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Identify Your Perfect Partner

This is a continuation of Part 1 of the Manifestation series, where I share with you the processes which I have found to be the most practical in attracting what you want into your life.  In Part 1, I outlined the steps to getting clear on what you want.  This process will however look slightly different when it comes to figuring out what exactly you want in a partner and it involves a few extra considerations.  By the end, you will essentially end up with a list, separate from the ones you created in Part 1 of this series.  This list will contain the things that others do, and the qualities that others have which make you genuinely happy.  It will serve as a guide for you to refer back to during your future interactions so that you can easily decide whether or not a potential partner is the right one for you.  And if you’re already in a relationship, feel free use this guide as a way to help you figure out whether or not you’re on the right track.

The advice here will help you build your “love list.”

Reflect

To start off, it can be helpful to think back to your experiences with others in the past in order to clearly identify which aspects of them brought joy and value into your life.  It might have been something as simple as giving you a good hug when you were feeling down.  Or maybe you appreciated it when they cooked a nice meal for you.  The events that we identify indicate the qualities we really liked in that person—maybe they were very comforting (like with the hugging example) or very generous (like with the cooking example).  Identify events where others really made you feel good and then write down which quality that indicates in a person (it doesn’t necessarily have to be a past partner; it can be anyone).  Think of it this way:

Event: They gave me a hug when I was feeling down
Quality: Comforting

Then, list all of the qualities that come to mind, likeso:

I feel really good with people who are:
– comforting
– generous
– dependable
– supportive
– authentic
– protective
– honest
– caring
– etc…

This is the beginning of your love list.  However, the qualities that you write here are the ones which you should keep in mind when meeting new people in general.  It can help you when deciding whether you want to continue spending time with a particular person, or whether it would be best to “love them from a distance,” as Lisa Nichols would say.  The sections in this article are intended to help you build on this list, so feel free pause before moving on if you like.

If you’ve never had a romantic partner before, don’t worry!  Again, you can simply list things that people in general do which make you feel really good.  In order to get clear on the qualities you should look for in a partner, it’s especially helpful to think about the qualities of the people closest to you: Who do you vibe with?  What qualities do they have?  I personally noticed that I tend to feel nurtured by people who validate me, who are very present with me during our interactions, and who are really positive/supportive.

Physical Attraction, Hobbies, and Interests

Physical attraction is essential for most of us but if you notice yourself listing very specific physical attributes on this list, it may be likely that you have a strong connection to your ego which you are projecting onto your future ideal partner.  In that case, I’d recommend doing some more self-work before pursuing a relationship.  Hobbies and interests are also unimportant—research shows that having interests and hobbies in common does not indicate compatibility!

What should make up the majority of the list?  Things that your partner does which make you feel safe and loved, and that add value to your life.  Again, these are personal qualities, otherwise known as character traits.

Positive character traits

Some examples of positive character traits include: appreciative, compassionate, empathetic, generous, faithful, good-natured, intelligent, kind, mature, respectful, strong, and witty.  A person who has many positive character traits can be considered to have good core values.  Finding a good-natured partner like this may be more likely to result in a positive and healthy relationship.  Kindness and maturity, for example, create a strong foundation for a relationship.  Respectfulness is crucial for a healthy one.  You can get through a great deal of hardships with someone who is “strong.”  And many people enjoy witty banter.

There are many positive character traits so it’s important to figure out which ones you value the most.  Again, everyone’s answers will be different!  Maybe you have a stronger need to connect with people who are very intellectual and who you can carry meaningful conversations with?  I personally have enough of those conversations in my head to satisfy that need :).

An important caveat

A caveat here is that relationships aren’t easy.  They demand constant effort.  Even if a partner has great positive traits, no relationship is perfect.  Believing that relationships should be magical, immediate, and free of conflict is simply unrealistic.  It’s okay for partners to disagree and to dislike certain things about each other.  It doesn’t mean that they’re not in love—rather, it can often mean the opposite.  Couples who are willing to put in the work to grow and learn together can really deepen their connection.  It’s all about communication and the willingness to try and grow together.  This doesn’t always look pretty—it might mean (safely and respectfully) discussing tough topics.  But the important part is finding a partner who is willing to have those conversations with you.

So many of us are caught up in that “romantic comedy” idea of love.  We think that love means being swept off your feet, or that “true love” is easy.  While being in a healthy relationship should have a sense of ease, it’s important to acknowledge that you will need to work on the relationship together if you want it to stand the test of time.  So many of us will run away from a relationship at even the slightest sign of conflict (and the ease/speed of apps like Tinder make this a very convenient option).  But the hard truth is: this approach to relationships is lazy, it is a way of habitually “taking the easy way out,” it will hinder your growth, and it is doomed to fail.  Conflict is normal and to be expected in relationships.  And there is no such thing as a “perfect” relationship (or person for that matter).  So if you don’t know how to work through conflicts, get learning! And find someone who is equally willing to work things out with you.

While you should always respect yourself and walk away from relationships when your gut tells you to (obviously you shouldn’t stay in an abusive relationship!), you should however permit yourself to have negative emotions.  Just because you’re upset about something doesn’t mean that you can’t try to work it out.  If there is a misunderstanding, maybe a miscommunication—it is important to have a respectful discussion with your partner.  Putting in that time and effort shows that you care about each other and that you want to move past any issues as a team.  If you’re unwilling to do that, you can be certain that you will end up jumping from partner to partner for the rest of your dating life!

Self-love, setting boundaries

Some people say that “you can never truly love another until you have learned to love yourself.”  I personally think that is total BS.  However, it is very important that you understand how to practice self-love so that your future relationships will be healthy ones.  And one form of self-love which I do think is 100% essential to practice before entering a relationship is setting boundaries.  This means noticing what makes you uncomfortable in a relationship, defining it, and refusing to tolerate it.  Sometimes we fail to set healthy boundaries because we fear losing the other person, but if you don’t do it anyway then you are setting yourself up for a future of being treated as less than you deserve.  If you have ever been called a “pushover,” felt treated like a doormat, or felt that you have been taken for granted in a relationship, this message is for you: LEARN HEALTHY BOUNDARY SETTING.

You may need to work on this before dating at all – and that is okay.  If it feels necessary for you, honour your truth and do what you feel is best.  Dating will always be there when you’re ready for it.  You need to take care of yourself, too.

The 5 Love Languages

In order to better understand how you experience love, it can be useful to know the concept of “The 5 Love Languages.”  Dr. Gary Chapman describes these so-called languages as: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.

Dr. Chapman explains Words of Affirmation as verbal compliments which are best kept simple.  This could be something like, “You look really beautiful today,” or “Thanks for being there for me.”  The key here is to not leave kind words unsaid.  If you find yourself appreciating somebody else, it can be nice for them to hear it.  We all need a little boost sometimes, and genuine compliments from people we care about can be really helpful.

Quality Time is pretty self-explanatory.  It means spending time with another person, being present in the moment.  Dr. Chapman points out that our high-tech world makes it so easy to miss out on real, quality time with the people we love.  Even if you’re out for an amazing dinner, you or the other person might be lost in your Instagram feed, scrolling on your phone while nodding and half-responding to the other person’s questions.  It’s easy to get stuck in autopilot and stay absorbed in our devices, but making the effort to spend even 10 or 15 minutes with somebody, really with the person, can drastically improve the relationship.  Giving someone your attention without feeling the need to check your phone every five seconds can be very grounding and rewarding.

The third language is Receiving Gifts, which is also pretty straightforward.  Giving tangible gifts can make the other person feel very special and it can be very gratifying for you too.  The key is to focus on the gesture and the thought put behind it as opposed to a price tag.  It can be easy to think “he/she doesn’t really care about me—they barely spent any money on this.”  But sometimes the most meaningful gifts can be handwritten love notes or a tin of homemade cookies.  The important part is that the receiving party feels appreciated and important.  Money is not the fundamental part of this concept.

The fourth is Acts of Service. Something as simple as giving your partner a neck massage when you notice that he/she is feeling stressed is all it takes.  Or maybe you cooked your partner a warm meal at the end of a long day to show that you cared.  These gestures can be very basic and everyday, but they’re still very meaningful.

Lastly, we have Physical Touch.  While having sex can undoubtedly connect partners, the little things are often more than enough to make your partner feel cared for.  A kiss on the cheek or holding your partner’s hand can be a very simple way to connect physically.  Even if you’re just waiting in line at the grocery store, doing it while holding hands can make your partner feel more connected to you.  It’s important to be sincere and to do what feels comfortable for you and your partner.

The purpose of understanding these languages here is that when you recognize which ones you “speak,” you unlock some important knowledge about what you really want from a partner. We all want to receive love in the ways that are most meaningful to us, personally.  Which of the five languages do you appreciate most?  Find someone who is able and willing to speak them to you.

Don’t settle for less (or other) than what you deserve

It’s also crucial to know your worth.  All of this introspection can teach you a lot about yourself.  After doing this work, really remember to value yourself and this new awareness of your needs and wants.

An article on PairedLife, called “Attract Your Soulmate By Making a List,” says that:  “if the [person], however, has some serious shortcomings and/or does not meet most of the requirements on your list, let [him/her] know and let [him/her] go immediately.  Be upfront and honest by telling [them] that you are not interested in pursuing any type of relationship and then move on.”

It may sound harsh but it’s important advice to remember.  You need to be realistic.  Take stock of what you’re looking for and make sure that you’re honest with potential partners about your values.  If you seem to be on a different page, or looking for different things in life, it may be best to cut things short before they get too difficult.  This can be hard to do, but it is ultimately an act of self-respect (and it also shows respect for the other person because you don’t want to waste their time, either).

Defining exactly what you want in a partner like this helps you to stay focused and confident in the dating world.  When you meet someone that you are “unsure” about, you can think back to your description of this ideal partner and ask yourself whether or not they match up.  Sometimes it’s easy to fall head-over-heels in love with someone you just met.  When you know exactly what you want, and you stay focused on that, it is easier to break ties with someone early on (when you’re not yet attached!) when you realize they aren’t what you’re looking for.  This way, it is also easier to stand your ground and walk away from bad behaviour that makes you feel insecure.

Don’t ever make excuses for people who are treating you as less than you deserve or think that you might be able to change someone.  Believe that there IS someone out there who is already willing and able give you what you need in a relationship.  If you settle you will not be happy and you are only wasting your own time.

A note on “neediness”

Many people fear insecurity, “neediness,” or dependency in potential partners, but they often fail to realize that it is own their behaviours which can often cause their partners to become that way.  It’s normal for a person to feel insecure if they don’t know where they stand in a relationship, or if their partner constantly does things that make them question where they stand.  A good and mature partner understands that and they will not make you feel guilty if you feel that way.  If anything, THEY will feel guilty about it and they will give you what you need in order to feel safe again—whether that’s reassurance, validation, spending more time with you, or stopping the behaviour that made you feel insecure.

