Taylor Swift Thinks Prenups aren’t Romantic



Jezebel reported that Taylor won’t sign a prenup because it’s unromantic.  Whether her marriage (if it happens) will last or not depends upon what she means by romantic.

If she means romantic as an ideal love bubble, she’s in trouble. However, I am reminded of my favorite quote by Alfred Adler: “The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.”

In one sense a prenuptial agreement can be viewed as a lack of trust in the partner. In another, it can imply a lack of commitment, hedging your bets.

A prenuptial agreement can  reflect a lack of trust in yourself. In the boxing world, Bernard Hopkins famously bet $100,000 on himself in a fight against Felix Trinidad. What would it take for you to bet everything on yourself? How much would it be worth to you to actually believe in yourself? I dare say it can be worth everything, even if you lose, to know you really fought.

If someone asks you for a prenuptial agreement, tell them they can have everything you own right now, and if they don’t apologize, leave and don’t turn back. This is neither practical nor sober, but it might be worth it in a world where very little else is.

I’m not saying marriage should be this serious for you, or even that it is good.  However, it can be this way.  And if it isn’t, then I hope you find something else that is.  If you do have something else that is this important to you, then that is a very good reason for a prenuptial agreement.

Being able to talk about the possibility of a future separation can be a good demonstration of maturity – akin to being able to talk about money, sex, family and other adult responsibilities.  However, what people ultimately feel is fair cannot be decided in advance.  Moral feelings supervene on actions, what others actually do.  The prenup is an effort to preempt this, ironically, to commit to something that may not feel fair in the future.  The value of this I suppose depends on how much you trust yourself and how you think your emotions represent the reality of your experience.

The possibility for the romance of marriage in the 21st century is to acknowledge that dreams aren’t real, but that awake, you can dream nonetheless. No commitment, no promise, no obligation exists without your living into them. Marriage is not and never was sacred, but the good news is that you already always are.


You’re Angry: A Basic Ego Analysis Example

Photo by lvl Laturla via Flickr
Photo by lvl Laturla via Flickr

Therapists, couples and people in general often have the experience of being in the presence of someone who seems angry but isn’t expressing it.  This can produce feelings of anxiety, since most people are not comfortable with their own anger or, ipso facto, that of others.

Is this person angry at me?  Did I do something?  Will they blow up at any minute?  What’s with them anyway?  This can lead to counter-blame or counter anger.  You can become angry at this person for making you anxious, for creating tension or making you doubt yourself.  You then might even feel guilty about having these feelings and so forth.  You usually end up doing nothing or blurting something out due to anxiety.

Another common response is to try and indirectly check in with the person by enquiring how things are going or to test the waters in some way.  Therapists may point out that this is codependent, trying to take care of someone else’s feelings.  They may offer the insight that this is how, from a position of real inferiority, you once tried to deal with the feelings of your parents.

Another interpretation is that you are trying to avoid your feelings by avoiding theirs, trying to smooth things over.  This makes sense based on the behavior alone in that what you are indeed saying and doing is actually not addressing either their feelings or yours.  Perhaps you are trying to imply concern in the hopes of soothing the underlying conflict.  It may reflect a worry on your part that you can’t handle their anger, that you feel embarrassed about how easily their anger is already effecting you.

In psychoanalysis and some other forms of therapy and even the recommendations of some self help authors they may make or recommend a naming interpretation that could be as simple as “You’re angry.”  This could be well intentioned, in that the speaker thinks they are being helpful and may not have any normalizing beliefs about anger (“…and you’re an asshole for being angry with me!”) which are being sub-communicated.

However, this often produces a negative reaction.  The person denies being angry or erupts into rage and blaming.  Traditionally, this would be viewed as confirmation of the therapists interpretation in the case of the former, or evidence of a weak ego and narcissistic rage in the latter.  In ego-analysis, these would be weak ego = strong super ego and narcissistic rage would be shame about shame.

The ego-analysis approach, what I’d like to call reality psychology or the psychology of innocence, would say this interpretation is wrong.  By this I mean that the person isn’t really angry.  By which I mean they cannot feel entitled to / experience / express / enhabit the ontological experience of being angry.  You can tell this because the angry person often hears the received message that “You’re wrong to be angry!” 

