A little more love to have, a little more love to give

Be kind to yourself – a print from mylittlebuffalo’s etsy shop

“Self-love seems so often unrequited.”
– Anthony Powell

You have to love yourself before someone can love you, so the saying goes. Or maybe it’s you can’t love someone else until you love yourself. Something like that. Anyway, it seems the saying might not be far off. A recent study demonstrates that self compassion is associated with a healthier relationship. Neff and Beretvas (in press) questioned 104 participants and their partners on their self compassion, their partner’s perception of their self compassion, and various aspects of their relationship, such as control, relational well-being and verbal aggression.

The study found that people who had higher levels of self compassion were in healthier relationships and less controlling of their partners.

The authors noted that self compassion is different from self esteem. Self esteem can be unstable and conditional; often relying on others; involving feelings of superiority; selfish and egotistical. The authors define self compassion as having three components:

Self-kindness versus self-self judgement being kind to oneself when suffering, comforting oneself instead of judging and blaming oneself

Common humanity versus isolation the recognition of the shared human experience and that everyone makes mistakes. Rather than feeling isolated one feels connected with others

Mindfulness versus over-identification a mindful response to suffering means neither suppressing nor ruminating on feelings of suffering. Rather than dramatically running away with ones feelings, mindfulness involves maintaining a balanced awareness and acceptance of the feelings as the fabric of life

The more self compassion that you have, as defined above, the more accepting you can be of other people’s flaws and feelings. The results of the study also showed that people with higher self compassion were less controlling over their partners. It’s possible that people who are kinder to themselves and happier are more content to give their partners to freedom to make themselves happy.

Of course the study is correlational so we can’t say that being self compassionate causes a healthier relationship, but it seems logical that if you can’t forgive yourself for your mistakes or flaws, you will struggle to forgive others. If you believe that you are the cause of your suffering, then you are likely to blame others for their own problems, and be reluctant to expend your own resources helping, them.

But how how do you know if you are self compassionate and how can you have more self compassion? There is a test here, which is very similar to the one the authors of the study used. And in order to increase your self compassion, clinical psychologist, Dr Christopher Germer, has developed a form of therapy called Mindful Self Compassion (MSC), which aims to help people be in the moment with their negative feelings, to accept them and to hold these emotions in”loving awareness”. Sound like a load of old cobblers? Well, it may be, but Dr Germer has kindly provided free downloads of his meditations for anyone to try.

I really recommend you give it a go. Hopefully when life gets tough you can follow the tenets of self compassion: self kindness, humanity and mindfulness. Being kinder to yourself when things are tough is not simply a selfish act. As this study has shown, self compassion is associated with healthier relationships. Being kinder to yourself also gives you the tools and the emotional freedom to be more compassionate to others around you. It’s not just a case of “do unto to others as you would have done to you” but do unto yourself what you would do to others.

Just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it is fun for you

Like Gretchen Rubin’s Secrets of Adulthood this is something I’ve only really learnt recently. Even now I have to remind myself of this. I have writen in the past about being a “scanner” and the main tenet of this is a constant desire to try new things. Activities I have tried in the past include: ballet (I lasted one class), belly dancing, ice skating (last time I went I ended up with a black eye after breaking a fall with my face), book group (I started my own at university), knitting (I’m a terrible knitter but it did lead to me the wonder that is crochet), Zumba (and more recently Aqua Zumba), roller derby, and, of course, blogging.

I could have been a figure skater. You know, if it wasn’t for all the falling over.

Very few of these activities have had enduring appeal for me. For a long time I just assumed I lacked commitment and tenacity. I feared I was never going to be good at anything unless I could see it through. Some of these activities I get very passionate about and want to continue my interest. I have looked into becoming a yoga teacher, a breast feeding counsellor. For a few years I wanted to become an interpreter but then a got a C in my Spanish A level (in my defence I completed it in just one year). My blog name kind of gives the game away on this.

There’s a passion out there for everyone. Doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you.

Reading Barbara Sher’s What Do I Do When I Want To Do Everything? opened my eyes to the possibility that I just crave novelty. I definitely think that is one aspect, and it helps me to be ok with my choices. But the other part is that I generally have life envy. I want to do things because other people are doing them. The whole way though university when people told me what course they were doing I’d think “That’s great, why didn’t I chose Linguistics and Croatian instead of boring psychology?”

