Your Selfies Make Me Hate You

Note: I don’t really hate anyone anymore, except that guy who kissed my girlfriend in university and that’s mainly because he had a nice truck and I was driving a $500 Biscayne we bought as our first car. Still a douche move.

This is Scott.

I do this regular gig in concert with Dawn Taylor. This week again we were hard at the conversation and she mentioned that it is common for high schoolers in her world to take hundreds of selfies every day. Every day. If you are one of those who is prone to the lens, with pouting lips and that one leg in front of the other to prop up your boobs and make you look thinner, you may have issues. That’s right, I’m talking about you Steve. We all know you are beautiful and you don’t need to point it out. You have it going on, baby, you’re perfect just the way you are. Shine girl.

I have a couple of friends who post selfies about stages of their life, or every once in while when they feel like it. I’m not talking to you. Hundreds. Fake accounts to try out 350 selfies, a panacea of self-indulgent spam all designed to see which pouty face plays best with a test audience.

Psychology geeks tend to look at life through a particular lens, and if you ask for my professional opinion the selfie thing is far more telling than the average low-grade narcissist may realize. There definitely, absolutely positively is an insane relationship between people who constantly take selfies and words like narcissism and insecurity and trauma. Your incessant need to show other people how you look and love and live (gag) throws up huge red flags to the people around you who are, and I say this lovingly, sick of you posting selfies all the time in your unreal world of stunted happiness.

I’m coming on a little strong because we promised we would, and so the question for all of us is, in light of our addictions to our phones and our media, how self-absorbed do we want to become? Once the sex robots are sold on Amazon it’s going to be difficult to get anyone to listen for a decade, so we need to figure this out now. Our virtual existence allows us increasingly to confirm those neurotransmitters that are in the process of hardwiring humanities next phase of existence. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (who incidentally wouldn’t know a thing about this topic so why do you care about their opinion) to know that we are blindly marching into the i-Store, blissfully yet unaware of the effects of such catastrophic technological and cultural changes on our perceptions of reality, and that’s not even mentioning the effect of lassoing our wills to our technology (and that phone I panic over when I forget it at a restaurant).

If you are having a crippling struggle with insecurity please talk to someone. If you are feeling a little bit narcissisty it is important for you and the people you love to have an accurate barometer for your behaviour. Recognize you have a problem and deal with it. The real reason that many people do not move beyond their defining dysfunction is because it’s damn hard and takes years. Most people don’t change because it’s too much work with little interim reward. We’re all insecure but if it is affecting your life to such a degree that you need validation from anonymous stranger-friends in the virtual world than recognize you have an issue and do something about it. You’re better than that, at least for now, and you don’t need 120 pictures of your blowfish lips to prove it. Let’s just say it – you’re definitely getting uglier the older you get, so lets all just deal with it and agree to keep lying to each other until it doesn’t matter anymore.

Which brings us to the point of this rant – it is my absolute belief that the secret of life (for me) is caring less what people who don’t matter think about me. I’ve had people who alleged they were my friends say atrocious things to my face and behind my back, and Counsellor Scott has worked this through and screw you. I’m good. I remember the first time someone slammed me hard on the internet, before I understood about trolls. It hurt my feelings. I’m a Canadian so I was looking for something much more passive-aggressive. My goal is to care less, not more, about the opinions of people who did not have my best interests at heart.

I’m fairly certain that someday that negative stuff sets in for good. Old people that complain all the time and middle-aged folks who are angry at the government and can find fault in any kind of happiness. Older adults that are still cripplingly anxious, talking about drivel that is mind-numbingly boring. Just kill me. Then again, some of us have grown up as entitled little prima donnas and honestly believe we are inherently better than other people. That stuff infects your soul. The beautiful people have other problems that I mostly don’t care about. You’re privileged, deal with it. Next.

Trauma is also on that list, to the surprise of some. People who are vapidly self-absorbed, who contort their body for 100 pictures at a time, have occasionally been through situations and realities that have scarred them and left them feeling hungry for approval and ultimately love. Terrible experiences can scar you in the most unusual ways. Maybe you were beaten or raped or violated in one of a hundred sick scenarios, anytime from a couple of months before you were born until you graduated from pre-school. Maybe your time came later. Broken hearts and bruised cheeks and someone telling you that you will always be a loser. The older I get the more ways I learn how we can hurt. Sleep issues, mood swings, panic attacks, problems with sustaining relationships of any kind, hyper-vigilence, difficulty with change or addiction to it, even attraction to the bad boy/girl can be an aftershock of getting the shit kicked out of you by your ex or hanging out with that creepy uncle. Some survivors have difficulty sticking with romantic relationships and are control freaks and obsess about how clean the kitchen counter is.

Reason #293 why psychology is cool.

Ask yourself, how often do I look at my body or obsess about a flaw or a judgment from someone whose opinion shouldn’t matter? How important are your looks, really really? I’m sorry I had to be the one to break it to you but no one cares this much about what your truck looks like when it’s dirty, it’s a truck. I’ve never dreamed about your truck. Stop posting pictures of the truck. Now you’ve done it, you have me in a loop. Truck.

