The Disaster Of Politeness

Most of us have been taught to be polite.  We are drilled with the belief that hurting anyone’s feelings is bad thing to do.  We are cautioned to “play nice”, “be nice”, “don’t be mean”.  I will admit publicly, for the very first time, that in 8th grade at Horace Mann School inn New Jersey, I was voted “most polite”.  Well, with credentials like that, I certainly have the right to post an article about the other side of politeness. I am not going to advocate meanness or bad manners.  I do however, want to point out that there is a dark side to every good quality, and here is the dark side of politeness.

Women’s ability to protect themselves from sexual assault decreases under certain conditions:

  1. When she is conflicted about what to do in the situation, her assertive resistance decreases.  She is more likely to resist politely or go along with his sexual advances.
  2. When she is uncertain about her own wishes, she offers only polite resistance.
  3. When she is in shock, she becomes increasingly passive.

Women especially, suffer from politeness.  Because they have been trained not to hurt anyone’s feelings, they become too passive when they are confused or uncertain.  They want men to like them.  For some women, particularly those with a history of childhood sexual victimization, their appraisal of a situation may be faulty.  They may misread a man’s sexual intentions.

I have listened to many, many stories of unwanted sexual behavior, coercion and assault.  These accounts come from smart, savvy women who, too often, say that they ignored their own wishes because, “I didn’t want to hurt his feelings,”  “I wasn’t sure,” or  “I didn’t want to be rude.” And then, some guy reads her passivity as consent and the hunt is on.  This is what I mean when I say that  the lovely qualities of politeness and kindness towards other people have a dark side – they prevent people from acting on their own behalf.

The above examples are extreme, I know, but tone them down and you still have a problem of ignoring your own well being because you are reluctant to make some other person uncomfortable, angry, frustrated or embarrassed.

Three Women: A Parable of Difference

Three good women are walking in the woods along the river bank, talking and enjoying each other’s company.  Suddenly, they hear a splash and a frightened yell. The three of them rush to the spot where the noise came from and see that a young girl has fallen into the water.   She is struggling.  Working together, the three women make a human chain from the safety of the trees on the bank to the girl.  The woman in the water reaches her and the others pull them both to safety on the shore.

Seeing that she was safe and unharmed, the first woman hurried away. “Where are you going?” called one of her friends. “I’m going to find her parents,” she answered.

The second woman rose to go. “I’m going to find the park service people and talk to them about safety.”

The third woman, sitting on the wet grass with the girl looked at her and said, “And I’m going to teach you how to swim………….”

I heard this story a long time ago.  I like it because all the women are good, all of them are correct, and all are admirable. It reminds me that (once the girl is safe), there aren’t a lot of rights and wrongs. We all have different ways of solving problems, of prioritizing our tasks, and we have different beliefs about help, using our skills, and the future.

Hidden Signs Of Depression

In a recent study, using data from almost 7 million Americans (4 surveys), the author, Dr. Jean Twenge, wrote, “ This study shows an increase in symptoms dreamstimefree_1207893.jpg griefmost people don’t even know are connected with depression, which shows that adolescents and adults really are suffering more.”

People did not seems to understand that these can be symptoms of depression:

  1. Poor appetite
  2. Problems sleeping
  3. Lack of concentration
  4. Restlessness
  5. Feeling overwhelmed

Overt symptoms, such as suicidal ideation, became less evident and the symptoms above became more obvious.

Source: Jean Twenge 2014 Time period and birth cohort differences in depressive symptoms in the US 1982-2013

Forgiveness: Let Go and Heal

Today I am writing about how to forgive. Okay, that might be impossible, but at least, I am writing about ways that allow you to move forward with forgiveness. We all want to move into next year feeling lighter and free from old hurts. This post follows yesterday’s. How can you forgive someone who has harmed you? dreamstimefree_654445 hatched eggs

1. Instead of taking strong personal offence, find the impersonal in the hurt. You do this when you recognize that some (maybe much) of the hurtful event had nothing to do with you. You understand that something bad happened but the past cannot be changed. Instead of dwelling on this offence, concentrate on all that is good in your life. When you feel disappointed, limit dwelling on disappointing thoughts.

