Tag Archive: maturity


This past month, I celebrated 28 years of glorious existence on this earth; namely “glorious” because unlike my fellow wacky artistic types, I was smart enough not to find permanent membership on the “Dead at 27” list.

Like all of my birthdays that had come prior, I found myself being showered with varying sums of money from my relatives. Now, I’m not certain where said tradition originated: perhaps I was denoted long ago as one of those “hard to buy for” individuals or maybe my family members simply have the extra disposable cash. Either way, for as long as I can remember, the August season has consistently been ushered in by the receipt of cheque-filled envelope upon envelope in my mailbox.

I jokingly remarked to my mom this year, “When do you think I’ll reach the cut-off age? I’ve come to rely on receiving that extra annual income.” While I assure you the aforementioned statement was entirely made in jest, it brought to light an interesting modern day dilemma: at what age is one now considered an quote unquote adult? In other words, it’d be hard to imagine me (or anyone for that matter!) reaching 40 or 50 years of age and still receiving birthday spending money from their extended family members.

If we trace back through human history, “adulthood” was seemingly easier to define. In the Medieval era, a woman was signed up for marriage and childbirth the moment she demonstrated her first signs of fertility. During the early 1900s, mandatory military training began for boys as early as age 10. The moment you hit 18, you’d be enlisted to the draft lottery, whether you were a lover or a fighter. In stark contrast, in today’s world, we, as a country, can’t even seem to agree upon what the legal drinking age should be!

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for men and women within their late 20s and 30s to still be floundering when it comes to a set career path and/or reliant on their parents for financial support. Despite having access to superior education and opportunities, many of us (and it’s not for lack of trying) just can’t seem to “grow up”. Of course, this calls into question yet another existential dilemma: what exactly does it mean to be “grown up”?

But before we open that can of worms, there’s another query that requires addressing: “why does any of this matter?” Well, psychological research has uncovered time and time again that humans’ number one fear is death (public speaking, interestingly, ranks second). Given that humans, as a species, are able to cognitively contemplate existence and come to grips with the notion that ALL living things are tied to a fairly predictable life cycle, it must be understood that this fear is not simply about losing the function of one’s physical form. In order to understand death and our fear of it then, one must look beyond its literal meaning and instead into the world of symbolism.

Intertwined with the fear of death is also a “fear of the unknown” (ie: What happens when I lose my physical form? Is there an afterlife? Should I have believed in something? Will I return in another form in the future?). More pertinent to our discussion however, a fear of death is as well largely tied to a “fear of failure” (ie: I’m running out of time. There are so many things I want/ed to accomplish. How will I be remembered? Did I do enough?) Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, each year we age, these types of contemplations become increasingly important to us.

What I’m trying to get at is that throughout our history and even still today, “adulthood” has been defined by the accomplishment of specific milestones at set ages: a standardized checklist, if you will, of obtaining education (teens to 20s), establishing/maintaining a career (mid 20s to 50s), getting married (late 20s to early 30s), having 2.5 kids (late 20s to early 30s), buying a home with a snazzy white picket fence (mid to late 30s), retirement (mid 60s) and so forth. This “idealization” however fails to take into account changing social, political and cultural circumstances. Accordingly, many of us live “stressed out” and become increasingly depressed as we age because we’re unable to “measure up.”

As humans are a social species that highly value group membership, failing to accomplish these established “life goals” (as determined by our larger social group) presents yet another potential fear coming to light: that of ostracism. In other words, there’s no worst “death” than “dying alone.”

Taking all of the above into consideration, I’d like to suggest that this traditional model of “adulthood” is short-sighted and out-dated (to say the least). Having life goals IS absolutely essential, BUT in my 28 years on earth, if in fact I’ve learned anything, it’s this simple truth: true age and “maturity” (and therefore what constitutes adulthood/growing up) cannot and should NOT be merely defined by a number OR series of tangible accomplishments. After all, we’ve all known “adults” whose behaviour is juvenile, at best, and “children” who take us by surprise by the wisdom they effortlessly espouse.

