I’ve warmed a lot of therapists’ office chairs since then, and experimented with various strategies at different times. I’ve journaled and created rituals and signed contracts. I talked to the empty chair and my inner child. I’ve projected and rejected and introspected. It’s been a lifeline and hobby.
My therapists all dabbled in an array of theories and practices, but the one they all had in common, and that has provided me with the most useful tools, is cognitive therapy, which addresses thinking patterns.
Nothing newfangled about cognitive therapy. Psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck first proposed it in the 1960s. It grew popular in the 1970s, and today is it’s the go-to for efficient therapy. One recent study finds it’s even helpful to people with schizophrenia. If it can help that kind of disordered thinking, it can help anyone.
When a surprise invitation or opportunity appears, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll pass it up. Maybe even 60/40. Maybe even more, but I don’t want to admit that to myself.
Spontaneity is a good thing. I know this because in romance movies, guys always dump their tightly-wound girlfriends for kooky, devil-may-care, spontaneous girls.
And I can see for myself that spontaneous people lead colorful lives full of surprise.
My life is pretty interesting, but it’s more a trip on a lazy river than a thrilling tumble down whitewater rapids.
Is that OK?
Since I wrote this post, Frank Warren has had to withdraw the Post Secret app because people just couldn’t play nicely.
When Frank Warren launched the Post Secret blog in 2004, it was a lark. “A creative prank,” he calls it. He gave out 3,000 postcards to strangers around Washington D.C., and asked each person to write a secret on it and mail it to him. And they did. And people still do.
To date, Warren has received more than half a million secrets. Enough to fill four bestselling books (and then some). Once a week, he posts a carefully curated selection on the blog. Sunday Secrets is a highlight of my week.
Some of the cards are scrawled, many are works of art. The secrets are sad, funny, shocking, about love and sex, loneliness and anger, moral slips and personal habits.
Today’s guest blogger is Lara Mayeux, PhD, a developmental psychologist and associate professor at the University of Oklahoma. Lara studies peer relations among children and adolescents. Her specialty is popularity, which is a hot field of research; she co-edited a book of theory and analysis titled Popularity in the Peer System. The book is aimed at academics, but Lara is also a mother who here connects research and mother love.
Today I taught a graduate class on attachment theory, and at the end of a particularly intense discussion about maternal sensitivity and fostering emotional security in children, one of the students looked at me and said, “It must be really hard to be a developmental psychologist and a mother.”
My initial reaction was Yes, yes, it is, it’s the hardest thing. Thank you for letting me admit that. Being a developmental psychologist—an academic one, meaning teaching courses in the field and doing my own research as well—means that I’m aware of many of the (seemingly thousands) of ways I can screw up my own two little girls.
But it also means that I understand the opposite—the ways in which I can try to facilitate healthy development and positive outcomes.
The resort has in-room WiFi, but I’ve decided to cut myself off and leave my computer at home. No working. No googling, no Facebook, no Twitter, no blogging (look for guest posts next week). Radio silence.
It sounds great, right?
Then why does the thought fill me with anxiety?
Am I addicted to the Internet?
Woody Allen’s most recent film, Midnight in Paris is a perfect story.
Not the romance stuff so much. All that’s OK. As always, the Woody Allen character (played by Owen Wilson) is found irresistible by young and beautiful women. Ho hum. Right. It’s his movie, he can do whatever he wants with that.
But the way Allen handled the premise of longing for the past dazzled me. Yes, of course. That’s exactly how it is.
Nostalgia is seductive. We yearn and yearn for bygone days, when life was simpler, or more creative, or more exciting, or more…whatever. Whatever we need at the moment.
Are those good old days really that much better, or is it just easier to imagine they are because we can “remember” only what we choose to?
Here’s comforting news: When crappy things happen to us, it appears there’s a something deep inside us—so deep it’s beneath our consciousness—that says, “Cheer up, little soldier. Things aren’t that bad.”
An article in the journal Emotion details nine experiments conducted by a team of six researchers, including a couple who have caught my attention before: Roy Baumeister, who taught me how to put down a torch, and Jean Twenge, who writes about narcissism.
The article is titled “Automatic Emotion Regulation After Social Exclusion: Tuning to Positivity.”
The researchers used social exclusion to test their theories because they know that social exclusion has a lot of power to make us feel bad. They write:
…The need to belong is the most basic human need…social exclusion is such a potent threat that it activates mechanisms designed for the detection and regulation of physical pain …
Prolonged social exclusion makes people feel really, really bad. Nobody doubts that. But research on “acute exclusion experiences” (i..e. not being invited to go to lunch with the gang one day) is less definitive. It seems acute exclusion experiences are more likely to be met with a shrug, or “emotional detachment.”
These researchers propose and find evidence that when we experience acute exclusion, emotions beneath our consciousness accentuate the positive, presumably to help us bear up.
In my last post, I wrote about what happens when I compare myself to other authors. To quote myself (how uncool is that?):
I can be demotivated in my writing by reading something really, really excellent. I get all hopeless and Eeyore about my own talent. And bad writing isn’t motivating. Being better than terrible is too easy. I get most fired up by mediocre writing, which gives me a just-right goal to shoot for. I want to be better than mediocre.
I recently stumbled upon research that appears to explain some of this.
The researchers, who have done all kinds of interesting work on envy*, find that “benign envy” is more motivating than all-out admiration or “malicious envy.”
Why is it, then, that ten instances of praise can be completely canceled out (in my head) by one good criticism?
And by good, I mean on the mark and not stupid. Because, of course, the criticism that hurts the most is the criticism that we know, deep down, is accurate.
Praise is nice but mostly rolls off my back while one solid criticism—even sensitively expressed–can put me in the fetal position.
New research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that sharing negative views of a third party brings two people closer together than sharing positive views.
It seems that expressing a mildly negative opinion will make another person feel that he or she knows you—perhaps because positivity is a default in polite society and may or may not be the truth. A little negativity seems like a peek inside your private thoughts. (This has limits: mild negativity worked, very negative feelings were a turn-off.)
I’m pretty cool with negativity and believe there’s a place in the world for pessimism.