Tag Archive: introspection


Finale_AttitudeOne of the greatest and most longstanding scientific debates revolves around human socialization and how much we can attribute to nature versus nurture. In other words, are we born with pre-existing dispositions to certain kinds of behaviours, attitudes and actions based on our genetic code/evolutionary past? OR are we purely determined by the environment(s) in which we’re raised? If a combination of both, what role do one’s peers, parents and other social influences, such as the media, play in terms of bringing out or repressing certain hardwired traits? Interestingly, the very same questions can be asked when it comes to the realm of psychological maturity.

Are some inherently born with characteristics more in line with psychological maturity? OR does everyone come to the table with the same capacity for developing psychological maturity but one’s experiences (and how one learns from and copes with them) determine if/when said attitude is embraced? Further, how much should one allow him/herself to be influenced by factors outside of the self (ie: externalization) versus listening to one’s brains (ie: remember there’s one in your head AND one in your gut)?

I’m afraid there are no easy answers to any of the above queries and in fact part of your journey to establishing (and maintaining) a psychologically mature perspective may just consist of you attempting to find solutions 😉 The point in doing so however would NOT be to come up with definitive “end results”, but instead to evaluate and analyze the process that took you there.

Yes, once again, my friends, it all comes back to introspection: asking yourself what makes you tick and understanding why/how it all comes together. As I said in my very first column, if any of your self-contemplations result in superficial because “you’ve been told to” or “that’s just how it’s always been” types of answers, you’re NOT digging deep enough. EVERYTHING, no matter how seemingly mundane, has meaning and motive behind it. Don’t forget that. Equally important to remember is the fact that no one enters your life unscathed or without baggage of some sort trailing behind. So, if you find yourself feeling threatened by another, instead of lashing out, ask yourself why – it’ll serve you much better and help you become a much more considerate, empathetic individual; something I think we all should strive to be.

Even those of you who’ve been practising the principles I’ve discussed this past year for a long time including: minimizing defensive reactions and focussing on long-term gratification, among others, I’m sure, still find yourselves in situations with individuals who are “difficult” to say the least. You’ll come to realize that the biggest dilemma you’ll ultimately face in life is the fact that just because you’re reasonable and willing to deal with situations in an “adult” manner, doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else is singing from the same songbook…if you get my drift. Not to quote myself unnecessarily but the truth of the matter is that “some people are just content being assholes;” this obviously proves particularly contentious when said individuals are a necessary evil in your life (ie: stepparents and/or monsters-in-law). Of course, this brings me to the topic of stress; something else we’ve thoroughly discussed.

While some stress can be helpful and motivating, too much can lead to emotional overload and/or self-implosion. Life is all about balance and honestly acknowledging your limitations. There’s no cowardice or shame in admitting when you need help or a break. Confidence and a “can do” attitude will get you far, but too much pride is just another issue waiting to bite you in the ass.

As we revealed in our dissections of many pathological “personality types” such as: the “people pleaser”, “egoist”, “pessimist” and “hypocrite”, insecurity as well as a lack of gratitude appear to be two common root causes. Considering we live in one of the most privileged areas of the globe, it’s hard to think as to why the latter would be the case at all. Priorities people! As for the former? Well no two people’s situations are alike, but it seems to me that bullying (by BOTH authority figures and peers) along with the promotion of unattainable social ideals of what define “happiness”, “success” and “beauty” are a serious part of the problem.

In the end, everything comes down to one simple, hard and fast question: Are YOU happy? If you are, take stock of all of the wonderful reasons why, never take such things for granted and be sure to acknowledge all of those who’ve/who continue to contribute joy to your existence. If you’re conflicted, dissatisfied, stressed, sad or angry more often than you think you SHOULD be/more than you WANT to be, it’s time to seriously start asking yourself some deep questions: Who am I? Why am I this kind of individual? Who do I want to be? What do I want in life? What do I need to get there? What drives me? What discourages me? Who/what supports me? Who/what stands in my way? Only YOU can ask and only YOU can answer.

I’m sorry to say there are no magical solutions or 10-step instructional manuals outlining how one can obtain a life in which they’re “living” rather than simply “existing”. While many individuals will enter and exit your life as your journey unravels (for the better and sometimes for the worse), remember it’s ultimately YOUR life – you need to look out for YOURSELF first and foremost – and that YOU have the power to lead the kind of life you desire. It’s all about your ATTITUDE, so, in closing, get out your wrenches and start adjusting.

Col18_QuarterLifeCrisisOriginally ‘symptomatically’-noted by good old Siggy Freud, but not formally defined until 1965 in a groundbreaking article by Elliot Jaques, the term “mid-life” crisis has become so ubiquitous within society that the image of a 60 year-old greying man, dressed to the nines, driving a hot red convertible and accompanied by a twenty-something blonde bimbo undoubtedly brings to mind an attempt to “recapture” one’s youth driven by a “fear of impending death”(…that or Charlie Sheen, but he’s a whole ‘nother discussion in himself).

