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Archive for the ‘psychology’ Category

The Power of Magic – Eight Powerful Ways to Regain your Self-Confidence

Posted by E on September 15, 2015

Young woman enjoying sunlight

Do you remember the day when you forgot how to fly? When you stopped believing that you were a secret princess spirited away from an enchanted realm? When you stopped speaking out of turn, because others told you that you were too loud?

After you stopped believing in magic, the world became a much harder and grayer place to be. When you no longer believed in your ability to make things happen as effortlessly as a child building a sand castle along the seashore, everything seemed much more complicated. More hurdles to jump, more self-help books to read, more eventual “settling” on the idea that maybe we were never “meant” to become our childhood heroes.

Little girl on a grassy hill looking into a mountain landscapeSomewhere along the densely-forested path to adulthood, your confidence in yourself got lost.

The biggest factors behind low self-confidence are Shame, Guilt and Fear. Most of these splinters were seeded in us when we were children – often by people who were damaged or frustrated in their own ways, and forced their pessimistic view of the world upon us.

Low self-confidence and self-esteem are among the most crippling personality traits you can have, because your worst enemy becomes your Self. Not a boss, a competitor or a pragmatic parent, but YOU transform into your worst obstacle. That monster sitting on your shoulder, whispering those awful things in your ear? You put it there, and it’s that voice that will limit your opportunities and jeopardize your chances of success.

girl reading a bookFive traits common in people with low self-confidence and self-esteem:

1. Taking blame when it is not their fault – being overly critical of themselves

2. Being preoccupied with negative outcomes and past failures

3. Being overly shy and reserved – fearful of new things or spontaneity

4. Doing things to please others or because they fear confrontation – staying in jobs they hate, not speaking up when saddled with extra work, remaining in abusive relationships

5. Undervaluing their own worth – working for free, being underpaid, giving their energy without compensation

How can we make-believe again?

what if fly1. Believe You Can

This is the truth: Nobody is better than you. Sure, there are people who are more proficient at certain skills than you are, just like you’re way ahead of a novice when it comes to your particular craft. But on a fundamental level – and despite the screwed-up socio-economical hierarchies we have created – all human beings are equal. There is absolutely no reason you cannot strive to become the best you can be. I don’t want to put down those who feel afraid, because I’ve known that sort of apprehension. We’ve all experienced fear – the fear of being judged, of stumbling or stuttering at the worst time, the fear of somehow failing and being seen as inferior or worthless.

I grew up in a communist country where corporal punishment was a daily occurrence. If you didn’t do your homework or forgot your notebook at home, you got the ruler over your hands or got strapped with a belt in front of the whole class. I saw a teacher once make one student strap another until he cried. Not that I was impervious myself: I was smacked in the head and had my pigtails pulled when I forgot to bring my science scrapbook to school that day. Small brutalities like this will, over time, embed microscopic fissures into your spirit. The ugly things other brutalized kids say to you, the bullies who call you horrible names – the escalation of pain and fear – further splinter your spirit.

i believe flyUntil, one day, you cease to believe in magic, in your ability to fly. You lose that fairy-tale, innocent fearlessness all children have, the faith that you can do anything. Fear and doubt replace the beauty and get internalized into your psyche, your emotional DNA. And everything that happens after that – every insignificant failure, every stumbling step, no matter how unrelated – becomes “proof” that you’re not good enough.

But what if you CAN fly? What if there really IS a higher purpose to all this – to everything that you’ve experienced, to all that heartbreak? What if you used those terrible things as motivational building blocks to keep you moving forward? You can defeat all those who harmed you in the past by becoming stronger than they are, and by achieving more than they ever will. If you don’t have the confidence to do it for yourself, do it to spite them. Fight back – as I did against those who exploited and harmed me.

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

You-never-know-how-strong-you-are2. Improve the Lives of Others

If you think that nothing you do has any impact in the world, try improving the lives of the less fortunate. Few things made me feel better as an impoverished student owing a gazillion dollars in student loans than stepping into the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre as a volunteer with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada. For the couple of hours I was there, creativity abounded – prisoners who spent all their days, weeks and years behind bars were free to get creative. They painted their nails, they sketched pictures, they talked about their lives while we thought up creative projects. One afternoon several of us volunteers arranged for a KFC party for the women – we brought in a couple of 20-piece bucket meals and the excitement and gratitude from the prisoners left all of us moved.

flying girlEven though it took a lot out of me afterwards, when leaving the prison and hearing door after automatic door slide shut behind me, I knew that I had made their lives that much better. In that moment, that was all that counted.

