One of my favorite Woody Allen movies that few people remember today is about a man named Zelig who takes on, without effort or intention, the qualities and features of the people in whom whose presence he shares at any occasion. So, for example, at a congregational meeting of rabbis, he is suddenly seen donning the Hasidic curls (“payot”) often worn by Orthodox Jewish rabbis. Psychoanalysts couldn’t agree what to make of this phenomenon. “Was it a psychosis or a neurosis?” they debated.
OTTO RANK AND THE CREATIVE WILL
In the early days of psychoanalysis, Otto Rank, one of Freud’s original acolytes, and later, adversaries, challenged the efficacy of psychotherapy based on insight and self-knowledge alone in favor of a more active approach (Development of Psychoanalysis, Ferenczi & Rank, 1925). According to Rank, who was especially influenced by existential philosophy, the most fundamental dimension in life is driven by the will to create oneself. This entails the challenge to overcome our deep-seated needs for security to belong and to be accepted by others when they are at the expense of our individuality. By suppressing his will to create himself, Woody Allen’s Zelig could not take on an identity that was his own.
An analyst’s task, according to Rank, should be to strengthen the bond between one’s identity and this force of will by affirming the patient’s impulse to act on these creative urges. Relentless probing for self-knowledge about one’s subconscious motives, in Rank’s opinion, was tantamount to “paralysis by analysis” because it weakens the will. When our creative force is suppressed, either through external constraints such as by any social system, family, community, or governmental body that doesn’t tolerate freedom of expression, or by internal constraints, such as through painful introspection that induces guilt or shame, our will becomes directed against ourselves, what Rank called the negative, or counter, will.
ORIGINS OF THE NEGATIVE WILL CONCEPT
The negative will, as a concept, may be understood as having originated in the work of the 19th century German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel. Hegel was an “idealist” so he believed that reality is composed entirely of our consciousness, which according to Hegel, is dialectical, or oppositional, in nature. This means that our beliefs, artistic expression, and historical narrative, etc., emerge out of a struggle between opposing viewpoints, such as socialism versus fascism, for example, or a controlling versus laissez-faire approach to childrearing.
Fast forward from the sturm und drung of the dawn of romanticism in Hegel’s generation, decades later strains of cynicism and pessimism emerge in the writings of the existentialists such as Friedrich Nietzsche. According to Nietzsche, “all events in the organic world are a subduing, a becoming master” through which “any previous meaning and purpose are necessarily obscured or even obliterated” (On the Genealogy of Morals). In Nietzsche’s mind the virtues of self-sacrifice that are extolled in modern civilization belie the underlying cruelty and resentment that constitute self-sacrifice’s true raison d’etre. Hence Nietzsche was suspicious of the ethics and institutions of modern civilization because their primary purpose has become negative, i.e., toward a suppression of the will of the people. The will of modern civilization founded on resentment is negative, said Nietzsche, inasmuch as it says “no to what is outside.” In other words, rather than originating from an affirmation of self, the slave morality of modern civilization directs its view outside itself with hostility in order to define itself and its reason for being triumphant under the guise of humility.
Otto Rank, whose work was heavily influenced by Nietzsche, posited that negative will is manifest in human psychological development both as a function of the natural evolution of the will, an incipient phase of normal development per se, and a dysfunctional state of being in adulthood where one’s natural, creative urge to express oneself is inhibited. As a normal phase of development, negativity may represent the beginnings of a child’s discovery of its own power that stands in necessary opposition to its parents and the greater power of the world around it. One’s sense of self develops, like the artistic concept of negative space, firstly from its “negative” relationship to the world in which it lives before a more creative self can begin to take hold. But the negative will, said Rank, can manifest also in adult life as a “neurosis,” i.e., the self-loathing, self-doubting, anxiety-ridden character whose will is directed against oneself. The neurotic person denies the validity of one's experience of oneself that corresponds to a lack of one's sense of self-worth.
APPLICATIONS OF NEGATIVE WILL TO TODAY’S WORLD
I. The Study and Treatment of Negative Will in Childhood
The concept of negative will has found both theoretical and practical applications to developmental psychology. In the late 19th century, the developmental psychologist, James Mark Baldwin, posited that our sense of self develops in early childhood both through imitation of and opposition against our caretakers, siblings, and others with whom we are most intimately involved at an early age. Gordon Neufeld, the founder of the Neufeld Institute in Vancouver, Canada, is a developmental psychologist who provides training for parents and professionals. According to Neufeld, childhood problems such as excessive shyness and defensive detachment that arise from a child’s oppositional relationship to its parents and authority figures may be addressed with family counseling and training. Neufeld’s training program teaches that the fundamental concepts necessary for healthy child development, what Neufeld calls “The Emergent Self,” depend on fostering a sense of self-efficacy and autonomy, teaching resilience to the finalities that limit one’s power to overcome, and facilitating the capacity to integrate the countervailing motives and concerns that constitute internal conflicts.
II. Negative Will in Personality Disorders
Negative will also represents a fundamental dimension of identity in adulthood that differentiates personality disorders from a healthier, creative self. In my paper, Negative will, self-image, and personality dysfunction, The Psychoanalytic Review (2009), I proposed that when an individual’s prevailing experience and corresponding behavior are predicated on an adversarial or alienating relationship between self-interest and the interests of others, i.e., the collective interest, dysfunctional patterns of interpersonal relationships will ensue to the detriment of one’s sense of well being and creative potential in life.
In my paper, it is explained how each type of personality disorder traditionally classified in modern psychiatry may be explained in accordance with this more philosophically based concept. The purposes of this project are, first, to offer a more coherent model within which the loosely-strung “classification” system of personality disorders has been used, secondly, to establish a more comprehensive framework, specifically philosophy and ethics, by which the dynamics of self-development and personality formation and their problems may be understood, and thirdly, to extend how this concept may apply beyond neuroses to narcissistic disorders. For the narcissist, the negative will is directed outwardly rather than against oneself. For the narcissist, the animus of negative will may manifest as resentment, disdain, distrust, and the need to overpower or constrain the freedom and will of others.
III. In Today's World
The significance of negative will is not lost to the kinds of problems faced by humanity in this day and age. In a world in which the polemics of culture are straining to their limits, ideas, politics and religious beliefs have taken on a prohibitively dogmatic pitch and tone intolerant of disputation, one that vilifies rather than engages curiosity and openness to the “other.” The so-called authoritarian personality, first studied by Adorno and his associates at Harvard University in the wake of the defeat of fascism after the second world war, emerges from such dogmatic systems. They are invariably characterized by blind fealty to a charismatic ruler and renunciation of one’s personal autonomy and creative potential.
Resistance to change born of fear seeks refuge in the familiar. We are now seeing communal bonds and personal identity forged on alliances predicated on these fears. These groups seek to oppose all that threaten to destroy these hollowed traditions as a bulwark against change. The upshot of this is that civilization is increasingly governed by a culture of resentment not unlike that identified in Nietzsche's jeremiad of Western civilization, defined by what we are opposed to rather than by who we can become. The threat we face is to define ourselves by what we stand together in opposition to, acting in deference as slaves to a master, rather than from within our freedom to exercise the capacity to use our judgments and potentials creatively as individuals in open engagement with ideas not necessarily of our own.
Who can forget Hannibal Lecter, in his famous scene with the police detective, Clarice, describe his savor for the delicacies of human cuisine with fava beans and Chianti. Or the horrifying vengeful murders of the anonymous serial killer, “John Doe,” played by Kevin Spacey in the movie, “Seven,” as he plied his methodical imagination to torture each of his victims according to the papal caveats illuminated in Dante’s Inferno. Serial killers have always fascinated and when they are sadistic as well, well, all the more brio.
The “Killer” Among Us
But we don’t need to rely on fiction to find these characters actually do exist among us. Most of us are, at least in passing, familiar with infamous names such as Jeffrey Dahmer who cannibalized his victims, John Gacy, a “professional clown,” who buried his juvenile victims in his yard and basement, and Dennis Rader, the BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) Strangler, who in his alternate life was a Boy Scout Leader and Church President. Then there were others . . . Robert Berdella, “The Butcher of Kansas City,” who displayed his victims’ skulls as trophies, Robert Hansen who set his victims free and naked in the wilderness of Anchorage, Alaska, in order to pursue them with a knife or rifle as if they were prey, and John Brennan Crutchley, “The Vampire Rapist,” who bound and assaulted his victims before extracting and drinking their blood.
The ”Lesser Angels” Within Us
Not everyone, thank God, is a serial killer. Yet, there may be a bit of what motivates them in each of us, hence our fascination. According to one survey, 6% of undergraduate college students report getting pleasure from hurting others. Though that’s not a high percentage, it nonetheless seems 6% more than should be acceptable. “Everyday” sadists, though not serial killers, get pleasure from hurting others or watching their suffering. Taking pleasure in acting, or even just imagining oneself acting, to inflict pain on someone else deliberately is an experience, while not something to be proud of, that might not be all that unfamiliar to most people. Vengeance, as they say, can be sweet, and who has not experienced at some time or another taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune, an emotion known by the German word, schadenfreude. Though, needless to say, this experience is a far cry from Hannibal Lecter it would be disturbing to realize that it reveals something within each of us that we might share with him. It is this realization, viz., our commonality with something we instinctively find abhorrent, that helps us to understand nonetheless what motivates the sadistic personality.
The Sadistic Personality
Sadism is a concept first introduced by the 19th century German physician, Richard von Krafft-Ebing in his classic text, Psychopathia Sexualis. He borrowed the name from the notorious 18th century nobleman, the Marquis de Sade, a French revolutionary who was also a political philosopher and novelist who while incarcerated wrote his infamous stories depicting a panoply of atypical, many commonly deemed depraved, sexual practices. A sadist, according to Krafft-Ebing, is someone who takes sexual pleasure from inflicting pain on others, an aberration of sexual behavior known today as a paraphilia. Freud later extended this concept to encompass both sexual and “generalized” or what one might call, characterological, sadism.
A person who might be defined as having a sadistic personality would exhibit a host of behaviors that might include poor frustration tolerance, a harsh, demeaning manner, and a fascination with weapons or heinous criminals. Such persons might also be attracted to careers that allow them to control or punish others such as in law enforcement, the military, or the government. Roughly 90% of people diagnosed with sadistic personality disorder are men. According to the psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm (The Authoritarian Personality, 1957), the sadistic personality is ultimately motivated by the need to humiliate others. While this behavior is used to exhibit power and dominance it belies weakness inasmuch as it depends on an “other” to dominant in order to feel strong. In real life, humiliation is more likely to be exhibited by social, or verbal, rather than physical means, but in either case, this behavior serves as a defense against feeling or exhibiting vulnerability.
In fundamental ways the sadistic personality looks a lot like narcissists and sociopaths, or what is technically known as the antisocial personality. Both personality disorders are classified under “Cluster B,” of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). They are characterized by behavior that is often grossly self-serving and as varying between insensitive to toward being exploitative of the feelings and concerns of others. However, the sadistic personality has, in one essential way, more in common with the average person than do the other two categories. Where the narcissist and sociopath lack awareness or concern about the impact of their behavior on others, the sadist is aware, albeit as the source of his greatest satisfaction. Whilst it is from this essential cruelty that the sadist derives pleasure from the suffering his behavior inflicts on others, his presumed “attunement to” the emotions he endeavors to elicit from his victim, however predatory in its quality, suggests that the sadist has the greater degree of empathy.
In consideration to this qualitative distinction of diagnostic conceptualization, the American Psychiatric Association’s revisions to its third edition in the 1980’s proposed adding Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD) to its diagnostic taxonomy. Diagnosis of this disorder, according to the manual at that time required meeting four of the following eight criteria:
SPD was not, finally, adopted in the DSM’s fourth edition because it was not supported by statistical evidence to sufficiently differentiate it from antisocial personality disorder. Moreover, there was concern that establishing a clinical diagnosis for behavior that is categorically destructive to others might, by assigning it to a “medically” diagnosed condition, diminish its social and legal culpability. While some, such as Theodore Millon (The Assertive to Sadistic Personality Spectrum, 2009) believe there remains sufficient evidence to recognize its clinical distinctiveness, it was proposed instead to consider SPD as, at best, representing a possible subset of antisocial personality disorder.
Origins and Treatment of SPD
While there is evidence as with most clinical phenomena of hereditary contributions to SPD, such as impulsiveness and dominance, for example, the pathological dimensions such as cruelty and taking pleasure from someone else’s pain likely originate from social learning and early life trauma. There is some evidence that exposure to role models, whether from one’s family, community, or social media, can contribute to sadistic behavior. However, even in such instances, it remains compelling that what differentiates sadistic from antisocial personality, viz., taking pleasure, originates from the painful experience of victimization and the vain attempt, either in fantasy or cruel behavior itself, to overcome these helpless feelings through the role reversal necessary to transform traumatic experience. It is a tragedy that beyond the suffering such behavior inevitably inflicts on its victims the repetition of sadistic behavior fails to diminish the force with which it continually influences the emotions that drive it in compulsive fashion. In fact, empirical research has suggested that, paradoxically, rather than assuage the need to cause suffering in others, for the sadistic personality, cruel actions are more likely to result in an exacerbation of dysphoric feelings.
Psychological treatment for SPD, as for all personality disorders, normally requires intensive and prolonged psychotherapy. These persons are not likely to enter therapy for reasons that are most likely obvious to others. Instead, they either are referred because of the consequences of their behaviors, such as from law enforcement or from family members. Intervention often focuses on helping the patient better understand how the consequences of their behavior originate from their behavior while at the same time establishing a sufficiently trusting relationship with the patient to allow such insights to be accepted. Working with a patient’s trauma history and probing insights that may be derived from the psychodynamics of trauma often constitute an essential part of therapy for this particular disorder as well.
,We live in a society in the Western world that teaches us to be all that we can be, to strive for the best in life, to rise above adversity. And while we are also taught to be good citizens, kind and generous, thoughtful and compassionate, it is generally regarded to be a good thing to empower ourselves in order to achieve at least some respectable degree of status in life. How is it, then, that not everyone follows this path always. In fact, it is as though some of us live contrary to these dictates, sabotaging opportunity, and inviting instead, disappointment, misfortune, and pain.
In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association’s task force to revise the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), its standard reference guide to help practitioner’s diagnose patients’ problems, was deliberating whether to include a category in its taxonomy of personality disorders referred to as “self-defeating personality disorder (SDPD).” The following criteria were listed in order to make this diagnosis:
In order to assign this diagnosis, the patient must meet at least five of the above criteria. This category, which derived from a more classically-named disorder, “masochism,” was controversial because of its clinical origins associated with a kind of sexual deviance. When the manual was revised again in 1994, even with a new name, the category was dropped altogether largely because of its sexist connotation.
Even though “masochism” hasn’t stood the test of inclusion in psychiatry’s official taxonomy of disorders, it has a richly explored history in the psychoanalytic literature that continues to the present day. For this reason, some such as psychoanalyst, Mark Ruffalo (“Masochistic personality disorder: Time to include in DSM?” Psychology Today, March 23, 2019) question whether psychiatry should reconsider its decision.
Masochism’s Origins in Sexual Deviance
The first modern textbook on sexual deviance (known today as “paraphilias”) was published by a physician, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, in 1886. Krafft-Ebing is the one responsible for introducing sadism and masochism as medical terms that have become part of our everyday language today. The term, “masochism,” was taken, despite the author’s understandable objection, from his name, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, an Austrian nobleman, who wrote a novel, Venus in Furs, 1870; eventually made into a play by David Ives and, later, an award-winning film in 2013, directed by Roman Polanski) about a man who solicited a relationship with a woman in order to become her sex slave.
