Aug 17

Solitude Vs. Loneliness: Two Nonfiction Books

Solitude is not necessarily about loneliness. It is, in fact, a condition that can be appreciated, cultivated, and enjoyed. Below are two nonfiction books that address the benefits of solitude.

I. How to Be Alone by Sara Maitland (2014)

Kate KellawayThe Guardian, asked Maitland the important question about the difference between solitude and loneliness: “Solitude is a description of a fact: you are on your own. Loneliness is a negative emotional response to it. People think they will be lonely and that is the problem – the expectation is also now a cultural assumption.”

Selected Quotes from How to Be Alone:

Most of us have a dream of doing something in particular which we have never been able to find anyone to do with us. And the answer is simple really: do it yourself.

Remember it is quite normal to be a bit frightened of being alone. Most of us grew up in a social environment that sent out the explicit message that solitude was bad for you: it was bad for your health (especially your mental health) and bad for your “character” too.

…(B)eing alone can be beneficial and it is certainly not detrimental to well-being, provided the individuals have freely chosen it. A good deal of the “scientific evidence” for the danger [of solitude] to physical and mental health comes from studies of people in solitary confinement.

II. Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris (2017)

Below Michael Harris offers “Five Ways Being Alone Will Improve Your Life” (Time). Click on the link for additional details.

  1.  Politics. Getting our news on social media doesn’t necessarily lend itself to increasing our understanding. “We all need time away from the red-faced online crowds if we want to consider the things they’re shouting. The radical thinkers of tomorrow will be people who know how to remove themselves from toxic pools of public discourse; they’ll be people who have mastered the art of moving back and forth, between crowd and solitude.”
  2. Daydreaming. “Studies show that, when the mind wanders, our brains activate what’s called a ‘default mode network.’ An intense series of brain functions go to work, despite the ‘blankness’ that the brain projects to us…While institutions continue to place an emphasis on concentration and collaboration, it’s worth asking why so many of our greatest artists and scientists make a habit of solitary walks in the woods or through city parks…”
  3. Culture Consumption. Instead of going with the mainstream film, book, and song suggestions that everyone else goes for, do we really know what we actually prefer? “We owe it to ourselves to step away from these crowd-fueled suggestions and foster our inner weirdos instead. What do you really like? There are stranger things waiting to be loved.”
  4. Wayfinding. Now using such tools as GPS and Google Maps, we tend not to get lost anymore. But “feeling wholly alone in an unforgiving landscape, might be better for us than we think.” It’s a skill that can be helpful. “Try taking a drive in a strange town without your phone. Try walking into the woods alone. When we get lost, we have a chance to find ourselves.”
  5. Relationships. “We cannot desire that which we already possess. Three-dimensional love must include periods of separation: as Rilke noted, ‘the highest task for a bond between two people [is] that each protects the solitude of the other’…Walking away from our phones, resisting the urge to Facebook-stalk our boyfriends and girlfriends, composing a single love letter instead of a hundred inconsequential texts, will shake up a relationship more than any ‘disruptive’ technology.”
Aug 10

“Set Boundaries, Find Peace”: Selected Quotes

Boundaries are expectations and needs that help you feel safe and comfortable in your relationships. Expectations in relationships help you stay mentally and emotionally well. Learning when to say no and when to say yes is also an essential part of feeling comfortable when interacting with others.  Nedra Glover Tawwab, Set Boundaries, Find Peace

Therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab has written a practical book about boundaries. In Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself (2021) she “identifies six types of boundaries—physical, sexual, intellectual, emotional, material, and time” (Publishers Weekly).

The following quotes will give you helpful ideas about how to set boundaries to improve your life.

Tell people what you need.

Assume that people know only what you tell them, honor only what you request, and can’t read your mind.

Setting limits won’t disrupt a healthy relationship.

Setting boundaries is not a betrayal of your family, friends, partner, work, or anyone or anything else.

Neglecting self-care is the first thing to happen when we get caught up in our desire to help others.

Avoidance is a passive-aggressive way of expressing that you are tired of showing up.