Later in life, I sponsored a few overseas children through organizations that allowed money to be transferred directly to a local community officer who took the child and her family shopping for necessities. For every $100 I managed to scrounge up, I would receive stacks of photographs of the family with the supplies they’d received, and heartfelt, handwritten letters of thanks. Even though I might have put that $100 toward a new dress or pair of shoes, something that might have benefited me – I derived so much more enjoyment from realizing that such a small sum of money (in western societies) can have a dramatic impact in providing impoverished people with items that I take for granted every day – like having a bed, or a rice cooker.

By working with a disadvantaged teen, or volunteering in a soup kitchen or an abused women’s shelter, you quickly begin to realize how good you have it. It’s a sobering lesson, but also one full of power. You owe it to yourself – and to those who don’t have the opportunities you do – to accomplish something that will leave the world a better place.

thinker little girl3. Empower Yourself with Knowledge

Millions of people in this world would trade places with you in a second, if given the chance. You’re literate (I assume, since you’re reading this now 🙂 ) and had the opportunity to go to school, to access a library, to live in fairly regulated, sanitary conditions. Having full bellies and amusement galore has left so many westerners complacent and superficial. With TV, the internet and our electronic gadgets – never mind YouTube and the free movie streaming sites – we are drowning in entertainment. Our society might say that it values education, books and the pursuit of knowledge, but people’s behaviour speaks to the contrary – indifference and self-centredness rules.

Just because everyone around wants to talk about what they did on the weekend or share cute kitty pics from I Can Haz Cheeseburger doesn’t mean you have to keep yourself at the same insipid level. You don’t need to enroll in formal classes, or pay for education – it’s all out there, within grasp. Hundreds of years of literature, history, art, discourse, creativity and insights…all at your fingertips. Online, in libraries, in museums… knowledge is yours for the taking. And the more you learn, the more confident you will become. The more you will understand yourself, the world you live in, and how to relate to others.

girl jumping4. Accept Who You Are

How can you grow your self-confidence and platform if your image hinges on a fabrication or an illusion? I’ve known too many people whose résumés were a lie – one woman I knew indicated she’d attended Havergal College, a private, elite Toronto high school for wealthy girls (tuition is upwards of $10,000 a semester) as well as a Swiss boarding school, when in fact she’d grown up in a Barrie, ON slum. Another person took short-term, sporadic volunteer gigs found on Workopolis and listed them as real, year-long jobs on her LinkedIn profile – tantamount to me listing myself as a correctional officer simply because I’d volunteered inside prisons, or as a legal secretary because I’d once worked in a law office.

In an age when competition is fierce, desperate people will resort to desperate things in order to make themselves be noticed. A 2012 Globe & Mail article estimated that close to 40% of job seekers lie on their resumes.

But the best way to boost your confidence is not to pad your resume, but accept who you really are. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, and minimize interactions with naysayers and pragmatic, sarcastic individuals.

Accept your good qualities and acknowledge your flaws. To believe in yourself you have no choice but to love yourself, for better or for worse.

phoenix5. Have Your Own Goals – not those others wish upon you

What gives your soul purpose and meaning? What are the things that make your spirit feel like flying? What accomplishments will make you feel like a phoenix rising out of a pond of ashes? You’ve got to figure this out, and get to it. Maybe it’s taking that once-in-a-lifetime journey, or running that marathon, or becoming proficient in a particular hobby. What you enjoy, and gives your life purpose, is what is valuable. What one person thinks is a great accomplishment might mean little to someone else – someone pursuing an MBA versus taking a year to write a novel. Value is relative, and when it comes to building your self-confidence, anything goes.

Believe-in-Magic6. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

There is only one YOU in this universe. You are unique in every way. If you think about it, everybody battles adversity – everybody at one point or another thinks, “I don’t know if I can do this.” It’s part of our human experience. And that’s perfectly okay. According to Charles Bukowski, a seriously messed-up and utterly brilliant writer, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”

emerson meme7. Have Patience & Think Differently

Pain and frustration have their purposes – they push us toward discovering new solutions, new ways of thinking that might illuminate a path previously unseen. The last thing you want to do is quit before you’ve had a chance to properly develop a proficiency and pathway toward accomplishing your dream. Just like how young teens can literally have growing pains when their bones lengthen, you too might experience negative emotions when things don’t happen right away. Sometimes you can get so frazzled by the lack of immediacy in results that you might miss an important clue sitting there, right in front of you!