I sometimes wonder why I am not spending my time rock climbing, silversmithing or watching film noir. Then I have to remind myself it’s because I don’t want to. I don’t have to share every interest of everyone I know. Yes, I still try new things, but I am more careful about what I take on, and do things that interest me rather than things I feel I should be interested in. That means I will be running crochet classes in a couple of weeks, but I won’t be taking on an allotment again.

What about you? Does your hobby cup runeth over? Or are you in a leisure pursuit prairie land?

Just what sort of sign are you waiting for?

My rescue boat, sent to me by The Universe

I’m going to tell you a story:

It had been raining for days and days, and a terrible flood had come over the land. The waters rose so high that one man was forced to climb onto the roof of his house.

As the waters rose higher and higher, a man in a rowboat appeared, and told him to get in. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the rowboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher, and suddenly a speedboat appeared. “Climb in!” shouted a man in the boat. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the speedboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters continued to rise. A helicopter appeared and over the loudspeaker, the pilot announced he would lower a rope to the man on the roof. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the helicopter went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher, and eventually they rose so high that the man on the roof was washed away, and alas, the poor man drowned.

Upon arriving in heaven, the man marched straight over to God. “Heavenly Father,” he said, “I had faith in you, I prayed to you to save me, and yet you did nothing. Why?” God gave him a puzzled look, and replied “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

I first heard this on the West Wing. A priest is counselling the President on the possible commutation of a death sentence, which the President eventually doesn’t follow through. Bartlett laments how he prayed for support but none came, and the priest points out that various wise people came to the President that day, what more did he want, what was he waiting for.

It’s a really interesting parable, and one that is quite salient to me. I’m having somewhat of an early midlife crisis with regards to my career and passions and am not sure where to go. I am considering embarking on a Master’s degree, but it is an enormous financial and time commitment at a time when both money and time are scarce. I keep trying to figure out whether it is what I really want to do. Doesn’t help that being outside the academic and psychology arena I don’t really know what the realities of the course and career prospect are.

In desperation I picked up a book in town last week, called Coach Yourself. But before I talk about that book I want to briefly mention another book that I have been reading, called Screw Work, Let’s Play, by John Williams. Now Mr Williams doesn’t seem to have any formal psychology background, but I bought his book because he is a keen follower of Barbara Sher, who I mentioned before: she coined the term ‘scanner’ to describe people who try and do lots of different things. The main premise of Mr William’s book is that you shouldn’t be languishing in a job you don’t enjoy, work should be fun, and there is a niche out there for everyone, such as the woman who started up a mobile chocolate van. The book encourages you to go out and follow your dream, everyone should be in a job that they love. He isn’t the only one championing this. Only last month there was an article in Psychologies magazine about portfolio careers. In this agile world with technology at our fingertips we can be a gardener by day and an artisan chocolate maker by night. And it is true that the internet has opened worlds, markets and audiences previously unavailable to the common person. We can start up businesses with just a laptop in our front room, and we should, we owe it to ourselves. Apparently.

The problem is with these books and articles is their lack of realism. I imagine most of the case studies who give up the shackles of the Big Corporation to become a therapeutic gardener or life coach have a small nest egg to cushion them from destitution. They are probably not living at the edges of their overdrafts and credit card limits. There is also the small matter of the fact that not everyone can give up their day job to follow their passion, even if they have the money to, unless their passion is for clearing up vomit in a police cell, serving lukewarm breakfasts in a service station or keeping the sewers clear. Tough jobs but someone’s got to do them. On a thread on Mumsnet that I started on the topic someone said it was a “horribly middle class idea of wanting to play” and to some extent she was right. It’s a modern problem of wanting the world to be exactly how we like it. It wasn’t that long ago people had to work just to live, now we want to live to work.

Anyway, back to the most recent book, Coach Yourself. This is written by a couple of Actual Psychologists. Now that’s more like it. I like my self help with a dash of evidence based theory. I haven’t actually finished the book, but I am three quarters of the way, and it is the most realistic book have read on the subject. I will probably go into more details in later posts, but the salient points that I have taken from this book so far are: Ambivalence is normal, and there is always a cost to making changes. All these other books and articles go on about following your dreams, as if you know what your dreams are, and it’s so easy, you just need to get off your arse and do it. Seriously, there is one called Get off your “but”. If it was that easy we’d all be doing our dreams jobs, we’d all be thin and healthy. The book I have been reading acknowledges that it’s not that easy, there are costs, and you should be prepared for them. The costs may be to your time, to your energy, to other parts of your life. And we may always wonder if we made the right decision, that is a fact of life. It’s ok to have mixed feelings about change. It says “You don’t have to be 100% committed. 51% is enough.”