The ability to say no to yourself is a gift. If you can resist your urges, change your habits, and say yes to only what you deem truly meaningful, you’ll be practicing healthy self-boundaries. It’s your responsibility to care for yourself without excuses.

We can’t create more time, but we can do less, delegate, or ask for help.

…I say no to things I don’t like. I say no to things that don’t contribute to my growth. I say no to things that rob me of valuable time. I spend time around healthy people. I reduce my interactions with people who drain my energy. I protect my energy against people who threaten my sanity. I practice positive self-talk. I allow myself to feel and not judge my feelings. I forgive myself when I make a mistake. I actively cultivate the best version of myself. I turn off my phone when appropriate. I sleep when I’m tired. I mind my business. I make tough decisions because they’re healthy for me. I create space for activities that bring me joy. I say yes to activities that interest me despite my anxiety about trying them. I experience things alone instead of waiting for the “right” people to join me.

Those of us who are people-pleasers assume that others won’t like it when we advocate for what we want. Therefore, we pretend to go along in an effort to be accepted by others. But healthy people appreciate honesty and don’t abandon us if we say no.

Once you grow beyond pleasing others, setting your standards becomes easier. Not being liked by everyone is a small consequence when you consider the overall reward of healthier relationships.

Remember: there is no such thing as guilt-free boundary setting. If you want to minimize (not eliminate) guilt, change the way you think about the process. Stop thinking about boundaries as mean or wrong; start to believe that they’re a nonnegotiable part of healthy relationships, as well as a self-care and wellness practice.

Of course we have no way of knowing how someone else will respond to our assertiveness. When someone has a history of rage and anger, it’s understandable that we would avoid setting limits with that person. But we victimize ourselves further when we let our fear prevent us from doing what we need to do.

Aug 03

Worry (Selected Quotes): A Wasted Emotion

Worry is interest paid on trouble before it falls due. W.R. Inge

And some other pithy quotes about worry:

Karen Salmansohn: “Worrying is blurrying. It stops you from seeing clearly.”

Corrie Ten Boom: “Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength– carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

A.J. Cronin: “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, but only saps today of its strength.”

The Buffalo News: “Worry is like a rocking chair: It gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”

Voltaire: “The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.”

Mark Twain: “I am an old man and have had a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

Eckhart Tolle: “What will be left of all the fearing and wanting associated with your problematic life situation that every day takes up most of your attention? A dash, one or two inches long, between the date of birth and date of death on your gravestone.”

Ana Monnar: “Whatever is going to happen will happen, whether we worry or not.”

Dalai Lama XIV: “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

Max Lucado: “How can a person deal with anxiety? You might try what one fellow did. He worried so much that he decided to hire someone to do his worrying for him. He found a man who agreed to be his hired worrier for a salary of $200,000 per year. After the man accepted the job, his first question to his boss was, ‘Where are you going to get $200,000 per year?’ To which the man responded, ‘That’s your worry.’

Jul 27

Soul Mates: Do You Believe in Them?

Do you believe in the concept of soul mates? If so, here are some views you may dislike:

I don’t believe in soul mates, not exactly. I think it’s ridiculous to think there’s only one person out there for us. What if your ‘soul mate’ lives in Zimbabwe? What if he dies young? I also think ‘two souls becoming one’ is ridiculous. You need to hold on to yourself. But I do believe in souls being in sync, souls that mirror each other.
Richelle Mead, Last Sacrifice

Nothing has produced more unhappiness than the concept of the soul mate. Frank Pittman (1935-2012), psychiatrist

There’s no such thing as a soulmate…and who would want there to be? I don’t want half of a shared soul. I want my own damn soul.”
Rachel Cohn, Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List

But I’m not going to stop at listing these negative opinions—I’m going to add even more! Why? Because I too do not believe in the concept of having just one soul mate.

