Life Ain’t For Sissies*

Ideas from psychology that make life better. Most posts are observations, derived from my work as a clinical psychologist, teacher, writer, and aging adult. Please join the dialogue. You can subscribe to my blog and have it delivered by pressing the orange button above and to the right.

*a nod to Bette Davis, who is reported to have said, “Old age ain’t for sissies.”

A Quick Tip To Improve Communication

 Many couples come into my office and describe their problem as “communication,” a vague concept. In this post, I would like to describe one way for people to improve their general communication with each other. This works for Young elephants wrestlingtalking with friends, family, co-workers; I just see it more often between partners.
      Think about your communication (the messages that you send) with your partner along this continuum:
 
Positive———————–Neutral———————-Negative
      Your first goal in improving general communication is to be clear about whether you are sending Positive, Neutral, or Negative messages.  Here is an example:
      Imagine that you are home with your partner and child.  As usual, it has been a busy day; you are all tired but there are still things to take care of before you can fall into bed.  You ask your partner (maybe yelling from another room):  “Did you call the electrician?”
      Did you REALLY mean:
1. You idiot. Take some responsibility.  I told you to call – I’ve done all the other calls, or
2. I am reminding you to call the electrician but I am being subtle, or
3. I am collecting information so I know what is going on about the appt.
      Answer #1 indicates that you figure that your partner forgot to call and you are irritated.  “Did you call” was not really a question; it was a criticism poorly disguised as a question. Negative end of the communication spectrum.
      Answer #2 indicates that “Did you call” was not a real question either.  It is a nudge because you don’t totally trust your partner to take care of it. Negative end of the communication spectrum.
      Answer #3 is a real question, a neutral question, to gain information so you can proceed (to call, to remind your partner to call, to relax, to get angry). Neutral area of the communication spectrum
       Your first goal is to be clear.  Your second goal is to get more of your communication into NEUTRAL.  Most people are busy so, if you have a criticism, say so. Try to be  polite, but don’t pretend that you are asking a legitimate question.i.e. “I’m concerned that you never called the electrician and we have a problem that needs fixing.” Then your partner can rely on your communication – questions are questions, comments and criticisms are clear. No one likes to be criticized but it helps when you know what is going on.

Unconsciously Knowing When Someone Lies

Lying and ‘fake news’ dominates the internet, TV, and print. Therefore, it seems appropriate the look at some of the science of lies. Here’s the first…

Studies have found that we are not very good at detecting lies. We think we are, but we are wrong. In experimental conditions, we guess right about half the time –

Radiated Ratsnake, Copperhead Racer - Elaphe radiataoko_1oko_1same as flipping a coin.  I’m sure the odds go up when you know the person very well, but when you don’t, it’s guesswork on the conscious level. Anyway, back to the unconscious.

Researchers at Berkeley tried tapping into the unconscious with an experiment that went as follows:

  1. Subjects were shown videos – half were liars and half were truth tellers.
  2. Subjects guessed whether they were told the truth or a lie.
  3. They guessed correctly less than half the time

However, the subjects were then asked to do a work task which involved clumping words together, i.e. truth words such as honest or valid, and lie words such as dishonest. When they saw quick pictures of the truth tellers, they chose truth words.   When pictures of the liars were flashed, subjects gravitated toward the lie words. The researchers conclude that we unconsciously pick up cues. Maybe this is what people really mean when they talk about ‘my gut’ or ‘my instinct’. I’ve always been a believer in the unconscious; accessing it is the problem, but this is a nice study. A second experiment confirmed these findings.

So, I’ve been flashing pictures of my books as you read this. I’m sure you are headed directly to Amazon.com to stock up on all of them.

Source: L Brinke. Psychological Science

‘Tis The Season: 6 Tips For Roommate Management

These are the weeks when college students move into dorm rooms and apartments. Freshman are the newest people at sharing close quarters. Everyone moves in with high hopes and good intentions, but…. Years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I moved into Towers dormitory at Boston University, I had incredibly high expectations for a warm, long-lasting friendship with my freshman roommate.  We never go close to that goal – in fact, eventually we stopped short of being civil – and I was way more than 50% to blame. I’ve thought about it a lot in the years since…

so here are  tips that may help you (or a freshman you love) to begin with awareness and intention.

  1. You have all sorts of expectations, whether you know it or not. Try to bring them into your awareness so you can deal with them.
  2. Keep assumptions to a minimum; deal with reality.
  3. Keep lines of communication open.  Don’t assume, ask.  People are different and you can preempt problems by communicating well.
  4. Talk about problems as they arise, while they are still small.  Don’t let them build up until they boil over.
  5. It is okay if you are not alike.  Concentrate on each other’s strengths, not each other’s weaknesses.
  6. Be intentional about how you intend to use the room.  Have a meeting; have them regularly if you need to.  When you get clear plans about sleep, noise, visitors, and all the other things that shared space requires, you have a framework to depend on. Later, you can diffuse arguments by going back to your plan.   Good luck

Daily Acts

After attending a friend’s big birthday party, my daughter Keira mentioned that the young woman’s mother was not supportive.  As a knee-jerk reaction, always protective of moms, I said (without thinking), “Oh, she loves so-and-so.  She’d lay down on the railroad tracks for her kids.”(My fondness for analogies can get out of hand) 

Keira gave me that squint eyed look that smart daughters give to mothers who speak out of turn and said, And how often do you think that will be required?  What about the lack of daily support?”

