Jan 25

Don’t Take Anything Personally

Don’t Take Anything Personally. Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

Ever feel hurt by something someone said or did? You took it personally?

He or she may have actually said, Don’t take this personally, but…—and you still did. Or the opposite: This time…It’s personal. So, of course, you took heed. (But maybe that only happens in the movies.) (It’s the tagline to Jaws: The Revenge, to be specific.)

How can you actually practice Miguel Ruiz‘s wise and strong advice in The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (1997)? Specifically, “Don’t take anything personally,” as he states as one of those four agreements. “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

Several other related quotes from The Four Agreements:

There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.

But it is not what I am saying that is hurting you; it is that you have wounds that I touch by what I have said. You are hurting yourself. There is no way I can take this personally.

…Nothing that your partner does is personal. Your partner is dealing with her own garbage. If you don’t take it personally, it will be so easy for you to have a wonderful relationship with your partner.

Matthew D. Della Porta,The Huffington Post, offers further explanation of the downside of not understanding this premise:

If you take things personally, you make yourself a victim of anything that others say or do. This is like riding bumper cars and feeling outraged that others are colliding into you! Some may hit you because they are being careless or they have no control over their car. Others may crash into you deliberately. It would be quite silly to feel upset about this because we know that when we ride bumper cars, we are going to get hit.
Likewise, in our lives, we will inevitably be struck by the criticisms and oversights of others. Will you be disturbed and flustered by what other people do? Realize that it makes no sense to give people such power over you.

Another resource worth a peek is psychiatrist Abigail Brenner‘s Psychology Today post aptly titled “How to Stop Taking Things Personally.” Her three key points on this issue:

  • …[D]on’t allow another person to tell you who you are
  • …[I]t helps to reflect on how important the relationship with the other person really is.
  • It can be helpful to ask for clarification before responding.
Jan 17

Highly Sensitive Persons: The HSP Research

If you have more trouble than most learning how not to take things personally, you may be one of many highly sensitive persons, reportedly about 15 to 20 percent of the population. You may benefit from the research of Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person (1997).

If you’re one of the highly sensitive persons, it’s probably been genetically transmitted, says Aron. “It means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted in a nervous-system sort of way,” states Aron, an HSP herself.

Selected Quotes by Elaine Aron About Highly Sensitive Persons

Our trait of sensitivity means we will also be cautious, inward, needing extra time alone. Because people without the trait (the majority) do not understand that, they see us as timid, shy, weak, or that greatest sin of all, unsociable. Fearing these labels, we try to be like others. But that leads to our becoming overaroused and distressed. Then that gets us labeled neurotic or crazy, first by others and then by ourselves.

…(T)he writers, historians, philosophers, judges, artists, researchers, theologians, therapists, teachers, parents, and plain conscientious citizens. What we bring to any of these roles is a tendency to think about all the possible effects of an idea…We have to ignore all the messages from the warriors that we are not as good as they are. The warriors have their bold style, which has its value. But we, too, have our style and our own important contribution to make.

In my opinion, all HSPs are gifted because of their trait itself. But some are unusually so.[In]…study after study of gifted adults: impulsivity, curiosity, the strong need for independence, a high energy level, along with introversion, intuitiveness, emotional sensitivity, and nonconformity. Giftedness in the workplace, however, is tricky to handle. First, your originality can become a particular problem when you must offer your ideas in a group situation. Many organizations stress group problem solving just because it brings out the ideas in people like you, which are then tempered by others.

Are you an HSP? Take Dr. Aron’s self-test. Check out her website (at same link) for additional resources.

Another way to learn more about HSP traits? Amanda L. Chan lists a bunch in a Huffington Post article. Click on the link for more details.

