Thursday, April 30, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
character --- the ability to meet the demands of reality
Six essential qualities determine your success in business:
- ability to connect authentically---- leads to trust
- ability to be oriented toward the truth ---- leads to finding and operating in reality
- ability to work in a way that gets results and finishes well ---- leads to reaching goals, profits, or the mission
- ability to embrace, engage, and deal with the negative ---- leads to ending problems, resolving them, or transforming them
- ability to be oriented toward growth ---- leads to increase
- ability to be transcendent ---- leads to enlargement of the bigger picture and oneself
dysfunctional ----- the actual exertion of effort in that area causes more problems or greater gap, than it solves, that is, it would have been better if people had not tried, because the end result is worse than where they started
dysfunction---- when an effort toward making something better makes it worse
One of the key distinctive elements of an intact character is "differentiation". It denotes the degree to which a person is who he or she is apart from others and from all things external. The identity is intact, so they do not need external performance, approval, image, symbols, riches, organizations, or affiliations, and the like to know who they are or to regulate how they feel. In dealing with negatives, this is key, as it allows a person to deal with the proble, or the result, without becoming a part of the problem or being infected by the issue. For people to deal with negative interpersonal realities, they have to be seperate from the other person's feelings toward them, or the other person's feelings in general. If theu have to have others like them or not be upset with them, then solving problems becomes virtually impossible. The nature of conflict means that people sometimes have negative feelings toward each other. The one who is seperate from the other person's feelings can understand and empathize, without getting off track because of those feelings or becoming what that the other person feels she or he is. These people are less apt to feel hurt, damaged, or incapacitated by how someone feels toward them when facing an issue.
This week’s letter addresses a common question of PhD students considering leaving academia – where does one even start exploring non-academic career options? The letter reads:
I'm months away from completing my Ph.D. and truly believe at this point that this path was not the correct one for me - but I still 'play the game' and do things that prepare me for looking for academic positions, positions I think I'm not interested in having, but I haven't a clue what else I could do outside the academy or where to start looking, so any advice on how to make the actual change would be helpful. I also fear telling my advisor this because once she knows that I'm not thinking about an academic position I think she won't be as supportive with my work, nor will she want to write me letters of reference if I ever do later find a position in the academy that I would want.
Congratulations on getting to the end of the long road to the PhD – that’s a great accomplishment. I think it’s smart that you’re playing it safe by keeping your doubts under wraps right now and keeping your academic options open.
My suggestion for you is to start “playing the game” on the other side of the tracks, too. That is, get yourself to your campus career counselor (there is a great one dedicated to graduate students at your university – as there are at most Research 1 universities throughout the U.S. and Canada) and start exploring other career possibilities beyond the tenure track.
You can certainly do this as you also pursue the academic jobs – I worked with several graduate students at UC-San Diego covering their bases this way. You want to give yourself other options besides “junior academic position or vast, scary unknown.” And, I promise, if you put in the time, you will have other options.
Here’s the basic outline of how the process generally works:
1. Skills & Values Identification: What you first need to see is that you have gained a host of valuable skills during the PhD process that are transferable to many other professions. As a graduate student, you’ve had to build analytical, communication, organizational, even entrepreneurial skills to get to where you are. It’s also time to do some self-exploration, consciously defining your personality and values to help target the kinds of jobs and organizations that best suit you.
Two good books that can help get you started are The Pathfinder by Nicholas Lore (which I’ve found appeals to the left-brained, structured types) and Zen and the Art of Making a Living by Laurence G. Boldt (which tends to work better for the right-brained creatives). You also must read So What Are You Going to Do With That?: A Guide to Career Changing for M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius.
2. Career Research: One you’ve identified your skill set and personal values, you can start exploring jobs and organizations that align with you. One excellent online resource for career research is the annually-updated Occupational Outlook Handbook, which has complete descriptions of careers, including training, salary, advancement, and work conditions. Let your imagination go, and read about any of your “maybe” careers there.
Also, this is the time to start talking to people – any people – your friends, relatives, yoga teacher, next-door neighbor, about their careers. Ask people how they landed in their jobs, what they like and don’t like about them, what they did before. Most folks love to talk about this stuff if you just ask.
3. Professional Materials Creation: Next in the process, you will transform your CV into a professional résumé and learn to write professional cover letters. This just takes a small shift in thinking – from “the longer the better” of academic sentences and CVs to the mostly “short and to-the-point” of the outside world.
It can be a bit of a grieving process for some, learning that your dissertation title and long list of conference presentations will likely not go on your résumé (not in list form, at least). But it can also be incredibly liberating to see on paper that you’ve built skills and experiences that have prepared you to jump right into other careers much more than you may think.
4. Make Connections & Apply for Jobs: Once you have a résumé, you can begin some formal informational interviews with people in jobs you’re curious about and organizations you’d like to crack. These conversations are invaluable, both for making connections and for finding a career next step that fits.
From there, the ball is rolling. Through the connections you are making and job postings (although the majority of professional jobs are not actually posted), if you decide to go this route, you will be able to start applying for non-academic positions and start practicing your professional interviewing skills.
So, in short, Madeline, keep doing what you are doing on the academic side, and add to your plate the task of starting the non-academic career exploration process in earnest. It is more than doable, and you have resources on your campus and beyond to help get you there.
Once you have a more concrete idea of your options outside the tenure track, you can better make the decision for yourself what your next career step will be. Then you can have a conversation with your advisor with more confidence and a clearer idea of what you actually need from her.
I hope, no matter what you choose career-wise, that you can appreciate the process – both of your great achievement in completing your PhD and of exploring yourself and your options beyond it.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
By Hilary Parker
Ann Kirschner spent her graduate-school years immersed in the great works of Victorian literature, but she didn’t stumble upon the sentence that launched her career as she was reading the novels of Dickens or Eliot. Rather, the powerful phrase came in the form of a short employment ad she read in The New York Times: “Come and join the new world of cable television.”
And she did, but that wasn’t her original plan.
Like many graduate students, Kirschner started graduate school with every intention of becoming a scholar and teacher, convinced that academia was both her vocation and her intellectual passion. But after finishing her degree, she assessed her career goals and lifestyle priorities and realized they did not point to a professorship. She loved New York City, and the energy of the business world, especially in media and technology, was calling.
So there she found herself at age 29, interviewing with TelePrompTer, a New York-based cable company that soon would be acquired by Westinghouse. Her interview almost ended before it began, though, when she discovered that the opening was for a franchise-proposal writer. “You could have put a gun to my head and I’d have had no idea what that was,” says Kirschner. “But a franchise proposal turned out to be suspiciously like a dissertation that a cable-television company would submit to a city government to explain why their cable-television design was better than company X, Y, or Z.”
With that realization, Kirschner was off and running. Her path led her from cable to satellite television and on to founding Internet businesses for the National Football League (where she worked to persuade the league to put the Super Bowl online) and Columbia University. Somewhere in there, she found time to write Sala’s Gift: My Mother’s Holocaust Story, a critically acclaimed book based on a collection of her mother’s letters that documented her time in Nazi labor camps.
Kirschner has now returned to the academic realm, though not in the lecture halls. She is dean of Macaulay Honors College, a selective honors program serving the colleges of the City University of New York, where she is responsible for everything from curriculum development and fundraising to student activities and managing the budget. Her Ph.D. always has come in handy, she says — even outside the ivory tower.
Ann Kirschner is dean of Macaulay Honors College in New York City. (Courtesy the City University of New York)
“I don’t think anyone should think twice about the value of what they will gain, not to mention the incalculable pleasure that you get out of studying the subject you love,” Kirschner says. “Doctoral training has many benefits — there is something that we learn in those years of immersion in our field and the long-term task of writing a dissertation.”
Kirschner’s view is shared by Maggie Debelius and Sue Basalla, authors of “So What Are You Going to Do with That?”: Finding Careers Outside Academia. The book, written in 2001 and revised in 2007, had its inception when Debelius and May were friends and graduate students in Princeton’s English department. When May was halfway through graduate school, she realized she didn’t want to be confined to one topic and began to explore opportunities outside academe. She sought out Princeton alumni who were using their graduate-school training in a variety of endeavors and relayed their stories to Debelius, who then was juggling graduate school and working as a freelance writer (she is now associate director of the Georgetown University Writing Program). The two friends decided to bring what they had learned to a larger audience. The result was a how-to guide for graduate students, complete with case studies.