My head nearly exploded at this revelation. It’s so contrary to anything else I have read with regards to personal development. And it’s right. If you wait to be 100% committed to anything as daunting as a big life change you will never do it. And it takes me back to my original story. I’m not expecting a sign from God, and even if I was, what would that sign look like? How would I know? How do I know if I am making the right decision? The answer is I don’t, and I may never know. But I’m feeling more ok with that fact.

Now, don’t take this to mean that I have made my decision yet. I haven’t, that would be too convenient wouldn’t it? But, I’m no longer waiting for an unknown sign. I don’t expect a communique from the Universe. I’m just looking into the pragmatics of doing the course and seeing if I feel like it is kind of the right thing. I’m not at 51% yet, but if I hit it, and I can carve out the time and money, I’ll do it. But I won’t be screwing work just yet, someone has to pay the bills.

Psychocraft. Or something.

Recently I have been having somewhat of a career crisis. My job is fairly respectable, but I just don’t love it. I like the idea of it more than I like doing it. It is actually the job I wanted to do before I left university, but the reality wasn’t quite all it is cracked up to be. I was always very career oriented and felt like I was destined for big things. Having children tempered that somewhat, but the biggest factor has been a loss of confidence in my abilities. I did really well at school and university. I’ve got a Masters degree you know, and I got a distinction. I don’t get to say that very often, much though I often want to when at work I am having to grapple with a task like trying to get 10 people in a meeting together.

 

I studied psychology at university, but by the end decided I didn’t want to be a psychologist. After 5 years I didn’t to want to spend any longer at university or in training, I wanted to be getting on with my career. Hmmm. That worked well didn’t it? It turns out actually maybe I do want to be a psychologist. Or a writer. Or a professional crafter. Therein lies my problem. I want to do so many things, I’m afraid to commit.

A few years ago I found a fantastic book in a charity shop. It was pure fate that I found this book, someone had obviously given it away because they didn’t rate it but for me it was like a window into my soul. One man’s trash and all that. The book was What Do I Do When I Want to Do Everything? The basic premise of the book is that some people just flit from one activity to another, never sticking long enough to go deep; never really feeling like they have achieved anything. The author, Barbara Sher, calls these people ‘scanners’, and lists several different reasons why these people behave like this such as fear of commitment, looking for their niche, or simply just a need for novelty. Scanners are sometimes derided as dilettantes (hello, have you seen the name of my blog?) but often they are their own harshest critics, feeling like they are failing or not achieving anything. To read this was amazing, the book described me to a tee and Barbara goes to great lengths to reassure scanners that they way they are is perfectly normal, and can be harnessed. One of the suggestions is to try and combine your passions which is what I have attempted to do.

 

I mentioned that I might actually want to be a psychologist. Well I am considering doing another MSc, this time in Occupational Psychology. I could do it part time and through distance learning, but even so, with two young children and a job I couldn’t do it for at least another year. I also want to give myself time to figure out whether it is what I really want to do.

 

In the meantime I am spending my time crafting (God, that is such a wanky word, I cringe every time I use it!). But much as I love making stuff, I don’t find it intellectually stimulating. Now before all you other crafters lynch me, I’m not saying its not difficult, there are some amazingly talented people out there. Crafting can be technically and physically challenging, but trying to understand a pattern isn’t the same as trying to understand why someone behaves in a certain way. So I’ve tried to put some psychology into my crafting, I’m combining my passions to create Psychraftology. Craftology. Psychcraftisvism. Psychocraft. I can work on the name.

 

I have three items to showcase for you as part of my new genre. The first is based on the Myers-Briggs Trait Inventory, or the MBTI. You may have heard or it and even taken it. The results come in the format of 4 letters, E or I, N or S, T or F, and J or P. If want more info about what these letters mean check out this website. The MBTI is a licensed test which can only be administered by licensed practitioners, but this website has an example if you want to find out you personality type. For the even keener reader I recommend the book Please Understand Me II, which is slightly different from the MBTI but maps directly onto it. For the record I am an ENFP, which incidentally is quite commons for scanners.