Instead, I’d like to propose that we should assess age (and “adulthood”) by one’s level of “psychological maturity”: the ability to encounter all of life’s circumstances with a non-defensive introspective empathetic responsible point of view. Yes, I know that’s a rather loaded statement! It goes without saying that maintaining consistency when it comes to adopting/applying a “psychologically mature” perspective is by far the most trying aspect of this entire exercise.

Never fear my friends! With that said, this month’s lesson comes directly off of a page from my recent birthday book: ASK QUESTIONS. Rarely is there a time something should be accepted at its “face value” or “assumed” about. True understanding and therefore appropriate “mature” reaction is ONLY possible when one has inquired to learn all sides of the equation.

Col17_GuiltThe other day a girlfriend of mine texted me in a panic. Though her initial message merely read, “Hey what’s up?”, I knew immediately (call it a hunch, must’ve been a consequence of our recent discussion on gut feelings) her interest in contacting me went far beyond a casual check-in.

It didn’t take long after my prompt reply for her to proceed in sending me an uncensored description of all of the wrongdoings she had committed recently, followed by profuse apologies and a request for forgiveness (out of fear she’d lose me as a friend) as though I were some divine entity.

I explained to her while I did not in any way, shape or form condone her actions, I was in no position to judge another person as we all (including me!) make mistakes. Moreover despite her unfortunate choices as of late, I relayed to her, as ironic as it may sound, that the horrible feelings she was currently battling with were actually a good thing. After all, if she could commit atrocious acts on a regular basis without inspiring extreme feelings of remorse shortly thereafter, she’d fit one of the psychological profile characteristics of a serial killer (ie: lack of a conscience) and accordingly, I’m not so certain I’d feel safe enough to be her pal!

That of course is the irony of guilt: it makes you feel absolutely wretched, but you know what? That wretchedness is valuable as it acts as an instigator for growth, learning and yep, you guessed it, psychological maturity.

According to Martin Hoffman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at New York University, “the guilt response” is composed of both an emotional and cognitive element and is activated upon the acknowledgement that one has participated in an action that clashes with his/her self-concept in a detrimental capacity. Important in this definition is the understanding of how one’s emotions (ie: feelings and sensations) interact with one’s cognition (ie: logical thought processes).

As cognitive psychologist Piaget theorized, the ability to think about one’s actions abstractly and hypothetically is a capacity that does not typically develop until late childhood. As a consequence, the internalization of a sense of personal “morality” (ie: the capacity for forming judgments about what is morally right or wrong, good or bad, in terms of how said actions will affect others) cannot begin to form until around the same time period, at the very earliest.

The teaching of morality and responsibility then (at least in the initial stages) relies upon the behaviourist’s “primitive” model of reward/punishment. Essentially, if we are rewarded for “good” deeds even if we do not have the psychological capacity to understand that they are “morally” good, we will continue to commit them purely for the reward. On the other side of the equation, if we are punished for negative outbursts, equally it is presumed we will no longer be compelled to act in said fashion. Alas, if only it were that easy when we become grown-ups!

As we age, it seems the grey area between the black side of “wrong” and the white side of “good” expands, often leaving us in situations fraught with moral ambiguity. Throw the media’s influence, legislative and religious hypocrisy along with various cultural factors into the mix, and you’re left with more confusion that clarity. This however is NOT a piece about morality – that’s something you’ll need to figure out on your own (ie: what’s right for you) as you encounter various decisions and dilemmas throughout your life. Often times, situations, particularly of the heart, are powerful enough to act as the catalyst for an entirely new moral compass.

What I do hope you take away from this piece however is as follows: MATURITY IS the ability to admit you’ve made mistakes, the willingness to accept responsibility for any consequences that may result from your actions AND the desire to make amends NOT hold juvenile grudges.