The authors write about Stacey Rees, who left her Ph.D. program in Princeton’s comparative literature department in her fifth year, with a master’s degree but no doctorate, to work as a midwife after realizing she was more committed to her part-time job at a birthing center than to her graduate work. And Richard Bennett , now Princeton’s senior associate director of principal gifts, who wanted to have control over his location and a career that might be more wide-ranging than one as a comp-lit professor. And Robin Wagner, whose first job after earning her Ph.D. in East Asian studies was training consultants — a great fit, because she loved teaching but didn’t like the solitude of academic research. (She is now associate vice president of a leading study-abroad program, IES Abroad.)
May and Debelius tell their readers early on that they don’t like to use the terms “alternative” or “non-academic” to describe the careers of Ph.D.s working outside academia. They use “post-academic.” “We feel pretty strongly about the importance of the term,” says May, who now works in higher-education marketing. “It is a fundamental point about how we see these types of careers.”
Point being: There are not just two career fields in existence — “academia”, and “other.”
Doctoral students have different reasons for exploring options outside the ivory tower. The number of tenure-track professorships available nationally is dwindling. According to a recent analysis by the American Association of Univer-sity Professors, only 35 percent of American faculty members had tenure or tenure-track positions in 2005, down from 57 percent in the 1970s. This spells major competition for the roughly 57,000 Ph.D.s being turned out by American colleges and universities each year.
Some newly minted Ph.D.s are hesitant to embark upon a nomadic existence in a string of low-paying postdoctoral positions in search of a plum spot. Brigid Dorsey, for example, found that the demands of starting an academic career conflicted with having a family. Now a freelance writer and editor, she was a single mother with a son in the eighth grade when she finished her Ph.D. in Romance languages, and she didn’t want to move her son repeatedly throughout his high school years while she pursued a tenure-track position.
A 2005 publication by Geoff Davis, “Doctors Without Orders,” summarized the results of the Sigma Xi Post-Doc Survey, including the dramatic increase in the number of postdocs throughout the 1980s and 1990s. This national trend holds true at Princeton: Of the 332 Princeton students who received their Ph.D.s in the 2006–07 academic year, 24 percent had accepted teaching-based academic positions and 28 percent were headed to jobs outside academia, according to a survey conducted soon after the degrees were awarded. The greatest proportion — 45 percent — took postdoctoral research positions, a marked increase from 1996–97, when only 22 percent of Princeton’s graduating Ph.D.s took those jobs.
“One of the things that are a real frustration for graduate students is that, when you’re in the academy, all the people around you are professors who’ve gone this ‘traditional path,’” says Peter Fiske . “But, if you look at the numbers, only about one in four Ph.D.s in the sciences remains in academia.” The reason for this is simple mathematics: There are not nearly enough positions within the academy.
After graduating from Princeton with a degree in geological and geophysical sciences, Fiske headed to graduate school at Stanford University. He finished his doctorate during “the black hole in the Ph.D. economy,” and went to Stanford’s career-planning and placement center for assistance. He discovered that the center, at that time, catered almost exclusively to undergraduates, and he started to talk to other Ph.D. students about the employment situation. Later, he compiled his observations and advice in Put Your Science To Work: The Take-Charge Career Guide for Scientists (AGU Press, 2000). Fiske is now the vice president of research and development at PAX Scientific, a California-based engineering research and product-design firm, and speaks with graduate students throughout the nation about the job-search process, including advice on how to present their Ph.D.s to prospective employers so that the employers won’t consider them overqualified and overly expensive.
Sri Sri-Jayantha, who holds a Ph.D. in mechanical and aerospace engineering, intended to pursue a professorship when he started graduate school but saw professors struggling to bring in funding for their work, which took away from their teaching. He opted instead to do research in the corporate world and is now a manager at IBM Research. His personal experiences and love of teaching led him to develop a series of graduate mixers after joining the board of the Associ-ation of Princeton Graduate Alumni (APGA). The events, held since 2004, unite current graduate students with alumni working in a variety of fields within and outside academe.
“These mixers connect students with grad alumni who have sought other options and succeeded,” says Dorsey, who sits on the APGA governing board. “It’s a networking tool, but it’s also an eye-opening experience. They realize the job search is not just a matter of ‘What can I possibly do?’ but ‘What do I want to do?’”
At a mixer for the social sciences held in March at Chancellor Green, 22 alumni and 25 graduate students mingled as they enjoyed sushi and wine. Though some graduate students were tentative at first, the conversation soon was flowing easily on topics including advice and guidance about the working world. Networking was encouraged by organizers, including Donna Sy, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the history department’s Program in the History of Science. Sy volunteered to assist at the March mixer after attending a similar event last year — and getting an internship at the Princeton Theological Seminary library as a result.
Dorsey and Carol Barash were inspired by the mixers to spearhead a careers conference at Reunions last year for alumni with graduate degrees. The conference will be repeated this year, with Peter Fiske as the keynote speaker. “I wanted other Princeton Ph.D.s to realize they have options — every possible option — and to do work that is professionally and personally meaningful for them,” says Barash, who turned down tenure offers that would have taken her away from the New York area and — after various positions in different fields — now works with Kirschner as the director of development, alumni relations, and communications at Macaulay Honors College.
Princeton’s career-services office also aims to give graduate students an “eye into the world outside the academy,” says Kathleen Mannheimer, the associate director. She and her team teach students to recognize and repackage the skills they’ve developed while earning a Ph.D., including public speaking, research, and project management.
According to May, that’s one of the most important lessons a Ph.D. interested in a career outside academia can learn. “Don’t mistake your dissertation for your greatest accomplishment or for your ticket into your next career,” she says. “It sounds like heresy. ... I fell into this trap myself. I thought the best foot I had to put forward was my expertise on Zora Neale Hurston’s folklore. Not surprisingly, there is not a huge demand for Hurston’s folklore outside academia. It took a lot of conversations with graduate alumni to understand that really what I have to offer are the skills that I gained in the process of becoming an expert.”
Each year some 57,000 newly awarded PhD’s enter the job market – way too many for all to find positions at desirable (or even less-than-desirable) colleges and universities. Is the time spent working toward a doctoral degree wasted if the PhD is unable to, or chooses not to land a top-notch academic job? No -- absolutely not. I contend that earning a PhD is a totally selfish pursuit. A graduate student works very diligently, inspired by profound personal interest, to discover or create something new, conduct a novel experiment, or uncover a great mystery.
Graduate school leading to a PhD degree is very different from professional schools (i.e., medical school, law school, business school, etc.), which tend to teach what others already know. Doctoral programs are all about novel research, or at least should be. When one completes professional schools, they usually find employment using the skills they learned in their schooling. PhD graduates, on the other hand, have discovered something new, and have become very specialized experts in their given field. This journey leads them along a path guided by interest and passion. Unfortunately, getting a PhD does not entitle one to a job as a professor. In a recent Princeton Alumni Weekly publication (May 14, 2008, “Jumping from the Ivory Tower: There's life after a Ph.D. -- and it may not be in academe," by Hilary Parker), alum Peter Fiske states, “…only about one in four Ph.D.’s in the sciences remains in academia.” The reason is simply that there are not enough academic jobs. Of the 332 PhD’s granted from Princeton University in 2006-07, 24% had accepted teaching-based academic jobs, 28% took jobs outside of academia, and 45% took post-docs – up markedly from 10 years ago, when only 22% of Princeton’s newly-minted PhD’s took post-docs. Of course, taking a post-doc position buys one a few more years in academia, and more experience, although not necessarily an academic job. But no matter what your final position, once you earn a PhD, you are forever a member of a club – one defined by a journey into discovering something new, and achieving academic accomplishments, guided by interest and passion rather than an employment goal.
Personally, I am very proud of having earned a PhD. It represents a passage of learning and discovery that no one can ever take away from me. A PhD is the ultimate intellectual accomplishment. Some people find contentment in the confines of academia – moving from place to place in pursuit of a post-doc or academic position, fighting for a tenure-track position, struggling to win funds for their projects, teaching exorbitant hours, stressing over tenure, etc. Others find happiness applying their skills and habits learned during graduate school to pursue another line of employment, or engage in volunteer activities. They are all still worthy of the title, “Dr.” They are all still owners of a PhD. Personally, I valued the choice of where to live, and how I lived (i.e., being able to spend plenty of quality time with my children) over getting any particular academic job. However, while I was a graduate student, I was still single without kids. This allowed me to totally indulge my academic interests and work diligently toward my PhD for six uninterrupted years. I published, earned a salary (stipend really), and lived a traditional academic life. Now I consider myself a non-traditional academic, because I still look at life through those intense academic eyes. I scrutinize my children’s math curriculum as if I were doing another dissertation on elementary math education. I prepare for a science assembly at an elementary school as I would prepare for a freshman lecture if I were a professor at a university. I may not be getting paid as much as if I were a professor at a top-notch university, but I live where I chose, I am content, proud, and a hero to my children. What more could anyone ask for?