2. Make a plan to improve your life instead of blaming the offender for how you feel. In

the short run, blame feels good because your hurt becomes someone else’s responsibility but ultimately, blame is useless. Having a plan to improve your life is healing. Holding on to blame keeps you stuck and attached to the person or event. It keeps you vulnerable and helpless. You make someone else powerful. Take the power back. Refocus your emotion with the following techniques:

Be grateful

Remember the good, beauty, and kindness in life

Learn to slow down and breathe

It does NOT mean that what happened is your fault; just that you have to be in charge of how you think, behave and feel today.

3. Give up your grievance story by learning a different story. Stop using the old ways that probably never worked.

These ideas are taken from Dr. Fred Luskin’s work. I would like to hear your experience – and so would many others.

5 Components Of Forgiveness

How do we forgive people who have wronged us? How do we move on?  It is certainly a process that takes time and energy. Since the new year is only days away,  and we all want to be able to feel free going into 2015, it seems like the right time to talk about forgiveness for two days.   Today, in the lists below, I have made a small beginning by spelling out what forgiveness is, and what forgiveness is not.

Chicago Botanic Gaardens

Forgiveness is:

1. A method (a process) of coping with your hurt and your experience of being treated poorly.

2. For your benefit, not anyone else’s; it is not for the person who hurt you.

3. A different way to think about your emotions and actions toward the person who offended you.

4. A way to let go of some bitterness.

5. A way to feel freer from the hurt and offenses done to you.

Here is a definition of Forgiveness that I like. 

“Forgiveness is letting go of negative feelings (i.e. hostility), negative thoughts (i.e. revenge), and negative behaviors (i.e. talking badly) in response to genuine injustice against you. You may, or may not, eventually respond positively toward the offending person.”

Whenever I talk about forgiveness in meetings or in groups, someone always asks, “What if I can’t forget?” or, “Does this mean that I have to excuse the behavior that hurt me?”

Forgiveness IS NOT

1. Forgetting – you do not have to make yourself forget the behavior or its consequences.

2. Condoning – you do not have to say or believe that the behavior was okay with you.

3. Accepting its continuation – you do not have to continue to tolerate the behavior.

4. Denying – you do not have to deny or overlook the behavior.

Tomorrow, The Basic Principles of Forgiveness and How We Got Into That Mess (in the first place)

The definition of forgiveness comes from M. Rye and K. Pargament’s article, “Forgiveness and Romantic Relationships in College: Can it Heal the Wounded Heart?” Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2002, v. 54 pp.419-441.

Gifts That We Grow Into (first published 12/25/10)

When I was ‘sweet’ sixteen, my parents bought me a long strand of pearls. The necklace was, and remained for years, my only piece of “real” jewelry.  At the time, I was told that the pearls ought to be worn, not put away, and that their color would change subtly according to my skin. However, I don’t remember ever wearing the pearls in high school or college – they never went with the preppy, then hippy, outfits I preferred.pearls over black gloves

But, the pearls always traveled with me and I did grow into them. Years later, when I was getting my Ph.D., my mother visited me in Evanston. She was sick at that time and gave me her jewelry and the few pieces left by my grandmother.  The pearls had company – I now had a beautiful, meaningful, small collection of ‘real’ jewelry.  Right after her visit, my friend Carol had a wedding to attend in Pennsylvania. Her Quaker upbringing had not provided pearls at sixteen so I easily offered her my pearls for the weekend.  They looked lovely on her.  The gesture, genuine at first, left me with second thoughts.  After Carol left for her weekend wedding, I tormented myself with scenarios of her losing the pearls, mistreating them, breaking the strand and watching them roll away, unable to recapture them.  I imagined that she would misplace them or lose her suitcase during the flight. I was as overcome with regret as if I had already lost the pearls.