So if you fear “neediness” or dependency in a partner, take a look at your own behaviour and ask yourself whether or not you’re an example of a loyal, honest, and dependable person.  We are wired for giving, nurturing, and signalling emotional safety in relationships.  In part, this literally defines relationships.  To behave indifferently to your partner’s emotional needs in a relationship is being selfish.  So is this an area you struggle with?  Are you afraid to be generous, to give emotional validation, or reassurance?  Again, you may want to do some self-work before pursuing a relationship.  If someone is feeling “needy,” there’s a good chance it’s because they love you and you simply aren’t giving them what they need to feel loved in return.

This brings me to…

Emotional safety

In an article titled “Emotional Safety is Necessary for Emotional Connection,” Ellen Boeder discusses how our nervous system is wired to detect threats and disengage us from threatening situations—this includes threats to emotional safety.  She says that, “When we don’t feel safe, our bodies don’t want to engage, connect, or provide the emotional warmth our relationships need in order to thrive.”  In other words, feeling guarded can limit our relationships.

Boeder continues: “The latest research in neurobiology shows that emotional safety is one of the most important aspects of a satisfying connection in a loving relationship.  We need to feel safe before we’re able to be vulnerable, and as Brené Brown reminds us, ‘Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.’”

Let’s unpack that.  Emotional safety is often a prerequisite for vulnerability.  And vulnerability is a prerequisite for deep, authentic love.  So, by choosing a partner who makes you feel safe, you open yourself up to being vulnerable around that person, too.  And through that vulnerability and honesty, you can allow your true self to unfold before them.  You can be authentic without the fear of being judged.

“Honesty can make or break a relationship”

Authenticity is closely connected to honesty.  In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Barton Goldsmith explains just how crucial honesty is in a healthy relationship.  He says, “Trying to ‘protect’ your partner or just trying to avoid looking bad can create more trouble than it’s worth. It is best to be above board in all your dealings.”  This can be hard to swallow because a lot of us have a deep desire to please our partners and to try and placate them.  But the web of lies that you can get tangled in is not worth the trouble.  It’s best to just be honest the first time.  Even if it’s uncomfortable to be honest sometimes, it makes things easier in the long term because it is what allows you to openly address issues together.

Note:

  • Open communication is extremely important in any relationship.
  • You can’t have trust in a relationship without it.
  • It is also a way of showing respect, whereas lying is a form of disrespect.
  • Lying is also a form of manipulation: it is a way of keeping information from another person in order to maintain power in a relationship (because we fear what the other person might do if they knew the information).
  • Lying is wrong, unfair, and unhelpful, period.

In an article for CounsellingResource.com, Dr. George Simon discusses lying as a manipulation technique in depth.  In fact, he claims that it is the “ultimate” manipulation technique.

Dr. Simon says: “For the disordered character, lying serves many purposes. But mainly, lying serves to give a manipulator an advantage over someone else. Disordered characters don’t want you to know what they’re all about or what they’re up to. That would level the playing field in your encounters with them. But disturbed characters want to be one-up on you and a step ahead of you. They want to keep you in the dark and keep you guessing. One of the best ways to do this is by deception.”

Here, Dr. Simon digs deep into the real purpose of lying.  Aside from mere deception, he explains how liars are seeking power, too.  This is a desire for an upper-hand, which often stems from personal insecurity.

This is good to note because it’s easy to think that lying is a surface-level offence; somebody didn’t want to admit the truth, so they lied.  But Dr. Simon asks us to look below the surface and recognize how deeply this behaviour is rooted.  Liars aren’t just trying to hide something—they’re also trying to gain power in a relationship.  Being aware of this is important when choosing a partner.  If you notice that a person is prone to lying, it may be good to look deeply into the pattern and maybe reassess your relationship.  Have a discussion with them and, if necessary, consider ending the relationship for your own emotional wellbeing.

So how do we communicate a dirty ugly truth?  Dr. Goldsmith believes that we sometimes need to be cautious when being honest with partners.  He says, “‘Brutal honesty’ has gotten a lot of press lately, but I have seen it do more damage than good.  You need to present your issues with some degree of kindness.  If not, your message may be buried in an avalanche of hurt feelings.”  So, while it’s good to be up-front, try not to be straight-up abrasive.  Sometimes, when we try to be “straight” with people, it devolves into being rude or mean and that is not conducive to being in a loving relationship.  Try to find a middle ground between being honest and being rude.  There is ALWAYS a way to accurately and fairly communicate a difficult truth.

All in all, what I am trying to say here is this: I highly encourage you to add “honesty” as an essential trait on your list.  It is crucial for any healthy relationship.  And if you personally still believe that “it’s okay to lie sometimes,” please, out of respect for others, work on yourself before pursuing a relationship.

Consider gender

There are only two genders.  I won’t dive into that in great detail in this article, however, it needs to be said here.  Why?  Because in order to figure out who your ideal partner is, you also need to know which gender they are.  Your ideal partner will be someone who is the opposite gender to your own—regardless of their biological sex.  If you haven’t done so already: figure out which gender you have a tendency towards expressing, make the conscious decision to “be” that, and find a partner whose gender is opposite.  This will make for a more harmonious relationship.  I  am working on an article which explains this at great length.  In the meantime, please trust me… and read this (AND think about it). Takeaway: “High correlations between the separate TMF femininity and masculinity scales as shown in Study 1 suggest a bipolar, one-dimensional use of this instrument reflecting laypersons’ ideas of masculinity and femininity as two extremes of one continuum. This is also in line with findings reported by [two similar studies].”

Back to our “Love List”

Elena Murzello, author of “The Love List: A Guide to Getting Who You Want” introduces the concept of a “love list” to help people find good partners.  She compares dating to grocery shopping, stating: “Without a list, you base your purchases on how hungry you are and end up grabbing random items you don’t need, like pretzel-covered peanut-butter snacks.”

How can you find the partner you really want if you never take the time to figure out what you even want in the first place?  What a great analogy.  Everyone knows the feeling—you head to the grocery store in a rush and you throw in whatever food looks good at the time.  You base your choices on fleeting emotions (hungry, maybe in a rush).  So you throw in that extra bag of chips or something else that you don’t really need and likely forget a few things that you actually do need.  Because you never took the time to slow down and figure out your needs, you ended up with whatever looked appealing in the short-term.  In dating, if we don’t first establish our priorities, it’s very hard to find a partner who lines up with said priorities.

This article is intended to help you create your “love list.”  I included this in the manifestation series for a reason: knowing exactly what you want in a partner is a prerequisite to attracting that kind of person!

Stay tuned for Part 3 🙂

How to Get 100% Clear on What You Want in Life

In order to attract the life that you want the first step is to get one-hundred percent clear on exactly what that life entails.  That can sometimes be difficult though, because our intuition and rational mind often battle with each other, leaving us confused and full of self-doubt. We may, for example, think that we want a very lucrative career when what we really want is to have the freedom that comes with the paycheque it gets us.  We might go on to pursue that career only to find that we have no time and thus no freedom.  As a result, we are unhappy in a situation that we thought we wanted.

So, what happened?  Our rational mind had us so focused on achieving that career because it learned over time that others with high salaries appeared to have freedom (perhaps platforms like Instagram are to blame for this kind of deception). But deep down, maybe our true self is an artist and the freedom that we seek can only be found through self-expression. Sadly, we never would have realized this if we spent our entire life in that lucrative but unfulfilling career.  This is just one example of the many ways that what we think we want might not be accurate to what we actually want – and how that can end up making us miserable.

This train of thought can be the result of what is referred to as a mental mould or “schema” in psychology.  A schema is essentially a group of phenomena that the brain considers similar enough to fit into the same category.  We regard engineers, lawyers, doctors, and individuals in similar professions as people who generally have a decent income.  Conversely, we regard artists as people who generally do not have a decent income.  Grouping things in this way serves two main functions: it decreases cognitive load (therefore decreasing stress and increasing the efficiency of the brain), and it provides a level of predictability and control over otherwise chaotic situations in life.

The problem with schemas however, is that they can sometimes prevent us from recognizing alternative, more fulfilling, and more authentic ways to live the life that we want (and some artists make a real killing at what they do!).

Naturally, society also gets in the way. We are made to feel like we must achieve more and more thanks to capitalism and the radical leftist praise for individuality.  Right now our egos are bigger than ever.  Life has become so much about what we identify with and what makes us unique – and our career is no exception.  We want prestige because it functions as a survival mechanism in this society, where approval rests mainly on our accomplishments (and few seem to care or even notice whether or not we’re actually good people).  And so far we’ve only used our career as an example here—society and ego also get in the way of discovering what we truly want in love, our environment, and life in general.  For simplicity, I’ll continue using our career as an example here.

Now, in order to figure out what we want in life, we need to escape the traps that schemas can put us in. We can do this by becoming aware of the ego and harnessing our intuition.

Before I finally discovered that I wanted to be a writer, I tried almost everything.  As someone who is fascinated by so many things, the struggle to choose “my thing” was real.  So many times I applied the traditional advice and asked myself: “What truly makes me happy? What would I do if nothing was holding me back?”  I took different courses, worked at very different jobs, and yet, nothing I tried seemed one-hundred percent suited to me. I thought that the things I tried were incredibly interesting, but shortly after pursuing them, I realized that I didn’t enjoy the actual work I was doing.  I eventually came to find out that I had been idealizing those ways of contributing to society based on beliefs about what I thought I wanted to do and not considering what I, as person actually want and need. The difference between the two is the ego.

Interestingly enough, this is sometimes the result of being a very “open-minded” person. Who would have thought that our good qualities could sometimes hinder us so much?  More on that later.

So, the ultimate question is: How can we make decisions that will always lead to our happiness?  Well, first we are tasked with identifying what makes us happy!  In this article, I will outline a plan for you to follow which will help you become aware of exactly what you want in life.  After you figure that out, the process of manifesting it can truly begin.

Here is the basic overview:

  1. Become aware of your ego
  2. Learn how to harness the power of your intuition
  3. Make a list of things that make you feel bad/are bad for you
  4. Make a list of things that make you genuinely happy
  5. Design your wheel of life
  6. Decide to NEVER settle for anything other than what is on your “happy” list

Now, let’s go into detail!

Step 1: Become aware of your ego

☐ Our first step is perhaps best explained by spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. In an article on Oprah.com called “Free Yourself from Your Ego Armor,” Tolle gives us practical instructions on how to both recognize and free ourselves from our ego. He encourages us to first observe our minds (in other words, notice your thoughts). In observing our minds, we can learn what exactly our thoughts contain and in turn become aware of what’s really going on within us.

☐ Tolle then asks us to try and distinguish between our ego and the actual situation at hand. He notes that when we think that we are irritated by a situation, we are actually irritated by our own inner dialogue about the situation.  As he puts it, it is our interpretation of “the now” rather than the acceptance of it, that causes us pain and confusion.

☐ He then asks us to let go of “limiting stories.” These are essentially our interpretations, or in other words, the idealized stories that we made up about the situation. He explains that, when we create “willful optimism” about a situation by looking at how we think it could or should be, we are often trying to resist negativity.  But looking on the bright (or more convenient) side like this prevents us from seeing reality as it is and it encourages us to make decisions based on how we think things are, rather than as they actually are. Tolle clarifies that creating a falsely positive story is entirely unnecessary and counterproductive; we should instead try to look at the situation at hand without judgment.