So should someone who does not pursue a traditional academic career after graduate school feel like he or she somehow failed academic life? Absolutely not. A PhD is the ultimate credential in intellectual accomplishment. Once an academic, always an academic, no matter what the professional day job is. We three non-traditional academics are just that – academics. We may not be getting paid much for our intellectual pursuits; however we still enjoy using our minds, solving problems, asking and answering questions, and perhaps most important and gratifying, inspiring our children and their friends to pursue their own intellectual dreams.
I received a letter with this title from “Amanda” -- a PhD student at an Ivy League institution who wants to know if she should jump ship. Her letter is excerpted here:
I'm just finishing the first year of my doctoral program, and I'm having strong doubts about whether I should even be here. My key concerns are:
1) I'm about to turn 35 and I want to have children.
2) I am the breadwinner in my relationship. I took a $50K/year pay cut and moved across the country to work as a student research fellow in an expensive city.
3) I know I don't want an academic career, and I'm afraid that my original rationale for pursuing a doctorate — an interest in PhD-level [think tank] research and consulting jobs — just doesn't hold water now that I'm here.
The only thing keeping me here is my fear that I'll regret dropping out after I move back across the country to rejoin my partner, who still lives on the West Coast. Why would I regret dropping out? Because learning opportunities are fewer and farther between in the working world. In my mind, quitting the program now represents the end of my freedom to explore different career options and grow in my field. At the same time, this PhD program has been very frustrating and painful so far. Do I really need a PhD? Are the trade-offs worth it? I'm especially worried about delaying pregnancy, which I think I'd need to do for about another year because of the demands of my work and school schedule.
Amanda, I feel your angst, and I’m sorry for the stress you are under. You are certainly not alone in your questioning of these issues; I know this.
I know it so well, in fact, that after my own experience in making this decision, and talking through dozens of other doctoral students about theirs, I came up with a list of the most important questions to answer in the “should I leave?” process.
You’re already asking some of them, and I urge you to dig deeper for your own answers; even better, see the graduate career counselor or another counselor on your campus to work through them with you. An outside, objective ear can be a big help in echoing back what you are actually saying.
These are the eight questions:
1) Why did I start this program in the first place?
2) What kind of work do I want to do after this?
3) If I leave my program, where will my regrets lie, if I have them?
4) Can I live with myself if I don’t finish?
5) What are my true priorities?
6) What is the point of diminishing returns?
7) What is really wrong here?
8) Is there a middle ground?
I have published an article elsewhere further discussing each question in depth, and clearly many questions relate to each other (they actually work as couples). But for the sake of blog brevity, I’m going to quickly hone in on the three issues among these questions that jump out at me for you, Amanda: regrets, true priorities, and career/learning opportunities.
Regrets: Whether you can live with yourself if you “quit” is really the heart of this decision for all of us. How will you feel if you leave? Or if you postpone motherhood? Will you be able to let the PhD go as something you tried that wasn’t the right fit after all, or will you label it a “failure” and allow its incompletion to eat away at you for years? Those of us who are able to do the former (let it go) can leave and pretty happily pursue other career paths (and mothering), valuing the PhD experience as a learning one that led us to wherever we are. Those who feel the latter (that they can’t let it go) usually stick it out and finish, which can be a happy path if you commit and embrace it, or an unhappy one if the holding on is actually more of a “should” than a true desire. Which leads to…
True Priorities: Bottom line, I think what determines whether people can let it go or not comes down to their true priorities. True priorities meaning the priorities you actually, truly live by, not those you’d like to someday live by or think you should live by. This kind of a life-changing decision calls for stopping and deeply examining your own true priorities (or true values). All of the books I mentioned last week have exercises you can go through to come up with your own, and a career counselor can help you with this as well. If you can articulate what is most important to you, in your heart of hearts, you can find your answer (which may be to stay, to leave, or some “middle ground” – which means options like a leave of absence or change of programs). Please know, this process is deeper than just saying something like “I value education” (as I think anyone here does), but really examining what education means to you, what it symbolizes, how it manifests. Which leads to…
Career/Learning Opportunities: I urge you to also explore your beliefs that there will be no advancement of learning or career opportunities for you if you leave the PhD program. I must beg to differ on this. There are opportunities to learn everywhere, and careers can take unexpected and wonderful turns at any point in a person’s life. There is absolutely no reason you cannot continue to learn and grow in your career without a PhD. True, you may not continue on the path you had planned, if you leave — you won’t move up a structured ladder determined by university degree — but if you set your mind to lifelong learning and growth, you will find it wherever you are.
Lastly, Amanda, it’s important to know, as I hope and assume others have told you, that the first year of a PhD program is often the most painful and disconcerting. It’s a huge and challenging transition, especially coming from the “outside world” of work for some years (I did that, too). So, it might be worth getting through this first year, having the summer to process and take a deep breath, and then seeing how things look in your second year before you make your ultimate decision. Or, it might not be. If you really take the time to face these questions in a deep way, I believe the decision will become clear for you.
I hope others will weigh in with experiences and ideas on this important question as well. What I most want to offer you, Amanda, is support and encouragement to dig deep for your own answers and open wide to the possibilities for creating a life that works for you — even if it may not look quite like what you thought it would.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
This is a good book. I recommend it.
As the psychologists converge on London, some, though dutifully upbeat, admit that the public could be forgiven for getting the wrong idea about the meeting. The term "wellbeing" doesn't help, they say, raising as it does images of New Age mumbo-jumbo. Positive psychology, as the movement is known, is categorically not New Age nonsense, claims Nick Baylis, a psychologist at Cambridge University who helped to organise the meeting. "We're only interested in serious science," he says. "If it didn't have science behind it, we would be no more credible than TV self-help gurus."
For the record, Baylis defines wellbeing as a state that allows someone to thrive and flourish. "It's a result of things going well and the cause of things going well. It's thinking, I'm getting better and life is feeling better. I'm getting better at what I do, whether it is being a friend, a lover, or a worker. I'm enjoying life."
The positive psychology movement was born in 1998 when Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, was voted in as president of the American Psychological Association. In his inaugural speech, Seligman, who had worked on depression for 30 years, stunned his audience by saying psychologists had missed a trick. Rather than devoting attention to lives that had gone desperately wrong, psychologists should change tack, focusing instead on people for whom everything was going well. While psychologists knew virtually all there was to know about depression, he said, they knew almost nothing of the secrets of a happy life. Discover what they are and it might give you a recipe that people could learn to make themselves happier and more satisfied with their lives. The speech went down a storm and Seligman soon found himself sitting on $30m of research funding.
According to Baylis, who is the only positive psychology lecturer in the country, the research is now beginning to bear fruit. Now it is time to work out what to do next. "It's all very well being able to describe a happy life, but can you bottle it? Can you take it into the classroom or the office and say we're going to teach your students, your workforce, to learn to be happier? First you have to ask, why would you bother? Do you really want a population of happy-clappy people? Aren't they just going to be horribly smug and piss people off?" he says. Evidently not.
"What we've found is that if someone is happy with life, they are more popular. We all like hanging around with happy people," says Baylis. "They are also more productive, healthier and live longer. Every positive you can think of, they come up trumps, so it has to be an aim worth having."
Psychologists have known for some time that optimism is a good defence against unhappiness. "If you're optimistic and you think life is going to get better, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy," says Baylis. "You will involve yourself more, you'll put yourself forward more, you will take more care of yourself. You'll figure that if you do more exercise and not booze as much, life will be better."
But some of us are just not natural optimists. What are we supposed to do?
Positive psychologists believe optimism can be learned, that we can teach ourselves to see a half-empty glass as half-full. All we have to do is spend time mulling over all the things that have gone right for us, rather than dwelling on what has gone badly. Research on depression shows that one of the biggest causes of depression is ruminating about something that went wrong in the past, says Baylis. "What happens is you look into the past and think about some event and keep turning it over, saying, 'I messed up, I messed up,' and you let it hurt you. You keep feeding it the oxygen of attention and the flames keep burning you."