On Monday, just before Carol returned to town, I unexpectedly had to take my daughter to the pediatrician. We were only gone for an hour.  As soon as we returned home, the house felt bad to me and as I walked through the rooms, I knew we had been burglarized.  The thieves were selective – money and jewelry.  I had little money.  They took all my jewelry.  They left the TV that I didn’t watch and ignored the stereo whose multitude of buttons I never learned to operate.  My jewelry box was emptied.  All of it: mine, my mother’s, my grandmother’s and my aunt’s jewelry – gone and never recovered.

Within hours, the pearls came back to me from Pennsylvania.  I still have them; I still treasure them.  My daughters like this story.  So do I.  What I gave away, was returned to me.  It’s a holiday story – it’s an everyday story.

Quiz: Are You A Perfectionist?

Professor Gordon Flett of York University provides: chgo botanic garden 9-10 045

* Ten Signs Your a Perfectionist

1. You can’t stop thinking about a mistake you made.

2. You are intensely competitive and can’t stand doing worse than others.

3. You either want to do something “just right” or not at all.

4. You demand perfection from other people.

5. You won’t ask for help if asking can be perceived as a flaw or weakness.

6. You will persist at a task long after other people have quit.

7. You are a fault-finder who must correct other people when they are wrong.

8. You are highly aware of other people’s demands and expectations.

9. You are very self-conscious about making mistakes in front of other people.

10. * You noticed the error in the title of this list.

Be honest, how many signs rang a bell for you?

source: Flett et al, 2014.


What happens when we hear shocking news? When the news is unexpected, when we have no time to  prepare ourselves, when we have no opportunity to hanging threadrehearse or accustom ourselves to a big change – we can be shocked. Shock can be the response to bad news, like an unexpected accident or death, but shock can also occur as a reaction to good news, like winning the lottery.

The results of shock are often:

1. feeling physical sensations, such as a punch, uneven breathing, or falling down.

2. experiencing a sense of unreality – it isn’t happening. Your mind is saying, ‘no’.

3. slowness in comprehending the news or confusion.

4. numbness of emotion; not feeling very much at all.

These are involuntary, protective responses. your mind cannot absorb the magnitude of the change so you take it in a little bit at a time. Don’t worry when this happens; the reaction is normal and you will slowly (it might take weeks) comprehend the reality of the news.

Shattered: How Parents Cope With The Death Of Their Child

IMG_1935Shattered: How Parents Cope With The Death Of Their Child is now available on

I am pleased at the reception of my new book. If you know anyone who might benefit from reading it, please pass along the information.

5 Ways To Be A Friend During Grief

We have all seen our friends suffering over a loss, and we feel helpless watching and not to knowing what to say or do. dreamstimefree_1207893.jpg griefThere is no “right” or “perfect” way to be of help.  You can’t undo the loss, return the person to life or health, or repair the damage.  You cannot even take away the pain that accompanies loss.  But you can, by your words and presence, reassure your friend of caring and support as she or he goes forward.

As much as our hearts ache, we often feel awkward.  What should I say?  Not say?  What if I say the wrong thing?  Here are 5 tips to help you to be comforting during a time of grief and sadness.

1. People who are grieving don’t always remember everything that happens but they do remember basic acts of kindness – a casserole, a visit, a text, an errand taken care of, phone calls made on their behalf, babysitting or dog walking. Simple, kind and useful.

2. It is okay to simply say, “I’m sorry” or “I’m sad” or “I’ll be here for you” or say nothing.  Less is more.  It is better to stay away from long stories or compassion in the form of, “I know what you are going through” (maybe you do and maybe you don’t).

3. Take your cues from your friend who is grieving – does she want you to talk, be quiet, listen, stay, go, or wash the dishes.

4. Go easy on giving advice unless you are asked. Stay away from “It will go away”, “You’ll get over it” types of statements – these comments feel like you are minimizing the loss.

5. Gently stay in touch.  A minute call or voice mail that says, “I’m thinking about you,” might be all that is needed.  But STAY in touch, don’t abandon them now.

Primarily, you are letting your friend know that she is not completely alone and that WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.