No one cares if you are shopping. No one wants to see 24 pictures of you getting your stupid hair done. Give us one good picture of you and your bestie in front of the Great Wall of China and don’t stand in the way of the wall. You can post pictures from The Louvre or your skydiving adventure all day, but I can only absorb a limited number of pictures of you on a beach in the Caribbean before I begin to wish you ill will. One is nice, 50 pictures of you having fun makes me think you are rubbing my nose in it. And last, but certainly most gross, a few of you need to know that you’re making some of your friends horny and none of us wants to have to bring up that topic without tequila. Stop making us horny.

0f4fa15f1273f6ed4f2716479fc627f21463907373This is what I’m trying to learn – who cares what people think about me. If you are one of my chosen people than every concern you have is a valid one, but if I’m rarely or ever going to see that person again who the hell cares if they approve of me or not. You can’t be trolled on social media if you refuse to care about what anonymous idiots think of you or your work. Internet comments cannot hurt you unless you let them. I need to grow wise and kind and all that crap, I get it, but who really cares what a stranger thinks about me? Why oh why would I give a flying flip what some anonymous detractor or false friend thinks about my life or my behaviour? I have high quality friends who take delight in taking me down a peg, so why would I care what that person said about me on Facebook or to a friend of a friend of a friend of mine?

So think about this need to self-obsess. Some of us are spending way too much time getting our self esteem from our meat sack. Many of us are completely obsessed with our feelings and our hurts and our massive insecurities. I say this with no judgment, go get some help before its too late and you become that ugly version of yourself and die bitter.

Failure Is Not An Option!

Yes it is. It always is. You can play around with the semantics and argue about splitting hairs but this fact will still shake itself out – we fail. Call it what you want but it will still feel the same. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of self-talk. It’s just that I’m a bigger fan of emotional honesty.

At the risk of sounding religious I would have to admit that my failures have been “legion”. Many. I have not succeeded multiple times in my life. I had an amazing organic restaurant for some time, The Bad Dog Grill. I have started several businesses and have always believed in seizing opportunities, even a few long-shots. Not all worked and some have come and gone. Even starting a blog most of us secretly hoped we will be discovered, or at least quoted in one of those cheesy quotation pages. I average just over 80 69 visitors a day. Millions are not hanging on my every word, regardless of what my mom might think. Been discovered yet?

Like many of us, when I started a WordPress blog, I wondered how long it would be before I would be featured on “Freshly Pressed”. The answer is forever. Most of us will never be discovered, in spite of our childhood dreams and aspirations. This doesn’t fly well with contemporary positive-thinking gurus, who are adamant that our ‘attitude determines our altitude’. I have had a love-hate relationship with possibility-thinking and can appreciate it’s finer points. Changing your attitude, changing how you think, is probably the single most important thing you can do to transform your life. I have spent my entire adulthood seeking to understand the power of such transformations and wholly endorse any efforts to help us move forward. There is, however, a darker side to the positive-thinking gospel. Gurus like tall, tanned, rich and gregarious Tony Robbins make us believe that anything is possible if we only want it bad enough. Tony is wrong, though well-intended. Some things you will never be able to achieve, no matter how much you want it. You may never reach your childhood dream of becoming a dump truck or an astronaut. You probably won’t ever get that audition to be in Michael Jackson’s entourage. Wait a few years, though, and you might get to hang out with Justin Bieber if you commit a felony or are desperate for friends. Believing that you will succeed if you just want it bad enough is an important, though limited, commodity. People in my field endeavour to deal with reality, even when that reality is uncomfortable.

Sadly, everything is not possible. Someone struggling to survive in Sudan or Mogadishu will never be accepted to Harvard, no matter how many times they wish upon a star. We are limited by our intelligence, our looks, our income, but most importantly by our contacts. You may be only seven steps removed from Kevin Bacon but that is far enough away that you will have difficulty getting him to read your resume. Malcolm Gladwell has made buckets of cash helping us understand that even the month you were born in may affect your chances to play in the NHL. He reminds us brilliantly in several of his very readable books that the myth of the “self-made man” (sorry ladies but according to the misogynistic cliché you don’t qualify) is just that, a myth. Very few famous people got that way without an amazing endorsement. Every single one of them got breaks that you probably won’t get, even if you hold your breath and stomp your feet. It is no coincidence that Drew Barrymore or Nicolas Cage just happened to be spawned by famous parents. Millions of us silently chuckled when Bush told the media that being from that famous family didn’t help him in his rise to power. Seriously? The fact that he was from a multi-millionaire family that ruled the strongest country on the planet in no way gave him an advantage… Say what you want but it really is who you know, not just what you know. It has only been with the onset of the internet, where the playing field has been altered somewhat, that a few of the masses have gotten their message out.