But just as dwelling on negative events can lead to depression, dwelling on things that have gone well can help pick you up, he says. "You have to thank your lucky stars about what goes right on a daily basis. Whenever you get the feeling of being negative about things, just take a moment out and remind yourself of the stuff that has gone well. It could be anything from a conversation to your garden looking nice, or that it didn't rain on you when you were out on your bike. It's an extremely powerful technique."
And, says Seligman: "I used to think that all you had to do to get a happy person was get rid of the negatives in their life, but if that's all you do, you don't get a happy person, you get an empty person. You need the positives too."
By reminding ourselves what went well instead of what went wrong, positive psychologists believe we can build a buffer against unhappiness, making us better able to take life's knocks when they come.
Seligman, who is the figurehead of the positive psychology movement, goes further than suggesting people learn to think positively. He has worked out what he sees as a blueprint for happiness that people can use to set them on the path to a fulfilling and satisfying life. He believes there are three routes to happiness, which he calls the "pleasant life", the "good life" and the "meaningful life". Some are better than others, although a mix of all three is ideal. The pleasant life sees superficial pleasures as the key to happiness, and it is this that many people mistakenly pursue, he says. "The biggest mistake that people in the rich west make is to be enchanted with the Hollywood idea of happiness, which is really just giggling and smiling a lot," he says. While a life bent on instant pleasure and gratification offers some degree of happiness, it is ultimately unsatisfying on its own, he says.
Money, it turns out, isn't the answer either. Seligman believes that once we have enough to pay for life's basics such as food and a roof over our heads, more money adds little to our happiness.
To be seriously happy, Seligman says, we have to set our sights on a good life and a meaningful life. To do this we need to identify what he calls our signature strengths, which could be anything from perseverance and leadership to a love of learning. (Seligman has set up a website, www.authentichappiness.org which allows people to take a test to find out their top five signature strengths.)
Seligman says that once we know our signature strengths, using them more and more in our daily lives will make us feel happier and more fulfilled. By exploiting our strengths, he says, we will find life more gratifying and become completely immersed in what we are doing, whether working, making music or playing sport - a state positive psychologists call "flow".
Using our signature strengths in our working and social lives will help as achieve what Seligman calls a good life, while using them to help others will put us on course for achieving a meaningful life, he says.
So much for the theory. While positive psychology is broadly seen as valid by the psychology and psychiatry establishment, it does have its critics. "It's a step in the right direction and it works well to counter the previous tradition in psychology of over identifying everybody as wounded or suffering from some kind of mental disease," says Steven Wolin, a clinical psychiatrist at George Washington University in Washington DC. "But some say it's nothing new, that it's just a rehashing of older positive-thinking movements," he says.
Positive psychologists also stand accused of burying their heads in the sand and ignoring that depressed, even merely unhappy people, have real problems that need dealing with. Seligman counters this, saying positive psychology is not meant to replace other forms of therapy, but should be complementary, while people work through their negative feelings.
There are other criticisms too. The movement, though now in its sixth year, cannot show much scientific research to support it. "It's not yet a field that has had a lot of systematic research. So if I say to you that a sense of humour in the face of trouble is a strength, you might want to see some good research that backs that up - but I'll have trouble showing you that," says Wolin.
The point is not lost on Seligman, who used his $30m in research funds to set up scientific studies looking into all aspects of positive psychology. "If it's not backed up by good scientific data, it will collapse like a house of cards, and it will deserve to," he says.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
the five freedoms by Virginia Satir 當人們有五種自由時，就能發揮高度功能
當我還是一個小孩時，我總會覺得要為母親的loneliness, pain, 和未得平服的憤怒負起責任，愛對於我而言就意謂著要為一個婦人的痛苦負責任，並且成為她憤怒的犧牲者，當我開始感覺和我的女性朋友太過親密時，我會覺得非常害怕，因為我的內在小孩總認為，愛就是必須 give up 我自己，照顧我父母的痛苦，pain, 及憤怒-----須修正自己的投射模式，尊重自己及他人的wounds, 但不須試著想撫平它，或為它負責任---- by John Bradshaw
- innocent, orphan, wanderer, warrior, martyr, magician
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Yesterday I heard a talk by Denise M. Rousseau, President of the Academy of Management and the 1998-2007 Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Organizational Behavior. During the talk (which turned out to be an interesting Q&A discussion) I wrote down some of the tips she gave. Here they are.
- If a good paper gets rejected due to a split review whose concerns can be addressed, argue with the editor for it to be reconsidered. When arguing offer unconditional positive acceptance of the editor's arguments.
- Innovate in theory or in the method you use, but never on both.
- Try to establish what type of papers a journal publishes (theory, qualitative, replication, quantitative, method, practical impact).
- When targeting journals that publish diffuse articles (e.g. AMR, AMJ): define all key concepts, motivate the paper in multiple terms, explain choice of method and analysis, and (in the conclusion) return to motives and discuss implications.
Successful publishing strategies
Theory development (concept without data)
Construct development (new /refined concept to existing theory or research)
Generalization (replication on metastudy)
- For any study relationship of variables is unimportant without providing an explanatory framework.
- Explicitly mention the limits of your research.
- Nowadays people (reviewers) come from various cultures and consequently don't share a common context. Therefore, never assume, tell explicitly.
- Write using a strong topic sentence as the first sentence of each paragraph.
Give your paper to other 2-3 colleagues (probably from other universities) to review before submitting it.
- To publish another paper from the same data set: use a different dependent variable, different theory, and disclose previous publications.
- How people grow: what the bible reveals about personal growth
- Integrity : the courage to meet the demands of reality
- Growing up is hard
- Stop whining, start living
- Why do you love me
- Games people play: the psychology of human relationships by Berne, Eric
- How could you do that?! : the abdication of character, courage, and conscience
- The Power of myth
- The reader
- Well being a personal plan for exploring and enriching the seven dimensions of life : mind, body, spirit, love, work, play, the earth
- Love must be tough
- Further along the road less traveled
- The road less traveled
- Further along the road less traveled : the uneding journey toward spiritual growth
- The Road less traveled : a new psychology of love, traditional values and spiritual growth
- How to have that difficult conversation you've been avoiding : with your spouse, adult child, family, boss, coworker, friend, parent or someone you're dating
- Breaking generational curses & pulling down strongholds
- Breaking generational curses : overcoming the legacy of sin in your family
- Breaking generational curses : releasing God's power in us, our children, and our destiny
- What you feel, you can heal
- Eight ways to keep the Devil under your feet Meyer, Joyce
- Look great, feel great : 12 keys to enjoying a healthy life now Meyer, Joyce
- The Ten commandments : the significance of god's laws in everyday life
- Parenthood by proxy : don't have them if you won't raise them by Schlessinger, Laura
- The 7 worst things parents do by John C. Friel
- Walking on eggshells : navigating the delicate relationship between adult children and their parents by Isay, Jane.
- Healing words : affirmations for adult children of abusive parents by Farmer, Steven
- Affirmation and healing treasures : your journey to wholeness by Reyes, Ilsa B
- Beyond the relaxation response: how to harness the healing power of your personal beliefs by Benson, Herbert
- Emotional alchemy: how the mind can heal the heart by Bennett-Goleman, Tara
- Your father,your self : how sons and daughters can understand and heal relationships with their fathers by Gordon, Barry H.
- The Courage to heal by Bass, Ellen
- Accepting your power to heal by Krieger, Dolores
- You can heal your life by Hay, Louise L.
- Love yourself, heal your life workbook by Hay, Louise L.
- The Courage to be yourself by Thoele, Sue Patton
- the mom factor: dealing with the mother you had, didn't have, or still contend with
- 苦難的尋思 黃小石
- 留下生命中的感動 黃小石
- 真理的追尋 : 走出科學迷思,尋找生命出路 黃小石
- 愛的真相 黃小石
Monday, April 06, 2009
What We Want
- TO BE LOVED: Just as daughters- and sons-in-law want to feel valued and respected, so too do mothersin-law. We all want to feel loved.
- TO BE INCLUDED: We don’t want to feel shut out, excluded from the flow of family life. We like having “insider status” and knowing what’s going on with our children and their families. We hate finding out from others.
- TO HOLD ON TO FAMILIAR TRADITIONS: We want to hold on to some of the traditions that we nurtured when we were raising our own children and that mean so much to us.