What's your type?

These are going to be badges, but for now they are just buttons. They are cross stitched MBTI types so you can wear your type with pride! The are cross stitched on 22 count aida which is used to cover self-cover buttons. You can remove the button bit, which I have done, and super glue a badge backing onto the button, which I haven’t done yet.

 

Exhibit number two my cross stitched interpretation of a Rorschach ink blot. “Why?” you might ask. Well, why the hell not.

Tell me what you see...

The Rorschach ink blot is traditional projection test used to assess personality characteristics and emotional function. Tell me what you see in mine and I will tell you if you are crazy or not.

 

The piece de resistance in my show and tell today is an embroidered diagram of the brain, showing labelled lobes and some well known areas of the brain. Broca’s area is involved in the production of speech, and Wenicke’s area in the understanding of it. The visual cortex is where we start to process the images that come from our retinas. They travel along the optic nerves to the back of our brain, the parietal lobe. The brain is a marvellous thing, and we should nurture it, look after it, and not take it for granted. There is an excellent documentary on BBC iPlayer about the brain. It’s available for about another week so watch it while you can.

My brain is pretty and full of flowers and lace.

For me, this embroidery is about using a craft that is more often used to depict twee little birds and flowers and fluffy things, and creating something with a little more depth. If you like this you might also like a brain colouring book. It certainly helped while away those hours studying neuropsychology at university.

 

So, these are the projects that I have been working on for the past couple of months. I’d really appreciate any comments you have. You are probably going to see more and more psychology related stuff, not just crafting, on here. Does that put you off? The main thrust of this blog has been crafting, and it is certainly easier to market a niche blog. I’m debating whether I should branch out into a new blog, but as someone pointed out, the USP for my blog has always been about doing lots of different things. Any comments will be welcomed.

The cost of politics: or why if you haven’t got anything nice to say you shouldn’t say anything at all

Speak no evil, lest you be thought evil yourself

A person stands in the middle of a crowd of on lookers pointing at a someone opposite him, loudly says something derogatory and cutting about them, while all his friends guffaw from behind him, slapping their legs in delight and joining in with the jeering. You could be forgiven for thinking that Prime Minister’s Question Time was actually a bunch of boys in a prep school playground. Insulting not only the opposition, but also their colleagues, by calling them “a mug”, “frustrated” (the implication being ‘sexually’), or telling them to “Calm down dear”  will no doubt soon be followed by such gems as “Yeah, well so’s yer mum” and “I know you are but what I am I”.

 

As I was listening to Ed Miliband on Radio 4’s Today show yesterday, it struck me how exhausting it must be to constantly have to battle with the opposition, as well as actually doing the job of, you know, governing the country, or whatever it is that opposition parties do, tending to constituencies and stuff. I wonder how much more governments would get done if they weren’t constantly nitpicking at their opponents, and having to fire fight problems arising from slips of the tongue, or throw away comments.

 

That’s not to mention the financial cost of all this fighting. The US election this November is estimated to cost upwards of $6 billion, and that is without the expense of a Democratic primary. $6 billion! I can’t even begin to conceive of how much money that is, let alone what that money could be better spent towards. I’m no statistician but I am guessing a few hospitals, doctors, nurses, ensuring that millions of poor and uninsured Americans receive medical support… Instead, around half of that money is spent on advertising. While in the UK we have to watch dull Party Political Broadcasts while we are waiting for Eastenders, the US are subjected to creative nefarious attack ads accusing the candidates of all kinds of conspiracies and evil deeds. These adverts cost hundreds of thousands to produce and air on prime time TV slots.

 

But while politicians of all nations and parties continue to trade snide insults via adverts, the Today Show, or on Twitter they would do well to consider the findings of psychologists in the US who in 1998 published a study which demonstrated that ‘communicators are perceived as possessing the very traits they describe in others’. They call this ‘spontaneous trait transference’. So when Cameron is calling Miliband “a mug”, Mitt Romney calls Obama “a failed president”, or Labour MP Simon Danczuk calling Cameron a liar over rises in train fares, they risk themselves being seen as possessing the very trait that they are accusing their opponent of.

 

So can they just accept that this hectoring and one-upmanship is pointless, distracting, and sometimes even derogatory to their own cause, and just get on with running the country? I’d call them a bunch of brainless and juvenile bags of hot air, but then you’d just think that I was actually describing myself…