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Entries in psychology (27)


A Key to Fit None and All

A lot of what is written and said primarily concerns itself with what people believe in. God, socialism, progress, the almighty dollar. These are all abstractions that many people will gladly throw their lives away chasing and performing deeds in the name of. If we consider the human brain a void which gradually accumulates knowledge with to fill it, we can figure that belief and conviction are like a solid fuel and true-to-fact, verifiable knowledge is liquid, the hypothesis is like a gas.

Unimaginative people cling prefer to the familiar and the repeatable. Flicking a switch will produce light - if darkness persists, we panic. In my home town of Melbourne, Australia the public transportation system is dismal. Trains are routinely delayed. If the trains ran on time, I would figure an uneasiness would grow in commuters due a disruption to their routine of feeling upset at an abstraction. Perhaps divorce rates would soar if the trains ran on time as passengers would have more time at home to complain about their partner instead of to the partner about the tardiness of the train. However, that is not entirely relevant to this post.

If we use our model of belief as solid, we can see that solid objects are immovable and static - they retain the same shape unless they are moved by an external force. If belief occupies the mind of a devout believer, outcomes are more or less repeated. Beliefs about oneself breeds the self-fulfilling prophecy, as Watzlawick posits:

'A self-fulfilling prophecy is an assumption or prediction that, purely as a result of having been made, cause the expected or predicted event to occur and thus confirms its own "accuracy."'

Imagine you think your friends no longer wish to be friendly towards you, the starting point (A). As a result you start to resent them and refuse to take their phone calls and start to spread rumors about them at point (B). Your friends taking affront to your malicious overtures, they stop making phone calls and inviting you to social events (C), which confirms the belief (A). If at Point A a less solid but gaseous hypothesis was given rise at (A) and was allowed to heat up with the fire of action, your friends may confess they have been busy with their own projects or work at (B). With curiosity satiated, the gas condenses as an aqueous true-to-fact knowledge at point (C). The liquid can swirl around one's head, never resting firm and always subject to change as its environment changes. Things look less light they "ought to" and more as they "are" and preferable to one's own person.

The solid brain and the liquid brain are almost diametrically opposed to one another, but one can thaw his thinking by realizing that things will never return to "normal" since "normal" does not exist. In constant flux, our bodies and the world around us changes from second to second. It took me, after six or so years of struggling with depression, that "normal" or the routine, comfortable state of being - that of misery, repressed desire and frustration - was all I knew as the correct way. It was never the correct way, but merely a way out of one of multi- or infinitely valued states of existence. The belief projected on to something is the ultimate fallacy that stops us from living fulfilled and happy lives. It all stems from Korzybski's fundamental principle - "whatever you say something is, it is not!" If you ever catch yourself blindly believing, ask your self - how do I know that? The realization will soon enough "click" inside your rapidly thawing head.


Wreck Ignition

In my daily self-reflection, I was thinking about some points raised with my therapist Geoff. We hit upon past relationships and how I felt about them now, after so much time had passed by. He suggested that if I still had residual feelings, I should write them down or initiate a conversation with the partner. I told him, in all honesty, I have little desire to do so. What is done cannot be undone - I doubt it would make any difference to my emotional well-being (especially when I have chronicled relevant parts in my blog on occasion).

Thinking back, I thought all of my partners were unequivocally "amazing" and beyond reproach - I would refrain to enforce boundaries with them even to my own detriment. As I rose from the bed today, I hit a salient point - the mistake I and others make is seeing their partners as "special" rather than unique.

This is not to say my current or former partners weren't interesting or pleasant or etc. - I loved them, I cared about them and strived to treat them with the respect and devotion that I expected within a romantic relationship. But keeping the irrational thought that their partners were somehow imbued with an almost sense of the divine - that they were so fantastical that another one like them surely does not exist anywhere else in this world - will only lead to heartache and counter-productive behaviors such as pining for the good old days when you and your partner were together and waiting for them to magically return to you.

Of course, affairs of the heart are seldom ruled by the head, but the aftermath certainly can be a rational, cognitive process. Its a case of differentiating from "a" girl (or boy) and "the" girl. We can evaluate them as a complex matrix of both good and bad attributes, viewholders, etc. and accept them all as part of what makes them unique - but not special (in the aforementioned sense), of course.

Swedish vocalist Krister Linder in his song "Mixed Blood" sings thusly:

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not depressed / but my melancholy is existential / no remedy or antidote / Don't bother with a cure or rescue"

Some people cannot grapple with the thoughts of the "givens" of existence - that life is chaotic and nothing has inherent meaning apart from the ones we ascribe to events and people. Even a married couple of many years must concede that their encounter was dependent on chance and at one point, they were oblivious to the existence of one another. If a relationship goes sour, one can take comfort in the fact that it was yet another FGE (fucking growth experience) and perhaps even learn from their mistakes.

During an acid trip, I once wrote down that the "universe was created so me and Elyse (my former partner) could meet that one time and carry on together into perpetuity" - while that cannot be proven or tested, it's an irrational belief that cannot be held up by any real fact. I am the only person I have to please - it was not my responsibility to solve her (or anyone's) problems or take care of her as if she were dependent on my benevolence and love. As human beings we all have the ability to choose and mold our own destinies; be it with work, hobbies, interests or even intimate partnerships.