The theme of masochism has fascinated many authors since (e.g., The Story of O, Fifty Shades of Gray), served as the study of social scientists such as Tom Weinberg (Studies in Sadomasochism, 1983), and as the source of confessional memoirs and political activism for the LGBTQ community found in the works of Patrick Califia, for example. While masochism as a sexual practice historically has been regarded as a form of deviance, this opinion has not been shared by everyone, including those in the professional community. In his analysis of this sexual practice, social psychologist, Roy Baumeister (Masochism and the Self, 1989) concluded that masochism is a relatively modern phenomenon because it has served to offer an escape for some people burdened by expectations to live up to an identity in a culture that has become highly individualized.
Masochism as both a sexual and personality disorder have often been associated with one another, especially in its early days of study such as by Freud and some of his followers, in an effort to understand how one can seek pleasure through pain. It was then that the sexist association between passivity and self-debasement with the female gender were propounded by the psychoanalytic community. However, today masochism as a personality disorder is not so much understood as a pleasurable phenomenon or as associated with the sexual practice of masochism as much as it is as a function of a failure of ego development and healthy self-efficacy.
Some of the well known quotes of wisdom in our culture are stated in paradoxes. For example, “Not everything that feels good is bad for you.” Another popular aphorism that involves pain, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” is a paradox accredited to the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Although it can constitute a part of what masochism entails, suffering, it is implied, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The ancient Greek stoics, for example, taught forbearance as a means to find greater happiness and peace.
How we construe suffering, however, may be influenced by gender bias, cautions psychologist, Paula Joan Caplan (The Myth of Women’s Masochism, 1993). According to Caplan, what we regard as stoicism in men is often seen, when applied to women, as masochism. Therefore, clarifying the distinction between when suffering is healthy and it isn’t is important. The psychoanalyst, Theodore Reik, offered insight to help identify when suffering is a good thing by observing that when it is consciously experienced and mastered, it can give us wisdom. Conversely, the masochistic personality subconsciously uses suffering to cope with stress, avoid self-assertion, and manipulate others in order to avert the challenges and assumption of responsibility necessary to confront challenges in life.
Suffering as Masochism
In modern times, the first psychoanalyst to write about masochism as a character type was Wilhelm Reich in the early 20th century. According to Reich, masochism represents a subconscious suppression of the expression of pleasure, joy, and self-assertion. The psychoanalyst, Karen Horney, who disagreed with the sexual explanations of the Freudians, explained masochism as a dysfunctional character adaptation to resolve one’s inner conflicts. According to Horney, the masochist suffers from preponderant feelings of helplessness and lack of self-confidence which are used as proximate means to gain power and to meet one’s needs instead, although she also grants the “Dionysian” aspects to masochism that entail a relinquishing of the ego found elsewhere in cross-cultural religious rites and meditation.
In his magnum opus, Masochism and Modern Man (1941), Theodore Reik posited that masochism serves both object-related and narcissistic purposes. With respect to object relations, he claimed that masochists degrade themselves for one aim, to be loved. But it also may serve a narcissistic need as well inasmuch as he also believed that all erotic or romantic love is founded on a basic dissatisfaction with oneself. Masochism in this sense, according to Reik, represents an attempt to escape from oneself in order to identify with a better “self” embodied in a relationship.
Nancy McWilliams, in her book, Psychoanalytic Diagnosis (1994), offers a comprehensive explanation for and description of the origins, dynamics, and treatment of the masochistic personality. As with others in her field, she posits that the masochist is motivated by dependency, insufficient ego development, and the fear of being alone. In cases of the “Battered Woman Syndrome,” for example, the victim would prefer risking their physical safety to being abandoned. She compares the paranoid personality who prefers power over love to the masochist for whom it is the other way around.
The origins of masochism may be found in dysfunctional or abusive relationships with caretakers in childhood. Masochism may also arise when the roles between parents and their children are reversed or when emotional support is provided only when they as children were ill, helpless, or in dire need. When abuse is present in a masochist’s current or early life history, dissociative states such as emotional numbing may occur under circumstances when the reenactment triggers memories of abuse. These dissociative experiences can subsequently elicit masochistic self-inflicted wounds or other behaviors to recover a feeling of being alive.
People who present with masochistic personality disorder or many of its features usually should seek professional help from a qualified mental health clinician. As with many personality disorders, the symptoms by which they are defined are not identifiable to those people who exhibit them. Therefore, they are not likely to be properly addressed except in the hands of a qualified professional.
Masochism may be understood as arising from a state of learned helplessness such that coping strategies associated with it are characteristically passive in nature. When confronted with power, the masochist is inclined to identify with rather than fight against an aggressor. For this reason and because of other, related qualities such as self-sacrificing tendencies, overscrupulosity, dependency in relationships, and a tendency to accept blame, they are often at risk of choosing or being victimized by people who are predatory or exploitative, such as pathological narcissists and cult leaders.
Today, more than ever, it seems, people are concerned about boundaries. This concern undoubtedly has always been there to some degree as we have always valued privacy, freedom, and the psychological space to be ourselves. I am reminded of Robert Frost’s popular poem about how good fences make good neighbors. Boundaries help us affirm our identities. According to the psychoanalyst, Vamik Volkan, in his book, The Need to Have Enemies and Allies (1985), setting boundaries is a fundamental process of identity development that ultimately manifests in the grand geopolitical sphere. On a more benign scale, many of us have our favorite sports teams toward whom we become deeply loyal, and their rivals our bitter enemies. But boundaries also can have a “downside.” The philosopher, Ken Wilber, once observed, for example, that when “we set the boundaries of our soul we set the battles of our soul” as well. Perhaps it is something in our physiological constitution. There is some empirical evidence, for example, that has drawn a correlation between distrust, or xenophobia, and testosterone.
The need for boundaries may serve an ordinary function to protect and identify who we are but the possibility that it is becoming more salient in today’s world may be a warning sign. In my recent blog on Malice, Apathy, and the Meaning of Psychological Health in a Shrinking World, I observed that the psychological effects of living in a smaller world today because of population growth and advances in technology may be contributing to a greater prevalence of hostility and moral injury. The porousness of our existence today resulting from internet communication and social media heightens our sense of vulnerability because we have lost an important layer of privacy from those who at the same time are protected by a greater degree of anonymity. “Road rage,” as an analogy, arises from the protection venting one’s anger from the seemingly safe anonymity the confines of one’s automobile provides. Internet bullying, trolling, and ghosting, may be, likewise, encouraged by the safe confines of anonymity. The psychological sense of boundaries generated by anonymity in cyberspace, however, may be further enhanced by the dehumanizing interface of electronic media when human interaction is digitalized.
Boundaries serve an important role to establish and maintain psychological health. They give us sanctuary from the demands of everyday life, our jobs, our neighbors, the media, even our loved ones at times. They allow our private thoughts and emotions sufficient time to incubate before we are ready to act on them or make them public. By the same token, establishing boundaries between thoughts and actions helps us distinguish between which aspects of our behavior for which we should be held accountable.
Boundaries also serve to establish and maintain healthy relationships. Many of my patients raise concerns about “codependency” in their relationships with lovers and spouses. Maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships breathes vitality necessary for a relationship to grow stronger and in dimension. I have also seen, on the other hand, instances when setting boundaries ostensibly for this sake can serve as a defense from establishing emotional intimacy and risking the vulnerability necessary for a relationship to grow. Maintaining healthy boundaries then is distinguished by the degree to which we affirm our need for space and individuality without sacrificing our willingness to communicate and openly respond to the concerns and needs of our partners.
Boundaries are also important to establish and maintain between parents and their children. This is so because parents need to cultivate their personal investments outside their roles as parents and, by the same token, children need the psychological space to establish their identities apart from their parents in order to become healthy adults. Boundaries are also important in professional relationships. It is especially important in my field of practice in order to maintain the necessary objectivity that could otherwise compromise my effectiveness as a therapist. Healthy boundaries also serve to preserve the distance necessary both to limit the extent of my power and influence that could otherwise violate my patient’s trust in me as well as the safety that the delimitations of my patient’s access to my private life and thoughts would afford.
Unhealthy Boundaries in Personality Styles
Our characteristic ways of relating to others are what mostly define our personality style. This is true especially when the demand characteristics of the situation, such as social convention or protocol, are minimal so that we may be ourselves as much as our defenses will allow. Those behaviors that violate interpersonal boundaries, by the same token, may be explained by the dynamics associated with each personality style. A person with narcissistic features, for example, is likely to breach the boundaries of others for the sake of power or as an expression of entitlement. Those who have dependent or anxious-attachment difficulties, on the other hand, violate boundaries out of a fear of being alone or abandoned. Individuals who are antisocial in nature might violate boundaries surreptitiously in order to gain an advantage or to exploit others.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who reinforce their boundaries from others. For example, the schizoid personality isolates him or herself in order to protect themselves from the risks or difficulties of intimate relationships. The paranoid person, on the other hand erects interpersonal boundaries because they are guarded and distrustful of others’ intentions. How boundaries are negotiated, therefore, often reveals key aspects of each personality style.
These personality styles should not be confused with difficulties discerning appropriate boundaries as often found in individuals with developmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum and other neuro-atypical disorders. In these instances, boundary difficulties may be attributed primarily to cognitive deficits that impair social discernment rather than interpersonal disturbances at their source.
Tips for Establishing Healthy Boundaries
There are several books that offer helpful advice about how and when to set boundaries. Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself, by Nedra Glover Tawwab (2021) a licensed counselor, was on the New York Times Bestseller list and offers tips based on cognitive-behavior therapy methods. Another book, recommended by some of my patients, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (1992) is also very good although it has some religious overtones some might find off-putting.
Here are some tips to help you set healthy boundaries:
A congressman who taunts a colleague with allusions to the potential for violence associated with her religion and ethnicity, an executive leader of a nation who favors humiliating insults to reasoned arguments; popularity and mean-spirited competitiveness played out on ubiquitous social media. It seems our society has been becoming an increasingly hostile place to live. Is it becoming so or are we just less tolerant to the differences amongst us that have always existed?
These two possibilities needn’t be mutually exclusive; in fact, it seems quite likely they are causally related. As the world grows painfully smaller by the decade, it is becoming more and more difficult to disregard the ramifications of our attitudes and actions, from ethnocentricism and the political correctness of identity politics to the neglectful management of limited resources and disposal of its waste. We are living in an echo chamber, an age when the adage, “what goes around comes around,” is becoming more real.
A New Self in a Shrinking World
The tensions brought on by population growth that are “real,” such as competition for diminishing resources and clashes of political and religious ideologies, though problems in and of themselves, may belie the more trenchant psychological effects of living in a smaller, enclosed lifeworld. Research has shown that rats living in tight confinements quickly turn on one another, perhaps not just to protest what looms as a potential threat to survival it poses, but in response to the pressure and antipathy forced, tight quarters engender. The invasion of privacy and voyeurism of everyday life, the dramatization of world events in real-time broadcast across pan-telecommunications networks of news and social media, and a health pandemic that accentuates not just the inequities among race, class, and political divisions that mark deep-seated culture wars, but also how easily we can transmit disease to one another; living in a shrinking world isn’t the panacea Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” of the 60’s envisioned.
It is time we come to terms with our shrinking lifeworld to rethink how we define psychological health and what constitutes a disorder in the mental health field by rediscovering our fundamental relationality as beings. As such the realm of the “mental” per se transcends our individual minds to encompass a field of thought and behavior that exists amongst us. The psychoanalyst, Harry Stack Sullivan, proposed a term fairly synonymous with this idea he called a “dynamism” when referring to the emotional and behavioral forces that can ensue between any two individuals, an approach that extends the conventional study of personality and its disorders from a strictly individualistic perspective. And the late psychologist, Edward Sampson, coined the term “ensembled” as opposed to “bounded” in an effort to broaden our understanding of how the self may be defined in a more communal way. This paradigm shift represents a rediscovery in that as we begin to confront the world as it is becoming, the more necessary it will likely be to develop qualities, as societies and individuals, that are more communal in nature, broadening the scope of our sense of kinship. Thusly, our sense of responsibility is reinforced by the emotional byproducts of kinship that include identification and empathy.
Much the same as we are compelled to respond to a climate crisis of our planet, we face a spiritual crisis amplified by our thoughts and actions in a shrinking lifeworld. In order to meet this challenge, our psychological health as individuals should be judged not solely on the basis of conventional criteria, such as mental distress, impairment of function at work or in relationships, or distortion of thinking and emotional functioning, but also the extent to which we are engaged in a responsible and empathic way to the world in which we live.
Let us take, for example, malice. Malice, by definition, is the intention or desire to inflict harm toward others. When these emotions are held inside (see my blog on Hatred: Its Nature, Its Origins, and Its Transformation) it can be toxic and when acted upon, untoward consequences are likely to follow. Years of research on interpersonal behavior have made it clear, hostile behavior elicits the same in response. When the “other” is the enemy, often a projection of our own fears, ghosts, and unassimilated selves, the ramifications of this dynamic in a world fitted with nuclear weapons and amplifying social media can spell disaster. Malicious behavior runs the gamut from bullying to sadism. When manifest as a repetitive pattern in a person’s behavioral repertoire we might consider how it can constitute a disorder understood as a spectrum of malicious behaviors that differ with respect to their relative severity.
Apathy and Willful Ignorance
The 20th century philosopher, Hannah Arendt, once observed that the nature of evil is banal. In other words, when we turn a blind eye or become inured to the harm inflicted on others it becomes a moral transgression. An article by Ezra Klein in the New York Times (December 19, 2021) titled, The Gross Cruelty of Factory Farming, brings to our attention how easy it is and, therefore, morally negligent to ignore the banal atrocities of slaughterhouses. The degradation of the environment and toxic influence on our diets are only added-on “real world” effects beyond a much greater cost, the moral injury it should produce.
In a shrinking world the effects of willful ignorance, apathy, and inaction are compounded because we are closer to those whose welfare we ignore, increasing the likelihood that our failure to respond will ultimately come back to punish us for failing to act. Apathy, hence, becomes not just a moral but a psychological disorder when the ramifications of our failure to respond to the concerns of others becomes a self-destructive “act” in two ways: First to our material selves as individuals, for example, when negligent disregard creates resentment and vengeful actions by others toward us or when selfish disregard, such as hoarding vaccines in a pandemic, prolongs the disease for everyone. Second, we do harm to our spiritual selves when we fail to expand our sense of belonging and engagement with a world that is increasingly making it difficult to ignore. Here the price to pay is the failure to mature as human beings through the development of character, generosity, and empathy, qualities of “the mensch” that seem in short supply today. A shrinking world may render what has hitherto been regarded as a virtue of character into becoming a trait that is necessary to adapt to this world and survive.
A World at War with Itself
Citing the 2008 Heller decision that influenced how the second amendment is interpreted today as an example, Linda Greenhouse (The Supreme Court, Weaponized), New York Times, December 19, 2021, raises a concern about how “the long-established understanding that. . . protected a collective right” has been supplanted by an individual one. We needn’t look far to the cultural wars over mandates for wearing masks and vaccinations to find the same moral battles over what constitutes a right being fought. While freedom is one of the sacred precepts upon which this nation was founded, in a world whose population exceeds just one person, freedom without responsibility is tantamount to anarchy. Extending our understanding of what constitutes the psychological self beyond our individuality and its disorders, as has been the tradition in the field of mental health thus far, would promote the likelihood that these moral imperatives, i.e., freedom with responsibility, are followed insofar as they thus become identified as constituting what “we” are about as opposed to us versus them.