“When you see the difference between your voice and the reality of the situation, that’s the beginning of awakening.” —Eckhart Tolle

He adds that this process of awakening/gaining awareness takes time. Indeed, recognizing and distinguishing your thoughts from reality does require ongoing practice. If you are diligent in doing this though, eventually it will become second nature.

☐ Lastly, Tolle asks us to lay down our “weapons.” He emphasizes that we need not battle with our ego. Rather, he says that by simply bringing awareness to our minds, we can create space for new thoughts. So, instead of thinking of our ego as a collection of “bad” things that we need to get rid of, we can simply use the process of noticing to help us transform egoistic thoughts to more accurate and productive ones.

Notice your thoughts, question their truth, and then gently replace them with more accurate reality-based thoughts.

This process is what will mentally get you from “I want to be a lawyer (or insert other fancy thing that you think you want here)” to “I want to have financial freedom. Becoming a lawyer seems appealing and it might get me there,” for example.  By distinguishing an idealization-based assertion from reality like this, you have removed the first (and biggest) block to discovering what it is that you truly want.

These instructions from Tolle are invaluable when it comes to gaining awareness of the ego. As he mentions though, this process is not a quick one—in order to achieve a state of being where self awareness is second-nature, we must make a habit of noticing our thoughts. This is also known as practicing mindfulness. And by continually being mindful of our thoughts we can become more in touch with reality, including the reality of what we want. This simple act alone can radically change your life.

Step 2: Learn how to harness the power of your intuition

Have you ever heard a saying similar to “the heart knows what we truly want and need”? For practical purposes, I interpret this as saying that we are truly happy and fulfilled when we simply feel good. It follows from this that the things which we truly want and need are the things that make us feel good.

And one may argue that doing something which feels bad now could eventually lead to something that feels good later. There are several problems with this however: First of all, emotions change. You cannot predict the future so you do not know what will make you feel good later. Even if you are aware of your patterns, they can always change. Second, dopamine and thus happiness doesn’t work like that (see note below).  And finally, if you are truly passionate about something (if it is truly what you want), it won’t feel like hard work! So if there are several possible routes to your success and fulfilment (and these days there certainly are), why not discover and take the most authentic one? The one that “feels right” the entire time?

Teal Swan does an unparalleled job of explaining what the intuition is and how to use it in her video “How To Use Your Intuition (The Inner Voice).” In this video, she shares helpful advice on connecting with our intuition.

☐ The first step is to take our attention off of the external world and to place it entirely on the internal word. Swan shares a meditative exercise to help us do this: She invites us to imagine our own skin as being symbolic of the separation between two worlds. Then, she asks us to focus in on and observe the sensations happening in the internal world. This requires us to let go of all judgement and expectation and to be extremely open minded to whatever may come.

☐ Once we’re focused on our internal world, we can then extract meaning from it by translating our observations into something more tangible. In order to do this, we can visualize the experiences that the sensations represent. We can ask ourselves: What colour would this experience be? What texture would it be? Is it moving, or is it still? If we were to see the experience as an image, what would that image look like?

☐ Then, once we’ve visualized this image, we must mentally engage with it as if it were a separate being/entity. Swan tells us to then ask the image questions, like: What are you? What do you want me to know?  The answers may not always be what we expect, but Swan encourages us to listen to them wholeheartedly. Our resistance to these answers is the very reason we are disconnected from our true desires in the first place!

☐ The last part of this process is to respond to the image with a conversation; however, this is not a typical conversation—Swan tells us to have a conversation with ourselves.  In this part of the process, we are asking ourselves what the image means about us, and in this case, our desires.  She encourages us to let this inner dialogue unfold naturally by remaining open-minded about where it takes us.  By naturally having this conversation with ourselves, we are acting intuitively.

Do you see anything in common between Eckhart Tolle’s advice and Teal Swan’s?  Both teachers emphasize the importance of connecting with our internal processes.  Both teachers ask us to listen intently to our inner experiences and to reflect on them.  These important processes lay the foundation for the rest of the work outlined in this article.

A note on dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which is associated with feelings of happiness and pleasure.  It gets released in your brain when you are rewarded.  Many of us spend a great deal of time doing things that are not rewarding.  Low dopamine is linked to depression.  Think about that.  The concept of achieving fulfilment by using your intuition and living a life full of the things that make you feel good is not spiritual “mumbo jumbo.”  It’s actually supported by science.

Step 3: Make a list of things that make you feel bad/are bad for you

Now that we’ve brought awareness to our ego and learned how to harness the power of our intuition, we can move on to things that are more concrete. We will now be reflecting on our lives and asking some tough questions.

Unfortunately it is often easier for us to become aware of what we don’t want, than it is to become aware of what we do want.  Many of us are already acutely aware of what we don’t want.  For this reason, it is better to single out those things first so that we can then mentally “detox” ourselves from them, giving ourselves more space for the good stuff.  For this step, we will ask ourselves: What makes me feel bad? Which of my behaviours are unhealthy/bad for me? Then, we will write a list of these things.

Here is an excerpt from my own list, as an example:

  • Drinking more than 1 caffeinated drink per day
  • Spending big blocks of time around people who talk a lot
  • Long, repetitive exercises
  • Dieting
  • Clubbing
  • People who invalidate me
  • Vacations longer than two weeks
  • Sleeping in because I stayed up too late
  • Dairy
  • Junk food
  • When I have more than 2 alcoholic drinks in a day
  • When I have to rush because I am committed to too many things

Just by noticing what makes us feel bad and by reflecting on it, we’re getting clearer on what we want in life because we’re ruling out what we don’t want in life.  It’s crucial for us to check in with ourselves and evaluate our own patterns like this.  Once you have identified these things and written them down, it becomes easier to make the decision to stay away from them and it gives you more mental space to focus on what makes you feel good.

When you’re writing your own list, make sure that you’re writing what feels real to you. If your list seems very different from mine, that’s okay!  There is no right or wrong way to do this; you just need to check in with yourself and write what intuitively comes to you.  Try not to write what you think other people want to hear.  This list needs to be meaningful to nobody but you.

Step 4: Make a list of things that make you genuinely happy

Now that we’ve gotten extra clear on what we don’t want in life, it will be a bit easier for us to figure out what we do want.  We can now ask ourselves: What makes me feel good? Which things, people, and environments bring me true joy?  Which behaviours are healthy for me?  Which behaviours make my life better?

For example, here is an excerpt from my list:

  • Drinking tea
  • Fresh healthy foods
  • Hosting dinner parties
  • Moving slowly, planning space in between my commitments
  • Making my bed in the morning
  • Writing out my thoughts and ideas, solving problems
  • Short, spontaneous exercises
  • Being outside daily in a yard and garden that is my own
  • People who are supportive and who accept me as I am
  • Being with pets
  • Swimming
  • Hiking, forests

Notice how none of these things are extravagant; they are what we often consider to be the ‘simple’ things in life.  Most of them don’t take much time or much money to experience.  Something as simple as hanging out with our pets or having a cup of tea can bring us genuine happiness.

Again, make sure that you’re writing a list that feels meaningful to you alone.  The examples given above are just that – examples.  Everyone has different life experience so everyone’s list will look different. What’s important is that you’re really connecting with your inner world and answering the questions honestly.

Step 5: Design your wheel of life

Your wheel of life represents what you want in each distinct area of your life.  Use your list from Step 4 of this exercise to create a goal within each area of this circle.  Before you begin, think about how satisfied you are in each distinct area of your life and rate your level of satisfaction on a scale from 1-10.  If any areas have a rating of 8-10, it may be a good idea to keep those as is and focus on the areas of your life that need more improvement.  In order for us to feel truly fulfilled, this wheel should be balanced.  That means that you should ideally have about the same (high) level of satisfaction in each area.

life-balance-wheel

Step 6: Decide to NEVER settle for anything other than what is on your “happy” list

This is, perhaps, the most important step of all. Now that we’ve done all of this work, we need to reflect on it.  Read over your lists from Steps 3 and 4.  Ask yourself: What is the difference between these two lists?

Let’s look at the first items from each one of my lists, for example.  On my list of things that make me feel bad and/or are bad for me, I’ve put “Drinking more than 1 caffeinated drink per day.”  On my list of things that make me genuinely happy, I’ve put “Drinking tea.”  Now, what is the difference between these two behaviours?  What is the difference between coffee and tea?  On a basic level, caffeine is used as a stimulant, while tea is often sipped as a way to relax (though some teas do have a decent amount of caffeine).  It becomes clear then that the meaning which lies behind these two behaviours is very different for me, personally.  Drinking multiple cups of coffee throughout the day can often be a great way to maintain my energy.  It makes me feel great in the short term—I can focus more on projects and have more efficient conversations.  Essentially, it helps me “get more shit done.”  The aim here is to be awake and to be productive.  On the other hand, drinking tea (especially herbal) can often be a way to unwind.  The aim here is to calm down.

Similarly, hanging out with a bunch of superficial people who invalidate us may be a way to move forward in our career or “improve” our social status, but at what cost are we spending our time with these people?  Are we losing more than gaining from our time shared with them?  Does our social circle make us miserable more often than not?  Wouldn’t it be easier if we just spent our time with people who really care about us and who would have our back if we needed it?  Why are we not spending our energy on people like that instead?

As I mentioned earlier, our society overemphasizes achievement.  We are subliminally taught that our self-worth is determined by our productivity.  But our output does not always bring us genuine happiness.  Drinking coffee all day is not truly good for me.  It is good for the system and society in which I live.  Recognize what your own behaviours mean to you.  If you are on the path of self-improvement it’s fair to assume that the things on your “feel bad” list are mostly things that serve a superficial, egoistic, and self-destructive purpose.  They are not self loving and they will not bring you what you truly want.

In terms of personal fulfillment, productivity is not always the best measure.  What is often more important is learning to be gentle with ourselves.  And how can we be gentler with ourselves?  The term that gets thrown around a lot today is “self-care.”  Mindfully drinking a hot cup of tea to unwind is a great example of self-care.  Other common examples are: taking a bubble bath, listening to soothing music, meditating, doing yoga, watching a sitcom, etc.  The important thing is that these actions come from a place of compassion for ourselves and that they are things which feel good, to us, in the moment—not in some idealized, hypothetical future.

Keep your lists from Steps 3 and 4 in mind to really take stock of your behaviours.  Note the differences between the two lists so that you can move forward in an effort to bring yourself more genuine happiness.  Make the decision to love yourself now.

And when it comes to choosing the career that is right for you, make sure the things you will actually be doing in that career are things that make you feel good at the time you are doing them.  They should be things that you most naturally and intuitively do.  Since I was a child I have been making scrapbooks and lists full of my insights on the “best” ways to live.  I’m obsessed with solving problems and uncovering the truth, especially when it involves personal development, society, and relationships.  It’s something that I couldn’t stop doing even if I tried.  In this career, I will never “work” a day in my life.

A note on open-mindedness

Remaining open minded is generally seen as a good thing.  However, it can sometimes be rooted in an unhealthy fear of missing out (FoMO).  According to recent research, the majority of adult Millennials suffer from very high levels of FoMO.  This is problematic, as FoMO is associated with depression, physical symptoms, and negative health outcomes (Baker et al., 2016).

