a reliable place to procrastinate 24 hours a day. After Facebook, I wonder how I ever had time to be on it in the first place.

I regained a level a privacy I didn’t know I missed

Does Keith from third grade really need to see a photo of me running around Catalina in a bikini top? Does distant cousin Miriam, who I only met once at my Aunt’s wedding in 1997, need to know that I’ve gone to the same comedy show every month for the last four years?

Let’s face it, we’re not close with all our Facebook friends. In fact, we may only be close with a handful of them. Some users never even share anything themselves, meanwhile we’re advertising everything about ourselves.

Facebook let’s you make lists and decide who you want to share what with, but then you become a part-time social media curator and organizer. You’ve got lists of ex’s you don’t talk to, lists of ex’s you’re friends with, lists of friends with kids, lists of relatives you don’t really know very well. Who wants to spend all this time putting people into categories of categories? It seems like there should be an algorithm at this point that could take care of this for us. But that’s the thing. Social media companies want us to share with all our contacts; that’s their bread and butter.

There was a time when it would be ridiculous for everyone you knew in middle school to know you got married … and see all the wedding photos. There was a time when people had to be close to you in order to know such personal information. It was a more sincere time.

Without Facebook, I live life in real time. I don’t find myself mindlessly keying in “FAC” and wasting time reading about other peoples lives for 10-20 minutes every morning, afternoon, and night. I don’t have to pause and take photos so I can share my experiences with the Facebook audience. I don’t have to make sure I weigh in on issues before they become yesterday’s news.

I’m no longer cultivating an image through social media while sitting on my butt. A few keystrokes won’t cut it. I cultivate my “image” through actions. And now you have to actually know me to know me. When I stopped worrying about my social media audience, I had the emotional energy to reflect and show gratitude to the people in my life who I love and cherish — the people who really know me.

Sure, I miss some things not being on Facebook. I don’t get 100 birthday wishes anymore, but those were from people I hadn’t seen in 10 years anyway. It takes me a little longer to find out my friend had her baby or my cousin moved. But information still travels, sans Facebook. For me, the benefits far outweigh the losses. What might you gain if you quit social media — even if you just suspended your accounts for a while?


Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW <![CDATA[How to De-Escalate Fights with Family Members]]> 2016-05-16T19:09:31Z 2016-05-23T10:45:30Z how to de-escalate family fightsEver find yourself on the receiving end of verbal attack? Many people have loved ones who lash out in verbally abusive ways. Some of these people refuse to listen to reason when angry. They take no accountability for their role in creating strife. They might insist that you are the cause of their abusive behavior and they would stop hurting you if only you would change. But relationships are always about two people. Each person interacts and affects the other.

For example, Moira, a 45-year-old wife and mother of three, was abused as a child. Moira was easily triggered into jealous rages. These rages could be set off by the smallest thing: perhaps her husband glanced inadvertently at another woman, or complimented a coworker. Or perhaps her teenage daughter talked back to Moira or expressed affection for a teacher, igniting Moira’s jealousy.

Any time Moira’s husband or children were not exclusively complimentary or solicitous of Moira’s needs, she became enraged and started to attack. She hurled insults, assassinated character and threatened to harm herself if the person with whom she was enraged did not do or say what she demanded. These fights could escalate to physical violence, where she threw dishes and pounded the furniture.

People who are partnered with or have parents who exhibit these types of behaviors often feel they are walking on eggshells, waiting for an explosion. Family members become hypervigilant about everything they do or say that could set off their volatile loved ones.

Walking on eggshells is exhausting. The natural response is to check out or fight back. Often, though, leaving the room or defending oneself triggers more wrath, as those who have suffered childhood trauma easily feel abandoned or punished.

While there is no perfect way to calm an explosive moment, rehearsing and memorizing a couple of phrases to say during explosive times can help try to break a negative cycle. The goals are to:

  • De-escalate the fight before it gets worse.
  • Use words that communicate you are not abandoning or punishing.
  • Know you have the right to set healthy limits and boundaries.

