Mar 19

Social Anxiety: “How to Be Yourself”

Just be yourself!” You’ve likely heard this advice and thought “But how?” Ellen Hendriksen’s How to Be Yourself is for the millions of Americans who consider themselves quiet, shy, introverted, or socially anxious. Through clear, engaging storytelling, she takes readers on an inspiring journey: from how social anxiety gets wired into our brains to how you can learn to live a life without fear. This book is also a groundbreaking roadmap to finally being your true, authentic self. Susan Cain, author of Quiet

Clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen has experienced and dealt with social anxiety herself. In addition to devoting her clinical career to this condition, another way she wants to help others lessen its effects is through her new book How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety.

Up to 12% of the population have reportedly dealt with social anxiety, which, incidentally, is not the same as introversion, though there can be overlap. The main differences between the two are outlined in an article by Hendriksen. Click on the link for details.

  1. Introversion is born. Social anxiety is made.
  2. In social anxiety, there’s a fear of being revealed.
  3. Perfectionism lays fertile ground for social anxiety.
  4. Introversion is your way. Social anxiety gets in your way.

Another list of four is Hendriksen’s types of social anxiety (see her website Resources):

  1. Physical appearance self-consciousness
  2. Physical symptoms (fear of them showing)
  3. Diminished social skills (fear of their obviousness)
  4. Worry one’s personality is “fundamentally deficient”

Curious about how badly social anxiety affects your own life? Take Henriksen’s online quiz.

As for how to lessen the impact of “self-consciousness on steroids,” i.e., social anxiety, A. Pawlowski, Today, repackages the author’s advice in the form of six steps, the details of which are excerpted and/or paraphrased below:

  1. CHALLENGE YOUR INNER CRITIC: What are you afraid of? How bad would that really be? What are the odds this will happen? How will I cope?
  2. LET GO OF SAFETY BEHAVIORS: “To lessen anxiety in social situations, people often stare at their phones, wear sunglasses to avoid making eye contact, hide in plain sight, say very little or leave the room.” These just make social situations worse.
  4. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE SMOOTHEST PERSON IN THE ROOM: Just be your human self.
  5. ACCEPT THE SHENANIGANS OF YOUR ANXIOUS BODY: “Embrace your racing heart and sweaty palms without judgment, Hendriksen said. A bit of self-compassion will help put some space between you and the anxious thoughts.”
  6. YOU’LL FEEL LESS ANXIOUS BY LIVING YOUR LIFE: “Patients often tell Hendriksen they want to be less anxious first so they can finally go out and do things they’ve been avoiding like traveling, seeing friends or dating. But that’s actually backwards. Doing those very things now builds confidence, leading to less anxiety down the road, she said.”

Not ready to buy the book? Another of the resources offered via Hendriksen’s website is a free 7-day course to get you started toward decreased social anxiety.

Mar 15

“Golden Exits”: Heavy on Interpersonal Communication

The title refers to the tides on which people move in and out of each other’s lives, and the constant, maybe futile hope that there will be a perfect, mutually beneficial opportunity… Emily Yoshida, Vulture, regarding Golden Exits

Now available for home viewing, Golden Exits (2017) is set up below by Manohla Dargis, New York Times:

‘Love, jealousy and deficiency’ would make a fitting alternate title for ‘Golden Exits,’ the latest from the writer-director Alex Ross Perry. These words are spoken fairly late in the movie, which traces the emotional and psychological architecture of two intersecting groups of men and women. For the most part, they make an absurdly comic, at times pitifully narcissistic assembly — you laugh at them and then you cringe. White and mostly comfortably middle-class or bourgeois adjacent, they have nice homes, jobs and people they love and some they scarcely tolerate. They also have a lot of time to talk about themselves and their discontent, which eats at some and all but consumes others.

Elizabeth Weitzman, The Wrap, on a key premise every critic points out:

‘I feel like people never make films about ordinary people who don’t really do anything,’ sighs…Naomi (Emily Browning…), and she has arrived in Brooklyn from Australia only to find herself fetishized by a group of ordinary people who don’t really do anything.

More about the plot and some key characters from Weitzman:

Nick [Adam Horovitz] is an archivist, currently tasked with making sense of his father-in-law’s life. His wife, Alyssa (Chloë Sevigny), wants to believe that he hired Naomi for her skills, but Alyssa’s sister Gwen (Mary-Louise Parker) is skeptical. And rightfully so: not only does Nick have a vaguely referenced history of infidelity, but he almost immediately shows up at Naomi’s door drunk, at night, wheedling for some company.

Of special interest to this blog is Alyssa’s occupation. As described by Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times, she’s “a morose therapist who hasn’t forgotten or forgiven her husband’s earlier dalliances.”

Rounding out the main cast of characters are Buddy (Jason Schwartzman), his wife Jess (Analeigh Tipton), and Jess’s sister Sam (Lily Rabe).