- TIME ALONE WITH AN ADULT CHILD: We love, every now and then, to have time with our children. We love seeing them in their families, but sometimes we yearn for the intimacy of just us. Time alone together is sometimes easier to come by with our daughters than our sons, but we want it with both5. TO UNDERSTAND WHY: It is hard not to offer advice when that’s been our job for a couple decades. Mothers-in-law appreciate being asked for input. When our advice is not followed, we often feel better knowing why another decision was made. We like to feel we were heard, if not obeyed.
- TO BE TREATED AS SOMEONE WITH A BRAIN: We might not have the best ideas but we do have ideas, opinions, thoughts and decades of good experience. It hurts when we are treated as a fuddy-duddy to be tolerated. If children think we can’t give good advice because we don’t have the full picture, well, paint it for us.
- TO HAVE OUR NEEDS CONSIDERED: It’s true that young families with busy children, pressured work schedules and complicated lives need for us to flexible. Our lives are usually simpler. But we also have needs, and we like to know that others are aware of them.
- TO HAVE FUN: As we age, we are aware that our time is growing shorter. We don’t want to waste it fighting, doing unsatisfying tasks or being with disagreeable people.
How Can We Get What We Want?
- STOP JUDGING: We don’t get a vote; we don’t get a veto. Our children get to choose the lives they want to live, and our job is to love them and applaud their accomplishments.
- REDUCE EXPECTATIONS: If we don’t expect things will be a certain way, we will not be disappointed when they are some other way. Sometimes, we don’t even know we have expectations, but we do and we feel hurt when they are not met.
- BE INCLUSIVE: Include your child’s partner in requests, emails, gifts, conversations. Don’t pretend his or her opinion doesn’t matter. It does.
- BE FLEXIBLE: Sometimes we have to let go of the past, of habits and traditions we cherish to accommodate the new. Every beloved tradition was once an untried idea.
- REMEMBER THAT LOVE IS NOT QUANTITATIVE: Just when we may have more time in our lives, our children have less. Running a house, raising children, taking care of work, exercising, maintaining friends is a huge load. When our children and their partners don’t have as much time for us as we wish, it is helpful to remember that time is limited but love is infinite.
- GIVE UP CONTROL: If we have done a good job raising our children, it is safe to let them go. Even the best of mothers doesn’t get the final word on her children’s choices. Sometimes we don’t even get a word at all. Respecting our adult children enough to trust them to make their own decisions is what they deserve and, by the way, what they want.
- MOVE FROM SMART TO WISE: Smart means having good answers, good solutions, good advice. Wise means knowing when our opinions cannot be heard and we need to remain quiet.
- HAVE FUN: If we are having fun, it makes us more attractive to those around us. We can’t rely on our children to help us have fun. We need to “get a life” for ourselves and invite our children to share it.
- I am the author of all meanings to me of my experiences. It is out of these meanings that I construct my reality. It is in this sense, that personal history can be rewritten. Since I make up the story in the first place anyway, why not make it up in a way most conducive to personal well-being?
- re-mythologizing parents, implying re-solving intergenerational intimidation and coming to relate to them as peers.
- renegotiation and termination of the hierarchical power boundary between the parent and the child, the initiative is always with son or daughter
- if the parent is still held as parent psycologically, the son or daughter will remain and behave as child, living within the emotional and relational dynamics of the intergenerational patterns of interactions. By giving up the parent as parent, the thereby establishing psycholoigcal peerhood, son or daughter gains emotional freedom, relational poise, and the language and behavioral skills necessary in order not to be swept away by the tireless waves of family emotionality.
- a man will see every woman as his mother until he sees his mother as a woman
- personal authority therapy prepares people to talk directly to their parents about everything that is important and to do so as adutls and without fear.
- The ultimate de-illusionment is giving up or losing the parent as parent. This means having to come to terms with the fact that in the last resort, and when the chips are down, there is no one and nowhere to turn to except the self.
- Family therapy in clinical practice
- Family evaluation: an approach based on bowen theory by Michael E. Keer
- Family of origin therapy: an intergenerational approach by J.L. Framo
- The intimacy paradox: personal authority in the family system by D. Williamson
- Falling in love: why we choose the lovers we do by Ayala Malach Pines
- Fatal attraction: affections and disaffections in intimate relationships by Diana H. Felmlee
- Imago therapy by Harville Hendricks
Finding the love of your life by Neil Clark Warren
- 以我所要，所想及所感覺來表達自己，而不是經由合理化，期望，判斷或是distort 來操控自己及他人
- 知道前往真理的路上須要收集各種資訊，廣納各種資料，仔細聆聽各種不同想法及觀點，不會擔心別人的意見是否與自己不同，安全感不會因為自己與人不同而受到 threat
Thursday, April 02, 2009
- Blaming others: Stop complaining
This is usually known as complaining. I used to complain a lot in the past. Of course, my misfortune was always everybody else's fault. I found out that this kind of behavior is a symptom of low self esteem, because in blaming others I did not assume responsibility. But by not assuming responsibility, I became a victim of my circumstances.
How did I change this low self esteem sign?. When I became aware of this behavior, I took the decision not to blame others anymore. Whenever I find myself blaming people or circumstances, I stop and I say to myself: "It is time to take responsibility", and I take action.
This is my "favorite" one; I lived many years on denial. I used to minimize problems, forgetting events. I did not want to feel the pain. Despite the evidence, my tendency was to insist that anything bad or that I did wrong was not true. For example, when my father died, it was around 11:00 pm and I called one of my best friends. I told her that I needed to do some shopping and kept talking about trivial issues. She knew me very well, and I after I finished my talking she said: I am sorry your father is gone. .This is a low self esteem sign. How I changed this?. I took the decision to start taking the risk of feeling my feelings. I realized that it is better feeling the pain once than it is to keep feeling it all the time without even knowing what's happening within myself. This is like having a toothache and avoiding going to the dentist to avoid the pain. So we take medication hoping that the pain will go away, until we cannot bury it anymore and we make the appointment--by which time we have even more expensive work that needs to be done
- Unable to express our feelings:
Being unable to express our feelings is being unable to feel them; or, more precisely, we are suppressing them and trying to "go numb" to them. This is my favorite one too. I used to be unable to know what I was feeling.
For example, I felt anger and I did not know how to express it. Whenever somebody asked me: Are you angry? I smiled and I said: No, I am not angry. The truth is that I was confused about my feelings, and I felt afraid to express them. I did not understand that anger could be a healthy feeling. I always thought it was bad so I repressed it. This is a low self esteem sign .
How did I overcome this?. I decided to be brave and start to express my feelings . I learn how to be more assertive . For example, my husband is always late, and I am punctual. So, every time we go out, I am ready. He is always doing things at the last minute and this makes me really angry. I used to smile and said nothing . I didn't want to ruin the day. Instead of doing this one day I told him : I am really uncomfortable when we have to go out and you are never ready and we are late. Just being able to express myself in this way had helped me a lot in not repressing my anger anymore.
- Depending on others for self-acceptance:
I used to depend on others to accept myself; I thought, "If you like me, I am ok. If you accept me, I will accept myself," always waiting for a sign of approval so that I could feel good about myself. But when I didn't get it I was driven nuts. How I changed this? Well, I become aware that people have different points of view, that sometimes they project in us their frustrations and that if somebody really loves me s/he will take me the way I am. I felt relief, just being conscious that we cannot please everyone and giving myself permission to be myself. It helped me accept myself not worrying about others' opinions. This is like when you get your hair done, and then meet people and you are waiting for somebody to praise you. If you meet a friend, let’s say, and she says, what have you done with your hair! I liked it the way it was before! You start to feel uncomfortable, and doubt your own stylistic tastes. If you accept yourself and you are not waiting for other people’s acceptance, you will be comfortable no matter what others say.
- Lack personal boundaries:
I did not know how to draw a line between my problems and other’s problems. I let people to be invasive. This behavior is linked with no knowing how to say no. I used to be so mixed up, that when I meet somebody with a problem, I internalized as mine. For example. I remembered once I meet a new person. He started to ask too many personal questions. Even though I felt uncomfortable I answered them .This is a sign of low self esteem. How did I change this?. Well this experience occurred to me again. Because I was determined to set boundaries with other people, I could handle this in a different way. I just told her that I was not comfortable answering personal questions. I did not answered them. The good thing is that this person understood my request and we had an excellent relationship. Setting boundaries is really important. We can still help other people, be nice to them but there is a place inside of us that we have to respect and do not have fear of rejection.