Once you see that your family member has switched into a rageful state, use one or all of the following approaches to calm things down. Each of the below statements should be said with a very firm but caring tone of voice. You should stand tall and look your partner or parent in the eye while you speak to him or her:

  • “I hear and see that you are angry. Clearly I have hurt you. However, I will not allow you to talk to me the way you are. When your emotions calm down and we can talk calmly about what happened without you insulting me we can try talking again. Until then, I will be at _____________ (insert where you will go — do leave the house) for the next hour calming down myself.” Then leave the house and return in an hour as promised.
  • “When you scream at me like this I cannot hear you. My body and mind go into a panicked shutdown state and all I can do is space out until you finish. I want to be able to hear you and communicate about whatever is upsetting you. Can you calm down so we can speak calmly and I can listen again?” Maintain eye contact until you get an answer. If the ranting continues, just keep repeating the sentence. If your partner or parent escalates, use the first conversation and leave the house.
  • “Once you start screaming and throwing things and making threats, I don’t feel safe any more. That is what is happening now. Is that your intent?” Maintain eye contact until you get an answer. If the ranting continues, just keep repeating the sentence. If your partner or parent escalates, use the first conversation and leave the house.

These kinds of conversations are meant to accomplish the following:

  • Stop the interaction dead in its tracks to de-escalate the argument.
  • Stop the argument without abandoning or abusing the person (even though they may feel abandoned or abused no matter what you say.)
  • Use non-accusatory “I” language. “I” language describes the impact the person is having on you: “When you scream, I feel afraid of you” as opposed to “You are abusing me!” Most of the time, someone doesn’t realize the impact they are having on you and your emotions as they are too wrapped up with their own.
  • Disengage to allow emotions to calm down so your partner or parent switches back into a non-triggered state. Time apart accomplishes this.
  • Leave the area. Assure your partner or parent you will return to discuss the issue, but only if they stay calm.
  • Repeat this as often as your partner escalates and starts acting abusive. Your message must be loud and clear: “I don’t want to be spoken to the way you are speaking to me. I can’t hear you when I feel attacked. If you want me to stay here and talk, I need you to take it down a notch so we can communicate more calmly.” Everything you say should be said firmly but with kindness when possible.


Psych Central Staff http:// <![CDATA[3 Common Breakup Tactics of an Abusive Narcissist]]> 2016-05-16T17:37:02Z 2016-05-22T21:55:08Z Narcissist_BSP_Canva

Don’t fall prey to these underhanded and manipulative end-game tactics.

DON’T ever underestimate the breakup maneuvers of a narcissistic partner. A narcissist’s end game tactics are varied. If he still sees value in the relationship he may try to win you back so he can resume his control and abuse of you.

20 EXTREMELY Brutal Signs You’re In Love With A Narcissist

He may suddenly turn nice and “promise to change,” stop drinking, enter therapy or an abuser program. He may suddenly take care of the things that you have been complaining about. He may tell you “that you will be lost without him,” or “no one else will want to be with you.”

But if he believes you are permanently leaving him, he thinks you are seeing someone else or he is finished with you, you may be in for the “fight of your life.”

Be prepared for ANY of the following narcissistic behaviors if you think your relationship is ending with a narcissistic partner.

1. He Finds Another “Bedmate”

A narcissistic partner may have another relationship lined up before he dumps you and when this happens, his behavior can change dramatically and overnight. He can become extremely unpredictable, withdrawn, hostile and unfeeling and his abandonment can happen quickly and without warning.

When he makes up his mind that he wants to be with his new romantic interest, he may do outrageous things to get rid of you. And when he does dump you, there will be no apologies or expression of remorse because a narcissist does not feel guilt, shame or regret for his reprehensible actions.

2. He Does Things to Run You Off

When a narcissistic partner believes he can no longer control you or he is finished with you, he can become destructive and dangerous.

He will use minor issues to set you up for extreme verbal or physical abuse, and his increased rage will seem to come out of nowhere and for no apparent reason. He will say and do new and vicious acts against you.

He will set you up for elaborate altercations to punish you, frighten you and anger you so he can justify abusing you and deserting you, all the while, the narcissist draws satisfaction from the drama and pain he creates.