The actual experience of the person is that they cannot be angry.  They are held back from being angry by super ego effects such as shame, guilt and fear.  And, in reality, the anxious partner often does indeed believe, and thus communicate, that they think the other person is indeed wrong to be angry, no matter how they say it.

An ego-analysis would look something like:  “It would be natural to have feelings of anger right now and if you did you might feel like you shouldn’t, or that I wouldn’t respect that or be concerned that I can’t handle hearing them.”  This of course may still just drive the feelings underground or cause explosive reactions.

This is because the opposite could be true since ego-analysis is amoral and non-normative.  The person may feel like they should be angry and are unable to express it.  They may feel like they are weak, immature or broken for not being able to stand up for themselves like other people seem able to do.

The point is that simply saying “You’re angry” is unlikely to produce relief but may be a key to the reality (causal relationship) of their problem, which is how they relate to their anger.  Not knowing this problem exists is part of the problem.

One thing that could help is being vulnerable and respectful about your response.  Perhaps something like “I’ve been feeling like I’m walking on eggshells lately, like maybe you’re angry with me.  I keep telling myself that I shouldn’t be so sensitive.  If you were angry with me it would probably be hard to tell me since I’m being oversensitive already.  If you are angry, I probably should already know why and that’s gotta be frustrating.”  The reason you would say this is that it is actually how you are feeling.

Some people will read this and conclude it is codependent.  They may recommend bypassing all thoughts and feelings about your conversational partner’s experience,  to just focus on yourself and your feelings and let them deal with theirs.  Sadly, it may take you years of personal therapy to be able to address someones anger without having any of your own insecurities about doing so – if this is possible at all.  Your life is happening now.  Pretending not to have these insecurities by covering it up with neutral looking self help is part of the problem.  Showing your actual feelings about what you are saying let’s the relationship have the chance of itself being therapeutic.

To think you ought to deal with you and let them deal with them is idealistic naiveté based on the normalizing belief that we all just should be more mature (read: better) and differentiated than we actually are.  It relies on an idealization of psychological health (which refers to theoretical moralized perfection, not the cause of mental processes) and denies the reality of life and itself serves as a moral justification for ignoring the way we actually effect each other.

Besides, the person may be pissed at you because you already are avoiding their feelings, which is exactly why you sought out the self-help advice to bypass your thoughts and feelings about them in the first place.  Perhaps they know that your therapist is just an ally you have enlisted to justify your position.  It’s also why you can’t see their shame.  Because you are both engaged in a process of helping each other hide your mutual vulnerabilities.  If this process goes on unconsciously you wind up fighting over respect under the pretense of issues rather than disagreeing about issues from a place of respect.

The final defense of the codependency crowd may be that ultimately you can only respect yourself.  This is an appealing belief, and it may even be true in that other people help or hinder our ability to learn how to respect ourselves.  Were it not for the fact that it seems to deny the lived experience of almost everyone throughout time I may be inclined to believe it.

If the angry person actually had self-respect she would freely enjoy expressing her anger.  If the anxious conversational partner actually had self-respect she would not be so threatened by another’s anger, and would have no insecurities to bypass and would not experience vulnerability as subordination.

It may indeed be wise for therapists to not disclose their feelings or the counter-transference.  But it can be immensely helpful for their clients understand why this is:  Differentiation is an ideal which may be impossible for some of us all the time or all of us some of the time.  If you doubt this, consider how many therapists obsess about whether or not to shake your hand, accept a gift, give a hug, take notes, negotiate fees, say hello in public, etc.  It seems to me like there is some evidence of a resignation about the limitations of human potential which is repressed by a systemic moral appeal to professional responsibility.

This appeal to the responsibility ethic is itself a moral position, not a causal analysis.  To not realize it is a problem is the problem. To try to solve the problem by assigning responsibility is an attempt at an ethical solution, to feel alright about not solving the problem.

Perhaps the admonition to avoid thinking about how enmeshed we all are is an aspirational denial of reality.  You know, we just don’t talk about that around here.

Fear of Flying

Boeing Launches 737 New Engine Family with Commitments for 496 Airplanes from Five Airlines

Photo by The Boeing Company via Flickr

Flying anxiety makes perfect sense.  If anything I’d make the case that you’d have to be crazy not to be a little apprehensive in the air.  Most people just feel good about suppressing it.  One interpretation of flying panic or phobia is the relationship to control.  Everyone knows it’s much safer than a car, but you have no control over the outcome governed by faceless strangers and fickle fate.  (NB:  Ask yourself if you interpreted this as “it’s bad or immature to want control.”)