In my files I have, from an earlier time, exercises for clients called “Affirmation Sheets”. Every counsellor that has been around for a few years has brushed up against them from time to time. Apparently there must have been a time in my life when I handed these out, though I cannot recall exactly when. They say things like “you are awesome!”, “you can do it”, and “anything is possible if you want it bad enough!”. I’m truly sorry if I ever made you read one of these. The problem is that they are simplistic in their understanding of life. People who believe such things are either pre-trauma or a product of bad teaching. We are all led to believe in such fairy-tales, we desperately want to. We are bombarded daily by messages convincing us that we are only one sudden discovery away from being adored. Sell this, buy a lottery ticket, grab this latest scheme, reach for the stars.

I do a lot of work as a motivational speaker and you can just imagine how weird that is. It is difficult for me to write this article because everything inside of me wants to scream “yes you can!” I completely believe that.

I love what Augustine said, “Love God and do whatever you want” (he was a bishop). The question he followed with was, “so what do you want?” His assertion was that if one truly loved god his wants would align with god’s (sorry, another old boys club) and therefore “doing whatever you want” would fundamentally change. That’s good psychology. Change your mind and your butt will follow…

The same philosophy can apply to what we are discussing here. I don’t need to believe in the actually impossible in order to believe in the seemingly impossible. These days my “Affirmation Sheets” say things like, “you’re doing the best you can in a difficult circumstance” and “hang in there, you can do this” more than “you’re going to be a rock star!”. I have had to lower my expectations of life again, just a bit. This is, of course, the secret to a reasonably happy life – lowering my expectations. Many would disagree with this sentiment but I have found that the fewer unrealistic expectations I carry into any relationship or situation, the more content I find myself. For example – in my marriage. The fewer expectations I have of Annette the less she will fail me. It’s simple arithmetic. My goal is to not need her at all, just want. I figure the more whole I become, and subsequently the less emotionally needy, the better husband, better friend, better person I will become.

Put that in your pipe…

What Do You Want?

You can pretty much do anything you want as an adult. The question is, what do you want?

Didn’t you imagine, back so long ago, that once you became an adult you would run free, drink deep, love long, and chase rainbows? I remember thinking that someday, someday no one will be able to tell me what to do. Someday I will make all my own decisions, someday. Someday I will have it all.

Someday is still coming.

I still don’t do “anything I want”. This is most likely because “what I want” isn’t what I usually need. I want to sleep late, eat chocolate, make love, get high, be lazy and become rich and famous in spite of all that. And sometimes, just sometimes, I want to burn my world.

We all have moments, don’t we, when we are tempted to throw everything away for a minute of guilty pleasure. The honest truth is, if it feels good I probably shouldn’t do it. Hedonism sounds fun on paper but I’ve been dealing with its effects all my adult life. And honestly, is that what I really want?

That’s the thing about getting all the candy you want – eventually you get sick and the vices you thought you could control end up controlling you.

Wisdom is understanding what you really want, not what you thought you wanted. There is a huge difference.

Working as a counselor has its big perks. I have the opportunity, every day, to think about my own life and mental health issues. As a result I no longer care as much what people think about me. I no longer feel the need to lead the parade, or steal the show. I’ve also learned that I am definitely not qualified to make all the right decisions in my life. Left to my own devices I have a tendency to grow lazy and become selfish. I continue to learn lessons about myself, my weaknesses, and my need for some form of accountability. When I am hungry, or angry, burned out, or tired, I am learning not to trust my immediacy. I recognize, better than I once did, that little evil voice inside me that wants to blow stuff up and eat at McDonald’s.

Right now I’m thinking about going to the drive-through on the way home. Apparently I still have a ways to go…

Men and Toilet Seats

We have a joke around here, though it’s not a good one. It goes something like, “Women make sure you put the toilet seat back up!” Like I said, not really funny, though the men tend to laugh.

Don’t get me started on toilet seat etiquette. Ok, now you’ve gone and done it.

Men, put down the damn toilet seat. Every time. It’s not rocket science and you aren’t a Neanderthal so grow a pair and quit being a child. There, I said it. Talk therapy does work… thanks for listening.

Nothing ruins a day faster than sitting in pee.  Can we all at least agree to that? That is not the primary issue with toilet seat etiquette but I have a teenage son and there are a few times when capital punishment has crossed my mind as that wet feeling hit. I may be a passivist but there are limits. It is beyond disgusting when a male decides it is too much work to put the lid up to urinate. We haven’t even gotten to the ‘put it down after’ part.

Toilets are ugly. Closing the lid just looks better. In fact, close both lids.

The primary issue, in my mind, is about chivalry. As a man I want to be known as a strong person who cares selflessly for my girl, for any girl when you think about it. What is wrong with ensuring that someone does not have to clean up after my messes? As a man I wish to retain my perk of being able to stand to pee but at what cost? Nothing irks me more than going into a unisex bathroom and seeing yellow on the toilet seat. What do I do now? If I leave it the next person will be convinced that I was the moron who was so inconsiderate. Now, in order to clear my good name, I am forced to clean up some other dudes ignorance. It is galling.