Trust me – I’m probably the most impatient person you’ll ever meet. I know how waiting can feel like the most terrible thing in the world – but the rewards can often be the sweetest.

dance-in-the-rain8. Take Care of Yourself

As someone who has battled depression all my adult life, I can’t stress how important it is to make sure you look after yourself. The better you feel when you look in the mirror, the more confidence you’ll have about getting out of bed in the morning. Pay attention to your grooming. Try to exercise. Dress as nicely as you can, given your budget. There are wonderful finds for every budget. A friend of mine owns a consignment store and I’m constantly amazed at the luxurious, wonderful designer clothing that she sells for a fraction of the original prices.

Make sure you eat well and get enough rest – it might sound like really basic advice, but caring for yourself is a crucial building block toward loving yourself and developing your self-confidence.

Walt Disney, the creator of so many magical stories of our childhood, once said, The secret of making dreams come true can be summarized in four C’s: curiosity, confidence, courage and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.

You CAN fly, even on broken wings. I know you can, because I’ve seen it. The thing is, those wings are inside your mind. And that is where the magic lives – and everything is possible.

girl running  dandelion dreams

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Posted in books, inspiration, poetry, psychology, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Medicalization of Grief

Posted by E on August 29, 2015

sadness heart tree

We like to think we live in a diverse, tolerant, understanding society, when nothing could be further from the truth. The Cult of Positive Thinking has made it socially-acceptable to be shunned for expressing real emotions: sadness, grief, any manifestation of loss that isn’t perfectly encapsulated by a prescribed set time, after which you are supposed to “move on.” There are craploads of online articles that purport to answer the question “What is normal grief?” (emphasis mine), “What is the difference between grief and clinical depression”, “Grief – What’s Normal and What’s Not?” and “A Helpful Guide to Coping with Grief and Loss” – as though something like this can be easily slotted into a How-To guide. As if, you can grief for a certain period of time, dependant on the degree of closeness to the deceased, and afterwards you’re clinically abnormal if you do.

So what is “normal”? Three to six months for an elderly parent? Nine months for a spouse? One week for a pet?

Leo Dec2011 smallWhen my beloved cat Leo, who was like a child to me, had to be put down in 2012, I could tell that my grief wasn’t socially acceptable. Of course, no one actually came out to say, “It’s just a cat,” but I know that’s what they were thinking. His death affected me viscerally for two years, well past socially-acceptable norms. I didn’t think of Leo’s soul and spirit as a “cat.” He was a family member. But in our world, there is an unspoken denigration of any species other than Homo Sapiens. And in this society, nobody wants to talk about grief. After all, how long are you supposed to grieve a “pet”? A week? Is the loss even considered “serious enough” to take time off work?

What if it was a child? How long are you supposed to grieve, before you are expected to put your best face on and be a “role model” for the world? Years ago, I read about the tragic, violent death of two New York City children murdered by their live-in nanny. Stabbed to death in their bathtub, during bath time, to be precise – a violent and brutal end to lives that never had a chance to bloom. Their mother had kept a meticulous blog of their life, full of wonderful, creative activities – picnics, playdates, the best Manhattan kindergartens money could buy – and when they were murdered, social media swarmed upon those photos. There was a kind of disturbed glee at the fact that someone in an upper-class, $10,000 per month rental apartment, could suffer loss.

But loss always feels the same. Whether you’re in the lowest or highest income brackets, to lose a child – indeed, anyone you love deeply, with all your heart and soul – is the worst ache you can ever experience. And yet the expectation was that, after a certain period of grief (say, a year), the family would move on with their surviving middle child and life would go on. Indeed, they did – they established a foundation and art scholarships in the names of their dead children and nowadays are all about being positive and carrying on the dead kids’ “legacy”.

PROZAC SAMPLE ADI wonder how much of that “positivity” is the result of social expectation. If you “get over” such a tragedy, you’re a role model for “moving forward.” You get to go on talk shows and get applauded for being “strong.” If you don’t, you’re a loser who must be mentally ill. Personally, I couldn’t recover from such a loss. I’d want to die. We all die anyway, right? So why live with pain for another 40+ years (statistically speaking, based on my current age)? How does one recover from such a loss and get to be a poster child for Positive Thinking?

ritalinWe live in a fucked-up world where the DSM-5 (Psychiatry’s Holy Bible) classifies grief as a potentially-abnormal phenomenon, a mental illness to be medicalized and treated with psychotropic drugs (a billion-dollar annual industry) if need be: Prozac, Paxil, Lithium, Ridalin, and everything in between. The meds are only supposed to mask the grief that you’re not supposed to manifest in polite society, to mask the unacceptable pain we all feel but aren’t allowed to speak about.