It has been shown time and time again that the more options we have, the less happy we are.  And now with the advent of the internet we have more options, information, and opportunities than ever.  As a result, we have forgotten the importance of conscious decision-making.  This is one of the lesser known reasons as to why we struggle so much with practicing gratitude.

What is conscious decision making?  It is when we make a firm decision to keep something in our life, focus on that, and forget about alternatives.  When we do this, we will be happier because we are no longer experiencing the mental torment that comes from wondering “what if?” and we will naturally recognize and appreciate the beauty in what we already have.

This article provides another excellent definition of conscious decision making: “[it is when] you are no longer making choices to avoid something, but instead are making choices to create something.”  Making conscious decisions about what we want in our life and sticking to them, not only keeps us happy, but it also keeps us focused on creating our ideal life.  It frees us from the overwhelm that other alternatives impose on us and shifts our focus to improving the quality of what we already have.  And with most things in life, quality is much better than quantity.

The acronym “FoMO” says it all: This way of living is fear-based – and living in fear is not a healthy way to live.  When you do not fully accept the good things that you have in your life, it is because you fear missing out on something more or something else.  And constantly ruminating on how things could be better is a trap that will keep you always wanting more and more.  Because no matter what you have, there can always be some way to improve it.

After everything we’ve gone through in this article, I want you to ask yourself why you chose to read it in the first place.  Do you want to manifest something new in your life because you fear that the things you already have are not good enough?  Or do you have a genuine desire to create something that you legitimately don’t already have?

One of the most empowering abilities you can develop as an individual is the ability to recognize what is “good enough” and decide to nurture that to be the best it can be.  Deciding to keep what is “good enough” in your life is not “settling” (as some say, with a negative connotation).  It is shifting from a place of fear, to a place of gratitude; from a place of resistance, to a place of acceptance; from an unhealthy need for control, to a healthy appreciation of what is.

Don’t try to abandon your beautiful, curious, open mind altogether – just learn to recognize when it is doing more harm than good.  And, no, I am not saying that you should keep something in your life that you feel is causing you pain.  What I am saying is that before removing it, you should first try to identify the source of that pain.  Many times the source of that pain is your mind (your interpretation of the situation).  If the situation itself can be fixed, fix it.  If not, THEN move on.  Don’t get caught in the trap of always wanting bigger and better – unless of course you enjoy being unhappy.

Being open minded will bring you new experiences and therefore personal growth.  But engaging in a new experience is usually a very easy (and appealing) decision to make.  Don’t you agree?  Sometimes though, this is because an “open-minded” decision is really a mask for a decision to “take the easy way out” of a difficult situation.  If you instead resist that temptation, decide to stick with something you already have, and nurture it to its full capacity, it will force you to grow as a person in ways you never thought possible.  It may be less comfortable, but I promise it is so much more rewarding (this is why difficult experiences build character :))

Thinking of breaking up with your partner?  Taking that job?  Going on a new diet?  Running away from society to live off the land?  Just make sure your decisions are coming from a healthy, love-based mindset.  Recognize the difference between unhealthy “settling” and a healthy, conscious decision.

One final note

If you want to get clear on what exactly it is that you want in a partner (so that you can attract the right one into your life), I recommend repeating the exercise outlined in this article for that purpose alone.  I talk more in depth on how to do this in Part 3 of this series.

I sincerely hope that you’ve found this guide helpful.  Stay tuned for future posts in the Manifestation series!

Click here to continue to Part 2

References

Baker, Zachary & Krieger, Heather & LeRoy, Angie. (2016). Fear of missing out: Relationships with depression, mindfulness, and physical symptoms. Translational Issues in Psychological Science. 2. 275-282. 10.1037/tps0000075.

Crocodile Tears: Why We Need Validation

I had a recent conversation with my mom on the phone. It was emotional. We argued. At the end I was in tears. I was distressed because she has this very pessimistic way about her (as the result of being let down too many times in her own life, naturally) and this pessimism affects me in a very negative way. In this instance it made me feel as though something that I told her about, something harmless that I personally wanted to do, was wrong in some way. It created an extremely intense level of guilt within me, to the point where I felt sick to my stomach by the mere thought of doing that thing. I simply became so distressed that I was lost for words and all I could do was cry. Then, she said something shocking, reckless, and disturbingly familiar.

“Stop giving me those crocodile tears” she said.

I went silent.

She said a few final egoistic words. I told her to take care and that I hoped she felt better (she told me that she felt ill earlier that day).

She hung up the phone and I sat there to think about the significance of this statement and what it meant to me personally, while I let out a few more “crocodile tears.”

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 17.40.24

When I was a kid I reacted to this kind of treatment as any kid naturally would. I accepted the fact that I had done something wrong and I made it a point to avoid doing that wrong thing again in the future.

I didn’t realize just how serious of a problem this was until earlier this summer when I had just graduated from university and received my degree in psychology. I moved back in with my mom and now we make frequent road trips to go visit my grandma who is currently in the hospital. On the road we rant about different things, sometimes personal and sometimes random. It’s the personal stuff that always feels uncomfortable for some reason. I noticed that whenever I feel like sharing something with my mom, something just a little bit personal about myself, something that I would openly tell any one of my friends, I feel a bit apprehensive, anxious… and guilty.

On this particular day I found that feeling very curious. “Let’s do a test,” I thought. I told my mom something that I was honestly thinking about at the time. I told her that I was thinking of eating more raw vegan foods because I noticed that a lot of people were having very positive health outcomes from going raw vegan, and that I thought i’d try having one raw smoothie every day and see how it feels. Normal, benign, and healthy, right? Well, my mom immediately reacted with disapproval and negativity. She interpreted it as something that I wanted to do because I had “low self esteem” and that I should just be happy with myself without dabbling into “extreme” ways of living in order to improve myself.

“Hm” I said. And I sat to think on this for the rest of the ride as I tuned out everything else she was saying.

It really bothered me. Not because I needed her approval, but because it didn’t make any sense. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my idea of having one smoothie a day. If anything, it would be a really healthy thing to do. It wouldn’t hurt me or impose on my mom in any way. It was a simple, random, curious, and harmless idea that I got. Why did it really offend my mom so much then? The only thing that I could think of is that it’s simply not something that she would do – it’s different from HER norm.

I then wondered how often this had happened when I was a kid and what it was that I was doing when she reacted with disapproval (side note: I was an extremely curious and adventurous kid. I did some pretty questionable things :)). I recalled things like not going to bed when it was my bedtime and playing in the dirt when I was wearing nice clothes because we were about to go out to dinner. One time I attempted to resuscitate a dead squirrel from the road that got ran over by a car. A lot of things that any reasonable parent would get a bit upset or worried over (even though I would personally find it hilarious if my kid did the squirrel thing).

But there were also some really innocent things that I did which weren’t abnormal or wrong. When I recalled these events it scared me. There were things like… not getting into the car fast enough, leaving a bit of food on my plate after a meal, wanting to have steak for dinner instead of hot dogs, needing to go to the bathroom at an “inconvenient” time, accidentally tripping and falling for christ sake. Little, menial, NORMAL, and HEALTHY things that I did which my parents got EXTREMELY upset over. They would huff and puff and yell and scream over these things.

No, my dad was not exempt from doing this. I remember one time I had accidentally spilled some milk and his reaction was as though I did something reprehensible. If I asked him for a piece of cheese when he was cutting it for his lunch for work he got upset. When I told him about something I did that I thought was interesting and exciting he would always ask “oh, who told you to do/say that?” …as if I did not have a mind of my own and was not capable of doing interesting and valuable things by virtue of my own natural talents. He made me rush to hug my relatives upon meeting them and I was scolded if I did not run to meet them fast enough. Eventually (obviously!) I became shy and I was scolded for being that way too.

Holy shit, I thought. There are so many things here which weren’t even wrong. I just felt like they were wrong at the time because my parents had a meltdown when I did them. And who were they to know right from wrong? As a pretty wise kid, it was obvious to me that some of the things which they themselves did weren’t well regarded.

Well, it turns out that most of those things that I did which they got upset over were things that simply inconvenienced them in some way. When I was little I couldn’t have realized this, but now, with my educated adult brain, I understand that they got mad at me for doing certain things because those things imposed on them or whatever they were doing at the time. It was because they were stressed, they were self-absorbed, and that I wasn’t necessarily doing something wrong. Basically, if it wasn’t something that they would do and/or if it inconvenienced them, it was wrong. I bet, to some degree, they even controlled my behaviour like this in order to cope with a lack of control that they were personally feeling in other areas of their life, but I digress…

As a kid, it was as though by merely existing I was doing something wrong. There was something wrong with me and I, as a person, was not intrinsically capable of doing anything right or meaningful. At least that’s probably how I internalized it. It only makes sense then that I would often feel anxious, second questioning and doubting of myself, wondering whether or not whatever I was doing or saying was acceptable. But the question now is: how did this eventually affect me in the long run?

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 18.16.41Late last year I met an individual with severe bipolar disorder. When this person was triggered, he would go into isolation for extended periods of time because he was so overcome with feelings of guilt and shame. He felt as though he was not good enough for anyone and he did not want to be seen in such an “unworthy” and “unlovable” state. He was an academic perfectionist and a competitive athlete. As an adult, his triggers came from no one other than himself and his own fears of inadequacy. He told me that he discovered the root cause of this behaviour through therapy and that root cause was the frequent, unpredictable, and irrational disapproval of his parents during his childhood. Although to a lesser extent, I could relate to him.

It made me think a lot about how the constant disapproval and invalidation from my parents affected me. Is it restricted to how I feel and behave around my parents? Or does it leak into other areas of my life? I don’t lock myself away in isolation, overcome with shame, but is there something else that I do, or some unhealthy behaviour that I can heal with this new insight? I recalled past relationships, friendships, hobbies, events, school – any and all types of situations in which a person does things.

Here are some facts: I struggle with perfectionism. I often doubt myself. I am easily confused and manipulated. I am obsessed with understanding the inner workings of things. When I can’t understand the inner workings of things I feel inadequate and sometimes crazy. I can’t stand it when things are incorrect or untruthful. I absolutely hate being lied to. Being told (explicitly or implicitly) that I am not smart hurts. I abhor unsolicited advice (it assumes that I don’t already know something). I’ve been in multiple relationships with people who did not respect my needs or feelings. And finally (in terms of what is relevant), I cannot stand being invalidated.

No, it’s not that I NEED validation from other people. I don’t need people to tell me whether I did something “good” or “bad.” I am an adult who is capable and self-aware enough to know the difference between when I did something awesome and when I did something shitty. In fact (not that this happens very often, but) I am smart and strong enough that I usually just laugh when someone tells me that they didn’t like something that I did or said. I also don’t give the slightest care whether or not someone likes me.