1. They feel more deeply.

2. They’re more emotionally reactive.

3. They’re probably used to hearing, “Don’t take things so personally” and “Why are you so sensitive?”

4. They prefer to exercise solo.

5. It takes longer for them to make decisions.

6. And on that note, they are more upset if they make a “bad” or “wrong” decision.

7. They’re extremely detail-oriented.

8. Not all highly sensitive people are introverts. 

9. They work well in team environments.

10. They’re more prone to anxiety or depression (but only if they’ve had a lot of past negative experiences).

11. That annoying sound is probably significantly more annoying to a highly sensitive person.

12. Violent movies are the worst.

13. They cry more easily.

14. They have above-average manners.

15. The effects of criticism are especially amplified in highly sensitive people.

16. Cubicles = good. Open-office plans = bad.

Jan 11

Willpower Or Environment? Two Approaches, Two Books

Below are two different approaches to willpower. Whereas one set of authors are proponents, another author negates its worth.

I. In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (2011), psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and science writer John Tierney review studies on this topic.

Even if you’re one of those people who believes you have willpower, it’s never infinite, say Baumeister and Tierney. Using dieting as an example, deprive yourself for too long and you’ll pay for it later—you’re likely to rebel. Also, because willpower is like energy, the effort you put into dieting will limit the effort you can apply to other things.

One of these things? Decision-making. “…(A)fter making a lot of decisions, your self control is lower and conversely, after exerting self control, your capacity for making decisions is lower. As you make a bunch of decisions, you gradually deplete the energy you have available and subsequent decisions are more passive and tend to go with the default option,” Baumeister told Maia Szalavitz, Time.

About depleted decision-makers, Baumeister states in an interview with Eric Barker (www.bakadesuvo.com): “They pick things that are more indulgent. They don’t compromise. A compromise is a mentally complex decision…Also, there are some kinds of irrational bias that creep into the decision process more if people are depleted.”

On the positive side, the more you exercise willpower, as you would a muscle, the stronger your ability to control yourself becomes.

How can this research play into the development of your New Year’s resolutions or other important goals? Baumeister suggests, “Instead of making them all at once, make them in sequence and start with the easiest one.”

II. On the other side of willpower theory is organizational psychologist Benjamin Hardy‘s Willpower Doesn’t Work (2018). “If you’re serious about the changes you want to make, willpower won’t be enough. Quite the opposite. Willpower is what’s holding you back.”

Additional quotes from his website:

If your life requires willpower, you haven’t fully determined what you want. Because once you make a decision, the internal debate is over.

If you’re truly committed to something, in your mind, it’s as though you’ve already succeeded. All doubt and disbelief are gone.

Commitment means you build external defense systems around your goals. Your internal resolve, naked to an undefended and opposing environment is not commitment.

The willpower approach doesn’t focus on changing the environment, but instead, on increasing personal efforts to overcome the current environment. What ends up happening?Eventually you succumb to your environment despite your greatest efforts to resist.

Everything in life is a natural and organic process. We adapt and evolve based on the environments we select. You are who you are because of your environment. Want to change? Then change your environment. Stop the willpower madness already.

Jan 02

New Year’s Resolutions? Or Just Set New Goals?

New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken, goes the saying. Or was that rules are made to be broken? Well, whatever. The thing is, those things—things like that—usually do get broken. I’d quote some grim statistics on this, but I don’t really believe in those either.

Some of the most popular yearly New Year’s resolutions include drinking less or not at all, eating better and/or losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, improving one’s job options, managing stress, making more money, and having more fun.

Issues regarding drinking, eating and exercise, weight loss, stress, smoking, etc….all familiar stuff to therapists and clients.

But if more thought doesn’t go into a resolution than just saying it, it’s just a wish, isn’t it—versus a real outcome that’s likely to happen. For example, you want to cut down your drinking? That’s a resolution. And…so…? Well, good luck with that.

Some things to actually consider: How much will you cut down? By when? Have you done this before? If so, how’d you do? Do you have people you can tell your resolution to and/or report to? Will they be supportive? How can you make the journey an enjoyable choice versus a self-assigned punishment?