Richard Brody, New Yorker, on the themes of Golden Exits:

…a story of sibling rivalries and family heritage (artistic and material), of fragile marriages and bitter solitude, of solidarity and betrayal, of the possibilities of youth and the limits of encroaching middle age, of work as passion and work as burden, of the intimate relationships that develop through work, that nourish work, and that threaten work. It’s also the story of a small business—akin to a low-budget production office—which the tangled web of personal and professional connections turns into a splitting nucleus of emotional fury.

Maybe the music is one of the film’s best features, notes Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter, who isn’t the only critic to notice:

As you wait patiently — or perhaps you don’t — for something to actually happen, it slowly dawns that, as is often true in books but not in films, what’s really happening lies not in physical action but in the clogged but still beating hearts of all the characters. And it’s left to DeWitt’s brilliant score to expose all this. You barely notice the music at first, so discreetly is it layered onto the soundtrack. But it’s there, almost constantly, quietly roiling and churning, ebbing and flowing in an exceptionally beautiful way that becomes more noticeable with time but never distracts or calls attention to itself. It’s hard to think of another recent example of a strictly instrumental score that was so intrinsically linked to the artistic essence of a film.

You can see the trailer for Golden Exits below:

Mar 12

“Born Both: An Intersex Life” by Hida Viloria

I was raised as a girl but discovered at a young age that my body looked different. Having endured an often turbulent home life as a kid, there were many times when I felt scared and alone, especially given my attraction to girls. But unlike most people in the first world who are born intersex–meaning they have genitals, reproductive organs, hormones, and/or chromosomal patterns that do not fit standard definitions of male or female–I grew up in the body I was born with because my parents did not have my sex characteristics surgically altered at birth. Hida Viloria, author of Born Both: An Intersex Life

Intersex activist and Latinx lesbian Hida Viloria‘s Born Both: An Intersex Life has recently been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, LGBTQ Nonfiction.

Kasandra Brabaw, Refinery29, quotes Viloria on a basic fact: “Almost every time people talk about gender and gender identity, they forget to mention that people are actually born male, female, and intersex.” Viloria offers the statistic that about 1.7% of individuals are born intersex—”roughly the same percentage as people who are born with red hair.”

Excerpts from Viloria’s memoir can be found at NewNowNext and Out Magazine. In the former the author describes past internal conflict about how to dress; in the latter, others’ confusion about Viloria’s identity.

Kirkus Reviews explains some pertinent history about Viloria’s process:

Until s/he was 20 years old, Viloria lived he/r life as a female (pronouns the author self-identifies with). But when a doctor said that the size of he/r clitoris ‘just [wasn’t] normal’ and asked to run tests on he/r, Viloria began to question he/r identity. He/r femaleness had never been an issue at home; neither he/r mother nor he/r doctor father had ever discussed he/r physical differences and never allowed for any surgical alterations at birth. At the same time, however, he/r Catholic upbringing had made it difficult for Viloria to acknowledge to he/r parents that s/he was a lesbian. A move to San Francisco in 1990 propelled the author on a journey of sexual self-discovery that included relationships primarily with women and occasionally men. Five years later, and after reading a newspaper article on intersex people, s/he finally came to the realization that s/he, too, was intersex, or as s/he would say later on, a ‘hermaphrodyke.’

Viloria writes in Born Both about he/r advocacy against the practice of IGM, or intersex genital mutilation, which is performed by some doctors and chosen by some parents, who often are acting out of misguided protectiveness. As s/he states in a HuffPost article:

…I want to clarify that the vast majority of intersex children are born healthy, but are subjected to medically unnecessary surgeries in an attempt to make them fit into sex and gender norms, and it is these surgeries which intersex activists oppose and refer to as IGM—not the minority of cases where intersex children, like all children, are born with issues requiring medical attention for their physical health. Doctors have often conflated these two situations in order to either discredit activists’ goals or imply that IGM is necessary, so it bears mentioning.

In an interview with Ariel Gore (Psychology Today) Viloria answers a question about what mental health professionals can do to help intersex and non-binary clients. Interphobia, including the view that being intersex is a medical disorder, is cited along with internalized interphobia as factors to be particularly conscious of, along with the need to understand “that intersex people can feel good about our sexuality, our bodies, and about being intersex in general, especially when given the right to decide for ourselves who we are…”

Mar 09

“9 to 5”: Possible Film Remake Welcomed

When the movie 9 to 5 was released in 1980, women’s liberation was still a fresh concept for most of America. Rewatching the comedy, about three women fighting back against a sexist boss, you’ll notice that the clothing and office technology has changed, but much of the film’s message about the dynamics between men and women in the workplace remains sadly relevant nearly 40 years later. Oliver Staley, Quartz at Work

According to various news reports, it could happen: a reboot of the popular 1980 comedy 9 to 5 that starred Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton. And rumor has it that all three may relish the idea of returning as their characters, older and wiser.