Less familiar and only introduced in the earlier half of the 2000s, the concept of the “quarter-life” crisis is said to affect those just ending their adolescent years up until their mid-thirties. Whereas “death” is hypothesized to act as the impetus behind a “mid-life” crisis, “life” (as in you’re no longer a child, but now an adult with adult responsibilities and obligations) has the same effect on those of us facing the second “quarter” of our journeys.

Despite the gap in age when these two phenomena are said to strike, there are clear similarities between them. As explained in Psychology Today, both crises are brought on by an “assessment” of one’s life in terms of where one currently is VS where one wants to be or believes he/she should be.

Now, it’s perfectly healthy from a psychological perspective to have major life goals and expectations when it comes to your relationships, career aspirations, important personal possessions (ie: house and car) and even your physical appearance. Moreover, it’s perfectly healthy (and in fact ENCOURAGED) to regularly do “self check-ins” in terms of the aforementioned items to ensure you’re happy with your choices and leading the kind of life you truly desire. Where these practises become pathological in nature is when they lead to deviant, unhealthy and uncharacteristic “reality avoiding” and/or “reality deluding” behaviour(s) such as: drug or alcohol abuse, appearance obsession, the acquisition of unusual or unaffordable items, participation in dangerous or illicit activities, excessive socializing or premature emotional intimacy with strangers to the detriment of one’s safety, projection of one’s feelings of failure onto others by setting unreasonable expectations, or engagement in extramarital or abusive affairs.

As many studies on the subject have demonstrated, crises of this nature are typically brought on by some or all of the following types of feelings:

  • a deep sense of remorse for goals not accomplished within set timeframes (which often leads to depression)
  • a fear of humiliation among perceived more “successful” colleagues or peers
  • a desire to achieve feelings of youthfulness or attractiveness
  • an inadequate work-life balance
  • a desire to search for an undefined dream or goal (usually brought on by the feeling that one is “lost”, “alone” or has been on the “wrong” path all along)

There is no question that all of us, at some juncture, will find ourselves paralyzed by important life-altering conundrums. Often these decisions not only result in external life situation changes, but also internal psychological transformations.

Undergoing change is something our species has never dealt with very effectively. However, experiencing a “crisis” does not have to exclusively be a bad thing. In fact, many a spiritual/religious, relationship and career rebirth have been born from such conflicts, leading to happier and healthier overall individuals. It’s simply a matter of developing mature and rational coping methods; here the practise of positive psychology proves invaluable.

Let us return for a moment to my friend we talked about last week, who texted me in a panic because of her recent participation in a series of questionable behaviours… The more we got to talking, the more it became clear to me that she was/is struggling with her identity (call it a case of the “quarter-life” blues) because of a recent artistic transition, coupled with ongoing dissatisfaction at her formal place of employment.

Instead of practising introspection and taking proactive steps to rectify both situations, like those who’ve equally been afflicted by one of the above two “crises”, she allowed her self-esteem to plummet convincing herself that her whole world as she knew it was over and in turn, attempted to distract herself from this reality via cheap thrills (ie: acting out of character). The guilt response she exhibited toward me was naturally a result of the “cognitive dissonance” she experienced when she analyzed her recent actions against her self-concept.

As Humanist psychologist Rogers explains, one’s self-concept is comprised of three components: 1) one’s self-image (ie: how you see yourself), 2) one’s self-esteem (ie: how much value you place on yourself) and 3) one’s ideal self (ie: the best version of yourself: who you strive to be). While we cannot control external events that affect any of these three components, we CAN control our reactions to these events as well as our overall psychological thinking scheme.

In a nutshell, positive psychology is the new “psychoanalysis”, but instead of asking patients to delve deep into their unconscious realms in order to exercise all of the demons that lie below in an effort to reach psychological peace, it prescribes just the opposite. Positive psychology, as its namesake would suggest, asks those who are struggling psychologically to place their focus on all of the good things within their lives and to acknowledge the multidimensional nature of their existences.

While we all have unfortunate experiences we have to deal with, without those events, we wouldn’t be who we are and who we are is made up of several different personae we exhibit each day. I, for example, am a sister, a daughter, a girlfriend, a best friend, a mother to my felines, an employee, a cook, an artist, a writer and so forth! Because my friend limited her focus to her artistic and employment situation, she failed to acknowledge all of the wonderful things she is and all of the wonderful things she has going for her.