Far Away and Here Again

Last weekend, I went away to Paradise Beach on the Gippsland coast of Victoria, Australia. I stayed by myself in a friend's holiday house and worked on several things and did some reading. I re-read parts of Korzybski's Science and Sanity and touched upon a part on "Unsanity vs. Sanity" that I am sure many people would find beneficial - I intend to expand upon this finding and deliver it as a talk at the first Australian General Semantics Society National Conference.

Towards a theory of "conservative characteristics." (an abstract)

Conservative characteristics are the tendency of "neurotics" (as described by Korzybski) to confuse the orders of abstraction and revert to Aristotelian "allness" as an infantile, learned behavior.1

In childhood, we make underdeveloped, either-or evaluations. Mother, teddy or television is either positive or negative. We seek to reinforce and seek pleasure and minimize disappointment, anger and frustration. These maladaptive behaviors may persist into adulthood.

According to social anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, humans underwent a process of socialization from their initial self-awareness thousands of years ago to their current state of societal development. Children up until around the age of 14 undergo their own individuation and socialization process. From the ages of 7-14, the child is thought to be in its "narcissistic", "egocentric" stage and through this stage, patterns of evaluation are seen to occur. Real world events and their evaluation could in fact take the form of if/then statements. For example:

"IF I keep quiet and tell no one that I am feeling hurt, THEN I may escape scrutiny and further pain."

This map or method of evaluation may form as the fundamental reasoning process behind most behaviors in the future. In RET or Rogerian therapy this may be called "toxic shame" or irrational thinking. If this becomes a repeated response with no attempt to adjust the behavior, this could be considered a conservative characteristic.

Methods for overcoming conservative characteristics:

1. The consciousness of abstraction.
Using the structural differential or the ABC model in RET. Read more on the ABC model here.

Preparation for a transition to evaluation of probabilities, not absolutes. Asking "If I do this, the outcome will be this" instead moving toward a Hypothesize-Test-Revise model of behavior.

2. Non-attachment to outcome.
Realization the test is more important than the result. Without the real-world test, NO results or data can be gained for later revision. The outcome has no bearing on the efficacy or worth of the tester.

3. Unconditional self-acceptance.
From this, new experiences may be formed. The beliefs of inherent "badness" or "worthlessness" can be safely abandoned and each situation may be seen as a "tabula rasa" for perceiving and evaluating anew. Realizing that situation1 is not situation2.

Korzybski, A., Science and Sanity (5th Ed.), Institute of General Semantics: Dallas, 1994. p. 495.


Learn Why, Unlearn How

Yesterday I received The Situation is Hopeless, but not Serious by former Palo Alto Mental Research Institute scholar Dr. Paul Watzlawick. A pioneer in radical constructivism and communications theory as well as valued contributions to General Semantics, his amusing guide on how to create a constant state of unhappiness I found to be both eye opening and highly useful for guiding my own personal development.

The fundamental principle that many psychotherapies such as RET, Gestalt therapy and even Rogerian therapy base their treatments on is that people learn how to feel unhappy and repeat these thoughts and behaviors throughout their lives - sometimes never learning from them - creating their own unhappiness by doing more of the same.

Dr. Watzlawick's book tells the reader in no uncertain terms to repeat his exercises to be unhappy. Some games such as "self-fulfilling prophecies" or "why would anybody love me?" seem absurd, but are useful for therapy acting as a "symptom prescription" to break an ingrained cycle of unhappiness in a patient.

In the closing pages, he references Dostoyevsky's The Possessed with this line:

"Everything is good...everything. Man is unhappy because he doesn't know he's unhappy. It's only that. That's all. That's all! If one finds out, one will become happy at once, that minute."

While happiness may be a spontaneous condition, it can be hampered by thinking that restricts such feelings from occurring. Watzlawick's wisdom is something everyone can take heed of.


Something Better To Do

On Facebook, there are many fan pages dedicated to a variety of subjects and, well, bullshit. Some of them range from pages celebrating rock stars, actors and authors - others are merely novelties and bullshit like "I called Princess Peach a slut when playing Mario Kart" or "Water tastes good when there's nothing else to drink." Some fan pages have even less of a reason to exist than the aforementioned - and these are the pages such as "Women should be in the kitchen" and the countless variations on that theme.

Leaving the humor aspect aside, I find them offensive. Not because I believe them to be degrading to women (which they obviously are on one level) because I find them degrading to men.

In the 2nd decade of the 21st century, the tools for making oneself independent are abundant, especially in the western world. In my profession, I can report from wherever, whenever and however I choose. To posit that me as a man should be mothered from cradle to grave is ludicrous and highly disturbing. Having a servile, submissive wife endlessly cooking food and cleaning up after us would not do us, as men, any favors. We would be reduced to boys, dependent on a woman for all our needs. While spite-filled frustrated men may believe having such a doting lackey that he can stick his penis into would be a dream come true, I would think it was an absolute nightmare.

By eliminating the requirement to fulfill our own needs, it would breed inaction and laziness. Ambition would falter and our masculine power and agency would be eroded. By subordinating our basic needs to a woman, we put ourselves in a position of dependence. While on a superficial level it would seem that the man dominates the woman in this situation, on a deeper, psychological and emotional level, the man gives up his masculinity in the process. If a man wants to truly exercise his masculine power he would see the complimentary nature of the sexes in a healthy way instead of a maladaptive child-parent dynamic. Its like men saying to women "I am helpless, please take care of me as if I were a baby."

I'll make my own fucking sandwich, thank you very much.