In life, sometimes there are lessons that necessitate multiple “courses” before we fully digest the message. Often times, people continue to “reoffend” despite being cognisant of the Pandora’s box they know they’re going to open. As is the case with many, this apparent lack of foresight is typically accounted to one of two things: a) “tunnel vision” (ie: focussing too much on one’s immediate often superficial self-serving desire for thrills as opposed to long-term meaningful gratification) OR as was the case with my girlfriend b) a lack of a concrete and positive self-concept; something we’ll delve into more next week!

Vol #1, Col #7: En Garde!

Col7_EnGardeAs our discussion of “dissociative anonymity” proved, having a disagreement with a stranger, even if it leads to verbal abuse, is an entirely different ballgame than arguing with someone to whom you have personalities, either professionally or personally. Unfortunately, no matter how much you love or respect someone (and vise versa), sometimes things are still said and done that really can’t be taken back. Unlike what the childhood rhyme would suggest, words can AND do cause considerable pain.

Emotions can be both wonderful and debilitating sensations,often simultaneously. As Courtney Love so eloquently put it, “I love so much I hate.” Because emotions like psychoactive substances can become overwhelming to one’s being (mentally, physically and spiritually), developing self-control,learning coping strategies and importantly, mature conflict resolution is essential to one’s very survival. In fact, as a course in criminology I once took taught me, the number one type of homicide is that which occurs between two males, 18-24, fighting over the same female mate. Yes…love can kill.

In any argument, you will find yourself in one of two roles:that of the instigator or that of the retaliator. While both terms conjure up negative connotations, it’s important to understand that conflict in itself is NOT necessarily a bad thing. Rather, it’s how you deal with it that determines whether the outcome is positive or negative. In fact, many psychologists argue that conflict can be the breeding ground for both self and relationship growth.For example, though initiating emotional discussions is not anyone’s particular cup of tea, dealing with issues when they occur (as opposed to bottling up one’s feelings) is a more mature and healthy response in that it prevents resentment, which can lead to subconscious attempts to sabotage the offender,from building up. Likewise, while it may not be a pleasant experience to hear someone out in terms of how you’ve hurt or offended them (it bruises one’s ego after all), allowing yourself to get defensive and failing to validate the  other party’s feelings only ever makes small conflicts turn into maelstroms. With this said, if you’ve got to tango, you need to learn the moves. In any conflict:

1)     It’s important to talk openly, calmly and honestly:

If you don’t feel comfortable in expressing yourself candidly, you may want to contemplate what the relationship in question actually means to you. Those who love, respect and value you will accept you,warts and all. That’s their job as is yours to reciprocate. Accordingly, if you’ve done something stupid, wrong, hurtful, whathaveyou, be mature and own up to it. Accepting responsibility for your actions is one of the first major steps to growing up.

2)      To avoid defensive reactions which bar communications, learn to preface your complaints with statements of care:

For example, before launching into how the offender has hurt you, say something gentle along the following lines: “I’d really like us to be able to have an open and mature relationship with each other so that we can better understand each other’s perspectives. With that said, I’d like to speak with you about what happened the other day. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but (this)and (this action) really hurt my feelings.”

I know this may seem like a bunch of gobbly-goop, but honestly, just making a few statements such as those above before participating in a full-on emotional discourse can save you from getting into a further conflict about the argument itself! There are a few important aspects of the above preface worth mentioning:

a) the emphasis on what you desire in your relationship with the other person. By stating outright how much you value the other person, their perspective and what ideally you’d like to work toward with them relationship-wise, it minimizes the chance of a defensive reaction by reaffirming your words are coming from a place of care and a desire to fix issues, rather than create them.

b) the emphasis on ‘speaking with’ the individual, rather than ‘speaking’ to them. Subtle changes in word phrasing can result in dramatic effects, both for the better or worst. By using the expression “speak with” in this context rather than “to speak to”, it illustrates your desire for cooperative non-confrontational discussion as opposed to lecturing or belittling which again, for obvious reasons, will minimize the chance of a defensive reaction.

c) the emphasis on owning your feelings. Again, though subtle, stating that you felt hurt (ie: an ‘I statement’)as opposed to “YOU HURT ME” (ie: a ‘You Statement’) makes a world of difference in terms of the reaction it’ll merit. By owning your feelings in discussions,it allows you to explain your point-of-view, while at the same time compelling the offender to validate your feelings by demonstrating empathy.