With this said, I’d like to propose that the “feelings” associated with the onslaught of these sorts of “crises” typically originate not purely from catastrophic life events, as such events are RARE. Rather, I believe our psychological functioning has become too deeply intertwined with the North American consumerist model resulting in tunnel vision, short sightedness and increasingly limited attention spans: we’ve been “taught” that happiness can be bought (and sold) and that nothing except “diamonds” (apparently) last forever. In sum, we’ve learned to focus on EVERYTHING BUT our psychological selves when it comes to solving problems (maybe it’s our thinking, what a concept)! To add insult to injury, even when we do focus on ourselves, we apply this same contorted model which results in us thinking it’s the absolute end of our existences when a relationship falls apart or a job is lost. Loss of any kind sucks yes, BUT you’re still alive so get to living.

As the old saying goes, “you can’t put all your eggs in one basket”…as you’ll be utterly screwed if and when that basket breaks (okay, so I added that last part in there but you know it’s true!). The point is this: self “check-ins” are a good thing; so too is acknowledging your true feelings. The psychologically mature, though, do NOT just stop there. If you’re unhappy with a situation, analyze what needs to be changed and make the necessary adjustments. If you’re unhappy with yourself? FOLLOW THE SAME STEPS JUST OUTLINED!!!

 Deep down, most of us are insecure in some capacity. Whether it’s the slight bump on your nose, the extra 10 lbs. you recently gained or that one crooked tooth that ruins your otherwise Hollywood smile, no one (not even Angelina Jolie) can live up to the impossible standards of beauty and perfection society promotes. What’s worse is that oftentimes in childhood, we are subjected to bullying and teasing. So, if we weren’t already feeling “less than fresh” about these seemingly minor personal blemishes, “meanies” point out these flaws of ours, skyrocketing our self-conscious tendencies to a whole new level. But bullying frequently doesn’t just stop there!

In the infamous words of Madonna, “we are living in a material world” (ie: we’re focused on the surface of things), meaning that based on the “cover” of each individual’s “book”, we make assumptions about the kind of person they may be. What god gave you, the clothes you wear, your makeup habits, how you speak and even your gait can all affect how greater society views you…and therefore treats you. In fact, psychological research has proven general trends that we go so far as human beings to believe that those who are physically attractive undoubtedly ALSO possess attractive “character qualities” (ie: they’re assumed to be smarter, more competent and more honest just cause they’re good looking! But we all know what happens when you assume…) Unfortunately for those of us who were NOT born in the likenesses of Marilyn Monroe or James Dean, it’s a much tougher battle trying to win people over. The result of all of this societal pressure is the employment of some sort of defense mechanism in order to cope.
Admittedly, I was one of those persons ostracized and belittled in my formative years. If it weren’t my gothic/punk-inspired personal grooming habits I was being mocked for (and even spat on! Damn conservative ultra-conformist Catholic school!!!), it was my eloquence with words. Funnily enough, these so-called “flaws” of mine are largely responsible for my success and many opportunities I’ve been granted, both career and otherwise, as an adult (Oh, the irony is not lost on me). Importantly however, it’s not simply the existence of my individuality that has helped me get to where I am. After all, we all bring unique qualities to the table. Rather, it’s my attitude and how I learned to cope with these “childhood traumas” that has allowed me to progress as I have.
Essentially, you have three major choices:
1)                          You develop a “thick skin” and come to the conclusion that it’s quite literally impossible to please everyone; therefore, those who truly matter will accept, love and support you no matter what.
2)                          You overcompensate for your insecurities by developing a sense of cockiness, insensitivity and bravado, making wild claims that NOTHING affects you emotionally (we’ll talk more on this later).
OR
3) You become the subject of today’s discussion: a constant “people pleaser”. You limit your self-expression and change “with the tides” in order to win EVERYONE over in a quest to achieve unconditional acceptance (often because on a subconscious level you didn’t feel loved or appreciated enough as a child). Of course, when this backfires and for no justifiable reason someone just frankly doesn’t like or accept you, it becomes evident how dangerous this coping strategy truly is.
In case you’re wondering, I went with door number one; a choice that was and continues to be compounded by my experiences in the music biz. Now, I’m not suggesting for everyone to become as cynical or as jaded as me, but having a sense of REALISM when it comes to life and human interactions is essential if you are striving to develop “psychological maturity”.
While Freud is primarily known for his controversial (and in many people’s eyes, disturbing) psychosexual theories, he had an interesting view of humanity that I believe rings true, especially in this circumstance. Allow me to paraphrase:
Humanity is inherently selfish in the sense that at the end of the day our primary driving force is to ensure our own personal survival (and that of our kin) at any cost. But throughout evolutionary history, we realized the benefit of collective work (ie: it increases efficiency/productivity which allows for more personal free time) and therefore we formed complex societies. Because our natural tendency is to be “me-oriented”, we had to create and implement rules, regulations, laws and mores in order to successfully function as a group and limit (as much as humanly possible) acts of deviance (Civilization and Its Discontents).
With all of this said, I’m sure you can appreciate just how mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting of a life it can/will be if you choose to try and “people please” when 99% of the rest of humanity lives according to the aforementioned mindset.
This is NOT to say you should become an asshole toward people without cause or assume that everyone will be an asshole toward you (don’t confuse “characteristic selfishness” with “evolutionary selfishness”). That kind of pessimistic “woe is me” thinking is just as dangerous as “people pleasing”. Essentially the secret is in finding a balance: you don’t want to lose yourself, but sometimes (particularly when dealing with authority figures), you cannot always express yourself unapologetically and without censorship.
Be sure to judge each circumstance as individual, but remember, you should NEVER compromise who you are to such an extent that you can’t even recognize the motives behind the actions in which you’re engaging. That my friends would lead to regret and that’s a whole nother can of worms in itself.