It’s being INVALIDATED that gets to me. When I tell someone how I feel, when I am sad or upset, when I tell them that I am worried about something, or that I have some genuine concern …and they essentially tell me that I’m just giving them crocodile tears. It makes me sick to my stomach. And it is the absolute worst when it’s coming from someone that I care about, who claims to care about me too. I am overcome with anger and frustration when people say things like:

  • “You’ll get over it.”
  • “Oh come on it’s not that big of a deal.”
  • “It’s not hurting me so there’s nothing wrong with it.”
  • “I’m not going to have this discussion. It’s your problem. You deal with it.”
  • “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
  • “It could be worse.”
  • “You don’t really mean that.”
  • “You’re just tired.”
  • “It’s PMS.”

And it can also be done covertly: sometimes people will listen to the things that you tell them and then, in their mind, they will change the story to better fit their own perception of reality. You won’t realize that they did this, usually, until a few days later in a different conversation when they bring up what you said. Ever felt like someone “twisted” your words? Usually it’s because what you said was inconvenient for them on some level. It provoked them to step outside of their ego and actually take action to address whatever you were telling them or to at least acknowledge it. Emotionally immature people are uncomfortable doing that. Sometimes they’ll get defensive instead and gaslight the situation, saying that an event itself happened differently than the way it actually did. Usually that’s because the way it happened looks bad on them. This is also a very common reason why people lie.

Invalidation is, by it’s very nature, a form of emotional abuse. It is wrong, period. Nobody should ever question the validity of another person’s reality or emotions, and they especially shouldn’t use manipulative tactics to cope with it. The only purpose this serves is to help the person avoid taking responsibility for their own shitty behaviour or avoid addressing something.

But for me, invalidation stabs at a very deep wound. I find it infuriating. Obviously my childhood played a huge role in that but I think that most of this anger really stems from simply knowing the meaning behind it: when you invalidate someone, it is because you are assuming that their feelings are irrelevant, inferior to your own, unimportant, or incorrect. You are telling them that their reality is wrong and yours is right. The problem with that is: it can NEVER be the case that one person’s feelings are more valid than another’s. We’ve all had different life experiences which have shaped our unique brains and thus perspectives. Who are you to say that yours is the only right one? Invalidating others is a behaviour that operates on an incorrect premise and only serves to silence a person when their feelings are inconvenient for you. It’s this principle that makes invalidation bother me more than anything. It’s simply wrong.

And even if you disagree with a person’s logic you should never invalidate their emotional experiences. Validation has absolutely nothing to do with agreeing. Let me repeat that:

Validation ≠ Agreeing

For the sake of this article I am using “validation” and “emotional validation” synonymously but we are talking about EMOTIONAL VALIDATION here. Obviously I’m not saying that we should accept EVERYTHING that others tell us as the truth! To save us all some time and make sure we’re on the same page, here is an excellent definition:

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 15.15.25

Unfortunately men invalidate women a lot. An evolutionary theory suggests that this is related to being “nagged” at by their mothers and now they naturally tune out the voices of women. Other theories look how men are socialized, essentially positing that men have learned to invalidate the feelings and realities of others because they were repeatedly taught to do so as children. Invalidating phrases like “it’s not such a big deal,” “man up,” and “men aren’t supposed to cry” are indeed linked to a dampening of the development of empathy in men (Lawrence et al., 2004). It’s why men are more likely than women to have narcissistic personality traits and be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (Grijalva et al., 2015). Some refer to this gender difference as “toxic masculinity.” Whatever you want to call it, it sucks. I personally remember being in relationships where my partners didn’t listen to the things that I had to say, who told me that my feelings were exaggerated or wrong or in some way, and who even laughed at me when I cried.

So should I release my need for validation because it gives others power to influence how I feel? Should validation only come from within? Is this an issue that I need to heal within myself?

The answer I’ve come to is no. Absolutely not – quite the contrary in fact. It’s the people with narcissistic tendencies who need to accept the fact that everyone should be validated emotionally, otherwise it’s abuse. And you can’t just “release” or “get over” a fundamental need. I’ll say this a million times: all human beings have a need for belonging so we do need other people. That means we need to learn how to live with each other rather than pretending that we are completely “strong and independent” and then wondering why we have relationship problems. That means we need validation. And for our own good we need to relearn empathy if our socialization has taught us to forget it.

This is a core reason why many people spend hundreds and thousands of dollars at therapy, whether or not they realize it. They are seeking emotional validation. Why? Because we live in a narcissistic society where our friends, family, and lovers think that we shouldn’t need it. Because thinking that way makes their lives easier. But we do need it. And they need it too, whether or not they are mature enough to admit it. This is why therapists and counsellors are professionally trained to validate. It’s also a major factor in the efficacy of psychological therapy as a general practice. Being asked “and how did that make you feel?” followed by a nonjudgemental response is actually HUGE.

And the extent to which being invalidated bothers us ultimately does not matter. Because, again, it should never happen in the first place. Personally, I have simply made the decision not to get close with anyone who hasn’t evolved far enough outside of their ego to validate the feelings and needs of other people. It’s the ultimate sign of weakness and immaturity. It’s cowardice. I used to think that validating was something that I could teach to others in my personal life who weren’t very good at it but I’ve since decided that I do not have the time nor desire to do that. Because if they can’t validate me then there couldn’t possibly be anything good enough about them that makes them worthwhile of spending time with. Even if they are intelligent or interesting they simply aren’t a good person in my book. And yes, it’s most likely because they have their own internal issues going on, but I won’t sacrifice my wellbeing in order to appease them with my care and presence anymore. I am more interested in meeting people who want to grow and evolve rather than do the more comfortable thing and hide from their relational problems. Such people are only capable of love so long as the needs and feelings of their “loved” ones are convenient for THEM. I am proud to be a grown ass woman who considers herself quite “strong and independent” but I also recognize that the people who I appreciate the most are the ones who are emotionally nurturing, the people who aren’t too scared or self-absorbed to say things like “that must feel awful,” “aww, are you okay?” and “can I do something to make you feel better?” Anyone with a fair amount of self-awareness and maturity will recognize that about themselves too.

I also want to encourage anyone reading this to implement the same way of thinking in their own life. Know that your need to be validated for your feelings is normal and healthy. Anyone who disagrees on this does not understand what emotional validation actually is and for that reason I will probably dedicate a nice long blog post to explaining it to them soon.

This is what us emotionally healthy people need to do instead of trying to “overcome” our need for validation: we need to set boundaries with people who invalidate us. And, if need be, we should cut them out of our lives completely. If someone is not listening to you, or telling you that your feelings are wrong, they simply don’t respect you. And we don’t need people like that in our lives.

Here’s another comment that I would like to make: I have spent a fair amount of time working with children and let me tell you that this phenomenon is not rare. In fact it is the NORM. As a part of my career I have been responsible for telling kids not to do a plethora of things which were not, in fact, really wrong. I had to tell kids they could only play with certain toys, that they had to sit at certain times and play at other times. If they felt like sitting during play time or playing during sitting time they were scolded. Their behaviour was constantly questioned and if they did anything outside of the “norm” then they were told that they were doing something wrong. They were systematically invalidated nearly every minute of every day. I saw this in schools, homes, and various other settings. Eventually I realized that most of these rules and “norms” were not even there to help the children develop into healthy individuals but rather to manage the stress and maintain the ego of their caretakers. I am so glad that I no longer work with kids for this reason alone.

I am no longer a child. I have to take my past experiences, learn from them, and cope with whatever repercussions they come with. I just hope that the parents of today truly give this some thought. It is incredibly easy for a child to suffer permanent and debilitating consequences from seemingly harmless childhood experiences. Parents, please ask yourself: are your kids learning right from wrong? Or are they learning what YOU think is right and wrong based on your own troubled past, upbringing, and education? Please think of your own mental health struggles and ask yourself: am I preventing my child from turning out like this, or am I encouraging it? When you scold them, did they ACTUALLY do something wrong? Or were you just stressed out and inconvenienced by their existence? The more things you disapprove of them doing, the more you are showing them that WHO THEY ARE is wrong. Choose what you disapprove of wisely.

I love my parents. They are flawed humans, just like the rest of us, who were probably doing their best to raise me in the midst of their own struggles and they also love(d) me in their own ways. They didn’t have the most ideal childhood themselves. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m complaining. I am using this as an example, to learn from it and to share what I’ve learned with others. Because my story is not unique at all – invalidation affects everyone, especially children. It fucks us up in both subtle and detrimental ways and it’s a pattern that continues to repeat itself over generations because of our failure to stop it.

The only solution is to acknowledge the problem, set healthy boundaries with others, and learn how to transcend our ego through empathy. By doing this, we will not only heal ourselves but we can also help to heal those who have suffered emotional trauma and prevent it from happening to others in the future. Because no one deserves to have their emotions invalidated. It’s disrespectful and abusive.

There is no such thing as crocodile tears.

References

Grijalva, E., Newman, D. A., Tay, L., Donnellan, M. B., Harms, P. D., Robins, R. W., & Yan, T. (2015). Gender differences in narcissism: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 141(2), 261-310. doi:10.1037/a0038231

Lawrence, E. J., Shaw, P., Baker, D., Baron-cohen, S., & David, A. S. (2004). Measuring empathy: Reliability and validity of the empathy quotient. Psychological Medicine, 34(5), 911-920. doi:10.1017/S0033291703001624

Is It True That The Stress Response “Overreacts” Sometimes?

We are taught that the stress response is unwarranted when our brain perceives things in our environment which are not a real threat to safety. It happens when we’re in a traffic jam, struggling with tight finances, and when we have a major test coming up. These things won’t kill us and therefore the stress response that we experience from them is something unnecessary and maladaptive. This is stress theory 101. It’s what you learn within the first minute of any stress-related psychology class: sometimes the stress response is silly.

Lately I’ve found myself questioning this premise.

We know that the stress response was designed to occur in the face of some perceived danger. When we need to “fight or flight,” a body full of stress hormones prepares us. The second our brain detects a threat it is triggered. ACTH and cortisol do their thing. Epinephrine sharpens our senses, makes our heart pump faster sending blood to our organs and muscles, the lungs expand so that we can inhale more oxygen for alertness, and triggers the release of glucose so that we have more energy. This temporary systemic imbalance equips us for serious action. But sometimes it gets triggered when we don’t need to act. That’s what we’re taught.

But let’s say we’re at work and we’re stressed out about work. Let’s say we’re stressed out because we’re not passionate about what we do or we’re surrounded by assholes. No, we’re not at the immediate risk of death, but is it really true to say that this poses no real threat to us?

Obviously our needs for food, air, water, and not-being-eaten-by-a-huge-scary-animal are essential for life on Earth. The stress response undoubtedly protects us when we’re at risk in that department. But we also have an inherent need as human beings to self-actualize and to thrive. If we don’t feel that this need is being met, isn’t it rational to assume that being stressed is a legitimate response? Maybe the stress response is our body simply telling us that we are in some general situation which is not good for us and that we need to get out. Maybe it’s not a threat to our life but it is certainly a threat to our identity, our authenticity, and our wellbeing.

Who was it that decided only a select few of our needs as human beings merit our bodies responding in an attempt to help us get those needs met?

I call your attention to the multitude of research studies that have a very straightforward conclusion: psychological stress is literally a threat to our life.