To my mind, the idea of finding one’s ‘soul mate’ has about as much basis in truth as the idea that each of us has a doppelganger (an ‘evil twin’) and that if we somehow chance to meet up, a bloody duel will surely ensue, because one of us must die. Shauna H. Springer, PhD, Psychology Today

Moreover, I don’t think believing in one does you any favors. From psychologist Bjarne Holmes‘s post “Why You Should Stop Searching for Your Soul Mate” (Psychology Today):

Research has quite clearly shown that a strong belief in destiny can actually be harmful to you and your relationship. Here’s why. Having the mentality of believing that you’ve found your soul mate is related to all kinds of unhealthy thinking about your love life.

One of the main issues is that believers in having just one soul mate might skimp on doing the work needed to keep their relationship going strong. Holmes offers some tips, which I’m paraphrasing below:

  • Practice and work make for an enduring bond; just having a belief in fated romance—or in finding your “soul mate”—doesn’t.
  • When you’re with a good match, time may indeed lead to feeling that this person is your “soul mate.” But that depth of feeling comes with communication, patience, understanding, and other relationship building blocks.
  • Other beliefs often related to the soul mate fallacy include that your partner can read your mind and that the great sex will last forever. No. Couples have to talk; mates have to continually nurture their relationship.

Where do you fit regarding belief in soul mates? Holmes links you to the following quiz: 

Jul 20

Stress Can Be Bad, No Matter the Semantics

Stress: common and expected, not necessarily bad for you. On the other hand, it often becomes problematic.

Much of it occurs in the workplace. As researcher John Medina explains in his book Brain Rules, stress can contribute to both depression and anxiety. Bruce Rosenstein (USA Today) summarizes Medina’s “Rule No. 8”:

Stressed brains don’t learn the same way. People are routinely put under stress at work, yet studies have proved it to be counterproductive and costly. Medina writes: ‘Stress attacks the immune system, increasing employees’ chances of getting sick. Stress elevates blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke and autoimmune diseases.’ That increases absenteeism and health care and pension costs.

A large factor in the experience of stress is control, Medina notes. “The less you feel in control, the more likely you are to experience the type of stress that can hurt learning.”

How do you know if you’re under too much of the wrong kind of stress? One tool is The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, or Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRSS), created in 1967 by two psychiatrists.

A widely used instrument since then, it has not been without criticism over the years—for example, for not taking various cultures into consideration or for not including factors other than life events. At the very least, though, it can be useful for visualizing life’s problems quantitatively. For example, “death of a spouse,” at 100 points, is at the very top, ranked right above the 73-pointer “divorce”—this idea alone, i.e., that one specific loss is more stressful than the other, however, has been debatable.

But maybe we focus too much on individuals experiencing stress and not enough on the larger society. In One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea, therapist Dana Becker addresses stressism, “the current belief that the tensions of contemporary life are primarily individual lifestyle problems.”

Alexander Nazaryan, New Republic, summarizes Becker’s views in this regard:

…Becker is especially adamant that the things we point to as the causes of stress actually stem from identifiable, concrete social or economic problems. She takes to task, for example, Andrew Solomon for writing in The New York Times Magazine that ‘poverty is depressing.’ The issue for the poor is money, not serotonin; gay youth don’t need alleviation from stress, but tough penalties for bullies. She even applies this logic, carefully, to PTSD, making the point that war is hell, not stress. There are 175 ways to diagnose PTSD, and some 20,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq were on meds for ‘temporary stress injuries’ and ‘stress illnesses’ by 2008. These men and women may well need help, yet stress, in the end, winds up being a too-easy explanation of why we fight, who does the fighting for us, and how we make sure those fighters are integrated healthfully back into peacetime society.

Becker’s tired as well of the person-centered term “issues.” As she states in a Psychology Today post:

Is it an accident that ‘issue’ has taken on an increasingly personal meaning at a time when our political system seems blanketed in permafrost, and big-ticket social and political issues like income inequality appear virtually insoluble? I think I’m beginning to understand why ‘issues’ has been sticking in my craw. For one thing, I find the inexorable march from the political to the personal really troublesome. But there’s another problem (yes, I did say problem): if everyone has issues, then nobody’s got issues. And I take issue with that.

Many of us these days readily cop to a number of “issues.” One client told me even her “issues had issues.” My own blog tagline used to be “Therapists have issues too.”  My point? Becker’s got a point.