- Not spending very much time living in the present moment If you are constantly, worrying about the future or regretting the past, you are not living in and enjoying your present moment. Those with low self-esteem issues have trouble feeling like they deserve happiness in the present moment so they constantly stay in and relive the past or futurize various outcomes that may or may not ever come about. When the urge to leave the present moment happens, pull yourself back into the present by deepening your breathing. When you focus on your breathing, you cannot escape to the past or future but rather stay in the present.
- Always wanting something you don't have or something that's out of reach When someone has a great dissatisfaction with their life and it seems that what they want is just out of reach, there are probably low self-esteem issues lurking underneath. Believe it or not, getting what you want in life begins with being appreciative of what you have and what you've been given. Switch your attention to gratitude to begin your healing process and see what happens.
- Doing things to undermine your success or the success you think you should be having Do you constantly find that as soon as you achieve any kind of success, you do something to mess it up? That's a sure sign that somewhere inside you, you don't feel that you deserve to be successful. Make note of how you are sabotaging yourself and stop yourself for habitually doing those things. We know that it sounds easy but difficult to do but if you decide that it's important, at least start by becoming aware of how you are sabotaging yourself.
- Putting yourself down and making comments, even in your mind, like "I don't deserve..." or "I'll never have ..."Pay attention to your self-talk. If it is a constant stream of negativity, know that you need to address your low self-esteem issues. One of the first places to do that is by monitoring your self-talk and changing it to something more positive that you can believe. You can use the phrase "Up until now..." to help you to see possibilities that are more positive.
- Avoiding real intimacy People who have low self-esteem have problems opening to and connecting with others on a deep level. They don't feel "good enough" and feel that if the other person finds out who they truly are, all love will be lost. There's usually a lot of fear about opening up to other people-maybe they were hurt or abandoned in past relationships and fear that if they open themselves, they will only be hurt again. There's the thought that for what ever reason "I can never have love." If you are avoiding real intimacy for whatever reason, take it as a sign that you need to look at how you are feeling about yourself.
- Busyness .Always keeping busy so you don't have to look at your underlying self esteem issues and challenges. Often times people will low self-esteem issues keep busy so that they don't have deal with feelings that they keep hidden. If you are a "do-er" and are constantly busy but not truly happy, start looking at what you are trying to suppress with your "busyness."
- Job-Hopping People with low self-esteem can be restless and this feeling of uneasiness or restlessness can create a feeling within them that "the grass is always greener on the other side." While you and I know that this isn't true, the person with low self esteem is always on the lookout for a reason as to why their life isn't working out the way they would like. They look outside of themselves without realizing that their low self-esteem is the thing that is causing their feeling of uneasiness.
- Addictions Addictions of any kind-whether food, alcohol, drugs, sex, spending money or to an emotion like anger-are usually signals to address low self-esteem issues. When we have addictive behavior, we are just trying to feel better. We have convinced ourselves, usually on an unconscious level, that whatever we have chosen for our addiction will help us to feel better. We cover up uncomfortable feelings with the addictive behavior and for a few brief moments, we might actually feel better. Instead, of staying with our uncomfortable feelings and changing our lives, addictive behaviors bypass the whole growth process. If you are finding that you are addicted to something that is not healthy for you, consider what information your addiction is hiding from you. When you discover that, you'll have a place to begin healing low self-esteem.
- Makes negative "I am" statements.
- Fears new experiences and changes
- lacks trust
- Has exaggerated responses to defeats or disappointments; wants to be perfect, but sees self as far from perfect.
- Frequently boasts; exaggerates successes to cover up feelings of inadequacy.
- Eager to please; strong need for approval and constant support.
- Neglects physical appearance to an extreme degree.
- Demonstrates poor eye contact.
- Strong need for material possessions.
- Reluctant to express own ideas; lacks belief in self.
- Lacks accountability; feels hopeless.
- Lacks energy; passive; sees small task as very large and intimidating.
- Low level of self-awareness; uses lots of energy to maintain a false image.
- Excessively anxious.
- Overly sensitive to criticism, but overly critical of others.
- Psychologically isolated; lacks a supportive network.
- Has frequent psychosomatic complaints.
- Habitually puts others down.
- Focuses on the past.
- Apologizes excessively; lots of negative self-talk.
- You think too frequently about yourself and seem to prefer engaging in constant self-analysis.
- You are afraid of adversity and may feel some alienation from authority figures (like parents).
- You find it hard to smile easily. Your views are pessimistic.
- You are not willing or not able to set and attain your personal goals.
- You keep to yourself and prefer to be left alone.
- You do not want to establish eye contact and find it hard to trust other people.
- You do not and are not willing to take any risks.
- You are antisocial. People find you difficult to be around with.
- You talk negatively to yourself, you find it difficult to tell the truth or keep your word.
- You cannot forgive yourself or others. You may lack empathy, compassion, and remorse.
- blame self & others — complain
- are chronic victims, take stuff personally
- Reactive: behave at level of defenses, not of needs (Satir)
- Carry a lot of unidentified pain, and therefore avoid the present moment
- Often have body-image problems and so are not in their bodies
- Tend to be perfectionistic (to create perfect safety) Also try to control (same reason)
- Live within a closed circle -- can't admit negatives, especially fears, so it is impossible to reassure them. They stay on a treadmill.
- Resentment/ Fault-finding/critical
- Hypervigilant (for safety), A "good person," often selfless in behavior; a caretaker
Prone to accidents and physical stress disorders (headache, colitis, ulcers, TMJ, constipation or diarrhea)
- Minimize — things are not so bad; they'll be better tomorrow for sure
- Confused in behavior — don't know what to do first or how to do it.
- Create a powerful, detailed false self; afraid of being wrong
- Grandiosity plus or minus: they are either the greatest or the worst
- PRIMARY ADDICTION: to powerlessness and nonlife (Schaef)
- Drugs: legal and illegal; prescription and nonprescription
- Process and compulsive behaviors
- suicidal thoughts; shyness
- depression don't laugh or cry much
- panic/anxiety attacks chronic frustration (can't make it OK)
- chronic global anxiety don't know what they feel
- phobias and fears wonder if they're crazy (they're not)
- excessive distrust; unable to feel; unable to express feelings
- experience high levels of guilt, shame, fear, sorrow, hurt, anger
- Nobody loves me, not even me: bereft, abandoned, rejected
- an idealist with great disappointments: have "high hopes and great fears "(Va. Satir's term)
- feels like an imposter — discounts praise; feels/acts invisible
- expects disappointment; trusts no one
- difficulty sharing and communicating, especially their fears
- feel defective and flawed (why else are they an orphan?)
- Isolated and alone; Frustrated in quest for intimacy
- Indirect Self Acceptance: If you like me, I must be OK
- Otheration: Poor separation from parents, intimate others
- Can't draw line between my problem and your problem; Has not achieved whole and equal relationship
- Don't know what they're responsible for and not responsible for
- Difficulty saying No, asserting oneself
- Excessive need for attention
- stinkin thinkin (AA & Schaef); Perceptions distort reality
- Ruminate and mull matters endlessly; Worry obsessively
- Destructive inner dialogue: run a constant critical commentary against themselves
- Constantly scheme and plan mentally to get safe, in control
- Lack of objective capacity; Lack of healthy critical sense; bad judgement
- Difficulty concentrating, focusing attention: scattered
- Confused in thinking-sequence; what first or most important, priorities
Like the oil in the engine of car, our self-esteem is only a problem when it is low.
One summer, I employed a college student to help me get my notes together for this course. After typing notes for this section into the computer, he sighed loudly, and said, "Wow." When I asked him what that was all about, he said, "When I came here, I was sure my self-esteem was fine, but after typing this section on the symptoms of low self-esteem, I recognized an awful lot of me. I've got to do some thinking about this stuff."
We don't have to be a basket case to want to improve our self-esteem. We don't have to be depressed to want to feel better. We don't have to feel we're the worst person alive to want to be more loving toward ourselves. As Nathaniel Branden says, "It is not necessary to hate ourselves before we can learn to love ourselves more; we do not have to feel inferior in order to want to feel more confident. We do not have to be miserable to want to expand our capacity for joy."(1) We can recognize that we put ourselves down without concluding we are a terrible person. We are entitled to want more vitality, more pleasure, deeper and richer feeling, a greater sense of purpose and joy in our lives.