The official description of 9 to 5 on Rotten Tomatoes: “Three female office workers become friends and get revenge against their boss, a sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot, and in so doing create a more efficient and pleasant work environment.” Dabney Coleman plays the villainous boss.

When the “25th Anniversary Special Edition DVD” was released a few years ago it was aptly, in fact, called the “Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot Edition.”

Although critical reviews weren’t over the top when 9 to 5 was originally released in theaters, audience response was very positive. It was actually the highest grossing comedy that year and the second-highest of any genre.

Refresh your memory with this trailer:

In People Magazine, Drew Mackie states that one of the many reasons the feminist message of 9 to 5 still holds up today is that sexist workplace issues and the “pink-collar ghetto” continue to exist, of course. “It continues to be tough to be a lower-level employee, women face challenges men don’t, and in particular it’s just a lot of work to be a mom with a full-time job. In fact, if someone were to remake the movie today, they wouldn’t have to change many of the challenges faced by the characters in the original.”

One of those challenges is sexual harassment, a term that wasn’t even used in the film because it wasn’t yet a significant part of the cultural lexicon. Tara Murtha, Rolling Stone:

Mr. Hart spends his days harassing Doralee [Parton] by telling her she’s much more to him than ‘just a dumb secretary.’ He lies about sleeping with her, and purposefully knocks pencils on the floor so she’ll lean over and pick them up. He insults Judy [Fonda], and bullies Violet [Tomlin] by demanding she fix his coffee. After learning she lost out on a promotion to a man she trained, Violet confronts Mr. Hart. ‘Spare me the women’s lib crap,’ he replies.

“The concept of ‘sexual harassment’ as a legal issue,” notes Rebecca Traister, New Republic, “wasn’t drilled into the American consciousness until eleven years after the release of 9 to 5, when Anita Hill testified at Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings.”

Get this, though: When interviewed in 2009 in relation to the opening of the Broadway musical adaptation, 9 to 5‘s writer, Patricia Resnick, was repeatedly confronted by male journalists who believed this issue was no longer relevant (Alana Newhouse, Tablet).

But now it’s 2018, and #MeToo.

The ending of 9 to 5 offers possible solutions to the female workers’ issues that include “job sharing, flexible hours, and on-site child care,” notes Staley of Quartz, who recently interviewed Resnick. She’s not impressed with progress (not) made in real life.

Most of that is still not really around. If you look at the number of major companies that have daycare, it’s a handful. Flexible hours, job sharing, that’s still not really standard. They were kind of cutting-edge ideas, but it’s amazing to me that they are not all in common practice still.

Mar 07

“Happier?”: Collective Quest Studied and Questioned

At the same time that our collective preoccupation with happiness has grown, though, our actual happiness has declined — research shows that Americans are noticeably unhappier than we were just a few decades ago. Cody Delistraty, The Cut, addressing Daniel Horowitz’s book Happier?

In Happier?: The History of a Cultural Movement That Aspired to Transform America (2017) historian/author Daniel Horowitz draws on various areas of knowledge to examine our country’s evolving preoccupation with seeking “subjective well-being” à la the positive psychology movement that “has vigorously fostered its development” (Psychology Today).

A significant conclusion of Horowitz, per Cody Delistraty, The Cut:

Horowitz takes a linear historical approach to the academic question of happiness, tracing the rise of ‘positive psychology’ over time — a rise, he notes, that parallels the growth of both inequality in the U.S. and the cultural emphasis on individuality. Happiness studies, he argues, seem to be a way of convincing people they’re happy — or could be happy — even as they’re being dealt increasingly bad hands in terms of things like income inequality, educational affordability, and access to health care.

Such things as meditation, yoga, and “the conflation of success and merit” are symbolic of Americans’ attempts to reach a state of perceived life satisfaction. Maybe these work for some, but as Delistraty remarks, “When the less-privileged person fails to achieve the happiness they desire, they’re told to blame themselves first and foremost, rather than the circumstances that have helped shape their life.”

Delistraty elaborates further on evolving concepts regarding life fulfillment:

…(A) significant shift has occurred: Positive psychology has begun to move away from defining happiness simply as a positive emotion, [Horowitz] writes, and toward the idea of eudaimonia, or the Aristotelian definition of happiness: well-being that comes from living a moral life.
Living a good, fulfilled, satisfying life is not the same as being happy. In fact, the quest for happiness, so deeply inscribed in the American psyche, can often do more harm than good, especially if your personal happiness comes at the expense of another’s. To make morality, rather than happiness, your central goal is to ultimately achieve a greater form of satisfaction.

As Horowitz recently told Jill Suttie, Greater Good:

I think it’s clear that hedonic pleasures—like back rubs or eating chocolate—don’t offer much in the long run. Though important to people for the moment, they are not important for them in the long term or in their more global sense of well-being. The movement away from—or in addition to—hedonic happiness, and toward a focus on meaning and purposefulness, is to be fully welcomed and embraced, because that shift helps scientists and people like me understand the importance of a much broader range of experience.