psychology notes.

This site was originally created in 2009 as a virtual repository for all of the various psychology and therapy-related things (quotes, articles, videos, music, pictures) I came across both online and in my work as a psychotherapist. It has morphed into something slightly different in the past four years, and is now perhaps slightly more outward facing, but is still at heart a place for me to collect and share things related to the life of the mind.

Disclaimer: Posting something to this site does not mean that I necessarily agree with or endorse the opinions being expressed therein. All text on this site is informational and for educational purposes only. This site is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental health or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified mental health provider with any questions regarding a medical condition or mental health issue. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site.

And please, be kind to one another.

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"On a cold winter’s day, a group of porcupines huddled together to stay warm and keep from freezing. But soon they felt one another’s quills and moved apart. When the need for warmth brought them closer together again, their quills again forced them apart. They were driven back and forth at the mercy of their discomforts until they found the distance from one another that provided both a maximum of warmth and a minimum of pain. In human beings, the emptiness and monotony of the isolated self produces a need for society. This brings people together, but their many offensive qualities and intolerable faults drive them apart again. The optimum distance that they finally find that permits them to coexist is embodied in politeness and good manners. Because of this distance between us, we can only partially satisfy our need for warmth, but at the same time, we are spared the stab of one another’s quills.”

Arthur Schopenhauer

(See also: Elizabeth Gilbert on Schopenhauer’s dilemma and “having that critical little space, in which to be a little bit self-contained—to create your own warmth, your own sense of your own humanity—so that you could be close without being stabbed. The path to that is as close a secret to happiness as anything I’ve ever learned.”)

What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.
Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
“A happy life and a meaningful life have some differences,” says Roy Baumeister, a Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. He bases that claim on a paper he published last year in the Journal of Positive Psychology, co-authored with researchers at the University of Minnesota and Stanford.

Baumeister and his colleagues surveyed 397 adults, looking for correlations between their levels of happiness, meaning, and various other aspects of their lives: their behavior, moods, relationships, health, stress levels, work lives, creative pursuits, and more.

They found that a meaningful life and a happy life often go hand-in-hand—but not always. And they were curious to learn more about the differences between the two. Their statistical analysis tried to separate out what brought meaning to one’s life but not happiness, and what brought happiness but not meaning.

Their findings suggest that meaning (separate from happiness) is not connected with whether one is healthy, has enough money, or feels comfortable in life, while happiness (separate from meaning) is. More specifically, the researchers identified five major differences between a happy life and a meaningful one.

•Happy people satisfy their wants and needs, but that seems largely irrelevant to a meaningful life. Therefore, health, wealth, and ease in life were all related to happiness, but not meaning.

•Happiness involves being focused on the present, whereas meaningfulness involves thinking more about the past, present, and future—and the relationship between them. In addition, happiness was seen as fleeting, while meaningfulness seemed to last longer.

•Meaningfulness is derived from giving to other people; happiness comes from what they give to you. Although social connections were linked to both happiness and meaning, happiness was connected more to the benefits one receives from social relationships, especially friendships, while meaningfulness was related to what one gives to others—for example, taking care of children. Along these lines, self-described “takers” were happier than self-described “givers,” and spending time with friends was linked to happiness more than meaning, whereas spending more time with loved ones was linked to meaning but not happiness.

•Meaningful lives involve stress and challenges. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness, which suggests that engaging in challenging or difficult situations that are beyond oneself or one’s pleasures promotes meaningfulness but not happiness.

•Self-expression is important to meaning but not happiness. Doing things to express oneself and caring about personal and cultural identity were linked to a meaningful life but not a happy one. For example, considering oneself to be wise or creative was associated with meaning but not happiness.

One of the more surprising findings from the study was that giving to others was associated with meaning, rather than happiness, while taking from others was related to happiness and not meaning. Though many researchers have found a connection between giving and happiness, Baumeister argues that this connection is due to how one assigns meaning to the act of giving.

“If we just look at helping others, the simple effect is that people who help others are happier,” says Baumeister. But when you eliminate the effects of meaning on happiness and vice versa, he says, “then helping makes people less happy, so that all the effect of helping on happiness comes by way of increasing meaningfulness.”

Be not the slave of your own past - plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so you shall come back with new self-respect, with new power, and with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
At the end of our lives, each of us will look back and wonder what really mattered. It won’t be busyness. It’ll be that we were able to love and be intimate with others, that we enjoyed beauty and were creative in some manner. That we lived our lives fully.

The busyness now is in pursuing some accomplishment, commodity, or recognition we think we want. We race to the end of our lives. Then at the finish line, we realize we’ve barely skimmed the surface.

Tara Brach
Freud suggests that we imagine our lives as a story in which three parts of ourselves are always involved; that in doing any one thing we have a least three projects: we are satisfying a desire, we are sustaining a sense of moral well-being, and we are ensuring our survival.
Adam Phillips
Highly, highly recommended reading.

Highly, highly recommended reading.

I am going to step right in it.

It’s unavoidable. It’s inevitable. It’s mandatory. It’s practically the only way the process truly works.

Over and over people come to therapy hoping that this will be the one relationship where I won’t ever do the one, awful, terrible, hurtful, intolerable thing that everyone else has always done to them.

And then I do it. Or something kind of like it, or something only a very little like the terrible thing, but similar enough to bring it all back in a flash and make you feel the darkest déjà vu: “It’s happening AGAIN.”

I will be late, or forget your partner’s name, or double-book, or lose an e-mail, or push too hard, or seem preoccupied, or be masking a dip in my own personal energy, or be over-protective, or have a “tone” in my voice, or misunderstand, or misconstrue, or f-up.

And you will be absolutely sure that it’s proof that I don’t care, don’t value you, that I am crazy, or just like your ex-wife, or your father, or that I am too fragile, depressed, not keeping up, or that I left you – or am about to leave you – alone.

Sometimes it will happen right away, sometimes not for a few weeks, or even years.

But – inevitably – I will do it.

If I don’t, we probably aren’t connecting. We aren’t approaching the realm of intimacy. The terrible, messy, liberating sacred zone where your unconscious Self pulls on mine – and we slip, momentarily, into the black hole of our core conflicts.

Sounds like fun doesn’t it?

But that’s how it works. Really.

We all repeat patterns in our relationships, and the therapeutic relationship – although unique, with important parameters – is still a relationship. As we fall into our favorite tried-and-true dance steps, we all pull and lead our partners to fall in line. Even if we want to learn new steps – even if we want to quit dancing altogether – the old rhythms return.

So, whatever it is you want to break free from, we should expect it to happen, watch for it to happen. And when it does – that is our moment to strike! We can see it happening, live, in vivo, in our laboratory. If we can catch it, we can deconstruct it, we can explore what was at play, assign language to it for the first time, or rewrite the narrative, we can transform it, re-work it, create a new experience.

But, I will step in it. If you stay long enough, and want more from the process than some company while you wait out a disruptive brief crisis, I always do.

And so will everyone you ever love.

The road to all intimacy leads straight through the deepest hole of our worst fears and crashes smack into our darkest core conflict.

Lets not hope that it won’t happen. Lets hope that it does.

Life does not consist mainly, or even largely, of facts or happenings. It consist mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever flowing through one’s head.
Mark Twain