If you wish to assess your own level of self-esteem, look at this list of symptoms of low self-esteem. (But don't be like the medical student who was certain she had the symptoms of every major disease she studied.)
We try to protect ourselves and our low self-esteem, and the primary means is denial. We simply reject the idea that there is anything wrong with our self-esteem, our behavior, our lives. The evidence of our experience to the contrary can be overwhelming, but we will refuse to accept that anything is wrong. This defense is most obvious in the case of the drunk who denies she has a drinking problem.
A person with low self-esteem is full of blame. He blames himself, secretly, sometimes publicly, but also blames others. Such people experience themselves as victims most of the time. Their tendency is to complain, often loudly and at great length, about how badly they have been treated by almost everyone in the universe. They also respond to events by taking whatever happens personally.
As Virginia Satir has said, people with low self-esteem spend most of their time reacting to things: they "behave at the level of their defenses, and not at the level of their need."(2) In other words, we spend more time protecting ourselves from getting hurt than allowing ourselves to be loved.
People with low self-esteen tend to put painful experiences and feelings away into a big black sack they carry with them . In therapy it's called "gunny-sacking" feelings. It's as if we say to ourselves "This is too painful to deal with now. I'll put it away and deal with it later." Or, "I don't want to deal with this at all." And we do put it away, refusing to feel it. And our sack gets larger: we can feel its heft and its bulk. The simple fact it is there and we know it is scarey. But the idea of sticking our hand inside that writhing black bag and pulling something out into the light to look at it gives us the willies. We can even forget what's in that sack. All we know is that it's bad and we don't want anything to do with it. I call the contents of that bag unidentified pain.
Generally, when we have the courage to look at our pain, or our fears, we find the anticipation of it is worse than the experience of it. Once we identify our pain, it loses its power over us. I knew a boy who had been given his grandfather's ring by his father. One day at a lake, while showing it to someone on a raft, he got bumped and the ring flew away into some forty or fifty feet of water. Gone. No way to retrieve it. Gone forever. A family heirloom. He was mortified, and terrified of telling his father, afraid his father would get hugely angry. So in the weeks afterward, he kept silent. In the meantime, he lived in fear that his father would notice the ring wasn't on his finger and inquire about it. Some months later, he finally summoned the courage to tell his father the ring was lost. His father merely shrugged and said that was too bad. He hadn't much liked the ring himself anyway and that was the reason he had given it to him. And that was the end of it. He couldn't believe he'd agonized so long over something that turned out so well.
Another result of unidentified pain is that we have so much bad feeling within us, we're unable to feel what's going on here and now. The huge sack of unidentified pain keeps us numb and out of touch with this present moment.
People with low self-esteem often attach that low self-esteem to their bodies. They have a body image problem . They are too big, too small, too short, too tall, too light, too heavy. Their defense is to stay out of their bodies, to not be in their bodies, as if to say, "This isn't me. I don't exaclty know who this is, but it isn't me. " As a consequence, because feeling has a physiological correlate, it is hard to feel anything, even physical pleasure.
Control Needs and Perfectionism
People with low self-esteem experience a high degree of insecurity and jeopardy. They do not feel safe most of the time. One defense is to become a perfectionist. After all if you do something perfectly, you are beyond criticism and no one can hurt you. Perfectionism is an attempt to create perfect safety (which is, needless to say, unattainable). The other safety attempt is to become a control freak and try to control everything. If we can control everything, nothing will ever jump up and surprise or hurt us.
People with low self-esteem tend to live in a closed system that is hard to break. Because they have difficulty admitting negatives, either about themselves or their behavior, it is hard to reach them. It is especially difficult for someone with low self-esteem who is defensive or in denial to admit that they are afraid. As a result, it is difficult, occassionally impossible, to reassure them that it is okay to be afraid or to be in pain. Their major fear is that it is all their fault. That's a lie. It is not all their fault, but it's a lie that's hard to surrender.
Imagine it is late evening and you're a seven-year-old child in bed at home. Your father, who drinks and often comes home drunk, and often comes home angry-drunk, is out of the house but expected home any minute now. In the past, on occassion, he has come into your bedroom when you were asleep and started to yell at you for leaving your bicycle outside by the front stairs. He almost fell over the damned thing. His rage was terrifying. And he hit you several times. Hard. You now hear the front door open and the shuffling step of your father coming down the hall. He's mumbling to himself, out-loud. Lying in your bed, how are you feeling? What is your emotional, psychic, mental condition? Would you not be almost literally holding your breath, straining to hear every sound for some indication of his condition, his mood, whether or not he's coming to your room? It's called hypervigilance, that condition of intense, very acute alertness. Some people know, and need to know, where everyone is, what they are doing, and sometimes they even claim to know what other people are thinking and feeling. Often they are right, because they have learned to read other people carefully and very well. They are hyper-alert to people. They read expressions, body language, words, striving mightily to know exactly what is going on. They watch, listen, interpret, and they wonder and ponder and figure and scheme, all toward the end of being able to protect themselves if something bad starts to happen.
Because it is never possible to prevent bad stuff from happening to us, we sometimes become the classic victim, innocent and angry. We not only blame, we also feel resentment because that other person let us down or treated us badly. In fact, to further our protection, we get into heavy-duty fault-finding with others, becoming critical, sometimes hypercritical, of what they do, say, think, or feel. And we can become so obssessed with the other guy we neglect ourselves.
One mode of protection is to become the super-good person, the good little boy or girl, the thoughtful child. We become almost literally selfless in our efforts to take care of others in the hope that if we can keep them happy then we will be happy. Such people become superlative caretakers. Another form of our victimization is being accident or illness prone, which succeeds in putting a great deal of our personal responsibility out into the world of fate and chance and accident. We can also become vulnerable to stress disorders like chronic headaches, colitis, ulcers, tempero-mandibular joint (TMJ) pain, constipation or diarrhea.
We think magically that if we refuse to admit how bad things were, then they can't really have been that bad. So we minimize: "Things weren't really so bad in my family." "I didn't have a great childhood, but it was okay." Scarlet O'Hara, the heroine of Gone With The Wind, was a great minimizer: "I'll think about that tomorrow." What we're doing, of course, is minimizing our own experience of how bad it was. In other words, more bluntly, we're lying to ourselves. People who are particularly concerned with appearances and the judgment of others minimize to protect themselves and those they care about from criticism. Caretakers especially minimize the bad behavior of those they take care of. We can see this in parents whose children can do no wrong, or in people acting codependently with a substance-abuser whose behavior could be "much worse." While it may appear to be a kind of tolerance or forgiveness, in fact it is a refusal to hold oneself or the other person responsible for bad behavior. "He didn't hit me that hard." (Yes, he did, and it hurt like hell, physically and emotionally.) "She didn't really want to hit me that hard." (Oh, yes she did.)
One of the best defenses is confusion, in behavior, thought or feeling. A confused person can't be held responsible for what happens. After all, a confused person doesn't know what to do first, what to think, or what to feel, or even how to do what's necessary. If asked what they want, they can't tell you, and they can't tell you because they literally do not know and can't allow themselves to find out.
Creating a False Self
One of the hallmarks of low self-esteem is a powerful, highly-detailed false self. Our false self is the creation we made in order to hide. It is the good little girl or boy persona we present to the world. The stronger that false self, the more detailed, the greater the attempt to persuade ourselves and others the false self is the real self. And also the greater the fear that real self will be seen and rejected. Another sign of low self-esteem is a lot of fear about being wrong. A person with low self-esteem is really afraid of being wrong. The operative perception is that people who make mistakes are inferior, and they must be disciplemed, corrected, criticised, punished, made fun of, condemned as dumb or ineffective. Who would willingly invite that?
When I was growing up, the term "addict" was almost equivalent to the term "fiend" as in "dope-fiend." There was a sense of demons and craziness about it, and no one wanted to be called an addict. But we have learned a lot about addiction and the addictive process since then. One of the things we have learned is that addictions are extraordinarily common, we might even say pervasive in our society, and that they happen in the best of families. It is no shame, as many have since learned, to acknowledge having been addicted. Indeed, such acknowledgement is the first step toward recovery. The primary, objective symptom of low self-esteem is a substance or a process addiction, or dependence on multiple addictions. There are many kinds, and they start with the substances: alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, illegal drugs like heroine or cocaine, plus a whole raft of legal drugs, like stimulants, and tranquilizers such as Valium, etc. Addictions continue through what are called "process" addictions: being hooked on a form of behavior, like shopping, gambling, eating. There are also compulsive behavior addictions like sex addiction, or an addiction to romance or being in love, or needing to have a relationship, or workaholism, or being addicted to extreme emotion, like being what is called a rage-a-holic. I had a student in one class who worked for a man who raged regularly, sort of like an old faithful geyser, between three and four o'clock, every day. My student said it was easy to see her boss working himself into his rage, and people in the office would make bets on whether his rage would go off at 3:00 or 3:15, or 3:30, or 3:45 or 4:00 PM.