It’s a good point.  It’s an excellent point.  As parents, we do not build relationships with the grand gesture.  We build relationships with our children during every conversation, at each meal, during each phone call, with each laugh or hug, and by trying to understand who they are and what they need.  Of course, this story goes way beyond parents and children. Our lives are collection of daily acts.  Maybe there will be an heroic gesture thrown in but, mostly we build our lives with day by day, ordinary interactions. Now that I think about it, this doesn’t even have to be human thing – we don’t become educated by reading one gigantic book. Even plants – beautiful flowers don’t grow because they were showered by one impressive thunderstorm and then neglected for the rest of the season. I know, you get it – time to stop with the analogies………

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What Makes A Friend?

So, I’ve been thinking about what makes an old friend very special.  Of course, the best way to reflect on this topic is with my oldest friend, Hedda Leonard.  Here is our list, complied by sending emails back and forth between Evanston, IL and Southbury, CT.   We are very different women who met as 5 year olds, became inseparable through high school, traveled divergent paths geographically, emotionally, and professionally but still have our regular reunions and have managed to keep a loving friendship going for more than 50 years.

What has made us old friends?

Linda:  We could depend on each other, with childish exceptions, from the time we were 5 years old until the day we left for different colleges.

Hedda: You could make me laugh longer and harder than anyone could.  That’s reason enough for falling (and staying) in love.

Linda:  I used to be a scaredy-cat kid, but felt very bold when we were making mischief together.

Hedda: It was so easy to be at your house, playing, eating, sleeping.  I didn’t have to watch my step (my mother’s presence) or watch my back (my sister’s presence).  I was safe.

Linda: I used to feel like you were my other half; everything was better and easier when we were doing it together

Hedda:  Your home was warm and friendly; there was laughter and conversation.  I was always welcome. You made me part of your family.  I belonged.

It looks like we fulfilled different needs for each other as kids.  Let’s see how Hedda and I stack up against the research. After we made our notes, I found the book, Children’s Friendships by Zick Rubin and did my homework.

Researchers have found that even toddlers exhibit strong preferences for certain playmates over others and, when separated, show distress. (We did)  When you ask a 3 ½ year old, “What is a friend?” you might hear, “We’re friends now because we know each other’s names.”  At eight years old, the answer changes and becomes, “Friends don’t argue with you.  If you are nice to them, they will be nice to you.” (Eh).  At thirteen, “A friend is someone who you can share secrets with at 3 in the morning with Clearasil on your face.” (We did, but not at 3 am – no cell phones)

Young children (ages 3-5) see friends as physical playmates. A fine recommendation is, “plays a lot” just as, “she takes things away from me” is a poor reference.  At this age, they may have enduring relationships, but cannot characterize them as such.  The older child (ages 11-12) understands friendship to involve time spent together with intimate and mutual sharing.  A best friend is often our first experience with loving someone outside our family. Friends help development. Even in children, a best friend brings out sensitivity to another person, the desire to contribute to the happiness of someone else, and willingness to support another person.  Here’s to old friends!!!!

Any comments about your old friend?

Data was taken from Rubin’s book,  Children’s Friendships (Harvard University Press, 1980).

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – part 2

Yesterday, I explained a little bit about obsessions. Today, I want to describe the other half of OCD, compulsions.

Compulsions are the acts or rituals that people use in attempts to relieve their obsessive thoughts.  Obsessions can be very tormenting and compulsions are failed attempts to quiet and calm those awful thoughts and feelings.

Common categories of compulsions are:

  1. Incessantly arranging things
  2. Extreme cleaning and grooming behavior
  3. Touching objects in a particular way or order
  4. Checking doors, locks, stove, windows, keys
  5. Undue tidiness or orderliness
  6. Checking to be sure that you haven’t done harm.

OCD may be partly inherited, may be learned, may have developed as a result of early experiences, or exists as an element of personality – no one knows for sure.  Children who distrust relationships and who have been frustrated in their attempts to exert control over their environment may become more controlling of themselves as adults.  In this way, early learning, experiences and temperament can be seen to influence later behaviors. OCD can be treated with therapy and medications.  Over the years, I have seen remarkable improvement in both therapy techniques and varieties of medications.  Get help.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – part 1

We are all creatures of habit. After writing about superstition, OCD comes to mind because it is the mental disorder most closely tied to superstition – OCD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

As creatures of habit,  we tend to repeat certain behaviors, wear lucky clothes, or organize our lives into patterns.  Sometimes this goes beyond habit and become a serious problem – obsessive compulsive disorder.

When you shower 3X a day, brush your teeth so often that you have rubbed the enamel off your teeth, undress in the hall so you don’t bring dirt into the house, check the door 15X before you leave the house, count words in your head, or can’t sleep until you have meticulously lined up everything in your room, you may have slipped out of the range of normal habits and into obsessive compulsive disorder.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) has 2 components – the obsessions and the compulsions.  OCD causes people to be plagued by repetitive thoughts (obsessions) and/or to repeat certain rituals (compulsions).

Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts that are often frightening.  People generally cannot ignore them.  The thoughts get better and worse depending on your levels of stress.

Common categories of obsessive thinking:

  1. Fear of people or the environment contaminating you with dirt, germs, body waste or fluids.
  2. Excessive worry that a task was done poorly
  3. Extreme need for order
  4. Fear of thinking evil thoughts
  5. Fear of having committed a crime
  6. Repeated, excessive sexual thoughts
  7. Concerns with certain sounds, words or numbers

Tomorrow, compulsions……..

 

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