Archive for the ‘ psychology ’ Category


A friend recently sent me an article on why self-disciplined people are happier than and not as deprived as some people think.

Psychologically speaking, the immediacy of a short-term (small) reinforcement is infinitely more powerful and reinforcing than a long-term (enormous) negative consequence.  Hence the reason why smokers don’t quit smoking, at least not very easily: the immediacy of the (relatively small) “fix” from the cigarette is much more powerful than the (enormous) long-term negative consequence of poor health, lung cancer, etc.

“Discipline,” the way I have always defined it, is being able to place higher value on the long-term reinforcement (e.g. living a long, healthy life with clear lungs) and lower value on the “pain” of forgoing the immediate reinforcement.  I am thankful that I am “disciplined,” as it were, because like the article said, I think in the long run I am happier and healthier and avoid certain problems.  I feel like this is just the way God wired me, it isn’t something I make an effort to do, per se.  That’s why it is a bit strange when people tell me that I am disciplined as if it is a compliment, because to me, it’s just the way I am wired and it comes naturally to me.

In contrast, while there is debate as to whether there is truly an “addictive personality,” in my mind, the characteristically defining feature of an addictive personality is the inability or at least the extreme difficulty of weighing the future consequence into the equation at all.  The power of the immediate reinforcement is even greater than for the average person, and the long-term negative consequence just doesn’t exist.  I have read that an addict has a different concept of time than the average person, that for the addict, nearly all thinking is about the present or very near future.  Delays and the distant future have no place in an addict’s mind.  There is a great misunderstanding about addiction: addiction has little to do with substance abuse (the behavior) and nearly everything to do with thinking and psychology.  Thus, someone can be clean from drug use but still an addict, because of his/her pattern of thinking.

Some people say I am disciplined because I eat very healthy and I exercise every day.  In part, it is because I place a higher value on the long-term positive benefits, but there are also short-term and more immediate benefits, as well.  If there weren’t, I don’t think I would stick with it.  For instance, it’s just simpler to eat the same thing every day, it’s less of a hassle.  I enjoy the feeling of having my endorphins kicking around in my body when I exercise, I like being able to sleep more soundly and restfully, I like the feeling of being physically active after a long day in front of my computer.

Incidentally, I have heard it said, and now I truly believe that there is such a thing as a sugar addiction.  For a few months, my husband brought home a lot of sweets (apple pie, brownies), and I started eating some of those sweets in the evenings.  I’m not even sure why I ate them, just because they were there, I guess.  He finally said he wanted to cut back, so he stopped bringing home these types of sweets.  For a week or two, I experienced a sugar craving each evening.  Eventually, the craving subsided, but it was weird because I don’t even like sweets all that much, but I saw how I became addicted to the sugar.



My friend Emily*, as we were discussing relationships at lunch one day, likened emotional health to a cup of whatever yummy beverage you prefer. If you are emotionally healthy, your cup (your psychological well-being) will be ¾ full, and other people and relationships will be like the whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles on top. If you are emotionally unhealthy, your cup will be ¼ cup full, and you will look to others to fill you, thereby draining those people in the process, and you will end up feeling just as empty as before.

The difficulty in being a perfectionist is that I expect my cup to be 100% full. I expect myself to be completely emotionally healthy, to never feel insecure or anxious or discouraged, to never need others, to never long, want, hunger, need. But of course no one can be completely emotionally healthy, because we live in a broken world, one in which we were not originally designed to live.

We were designed to live in a perfect world, and the reason we long for more is that this world falls far short of our original intention.

I am learning to accept my imperfections, though it is difficult because I am so idealistic.

¾ cup full:
1. Has flexible boundaries
2. Is able to give and accept constructive criticism
3. Sees self as a survivor
4. Lives with structure and balance
5. Promotes self-esteem and sense of worth in self and others
6. Provides safety, warmth, and nurturance
7. Makes others feel valued and important
8. Feels free to express thoughts and emotions
9. Words and actions are congruent.

¼ cup full
1. Has no boundaries or extremely rigid boundaries
2. Is critical, jealous, and possessive of others
3. Sees self as victim
4. Lives on the extremes, life is chaotic
5. Perceives rejection or abandonment, even when it is not there
6. Is insecure, gives off atmosphere of being unsafe and threatening, takes advantage of others
7. Feels empty inside and drains others
8. Out of touch with feelings, numb
9. Words and actions are incongruent and inconsistent

*Names have been changed.

Know Yourself

I spend a lot of time thinking about emotional health: what it is, how to attain it, how to explain it.