I was raised to believe that to be a man was a good thing; that things like strength and chivalry and honor were important. I don’t apologize for the fact that I am a male. I like it a great deal, to be honest. There are times, however, when it’s embarrassing to be labeled with those who are emotionally unavailable, or mean or cocky or, god forbid, pee on the toilet seat.

You Make Me So Angry

You Make Me So Angry.

As a counselor I often face the daunting task of helping people see that no one else can make them angry. No one else can make them sad. No one else, short of a disaster, can dictate my attitude at all. If I get angry, that’s my problem. I may think it’s someone else’s fault, but it’s still my problem. I am in control of me. So technically, you never make me angry.

We live in a society that has somehow enshrined in it’s mores the belief that it’s ok to yell. We grew up with yelling, we were taught yelling; and when my kids drive me insane or my wife gets snarky yelling is an acceptable option.

It’s time for a moratorium on yelling. When you consider it critically and objectively, yelling is an act of violence. I am exerting my will, forcing another to concede. When you are yelled at you probably feel somewhat violated. That may be because you were violated.

There is something cathartic, orgasmic about yelling. People who scream at others feel that sense of release. There is a subtle yet profound joyous release. You can kind of get off on yelling… Yelling is great for anxiety and frustration – just get it all out.

And then leave it on me.

Anger is about handing your pain and frustration to someone else. There is a significant sense of entitlement. There is a degree of selfishness, of lack of impulse control. Yelling is an act of weakness, not strength. It is also an act of violence. An act of control. We have all done it, from time to time but it’s time to look for other ways to deal with our frustration. Learn mindfulness, practice STOPP Therapy, breathe, go to a counselor, read about anger.

People learn in counseling that yelling is a very dysfunctional coping mechanism. They are apt to tell me they can’t help it. Or it’s not their fault. It’s just the way their family is and they grew up fine.

In the 12 Step program they are keen on wanting you to know that the first step to fixing a problem is recognizing that you do, in point of fact, have a problem.

Now you know.

 

 

Gratitude

She came in for needle exchange, “for a friend”. It was her first time here so I took the basic information. It was her 50th birthday today. The only gift I could offer was coffee.

Here’s the thing – she had no idea it was her birthday. October 3, 1963. She was turning 50, a milestone birthday. A time to gather your friends and have a few laughs and toast to a life well spent. She was at an addictions centre picking up needles and paraphernalia. There were no surprise parties for Shannon, no balloons and cake; only an alley somewhere and a needle full of hate.

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be where I am, doing what I am, with whom I am. I forget that, in spite of still having no jet ski, I am so incredibly blessed I can not even fully understand how much. I have a home and a family and dreams. Shannon has nothing and probably no hope at all.

Once in a while it’s good to remember that just being born in my situation is winning the lottery.

 

The Myth of Feeling Good

26/52 : Drogues - Drugs

I’ve confessed before on this website that I work part-time at a drug and alcohol counseling service on the west coast. Over the years there I have learned a few things, and nothing more important than this – many of us choose to spend our lives chasing a feeling of “good” or “better”. We are convinced that there must be something more to life We have been taught that if we could just change our situation, or take a certain pill, or find someone to love us, then we will feel magically feel “good”.

It’s a trap.

Real life has very little to do with feeling good. There are obviously other, much more important things than feeling something that is fleeting and ultimately deceptive. If you don’t believe me just ask anyone who has struggled with addiction.

Quitting drugs and alcohol is relatively easy, seen in perspective. There is the initial detoxification, usually 5-6 days of discomfort and sick. Depending on any number of factors you may experience sweating, restless-leg syndrome, diarrhea, upset stomach, itchiness, and usually insomnia. Five or six very, very long days that seem to go on forever, then they end. This is traditionally followed by a period of general wellbeing, unless you are coming off of opiates. These little babies have an added bonus – you may have a week or more of absolute exhaustion. What the opiates giveth the opiates taketh away…

Quitting a destructive habit is relatively doable. Unfortunately this is, contrary to some 12-step nazis you may know, only a small part of the issue. The real battle is your life, the other 95% of addiction that is often not mentioned. Your life is your problem, not the meth (take that in context).

After the initial bad stuff addicts often experience a period of months wherein things go much better – they are excited about new possibilities and feelings, they actually have feelings that they allow themselves to enjoy. Food starts tasting better, activities that were once arduous become enjoyable again. You begin to believe that things can change, can really change. This period is rarely long-lasting and usually sets up a person in recovery for a fall.

That’s the thing about addiction. If there is an evil, it is addiction. It’s that old Bugs Bunny cartoon with the good angel and the evil angel speaking into your ear. Drugs are amazing, that’s why people do them. For a while. Ever after you remember the good times and it’s convenient to forget that this is the same voice that took your joy, your relationships, and stole your soul. That’s the thing about evil, if it sounded like evil we wouldn’t be tempted. In the movies the best Satan is the one that is cool, not creepy. Did you see Constantine? Sexy, french, white Armani suit. Very “satan-y”. Evil doesn’t look like that guy in the alley wearing the trench coat. Evil feels right at the time – it tells us what we want to hear, it speaks only good things into that void that is desperately looking for happy. It’s like… dating!