The social convention is that people are not supposed to show public fear.  Travel is supposed to be fun, show a little solidarity!  After all, you’ll frighten the children.   An Id analytical line (drive theory) of interpretation may be that the person who is outwardly anxious on an airplane is too entitled and is selfishly seeking attention or control of others (instill care taking) to compensate for the vulnerability of actually having no control or to discharge their anxiety.

An ego-analysis level of interpretation is that this individual is flooded with shame about their anxiety, shame that they cannot contain their anxiety.  The act of publicly exposing the anxiety is a display of inadequacy in hopes of reconciliation.  They will feel guilty, get punished and experience a transformation back into the good graces of the other.

Another angle is that you can notice how people we say are panicking are not panicking.  They are not screaming and running around hysterically.  Instead they generally are afraid but do not feel entitled or justified in their fear.  They are already telling themselves that they just shouldn’t be so irrational and afraid.  They may be leading others into the role of a superego figure because they just expect others to not take them seriously because that’s how they relate to themselves.

So the next time you’re flying with someone who tells you they get anxious on planes either tell them everything I just said or simply “You should be ashamed of yourself.”  Then she’ll just be pissed off, but at least she’ll feel like she has the right to be pissed off.  Then retort with “You seem pretty pissed off, but at least you’re not anxious anymore” and prepare for a vigorous initiation into the mile high club.

Of course, you can’t tell her that the reason you said all of this was that you were anxious about flying and compulsively use sexuality and intellectualize about psychology to reassure yourself about your adequacy as a defense against shame. Lastly, if you were aware of that insight you could have the freedom to either choose to go down this path and enjoy the bitter sweet nature of reality or you could choose to simply say “I wonder why you told me you’re anxious?”

Much like I wonder why you found and read this article when you did.

Which is a good place to introduce one of the basic insights of analysis:  Distinguishing having facts from feelings, truth from wishes, or said otherwise, getting back in touch with the intentions of why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Another angle on this for flying anxiety (and elevator anxiety and other forms of social anxiety)  is to start with the assumption that interpersonal anxiety is a real phenomenon.  In most situations we have accepted ways of handling it:  We have courtesies and pleasantries (Good mornings, how do you do’s and handshakes).  We also have more direct ways we can learn of resolving our anxiety by reaching out to make contact with others.  But when surrounded by strangers we tend to need something more.

At bars, sporting events, churches and other large gatherings there are either ways to avoid contact (loud music, alcohol) or ways to ritualize it (structured group activities and roles).  On planes and in some situations, it’s not so clear what to do.  You are surrounded by strangers yet in some ways alone with your fear.  Many of the things you would ordinarily do to relieve anxiety are not appropriate in these contexts.  You could say your defenses break down.

A common anxious flyer is the type who solves their interpersonal anxiety by being very social – flitting about between people or talking loudly and annimatedly, showing people how confident, outgoing and social they are.  These behaviors seem intrusive and gauche in a quiet confined space.

This leaves you with the option of having to reach out to solve your anxiety too directly in that you have to confront that you are doing it on purpose.  To many people that seems immature and the feeling remains a mystery, the solution out of grasp.

This is where psychoanalysis can be distinguished from other forms of therapy in that in some way the solution is out of grasp.

For instance, a psychoanalytical perspective on my writing this article would of course identify that I want what I’m saying to be true.  I want readers to read it and comment to reduce my anxiety about these thoughts being true.  To understand that these thoughts I have, even before writing them, are themselves are an attempt to reduce anxiety is insight.  By understand, I mean a felt understanding.

It has to be a felt understanding, which is why this article won’t help you reduce flying anxiety unless you can feel a relationship with me as an author and experience that you yourself feel felt.  

(NB:  What prevents that relationship, among other things, is my narcissism/desire for ego satisfaction, and the way it threatens your narcissism and desire to be right.  Further, us creating a shared relationship around the truth of these concepts would become a social phenomenon where we rally around commonly held concepts to mutually reduce our anxiety qua religion.)

The reason this is the case is that more thoughts and words become an infinite regress.  My disclosure of this further insight can become just another concept of which I want to convince you of it’s truth to relieve anxiety.  As is the last sentence, and this one, and so forth.