Don’t make any assumptions about me and my stance on this field, by the way, particularly as my BA was a double major in Criminology and Psychology – essentially both being fields of study focused on classifying human beings as criminals or abnormal – but these days I wonder all sorts of things. I guess it’s understandable, especially since I’m grieving the loss of my own mother.

My mother isn’t dead – not physically, anyway. But for all intents and purposes, she is gone. Taken by a disease worse than cancer and stroke and traffic accidents and all things combined: Alzheimer’s. You see, when a person gets cancer, there is time to grieve and say goodbye. Preparations for departure get made. When it’s a car accident, the initial shock is brutal – but at least you don’t see your loved one in a vegetative state for years, trapped between here and there.

But this horrible, awful thing – nobody gets it. How could we evolve as a society in terms of human rights and technology, yet at the cost of burying our true feelings deeper and deeper?

Sadness is NORMAL. Grief doesn’t have an expiry date – it lasts as long as you feel it in your body. I experienced severe trauma in my first, formative ten years of life. It still affects me today. And it’s certainly not for a lack of counselling or Prozac. But sometimes trauma, grief and sadness can take decades to resolve. And sometimes, a part of it remains with you for life.

And that is perfectly fucking NORMAL.

Iablanita bridge 2

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

I feel like my mother is dead already, but it’s not politically-correct to mourn her yet. People don’t understand when I say that she’s gone, because technically she’s still alive. And I recognise that for as long as she’s alive, it’s socially unacceptable to grieve as though she’s dead.

And yet, she is.

My mother was an awful, abusive, neglecting parent – mostly because her own “mother” didn’t care to raise her and her father had died in her infancy. She grew up wild and feral, with no maternal instincts, and I wasn’t a planned pregnancy. And therefore I too, skinny and alone, raised my own self.

And yet today I feel something I’ve never thought I could ever wish for – that the abusive, unkind person she used to be still existed.

Iablanita bridge

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

Because I could be angry. I could hate her. Because I could try – as ineffectually as it might be – to lash out, and at least attempt to explain how her behaviour affected my life.

But all there is now is a shell – a person with the same DNA, but a body vacant of its spirit. She’s only 70 years old, but early onset Alzheimer’s has taken whatever had remained of her. I’m only grateful that, even though I had a 50-50% chance of inheriting the APOE gene from her (which she tested positive for) as well as from my maternal grandmother who also died of Alzheimer’s, my 23andme results show that I did NOT get the Alzheimer’s gene. Although it’s something that still terrifies me each time I forget someone’s name, each time I have to search my brain for a particular word.

And so yesterday, while visiting her at Mount Sinai hospital, I hand-fed her dinner and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down my face. Because she is a child now – a child who harmed me in so many ways and will never understand how she has scarred me. But now there is nobody to stand on trial, nobody to hold accountable.

So while I spooned rice, turkey mash and gravy into her shaky mouth, it dawned on me that the person who wounded me is gone. Dead. There is only a small, vulnerable child left in her place. But nobody around me understands this because, for all intents and purposes, this woman is still alive.

So perhaps I’m not supposed to grieve and mourn the death of her. After all, we’re not allowed to mourn the non-dead. To mourn longer than usual. To express any sorts of feelings of raw pain and anguish, of depression and loneliness, because there is no motive. The pain of my childhood is long behind me, right? And my “mother” is not dead. Not clinically, anyway.

And yet, I am.

.

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Profile of Psychopath vs Sociopath, and how you can tell if you’re in a relationship with one

Posted by E on February 11, 2012

Chances are, we have all encountered psychopaths in our lives, but not thought of them as so simply because when the word psychopath comes up, we think of serial killers and completely dysfunctional social rejects, not successful heads of corporations and even a boyfriend/girlfriend.

Even worse, the definition is often blurred even within the psychiatric community, with the terms sociopath and psychopath being used interchangeably. Even the very definition of psychopathology appears to evolve with each updated rendition of the DSM manual, the de facto bible of the psychiatric industry.