  • Chronic stress is associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and the evidence is strong (Dong et al., 2004; Gruska et al., 2005, Kawachi et al., 1995; Niaura & Goldstein, 1992; Steptoe, 2000). One study even showed that higher amounts of work stress were associated with a whopping 50% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) (Kivimaki et al., 2006). Researchers Landsbergis and his colleagues (2001) concluded that the most consistent predictor of CVD is a particular source of this stress known as low decision latitude – in other words, having a low degree of control over your work. Considering CHD is the leading cause of death in the world, this is kind of a big deal.
  • Chronic stress is associated with inflammation and other immune-related conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematous (Affleck et al., 1994; Brody, 1956; Danese et al., 2007; Dube et al., 2009; Straub & Kalden, 2009).
  • Chronic stress is associated with skeletal muscle conditions including headaches and bruxism (De Benedittis and Lorenzetti, 1992; Biondi & Picardi, 1993; Giraki et al., 2010; Ficek & Wittrock, 1995; Sauro & Becker, 2009; Venable et al., 2001; Waldie, 2001). Luckily, treatments for these conditions are more often aimed at addressing stress levels.
  • Chronic stress is associated with gastrointestinal (GI) disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chrons disease, ulcerative colitis, and peptic ulcers (Hertig et al., 2007; Searle & Bennett, 2001; Talley & Spiller, 2002). For this reason serotonin treatments are currently being investigated but if you are experiencing symptoms of a GI disorder your doctor will most likely just tell you to exercise more and eat enough fibre/probiotics…
  • Chronic stress is associated with atopic disorders like rhinitis, asthma, and dermatitis (Chida, Hamer, & Steptoe, 2008).
  • Chronic Stress is associated with type 2 diabetes (Charmandari, Tsigos, & Chrousos, 2005).
  • There is even some supporting evidence that chronic stress is associated with cancer (Scherg & Blohmke, 1988; Levenson and Bemis, 1991; McKenna et al., 1999).
  • This list does not even include the annoying problems like weight gain, obesity, hormonal imbalance, and mental illnesses which can also be triggered by stress.

The pathways involved between these illnesses and stress are irrelevant and even deterring to the point. Here’s the thing…

The conclusions in the literature tend to reflect this pattern: chronic stress is associated with illness because of the stress hormones themselves wreaking havoc on our bodies over a prolonged period of time. Shortened telomeres, depleted vitamins, androgens, backed up livers, etc. are to blame. In other words, the problem is a malfunction of our BIOLOGY and if only we could just handle uncomfortable situations without experiencing a stress response then we would be just fine. We “can’t avoid” stressful events so we just need to meditate more often or develop better coping strategies.

Literature like the article “Too Toxic to Ignore” by Blackburn & Epel (2012) suggests that we focus on medical treatments or help people change certain maladaptive behaviours in order to address the the issue of stress.

But, what if instead of blaming ourselves and our biology we blame our shitty system which forces us to do things that don’t feel good in order to survive? Are we being inadvertently brainwashed to ignore something serious that our bodies are trying to tell us?

Low socioeconomic status (SES) is one of the strongest and most consistent predictors of disease and mortality and stress is a key mediator (Cohen, 2007; Kristenson et al., 2004); the lower you are on the social ladder, the poorer the health you can expect. Very few diseases are an exception to this fact. It makes sense – low SES individuals tend to face unhealthier living conditions and more stress.

In response to this, a lot of people will say “But look at all of the opportunities we have! We can go to university, or get a better job! We are free to choose whatever path we want! If someone is stuck in a shitty situation, it’s their fault for being lazy and not working harder to get out of it.” If you fall into this category, I’m afraid you’re a victim of the postmodern brainwashing. Getting out of a low SES bracket is incredibly difficult – so difficult in fact, that staying in the situation is sometimes healthier than going through the amount of stress required to get out of it. Ergo, low SES individuals DO NOT have true autonomy. Try getting good grades when you also have to work 25 hours a week and come home to cooking, cleaning, and possibly even caretaking everyday. Add a dance class, a modest beauty regimen, a workout, a meditation, and an occasional evening out on top of that. Good luck. Try getting a better job when you show up to the interview looking like shit because you had to take a 2-hour public transit trip in extreme heat, after running 10 other errands, going to class, doing a shift at your other job, and by the time you finally get there you’re so tired you can’t even respond properly to the interview questions so you’re perceived as “unmotivated.” This is the shit that the middle class will never understand. To them it sounds like bitching. That’s what they’ll think as they read this, probably sitting in an uber on their way to an avo toast brunch.

And the government, who so devotedly caters to the middle class, designs initiatives to address the issue of psychological stress by targeting individuals who are already suffering. They develop campaigns to reduce stigma, crisis support lines, support centres, and training programs for employers to help them support mentally ill employees. There are also wellness workshops and educational programs to teach people how to reduce stress and live healthier. But what the hell does enhancing education do when poor people still can’t afford to buy fresh produce or relax in a car ride home after a stressful day? What if you don’t have the time to meditate because you need to work for 12 hours a day to make ends meet? And if you think about it, this approach is kind of ironic because the very act of participating in such programs means more things added on to an already-stressed-out person’s to-do list.

In Canada, leaders are attempting to implement such “organizational changes.” The Mental Health Strategy for Canada outlines the initiatives. Nowhere does it talk about addressing the mental health crisis by increasing autonomy. Essentially, it talks about how we can improve the lives of those already living with mental illness. In a way we are being force-fed the idea that low autonomy is a fact of life and if you’re faced with it then you basically just gotta learn to deal with it and get support.

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As Jordan Peterson put it, “Everything improves when the poor get richer. We need to make them richer as fast as possible.” I agree. Money is a resource which can buy you time therefore increasing autonomy and giving you the freedom to pursue your passions. And it has been well theorized just how amazing and prosperous this world would be if we could all pursue our passions.

So what if the source of much illness is not within the people but in system that enslaves them? Despite the wealth of opportunity that capitalism has brought us, things are still imperfect. But is the lack of autonomy solely to blame?

Earlier this month, fashion designer Kate Spade made the decision to end her life. She was a highly successful, wealthy entrepreneur with a significant level of autonomy. Those who were close to her knew that she suffered from depression and a great source of it was relational. She and her husband had been living quite separate and unaffectionate lives and he eventually wanted a divorce. Being a family oriented woman, she didn’t. That was the very reason why she left the company in 2006 – to raise her daughter and focus more on the family. According to her sister, Spade didn’t even care that much for her massive fame and success. It stressed her out more than anything.

Spade is far from alone. I draw your attention back to the fact that we are in the midst of a mental health crisis, particularly with respect to depression. It makes sense given that depression is a mental illness which is often attributed to a perceived lack of control over one’s life – and in our current society, many of us are forced to put aside our passions in order to make a living at jobs where we are told what to do. What the death of Spade shows us however is that lacking control over your own life isn’t just about being held back from expressing yourself or achieving personal goals.

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-34 (Millennials) in Canada, with depression being the most common illness among those who die (Statistics Canada, 2017). Coincidentally this is also a pivotal phase of life for developing long lasting intimate relationships. It’s when people tend to think the most about dating, love, and marriage. Erik Erikson’s famous theory of psychosocial development calls this the stage of Intimacy vs. Isolation, where the biggest psychological conflict that individuals are faced with is the task of forming loving relationships. Successfully making it through this stage results in fulfilment, whereas failure results in isolation and depression.

Among the suicide statistics, we do see that married people in this age range have a much lower death rate than those who are single, widowed, or divorced. It is theorized that the companionship and social support offered by marriage are the factors which decrease the risk of suicide (Kposowa, 2000). Keep in mind that these are fatalities, not attempts (women attempt suicide two to four times more often than men. Men are more successful because they tend to use more aggressive means [Krug, 2002]). Also worthy of noting is that cohabitation without marriage does not tend to show similar benefits.  I will discuss this further in a separate article.

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Back in 1983, Dr. Aaron Beck and colleagues presented a theory which suggested that there are two personality styles which make a person vulnerable to developing depression. More specifically, individuals with a high need for belonging, or those high in sociotropy, would likely become depressed when their social needs are not met, and individuals with a high need for autonomy would likely become depressed when their needs for personal achievement are not met. With this theory, they created the sociotropy-autonomy scale which was designed to predict a person’s likelihood of developing depression. Sato & McCann’s (2000) study used this scale and found that sociotrophy was in fact a risk factor for depression.

I would also like to emphasize however, that sociotropy is not a psychological disorder or symptom but a personality trait and it simply indicates a natural desire to connect with others which is higher than average. In other words, it is not, in itself, something maladaptive, or “wrong.”

Fast forward to today. Not only are we in the midst of a mental health crisis, we are also in the midst of a social crisis. Under the influence of postmodernism, we are being taught that autonomy is the be-all end-all of our existence. Traditional values of family and belonging go ignored, even shamed. To feel the need to belong is considered “needy” in our current culture. We see it everywhere – just go on any dating app and read a few profiles. The most sought after qualities in a woman are “a mind of her own,” “ambitious,” and “strong and independent.” Dependency is the most feared quality with very few people caring whether you’re mean or apathetic. Marriage is seen as outdated and relationships as transient.

Of course those who feel the need for connection are depressed! They are stuck in a situation that they have little to no control over due to the fact that they live in a society which makes them feel like their need for belonging IS NOT OKAY. Furthermore, it is a need that cannot be achieved through personal development – it can only come through positive relationships with other people. We can do our best to make relationships work, but ultimately we are not in control over the decisions that other people make. We cannot control whether our dates call us back, whether our family abandons us, or whether our partner asks for a divorce.

And as a result of this lack of control we seek love in manipulative ways – evident by the hoards of mainstream dating advice which are essentially different spins on how to play hard to get. They’re not wrong – people are wired to want more of what they can’t have. But what is the social cost of normalizing this behaviour? We are all suffering. We play these games to achieve power and control and in the process we leave others in a position of lacking control over aspects of their own life. Great relationships suffer, fail, or perhaps never even start because people are too afraid to be vulnerable.

The praise for autonomy is also reinforced by almost every higher education advertisement. Every other poster on the subway tells us to “Be a Leader!” and go to such-and-such university because we’re “Born to Make a Difference.” This advertising plants subconscious beliefs in people’s minds that it’s not good enough to be who they already are and want what they want. If anything it perpetuates the mental health crisis. It’s annoying at best and harmful at worst. What if I don’t really care about making a difference in the world? What if I am happy as a barista, or a mom, or a hairdresser? If I feel like being a “leader” I will fucking google nearby MBA programs. I don’t need someone else to tell me how I “should” be living my life…

Disney movies, TV shows, media – it used to be about saving the world or finding love. Now it’s all about finding yourself. As a rude awakening, get over “yourself.” Newsflash: We are SO much more similar than we are different!

Autonomy is incredibly valuable but it isn’t the whole story. As humans, we also need to feel connected to others. Abraham Maslow acknowledged this back in the 1940s when traditional family-oriented values were not only socially acceptable but something to be proud of. In his model the need for belonging was represented as being even more important than our autonomous needs:

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And we all know this model is legit.