This is one reason psychoanalysts don’t do as much outreach to the public and remain in a sense aloof.  Their explanatory framework I say is in some sense more directly in connection with why they are writing and also makes them more aware of the limited value of words and concepts.

The felt relationship to another in analysis helps you experience separateness with a felt sense of common being.  Some people live in this like water to a fish, to others it is an abject horror, warded off by fears of what might ultimately be death and meaninglessness.  To the anxious flier this experience can mean being existentially separate, but not alone.

You have to come to the point where you can hold the idea that you wish for other people to help you feel better.   When you can really hold that idea seriously, unclouded by guilt and shame, you may start to realize you don’t need it as badly as you thought.  It may be gone entirely, or you may be able to satisfy that need in the ordinary fashion – reassurance from the confident humor of the pilot, a warm smile of a traveling companion, the squeeze of a hand, or simply the knowledge that the silence of those around you is about them and their own fear.

You have much more in common with those around you than you think.  This includes anxiety, shame about it, and the impulse for desperate or exaggerated ways to forever take it away.  This impulse itself which is so savagely scrutinized, warded off, and shamefully grasped, returns exaggerated anew in panic, all too human, while you’re floating through the skies.

True Detective – S2-E1: Character Analysis and You

The Western Book of the Dead

(Image via HBO.com)

Here are my notes on the first episode, the characters, and a bit about shame.


First of all, the ensemble cast was a mistake.  If there is one thing that Breaking Bad taught us it is the lesson that years of therapy will teach you:  Even spending an hour a week, or a day with someone’s deepest secrets only scratches the surface of who they are.  Season one of TD allowed the partnership of the detectives to play off each other to accomplish a mutual character arc of sorts.  I predict there is nowhere near enough time to develop four characters.  That leaves the writers with the choice of making the characters take back stage to the story.  We’ll see how it works out.