As the good book says, there is a wide road, a way that seems right at the time, but the end is destruction. That voice that has been breathing on you is wrong. It’s the voice that tells you that you have been ripped off by life. It’s the same voice that tells you that if you can find someone else to love you, then you will be happy. It’s the noise telling you that the real world is boring (which it is) and you need to feel better, or feel something, or just feel different. Many of us spend our entire life chasing the dragon, trying to feel something different, something better, something “good”. It is, after all, a wide road.

We’ve been raised on Coke commercials and beer ads telling us that life is about spiking volleyballs, being young and thin, and partying in Jamaica. It’s very intoxicating, this quest for feeling good. It often reflects a deep sense of dis-ease with our lives and a pervading sense that life isn’t turning out the way we imagined when we were young and dumb. There has been far more disappointment and hurt than was advertised. This is often coupled with some intrinsic understanding of our own mortality, of missed opportunities, and of a life that seems to be steaming forward faster and faster. Add the hurt of others, the pain of failed relationships, the boredom of the routine, the lack of money to live the rock star dream, and the horrific struggles with self-worth that most of us battle all our lives and you have a potent cocktail that is screaming out for something more. Some of us drink or take Percocets. Others of us do a variety of more socially acceptable forms of self-abuse and soul crushing.

Here’s one more interesting fact about addiction. The very thing that you are looking for with addiction is the very thing that gets taken away from you. Ask a opiate user and most will admit to you that they started abusing their meds because they felt a sense of energy or a ‘warm hug’ that opioids initially provide. You can get an enormous amount of work done high on meth or Oxys, or even some strands of pot. You are amazed by the general feeling of “good” you have been missing for so long out in Normieland. Everything about the up-front experience with drugs is awesome – more happy, more energy, a great sense of focus, being stoned. Months later when you can not get out of bed because you are exhausted after sleeping twelve hours you still wonder if taking another pill or whatever will give you back the happy it has so subtly taken away from you. One of the single hardest things to do with an addict in counseling is help them enjoy things that were once fun but no longer hold any thrill. Their whole life has become deadened. What the drug giveth…

The thing is, the real world doesn’t make you happy, so get over it. My job may be amazing but it can still suck if I decide it will. I have an amazing family that I can choose to abuse or ignore if I want. I have been able to experience more than many people in this life and I can easily decide to live a life of bitterness or regret or jealousy or fear. Life in the real world involves lowering your expectations – sorry but it’s true. It’s only once we change our mind that our life truly begins to change. Anyone can quit smoking, given enough help. Not wanting to smoke is a different kettle of fish, as they say. People who constantly battle with weight, or smoking, or pretty much any issue in this arena understand implicitly that “just stopping” doesn’t really work. You may white-knuckle yourself out of eating that Whopper but nothing has changed. It’s no surprise, then, that counselors will tell you “change your mind and your butt will follow” (ok, not all counselors but ones that sound exactly like me). Changing what you do rarely is enough.

Changing how you think about what you do is everything.

Many years ago someone told me to “Imagine that I was setting up two lines to snort. One line would be cocaine, my drug of choice. The other line is Drano”. Now the someone asked me, “Which one is worse for you?” Well, the answer was obvious, wasn’t it? Of course the Drano is worse for you, it’s a horrific poison. The cocaine, on the other hand, makes you high (which is good) and then doesn’t kill you (which is also good). The choice is obvious.

“Wrong!” he said.

“If you snort the Drano you are only going to snort the Drano one time. In fact, you may not even snort much of this Drano. The experience is going to be intense, real, and relatively short. You will learn some valuable lessons about Drano. You will be able, after little prodding, to convince yourself that you will never snort Drano again.”

Obviously you see my point.

There is a way that seems right…

It’s one thing to live, it’s another thing altogether to have a life. Spending your whole life looking for something outside yourself to give your life meaning is an invitation to heartache. Many of us are learning that no one else is going to take responsibility for making me whole and I have only one short life to figure out how to be happy.

I can blame the world for my life but in the end no one but me loses.

I wish I could say I have learned all these lessons. I can’t even say I came up with all this rant. What I have learned, however, is that I need to keep thinking about this stuff until something rubs off on me. I am constantly tempted to do what is cheap and feels good at the expense of something better. The more I learn about myself and my demons the more I change, and that has to be a good thing. Learning to sign a peace treaty with my insecurity and poor self-image can’t help but make a difference in my life.

It’s easy to pontificate like this to a bunch of strangers. It’s another thing altogether to have to live this stuff out in front of people who I can hurt.

6 Ugly Truths You Need To Accept To Pull Yourself Out Of A Rut

Great Article via The Huffington Post:

They aren’t pretty, but they are the kind of wake-up calls that we need to give ourselves every once in while. Columnist Leigh Newman explains.