Unknown to me, my fiancé (living 100 miles away) was dating another woman. He came to town and he took me to dinner; I thought it was like any other date night. Instead, he started the worst fight of our relationship at the restaurant and then he physically assaulted me when we got back to my home.

It was the deadblow to our relationship. I found out the following week his new floozy was already living with him.

If Your Partner Does These 6 Things, You’re Being Emotionally Abused

3. His Verbal Attacks Escalate to Physical Abuse

The narcissistic partner’s end game can be treacherous and scary. He may throw things and strike objects near you to terrorize you into submission and he may destroy your treasured possessions to penalize you.

He may threaten to harm your children, pets or a family member. He may file false charges against you, report you to child services or threaten to take the children away from you. He may use his physical size to intimidate you, e.g., he stands in the doorway blocking your exit during an argument.

He may make statements like, “I’ll break your neck” and then he dismisses his threats by saying he didn’t really mean it. He may threaten you bodily harm, stalk you and show up at your work or home unannounced looking for a fight.

When a woman I know broke up with her jealous, verbally abusive boyfriend, he stole her favorite clothes, jewelry and perfume so she couldn’t “look good around another man.” He terrorized her with endless threatening phone calls and texts.

He showed up at her apartment drunk late at night, pounding on her patio door and windows demanding that she let him into her apartment and when she called the police he keyed the side of her car.

He left notes on her car’s windshield at home and at work, vacillating from, “I love you. Please give me another chance” to “I’ll kill you if I ever see you with another man.” In his mind if he couldn’t have her — no one would have her.

DON’T ever open the door to an angry ex.

This guest article originally appeared on 3 INFURIATING Things To Expect When Breaking Up With A Narcissist.

Matthew Loeb <![CDATA[Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder]]> 2016-05-16T17:36:49Z 2016-05-22T15:45:35Z living with obsessive compulsive disorder“He is sooo OCD,” I overhear a 20-something snarkily remark to a friend.

The hair on my skin crawls. As someone with a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) — one from a psychiatrist, not Urban Dictionary — I bristle. Sure, the remark was insensitive, even callous, but here’s why I cringe: the seemingly innocuous remark perpetuates public misperceptions.

OCD, the medical diagnosis, is far more impactful than OCD, the movie diagnosis. Unlike Jack Nicholson’s endearingly misfit character in “As Good as it Gets,” OCD signifies more than an uncompromising adherence to routine. The person with OCD faces education and workplace stigma from puzzled colleagues. At its worst, OCD can be incapacitating. (Read up on Howard Hughes for an idea of how bad it can get.)

Here is a CliffsNote summary for a widely misunderstood disorder:

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder are inundated with intrusive, unwanted thoughts preying on self-identity. Imagine a horrific crime and, odds are, a person with OCD has committed it. In his own mind, that is.

To cope, people with OCD seek reassurance from themselves, family, and friends. The underlying queries: 1) Are these thoughts real? 2) What do they mean? Loved ones may question the unquenchable thirst for reassurance, or, worse yet, deride the person with OCD as needy and helpless.

In reality, the actions of the person with OCD are logical and flawed. The person with OCD faces a relentless barrage from his own mind. He is a murderer, a rapist, a fatally flawed human being. Consumed with anxiety, he turns to loved ones and friends for relief. Logical, right? Yes — but there is a fatal flaw. The person with OCD, seeking justifiable relief, scratches the itch. While the relief feels oh so good, it is temporary. There will be a new obsession tomorrow.

For a person with OCD, the brain seizes on his or her worst fear. For example, there is a front-page headline about two parents forgetting their newborn in a sweltering minivan. As a new parent, the tragic story paralyzes the person with OCD. Gripped by fear, he wonders, “Could I do the same thing?” With his vivid imagination and strained logic, the person with OCD convinces himself that yes, indeed, he could — and maybe wants to — harm his child.

While the person with OCD knows that the thoughts are irrational, doubt haunts him. The OCD mind demands absolute certitude. “How can I trust myself around my child? I might hurt him,” he confesses. Like a malfunctioning VCR, his tortured mind autoplays the attention-grabbing headline over and over again. To placate the overwhelming fear, he insists that a loved one accompany him and his newborn for every grocery run. Itch, meet scratch.