  • Raymond Velcoro (Colin Farrell):  Raymond was never much of a husband or father to begin with.  Murdering his wife’s rapist was a magic gesture to defend against that realization.  The marriage didn’t end because of the rape, or the fact that they couldn’t have children (because of his weak swimmers).    The same goes for his “son.”  If this red-headed punching bag weren’t his son it would mean he was less of a man.  Read that again.  He takes the bullying personally because it’s not his son.  He needs to win custody because he knows he’s a bad father (read: prove he’s a good father).  His reason for why his visitation rights should be expanded was to blame the mother.  His curious use of the voice recorder to send his son messages (this may be a lie and just a diary, or a message in the bottle for after his expected death) leads to monologue.  Again, he needs to record it because it isn’t true.  He enjoyed beating two people up, proving he’s not powerless.  Violence is driven by shame – usually repressed (defended against) shame.  (Gilligan, 1996,1997,1999, etc.).  Will his shame be relieved by bringing the truth to the light of day?  Or will he spiral deeper into his attempts to disprove his sense of inferiority?
  • Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch): Here we see a repetition of the unknown known we saw for Raymond (“Did he get the blowjob?”  “Did he kill the rapist?”).  In Paul’s case we see male sexual response anxiety.  The ego analytical way of looking at this is that Paul feels inadequate, and furthermore is ashamed about feeling inadequate.  It’s no surprise he picked a girlfriend who objectifies him narcissistically in order to feel her own sexual adequacy.  She thinks his boner is for her.  This is a delusion they both share.  If Paul was fucking for his own sake, it would never occur to him to pop a pill in secret to please his partner if he wasn’t in the mood.  Instead, he’s probably thinking he’s supposed to be in the mood.  Like the good soldier he was? (We’ll see).  For the record, if he told her he wasn’t in the mood she would erupt in a histrionic lamp-throwing rage where she projects her feelings of inferiority onto him.  He seems to suffer shame and loneliness during the closeup.  Maybe he is distanced from his feelings and thus needs a strong sense of duty combined with thrill seeking to get through the day?  *Blogger Gadfly, a former military man himself, noted that Blackwater=Black Mountain and thought that perhaps Paul also has PTSD and can’t sleep in the same bed as his girlfriend (NB:  who he also can’t talk to.).  If you interpret his traffic stop as that he actually really did receive the blowjob from the celeb, then we’re dealing with guilt.
  • Antigone “Ani” Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams):  Ani likes it in the pooper, which wouldn’t ordinarily intimidate guys.  The way this came up (or didn’t, in the Woodrugh sense) is what put him off.  That’s because she’s doing it to prove her superiority – and the received message is the transference effect which makes her partner feel inferior.  What comes across is not how much she wants it but how much she needs you to believe she wants it.  The fact she thinks he’s inadequate (“nice guy”) is also why she picked him in the first place.  The other thing I like about Ani is the fact that she carries knives.  In the real world, this means you’re a paranoid delusional who thinks a woman will beat a criminal in a knife fight.  In the movies, it usually means the woman is an invincible ninja warrior.  Which do you think it will be?  She seems to present as if she cares about people, but is constantly ignoring what everyone around her has to say.  She can’t risk the threat of empathizing with their perspective because she is on the run from her own sense of vulnerability.  Loss of mother, withdrawn (eclectic version:  non-responsive) father.  I am reminded of Nietzsche (Thus Pake Zarathustra, 1954 p. 100) and his warning to mistrust anyone in whom the desire to punish is strong.   Ani lashes out in censorship at her love interest, partner, sister and father.  She also responds with marked disappointment when no evildoers were nabbed at the sting operation.  She is driven by resentment. (Feinburg, 2008).  This contrasts with her father who noted he does not want to impose his will (guilt) upon anyone.  Her resentment is wrapped up in the need to be punished, possibly with guilt over her dead mother or shame from being abandoned.  Thus the gambling (need to be punished).  Finally, moralizing and disgust can be seen as reaction formations against your own repressed desires.
  • Frank & Jordan Semyon (Vince Vaughn and Kelly Reilly):  They have the kind of relationship only co-conspirators and  people who think they want to be swingers can have (until the girl wants to bring another guy).   I read them as either (a) sharing common secrets, (b) deceiving each other.  I predict their character arc will be about guilt, not shame.  The Semyons are the guilty nobles, the rest of the cast the rag-tag bunch of bloody-kneed wayward crusaders, hoping the next big case will absolve them and  make it all go away.  It won’t.  I have odds that Jordan will be murdered since she is presented as a humanizing extension of Frank.  This will drive him back to his criminal roots.
  • You:  What you need to know is that this show is full of fucked up people whose unique problems will help them crack the case and find salvation, with some rough spots along the way.  The thing to note is that you want life to work this way.  In reality, their problems (much like yours), would not help them.  People without problems would just be doing their jobs (without hangovers).  Neither can a solved case (or you cracking one of your problems) produce transformation of the self and relieve the guilt and shame.  This is because guilt and shame are not a thing that can be escaped, they are a process.  The process won’t be stopped because you are watching the process.  
  • The book of the dead, the Egyptian one, was a funerary text.  This refers to the removal of Ben Caspere’s eyes and implies a sex-cult tie in.  People ritualize sex because it helps with the boredom and allows you to avoid your partner.  A ritual is something you can be good at, after all, and perform correctly.   The same cannot be said for sex unless, like Paul Woodrugh, you’re not having it for yourself.  That’s right, hyperbolic sexuality comes from being unable to enjoy it, not from hedonism.  If you can’t enjoy it, flaunt it.




Rachel Dolezal is _____ than Bruce Jenner is _____

LEFT: Caitlyn Jenner. (Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair via AP) RIGHT: Rachel Dolezal. (Colin Mulvany/Spokesman-Review via AP)


…And you are freer than you feel and poorer than you realize.

Apparently the problem is that Rachel’s experience involved telling people she was something she wanted to be but wasn’t until she admitted she wasn’t something they thought she was and expected her to be and care about while Bruce’s involved telling people he was something he didn’t want to be until he admitted to them he was something he isn’t  and they don’t care about.  Phew.

Bruce can be Caitlyn because Caitlyn’s identity serves a role in the system which promotes class interests (or at least doesn’t threaten them) but Rachel’s is an embarrassing reminder that this is all a distraction from power and economic inequality.  The system needs minorities to believe their problem is about skin color and not poverty, while it needs everyone else to believe that your place in life is the result of your authentic identity and free choices as opposed to the socio-economic and psychodynamic factors which comprise everyone’s sense of identity.  All of this so that finally, at long last, poor people feel sorry for the rich – all you have to do is add sexuality, gender, race, mental health or addiction.  (NB:  All of these are things which don’t threaten business.)