Mental Health as a Societal Condition
Equal weight ought to be given to the corresponding influence and responsibility our cultural institutions bear on the psychological health of its constituents as well. This would include the inhabitants of its lifeworld, we the individuals who live in and are thereby affected by its power to influence how we think and live our lives. We might, therefore, measure the “mental health” of a culture by the degree to which that culture either endeavors or succeeds in its stated purpose to sustain our quality of life, such as prosperity, freedom, equality, etc., an idea I had first proposed in an article published in 1997 titled, “Collective Will: A Reformulation of Otto Rank’s Theory of Personality Individuation,” in The Psychoanalytic Review. Such a proposal would serve not only to hold society accountable for its moral obligations according to the ramifications of these judgments that would be assigned to them on psychological grounds, it would also serve to destigmatize mental health because, historically, it has been predicated as a problem belonging solely to individuals. Removing stigma would promote receptivity to mental health services, especially for those who refuse for these reasons.
Morality as a Psychological Concern
Purpose, knowledge, recklessness, negligence. These are the dimensions by which culpability may be judged. Their assigned levels of putative intent have traditionally been the concerns and domain for both our criminal justice system and religious institutions. These institutions have always served society by helping to regulate human behavior that honors our sense of responsibility to one another as members of a civil society. However, the power of these social institutions to regulate human behavior relies primarily on punishment and guilt. While guilt might represent a more evolved form of self-control because its source is internal, both are punitive in nature. And while religion also sends a message about universal love and understanding, its dogmas throughout history have given us reason to question whether this message is as powerful as the divisiveness they sow. Assigning these moral qualities instead to a judgment about psychological health by situating moral behavior more firmly within our breadth of identification, unfettered by the divisiveness of ideology, promotes our evolution as a species even further. Empathy represents a more evolved form of self-control inasmuch as it relies on kinship, i.e., identification, and understanding. Moral behavior may follow organically, therefore, as a function of how we are able to extend our sense of identity toward “the other” and the whole world in which we live of which we ultimately are both a part and that exists in us.
To act, as such, in malice, with purpose and knowledge is to act with intent. Thus, moral judgment may be easily assigned. Even though willful ignorance and apathy, by contrast, imply negligence with respect to any conscious intention, culpability may be assigned here as well because it still remains that one chooses not to be aware, much less, even, not to act. In today’s world the consequences of the choices we make as individuals or by society become magnified, if not urgently forced upon us. For this reason, the inferences about how responsibly we choose to act, whether intentional or not, should be understood as a function of our state of psychological health in those respects that make us accountable to ourselves and others, first, and then to raise our awareness so that we can appreciate the far-reaching ramifications of these decisions for the rest of the world and our futures. This is so not just because it is more plausible but evident for the sake that we as practitioners and policy makers must realize this, more than ever, is the most productive source from which we may begin to address our problems.
Jealousy is a paradox. Think of a mirror. A mirror helps us perform physical tasks, such as shaving or combing our hair, but when a second mirror is needed to perform a task that cannot be accessed with just one mirror, such as when attempting to view the back part of our bodies to negotiate a clothing fastener, for example, and no one else is available to help, it’s not so easy. Not only are we encumbered by losing the use of one of our hands in order to hold the mirror as we perform the task, we find ourselves challenged when tracing our movements because in order to do so we must move in the opposite direction shown in the mirror. This is so difficult because our natural inclination is to align our movements in parallel with what we see. When we must perform tasks through a second mirror, doing so thus produces movement in the opposite direction of our intention. Jealousy, like the second mirror, confounds us because when it gets “out of hand” it produces the opposite of what we most desire to happen.
Natural and Destructive Dimensions of Jealousy
Jealousy is a social emotion, a natural part of being human because we are social creatures. Therefore, inasmuch as it would be healthy to accept that we are human, it follows that it is natural to be susceptible to becoming jealous. It is just who we are. We all want to be desired and admired, at least to some degree if not moreso. However, when it gets out of hand, viz., becomes chronic or excessive, it can cause us to obsess and behave in ways that diminish our stature and drive away those whose opinions and feelings we care about most. Paradoxically, jealousy creates the opposite of our deepest wishes and longings.
Jealousy is a 3-person phenomenon. When we feel jealous, we want someone to feel toward us what we fear they feel toward someone else. It could be attraction or romantic interest from someone we care about or someone toward whom we are interested. The subject of jealousy can even be generalized, such as a feeling of competition with someone who we feel is more popular, attractive, successful, etc., than we are. In this case the third person is generalized as represented by a group of people or the population, so to speak, in general.
Jealousy, when excessive, is destructive. Shakespeare, the 16th-century playwright whose greatness stems largely from the psychological insights of his work, illuminates in the eponymous play through his character, Othello, how jealousy can fester and grow insidiously toward a violent and tragic demise of a relationship and end of a life. Famous authors, such as Dostoyevsky in his novella, The Eternal Husband, D. H. Lawrence in The Fox, and other playwrights such as Harold Pinter, Betrayal, have keenly shown how the undercurrents of jealousy in love triangles reveal that which within us can take on the dimension of a morbid, and in some cases, masochistic, preoccupation.
The Origins of Jealousy
When we feel jealous, we are threatened by someone who we believe is better than we in ways we deem important to our sense of self-esteem and security in relationships. It is not unusual for jealousy to arise, therefore, when someone enters our world, or the world of our loved one, who is attractive or notably held in high regard for different reasons, when we are in an insecure place in our lives currently, such as Othello was as king in a far-away land, or if we have deep-seated insecurities within us that derive from our childhood experiences. Probably more often than not, it is when more than one of these factors come into play that jealousy can take on the dimension of a preoccupation.
In childhood, jealousy can be elicited when a child is compared unfavorably with a sibling or is pitted, unwittingly or otherwise, in competition with others, such as a sibling, a schoolmate or peer, or even a parent themselves. Competition, rivalry, and social comparison are natural parts of what it means for us to be social creatures. If these tendencies aren’t balanced with the necessary attention, emotional support, and validation to keep these emotions in check, however, low self-esteem, resentment, and chronic or excessive jealousy can ensue. Conversely, children raised with a sense of entitlement or for whom a sense of responsibility toward others isn’t cultivated will come to see other people as rivals, potential competition and, therefore, a threat to their sense of security and self-worth.
When jealousy arises as a problem later in life it may reveal either deep-seated insecurities already there or result from one’s current situation in life, such as when matters aren’t going well in our personal lives financially, socially, or in other life circumstances. When these kinds of situations lower one’s sense of stature or attractiveness, feelings of insecurity and susceptibility to jealousy may ensue, even when these judgments aren’t necessarily shared by others. The nature of an intimate relationship or even friendship can also be a source for chronic jealousy. A relationship with a partner who might be highly attractive, successful, or popular, can despite its benefits, challenge the limits to jealousy one can tolerate. If, however, they are also excessively flirtatious or, worse, unfaithful, toxic jealousy seems almost inevitable, even in the absence of jealous tendencies that could have existed previously.
How Do We Deal with Jealousy?
There are many self-help books that offer advice for chronic or excessive jealousy. The Jealousy Cure: Learn to Trust, Overcome Possessiveness, and Save Your Relationship by psychologist, Robert Leahy, offers insight and advice using cognitive-behavioral therapy principles. For those troubled by their partner’s past relationships, a book by podcaster, Zachary Stockill, who also offers an 8-week course, Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy: A Guide to Getting Over Your Partner’s Past and Finding Peace, may be helpful.
Here are some tips:
Envy is the misunderstood emotion, often mistaken for jealousy, its mutually baleful sibling. There is a difference. When we are jealous, there is a third party involved, e.g., I feel threatened by Sue’s feelings toward Jared. When someone, anyone, whose positive feelings such as attraction, admiration, or love, toward someone else threatens our receiving the same from those persons we feel jealous. Or it may simply stir in us that which we might feel insecure about in ourselves. Envy, on the other hand, is a two-party emotion. I want, e.g., power, beauty, wealth, good fortune, etc., what someone else has. These two emotions are often confused partly because sometimes both emotions are activated by a given situation. For example, I feel jealous about Sue’s feelings toward Jared because he has certain qualities I believe I lack which makes me feel envious. Feelings of jealousy can elicit feelings of envy and vice versa. It can be complicated.
The psychological sources and effects of envy
Where does envy come from? Mankind has acknowledged envy’s destructive influences since the beginnings of civilization. We find envy in Moses’s ten commandments and identified as one of the seven deadly sins by Pope Gregory I in the sixth century. In the twentieth century, the object relations theorist, Melanie Klein, proposed that envy develops in malevolent opposition to gratitude beginning with the infant’s relationship to its primary caregiver. According to Klein, when the infant’s needs are frustrated, destructive impulses ensue. Envy develops from the impulse to destroy something someone else possesses, in this case the caregiver’s love and comfort, if it isn’t shared or offered. Gratitude arises instead when the relationship with the desired “object” is generous and offers gratification. While Klein believed these emotions arise from innate drives, one needn’t accept this is true to understand the logic behind how this emotion arises out of relationships that begin with our primary caregivers.
Envy potentially exists in any given relationship but is especially problematic when it develops between a parent and child. The child’s envy toward its parent is presumably the source for patricide in the classic Greek play, Oedipus Rex, that inspired Freud who regarded the resolution of this conflict as the crucial rite of passage in order to achieve psychological maturation. According to Freud, resolution is achieved when envy and jealousy are replaced with identification with one’s rival, in this case one’s parent. Envious rivalry between mothers and daughters and from a parent toward its child, on the other hand, is portrayed in children’s stories about witches, beldams, and aging beauties.
The sociopolitical influences and uses of envy
Envy has also been identified as a source of influence in society at a broader scale. Philip Cushman, in his book, Constructing the self, constructing America (1995), has proposed that a capitalist society such as the United States manufactures feelings of insecurity such as envy, what he calls “the empty self,” in order to promote its economic agenda to sell products, including popular self-improvement books and instructional programs, even psychotherapy, to its constituents. What more compelling case for Cushman’s claim is there than what is found today from the effects of social media on the internet and the recent congressional investigations and revelations from the Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen?
It has been proposed by others such as the sociologist, Helmut Schoeck, in Envy: A theory of social behavior (1966), that liberal political systems of modern civilization, such as democracy and communism, were generated as a common force in society for the purpose of diminishing feelings of envy by those less able to enjoy the benefits of wealth and prosperity among its members. Schoeck’s contribution was to propose envy as the source of a common critique of so-called liberal political systems based on the rationale that they promote mediocrity.
These critiques of collectivized liberalism may also be found elsewhere from such disparate theorists as the psychologist, Raymond Cattell, who in his “law of biosocial coercion toward the mean,” decried the leveling influence “the environment” may have on innately determined capacities such as intelligence and personality, the existentialist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who took a jaundiced view of the influences of sacred institutions of civilization, such as religion and science, on human potentials, and for the 19th century journalist, Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinist ideas that led to the eugenics movement. Even the sentiments of erstwhile presidential muse, Steve Bannon, represent further examples of those who have made claim to the stunting effect such political systems can have on a society to which Schoeck attributes envy as the culprit.
A more generous reason given for liberal political systems such as democracy and socialism would, of course, posit man's basic goodness to create a more altruistic, egalitarian society; a more sanguine perspective on capitalism would acknowledge how it promotes industry, initiative, and progress. Regardless of one’s political sentiments, in either case, envy has been identified by some experts as a malignant influence that either can inhibit human potential or exploit human behavior even at a broader, societal level.
How do I deal with feelings of envy?
Here are some tips if you are struggling with envy:
Life is hard. We can be busily caught up with our responsibilities of life, our jobs, our families, daily chores and obligations, so that when we do, we long for time to relax, kick our feet up, and savor the freedom not to oblige these dictates. Experts tell us to develop a sense of mindfulness to help us appreciate being in the moment. We live in a culture that extols the virtue of hard work, too often to the detriment of our personal needs and concerns; mindfulness, like other remedies to soothe our aching souls, serves as an antidote to these cultural presses. They may indeed help us to counter the effects when hard work and effort become meaningless or oppressive. For some, however, hidden beneath the renunciation of hard work may lurk a hidden defense that colludes against facing the challenges of life necessary for us to become all we have the potential to be.
Is It Necessary to Live Up to Our Potentials?
In his classic text, The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism, the 19-century sociologist, Max Weber, wrote about how our nation’s politico-economic system was driven by the Calvinist religious philosophy that hard work pays off in the afterlife. Since then, religion has lost its cache as a driving and integral part of our culture. Capitalism has become secularized and thereby sustained itself on an alternative ethic of self-actualization, an apostasy in a hitherto Christian-centric world.
Self-actualization, a psychological concept first popularized by the humanist psychologist, Abraham Maslow, promised a hopeful and “positive” alternative to the assumptions about the baseness of human nature offered by Freud and the dehumanizing conceptualizations of behaviorism. However, when the institutions, such as family, community, and religion, that otherwise can sustain an individual’s quest to become themselves begin to fragment, or even disintegrate, a culture of narcissism and anomie emerges instead. Without investments in communal purposes that transcend self-interest, the quest to become all we can be is stripped of character by the narcissistic imperative to be better than or to have more than, etc.
The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, believed that living life to its fullest doesn’t merely improve one’s quality of life, it is an ethical responsibility we have to ourselves to live in accord with this principle. Without doing so we are cheating ourselves of all we are gifted to use to make the most of our lives. Self-actualization enhances the quality of ours and the lives of others. Narcissism, on the other hand, distorts this philosophy of self-care to one of self-aggrandizement. Eventually, the vacuousness of this philosophy of life leads to disillusionment and disappointment.
How We Turn Away from Reaching Our Potentials
Some people choose, consciously or not, to turn away from the quest to be all one can be to follow the path of settling into a life of “quiet desperation.” This may take many forms, such as what we sometimes disparagingly refer to as the “worried well.” I see many of these patients in my office, people who by all accounts appear normal, happy, well adjusted, but miserable, anxious, and depressed inside. Who would know? The price one pays for “settling” for a life not fulfilling. Many use addictions to assuage the pain of this pact of resignation with life but there is no escape without coming to terms with the fact of it.
The challenge of the psychotherapist for those who live beneath their potentials is to address the patient’s defenses against confronting this issue in themselves. Here are some of these kinds of defenses:
It is necessary to work diligently and to take risks in order to reach our potentials. It can be daunting when we look at our goals from the perspective of where we are now in relation to where we want to be. For this reason, following basic principles such as setting modest goals toward reaching grander ones, being accountable for our intentions, and mindfully becoming appreciative for what we may be grateful for help make the quest to reach our potentials reachable.
Our relationships with our parents and our children can be complicated, difficult, and at times strained whilst these relationships largely are regarded, across history and cultures, as relatively sacred. They form the foundation for the stability of the family and its potential legacy for the future. In recent times, however, a trend has been developing as noted by psychologist, Joshua Coleman, who specializes in the treatment of estranged families, where this sacred bond is being threatened. In a recent article published in The Atlantic (January 10, 2021), titled A shift in American values is fueling estrangement, Coleman reports that more and more adult children today are estranging themselves from their parents. Why is this?
