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.”
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.
- 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.
- Keep assumptions to a minimum; deal with reality.
- Keep lines of communication open. Don’t assume, ask. People are different and you can preempt problems by communicating well.
- Talk about problems as they arise, while they are still small. Don’t let them build up until they boil over.
- It is okay if you are not alike. Concentrate on each other’s strengths, not each other’s weaknesses.
- 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
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………
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).
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:
- Incessantly arranging things
- Extreme cleaning and grooming behavior
- Touching objects in a particular way or order
- Checking doors, locks, stove, windows, keys
- Undue tidiness or orderliness
- 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.
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:
- Fear of people or the environment contaminating you with dirt, germs, body waste or fluids.
- Excessive worry that a task was done poorly
- Extreme need for order
- Fear of thinking evil thoughts
- Fear of having committed a crime
- Repeated, excessive sexual thoughts
- Concerns with certain sounds, words or numbers
I confess, I am a devotee of lists. Lists are my friends. I take great satisfaction in making lists of things, and then I enjoy crossing these items off my list, one by one. I will not admit or deny that I add things to my list just so I can have the pleasure of crossing them off. I have my standards. I cannot add a chore to the list I made today if that task was completed last week. However, I can add very short tasks (inhale, exhale) if I need more guaranteed check marks or a boost to my self esteem. For those of you who also love lists, you do not need to read further, but you are probably the only people who will keep reading.
I don’t expect everyone to be this nutty, but I may be able to convince you that lists can be very useful. Here’s the trick – think of lists as a compilation of things you WANT to do, not things that you have to do. For example, I have “Watch Project Runway,” on this weekend’s list. I also have laundry, pay bills, and sweep the garage on the list and they are not quite as appealing as things-to-do, but I do want to get them done and will be pleased when I have finished.
Tips for list making:
- Most importantly, have enough things on your list that you WANT to do, like, “Shop for a camel jacket.” I was able to check that off rather quickly.
- Decide if your list is for a day, week, or six months and make the number of chores appropriate.
- If you need to carry things over from one list to another, do it – so what.
- Be reasonable. For a daily list, don’t write, “Lose 8 lbs.” Maybe you want to say, “Eat a salad” or “Go for a walk.”
- Lists that are ridiculously impossible only make you feel bad; they don’t work. Keep it somewhat reasonable.
- You are the boss. Change your list if you need to. After all, this is not homework for 6th grade and your teacher isn’t watching.
- Break things down into small steps (baby steps). For example, my monthly list has, “Paint the dining room,” but this weekend has, “Take down the cabinet.” The full week’s list has, “Pick paint color, Buy paint, Tape woodwork” – very possible with llots of check marks.
Lists work. They get the chores out of your head and on paper; you can think about other things; you won’t forget; you are focused; you feel organized; and you will get more done. Tell me about your lists and share your tips.