Here’s a fill in the blank game about why Rachel will be burned at the stake:  She pimped the system while Bruce became its ______.

The Problem with Bruce Jenner

Picture by Mike Mozart on Flikr


America is accepting a wider range of attitudes about gender and identity.  My problem is that we’re doing this for the wrong reason.  We should do it because identity is irrelevant and nebulous, not because it is important and robust.  The current approach reifies the importance of identity.  This leads me (along with the odd bedfellows of some feminists and radicals) to two important problems:  The first is about gender theory and the second is about capitalism.

We’re having a problem noticing the difference between accepting people (not creating a social underclass  or restricting access to the common goods of life) and accepting what people claim about reality.

Bruce Jenner is a citizen, that’s enough for me.  Everything else is spectacle.  In a Baudrillardian way, I predict gender issues will expand as it becomes increasingly clear that gendered bahavior has always been mostly a learned simulacrum.  I see it as the expression of an anxiety about how thin and tenuous all of our identities are.

I remain unconvinced by the transgender narratives I’ve encountered because I don’t accept the distinction of gender these entail which presume a metaphysically confused notion of the self.  I think being a man or a woman refers to your body.  Bodies have brains, and one thing a brain does is create a consistent sense of relationship to others.  Identity to me refers to the way your desires to belong, thrive, contribute and be significant come in conflict with your introjections of perceived societal values and the unique meaning of your life experiences.  In other words, what have you learned about yourself from others and from your self directed comparison of these impressions to others.

It bothers me, too, that identity is so elevated because for identity to become a social role requires signaling.  Signaling under capitalism encourages the purchase of brand products.  It’s no surprise to me that Bruce’s transformation included expensive wardrobes, procedures and cosmetics to signal his important inner experience, as if it wouldn’t be taken seriously without them. (See Baudrillard, The System of Objects and Deleuze and Guatarri’s Anti-Oedipus.).  The key point is that production/consumption have been viewed as a dyad with production being paramount and consumption understood as passive.  Consumption, in the alternate view that I’m speaking of is an act of identity production as social roles have become increasingly subsumed by markets.

Here’s a pro-tip:  If an important authentic inner experience requires the purchase of products to be legitimate, chances are you’re a consumerist puppet.  Somehow market forces have conspired to make you feel inadequate or incomplete without some object relation to things.

It’s no surprise that important issues about human nature and our social world are not being discovered or discussed,   but are being marketed by entertainment media because the system will encourage anything that captures attention or enhances consumption.  This includes the promise of signaling nuances about your identity with trappings.

*Updated:  Based on comments, I thought I’d add to this.  It’s not just about brand products but about object relations under western liberal democracy and capitalism.  Transformational Objects (Bollas, C,  International Journal of Psychoanalysis 1979;60(1):97-107) manifest as a hyperbolized sort of object seeking – and I am in this case suggesting that the desire for transformative gender experiences enacted through association with object signifiers represents the trace of an ongoing process, a relationship to a signified concept, not a destination or the transformation of a self state.   In other words, don’t hear me saying that it’s bad/weak/immature to want to signal your role in society through relationships to objects (which in the broad sense includes things, jobs, relationships, etc.) – just realize that it will not produce an inner transformative experience.  Only a changed relationship to other people can tilt toward transformation.  I think the language of desire (how you want to be in society) is more productive, liberating and enjoyable than the language of authenticity (who you really are).

**Revised conclusion:  Another way to express my objection is that trans-gendered people are asserting an authenticity narrative.  They are hinging respect based on who they really are.  One good reason to adjust this view is that many people feel trapped by who they really are and can’t distinguish between this and who others expect/will allow them to be.  In other words, you can’t be a sexed male who is really female gendered because sexed females aren’t female gendered since gender is a signified concept.  You can’t be a concept, you can only relate to it.  I want the freedom to relate to concepts based on desire, not on identity because identity entails an absolute relationship to a concept.

I am asserting a more radical acceptance, to accept people’s expression of their desires rather than their identity.  This can have the effect of liberating everyone from the oppressive way we relate to ourselves and the defensive way we relate to others from feeling threatened.  You can enjoy yourself without appeal to a signified metaphysical concept of gender.  The internalization of this concept is itself the problem and I am uninterested in the reification  of categorical concepts. (See Feldman, 2011. Against Authenticity).

