Tag Archive: psychology

Vol #1, Col #5: Bloody Pirates!

Col5_DefensivenessOnce upon a time in a land not too far away, I made the naïve presumption that the world of theatre was somehow more legit than that of rock’n’roll. That was until the following story was relayed to me…

Excited to endeavour to express his artistic side via a new medium, I’ve been assured that the motivation behind the actions in which my good friend (who will remain nameless, out of respect) partook that I’m about to describe, stemmed only from a desire to achieve what was best for the production for all involved.

Upon being cast for their various roles, he along with the others were issued a score, script and cd featuring the musical’s key tracks and provided with the simple instructions that they were to familiarize themselves with each before formal rehearsals began. Well, one can only imagine the dismay he and his fellow cast members experienced when practises started and they discovered that one of the featured tracks was to be performed in a completely different (MUCH higher) key than what was featured on the disc. Worse, the leads in the song were clearly “actors” more than “singers” and their struggle to hit the right pitches was apparent to everyone.

Several under-the-breath comments, grimaces and questions were issued toward the musical director (MD, for short) of the production, but he seemed either oblivious or uninterested in catering to the strengths of the cast. My friend gave him the benefit of the doubt that it was the former and sent him a politely worded email that I agree was anything but confrontational bringing this concern to the MD’s attention. The message emphasized that my friend was merely speaking on behalf of himself and SOME of his fellow cast members with whom he’d conversed, and proposed that perhaps at the next rehearsal a poll could be taken to see how everyone was feeling in regard to the new key of the song.

Now admittedly, this was my friend’s first ever experience with community theatre and therefore he’s willing to admit it’s possible he did not correctly follow protocol here, however it only seemed logical to him (and me, for that matter) that if one had a music-related concern, they’d address it toward the music director. But I digress…

Believe it or not, my friend’s seemingly innocuous act addressing what he felt was only a minor concern led to all hell breaking loose and the MD proceeding to send out a mass email to the entire cast and crew accusing my friend of being the ringleader in a “mutiny” against him. Instead of even attempting to resolve this matter professionally (keep in mind my friend even offered to apologize to everyone despite the fact he’s still not certain where he went wrong), my friend was as they say “cut” from the show.

Now there are several different psychological concepts this story houses within itself (ie: outgroup versus in-group mentality and “scapegoat-ism” to mention a few), but I’d like to offer a theoretical hypothesis for the MD’s over-the-top response:

Generally as a result of some sort of trauma or bullying they’ve experienced, certain individuals (usually those with pre-existing insecurities) develop what is known as a “hypersensitive” disposition as a means of self-preservation. Essentially, on a subconscious level their minds become primed to react consistently in a “survival protectionist mode” (also known as “defensiveness”) anytime anyone proposes even the slightest objection/suggestion in regard to their actions. Given that I’m told the MD was an eccentric fellow and member of a minority group, I’m gonna hazard a guess and suggest that he likely continues to be/has been in the past tormented by others.

Because of this hypersensitivity, such individuals are unable to react rationally (ie: non-defensively/non-emotionally/non-combatively) even when NO clear “personal attacks” are issued (personal attacks to be discussed at length in the near future). As leadership mentor Shelley Holmes explains in her hit e-book, Influence Your Way to Success, a hypersensitive reaction occurs when one feels psychologically “unsafe” in conversation. This feeling of “unsafeness” is triggered by a fear of, “being found to be less than what they want others to perceive them as, a loss of status, [a belief that one’s] self-image is under challenge, [a belief that one’s] self-esteem is threatened or finally a fear of rejection”. Basically, anything that doesn’t fit into the context of “praise” regardless of the tone used, content discussed or the person who is uttering said remarks is interpreted as a means to “go to war”.

It’s important to recognize that the MD’s elected form of strategy (ie: to form a gossip train) instead of having a mature adult discussion with my friend directly or at the least asking the director of the show to act as a mediator between them to resolve the issue, further exemplifies (t)his behaviour is rooted in insecurity: why else would one launch a “smear your enemy/pity me campaign” unless it were to seek the validation of others and therefore denounce any sense of personal responsibility for causing the concern? That’s highschool tactics 101.

The biggest problem however when it comes to hypersensitive individuals is that if you point out their defensiveness, it generally only leads to them then becoming defensive about being defensive. Eugh! Suffice it to say there’s a reason that defensiveness has been labelled one of the “four horsemen of [relationship] apocalypse” by psychology professor and marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman. It not only impedes communication between parties, but ALSO self-reflection on behalf of the individual afflicted by this issue. The reality is this: defensiveness like depression is ultimately something the bearer of said behaviour has to overcome by first being willing to admit they have a problem.

If you should ever (god forbid) find yourself in a situation wherein you’re dealing with a hypersensitive individual, how you react in turn will undoubtedly be affected by your relationship to him/her. If, for example, you’re dealing with a loved one, the best advice I can offer is to gently remind them that the motivation behind whatever you’ve said or done that’s resulted in their defensiveness is purely coming from a place of care and therefore there is no need for them to feel threatened. If on the other hand you encounter this behaviour from a stranger, superior or someone with better established political ties within the group, you may very well be screwed as my poor friend was.