Since World War II, the United States has enjoyed a level of affluence associated with having achieved status as a supreme world power. But the price of this affluence along with the mechanization of industry and the burgeoning of the corporate world has cost society the stability of social institutions such as family and organized religion it has hitherto relied upon as sources of identity, values, and morality. According to psychologist and historian, Philip Cushman (Constructing the Self, Constructing America, 1995), Post World War II United States has commodified our relations with ourselves, resulting in an elevation of the self as bounded and hence less invested in our relationships and responsibilities to one another. This increasing isolation of our identities and values on which the self is predicated in the past several generations has been the subject of concern cited during this time period by social scientists such as Riesman, Glazer & Denny (The Lonely Crowd, 1950), Jules Henry (Culture Against Man, 1963), Christopher Lasch (Culture of Narcissism, 1979) among others.
The empowerment of the self that resulted from these changes in society coincided with cultural shifts in gender roles and reckoning with racial issues, the emergence of a more psychologically-minded populace, and identity politics. The culture wars that have ensued have understandably strained relations between these groups, including those between parents and their adult children whose values reflect these differences between them. As one of the consequences from the influence of these cultural changes on the family, not coincidentally, divorce has become commonplace.
Current Family Trends
In a more psychologically-minded generation that places greater value on the sanctity of the self and its concerns, such as self-esteem, self-other boundaries, and the denigration of dependency in relationships, and that, moreover, is less beholding to the sanctity of the conventions of marriage and family, adult children have become less respectful of the authority that traditionally has held families together. At the same time, the attenuation of the marital bond associated with an increased divorce rate has created a shift in the alignment of devotion within family relationships such that boundaries between parents and children have become more diffuse. Thus, we see more “helicopter parents” and enmeshment in families that crosses generational boundaries. As Coleman points out, this “. . . creates a higher dependence by parents on their children to substitute for the loss of a spouse,” in other words, parents who want their children to be their best friend. At the same time, an exaggerated importance given to their children by such parents may contribute to narcissistic trends in the younger generation.
It is a paradox that greater enmeshment between parents and children often results in children themselves setting boundaries from their parents instead. Even when this doesn’t occur, parents may alienate themselves from their children by unwittingly enlisting their children in marital battles to leverage divided loyalties as often can happen in families of divorce. The upshot of all this results in adult children inclined to blame their parents for their difficulties while failing to develop a sense of faith in themselves instead. Estrangement often results from the dynamics of these dysfunctional cross-generational relationships. Parents are left feeling they have raised ungrateful children while children feel exasperated with “clueless” parents.
What are the Solutions?
For parents of estranged adult children, it is important to listen to their children’s grievances even if they don’t agree with their reasons for them. Acknowledging their role in creating the reasons for their children’s grievances, when sincerely granted, can undoubtedly pave the way for rapprochement to follow even if it isn’t guaranteed. However even when an agreement cannot be reached, open communication may be all that is needed, a solution that could address what might have been part of the problem in the first place. Respecting boundaries when reasonable helps the adult child feel heard and grants the “sovereignty of self” adult children may be seeking in order to feel that their status as an adult is recognized. Parents are advised to seek their emotional intimacy needs elsewhere when cross-generational enmeshment is the source of the problem.
For adult children estranged from their parents, it can be helpful to distinguish between situations where their issues reside in the past, such as when they were raised as children, from problems that are current or ongoing, such as when dealing with a “difficult” parent. When grievances about the past are at issue, validation of experience would be ideal. However, more often than not, when this isn’t forthcoming, once again, the goal should be to be heard and, if not one’s memories is possible, to have one’s feelings validated. In either case, such discussions are inherently difficult. Two books that offer advice about how to prepare for these discussions are Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (1999) by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton & Sheila Heen, and Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (2012) by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan & Al Switzler.
These have been difficult times; a once-in-a-century pandemic, democracy, our government whose trust we once held sacred shaken to its foundation, climate change, cyberattacks and threats of more to come, and world migration the likes we’ve never seen before. So much all at one time. Some see in it apocalyptic visions that the end is near. Others view this time of upheaval as a cyclical cleanse as did the ancient Greek cosmologist, Empedocles, who viewed existence as an eternal oscillation between chaos and harmony in accord with the forces of love and strife.
While we currently remain in the midst of these changes in the world, including the pandemic, here in the United States, there is a general sigh of relief and hopeful anticipation, thanks to the wealth of our nation and a concerted effort on the part of this administration, that we are beginning to return to normal. It was a little over a year ago (Coronavirus pandemic anxiety and how to manage it, May 3, 2020), I wrote my blog about how this new and dreadful virus was impacting our erstwhile familiar sense of security.
So, how are we doing? The answer is not so simple as it appears that it depends on who you talk to. While our economy, especially the service sector, was devastated, our government helped ease its effects with loans, unemployment checks, and moratoriums on rent. And in addition to the tragic loss of well over half a million lives here in the U.S., many who have contracted the virus have suffered prolonged effects of the illness that may include fatigue, brain fog, persistent cough, painful joints and muscles, headaches, loss of taste or smell, or a panoply of symptoms known as multisystem inflammation syndrome.
Perhaps the most enduring impact the pandemic has had on the human race has been on our mental well-being. How it has affected each and every one of us depends on many factors, the pre-existing stresses in our lives, whether we lost friends or family, how it affected our jobs, businesses, or income. Here are some of the ways it has affected us and how people have coped with this crisis differently:
(1) The Great Renewal: A Wall Street Journal article, published May 30, 2021, titled, The Great American Reunion, describes the exhilaration and relief families, friends, and co-workers have felt as the restrictions with the abatement of the pandemic have slowly lifted. Some talk about a renewed appreciation of life, the people they love and a deeper appreciation of life and gratitude for our health and blessings.
(2) Anxiety, Doom, and Gloom: As of mid-May this year, nearly a third of Americans were experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to a study cited by Tara Parker-Pope in The New York Times, June 1, compared to 11% in November 2019. In March of this year, the American Psychoanalytic Association identified a shared global response to the pandemic they call PTSE (Pandemic Trauma and Stress Experience) that consists of a host of different kinds of psychological effects the pandemic has had on people having to adapt to a life filled with uncertainty, loss, and fear. Symptoms of PTSE may include fear of contagion or passing it to others, worry about the future, fear of strangers or violence, hypervigilance to loss, injury, or illness, fears of dying alone or of isolation. Some of my patients have been coming in with frightening dreams or fantasies of being burglarized, assaulted or victimized by ransomware cyberattacks. Rather than dismissing these apprehensions as neurotic distortions, my response is to reassure them their fears are grounded in reality, the perils we have been faced with recently and continue to face, and how to find solace and gratitude within this maelstrom of real concern.
(3) Languishing: Some of the patients I see in my practice have described a paradoxical calm as a result of the forced suspension of everyday life the pandemic has imposed on us. Some have felt a relief from the demands of social and family obligations. Others, such as those who suffer from depression or social anxiety reported feeling a greater sense of belonging as the isolation the pandemic had been imposed on us created a shared experience albeit for different reasons. Conversely, a return to normal has brought back the acute sense of loneliness and anxiety for those who have been constrained by their emotional difficulties while for others a degree of dread of the bustle tempers the joy of reconnecting with family, friends, and work.
“I have gotten acclimated to a different existence,” proclaims Tim Kreider, writer and columnist for The Atlantic in his article published May 30, 2021, titled, I’m not scared to reenter society. I’m just not sure I want to. Kreider compares his experience in the pandemic to Thomas Mann’s classic novel, The Magic Mountain, in which the protagonist, Hans Castorp, whose intention to visit a relative in a tuberculosis sanitarium for only a few weeks eventuates into a timeless lingering for seven long years. Kreider ponders what insidious lure of indolence living within the confines of a pandemic's bubble can breed. His essay begins as a reflection on the effects that the pandemic’s extraordinary constraints can have both on one’s daily life and mental state. It evolves, however, into a philosophical musing that reexamines the ethics of ambition and industriousness contra laziness and lotus-eating. As such, the message implied in the title of Kreider's article becomes clear, the confining experience imposed by the suspension of time may be transformative when we realize what may be gained by being liberated from the less transparent constraints of daily life. While I have encouraged, for good reason, many of my patients engage with family and friends and to create structure in their daily lives to offset the disorienting and isolating effects of the pandemic, there is wisdom to Kreider’s insights not to allow these necessities of life to control our lives.
It has been some time since I wrote my first blog on the effects the pandemic has had on us, our daily lives, and the dissolution of our basic sense of security. For me, personally, it has been a test of endurance of isolation to create hope, purpose, and connection that at the same time helped me manage my anxiety. Sometimes it worked better than other times. The pandemic has affected each of us in different ways, either from different circumstances or by virtue of how each of us copes with crises and stress. If, however, we can accept how deeply it has affected us, the pandemic may become more than an ordeal of fear, loneliness, and intimate encounter with the fragility of life itself. We may instead use this opportunity to strengthen our bonds, listen and respond more acutely to the urgent calls of this endangered yet resilient planet, and become more discerning and proactive about setting priorities that should govern how we live. It is our choice to make.
The mystery of dreams has fascinated man since the beginning of time. The ancient Zuni civilization believed that while we are dreaming spirits are visiting our souls. The oracles of ancient Mesopotamia believed in the prophetic power of interpreting dreams and the aboriginal people of Australia believe that dreams represent spirits that once inhabited the Earth. While for some people dreams are nothing more than random thoughts that occur while we are sleeping, mankind by and large throughout history has tried to make sense of this universal experience that occurs every night.
Why Do We Dream?
While we are sleeping our brain shifts its patterns of neuronal firing in what has been identified as the four stages of sleep that correspond to how deeply we descend into a state of unconsciousness over a frequency of roughly five cycles each night. While research has shown that we may be dreaming during any of these stages, the vivid quality of dreams as story-like episodes occurs specifically to one of the stages, Stage I, also known as “REM sleep.” REM, as most of us know today, stands for “rapid eye movement,” a discovery made by sleep researchers, Aserinsky and Kleitman, in 1953.
While it is not yet certain why we dream, scientists, such as Hobson and McCarley, speculate that it is during this period that memories and the associations they generate are recalled during this period for the purpose of sorting through and reorganizing experience, sort of like running your computer through a disc cleanup exercise to improve its efficiency. The purpose of sleep isn’t just a restoration of energy and alertness (see my blog on Why We Sleep, Why We Don’t, and How to Sleep Better), but also, according to what they call the activation-synthesis hypothesis, to think more efficiently and to be able to better organize our thoughts as a function of dreaming. Dreaming is so important, in fact, that if we don’t get enough of it while we are sleeping not only are our thoughts fuzzier but our brains will try to force us to make up for what we lost the next time we fall asleep, a phenomenon known as “REM rebound.”
Theories of Dream Interpretation
While scientists who study dreaming generally believe that its purpose is primarily physiological in nature, mankind has always had a fascination with dreams and what significance they might have to the lives we live. Perhaps the most well-known of these was Sigmund Freud who published in 1899, The Interpretation of Dreams, the book that made him famous. Freud believed that the absurd nature of dreams reflects the psyche’s capacity to camouflage our deepest wishes for the purpose of avoiding anxiety that would disturb our sleep.
Carl Jung, one of Freud’s most eminent colleagues, offered a slightly more sanguine interpretation that dreams illuminate parts of our personality that strive for expression. He also believed that certain dreams and their symbolism represent deeper struggles of human existence that evidence the presence of a collective unconscious. Alfred Adler, another of Freud’s erstwhile associates, had a more practical nature. This was reflected in his belief that dreams serve the purpose of revealing our goals in life and thus help us in preparing and planning for our future.
A more contemporary theorist, British psychologist, Ann Faraday, proposed that dreams should be interpreted in step-wise fashion. Our first thoughts should look to whether they should be interpreted literally. For example, if we dream that our teeth are falling out, we should make an appointment with our dentist. If we get a clean bill of health from the dentist, can the dream’s content have symbolic significance? Finally, repeated dreams along the same theme can indicate deeper personal or existential issues. The psychoanalyst, Montague Ullman, explored the healing as well as illuminating benefits of dream sharing and interpretation in group settings.
Alternative Methods of Meaningful Use of Dreams
While most of us know how dreams are made useful by interpreting them, certain individuals have published research on alternative approaches that make use of their meaning as well. Patricia Garfield, in her book Creative Dreaming, explored the less well-known phenomenon, lucid dreaming, as a means to achieve personal change through active transformation of dream content. Lucid dreaming occurs in a twilight state of consciousness some of us might recognize as having experienced that enables the dreamer to direct the script of the story and outcome. The psychologist, Gayle Delaney, has constructed a methodology known as “dream incubation” in which the dreamer is instructed to ask questions before going to sleep in order to formulate answers to difficult or important questions that more rational methods have, otherwise, failed to achieve. And the parapsychologist, Stanley Krippner, has spent a lifetime researching the possibilities that dreams reveal telepathic powers.
Common Dream Themes
While I am generally skeptical of so-called dream dictionaries or interpretation guides, they are legion, there are certain dream themes that seem fairly prevalent and universal. Here some of the most common of those:
A brief listing of common dream themes, such as this, bears witness to the fact that most dreams are related to or elicited by anxiety, though not all. Many people report they have had very pleasant dreams about flying like a bird that can reflect an elated sense of power and freedom. Sexual dreams that are pleasurable are not uncommon, and some dreams can elicit powerful feelings of joy, love, and a deep connection with others. While I agree with scientists that dreams serve an important function to restore the brain to operating capacity I believe just as importantly that examining their meaning can serve to help us tap into a wellspring of thoughts and emotions so that we may understand ourselves and our concerns in a deeper way.
Why We Sleep:
Sleep is not an option. It is a necessary and vital dimension of what is essential to keeping ourselves healthy and alive. As we age, we generally need less of it. On average, newborns require 16 hours of sleep every day and the fact that infants and children need more sleep is evidence of its important role in promoting growth and health. Still, the average adult over 65 to remain optimally healthy requires seven hours of sleep each day.
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation:
The specific reasons we sleep are to restore equilibrium to our bodies and minds. While we are sleeping our brains are eliminating proteins such as amyloid beta that build up throughout the day. In postmortem analyses an abundance of these proteins has been associated with certain kinds of dementia such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Sleep is vital to maintaining a healthy immune system and as most of us know from personal experience insufficient sleep compromises our mental functioning such as alertness and memory, our mood, and our motor equilibrium and coordination.
There is more. Over time insufficient sleep increases our risk of developing cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke and its effects on our alertness increases our proneness to accidents. For example, drivers who get six hours of sleep or less are 33% more likely to have an accident on the road than those who get seven or eight.
The Causes of Sleep Deprivation:
Despite its importance to our functioning, sleep can be disrupted or deficient for various reasons, stress, travel, anxiety, depression, physical illness or chronic pain, life transitions and the demands of our daily lives. In today’s world, especially here in the United States, sleep deprivation has become increasingly prevalent. Here are some facts cited from The Center for Sleep Medicine (www.sleepmedcenter.com):
(1) 40% of Adult Americans and 70% of adolescents are sleep deprived.
(2) The average American sleeps less than seven hour a night Monday through Friday. 30% of all working people in the U.S. sleep less than six hours a night.
(3) Fifteen million Americans work the night shift and 40% of them get fewer than six hours of sleep per day.
(4) “Short sleepers” eat 500 calories more per day and are likely to eat more fatty foods and carbohydrates than normal sleepers.
The reasons for this growing problem in our society are a product of several factors, economic, cultural, and technological. Today’s families in the United States rely on income from both heads of the household in order to meet the demands of trying to maintain a lifestyle commensurate with their dreams of success, or worse, just to make ends meet. On average, Americans work 137 hours more every year than Japanese workers, 260 hours more than British workers, 394 more hours than German workers, and 499 more hours than the French. Some of this disparity may be explained as the general decline of the American middle class as more and more American adults find it difficult if not impossible to keep up with the standard of living they grew up with in their parents’ generation.