1. Love Is Not A Stative Verb

In elementary school, we were all taught about stative verbs. Perhaps you remember them? Statives are those verbs that describe a state of being or mental condition, such as “to feel” or “to be” or “to believe.” Love, for example, is classified as one. You feel it.

Now let’s look at a few situations that have me questioning how this grammar plays out in life outside the classroom. Example #1: My friend who keeps sending his mentally unstable mother $2,000 a month even though she is young enough to still work and racks up debt on credit cards that would make a gambling addict panic. Example #2: My 42-year-old girlfriend who keeps meeting the same 42-year-old man over and over and over at 1 a.m. at which point he shyly, drunkenly, adorably reveals that she is his soul mate, only to go back to his 27-year-old fiancée at 7 a.m.

These kinds of dynamics — and others like them — have recently persuaded me that love is not a condition or a state of mind. Love is not a stative verb at all. Love is a dynamic verb. Love is action. Love is dumping the 27-year-old fiancée. Love is refusing money from your son because he’s taken on two moonlighting jobs to support you and he can’t afford his rent, much less the black Lab he’s always wanted. Love is sprinting, struggling, splatting, crawling, kick-boxing, climbing, leaping into the thick of the battle for your own — and someone else’s — happiness.

2. To Learn Is To Watch… And Ask

Like many Americans, I am a teach-it-yourselfer. So is the rest of my family. When I wanted to learn how to play tennis, my dad dropped me off at the local high school with a racket and a tube of three green balls, and told me to hit the backboard “until I got the hang of my swing.” As an adult, when I need to screw on a ski rack or create a Google spreadsheet or cook an obscure Chinese green, I figure it out via trial and error. Why? I think I’ll understand the task more profoundly by teaching myself. A recent study at the University of Louisville however, found that figuring things out yourself takes longer — with far less accurate results — than observing and communicating with others in the know. Watching the experts — and asking them for their expertise — results in a faster, richer learning curve.

3. Pig Newtons Are So Fig Newtons

Fig Newtons

Be they disempowered toddlers or exhausted parents or fed-up coworkers or confused, random, mentally unstable strangers on the street, our fellow humans sometimes make up insanely stupid points — then fight fiercely in defense of them. Only Louis C.K. can make this funny. But he does have a point. People — and not just kids — will insist Fig Newtons are actually called Pig Newtons. They will claim Mississippi has seven s’s in it. They will swear the sun covers the moon during a lunar eclipse. Your job is not to argue or present the truth to them. You will not get anywhere and you will turn into the crazy person trying to argue your case. Your job is to go to the bathroom and laugh. Or write down your insanely correct points on a piece of a paper towel — and then flush them down the toilet.

4. When Overwhelmed, Cache And Drag

During the Gold Rush days, on the famed Chilkoot Pass between Canada and Alaska, each traveler was required by the Mounties to drag one full ton of “adequate” food and supplies up the 32 miles that led over the icy summits. Some of these travelers, by the way, were women wearing corsets and long, full skirts. And yet, they succeeded. How? By caching (read: storing) 950 pounds of their supplies by the side of the path, then dragging (read: dragging) a mere 50 pounds for a half a mile forward, then returning to the cache for another 50 pounds, and so on. When it all worked out, a person might walk 80 miles for every single mile they moved their provisions — which sounds discouraging. But in this way, they were able to move — literally — a mountain of food, pots, tools, water and everything else they needed to build a new life. I’m not suggesting that any of us pack up the contents of our house and drag them in 50-pound bundles through the streets. But sometimes, it can be helpful to put an idea or dream to the side for a while and then, in full defiance of our relentlessly go-forward-at-all-costs culture, to go backward and haul the crucial supplies necessary to make it come to fruition.

5. You Don’t Have To Go To The Gym To Work Out

At home, I have a set of free weights, two yoga mats, an elliptical trainer, three yoga videos and a nifty package called OM Yoga in a Box. I haven’t touched any of it in months. The workout that I do is pushing my 35-pound 4-year-old two miles each morning over to “Super Hero Camp” in the 90-degree heat. I exercise my arms and legs. I sweat off five pounds. The news that you don’t have to go to the gym to work out should be a wonderful truth instead of a hideous one. You can run up the stairs to your office. You can pick up your husband and put him down over and over. Right now, you could be running in place while reading this article. Amazing! Wonderful! But think about it: You don’t have to go to the gym to work out. That means you can work out anywhere and anytime — which means all those lovely lies about not being able to work off your stress and take care of yourself are now officially unutterable.

6. You Already Dreamed The Dream

I’m not sure who is going to invent a machine that will inventory everything that goes through our brains, and until this is actually invented, this last truth may have to be reclassified as a hunch.

But it does seem as if so many of us worry that we don’t know the one crucial thing that we should be doing in life, the thing that will fulfill us more than any other. Even if we were given all the time and resources in the world, we still wouldn’t know what to do.