For a person with OCD, the tug-of-war between his logical, analytical mind and OCD is an agonizing ritual. The OCD feelings are too powerful to resist. While the person with OCD understands that certainty is an illusion, the craving — the itch — has an irresistible emotional pull. In a bitter twist, the quickest way for relief is to resist the itch. Let the thought marinate, provoking the crippling anxiety. The anxiety is suffocating, stifling your ability to functionally. Or so you think.

Yes, I know all of OCD’s tricks — the overpowering feelings, the pounding anxiety, the mental anguish. OCD is a mean-spirited bully. He thrives on conflict, taunting you to spar with him. Don’t. Like most bullies, OCD is a one-trick pony. When you label him for what he is (a brain trick or mental hiccup), you will notice something: his punches glance off you. And your life, once filled with trepidation over the next thought, can become As Good As It Gets.


Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. <![CDATA[Living a Life by Design Instead of by Default]]> 2016-05-25T17:34:25Z 2016-05-22T10:45:54Z living life by designSome days, or maybe most days, you might feel like a passenger in the backseat of your own car. You are being driven to destinations you don’t want to go by a driver you didn’t pick. You feel stretched too thin. You are exhausted. You feel overwhelmed. You are attending events you’d rather not attend. Your to-do list is filled with tasks you don’t want to do. And the things you do want to do? Somehow those aren’t on the list.

This might mean that you’re living life by default, not by design.

Thankfully, this is something you can change. In his eye-opening book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg McKeown shares valuable tips on how we can start living (and working) by design. Essentialism is pursuing less and better (versus trying to get everything done). It is constantly asking the question: “Am I investing in the right activities?” And by “right,” he means whatever is essential to you. It is being deliberate and thoughtful about our days.

Below are some tips from McKeown’s Essentialism to get you started.

Seek Space

“We need space to escape in order to discern the essential few from the trivial many,” writes McKeown. We need space to pause and explore; to focus and to think. “Unfortunately, in our time-starved era we don’t get that space by default—only by design,” he writes.

McKeown worked with one man who stayed at a company for five years too long, because he was so engrossed in the day-to-day demands of the company. He didn’t take the time to see the bigger picture: to question whether he should be there in the first place.

We, too, can get distracted by the details (and the digital) of everyday that we miss out on the greater perspective. That’s why regularly carving out space is so important.

For instance, McKeown worked on this book from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m., five days a week. During that time, he didn’t check email, take calls or make appointments. “I didn’t always achieve it, but the discipline made a big difference.” He not only finished the book faster, but he also “gained control over how I spent the rest of my time.” One author I know writes most days around 4 a.m. before the rest of the house wakes up.

You might’ve heard of Bill Gates’s “Think Week,” his solitary time to read and think, which he’s been doing since 1980. Of course, many of us can’t take an entire week off. But we can carve out blocks, even tiny blocks. First thing every morning for 20 minutes, McKeown reads classical literature. It centers his day and broadens his perspective. It reminds him “of themes and ideas that are essential enough to have withstood the test of time.” He likes inspirational literature, such as: Zen, the Reason of Unreason; the Holy Bible; Walden; and The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

Say ‘No’ Gracefully

Saying ‘no’ is integral to minimizing or eliminating the nonessential. It opens up time to focus on what matters most to us—which is why being selective is critical (and liberating). You might say ‘no’ to something meaningless and say ‘yes’ to spending significant time with your family or creating your favorite kind of art.

But it’s hard. Saying ‘no’ feels awkward. We don’t want to disappoint or hurt others. We don’t want conflict. Thankfully, with practice, we can get better and feel better about saying ‘no.’ According to McKeown, for Essentialists saying ‘no’ “is a part of their regular repertoire.”

Plus, we can learn to decline gracefully. He includes these suggestions: Saying, “I am flattered that you thought of me but I’m afraid I don’t have the bandwidth,” or “I would very much like to but I’m overcommitted.” The key is to be clear and kind—versus giving a vague ‘yes’ or making someone wait a long time for your response only to pass (or say ‘yes,’ and feel resentment).