Sleep deprivation may also be explained as a function of a cultural heritage that regards sleep as tantamount to laziness and lack of ambition. As such sleep is devalued for fallacious reasons as being a relatively unimportant part of life that stands in the way of success.
Finally, we live in a world rife with technology, stores that stay open all hours of the night, television whose hours of operation at one time conformed to the normal schedules of daily life broadcasting programs all hours of the night, and electronic devices such as computers and smartphones with unlimited access to text messages, the worldwide web, and social media anytime of the day or night, projecting sleep-inhibiting wavelengths of light from these devices.
It is normal for sleep to be disturbed or disrupted for various reasons but when these disturbances become persistent they can have deleterious effects on our well being. When this is the case, intervention might be necessary to treat what is known as a “sleep disorder.” Here are some of the most prevalent kinds of sleep disorders:
(1) Insomnia: It is estimated that anywhere between 10% and 60% of adults suffer from chronic insomnia. People who are most susceptible include older adults due to chronic pain or medical conditions, social isolation, or medication, adolescents, and pregnant women. Some people with insomnia have difficulty falling asleep. The most prevalent causes are stress and anxiety, caffeine or stimulants, or irregular sleep habits. Others have difficulty maintaining sustained sleep which is often associated with chronic pain or medical conditions, restless leg syndrome, or sleep apnea, and some tend to wake up prematurely, often a sign of clinical depression.
(2) Obstructive Sleep Apnea: It is estimated that one in fifteen adults has sleep apnea and only 15% who have it have been diagnosed. Common signs include excessive drowsiness during the day, snoring, and irregular breathing patterns during sleep. Sleep apnea is associated with obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and is imputed as a possible cause of heart disease. A referral to a sleep specialist is needed to diagnose this condition which is usually treated with a breathing device known as a CPAP machine.
(3) Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder: Adenosine is a neuromodulator in the brain that plays an important role in regulating our normal sleep/wake cycle, known as circadian rhythms. The sensation of drowsiness is a function of adenosine building up during the course of the day. Ingestion of too much caffeine or late in the day can interfere with this process. When our normal cycle is disrupted we may have difficulty falling asleep or feeling sufficiently rested when we normally get up. The most common causes for this disorder include jet lag, shift work, a mood disorder, medication, pregnancy, or chronic pain. Adolescents are often susceptible because of a delay in the brain’s production of melatonin which otherwise promotes sleep and older adults who have a tendency to nap during the day.
(4) Restless Leg Syndrome: This disorder is described as sensations of crawling, tingling, itching, or muscular cramps that are sometimes relieved by getting up and walking around. It can be inherited but often is caused by medical conditions such as diabetes, iron deficiency, and peripheral neuropathy, or by prescription medication. The most common onset for this disorder occurs in middle age. Women are twice as likely as men to develop restless leg syndrome which is usually treated with medication and sleep hygiene.
(5) Parasomnias: These are unusual behaviors that occur either while asleep or while transitioning in or out of sleep. Parasomnias, characterized as incomplete awakening and responsiveness to other people while in a sleep-like state, can originate from different sources. There are two types, NonREM and REM-related. NonREM parasomnias include confusional states of arousal, sleepwalking, and night terrors most often found in children. They may also include sexual behavior, talking, eating, which can be dangerous if it involves cooking or ingesting harmful substances, and even driving! REM parasomnias include REM sleep behavior disorder characterized by excessive, violent movement while dreaming that most often occurs in older adults, sleep paralysis, a prolonged period of paralysis while falling asleep or upon awakening, and recurrent nightmares often brought on by psychological stress or trauma.
Other parasomnias include “exploding head syndrome,” in which the sleeper experiences a loud noise or bright light upon awakening, sleep-related hallucinations, and nocturnal enuresis, or bedwetting, the latter most often found in children. Parasomnias can be brought on by stress, trauma, certain medications, irregular sleep schedules, and certain neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. When they occur in children they are likely to be transitory and neurological in origin though they can also be induced by stress. A parasomnia should be diagnosed by a specialist in sleep disorders and the treatment may include medication or cognitive-behavior therapy.
How to Sleep Better:
Here are some general guidelines to help you get a better night’s sleep if you are suffering from a temporary sleep disruption or a sleep disorder. If the condition persists, you should seek consultation with a sleep-disorder specialist:
1) Reduce the stress in your life if possible and, if not, learn how to live with stress better, such as with exercise, meditation, and cognitive therapy.
2) Practice meditation or autogenic training on a regular, if not daily, basis. Learn how to tame those runaway, worrisome thoughts.
3) If you have difficulty falling asleep, read a relaxing or boring book. Your focus should be on relaxing instead of trying to force yourself to sleep.
4) Exercise on a regular basis. Aerobic exercise such as running or walking improves mood and creates a calming effect.
5) Practice good sleep hygiene. Go to bed and get up on a regular schedule, don’t engage in stimulating activities the last two hours before you go to bed, engage in rituals that prepare you for bedtime, avoid bright lights, turn off electronic devices, including television before bedtime, reserve your bedroom for sleep or sex only, make your sleep environment conducive to sleep, i.e., sufficiently dark, free of noise, cool temperatures, a firm mattress, and aromatherapy scents such as lavender.
6) Limit your intake of caffeine, stimulants, or alcohol.
7) Avoid late night meals, sugary foods or spicy snacks.
8) If you have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, try getting up earlier each morning and consider taking melatonin an hour or two before you go to bed.
9) Avoid napping during the day.
10) Get as much sunlight during the day as you can. If the sunshine is limited where you are, consider getting a sunlight-simulating lamp.
The late, curmudgeonly comedian, George Carlin, once gave a humorous skit on what he thought of the “me” generation and its absurdities. According to Carlin, in today’s world everybody has to be “special” but if you think about it if everyone is special, the word, “special,” no longer has any meaning. Some experts believe the profession of psychology itself, here in the United States has, ironically, contributed to this trivialization of “specialness” by unwittingly fostering a sense of entitlement and a malaise of self-esteem issues it supposedly has been designed to treat. According to the psychologist, Philip Cushman, the affluence of post-World War II America created a burgeoning market of psychotherapists promoting self-help books and services that promised to cure all that ails us in our emotional lives by helping people build self-esteem. This enterprise, paradoxically, has created instead for consumers of psychological services a greater sense of insecurity because it has either neglected to heed the superficial and narcissistic way the self is conceptualized in our consumerist society which fails to support healthy self-esteem or, worse, exploited this condition for their benefit.
Building on Cushman’s critique, it isn’t the emphasis given to self-esteem per se as an important aspect of mental health that is the problem but rather how the self and its epiphenomenon, self-esteem, are understood. The well-known cognitive therapist and former president of the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman, has admonished parents of children of the so-called “me” generation not to shelter their children from the experiences of failure, disappointment, and averageness that parents mistakenly might believe are the bane of developing self-esteem. To expect oneself always to be special or the best, to win all the time sets children up for disappointment later in life and the complications that growing up with a sense of entitlement eventually creates. The key to building healthy self-esteem instead depends on the ability to take risks and, when matters don’t end well, those disappointments aren’t taken to heart as signs of what is deficient in oneself. Self-esteem is predicated on positive expectations of oneself which in turn relies on achievements which cannot be accomplished without the ability to take risks.
Where Does Self-esteem Come From?
As with most matters psychological, our earliest influences are often the most crucial. A healthy self is fostered within a secure and emotionally supportive environment that balances sufficient attention and unconditional love with expectations and responsibilities that encourage a child to grow beyond the safe confines of its home and all that concerns oneself alone. Perhaps how self-esteem develops may be better explained by walking this backward: In order to have self-esteem or positive expectations of oneself one must succeed in life but in order to succeed one must take risks and assume responsibility, and in order to do these things one must accept oneself implicitly so that failure and disappointment don’t crush one’s spirit. For many, unfortunately, one or more of these elements is missing. When it is, low self-confidence, learned helplessness and resignation, and resentment and blaming others or life in general are likely to ensue, all cardinal signs of low self-esteem.
The Building Blocks of Self-esteem
William James, one of the founders of modern psychology in the United States, suggested that self-esteem is the function of a simple ratio between what he called sympathy and stoicism. "Sympathy" is the degree to which one grows beyond oneself through one's accomplishments, generosity, and capacity to empathize with others. "Stoicism" is the degree to which one is able to relinquish one's pretensions or to realize what one doesn't need in order to be happy and successful. Self-esteem, therefore, is a function of (1) Accomplishments. In order to achieve one must be able to take risks and, once again, in order to take risks one must not personalize failures and disappointments, in other words, to accept oneself as less than perfect, (2) Growing in dimension as a person with empathy and generosity of spirit as opposed to selfishness, jealousy, and envy toward others, and (3) The ability to let go of things one doesn’t need such as unrealistic expectations of oneself, others, and life. Although the Dalai Lama emphasizes in his book, How to See Yourself As You Really Are, that self-knowledge is the key to happiness in life, in order to know oneself one must first be able to accept oneself, a building block of self-esteem. Self-acceptance depends on one’s ability to accept disappointments and relinquish unrealistic self-expectations.
It might seem a bit of a paradox to have unhealthy self-esteem but it does exist. When one or more of the aforementioned building blocks are missing, self-esteem is predicated on a shaky foundation, and what presents as healthy self-esteem belies elements of low self-esteem underneath. For example, those who maintain unrealistic expectations of themselves might seem confident or highly accomplished when deep inside they suffer from the anguish of never feeling good enough. Others who are arrogant and self-centered in nature, such as narcissists and sociopaths, may appear supremely self-confident but deep inside may suffer from a lack of depth and inadequacy about which they are likely to be unaware and adept at hiding from others. When not all the building blocks of self-esteem are working together, psychological problems are likely to develop, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and problems of intimacy, and often these can be outgrowths of a personality disorder associated with problems of self-esteem.
How to Build Self-esteem
Here are some tips on how you can build self-esteem:
I’m dating myself by reciting a favorite story told by the late comedian, Myron Cohen. A man comes home to his wife and upon opening the door smells the odor of cigars and asks, “Since when did you start smoking cigars?” Her puzzled response prompts him to say in an accusatory voice, “Well then there must be a man in the house.” He immediately proceeds to bolt through the house opening one door after another and lo and behold, upon opening the bedroom door, as a man appears, the husband blurts out, “And what are you doing here?!” to which he replies with a shrug, “Everybody got to be someplace.” In each and every place that there is a person, there is not just any person but A person. As much as there is a place that each of us occupies at any given moment it is our place and no one else’s at that moment. Each of us is a singular entity that no one can replace.
The Objective and Subjective Self
What is the self? And who are we? Up until the 19th century it was generally accepted that what makes us unique is our soul, or psyche, something immaterial that transcends our earthly existence. However, at about the same time that psychology became a science of its own, the self was understood instead as manifest from our interpersonal relationships. The early developmental psychologist, James Mark Baldwin, posited, for example, that children identify themselves in relation to others in their world through observation, imitation, and empathy, as well as through conflict and assuming complementary roles. Through “reflected appraisals,” according to the psychoanalyst, Harry Stack Sullivan, children learn to see themselves as their parents see and treat them. So, who we are is a sum of our experiences from our relations with other people, especially those such as our parents to whom we are closest and most deeply influenced early in life. Later in childhood and thereafter others can serve as mentors who help further guide and serve as “role models.”
How we see ourselves, or what we commonly call “identity,” is sometimes referred to as the “objective” or reflected self. However, there is another part of who we are that probes more deeply into our essence that has to do with agency. The psychologist, Gordon Allport, called this part of the self “the proprium.” This is the part of us that organizes our experience, that says to ourselves, “This is me, and no one else.” It is also the part that makes decisions, carves a path to follow in life, and that creates meaning from experience. The philosopher, Immanuel Kant, had a word for this he called the “transcendental ego.” Without it we are merely the sum of our memories like going through a photo album of our lives. An album says a lot about who we are yet something deeply fundamental is missing without a narrator. Pictures and memories tell a story about a life, but the “self as agent” lives a life that has purpose, understanding, and intention.
Western and Eastern Notions of The Self
Conceptualizations of self historically have differed between Eastern and Western civilizations. Here, in the West, with our traditions in freedom and self-reliance identity is more individualized, whereas in the East a more collective sense of self prevails. Buddhism with its lessons about the destructive illusions of the ego is a good example. The psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, created a model of personal development that fits the Western notion of the self within Eastern philosophy’s broader framework. According to Jung, the ego or Western conception of self is just a small part of who we are. We must integrate all the existential dimensions of what it means to be human, such as “the shadow,” and “the syzygy,” which refers to our relative masculine and feminine aspects, over a period of a lifetime in order to “self-actualize” or reach our full potentials.
The Bounded and The Ensembled Self
For Carl Jung, the self of the West is more individualized and egoistic whereas the Eastern notion of the self is broader and collective in nature. In Buddhism, the self disappears altogether as just an illusion. The Western psychologist, Edward Sampson, has proposed a distinction between these two ways of conceptualizing the self he calls the “bounded” and “ensembled” notions of the self. While a bounded self has served Western civilizations by promoting self-reliance, autonomy, and free enterprise, an ensembled notion of the “self” tempers the hubris, unbridled avarice, and willful ignorance to which an ego devoid of its collective conscience may be susceptible. A collective consciousness also can assuage the existential dread of alienation and finiteness living in a world without meaning and purpose can bring. It is through our collective identity and by discovering the limits of our ego that spirituality is born at a personal level.
The Harmonious versus the Disordered Self
These and other influences from my life, clinical work, and education have led me to propose that a healthy “self” is reliant on a harmonious and integrated relationship between these two fundamental aspects of the self that is both bounded and ensembled in nature. As a corollary to this proposal, when this relationship is antagonistic instead, as in a zero-sum game, problems in living ensue that parallel what mental-health professionals in the West call disorders of personality. For example, a healthy person is a person with strong self-esteem but only when the foundations of that strength do not have disastrous ramifications for the welfare of others. By the same token, generosity and compassion enhance our sense of self and security but not when they eventuate in destructive ways to our sense of autonomy and ability to advocate for ourselves when necessary.
The concept of the self has been and perhaps will always remain a mysterious and difficult idea to pin down. It isn’t something we can see with our eyes and feel with our fingertips yet it has emerged in human history as one of the most fundamental notions that demands attention as we humans endeavor to understand who we are and what makes us tick. As the psychologist, Raymond Cattell, who was known for his fondness for studying the human personality through psychometric analyses once observed, our attitude toward ourselves is the most powerful factor in determining who we are.
They say a vampire does not prey upon its victim unless he is invited. Narcissists, sociopaths, con men and the power they possess to create destruction in the lives of others rests within their ability to win your trust. Like a Trojan Horse their success depends on winning your trust in order to bypass your defenses. It is only after the cloak is removed and the disguise is revealed that the full force of their predatory nature and intent is likely to be unleashed.
What is a “Trust Vampire”? The Grifters:
A “trust vampire” is anyone who exploits your willingness to take a risk or expose a vulnerability. In the world of commerce and consumerism a grifter is someone who exploits your gullibility to purchase whatever he is selling you. As described in The Distinctly American Ethos of the Grifter, by Ligaya Mishan, The New York Times, September 12, 2019, the cultural ethos of the grifter in the United States for example is fostered by an economic system that promises social mobility and limitless possibility that is, unfortunately, confined by a disillusioning reality beyond which a meritocracy alone cannot take you. According to Mishan, our society ostensibly endorses an ethic of meritocracy while cultivating a culture of opportunism and disavowing the advantages privilege affords to achieve success. Hence, its populace is “grifted” into endorsing a deceptive “social contract” that, with the exception of those either with an a priori economic advantage or who are highly adept at exploiting others, is highly unlikely to pay off. When it doesn’t pay off, blame is cast on those who either were persuaded and failed (too stupid?) or simply failed to invest (too lazy?) in its promise, the “so-called” American Dream. This “bait and switch” ploy followed by gaslighting is one of the hallmarks of the “trust vampire.” To make matters worse, in a world dominated today by social media and highly politicized news platforms, the divide between reality as it is presented and reality as it is has become evermore present and problematic. Who can we believe and who is truly blameworthy?