This is the psychology of innocence, radically opposed to the ethic of responsibility.

The Worst Question to Ask Yourself


Picture by Moyan Brenn on Flickr
Picture by Moyan Brenn on Flickr

A commonsense approach to your psychological world is to consider the question “How do I really feel?”  This view implies that you have a real authentic self with real feelings that are distorted, hidden, covered up by some combination of false self/feelings – often attributed to societal pressures and an eastern-Oprah style take on egocentricity (loosely defined as an attachment to how others see you).  The admonition is that you should introspectively consider what you really want, parse this by means of an internally arising sensation or experience, and then act on it.

Reality, in my view, is much closer to the surface.  Your actual feelings when you consider the question (How do I really feel?) are what are being avoided.  Contemplating the questionHow do I really feel? ” is an imaginary process of fantasizing about your ideal self.

The power of this perspective is immediately clear when you consider that you, the reader, have probably already reacted to this with the assumption that fantasizing about your ideal self would be weak/immature/bad/crazy/wrong and that an adult couldn’t or shouldn’t enjoy spending time doing that.

It’s the combination of both the stricture (“Stop it!”) and the admonition (“How do you really feel?”) that can lead to compulsion and rumination – i.e. suffering and feeling stuck.

Don’t Read Psychology Today (Review of Psychology Today (2015, May))

PSYCHOLOGY TODAY YOUR INNER VOICEWeintraub, Pamela (2015, May). The Voice of Reason. Psychology Today

Don’t read Psychology Today, or self-help, for that matter.  They are designed to sell you goods and services, just like other forms of marketing.  Understanding how this works, unlike the content of the articles, can paradoxically provide some of the relief that drives you to seek psychological knowledge in the first place.

Pamela Weintraub, in addition to being a hysterical prepper and a possible voodoo priestess, is a journalist.  She is not a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or neuroscience practitioner.  What is she doing writing for Psychology Today?  She is creating a brand.

Weintraub is what I like to call a study-scrapper.  A study scrapper is someone who combs the voluminous and never ending stream of professional journals to cobble together a marketable angle which always follows the following format:  There is new science about your brain which will help you get better and improve yourself.  (Never questioning why you need to get better and improve yourself).  To a large extent this belief is your problem.

Weintraub’s point is that by intervening in your self talk, particularly by interrupting personal pronouns with your name, you can boost your confidence or in general feel better.  Let’s see if we can elevate this mind hack to a bit of profundity with some psychoanalysis and philosophy.

She includes the following fixtional example of Jennifer, who appears to be going on a date with a gentleman she has seen before.

Jennifer( 1), what are you nervous about? It’s not the first date you’ve ever been on. I know you like this guy, but take it slow (2), and stay calm. Even if it doesn’t go perfectly, it won’t be the end of the world. You’re capable (3), intelligent, accomplished, beautiful. Just do your best and let the chips fall. Chill, Jen.”

What can we infer about Jennifer and her inner world from this example?

  • Jennifer speculates (1) about what she is really nervous about?  Weintraub attributes the relieving effect of this passage to the use of the personal name.
  • Note that Jennifer is already automatically talking back to her nervousness, trying to be reassuring and silence doubts.
  • More reassurance is offered in (2), along with the admonition to stay calm, what’s the worst that could happen?
  • She concludes with some pep talk and a final gentle admonition to Chill.  “There-there, now shut up.”

This may produce relief in a variety of ways.  It could even be that Weintraub is right about the use of the personal name.  It could also be true that Weintraub’s Jennifer has read too many Psychology Today articles and is really committed to the value of this exercise as a placebo, like a commitment to the power of the Rosary, or the catharsis of animal sacrifice.  It could be that this exercise distracts her from thinking about her actual problem.

Interesting to me about Weintraub’s vignette is the fact that we don’t know what Jennifer is worried about.  What we can infer from all of this is that Jennifer just doesn’t think she should be nervous.  Her response to this, much like the article, is to try and talk herself out of it.  This can be tricky, and at best limits your ability to understand yourself and others better.  (Note:  Weintraub’s examples from the angle of how a friend would talk to you sound bitchy and shallow, much like Jennifer’s imaginary friends, I bet.).