You also might create an auto-response for your inbox. McKeown created one while writing his book. The subject line was: “Monk Mode.” The email said he was currently writing a new book that “has put enormous burdens on my time.” He apologized in advance for not responding in the manner that he’d like.

When there’s something you’d like to support but can’t commit to fully, you might say: “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.” We also can refer people to other professionals or resources by saying: “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.”

For McKeown being an Essentialist means choosing to: wrestle with his kids instead of attend a networking event; not check social media one day a week so he can be fully present at home; not watch any TV or movies while he’s traveling for business so he can think and rest; and say ‘no’ to a speaking gig to have a date night with his wife.

It’s cliché to say, but it doesn’t make it any less true: Life is short. And McKeown’s book really asks us the biggest question of all: How do we want to spend our limited time here on this earth?

Ocus Focus

Gretchen Rubin <![CDATA[There Is No Gender Difference When It Comes to New and Better Habits]]> 2016-05-13T18:40:52Z 2016-05-21T21:55:39Z Happiness in Men and WomenWhen it comes to figuring out happiness and good habits, I don’t think it matters much if you’re a man or a woman.

It’s easy to assume that certain aspects of ourselves matter more than they do. For instance, birth order. People believe that birth order has a big influence on personality, but research has disproved this. Birth order just doesn’t matter for personality.

Now, whether you’re a man or a woman matters in some situations, sure. But in general, in my observation, for any particular person, individual differences swamp gender differences.

In my own work and research for The Happiness Project and Better Than Before, I came to believe this more and more strongly.

In my experience, women, especially, often assume that they are the way they are because of being a woman. “I’m like this, and I’m like this because I’m a woman, and most women are like this.” But to me, it seems that this points to some aspect of their personality that’s not related to gender.

My first and very strong clue about this came when I was devising the Four Tendencies framework. I’d noticed that many women said to me, “Why is it that busy moms like us can’t take time for ourselves?”

And I’d think, well, I consider myself a busy mom, but I don’t have trouble taking care of myself. So why am I different?

Now I know: this feeling of “not being able to take time for myself” isn’t a female thing, it’s an Obliger thing. Obliger men feel this way, too, but they don’t ascribe it to gender.

Because of my strong conclusion that gender matters a lot less than people assume, I was fascinated to read the two pieces: Wired’sNetflix’s Grand, Daring, Maybe Crazy Plan to Conquer the World” and Fortune‘s “Netflix Says Geography, Age, and Gender are ‘Garbage’ for Predicting Taste.”

When Nexflix tries to figure out what will appeal to viewers, it ignores geography, age, and gender: “in general, the variation within any population group is much wider than the collective difference between any two groups.” So whether  a person is a man or a woman isn’t useful information for Netflix, when they’re trying to understand their customers.

The fact is, people often make sweeping generalizations about what “women” and “men” are like, but research suggests that these assumptions aren’t correct. The article “Men Are from Mars Earth, Women Are from Venus Earth,” summed up research done at the University of Rochester:

“From empathy to sexuality to science inclination to extroversion, statistical analysis of 122 different characteristics involving 13,301 individuals shows that men and women, by and large, do not fall into different groups. In other words, no matter how strange and inscrutable your partner may seem, their gender is probably only a small part of the problem.”

This wrong belief matters to happiness and habits, I think, because it means that people often misunderstand their own experience, and for that reason, can’t tackle a challenge in the most effective way.

If I think “I can’t take time for myself because I’m a woman,” I may not try to do anything about it. If I think “I can’t take time for myself because I’m an Obliger,” I may decide, “I need accountability to get myself to go to the gym, so I’d better sign up with a trainer/join a running group/take a class.”

More and more, I see that it’s very, very hard to appreciate how other people might see the world in a different way.

People often say things like,

  • “Well, of course, sometimes all of us just need to throw all the rules out the window and just indulge ourselves.”
  • “All teenagers rebel.”
  • “If people would just read the report and understand the facts, they’d follow this program.”
  • “No one wants someone looking over their shoulder all the time.”
  • “It’s not healthy to be too rigid.”
  • “If something’s important to you, you should be able to do it without any reminders.”