The Narcissists and Sociopaths:
At a more personal level, we associate those who prey on our trust as having character traits of narcissism or sociopathy. These are clinical terms thrown around loosely today that generally refer to people who are self-serving, exploitative, and lacking in empathy. While there is much overlap between these two types there are important distinctions as well. A narcissist is a person who seeks attention and needs to feel superior or entitled. A pathological narcissist is someone who possesses these qualities at the expense and well being of others. In other words, he or she might disparage you or minimize your qualities or achievements because, like a zero-sum game, your assets are judged by adverse comparison to their own. Because of the importance they give to self-image, they are vein and very sensitive to criticism. On the other hand, many narcissists are very charming and use flattery to win you over until, mission accomplished, their true colors show through. Narcissists, paradoxically, can be very generous, until, that is, your interests are at odds with theirs. For a narcissist, it eventually always boils down to a philosophy of “Me First!” For this reason, narcissists can indeed be cruel and uncaring.
A sociopath, unlike a narcissist, is driven not by a mission to validate the self so much as simply to gratify the self. Here self-centeredness arises from a more primitive way of being, a world in which survival is paramount and therefore no one can be trusted. Survival depends in turn on power through force or deception. Rules, morals, and laws serve only to constrain the guileless and weak.
In his YouTube series, “The Dark Triad,” psychologist, Todd Grande, describes a third type of “trust vampire,” called the “Machiavellian,” named after a famous 15th century author who wrote a book about power and how it is used. Machiavellians, like narcissists, are driven to achieve power and status, but like sociopaths, they use guile and deception, particularly emotional manipulation, such as playing on your guilt and plying your weaknesses to get what they want. A Machiavellian is likely to be shrewd, cunning, and scheming, and thus more subtle and, for this reason, often more successful than the narcissists or sociopaths for whom these qualities are not so predominant.
The Cult Leaders:
Perhaps the most malignant of the group because of the magnitude of destruction they can foment, cult leaders stand at the top of the list. These people are the Antichrists, those who promise a paradise to the masses but deliver hell instead. They are invariably very charismatic and possess what can be a ruthless lust for power. At a national level, these are the dictators masquerading as populists whose message is to convince their followers of their deep convictions about the plight of the common man, the dejected, and the oppressed.
In popular culture, some of us may remember Jim Jones and the infamous Jonestown where an entire “colony” of followers were persuaded to drink the fatal “Kool Aid” for the sake of a better world in the afterlife, David Koresh who preyed on girls and young women, known as the Branch Davidians, whose compound was destroyed and members incinerated in a botched invasion by the U.S. Attorney General’s office, and more recently Keith Raniere, of NXIVM, the founder of a sex cult masquerading as a personal development organization in upstate New York for whom a recent television series was broadcast. In all cases, these are pathological characters who prey on the trust of people who are susceptible to their gift for grift for a variety of reasons, vulnerability at a certain time in life, disillusionment or disappointment, a broken home or marriage, seeking something or someone to believe in, a person who seems to care enough to listen to their troubles.
What Creates a “Trust Vampire”?
No one knows for sure. Statistical research suggests that as with most aspects of who we are, both physiologically and psychologically, there appears to be a fairly even split between nature and nurture. There are among us those more talented at reading other people, planning and executing strategies. Some of us are more prone to take risks. Life experiences and opportunities shape these talents and predilections accordingly to make us who we are. Exploitative behavior may also arise from trauma and neglect, a lack of good role models or the prevalence of bad ones, and the quality of our education and community in which we grew up; all play a role in the degree to which we cultivate empathy and responsibility toward those among us. Who we care about depends on who we identify with and who we identify with depends on our families, our community, and our society, the extent to which we are loved and esteemed as well as the responsibility we are assigned to others when we are youth.
Many who are exploiters are able to inflict harm without compunction because of the primitiveness of their psychological defenses. In his book, Being of Two Minds: The Vertical Split in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy (1999), author Arnold Goldberg paints a clinical picture of individuals who lead double, often Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, kinds of existences, a feat enabled by the more “primitive” psychological defenses such as denial, disavowal, and splitting. In my clinical experience with individuals with Cluster B personality disorders, the “dramatic” types, who invariably include those who prey on the trust of others, their psychological defenses resemble those with addictive disorders. Rationalization, denial, projection, and minimization are used to enable their transgressions. For example, when someone calls them on their misbehavior, they might disavow it while simultaneously accusing their accuser of jealousy or the same qualities of which they are both guilty and fail to see in themselves. Many rely on a victim mentality to justify their actions, some a cynical philosophy of life.
How Do I Deal with a “Trust Vampire”?
Vampires of trust are clever and charming so while at first you might not be able to identify them, they soon begin to reveal their true character. Here are some signs to watch out for:
When we think of what human emotion binds us to one another, the first that might come to mind is the emotion of love. This certainly applies to our relationships with our children or our pets, those who are or who have been dependent on us for their survival. Our unconditional love and devotion create a bond that is likely to last forever. However, a more fundamental emotion is necessary for love to develop when we are vulnerable. In other kinds of relationships, such as between lovers and spouses, friendships, partnerships, and in the case of children in relation to their parents or caretakers, there is an element of risk involved. In these kinds of relationships the emotional bond that develops into love is more complicated. Trust must be established before a stable bond can unfold and love can spring forth and flourish.
Where Does Trust Come From?
As with most every basic emotion of human development, trust begins within the matrix of the bond that forms between infant and caretaker. “Good-enough mothering,” a term introduced by the English psychoanalyst, Donald Woods Winnicott, refers to the nature of the relationship between mother and infant that promotes healthy emotional development. In order for a child to feel secure, his mother needn’t be perfect yet must be sufficiently reliable and responsive to the child’s needs. At the same time an anxious or overly protective caretaker conveys to the infant that the world is a dangerous place beyond the child’s capacity to learn to manage on their own. According to the psychoanalyst, Erik Erikson, in his landmark book, Childhood and Society (1950),
Distrustfulness as a Personality Trait
When trust fails to form as it should in early childhood, dysfunctional attachment patterns are likely to emerge in personality development that may be characterized by separation anxiety or anxious, clingy, insecure attachment, avoidant or emotionally distant personality characteristics, or disorganized or ambivalent attachment styles that can lead to unwittingly sending mixed signals in relationships.
As Theresa Miller discusses in her book, Anxiety in Relationship (2019), a self-help book to help people who are overly anxious in relationships, problems such as excessive jealousy, obsessive attachment, fear of abandonment, and controlling behavior can ensue from an anxious attachment style. Anxious attachment can also manifest from low self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem is necessary to build a healthy relationship.
Knowing and Trusting Ourselves
One of the pioneers in the study of trust in relationships, Sidney Jourard, in his book, The Transparent Self (1971), pointed out how intimacy requires transparency which in turn requires honesty and courage. According to Jourard, in order to be in a relationship one must also be able to enjoy being alone, a time necessary to know in a deeper sense what one’s truer values are. Consistent with the 18th century romantic philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, who was a proponent of loving oneself when it was a heretical idea, Jourard discussed how living in a social world can squelch expression of our true selves in order to avoid criticism and ostracism. While Jourard was writing during an era in American history when self-exploration and self-expression were in a renaissance his caveats still ring true today. In order to be authentic in a relationship, a necessary condition for trust to develop, one should be as open as possible to oneself. And as David Richo in his book, Daring to Trust (2013), reminds us, in order for us to be able to trust others it is equally important that we learn to trust ourselves.
Eight Principles to Building a Trusting Relationship
Here are some tips I have learned from my professional practice and from personal experience that will help you develop a healthy, trusting relationship:
Life is about change. This is a cliché; yet as unsettling as it is, it is an incontrovertible truth about existence. It is normal to become attached to all in life we love, especially those whose closeness we cherish, even though we are aware at the same we will someday suffer their loss. Some of us have suffered the misfortunate of losing a loved one early in life which in some cases, such as the loss of a parent, sibling, close friend, or pet, can be a traumatic experience. Eventually, however, we will all share the pain and sorrow of this profound aspect of existence. As much as we might dread this fact, we must ask ourselves then how do we manage to reconcile this reality so it doesn’t become a tragedy in our lives.
Is There a Normal Way to Grieve?
The answer is yes and no. There is no one way to grieve that applies to everyone. The grieving process depends on how we as individuals deal with stress and change as well as the nature of our relationships with those whose lives we’ve lost. Joan Didion in her award-winning book, The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), described in detail how by revisiting the loss of her husband each time unveiled more questions about his death, what could have been done to prevent it, the distortions in her thinking designed to deny the reality of it, and how it was complicated by crises she and her daughter had to confront occurring at the same time. In Helen MacDonald’s award-winning memoir, H is For Hawk (2014), the author recounts how she coped with the sudden death of her father by raising a goshawk and how through this experience she gained a relationship, qualities such as patience she learned from her father, and a sense of mastery that enabled her to recover from her grief.
There is no one way to grieve and the course of grieving does not follow a linear path. In the late 1960’s the famous psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced the idea that grieving takes place in five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While this model has been generally understood as applying to the natural progression of grieving the loss of a loved one, they actually were intended to describe the experiences of those who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Kubler-Ross herself later observed that her model was not intended to apply to everyone because grief is an individual process that follows no set pattern.
Are There Different Kinds of Grief?
Freud, in his monograph, Mourning and Melancholia (1917), identified two kinds of grieving processes that are specific to the nature of loss. Mourning, which is less complicated, entails the actual loss of a loved one and for which a period of grieving naturally follows. By comparison, melancholia involves a complicated relationship with the lost object as would more likely be found in situations such as a breakup of a relationship or more vague losses of a personal nature not so easily identified. In these instances, grieving is complicated by the narcissistic wound or rejection that results in self-loathing, what might likely be rage toward the lost object turned inward.
While this distinction is clinically valid it belies how complicated and individual the grief process actually can be in either case. Notwithstanding it is important to identify qualitative differences in how one grieves that can point to distinctions between grieving that unfolds toward recovery and that which deteriorates into a clinical state of depression. Those distinctions are listed on the Hospice Red River Valley website entitled, “Grief vs. Depression: What you need to know and when to seek help.” In normal grief, for the bereaved person, closeness to others is comforting, self-esteem is likely to remain intact, and thoughts of death are related to wanting to reunite with the deceased loved one. Those suffering from depression, on the other hand, are more self-focused, less capable of enjoying life and engaging with others, and more inclined to feel worthless and guilt-ridden.
How Can We Overcome the Anguish of Grief?
We must first acknowledge that bereavement is a process that cannot be hurried in a deliberate fashion. Letting go unfolds naturally and in its own time if we take the necessary steps to allow it to do so. In her blog, psychologist and motivational writer, Michelle Roya Rad, lists “7 Steps for Dealing with Loss and Grief.” They include:
Bereavement support groups often are sponsored by churches and synagogues in most communities. You may also find resources and lists of both local and online community support groups from the following websites: https://hospiceandcommunitycare.org, https://debra.org, and https://grief.com
Grief is a complicated process; it is also a natural part of life. Losing a loved one, whether it is a spouse, a friend, a parent or child, or a pet, carries with it the weight of the suffering we must inevitably bear to confront and eventually come to terms with its harsh reality. It may also serve as an opportunity for us to grow in ways that can bring a deeper understanding of the meaning and purpose that life has to offer.
Hatred is the emotion few people love. It simmers, its seethes, it corrodes. We might say it is a form of anger, taken to an extreme and tainted with a toxic brew of disgust, vengeful contempt, and revulsion. It is like rage inasmuch as its lives at the extremity of baleful human emotions, but unlike rage that suddenly pounces and erupts, hatred is a slow broth of emotional bile that lurks, stalks, and simmers. While rage acts, hatred waits. Nonetheless, hatred by virtue of its passive nature belies its toxic effects. In the book of Leviticus of the Torah or Old Testament of the Bible, God commands mankind “not (to) hate thy brother in thy heart,” as a testament to its destructive effects on both the human psyche and human relationships. Hatred is a scourge.
Despite its unmistakable destructiveness, hatred contains a certain appeal. Like a guilty pleasure, hatred can be harbored secretly as a kind of revenge that satisfies in perpetuity. William Hazlitt, an 18th century artist and philosopher wrote an infamous treatise on “The Pleasures of Hating.” From the point of view of the protagonist from Edgar Allen Poe’s A Telltale Heart and Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikoff from Crime and Punishment, hatred becomes an obsession that almost takes on the dimension of a reason to live. Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello is a sower of distrust and ultimately jealousy-driven murder whose counsel presumably satisfies some kind of sadistic motive by proxy that wreaks tragic destruction. And then, of course, there is the devil. The vengeful schemes of Lucifer, or Satan, sometimes make for more interesting intrigue and drama than the admonitions and even miraculous feats of God.
WHERE DOES HATRED COME FROM?
The answer to this question should take us back to hatred’s nature, viz., it waits rather than acts. In the 1970’s, psychologist Martin Seligmann posited on the basis of studies with animals that when put into situations where they could not save themselves from demise or extricate themselves from danger, animals give up. He coined a term, learned helplessness, to refer to this unfortunate state of being and from it extrapolated that most human depression derives from this same state of helplessness. In other words, when we believe we are in a situation about which we can do nothing we learn to become resigned to the situation; if by virtue of temperament and/or repeated experiences this generalizes or becomes a pervasive expectation toward any problem or life situation, depression will ensue. These beliefs about helplessness may be realistic, such as a child living in a household that fails to respond to its needs or a citizen living under a totalitarian government that grants few liberties or opportunities for justice. They may also represent distortions resulting from low self-esteem and distrust toward others even though these distortions could originate from real experiences in the past.
Hatred can serve as a defense or bulwark against depression inasmuch as it is imbued with power and direction toward a target, in this case the identified perpetrator. This defense thus serves to deflect focus away from a “self” constrained by an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and impotence. Its effectiveness as a defense, however, is limited to the extent that unless a conduit for action is formulated a sense of helplessness or self-blame will ensue once again.
Aside from its purposes of defense against a state of helplessness or self-loathing hatred can also be manifest from jealousy, envy, or humiliation, the toxic emotions. In the ancient Greek playwright, Euripides’s play, Medea, the protagonist murders her two sons, her husband (their father), and his new wife, out of revenge for his betrayal to their matrimony. For Medea, “the laughter of my enemies,” humiliation, is a personal insult that justifies her retributive action taken for the sake of restoring her dignity.
Resentment about a threat or violation to one’s physical, emotional, or financial well-being or the well-being of loved ones can also foment hatred. Here, once again, we can rely on Euripides, in his play, Elektra, for a story about murderous revenge committed by a daughter against her mother for the murder of her father which her mother in turn attempted to justify as revenge for the sacrifice of her other daughter, Elektra’s sister. In all these instances, hatred arises from a feeling of violation or threat, real or imagined, to one’s safety, survival, or dignity. To resign oneself to the belief that taking action would be futile leads to a sense of helplessness and depression, but to harbor them and not to act is like drinking poison. Hatred, like anger, is a noxious emotion that harkens the self to take action toward a state of restoration.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO RID OURSELVES OF HATRED?