In conducting research, it appears that emotional health is not clearly defined. One can recognize emotional healthiness (or lack thereof) by its “symptoms,” the way a person behaves, feels, and reacts to situations, but emotional health itself is an elusive quality.

For instance, emotional health may be characterized by resilience, the ability to laugh, having a sense of meaning and purpose, knowing oneself, feeling comfortable with one’s strengths and weaknesses, having balance between work and play, having meaningful relationships with others, and having high self-confidence.

Emotional unhealth, on the other hand, may be characterized by coping with stress in ways that perpetuate unhealthiness (such as addictions), behaving in ways that break down relationships, rather than build them up, persistent feelings of despair and anxiety, reacting based on the emotions of the moment, and suffering feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.

The best description of emotional health that I have discovered is listed in Peter Scazzero’s book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” and is based off of Murray Bowen’s research on differentiation. You can find a copy of Scazzero’s outline here.

I am convinced that one of the best tools for increasing emotional health is to get to know oneself.

There are several methods of getting to know yourself and getting emotionally healthy.

  1. Take a personality test, and try to understand your temperament.
  2. Get counseling or talk to trusted friends. Confide in people who can provide helpful feedback and insight.
  3. Surround yourself with people you admire, who have qualities you want to learn and emulate.
  4. Take good care of your physical self.  The mind-body connection is amazingly interconnected.
  5. Make time for contemplation, which may include spending time with God, meditating, or journaling.

The Contents of One’s Purse

Do you ever wonder at the contents of a woman’s purse?

Guys, some of you have graciously held my purse for me while I donned a sweater or needed a helping hand. You seemed nervous about it, and not just about appearing to be homosexual. Anyway, I’ve never seen a gay man carry a purse. Maybe a fanny pack, but not a purse.

No, you seemed apprehensive about the contents of the purse. It likely contained products that you don’t wish to imagine, like tampons or cell phones containing other men’s phone numbers. Even when I assured you that it was no big deal, you would not dream of looking into the purse, though surely you must be somewhat curious.

I think somehow you feel that looking in a woman’s purse would be a deeply personal violation, as if the contents of a woman’s handbag were more private and sacred than having sex with her.

What in the world do women carry in those things, especially the big purses and handbags?

According to several articles on the Internet, the average weight of a woman’s purse is around 5 pounds. (Many articles seem to be in agreement about this number, though I did not dig deeply enough to find the root research.)

The “necessities” are the items that most women likely have in their purses: wallet, change, cell phone, keys.

But most men carry these items in their pockets, so a ten gallon satchel is not necessary. What comprises the rest of the interior? The “non-necessities” that many women tote around include: makeup, iPod, checkbook, mints or candy, sunglasses, hand lotion, snacks, hair brush, yes, tampons or pads (not to be confused with the completely superfluous iPad, but don’t get me started), pens, mirrors, cameras, tissues, medicine, photos, etc.

I have always preferred to carry the smallest purse possible so as not to be overwhelmed and/or develop scoliosis from the sheer weight of the thing tugging on my shoulder. However, in recent years, I have finally upgraded to a bigger purse. It allows me to carry my small Bible (which I am always afraid I will misplace if I carry it separately), though I do not keep it on me at all times.

And the larger purse allows me to carry a smallish hard-bound journal and India ink pen, in which I write ideas, thoughts, conversations, and where I keep important reference material, such as my favorite quote from Sartre’s “Nausea,” and information about emotional healthiness for times when relevant conversations arise. I do keep my journal with me at all times.

Ladies, what do you carry in your purse that makes you unique? Why are the contents of your handbag so personal? Would you let just anyone peer inside? Have you ever let anyone look through the contents of it?

Men, would you look through a woman’s purse given the chance? Or is it one of the great mysteries of the universe, like menstruation, that you know exists but to which you apply the phrase, “ignorance is bliss”?

Do Dreams Mean Anything?

Do you think about dreams? Do you wonder what they mean? Do you even remember them?

I remember a fair amount of dreams upon waking, though over time they evaporate, leaving nothing but a whisper of an impression, unless I write them down.

I have recurring nightmares when I am anxious or stressed about something in my life. One primary theme that has plagued me throughout my life is that of losing my teeth. Often when I am anxious or upset, I dream that my teeth are falling out, and I feel helpless and hopeless and frustrated.

During other periods of intense stress in my waking life, I dream that one of two ex-boyfriends, who stalked me and harassed me in real life long after the relationships ended, is after me. In my dreams, one of them is coming after me or has found me (where I live or out in the community somewhere), and I have to fake nice so as not to anger him while I am plotting to get away. The unpleasantness and anxiety in the dreams comes from trying to escape the situation.