Honestly though, how many stories have you heard about someone achieving great success only to become depressed because they realized they had no one special to share it with? Or someone who was so ambitious that they lost the love of those around them and ended up regretting it? They were looking at their needs backwards.

We are suffering because our society is suffering. We want to love and to be loved, and we also want to pursue our passions, but we are held back from those things because of the false widespread beliefs that a) it’s not okay to need others, and b) you need to work for a living and sometimes that means getting a job you don’t like.

So essentially, we have a mental health crisis as the result of imbalanced social values and we are addressing the problem with band-aid mental health programs targeted to individuals and their behaviour. We are praising autonomy while simultaneously refusing to address the fact that so many of us simply don’t have it. We are also devaluing belongingness while simultaneously ignoring that it is a massive buffer against stress and mental illness.

Back to the topic of disease – this problem goes beyond the social and psychological. We aren’t just depressed and naive. People are literally physically ill and dying as a result of illnesses which can be attributed to the stress caused by unfilfilment and a perceived lack of control over one’s life.

So what can we do about this?

Part 1 of the solution is balancing our values. We need to see the merit in both autonomy and belongingness. I believe that having personal autonomy and the freedom to pursue what you are passionate about is absolutely integral to health and wellness. However, I also believe that we need to start acknowledging the fact that we are social creatures with a deep need for connection, who need each other, and who can’t always do everything on our own. Not only that, but there is no real reason why we should have to. We evolved as homo sapiens because we learned how to work together. We are wired for it. Deep down, we all want (and need!) love and connection. It’s time we start acting and talking like it. Just as autonomy acts as a buffer in the stress-illness relationship, so does social support (in fact to an even higher degree). And if there is anything I’ve learned from psychology, it’s that we need to know when to ask for help. I’d add on that we also need to learn when and how to ask for love.

Part 2 of the solution is changing how we encourage people to contribute to society. Notice I didn’t say “work.” That’s because I don’t believe it should be work. We should be pursuing something that we are so passionate about it’s akin to breathing. I’ve met CEO’s, engineers, hairdressers, and mom’s who all loved what they do for a living and they were perfectly content – all except those who couldn’t afford to live decently. Why aren’t people working at jobs that give them purpose and fulfillment? Why don’t they have access to them? Why are only some jobs considered socially desirable? Why do more difficult and laborious jobs often pay less? Why do artists have to struggle? And more importantly, how can we change this?

In sum, the stress response is telling us something very important. We feel out of control, not only because we lack autonomy in a society that glorifies it, but we also lack the freedom to reach out and ask for love in healthy ways. Our needs as human beings are going unmet to the extent that premature death is sometimes the result. In the meantime there is a wealth of research on society and its impact on health. Maybe we should start talking more about that.

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References

  • Affleck, G., Tennen, H., Urrows, S., & Higgins, P. (1994). Person and contextual features of daily stress reactivity: Individual differences in relations of undesirable daily events with mood disturbance and chronic pain intensity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66(2), 329-340. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.66.2.329
  • Alford, B. A., & Gerrity, D. M. (1995). The specificity of sociotropy‐autonomy personality dimensions to depression vs. anxiety. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 51(2), 190-195. doi:10.1002/1097-4679(199503)51:23.0.CO;2-S
  • Beck, A. T., Epstein, N., & Harrison, R. (1983). Cognitions, attitudes and personality dimensions in depression. British Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 1(1), 1-16.
  • Biondi, M., & Picardi, A. (1993). Temporomandibular joint pain dysfunction syndrome and bruxism: Etiopathogenesis and treatment from a psychosomatic integrative viewpoint. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 59, 84-98.
  • Blackburn, E. H., & Epel, E. S. (2012). Too toxic to ignore: A stark warning about the societal costs of stress comes from links between shortened telomeres, chronic stress and disease. Nature, 490(7419), 169.
  • Brody, S. (1956). Psychological factors associated with disseminated lupus erythematosus and effects of cortisone and ACTH. The Psychiatric Quarterly, 30(1), 44-60. doi:10.1007/BF01564326
  • Charmandari, E., Tsigos, C., & Chrousos G. (2005). Endocrinology of the stress response. Annual Review of Physiology, 67, 259-284.
  • Chida, Y., Hamer, M., & Steptoe, A. (2008). A bidirectional relationship between psychosocial factors and atopic disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70(1), 102-116. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e31815c1b71
  • Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., & Miller, G. E. (2007). Psychological stress and disease.Jama, 298(14), 1685-1687. doi:10.1001/jama.298.14.1685
  • Danese, A., Pariante, C. M., Caspi, A., Taylor, A., & Poulton, R. (2007). Childhood maltreatment predicts adult inflammation in a life-course study. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(4), 1319-1324. doi:10.1073/pnas.0610362104
  • De Benedittis, G., & Lorenzetti, A. (1992). The role of stressful life events in the persistence of primary headache: Major events vs. daily hassles. Pain, 51(1), 35-42. doi:10.1016/0304-3959(92)90006-W
  • Dong, M., Giles, W.H., Flitti, V.J., Dube, S.R., Williams, J.E., Chapman, D.P., & Anda, R.F. (2004). Insights into causal pathways for ischemic heart disease: Adverse childhood experiences study. Circulation, 110, 1761-1766.
  • Dube, S. R., Fairweather, D., Pearson, W. S., Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., & Croft, J. B. (2009). Cumulative childhood stress and autoimmune diseases in adults. Psychosomatic Medicine, 71(2), 243-250. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181907888
  • Ficek, S. K., & Wittrock, D. A. (1995). Subjective stress and coping in recurrent tension-type headache. Headache, 35(8), 455-460. doi:10.1111/j.1526-4610.1995.hed3508455.x
  • Giraki, M., Schneider, C., Schäfer, R., Singh, P., Franz, M., Raab, W. H. M., & Ommerborn, M. A. (2010). Correlation between stress, stress-coping and current sleep bruxism. Head & Face Medicine, 6(1), 2-2. doi:10.1186/1746-160X-6-2
  • Gruska, M., Gaul, G. B., Winkler, M., Levnaic, S., Reiter, C., Voracek, M., & Kaff, A. (2005). Increased occurrence of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest on mondays in a community-based study. Chronobiology International, 22(1), 107-120. doi:10.1081/CBI-200041046
  • Hertig, V. L., Cain, K. C., Jarrett, M. E., Burr, R. L., & Heitkemper, M. M. (2007). Daily stress and gastrointestinal symptoms in women with irritable bowel syndrome. Nursing Research, 56(6), 399-406. doi:10.1097/01.NNR.0000299855.60053.88
  • Kawachi, I., Colditz, G. A., Stampfer, M. J., Willett, W. C., Manson, J. E., Speizer, F. E., & Hennekens, C. H. (1995). Prospective study of shift work and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Circulation, 92(11), 3178-3182. doi:10.1161/01.CIR.92.11.3178
  • Kivimäki, M., Virtanen, M., Elovainio, M., Kouvonen, A., Väänänen, A., & Vahtera, J. (2006). Work stress in the etiology of coronary heart disease—a meta-analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 32(6), 431-442. doi:10.5271/sjweh.1049
  • Kposowa AJ. Marital status and suicide in the National Longitudinal Mortality Study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2000;54:254-61.
  • Kristenson, M., Eriksen, H. R., Sluiter, J. K., Starke, D., Ursin, H., Östergötlands Läns Landsting, . . . Hälsouniversitetet. (2004). Psychobiological mechanisms of socioeconomic differences in health. Social Science & Medicine, 58(8), 1511-1522. doi:10.1016/S0277-9536(03)00353-8
  • Krug, Etienne G. (2002). World Report on Violence and Health. World Health Organization. p. 191. ISBN 9789241545617.
  • Landsbergis, P.A., Schnall P.L., Belkie, K.L., Baker, D., Schwartz, J., & Pickering, T.G. (2001). Work stressors and cardiovascular disease. Work, 17, 191-208.
  • Levenson, J. L., & Bemis, C. (1991). The role of psychological factors in cancer onset and progression. Psychosomatics, 32, 124-132.
  • McKenna, M. C., Zevon, M. A., Corn, B., & Rounds, J. (1999). Psychosocial factors and the development of breast cancer: A meta-analysis. Health Psychology, 18, 520-531.
  • Niaura, R., & Goldstein, M. G. (1992). Psychological factors affecting physical condition. cardiovascular disease literature review. part II: Coronary artery disease and sudden death and hypertension. Psychosomatics, 33(2), 146.
  • Sato, T., & McCann, D. (2000). Sociotropy-autonomy and the Beck Depression Inventory. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 16, 66-76.
  • Sauro, K. M., & Becker, W. J. (2009). The stress and migraine interaction. Headache, 49(9), 1378-1386. doi:10.1111/j.1526-4610.2009.01486.x
  • Searle, A., & Bennett, P. (2001). Psychological factors and inflammatory bowel disease: A review of a decade of literature. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 6(2), 121-135. doi:10.1080/13548500120035382
  • Scherg, H., & Blohmke, M. (1988). Associations between selected life events and cancer. Behavioral Medicine, 14, 119-124.
  • Statistics Canada. (2017, June 16). Suicide Rates: An Overview. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/11696-eng.htm.
  • Steptoe, A. (2000). Stress, social support and cardiovascular activity over the working day.International Journal of Psychophysiology, 37(3), 299-308. doi:10.1016/S0167-8760(00)00109-4
  • Straub, R. H., & Kalden, J. R. (2009). Stress of different types increases the proinflammatory load in rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 11(3), 114-114. doi:10.1186/ar2712
  • Talley, N. J., & Spiller, R. (2002). Irritable bowel syndrome: A little understood organic bowel disease? The Lancet, 360(9332), 555-564. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(02)09712-X
  • Venable, V. L., Carlson, C. R., & Wilson, J. (2001). The role of anger and depression in recurrent headache. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 41(1), 21-30. doi:10.1046/j.1526-4610.2001.111006021.x
  • Waldie, K. E. (2001). Childhood headache, stress in adolescence, and primary headache in young adulthood: A longitudinal cohort study. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 41(1), 1-10. doi:10.1046/j.1526-4610.2001.111006001.x

Trust, Vulnerability, and Snails: A Personal Update

I have several books and blog posts in the making right now but for weeks I haven’t been able to bring myself to write a single word let alone post any of them. I get fleeting ideas for good topics here and there, but I can’t retain enough focus to properly compose anything.

In fact I can barely sleep or eat.

My mind is currently consumed with thoughts. I am living with anxiety, scarcity, insecurity, sadness, anger, emptiness, and disappointment. I have an abundance of (kind and caring) people in my life who want my attention but the things that they do and say lose my focus within seconds.

In addition to big life changes recently, something unfortunate took place. The miscommunication was prolonged, confusing, and ultimately tragic. Mostly because it simply doesn’t make sense. Why did it become so complicated? I am left with no closure, wondering whether my vulnerability and trust have been greatly misplaced…

There is an excellent Ted Talk by Brené Brown on trust. A wonderful counsellor told me about it recently after I opened up to her, shared the details of some recent life events, and asked her if she saw evidence that I struggled with trust. In the midst of the conflict I was having at the time, I was questioning whether some of my feelings and personal values were based on a “trust issue,” or whether they were valid. What she had to say really opened up my eyes to distrust, what that means, and what my own personal relationship with it is. Naturally I did a ton of research in order to verify and expand on her account.