Goal-setting can help change that too-broad-based resolution thingie into something more attainable. How to do this? As coined in the early 1980’s, make it SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Jen A. Miller‘s New York Times article offers details about how to do this. Excerpts follow:

  • Specific. “Your resolution should be absolutely clear…”
  • Measurable. And, “Logging progress into a journal or making notes on your phone or in an app designed to help you track behaviors can reinforce the progress, no matter what your resolution may be.”
  • Achievable. “This doesn’t mean that you can’t have big stretch goals. But trying to take too big a step too fast can leave you frustrated, or affect other areas of your life to the point that your resolution takes over your life — and both you and your friends and family flail…”
  • Relevant. “Is this a goal that really matters to you, and are you making it for the right reasons?”
  • Time-bound. “Like ‘achievable,’ the timeline toward reaching your goal should be realistic, too.”
Dec 27

Mental Illness in the Family: Several Books

Mental illness in the family is the topic of several books worth reading.

However you define mental illness—or whatever substitute term you prefer—it’s often found within your own family, as it has been in mine. Below are four nonfiction books worth perusing.

Remnants of a Life on Paper: A Mother and Daughter’s Struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder (2013) by Bea Tusiani, Pamela Tusiani, and Paula Tusiani-Eng

The authors describe Pamela’s struggles with BPD. Pamela’s “remnants” in question are from her journals and visual art, culled posthumously.

At the age of 20 Pamela was diagnosed with severe depression. She wound up having multiple hospitalizations and 12 ECT treatments. According to Dr. Lloyd SedererThe Huffington Post, it was after this that Pamela finally received the more accurate diagnosis of BPD. She then proceeded to be admitted to other intensive programs.

Sederer: “Pamela was well into her journey of recovery when a series of treatment program and medical errors conspired to kill her. The awful irony was that she did not take her life, but irresponsible, stigmatizing and poor residential and medical care did.”

All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness (2015) by Sheila Hamilton

Hamilton’s husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder only six weeks before he took his own life.

“Mental Illness often masks itself as selfish, anti-social behavior. It waxes and wanes, especially in higher functioning people,” Hamilton writes (Huffington Post). He’d gone deeply into debt, for example.

She has held herself partially responsible. “I’d propose one more stage of grief to Kubler-Ross’s list in the case of suicide; forgiveness…In accepting responsibility for my part in David’s death, I was able to understand his sense of futility, the level of his psychic pain, and his unwillingness to face his illness. I forgave him. I forgave myself. And in doing so, I’ve been better able to understand his decision.”

The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide (2017) by Gayle Brandeis

The book’s title takes its name from the documentary Brandeis’s 70-year-old mother Arlene was working on “about the rare illnesses she thought ravaged her family: porphyria and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.”

“Whether they were psychosomatically induced or not,” states Kirkus Reviews, “Arlene attested that the illnesses had been repeatedly dismissed or misdiagnosed by the medical community; even the author herself admits to suffering, as a teenager, from a combination of malingering and factitious disorder.”

Melissa WuskeForeword Reviews: “Brandeis’s mother committed suicide one week after Brandeis had a baby. Those deeply contrasting experiences set the scene for the opening of this memoir: a daughter going through her mother’s things, trying to make sense of her death.”

And this quest winds up involving a “compulsive, contagious need to know her mother and herself.”

The author’s two sons were both afflicted with schizophrenia. “For his son Kevin, that struggle ended in suicide, and the heartbreak of that experience (among others) permeates every impersonal date and statistic in the book with sorrow and rage” (Shelf Awareness).

A brief explanation for the title, per Publishers Weekly:

This resounding rebuke to scornful attitudes toward the mentally ill takes its title from a notably insensitive 2010 email exchange between high-level staffers of Scott Walker during his run for Wisconsin governor. Using that moment as a touchstone of indifference, Powers…weaves a dual tale of the personal and the political…

The people who do care are usually the loved ones, of course. Shelf Awareness: “For the families of the mentally ill…caring about ‘crazy people’ is a necessity. In roughly alternating chapters, Powers allows us to watch his sons grow up, dealing with the challenges of incipient schizophrenia as well as tragic events that shape their young minds. All the while, Powers movingly relates the joys of raising creatively gifted children.”