Apparently, both teeth falling out and being chased are among the top themes that people dream, along with flying, falling, appearing in public naked, having sex, and death. You play Freud with those.

There is no universal consensus on the meaning behind these themes, and that part is not important. The importance comes from the significance to the particular dreamer.

It is impossible and perhaps fruitless to fully analyze a dream. Many dreams are merely reflections of daytime residue. They are the thoughts and fears we form during the daytime that our mind needs to process and release. However, some dreams do have deeper meaning, and at times, analysis can be useful.

It is often the associated affect, the emotional core of the dream that is most important, rather than the content, per se. How does that make you feel?

I have been re-reading some of Irvin Yalom’s book, and he addresses some of his clients’ dreams and the therapeutic benefit of discussing them in counseling sessions. Since my own therapist encouraged me recently to study Yalom, I plan to bring her a dream I had last night.

Jason*, my ex-boyfriend (not one of the stalkers I mentioned above, but another man I dated briefly who I really liked, but with whom I always felt very insecure and uncertain of where I stood) called and asked me to spend the weekend with him. I knew he did not want to get back together permanently, but he wanted to spend time with me just for the weekend as if we were in a relationship. I wanted the companionship so I agreed.

The dream skipped forward and we were in the middle of the weekend and having a wonderful time together. It was so enjoyable that I had forgotten that it had to end when the weekend concluded. Jason suddenly became cold and distant and I was reminded that our “relationship” was only to last through the end of the weekend. He told me I owed him $100 for something that had happened in the past, and I acquiesced, wanting to appease him though I knew I didn’t have the money.

It was as if, all at once, I was unexpectedly abandoned by him, just when I was starting to feel comfortable and loved, and not only that, I owed him a debt that I could not pay.

There is a lot to analyze, but perhaps I will save it for another post.  Feedback and insight is welcome.


Emotional Health

This excerpt is taken from Peter Scazzero’s book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.”


How to Be Attractive

Ninety percent of what I do takes place in my head. The remaining ten percent comprises the execution stage. I examine many possibilities, take in information, conduct research, weigh the alternatives, decide on the most effective and efficient solution or course of action, and then I execute.

I have mentioned to a few people that my physical attractiveness is a result of this very process. I am fascinated by all topics related to psychology, and the psychology of physical beauty in our culture is no exception. I wanted to know what makes a person attractive in the eyes of others, and what the benefits of attractiveness are (of which there are many, but that is a post for another day).

I read many books on attractiveness, nutrition, fitness, and self-care, including these favorites to which I still refer on a regular basis:
1. Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty by Nancy Etcoff – Etcoff discusses what features contribute to attractiveness and the survival value of beauty.
2. Makeup Makeovers by Robert Jones – Jones presents a how-to guide on makeup application with amazing photo illustrations.
3. Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman – Freedman discusses the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.
4. Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier – Delavier lists essential free weight exercises for each muscle group in a detailed illustrated guide.
5. Sports Nutrition by Anita Bean – Bean covers the basics of how nutrition contributes to and works together with exercise.

Some basic essentials of female attractiveness include the following:
1. Maintain your ideal weight with a body mass index of 21 and a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7. This is achieved with diet, exercise, youth, and a not having children.
2. Work to have clear, dewy skin that is free of acne and wrinkles by using gentle soap, exfoliate regularly, use eye cream and moisturizer every day, and use good quality makeup that matches your skin tone.
3. Eyes should be large, clear, and sparkly. Avoid alcohol and drugs, get adequate amounts of sleep, use luminizing concealer and shadow, and use eye whitening drops if necessary.
4. Have long, glossy hair that looks feminine by taking your B vitamins and using conditioners and creams.
5. Get straight white teeth with braces, veneers, and/or bleaching strips, and remember to floss. Lips look best when full and hydrated. Dark lipstick can age you drastically, so aim to use lighter colors on your lips.
6. Develop curves in all the right places (back, waist, hips, buttocks, legs, and arms) with exercise, proper nutrition (NOT with dieting, but as a lifestyle), exercise, eating healthy, and exercise – especially weight training, which so many women neglect. I have never been as secure about my body image as when I concentrate on strength training and bodybuilding.
7. Strive for symmetrical facial features by using artful makeup techniques or plastic surgery.
8. Get self-confident by finding friends who are encouraging and can help you achieve your full potential.
9. Increase your energy levels by exercising regularly, eating plenty of slow-digesting carbs, fruits, and vegetables, and by taking a multivitamin.
10. Get that je ne sais quoi by accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and constantly seeking to build your relationship with God.