Retribution: This is Charles Bronson in Death Wish, Keanu Reeves in John Wick, and Francis Ford Coppola’s entire Godfather series, the complete set unabridged. This is the ethic of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, with interest. Revenge is one of life’s sweet pleasures. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come without a price. In the case of Poe’s character, guilt, and Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikoff, punishment. At a broader, societal level, we all know the lessons of the proverbial Hatfields and McCoys, and in recent history the endless retributive wars of the Near East or British Isles, as well as, of course, Mario Puzo’s Corleone family. Primal justice doesn’t sit well with our karma.
Restitution: This is the attempt to make things whole, to repair the wrong, to restore the damage done. Reparations and heartfelt apologies often do help as long as they are deemed sufficiently compensatory by the victim and the alleged perpetrator is available and, if so, either willing or coerced to cooperate. Restitution is the basis in our criminal justice system for community service and civil litigation, not so juicy as retribution but in the long run much better for the sake of healing the injury for all parties involved.
Transformation: At a personal level this may be the most difficult to achieve inasmuch as it requires letting go of a wish for revenge or compensation, summoning instead our inner capacity to transcend the need for these kinds of reward in order to “move on.” To do this requires a combination of forgiveness, restoration of the self, and empowerment of the self.
Forgiveness is the art of letting go. We forgive mainly for ourselves in order to relieve ourselves of the burden of resentment. Meditation and learning compassion, first toward ourselves, help to take the force and strength out of the power that hatred holds on our emotions.
“Restoration of the self” entails devoting time and energy to contemplating one’s strengths, virtues, and accomplishments that give one self-worth. We get these from ourselves and from friends and those who care about us; when these are too difficult to produce or procure, psychotherapy is designed to help us learn the tools to do so.
“Empowerment of the self” entails taking action to recover and rise above the injuries and challenges that foment hatred. This might include making the effort to establish new relationships after the heartbreak of a betrayal, taking political action to fight an injustice, confronting the perpetrator in a nonviolent but assertive manner, or learning new skills and taking on new challenges to combat the impotent rage, feelings of helplessness, and injury to the “self” hatred can incite.
Hatred is a state of mind, a human emotion that produces intense energy which either when held inside has a corrosive effect on one’s well being or when acted on foments chaos and destruction. When restitution is either not possible or sufficient to quell its destructive force, we may seize it instead as an opportunity to grow within ourselves by learning how to have compassion for our limitations, pride in our virtues and accomplishments, and discovery of our power and creative potential to establish new ways to find meaning and purpose in life restorative to the self.
What is love and when we find it what makes a relationship work? This is a question many of us have pondered over, talked with our friends, and consulted the experts about. There are many kinds of relationships, of course, and all relationships require some degree of attention, forethought, and investment. We might also add to that list qualities such as commitment, reciprocity, empathy, social intelligence; navigating a relationship successfully takes a lot. However, of all the kinds of relationships there are none evokes more interest, fascination, and unfortunately, vexation than romantic love.
What is romantic love? Passion is the fuel that constitutes its first “pillar,” but first let’s examine what romantic love is. When we say “love” we can mean many different things. The ancient Greeks had names for eight kinds of love. Eros, or romantic love, was just one. In Western history, romantic love originated from the Middle Ages when troubadours serenaded maidens from ivory towers, but this is probably more myth than reality. When we are “in love” we are susceptible to a kind of confused state of mind that simulates madness. The ancient Greeks called this “mania.” In Act 1 Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare describes this state eloquently,
Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O anything of nothing first created!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.
When we are in love we are suffused in a bath of hormones, testosterone and oxytocin, which quickens our urge to mate and bond simultaneously. The psychoanalysts point out how its intensity originates from the primal bond formed in infancy. The special bond between mother and child is annealed in the visual gaze that psychoanalysts call “mirroring,” an essential building block for the development of empathy and self-esteem. When a mother reciprocates its child’s gaze the specialness of that bond, as well as the goodness and worthiness of the self, is affirmed. When we fall in love we are in a sense recapitulating the exhilaration that the affirmation and security of that special bond creates. It is no wonder, then, how the intensity and force of romantic love cannot be underestimated.
Though passion is the driving force that compels humans to bond, a successful relationship of course cannot be established on a foundation of madness and confusion. And romantic love, the fantasy that thrusts us toward the hope of loving and being loved by another person eternally, can be tragically misleading. As the philosopher, Alain de Botton, in his book and series of lectures entitled, “The Course on Love,” tells us, romanticism in relationships leads inevitably toward disillusionment inasmuch as it is founded on idealization and the idea of perfection. A successful relationship needs dimension to provide the ground upon which it is made viable and lasting. We may call this grounding factor love, in its broader and deeper sense, that constitutes the second pillar of romantic love.
In my blog, Love in Dimension, I listed the eight kinds of love identified by the ancient Greeks. The wisdom of this catalog of emotions shows how love in dimension fosters a lasting bond that helps relationships become successful lest Eros, or passionate love, blinds us compellingly toward an ill-fated, unforeseen, and tragic end. In his book, A triangular theory of love, Robert Sternberg, professor of human development at Cornell University, identified three dimensions of love, passion, intimacy, and commitment, that enable romantic relationships to become successful. In the last two of these, intimacy and commitment, we may find the dimensions identified by the ancient Greeks, such as friendship, playfulness, partnership, and compassion, that are necessary to transform a romantic relationship into a lasting one.
The dyadic matrix from whence romantic love is derived, the emotional bond between mother and child, establishes the foundation from which the third “pillar” of lasting love is made possible. The emotional bond between caretaker and infant is forged within the reciprocal balance between longing and desire for the other on the one hand and the desire for self-affirmation on the other. In its immature state self-affirmation manifests merely as pure narcissism, in other words the need to be admired, idealized, and to be the center of attention. However the establishment of a lasting relationship necessitates the recognition of the sovereignty and dignity of the self, a form of self-affirmation that both respects and at the same time expects respect for those aspects of the self that differ from the other, that transcend the desire to fuse, sovereign to the self alone, and revered for their ability to rise above selfishness and vanity.
Self-esteem and the ability to love oneself, as the saying goes, is necessary in order to be able to love others, this is true. However, self-love alone is not enough inasmuch as in its nascent form it seeks adulation and attention toward oneself while at the same time projecting idealization and devaluation onto the other, distortions that have disastrous effects on the capacity to form lasting, successful relationships. For these reasons, I choose the word, respect rather than self-affirmation, as the third pillar because this emotion in particular reflects the kind of self-affirmation that is founded on good character, embodying qualities such as responsibility, integrity, self-knowledge, and forbearance, without which a lasting relationship would not be possible. The need for self-affirmation does not disappear as we mature; rather as with love, it must grow in dimension from pure narcissism toward a mature self, founded on strong character, in order for lasting love to be established.
These are the three pillars, passion, love, and respect. Together, they render a useful formula that helps us understand how romantic love can develop into a stable, viable relationship that transcends infatuation and passion. However true this is, it must be granted that without the passion of romantic love life would not be imbued with the color, drama, and emotion that make life what it is. We might not feel compelled to develop the closeness necessary for truly rewarding and fulfilling relationships to blossom. We might not have the great books, art, poetry, music, and more that make life what it is. Life would be much less painful and confusing, but the price to pay would be life itself as it is treasured by most of us. Moreover, romance satisfies our most basic needs for self-affirmation to be desired, adored, and accepted unconditionally.
But most of us also want to have our cake and eat it too. We want something that is enduring. Here we must heed the ancient Greeks who endorsed the wisdom of temperance and knowledge. In order for passion to become lasting, it must grow in dimension, as well, into a friendship imbued with qualities of commitment, compassion, and selfless devotion. The conditions necessary to love and be loved in this dimensional way depend on our character and maturity both to offer and expect respect from each other. While these qualities do not adequately substitute for the passion and needs for self-affirmation that romantic love offers, they are nonetheless necessary in order for love to last. Romance stokes the fires that keep the embers burning, but the cultivation of love in its broader dimensions made possible by qualities of character that both command and offer respect to one another is what makes a passionate relationship work.
Love. It’s that other four-letter word. When we speak of it, we usually think of the romantic kind, though, generally understood, it can have several meanings; love is difficult to define and for good reason, it’s a complex emotion. More than that, like the proverbial Eskimos’ legion nomenclature for snow, there can be many kinds of love. The ancient Greeks identified eight different kinds of love. Let’s examine what those are.
Agape: This is the slogan you sometimes see on bumper stickers; it refers to a love for others in the broadest sense. Another term for agape might be altruism. Often this kind of love is associated with God or religion because it is a selfless kind of love that generalizes toward humanity or the world. It is perhaps for this reason the most difficult kind of love to achieve inasmuch as it entails the ability to extend one’s feelings beyond what we are most familiar with to embrace something that might seem otherwise merely abstract in nature.
Eros: This is the kind of love we are most familiar with when we use the term. Eros is romantic or passionate love. Cupid’s arrow blindly aimed at no one in particular suggests that it is a feeling we are prey to, struck by an emotion that jolts us out of our senses. Romantic love, actually, is a recent development in Western civilization, originating with the troubadours of the Middle Ages serenading maidens aloft in ivory towers, hence its association to a more idealized kind of love that, nonetheless, arises from sexual longing. While Eros is the stuff “that makes the world go round,” it is generally regarded as a more immature kind of love because it is usually transitory, self-serving, and at least in part biologically driven.
Ludus: Ludus means “playful” in Greek. Playfulness is often a part of flirting though it needn’t be limited to sexual relationships. When we play we open ourselves to our creative side. In order for us to become playful or creative we must be in a situation or relationship where we feel safe from harsh judgment. Otherwise we expose ourselves to feeling foolish, self-conscious, or embarrassed, so when we are playful with someone it suggests there is confidence and trust in that relationship. Intimate and close relationships depend on playfulness to demonstrate that special bond still exists.
Mania: As the name suggests, mania is an intense emotional fixation on someone or something. When someone is manic it means they are obsessed. Sometimes love relationships or feelings a person has for someone else can take on manic qualities. Romantic love has an element of it. There are also instances when an individual becomes obsessed with another person that sometimes can lead to stalking behavior (we may remember the pathological relationships portrayed in the movies Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction). Erotomania is a term for instances when someone develops the delusion that another person is obsessed with them. Understandably, manic kinds of attachments often are directed toward movie stars and celebrities and thus a common subject for the tabloids.
Philautia: Self-love; a modern term we commonly use today is narcissism. This word has a bad connotation and reputation but it isn’t all bad. Love of self is the foundation for the ability to love others. It is only when love for self fails to mature into generosity of spirit or when it ultimately prevails in relationships that it becomes problematic. In order for love of self to evolve into mature love one must cultivate the capacity to experience the joy of how giving of oneself is a sacrificial investment well worth spent.
Philia: As the slogan on the license plate of the state associated with The Society of Friends reads, philia, the love of friendship, is the linguistic root for its largest city. Friendship, perhaps the most rewarding and enduring kind of relationship, entails sharing things held in common and that each party deems valuable; it also is founded on loyalty and reliability. Friendship takes time and effort to develop. It may constitute the most important aspect of romantic love that enables it to become a lasting relationship.
Pragma: What we might more familiarly call commitment, pragma is the emotion one feels toward those with whom one is engaged in a long-term project or mission. You might call it an allegiance by virtue of shared purpose. This might include a business partner or workforce, a legion of soldiers, even a married couple. A long-term relationship entails working together for the good of the relationship, children, or family; it is a vital element that anneals the bond of a long-term relationship.
Storge: The closest word we might have to this kind of love in the modern dictionary is compassion. Storge is the emotion we feel toward those close to us that compels us to provide succor and caring attention when needed. As with philia and pragma, storge seals the bond in a relationship that promotes long-term commitment.
All of these words for love from ancient Greece, no wonder how difficult it is to understand and express our feelings when this emotion is the topic of discussion. Love is complex! And when we express our love toward someone it involves more than likely an admixture, not any one, of these definitions. All these definitions of love are part of what makes us human, none is more human than another though some might be identified as reflecting a more mature state of emotion than others.
In his classic book from the 1950’s, The Art of Loving, the German psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, identified four types of emotions that express mature love: Care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge, the last pertaining to awareness of our strengths and weaknesses as opposed to idealization. The hallmark of maturity according to Fromm is the extent to which our love extends into the world as opposed to the self-absorbed and consuming relationship a strictly passionate love entails. Nonetheless the author grants that all must originate from love of self without which love for others is not possible.
Love for oneself has not always been accepted by our society and it still carries negative connotations. In his treatise, The Heresy of Self-love that explores this topic the author, Paul Zweig, points out how in the fourth century St. Augustine's personal conversion from Manichaeism helped establish the notion of the sinfulness of self-love as a founding precept of Christianity. This ethic prevailed at least until the dawn of the modern era beginning with secular philosophers such as Spinoza and Rousseau in the 17th century . Self-love forms the foundation from which all love derives because our emotional investment in others which is made possible through our capacity to feel for others begins with how well we are able to identify in others what we feel in ourselves. When either from self-centeredness, resentment, or fear the other remains “other” and empathy fails to be sufficient the development of feelings of love is inhibited.
In my work with patients in private practice, we sometimes explore the dimensions of love in personal relationships and how both the experience and expression of love is influenced by our relationships with ourselves and our personal histories. It is our endeavor, then, to confront the fears associated with the trust necessary for love to develop, and all the unconscious defenses we unwittingly erect to keep ourselves safe from sharing the most cherished emotion of human life. Love, like intimacy, is not for the faint of heart.
It isn’t easy to be human. Beyond the lessons of learning and striving for what is necessary to survive and to meet our creaturely comforts, there is something that takes us beyond the animal kingdom, what we call civilization. Through the invention of language coupled with a capacity to contemplate the sublime humans are unique in that we can transcend what is momentary to visit in our minds civilizations from a distant past, possibilities in a distant future, abstract languages such as mathematics, to create sophisticated technologies, appreciate art and music, extract meaning from metaphor, and more. But it comes at a price, the ability to experience in a rudimentary way the world as we did when we were young children, without prejudice, without beliefs and judgments. It is extremely difficult to undo what we learned since early childhood through a process known as acculturation. Acculturation is the internalization of beliefs and values handed down to us through generations; it is part of what makes us human. It is also the source of racism.
So, racism is a set of beliefs rather than a reflection of the “natural” state of our species as it is. The word, “race,” implies that a distinction is made among members of our species that sets us in competition with one another; we are in a race set by the laws of natural selection in which only the fittest survive. However, the competitive connotation of this term, race, also suggests it can be used as a measure of judging who is superior. While it is likely that racism has some measure of origin in our ancestral past that reflects a xenophobic attitude toward strangers and those who are different than we for the purpose of survival, as a belief system this aboriginal tendency to distrust “the other” can be used for any purpose whose agenda is to divide and establish a hierarchy by which groups of people may be judged and ultimately privileged. As Kurt Barling, professor of journalism at the University of Middlesex, England, observes in his book, The R Word: Racism and Modern Society, “racism is about getting deep into people’s imagination and shaping the way they feel about the other.”
CONCEPTS AND FOUNDATIONS OF RACISM
Our conventional definition of racism establishes this concept as a belief that is seated in our conscious mind, in other words, an attitude or belief that is endorsed by any individual or group who hold ideas deemed racist in nature. However, a more modern definition broadens the meaning of the term as being also systemic in nature. This broader definition encompasses a less consciously held but subtly manifest and thus, in effect, insidious belief system embedded within a culture itself.