I’m going to take the leap and call it for what it is: for all intents and purposes, psychopaths and sociopaths are the same. They both lack emotional empathy, and are chronic liars and manipulators. They may differ only in the extent of their pathology, and as far as I’m concerned, that difference is not sufficient enough to bother differentiating them.

Now, if you know me you’ll also know that I tend to sit somewhat on the edges of the anti-psychiatry camp, in the sense that I believe too much of natural human behaviour has been syndromized and classified as mental illness when really it was just an excuse for intolerant social mores to enforce discrimination against the marginalized – case in point, homosexuality being diagnosed as an illness until the late 1970s, or the diagnosis for hysteria as a front for patronizing, patriarchal Victorian norms. And of course I am concerned now about young children being classified as ADD and Ritalinized into submission while their small brains are still developing.

However, I also recognize that brains, as transmitters of emotion and interpreters of reality, can be damaged biochemically – as a chronic sufferer of depression, I have personally witnessed how SSRIs have improved the quality of my life, albeit temporarily, hence I am not going to whole-heartedly bash the field of psychiatry. Not in its entirety, at least.

Recent research is also showing increased evidence of biological components in psychopathology – the reduction of mirror neurons in the part of the brain responsible for empathy and emotions. In other words, lack of empathy and “coldness” can be passed on from parent to child.

So how do you know if you have a psychopath (i.e. a sociopath) in your life? How can you tell if your best friend or partner might exhibit signs of this pathology? I’ve assembled a quick checklist to help clarify the profile of this type of person.

Psychopathy is defined by a pattern of interpersonal relationships, emotion, and behavior. The syndrome can be summarized as a cluster of related symptoms:

  • Glib and superficial
  • Egocentric and grandiose
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Lack of empathy
  • Deceitful and manipulative
  • Shallow emotions
  • Impulsive
  • Poor behavior controls
  • Need for excitement
  • Lack of responsibility

Lack of empathy

Psychopaths possess a general lack of empathy. At an extreme they are simply unable to understand the emotional states of other people, except in a purely detached, intellectual sense. Other people are thus little more than objects for their personal gratification. This callousness extends to everybody, family or strangers alike. They neglect other people’s needs and desire and can casually inflict cruelty. A normal, empathic person experiences distress when he observes another human in pain, but the unempathic psychopath feels nothing. Psychopaths are thus capable of stunning acts of cruelty because they are not restrained by any unpleasant reaction to their victims’ suffering.

 PROFILE OF A PSYCHOPATH

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm
  • Manipulative and Conning
    • They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.
    • Grandiose Sense of Self
    • Feels entitled to certain things as “their right.”
    • Pathological Lying
      • Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis.
      • Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
      • A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.
      • Shallow Emotions
      • When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.
      • Incapacity for Love
      • Need for Stimulation
      • Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.
      • Callousness/Lack of Empathy
        • Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others’ feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.
        • Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
          • Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.
          • Irresponsibility/Unreliability
            • Not concerned about wrecking others’ lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.
            • Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
            • Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
            • Authoritarian
            • Secretive
            • Paranoid
            • Conventional appearance
            • Incapable of real human attachment to another 

Psychopaths have only a shallow range of emotions and lack guilt. They often see themselves as victims, and lack remorse or the ability to empathize with others.

 For a psychopath, a romantic relationship is just another opportunity to find a trusting partner who will buy into the lies. It’s primarily why a psychopath rarely stays in a relationship for the long term, and often is involved with three or four partners at once. To a psychopath, everything about a relationship is a game.

In the romance department, psychopaths have an ability to gain your affection quickly, disarming you with words, intriguing you with grandiose plans. If they cheat you’ll forgive them, and one day when they’ve gone too far, they’ll leave you with a broken heart. By then they’ll have a new player for their game.

 Where everyone occasionally tells a white lie, a psychopath’s lying is compulsive. Most of us experience some degree of guilt about lying, preventing us from exhibiting such behavior on a regular basis. Psychopaths don’t discriminate who it is they lie to or cheat. There’s no distinction between friend and family.

Anyway, I hope this entry will help provide you with additional clarity in terms of what defines a psychopath. It is estimated that psychopaths make up as high as 4% of the population, which results in millions of people around us who reflect these psychological traits. If you suspect that someone close to you is a psychopath, remember that by the time they reach their teenage years the behaviour has become permanent. You cannot change who they are – you can only protect yourself and walk away from damaging relationships with such emotionally-disturbed, cruel and emotionally-harmful people.

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