But these generalizations just aren’t universally true. They’re true for some people.

I think it’s much more helpful to say, “What kind of person am I? What’s true about me?” than think “We women struggle with…” or “We men always…” Because when we’re trying to understand ourselves, gender doesn’t provide a very helpful guide.

Nicole Taffs <![CDATA[5 Quick Ways to Recognize Your Self-Worth]]> 2016-05-21T16:56:22Z 2016-05-21T15:45:52Z recognize your self-worthSelf-esteem is not a hot and sexy topic. Not even close. I know people don’t love to talk about their self-esteem in front of others, but I’m passionate about it.

Self-esteem is defined as confidence in one’s own worth or abilities. Have you ever noticed how prevalent low self-esteem is among the general population? I have. I have also grown to understand there is a lot we can do to change that. Once we become comfortable in our skin, our self-esteem can soar.

I used to have low self-esteem and all the accompanying characteristics. Then one day I began to ask myself why. Why do I feel this way? This one question inspired more than 10 years of studying low self-esteem and strategies to increase it. It consistently remained a focus for me for more than a decade.

My increased esteem has changed my life in ways I never could have imagined. People responded to it. Situations responded to it. Life responded to it. My relationships improved (or ended), my opportunities multiplied, and my joy and inner peace grew.

Most people don’t think about self-esteem. It’s not usually on their radar. But what a role it plays in our lives. We wear low self-esteem on us like a garment that everybody can see. I think it’s time we pay attention to it. So let’s start now. This does take a bit of practice, but once you implement these strategies, you will instantly begin to notice changes in your life.

  1. Accept thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they are
    Do not judge them. They are neutral and do not define who we are. They rise up within us and can be released through the body and mind. They are fleeting in nature and can also be changed.
  2. Eliminate “should” from your vocabulary 
    “Should” comes from a place of judgement. Examine your beliefs, especially around your “shoulds.” Question them. What happens when you turn your “shoulds” into “coulds?” Does it open up other options or encourage less judgement?
  3. Do not rely on other people to provide you your sense of worth 
    They will inevitably disappoint. We have to internalize our power and make ourselves the only wielder of it. No label, position, or relationship can give us worth. Those are external factors. We have to ensure that if something or someone is removed from our lives, our esteem will remain intact.
  4. Forgive
    We need to forgive ourselves for our past wrongdoings. Shame, regret, and guilt sabotage our self-esteem and self-worth. We often find it easier to forgive others, but we must apply this compassion to ourselves as well.
  5. Take stock of your talents 
    Everybody has a gift or calling in this world. In fact, each of us have many different abilities that help others. We must identify these. If we are unsure of what these abilities are, start small. What small things are we good at? Enjoy? In what ways do we make other people’s lives better? Celebrate these; they are the very things that make us feel worthy.

These five strategies are simple; however, following them will take mindfulness and perseverance. I assure you, all the effort will be worth it when you start to live with inner calm and contentment on a daily basis. This newfound self-worth will show up in your relationships, career, and fresh opportunities and people that you will attract. Remember, like attracts like. A healthy and secure you will attract other healthy and confident individuals.

A word of warning for those working on their self-esteem: People in your life who have low self-esteem will begin to take notice. They may become threatened and uncomfortable with your progress toward self-acceptance. It is important that you don’t let this derail you. Be mindful of people who are unsupportive or think you are becoming full of yourself. There is a big difference between arrogance and healthy self-esteem. You can be a shining example to them by revealing what healthy self-esteem looks like. They can see the positive effects it has in all areas of life.

Remember, strong self-esteem means being comfortable with who we are, quirks and faults included. It recognizes our abilities and strengths, and knows the value and worth they provide in this world. It is very common to experience backlash from others when we make big strides in our personal growth, especially in codependent relationships. We must be prepared to cut loose the people who do not support us in our emotional growth. If it’s not appropriate to end the relationship, we can hold awareness of our personal issues versus theirs. Some people may in fact be supportive and encouraging, and use your growth as inspiration for their own. These are the people you want to keep close.

Elena Ray/Bigstock