I’d encourage Jennifer to talk to herself compassionately, which means to stop telling herself it’s wrong/bad/immature to be anxious.  This whole monologue, and the response is problematic in that it is based on the belief that Jennifer just can’t be nervous on the date.  This is likely to create anxiety about anxiety.  If Jen is nervous on the date, why couldn’t she just say so to the gentleman she is meeting?  If she couldn’t do that, then this is her problem.  She is ashamed about being nervous, and probably ashamed about being ashamed, in that she is trying not to feel the way she actually feels (nervous) because she thinks there is some other, superior, socially acceptable way she is supposed to feel (confident).  You know, like they say in Psychology Today.

This line of thinking for Jennifer would mean drawing out her actual fears and anxieties, not jumping too quickly to trying to talk herself out of them.  It might eventually look like Jennifer realizing how hard it is to imagine enjoying herself being nervous on a date.  

This could leave Jen hopefully free to stop making her priority to not appear nervous and start making her priority to pay attention to her date and be a good conversational partner.  If she could refocus her attention off herself and onto her partner she would be able to answer her fears and anxieties very quickly by relying on the actual evidence of other peoples actions instead of her internally generated sensations.  (If she thinks her internally generated sensations of confidence or anxiety are more important than the evidence of the outside world, her problem is that she is a narcissist in this particular way, which is why she’s reading the article before the date to find a hack to not be nervous.)

If she approaches this date in terms of going to work on herself she runs the risk of turning the date into an opportunity to prove to herself she is not an inferior anxious person by using her date – and not surprisingly, putting out (why did Weintraub mention taking it slow?) – as a magical gesture.  Her date will be glad for the sex, a little confused by why Jennifer seemed stilted and compulsively over confident (and weird in the sack), and probably move on when he either gets bored or Jennifer finally snaps and is flooded with all the shame and anxiety she has been cultivating.  (This will now be the dates fault in her mind, and she’ll look for Psychology Today articles about spotting narcissists.  Circle of life, internet style).

Weintraub correctly identifies that people are generally engaged in some form of inner monologue of which they have varying degrees of awareness.  In the West, it took Beck’s cognitive therapy to show us that it wasn’t just obsessional neurotics who experienced this, but everyone to some extent.  At one level of awareness this inner monologue simply occurs to people as a fact.  When the CT (or Weintraub’s mind hack practitioner) intervenes to become aware of this dialogue and address it, it can be immensely relieving simply to realize that much of the way you feel has to do with what you are telling yourself.

This risks being facile because much of what you are telling yourself has to do with the way you feel.  More specifically – how you relate to your feelings.  Said another way, explaining or conceptualizing your feelings tends to justify/entitle or invalidate them.  Instead of addressing this relationship, Weintraub offers you a gimmic of using your own name.  This sounds strikingly familiar to the shitty relationship advice Psychology Today or Business hacks offer you about using peoples names when trying to be more persuasive. “You know, Jennifer, thanks for stopping by Kittens Closet.  I’ve a got a vibrator with your name written all over it!”

What I hate about this article is that it takes a mind hack wrapped up in the jargon of neuroscience and uses it to obscure reality.  The unspoken advice is to not take yourself seriously and instead get better at hacking your mind into normal pieces.  In other words, relate to yourself with gimmicks from click-bait.  After all, it’s how we already treat each other anyway.


If You Don’t Understand Empathy, You Don’t Understand People

Bandied about in the age of perceived narcissism is the accusation that narcissists lack empathy.  Most people, in their commonsense blame oriented thinking, mistakenly believe that empathy is something you do.   One problem with this outlook is the confrontational interpretation it produces.  If someone truly doesn’t have empathy they are viewed as to blame for not having it.

Empathy is some combination of identification and sympathy.  This means you know what others are experiencing and are motivated by it.  (NB:  Neither of these are something you do on purpose.)  Empathy, in this view, is a response.

With this perspective in mind you can see the situation of an unemphatic person differently.  Instead of blaming them for not being empathetic you can inquire: What is preventing this person from from responding?  What has gotten in the way?

The answer is usually some form of suffering.  If you find this perspective hard to take seriously then maybe it should give you pause to consider how quickly being asked to sympathize with difficult people has produced an unempathic response in you.  Maybe learning to avoid empathizing with other people makes perfect sense when you’re surrounded by those who judge you, don’t take you seriously and blame you for your problems (i.e. all other people).

People who suffer from a lack of empathy are witnesses to an unfortunate truth about human nature:  We can be quite unsympathetic.