This is ridiculous. From what I have seen in life, I don’t think we need to go looking for some new “mystery” dream. The most important ones we’ve already had. Sure, at a very young age the idea of being a sea captain or ballet dancer occurred to us. But at an older, wiser age, we thought, “I should own a bookstore!” or “I love jam so much I should make it” or “Wouldn’t it be fun to be a tour guide in Italy?” We just failed to tie our lives to it. We let it float off, where it eventually ran out of air, sank and got buried by 1,000 other more practical or less scary or far less specific dreams.

It feels a little horrible to confront the truth that you knew what you wanted to do (even for .04 seconds) and didn’t do it. Then again, understanding or maybe just believing that the dream exists and that we just have to root around for it — not invent it into being — does something amazing. It calms us down. It takes away all the side worries like, “Maybe I’m not creative enough to dream” or “Maybe I’m just one of those people who don’t dream.” Looking for it becomes like looking for a missing house key while still at home; there’s no need to panic. You just have to find what’s already there.

The Hidden Cost Of Entitlement

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There is a great deal of virtual ink on the topic of entitlement. By now most of us are up to speed on the effect entitlement can have on our lives and the lives of those we love. Parents are learning first hand how selfish, how self-absorbed, how… well… entitled kids seem these days. They must buy a house that looks better than the one their parents saved twenty years to purchase. They don’t drive older cars, they simply aren’t safe. Everyone is entitled to a Smart Phone that their parents pay for. Manicures and pedicures, tattoos and product, it’s important to spoil yourself too. But there are costs and not all of these are obvious.

Entitled people build a world that they are comfortable in. Because they believe they deserve stuff they usually live in the now without too much regard for the future. They do what they want and they do it now. Don’t tell them to do something they hate now for some nebulous reward in the distant future, they can have it now and they will plan on having it in the future as well. They have no plan but a solid belief that they deserve it. Party on.

It becomes very difficult to live a life of personal entitlement. Things have a way of imploding, before too long. There is too much debt, too many toys to keep up with. Old friends come and go, but people tend to mostly go. Romantic relationships have often been a problem for entitled people as well. They tend to attract unhealthy prospects who cannot sustain their need for attention and bling. There is often just too much drama for potential partners to stick around. Life is becoming steadily less fun and bitterness is creeping in. The entitled often feel a pervading sense of aloneness and cannot understand why things do not go their way. They have learned coping mechanisms and dysfunctional thinking, unable to embrace true change or admit that their house of cards is crashing.

Who Switched The Price Tags?

Tony Campolo tells the story of a group of criminals who break into a department store but don’t steal anything. Instead they went around and switched all the price tags. Just imagine the frustration and confusion! He goes on to talk about the propensity within ourselves to switch the price tags – things that are valuable become not valuable. Once worthless things become important. We start putting stock in things that are not important, or healthy, or helpful.

Couples often do that with each other. Hot button issues like sex and communication become bones of contention, or simply too explosive to see in perspective. We begin to notice the flaws in that other’s character and become unsettled. We fixate on what is lacking and feel unappreciated or unfulfilled.

Expectations have forced us to switch the price tags.

There was a time when you couldn’t wait to connect emotionally with that person, but somehow that doesn’t happen much anymore. We started by putting that girlfriend or boyfriend’s needs before our own. It was all about them. You appreciated that they loved you. But things have changed.

In counseling I am fond of telling people that if they want to be happy in their relationship they need to lower their expectations. I have recently taken a second look at that idea and realize that it is more about changing your expectations than lowering them. Happy spouses remind themselves constantly how fortunate they are that someone else would love them enough to dedicate the rest of their life to that person. When I start telling myself that I am lucky to have a wife like Annette it actually transforms how I treat her, and how often I am offended by her. This crazy chick went way beyond the requirements of friendship. Not only does she love me but she is willing to align her future with mine – a truly stupid thing to do.

The more I cultivate gratitude in my feelings towards my wife the better things seem to go in my relationship. As I change my expectations I change my attitude. It is my choice to take what she says wrong. It is my choice to be offended, or angered, or frustrated. Sure she can piss me off – she can be so female, sometimes. She is like a different, albeit extremely attractive, species. Annette is very, very different than I am and it is tempting to become frustrated or negative towards her when she says or thinks things that a man cannot understand or appreciate.  But here’s the clincher, as they say: the more I celebrate her uniqueness the happier I find myself. The more I try to change her, the more I flail misery around me.

The older I get the more I realize that happiness and contentment are things that I choose, they don’t come naturally.

You’re Yelling Again

Yell

 

I don’t yell. I’m not saying this to brag, I’m fairly certain it was a dysfunctional coping mechanism.
Maybe it was because I had relatives that yelled and I repress such expressions as a response to that situation.
Maybe I’m just too shallow.
Maybe I just like it rough.

As a mental health professional I am, of course, horrible at analyzing my own stuff. I self-diagnose all the time. I’m just not that good at it.