One of the things we've learned about addiction is that it is a response, usually to pain or fear, and its purpose is always to make us feel better. We find, for instance, that a drink relaxes the tension or insecurity we're feeling, so if one is good, several will be better. Eventually, there really aren't quite enough drinks to really do the trick, so we wind up drinking most, if not all the time. Therapist and lecturer John Bradshaw says the purpose of the addiction is to alter our mood, needless to say, for the better.(3) The trouble arises when our relationship to that which alters our mood becomes pathological, when we cannot do without it, and, as Bradshaw says, it has "life-damaging consequences."
Our addictions are designed to take us out of the present moment in a flight from feeling and consciousness which we are experiencing as uncomfortable or painful. An argument can also be made that behind all addictions is a bigger, more significant primary addiction: that of our addiction to powerlessness and nonlife.
People with low self-esteem have a lot of trouble with their feelings. In fact, it may precisely be their feelings that people with low self-esteem are trying to avoid. This society does not teach us how to live with negative emotions like fear, depression, panic or anxiety attacks, phobias, guilt, shame, sorrow or anger. As a result, we frequently elect to try not to feel these things by shutting them down, or going into denial, or sacking them away.
Consequently, people with low self-esteem experience a lot of isolation, a lot of distrust, a lot of anxiety, shame, guilt, and fear. They are frequently very shy, in part because their experience of other people is that other people cause pain and they have learned to be fearful. We also become numb, choosing not to laugh or cry much, for fear we'll get hysterical or never stop crying. I've frequently heard people say, "If I ever start crying, I'll never stop." And we tend to experience chronic frustration because we're unable to make things okay. Sometimes we're so successful at shutting down our feelings, we don't know what we feel. We wonder if we're crazy (we're not), but we wind up being unable to feel and unable to express our feelings. Which merely means we're missing the richest, juiciest parts of life
Feel Like An Orphan
An orphan has been truly abandoned, and feels bereft and rejected. One of the most powerful feelings of a person with low self-esteem is "Nobody loves me... not even me." And like orphans since time immemorial, to use a term from Virginia Satir again, people with low self-esteem have "high hopes and great fears." As she says, a person with low self-esteem has "high hopes about what he can expect from others, but he also has great fears; he is only too ready to expect disappointment and to distrust people."(2) We are always optimistic it will all be made right by someone soon, but we're terrified that the someone will let us down (as almost everyone else has), and it won't be made right, or we won't be good enough to deserve it, and so it won't come about.
We use our False Self heavily, to hide how much of an orphan we really are, but then we have become an imposter. Should we do something that results in praise, that praise is discounted because the real us is not being discussed. We learn to expect disappointment. We are, as Carol Pearson describes Orphans in The Hero Within, "a disappointed idealist, and the greater the ideals about the world, the worse reality appears."(4) We shrink from life, become invisible, trusting no one. We have difficulty sharing our reality and communicating it with others, especially those realities which show us to be less than good, or showing us to be fearful or "weak." We also feel defective, as if we are flawed. The reasoning goes backward: we feel like orphans, why are we orphans if not because there is something wrong with us? This is what I call the "emotional logic" that children practice, and it is impeccable, but very wrong.
Feeling essentially isolated and alone, we have great trouble connecting intimately with others, and so our relationships don't work well much of the time. We are thus further frustrated in our quest for love and approval and we will go to great lengths and through much weirdness to try to get it, including choosing very badly our prospective partners. Terry Gorski, a therapist who works in the field of Adult Children and relationship addiction, gave a talk in which he spoke of his own experience with bad choices: "When I was single and dating in my early twenties, I dated four consecutive women who attempted suicide in one year. Try it! I would lay money that you could not do that if there were a million dollars on the line. Do you know how hard it is to find someone who is suicidal and fall in love with them? Much less four in a row?"
Boundary Problems: Undifferentiated Dependency Needs
Although there may be times when we desperately would like to be so, we are not self-sufficient. We depend on others for essential human needs — touch, companionship, friendship, communication, mirroring, feed-back, etc. But people with low self-esteem tend to be either/or about dependency, and have either a hard time admitting they are dependent at all, or they have a tendency to be dependent like a moist blanket. In both cases, our own genuine dependency need is confused with other people's reality. One of the most obvious examples occurs when we look to others for approval. The phenomenon is called indirect self acceptance, or "If you like me, I must be okay." And frequently we will go to great lengths to get other people to like us. For instance, by pleasing them and doing everything we think they want.
Our Self has a boundary: there is a place in the world where me changes into not-me. You also have a boundary. But our boundaries can become confused. If, in relating to you, I merge my boundary thoroughly with yours, then I cannot tell where my problem ends and your problem begins. Some people call it living in the other guy's hip pocket. The implication, and the feeling reality, is that without you in my life I have no life. Me and you are so thoroughly confused I don't know the difference between where you end and I begin.
The major arena in our lives where this can be seen is in our relationship with our parents. Frequently, we have not achieved genuine separation, which is defined as having achieved a genuine position of equality. Often, parents do not want their children to grow up into fully-fledged, independent adults who are their equal. They continue to treat their children as if they are children, no matter what their age. Nor may a parent achieve separation from their child: they don't want to relate as adults, they wish to remain Mommy or Daddy. A person can be forty, and still be treated like a child by Mommy. It is also true that many children do not achieve adequate separation so that it is impossible for them to see their parent as a separate human being with human flaws who is their equal. The test of separation is whether you can see your parent as a separate, whole, intact, and equal person, with both strengths and weaknesses, with characteristics we like and some we don't.
If we have not achieved separation in the relationship with our parents, it is difficult to feel equal in our love relationship with our partner, our intimate other. One reason is that if our boundaries are blurred with another's, we do not know what we are responsible for and what we're not responsible for. Fixing a relationship problem thus becomes very difficult.
In addition, we may have real trouble saying "No!" when we wish to, or trouble asserting ourselves in the relationship. If we don't want someone to do something, we can't simply say "Because I don't want you to." For people with low self-esteem, that's not usually a good enough reason: we have to get into a whole lot of explanation and justification about why doing that is a really bad idea.
Without having achieved separation or good boundaries, we have little protection and so are terribly vulnerable and insecure. We may develop an excessive need for attention, a constant, insatiable need for reassurance that everything is okay, and yes, she really does still love you, as hard as that may be to believe. It is as if we have a hole inside that we cannot seem ever to quite fill. The problem, of course, is that the reassurance never lasts and we need it again and again.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, it's called "stinkin' thinkin', and it is "abnormal thought processes" designed to achieve safety. As an attempt to achieve safety, such thinking fails, of course, and then it becomes a problem itself, because it leads to dishonesty and creates unreality. We allow our perceptions to distort reality. We see only what we wish to see. It is like the line from Simon and Garfunkels' song, The Boxer:
"Still, a man hears what he wants to hear And disregards the rest."
The most prevalent thought disorder is the critical internal conversation we have with ourselves and what we say. This running, critical commentary goes on constantly, working against us, a destructive inner dialogue that puts us down and reinforces our low self-esteem. The voice belongs to our Inner Critic, about which more later.
There are a number of other thought disorders which will be discussed later, but for now attend to how they are used. We ruminate and mull matters endlessly, sometimes worrying obsessively. Did they or didn't they? And we go around in circles.
We scheme and plan mentally to get safe, to get control over situations which threaten us or feel out of control. We are so intent on our own purpose in this that we lose any objective capacity or healthy critical sense, and so we frequently make bad judgment after bad judgment. Often we have trouble concentrating, focusing our attention, and we appear scattered and flaky to others. Often, our thinking is confused, out of sequence. We don't remember accurately about what happened first, or what was most important, and so we can't establish effective priorities about what to deal with first and the result is more circles, of thought or behavior.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with our disordered thinking is that it is dishonest. It prevents us from knowing or learning what is real and what isn't. It cripples and renders ineffective the major tool we have for achieving improvement: our minds.