 

3)     If there’s a chance things will get heated, set ground rules for discussion such as allotting each speaker a time limit to express their concerns, while making it clear that personal attacks will not be tolerated.

If one or both parties begins to “brickwall” (ie: gets so emotional that there’s no logic in their words and they’re effectively only spewing fire from a defensive stance), it may be best to leave the “scene of the crime” until you’ve both had a chance to cool down. Note however it’s important to not leave the discussion hanging in limbo for too long as that too could breed further problems.

 

4)     Avoid both saying and accepting the “I’m Fine” statement:

In a word, it’s b.s. If there’s a distinct frustration,anger, annoyance etc. in someone’s tone of voice and they tell you “they’re fine”, don’t buy it. That’s not license to poke and prod them however as this will likely only piss them off further. A more successful approach would be stating something along the lines of, “I don’t wish to irritate you, but it seems to me there is something on your mind. If you’d like to speak about it,I’d be happy to listen. I’m just concerned is all.” As with the last suggested phrasing, there are some key aspects to point out here:

a)      the emphasis on not wishing to create further problems and a genuine concern for the individual’s well being. By including both of these considerations in your approach, it should help the individual feel “safe” in expressing their concerns as well as calm any anger that may be brewing, even if what has gotten them riled up in the first place directly involved something you said or did.

b)      the use of “it seems to me” and “I’m concerned”: Again both of these phrasings indicate an owning of your emotions without putting words into the other party’s mouth. If the individual is using the “I’m Fine” statement, the last thing you want to do is assume you know what’s bothering them. NEVER assume anything in a conflict – people will and do surprise you.

c)       the emphasis on when THEY’D like to speak about what’s ailing them. You’ve effectively put the ball in the other person’s court, BUT IMPORTANTLY ALSO indicated you’d like to resolve the issue. This demonstrates a mature approach and again should help the individual open up in a more timely and calm manner.

5)     ALWAYS avoid childish “I told you so”-like remarks as well as passive aggressiveness (ie:acting like everything is fine, only to turn around seemingly of nowhere and explode). I believe this is self-explanatory.

6)      Learn the Art of Forgiving and Letting Go:

You’ve heard the expression, “focus on the task at hand.”While usually uttered in reference to the workplace, it would do you a great service to also employ said suggestion when it comes to conflict resolution.Ongoing guilt-tripping is psychological abuse intended to manipulate and establish unfair power dynamics in a relationship. It’s a low move and accomplishes nothing…nothing positive anyway.

Conflicts, as I stated near the beginning of this piece, can serve as a tremendous source of growth, but that’s only if you allow yourself and others to move forward, learn from your mistakes and let go.

As for forgiving others, set limits and know them. Some acts are altogether unforgiveable – that’s a given — but remember, forgiveness benefits you just as much as the offender. Studies have proven that maintaining grudges not only affects individuals on an emotional level, but further can affect one’s physical health. The same goes for living with guilt.

And finally…

7)      Remember, there is a HUGE difference from the listener’s perspective in terms of being outright called a derogatory comment VERSUS having one’s actions labelled as symptomatic of that derogatory comment (ie: you are a bitch vs. you are being a bitch).

 

Yes, that’s right folks, for clarity purposes, I’m referencing yet again the concept of the “personal attack.” The former statement above implies a permanent character trait that one cannot change, while the latter points out that while you are clearly displeased with the individual’s current choices/behaviour, you still love/respect them. Criticize actions, not individuals. In other words, this week’s lesson: fight fair.  

 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.