There’s a distinct difference between growing up and acting grown up. While the former refers to the physical/hormonal/biological changes one’s body undergoes as (s)he literally ages on an annual basis, the latter is a much more complex psychological development that requires an active acknowledgement of one’s own behaviours, motivations, attitudes, prejudices, strengths…and MOST importantly faults; a concept referred to as “introspection”.

While in theory, it’d make sense for the two aforementioned processes to work in a symbiotic fashion, I think it goes without saying we’ve all met adults who act like children, and even vice versa.

Over the next few months while you’re busy with your studies, I’d like to have the opportunity to impart onto you the psychological wisdom, by means of illustrative anecdotal (and often humourous, I hope) examples from my real life, I’ve acquired through my dutiful career as a professional student (seven years and counting!) and also frankly as a result of my family being perfectly primed to launch their own hit reality series.

The benefit of said mission is twofold:
1) I get a fantastic means of venting about human stupidity to which I’m sure all of you can relate.

2)Hopefully, in some small way, I will contribute to bettering your relationships with others and perhaps you’ll be inspired to “pay” this knowledge “forward”.

So without further explanation of my motives and/or legitimation, let’s get down to it…

How does one, pray tell, begin to engage in the act of introspection? Well, quite simply, it starts with a little bit of soul searching [ie: taking the time to analyze the things about yourself of which you’re proud AS WELL AS the things about yourself (and the activities of which you’ve been a part) that you’d rather NOT divulge.] Think about ties between events and/or significant persons in your life (such as your parents) which may have influenced the development of certain personality traits. For example, my crazy Italian temper (I like to refer to her as “psychotica”) 100% without a doubt was inherited. No offense pops!

The point of this exercise is to get to know what makes YOU tick. Ask YOURSELF why YOU believe in certain laws, morals, conspiracies, principles etc. and why others you could care less about. If your answer is simply because “you’ve been told to” or “that’s just how it’s always been”, you’re NOT digging deep enough.

Remember, you always have the option of rejecting new information as it comes your way and analyzing it for potentially hidden biases. In sum, DON’T accept anything or anyone, including aspects of your innermost self at “face value”; there’s always more lingering beneath the surface than meets the eye. As much as we may not wish to admit it, we are products of the environments to which we’ve been exposed and history has a funny way of repeating itself. Again, thanks dad!

Okay, so if you’re now thinking, “that sounds like a rather trying exercise and I’m still in the process of convincing myself (and others) that sleeping with my friend’s significant other in a drunken haze was all just a bad dream, “ here’s where the good part comes in:

The result of introspection (and let me make clear it’s an ongoing journey) when done effectively is, for lack of a better word, pretty damn “kickass”. You’ll truly KNOW yourself, have FAITH and STRENGTH in your motivations (and therefore less likelihood of regretting your actions), CONFIDENCE in your abilities (but never arrogance or cockiness), IMPROVED coping and strategy skills, but most importantly overall HEALTHIER, more RESILIENT and more MATURE interactions with everyone you encounter. Not to mention, Plato seems to think it was a pretty cool idea: “Why should we not calmly and patiently review our own thoughts, and thoroughly examine and see what these appearances in us really are?” (Theaetetus, circa 360 B.C.E)

So, with all of that said, why does everyone not participate in this activity? Well, to give you an analogy, I’d like to answer a question with a question: why do people continue to “yo-yo diet” or starve themselves when there is more than sufficient evidence indicating the only healthy and functional way to achieve one’s maximum physical condition is to lead a consistently well-balanced lifestyle and diet? In other words…laziness and well, some people are just content being assholes.

Don’t kid yourself, introspection, like any complex thought process, requires CONSISTENT, FOCUSED and HONEST effort. Even so, there will still be times in which the brat in you rears its ugly head.

In conclusion, I bid you all well with your cerebral unfurling and sincerely encourage you to contact me if one of these times my ranting strikes a fancy in you. Oh…and in case you’re wondering, my dry sarcastic wit is the result of my mom and far too much exposure to Monty Python movies.