The confusion between the more overt, conventional and the more covert, systemic definitions of racism is nowhere more clearly exemplified than by the common reaction, “No, All Lives Matter!” in reply to the slogan, “Black Lives Matter.” If we take this phrase literally it is simply an endorsement for Black lives, but it implies that none but Black lives matter, what defines racism in the conventional sense. However, if we understand it as an expression of a deeper implication that the purpose for proclaiming the phrase is to reclaim what is absent in society it makes sense according to the modern definition of the word. Identification of racism as systemic in nature through the phrase, “Black Lives Matter,” reclaims acknowledgement that it still exists.
The idea that a belief system can be subtly embedded in culture is not new. Nominalism, the concept that all classifications and qualities attributed to them are man-made constructions, goes back to the Middle Ages. The school of structuralism in 19th century philosophy held that the structure of language itself constitutes the primary source for how we interpret the world, not the way the world itself is constructed. Certain philosophers who followed went a step further by claiming that political and social forces influence how language shapes beliefs for the purpose of serving the interests of those groups of people associated with them.
Language, then, is an effective means to influence beliefs insofar as it constitutes the source for how we interpret the world and is at the same time assumed to be a reflection of the world as it truly is. Mystification, a term introduced by the French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, refers to any system of beliefs that is purposeful in nature whose effectiveness is predicated on the degree to which it is able to keep its agenda hidden. Creating a “serviceable other,” a concept introduced by Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize winning playwright and author in her essay, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, is an example of how the purpose of establishing superiority is thus achieved. A “serviceable other” is a process by which one’s identity as a group is affirmed by assigning complementary qualities to another group that serve one’s own identity through comparison. This concept explains how, in Sam Keen’s book, The Face of The Enemy, creating a serviceable other promotes a cause to go to war by painting the enemy as evil and how, in Black Panther author, Eldridge Cleaver’s landmark book, Soul On Ice, racism has been perpetuated in the United States for centuries by assigning qualities to African Americans that elicit contempt and distrust.
The challenge to address the problem of racism at the social level is a matter of changing belief systems about identity, deeply-held ideas that are both personal and as they apply to “the other.” Racism is a concept that divides. To dismantle it requires unification, to undermine its corrosive effects entails finding commonality of experience and mutuality of interest, with a tone of openness and respect. These are the principles familiar to a psychotherapist in that they are necessary to establish a trusting relationship, to suspend judgments and prejudices, which is not the same as ignoring them, for the purpose of establishing a working relationship that forms the crucible for change to take place. In order for therapy to be effective, a patient must trust his therapist enough to become open to explore and examine deeply-held beliefs about oneself and others that otherwise prevent change from taking place.
To address racism effectively at the personal level we should follow the principle used by psychotherapists to heal ourselves in order to heal our relations with others. Healing begins within ourselves. When we take pride in our identity, we may choose how we wish to be defined. To put this into practice, identifying the subtle mechanisms embedded in our society that subvert the power to do so, the institutions that contribute to systemic racism, should lead to political action that produces real change. Identity politics recaptures one’s own voice to speak in a language that, by virtue of defining the self, empowers the self.
We must also learn how to actively listen to others with both respect and a spirit of inclusiveness. Mark Lilla, a professor of humanities at Columbia University, observed that identity politics devoid of inclusiveness, as in the case of contemporary American society, for example, the broad segment that feels forgotten, disenfranchised, and disillusioned, those most likely to resist efforts to promote change whose deference to “the other” that has been targeted and scapegoated as responsible for their condition, can only inflame longstanding grudges and feelings of resentment. To exclude is to divide; hasn’t history already taught us how ignoring its weight can influence the calamitous tide of fortune against what ultimately lies in the best interest for us all?
The opportunity to talk about racism occurs in my practice when this topic is introduced by my patient or when I feel it has relevance to their work in psychotherapy. For those who have difficulty understanding racism, drawing a parallel between the struggle to identify and change subconscious beliefs about oneself that are destructive and the difficulties changing beliefs about racism that are systemic in nature promotes an appreciation for the challenges those fighting racism confront. Others sympathetic to its cause may benefit from discussion about how they may contribute through political activism and, for those victimized by racism, empathic listening as well as guidance to navigate personal relationships or at the workplace provides the validation and skills necessary to confront racist issues at both a personal and systemic level.
Confronting racism is about investigating and challenging our beliefs about ourselves and “the other,” the historic foundations and rationality of their premises, as well as how they manifest our communities and society in general. These insights support efforts to heal the self through self-examination and establishing the self as agent for the purpose of learning how to put these insights into practice as it pertains to one’s personal life and through social and political action.
In 2003, the British author, Analis Rufus, published a book entitled, Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto, which was a tribute to introversion and those who prefer solitude in a world dominated by extraverts. Henry David Thoreau, the famous 19th century naturalist once observed, “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” To be alone, then, is a privilege sought after by some yet, evidently, a cause of suffering for many. According to a recent survey conducted by Cigna Healthcare in January 2020 as many as 61% of adults report they are lonely, and this was before the coronavirus pandemic. A 12-month study in 2012 on the prevalence of loneliness that prompted the appointment of a “Minister of Loneliness” in the United Kingdom found that people above the age of 65 and below the age of 25 are most susceptible to loneliness. Over a third of elderly people reported feeling “overwhelmed” with loneliness. In Japan, “elder loneliness” is a recognized phenomenon. A survey here in the United States in May 2020 found that nearly 1 in 3 millenials suffers from loneliness and one of the reasons for this, paradoxically, is the advent of social media inasmuch as it can become a substitute for real in-person interaction, cyberbullying, and an impression from images posted on social media that suggest the popularity of those who are contributing to these social media sites.
One of the sources of confusion when discussing loneliness is that, strictly speaking, loneliness is a state of mind not to be confused with being alone. Susan Pinker, a psychologist and author of The Village Effect, explains that loneliness is an emotion associated with the belief that the state of being alone is not of one’s choosing. Examples might include imprisonment and house arrest, ostracism and social exclusion, agoraphobia which is an irrational fear of leaving one’s home, social withdrawal associated with depression, low self-esteem, or an anxiety disorder, a medical quarantine such as in response to a pandemic, or a catastrophic event such as Tom Hanks’s character in Cast Away, the survivor of a plane crash who was stranded on a distant island. Thoreau was not lonely in his blissful sanctuary of solitude called Walden Pond, therefore, because it was his choice to dwell there.
Loneliness may also be engendered by a subjective state of social disconnection. Perhaps one of the loneliest places to be is in a heavily populated city where you know no one. This phenomenon is supported by neuro-imaging studies which show that activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of lonely people differs from others with respect to the magnitude of disparity in the relative loci of excitation in these areas of the brain when conjuring images of oneself in relation to that of other people.
Loneliness not only contributes to mental distress and depression, it is also hazardous to one’s health. Studies have suggested that effects of social isolation on one’s health are worse than smoking the equivalent of 15 cigarettes a day as well as the debilitating effects of obesity, air pollution, and physical inactivity. It has been estimated that loneliness increases one’s chances of an “earlier death” by as much as 26%.
HOW DO WE ASSUAGE FEELINGS OF LONELINESS?
In order to learn how to feel less lonely, we should attend to the two fundamental aspects of lives, our relations with others and our relations with ourselves:
Our relationships with ourselves: Since loneliness is a subjective state, in order to address this problem one should learn how to cultivate a state of joy and learn therefore how to become a better companion to oneself. This may be accomplished in the following ways, for example:
Our relationships with others: Although loneliness is ultimately a subjective state, it is assuaged by the quality of life we establish with others:
It wasn’t but long ago when anger was all the rage. Concerns about reports in the media that some disgruntled employee went “postal,” on a murderous rampage. Disaffected young, teenage boys, misfits and loners raising suspicion about what they might be capable of doing. Heightened public attention to the prevalence of domestic violence. Whether for the purpose of sensationalizing a tragic event or raising public attention to a social problem that has lurked for too long behind the private curtain of everyday family life, anger has become a topic of concern in the public eye. And with this concern questions have been raised whether anger is a destructive emotion rooted in the blood of our primeval ancestors, merely a vestige of an uncivilized part of our human heritage.
Are All Negative Emotions Really Bad?
The value we give to temperance, the apparent opposite of anger, is a matter of civility, what it means to behave in a civilized manner when in social situations. When anger is counter-posed in this way, i.e., as both primitive as well as dangerous, it isn’t a far stretch to understand how the social pressures of political correctness have railed against it. In my blog, “Can we be positive all negative emotions are bad?” I raised the question whether emotions generally regarded as noxious or unpleasant, such as anger, are necessarily toxic or harmful. While granting that the emotion, anger, can give rise to the enactment of terrible things, the question, then, whether anger is useful or simply a remnant of primeval instincts becomes confused when we conflate emotions with actions. In other words, it is important when answering this question to be clear that just because one feels anger doesn’t mean that one is necessarily acting in accord with it or even at all. Moreover, not all useful emotions are pleasant. By the same token, not all civil actions are necessarily pleasant, to wit our jurisprudence system, an institution that harnesses adversarial relationships within the confines of a civil society.
Whether anger is useful or harmful, then, depends in part on how we define it. Acknowledging the difference enables one to recognize and accept anger without judging oneself as aggressive or destructive to others. Anger serves an important purpose as all emotions do. When we feel angry something within ourselves is telling us that something is not right that harkens us to take aggressive action, whether it be from a threat to ourselves or those we care about or from an insult to our sense of dignity.
Rather than judging ourselves or others for experiencing anger, what matters is first, your awareness of the presence of the emotion, secondly, what are its likely causes, and finally how should one respond to it. If we disavow our feelings of anger, we are susceptible to projecting it onto others and when we disavow anger in actions we are inclined instead to play a semantics game with ourselves and others, for example, “Oh, I wasn’t angry, I was just upset!” Anger is a broad term for a wide range of emotions, from annoyance and irritation to rage and all the gradations in between. It can be cumulative, a thousand irritations can lead to a volcanic explosion, or sudden, like striking a nerve, depending on the level of threat that elicited the emotion.
Knowing what causes us to become angry enables us to know where to direct our response to take action. When we don’t know the origins of our emotions we are susceptible to repressing them and directing them elsewhere, such as displacement, when we redirect anger toward an easier or more available target or intro-punitively toward ourselves. Suppressing anger over a long period of time as we know can lead to stress reactions that are toxic to one’s self-esteem and physical well being. As the cliché goes, resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Anger is sometimes the result of stress, fatigue, hunger, frustration, etc., and in other cases it can be an effect of a mental disorder such as major depression or bipolar disorder. Rage reactions can arise from situations that present imminent threat, certain kinds of drug reactions or withdrawal, a personality disorder, or flashbacks associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Perhaps, most importantly, what determines whether anger is a useful or destructive emotion depends on what we do with the emotion. When we disavow anger we confuse those we care about or worse give others cause to blame themselves undeservedly; when we repress our anger we deprive ourselves the opportunity to understand ourselves much less resolve problems that beset us. People with “anger management” issues don’t express their emotions constructively. Sometimes these issues serve to intimidate or manipulate others. Effective anger management on the other hand uses empathy and clear and specific communication in order to maximize the likelihood that the party toward whom anger is directed will respond in a sympathetic and cooperative manner.
When you are angry at someone or about something, use the following guidelines:
When I was a child, I remember thinking to myself, “boy, if I could only have that toy, I would never want another thing the rest of my life!” Happiness was something that one has, a thing to be possessed. Of course, when I did get what I wanted the joy it brought was short-lived. How puzzling it seemed to be disappointed, disabused from what seemed sure to guarantee eternal contentment. A lesson learned throughout a lifetime, happiness is not a material object or a thing to possess. It is not an attainable state of eternal bliss, nor is it the promise of a future obtainable through the satisfaction of a desire. If not these, what then is happiness and how is it obtainable, if at all? Much attention has been given in recent years by several authors and studies to try to answer these questions. Perhaps we best start by examining the wisdom of philosophers from antiquity to modern times.
Aristotle, the great philosopher of Greek antiquity, regarded the achievement of happiness an ethical issue. To live an ethical life is to live a good life, a balanced life engaged in purposeful endeavors. Happiness, he said, is an end in itself, a purpose toward which all other endeavors, such as friendship, financial prosperity, and good health, serve. Thus, to be happy one must be engaged in life, driven toward achieving goals, and capable of appreciating the joys engagement in purposeful activity brings.
Epicurus of Samos was a philosopher who lived in the third century B.C. who believed happiness to be the goal of life itself. For Epicurus happiness is a long-term project achieved throughout a lifetime by living a simple life and avoiding extremes. A life of balance and temperance and tendering good friendships, he believed, offers one the greatest prospects of freedom from the hardships and perils that unbridled ambition and indulgence in pleasure risk.
Arthur Schopenhauer was a 19th century German philosopher who is known for helping found the movement in philosophy known as existentialism. Schopenhauer noted wryly that it is a tragedy of life that pleasures are fleeting whereas misery and suffering seem to endure forever. Life is a mortal coil in which we all are entangled and cannot escape; to invest in happiness that is derived from earthly pleasures, therefore, is doomed to bring bitter disappointment and emptiness. For Schopenhauer the solution to this tragedy is to invest in the more enduring rewards that transcend one’s biological and mundane needs, such as in the arts, humanities, and philosophical practices that promote empathy and compassion.
The Rewards of Altruism
Balance, moderation, friendship, investment in a future and in altruistic concerns, these are the themes that resonate with the great thinkers throughout civilization. Recent studies have supported these notions by and large. Living a life devoted to helping others and involvement with others builds networks of support that create purpose, a focus away from one’s personal troubles, and a lifeline that offers stability and enrichment of life. While financial security is a necessary condition to live a safe and stable life, recent studies have found that earning more than a moderate level of income does not increase one’s level of happiness over-all. Altruistic endeavors, such as contributing to charitable causes, elevate one’s self-esteem and sense of well-being.
Self Reflection To Gain Wisdom
I recently heard an ad on the radio quoting the famous pop/jazz musician, Herb Alpert, whose basic advice to artists and musicians seeking success and fulfillment in their professions is to “find your own voice.” An appreciation and knowledge of oneself and one’s own talents and limits, “know thyself,” the famous philosopher, Socrates, once advised. In order to know oneself one must first accept oneself and secondly develop the capacity for self-reflection. From the love of oneself both a generosity of spirit and capacity for self-examination grow and it is through self-reflection that one may develop a capacity for wisdom and to actualize all that one is capable of offering.
Posted by Robert Hamm, Ph.D.
These are difficult times. Experts had been warning us for some time now, it would only be a matter of time before a pandemic like the Coronavirus would arrive. The world’s population keeps growing and its mobility makes what used to be far away so much more accessible. The world we live in today is a much smaller place and with so many more people in it the likelihood of the COVID-19 pandemic we are witnessing today was a matter of inevitability. The experts tell us not to panic but how hard it is not to think about it when considering the devastation it has wrought so far on the world’s economies, transportation, and commerce industries, not to mention the health and safety of billions of people. How hard it is not to think about it when the latest news floods the channels of broadcast media each and every moment of the day and night. How seriously should we take these news announcements and how do we cope with the reality of a truly serious world situation? Anxiety about a pandemic can be more contagious than the disease itself!
First of all, experts tell us not to panic. Easier said than done. Here are some tips on how to cope with the anxiety that has gripped much of the world population as we continue to learn more about this new virus every day:
Posted by Robert Hamm, Ph.D.
Robert Hamm Ph.D