Col4_FriendshipAs a Leo, one of my strongest traits is my sense of loyalty: believe me, I would do ANYTHING for the people I love. BUT, there comes a time in one’s life wherein your relationship dynamics with others vastly change.

As we age, enter long-term romantic partnerships and begin to plan out our futures (careers and otherwise), we want to be surrounded by those who not only have similar interests, but also SIMILAR VALUES. We lose patience for the drama-rama b.s. and we frankly also don’t have time for it (especially when we start to pump out babies!).

In a nutshell, we want our friends to be there for us when the going gets tough, but we also want the assurance of knowing that if we cannot see or speak to them for a few months on end, our relationships will NOT fall apart over trivialities. The key therefore to maintaining mature adult relationships does not revolve around how much time is spent together, but letting the other person know how much you truly VALUE the time you do spend together.

As Aristotle pointed out in his work The Nichomachean Ethics oh-so-many years ago, there are three basic friendship formation patterns and those patterns typically (though not always) correspond with age (psychological age that is):

1) Friendships Based on Pleasure: this type of friendship provides you with enjoyable company and/or affection. In elementary school, for example, two pals may bond over nothing more than a shared love for a board game or cartoon giving them a partner with whom they can participate in recreational pursuits.

2) Friendships Based on Utility: this type of friendship provides you with access to something you desire; you may or may not even like the individual beyond what they can “get” you. For example, in highschool, friendships are often pretentious (or strategic, depending upon how you look at things) based on little beyond trying to score points popularity-wise or using someone for their partying “ins”.

3) Friendships Based on Goodness: this type of friendship is based upon a deeper bond in that you desire the person’s company because you see good in them, but also desire good for that individual in a selfless manner because of a genuine care for them. Friendships based on goodness are the definition of TRUE mature adult friendships.

As I’m sure it’s pretty self-evident based upon the above descriptions, as one’s life situation evolves their friend circle(s) typically follow suit. For instance, if you’re involved in a romantic relationship, you likely have more “couples friends” than your single counterparts. Similarly, if you’ve just embarked on your professional journey, you’ll start to meet people (with whom you likely have more in common than your school buddies) via work, networking parties and travel.

With all of this said, there will unavoidably be some painful friendship dissolutions given that not everyone grows up at the same rate…or sometimes at all. I mean, if you’ve got a spouse, kids, fancy car and career, do you really think you’ll still be hanging out with one of your highschool buddies who hit his/her peak in their teens and continues to recall their glory days in drunken hazes? I’m gonna hazard a guess and say probably not. It comes down to this: you simply no longer have the same things (hobbies nor values) in common as you’re no longer leading lives in the same direction. Let me break it down to you via a personal momento:

Remember that “trainwreck” friend of mine I was telling you about last week? I felt it only fair to relay to you the conclusion of our story. Like any dysfunctional largely one-sided relationship, it could only last so long. The breaking point for me coincided with the traumatic breakup with my fiancé (nothing like a double whammy):

When she had heard the news of our split, she rushed to my aid and attempted to build me back up, swearing that if she ever came face-to-face with him again, she’d give him a serious piece of her mind and a full-on ass kicking. Despite her apparent disgust with my ex’s philandering, a month later I discovered apparently SHE had been “dating” a MARRIED man WHO HAD KIDS and was STILL LIVING WITH HIS WIFE! What’s worse is that she was perfectly okay with the fact their dates consisted of going to strip clubs together!

She claimed he didn’t love his wife but HAD to stay with her “for the sake of the kids” (right….). I asked her to think about his wife sitting at home – how she might feel if she found out about their affair? I asked her to picture ME at home being the wife that was being screwed around on. Did that make the situation any less kosher for her to swallow?

As per my friend’s typical style, it was excuse upon excuse and allowance upon allowance. Nothing I had said or done for her throughout the time we’d known each other seemed to have made any impact. She got herself into a mess yet again and somehow justified it. Yet, couldn’t even fathom of the fact that the HELL she was now experiencing (ie: our final fight) was BROUGHT ON BY HERSELF. I knew it’d be the same old story. I knew she’d once again spin it for sympathy. If you can believe it, she actually tried to throw in MY face that my love for her was supposed to be “unconditional” and how dare I ruin our friendship over her personal choices.

As you know, I bailed her out time and time again, but the difference in this circumstance was pretty black and white: how could I reasonably accept her actions YET simultaneously reject those of my partner when they were one in the same? Wouldn’t that make me the world’s biggest hypocrite and/or pushover? Wouldn’t that make me a serious victim of what Festinger coined “cognitive dissonance”?! Indeed it would. Indeed I couldn’t. Not to mention as a feminist, I had/have some pretty serious objections to the concept of a “strip club” being an appropriate setting for a date…but I digress.

So as it were, with my engagement went one of my so-called “best” friends. But as I hope all of you have gathered at this point, ALL healthy mature adult relationships are about mutuality first and foremost. I think it’s safe to say that NEITHER my engagement nor above described friendship fit that description.

 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).
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.