Here are some key realizations:

  1. I learned something awesome about myself: as a person, I definitely do not struggle with trusting and I am actually capable of being extremely vulnerable. I don’t fit the criteria for having “trust issues” at all (super proud of myself considering certain events from my past = personal development success!).
  2. I have an incredible power not only to feel but also to acquire knowledge and resources that I can trust in, completely self-sufficiently, and use them to solve almost any personal problem that comes my way. I am powerful.
  3. Being Canadian I naturally and recklessly share personal information about myself and my life – no strings attached. Maybe it’s a boundary issue in theory but I think we really just like feeling close to each other 🙂 If there is something that I am not sharing then there is probably a valid reason for that which is most likely a harmless, temporary side effect of some circumstance.
  4. I understand now how trust in others needs to be earned. It is earned not just by sharing information about yourself but even more-so by the things you do and say to show someone that you are (or want to be) a stable, consistent, supportive, dependable, nonjudgemental, and caring person in someone’s life.
  5. In a circumstance where you are lacking proximity that may involve telling them explicitly what you want, how you feel, and making plans with them. If you don’t tell them these things they will be left to make an educated guess based on limited information. They will tend to make generous assumptions if they are good-natured. But for anyone, this will eventually become tiring and unsatisfactory and ultimately make them feel unappreciated and undesired. Nobody should have to guess.
  6. Trust can go up and down, especially if someone’s behaviour is inconsistent.
  7. If you trust someone more than their level of investment merits then you are being harmfully reckless, not vulnerable. As Brené puts it, you need to share the details of your life selectively and slowly over time as you see the other person making “trust deposits” into your account. If you share inappropriately it’s a sign of a personal boundary problem and it shows a lack of self care.
  8. Your own personal intuition is always right. You should trust it above all else.
  9. I thought of three things that I felt I personally needed to trust someone in a romantic context. My counsellor showed overwhelming agreement that this was standard and she even added essential numbers 4 and 5 to my list. This validation made me feel really good so I shared the list with others who’s opinion I have high respect for. Everyone agreed it’s common sense. I’m not crazy.
  10. Deep connections are created over time as trust is built.

There is a theoretical model of trust that reflects a lot of this:

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Credibility is the level at which a person’s words are backed by knowledge and experience.

Reliability is the consistency factor – do they consistently do what they say they will do when they say they are going to do it? Do their behaviours match their words? Have they ever supplied words to match their behaviours?

Authenticity is the level at which they are in touch with their real thoughts and emotions and whether or not they express them openly to you, particularly the difficult topics and their insecurities. To be authentic often requires vulnerability as well.

Perception of Self Interest is the level at which the other person seems to be in the relationship for their own personal benefit. Do they acknowledge your feelings, needs, and desires? Do they validate you? Or do they see their own agenda and rationale as more important/superior?

Trust is a lot trickier than we think. Unfortunately there is no universal truth about when you should trust, who you should trust, and in what ways you should express your trust. It is completely dependent on a mesh of interconnected subjective experiences. Maybe some people place more importance on authenticity and the equation looks slightly different for them. Or maybe someone just wants to see people acting out of care for the best interests of everyone involved. Maybe someone had inconsistent parenting as a child and if you show them reliability then you score major trust deposits in their account. But by what coefficient? And what coefficient indicates a “trust issue” or mental illness? The questions we could add to this list are endless…

This is why we have the social sciences. People are complex. It’s also why the DSM changes as society changes and as research progress is made. We are slowly waking up to the fact that there are simply no universal truths in the social sphere – change appears to be the only constant.

It’s also why we need to validate the feelings, needs, and desires of others as equally valid to our own. Our experience is not superior to anyone else’s experience – it is simply different. Your trust equation therefore cannot be illogical. What is right for someone else is not always right for you and that is OKAY.

One question you may ask then is: can you still make a relationship work if your equations are quite different? Could you still be compatible? The answer is YES (of course! If we all trust a bit differently then we have to find a way to get along somehow unless we want to be totally alone forever). It ultimately depends on whether or not you want the person to be a part of your life.

Furthermore, whether or not you should welcome that person into your life should be based on how good they make you feel (since our emotions are the most reliable indicator of what we truly want and need).

When we find these people we accommodate them in our life by being flexible and adapting to their needs in order to make them feel safe (without crossing our own personal boundaries of course). In conflict, we need to meet them halfway. It’s a small sacrifice in our personal rationale that we have to make. It’s perspective taking. It’s compromise. It’s fairness. It’s what we do if we genuinely care. Because when we genuinely care about someone we’re not happy if they’re not happy. It should be something we actually want to do, even if we think we’re right and they’re wrong. And so if someone else does not compromise with us they are not worth our time.

Note: Sometimes we may have the same needs but different ways of satisfying them. If you are struggling to come to a compromise with someone, find out whether you are incompatible in terms of your positions or your interests. Positions are the things you say you want, whereas your interests are the underlying motivations for wanting those things. You can compromise on your positions, but you should never compromise on your interests. I have another article in the making discussing this topic in depth. I highly recommend trying an exercise called “The 5 Whys” with your partner in order to begin the process of coming to a compromise.

My counsellor also said that this kind of conscious bonding is sometimes the only way to heal certain wounds from the past. Sometimes we literally aren’t capable of healing them on our own and we need others to show us certain kinds of love first in order to learn how we can start giving it to ourselves (I have an unpublished blog post expanding on a theory which posits that marriage is an excellent tool for taking this even further. I will eventually update this post linking to it.). This has HUGE implications but goes sadly unrecognized. It is baffling how western society still continues to glorify individuality and actualization so much despite the wealth of evidence that connection and belonging are so much more fundamental for personal health and safety. But I digress…

Brené concludes her talk on trust by saying that we need to learn to trust ourselves above anyone or anything else. This is where intuition comes in. Teal Swan made a pretty great YouTube video about trusting yourself by learning to harness the power of your intuition. TLDW: discover your true needs and desires by paying attention to your emotions, identify what things feel good and right for YOU, and keep the people in your life who make you feel good. That is the #1 key to fulfilment.

It also brings me to my current dilemma though: sometimes following your intuition can be really difficult.

What happens when you are given only some of the essential variables for trust (and in a great quantity) but little or nothing of others? Aren’t all of the variables at least somewhat essential for everyone? What if there is a massive elephant in the room and they’re completely ignoring it but at the same time showing other signs of trustworthiness? What if your intuition says “yes” but there’s a whole lot of the evidence telling you “no” and THAT starts to make the situation not feel good? Are trust of the person and trust of the situation two different things? What if you wanted to be closer to that person so, for a while, you were vulnerable, trusting, and shared your inner world despite the lack of evidence that they wanted to be in your life but that started to go on for a long time, achieving nothing tangible? What if all along you couldn’t reach a compromise because you were trying to discuss your interests while they were disputing positions? What if you just needed to hear the person explicitly say “you can trust me because I want X” (where X = some fair, tangible, good, and mutually desirable outcome). And then everything could all be good and natural from then on?

Or what if their behaviour instead became reckless and apathetic and now you’re just too disappointed and tired to keep trying? Or what if it’s actually your fault because you should have trusted your own intuition and said “I’m sorry but I can’t do this because it simply doesn’t feel right for me to do it this way” from the start? Like, WAY before you started to care.

My counsellor told me that I have deep and solid knowing of what I want and what’s socially “normal” but I am sometimes easily susceptible to doubting myself when under the influence of others (a drawback of empathy)… add to that equation the 21st century and it’s overabundance of information, painful past experiences, and a geographically local dishonesty crisis. What then? It makes sense for someone to need standard fucking social practices and to be rational rather than torture themselves emotionally in order to accommodate the preferences of others.

In addition to this relational chaos, here’s something real: right now I feel like a failure in some ways. If there’s anything I have accomplished it’s a great deal of personal development and self awareness. I can trust, cope, be vulnerable, solve difficult problems, take good care of things, create beautiful things, think big, and love deeply. But I feel like I don’t really have anything real and meaningful to show for that. I finally entered an amazingly fulfilling career as a behavioural instructor therapist but I may have to leave because it’s not giving me enough hours yet. My skin, hair, and nails suck at the moment. Excessive lifestyle demands consume a lot of my vitamins and energy and leave me little time for self care. I’m almost 30 and single af because my great capacity for deep love is also a great weakness as a tool for other people’s power and control. Whenever I get to the point where I start caring, I’m always the one who cares more. Literally, always.

Like a snail, things have sometimes been painfully slow for me. My life has been full of joy and wonder but also some obstacles and setbacks. Sometimes it can feel like I am moving forward accumulating nothing but the weight of a constantly growing protection mechanism on my shoulders. I am not quite where I want to be at this point in my life. I know that the solution in this case is to be content as things are now but that’s easier said than done. Even if you finally achieve that state of internal peace you can still be brainwashed into thinking it’s not good enough again.

These aren’t nice feelings. I am not my best self right now. It makes me want to withdraw from the world to be in solitude so that people won’t see how much of a failure I am. It makes me emotionally unavailable to them anyways. I have nothing worthwhile to give or to show to them right now.

These feelings of insecurity are naturally the hardest to share… but sharing them anyway is the strongest indicator of courage, authenticity, and vulnerability. And maybe if I was trying to get close to someone else and they felt similarly then we could connect on that and it would bring us closer…

Here are some random facts about snails:

  • They are small and adorable 🙂
  • Most are completely harmless.
  • In some cultures snails are a symbol of joy.
  • They have big families and they like to dine together. They love.
  • Snails carry the same shell for their entire life; it grows along with them as they themselves grow and mature.
  • They are capable. They can spend their entire lives scaling rough terrain because they are protected by their own slime. They could crawl over a razor and still be ok.
  • They are emotionally fragile however. When they are threatened they sometimes feel the need to retreat into their shell to protect themselves until they feel safe enough to come out.
  • Despite their size, they are very strong – they can lift up to 10 times their own body weight in a vertical position.
  • They are notoriously slow, traveling from 0.013 – 0.0028 m/s. This has some downsides but it also means that they are patient and won’t “run away” from you the minute you don’t show them your best self.

To be vulnerable and expose your weaknesses you have to be strong, especially when you are fragile. It takes courage. Snails are awesome. I’m proud to be one 🙂

The moral of this story is: just be vulnerable as you begin to feel that the situation is right for you. Anyone who is worth your time will wait or compromise.

This is the most real (if not the only) thing I could possibly write about right now. So here you see art in action; a glimpse into my soul, the part of myself that I am experiencing and acknowledging at this moment over a tear-soaked keyboard. Half of it probably sounds weird or doesn’t make sense to you. A lot of it makes me feel incredibly exposed and and I’m posting it here for my 1K+ followers to see anyway – those who are waiting for my professional, “informative and practical” content. I do it while knowing that some may cringe in embarrassment for me. But it’s vulnerability. It’s essential for establishing trust.

It’s also the first step to healing new wounds 😦

So I do hope, in some way, you found this informative and practical.