I am one of those lucky people who gets to hear people yell on a regular basis. Some professions have it much worse, but I do get my share.

Yelling is an interesting psychological and sociological issue. I have watched spouses curl into the fetal position as a madman controls the situation and hurls verbal abuse. Notice the almost orgasmic effect that “letting off steam” has on the angry screamer. I have seen that horrible energy transferred to the victims as they get emotionally gut-punched. Long after the yell-er is satisfied the object of their derision still suffers. Yelling is a very selfish act.

There was a time when clinicians would tell the angry young man to go home and punch his heavy bag for an hour till he “worked it out of his system”. Today we realize that constantly giving in to that urge to ‘boil over’ only builds a dependence on purging yourself of emotion – a very poor model for impulse control. Such need has little to do with control and more to do with complete surrender. It is no wonder, than, that people have been known to even stop making sense when they are in the throes of an angry outburst. Anger can literally make you stupid. The effect is almost sexual.

Have you ever considered stopping?

Many people do not even realize that it is possible to go for years without yelling. Screaming is just “how our family is”. It is such a normal part of life that no one realizes how abusive it is. There are so many dysfunctional aspects to yelling that I literally do not have enough energy to fully define its ill effects right now. The act is so intrusive, so esteem crushing, so negative, so unloving, so socially acceptable. I am suggesting that we strip away the veneer and identify it for what it really issue – a lack of self-control.

If you are struggling with yelling, this is not intended to make you feel like garbage. Many, many, many of us struggle with this as well. Yelling is so ingrained in our culture that it is rarely even addressed anymore. We blandly accept that angry person without offering any accountability. Our children grow up believing this is an acceptable form of communication and… the circle of life.

If you struggle with this difficult problem talk to someone who can help. Read about it on the web, look up phrases like “cbt (cognitive behavioural therapy) and anger, or yelling, or impulse control. Find out what is behind that anger – after all, that is really the issue now, isn’t it?

Don’t give up. You can do this.

 

You Deserve A New Car

Justin Bieber

No you don’t. No one “deserves” a new car, or a new house, or much of anything for that matter. If you can afford it, than maybe you have earned a new car. But deserving?

Justin Bieber is in the news again. Lately his attention-seeking, narcissistic behaviour has crossed into the profane, even illegal. I could write books on his mental health issues and I’m sure someone will. This week it was reported that he was videotaped urinating into a mop bucket at a restaurant (indecent exposure?). Once upon a time, not so long ago, I owned a restaurant and know a little about customers who are ignorant, entitled, and unappreciative. Bieber is a train-wreck who, unless he grows into a real boy sometime soon, is surely going to end up like so many who have been given more than they deserve. Singing is not an important skill set. The waiters and chefs at the restaurant he defiled are more talented and harder working. I know people locally who can sing better than he can. Society has deemed that any idiot who can throw a football or is pretty and can yodel in tune deserves millions and millions of unearned dollars. The ‘Bieb’ is just another in a long line of people who have been given the keys to the kingdom without earning it – and therefore does not understand how to live. He is surrounded by fools who pander to his every whim and affirm his ridiculous and pathetic lifestyle. He has no idea that the world is laughing at him and wouldn’t understand if he was told. Wisdom is earned, and he hasn’t paid the price.

Entitlement.

I have a relative who once tried to convince me that, at the age of twenty-one, she “needed” to spent $45,000 on a new SUV. For obvious reasons I chose to disengage from the conversation because you just can’t win an argument with stupid. She had all her excuses nicely rationalized in order to convince herself – it was a safety issue, after all. I feel the same way about parents who are firmly convinced that their nine-year old must have a cell phone; and not only that but a smart phone with a data plan. I try to act all mature, screw on my best psychologist face and ask, “Why do you feel that way?” Slapping clients is strictly frowned upon.

Someone needs to slap Justin Bieber. Entitlement is an insipid evil that crushes potential and leaves people bitter and disillusioned. Often too late in life they discover that they are not, in fact, the center of the universe and no one really gives a damn about them. Usually by this time they have alienated anyone who has truly cared for them and wonder why they cannot find meaning from life. If you don’t believe me just google bad plastic surgeries and you will be met with a morbid, albeit disturbing array of celebrities and wannabes who cannot deal with the fact that they are no longer the center of attention. Joan Rivers is looking scary, Klingon-ish. John Travolta looks like he is wearing a mask. The list goes on and on. Beauty is fleeting, they say, and basing your self-esteem on your outside is a surefire road to unhappiness. I know this because I have looked in the mirror. Chances are you know what I am talking about.

My son bought me a poster of Winston Churchill for my office. He is arguably one of the greatest men in history… and wow he’s ugly. He really does look like an English Bulldog. When I look at Winnie I am reminded that beauty is only skin deep but stupid goes right to the bone. Maybe you should take that money you were going to spend on French nails and purchase an audiobook on psychology, or Nietzsche, or Theology. I know Justin Bieber, with all his money, probably won’t.

I bet he doesn’t even know how to spell filosophy.