Category Archives: psychology

Language and Psychology

They say we are what we eat, but is it also true that we are what we say?

As I sit here pondering how to integrate all our techniques for grounding and calming, how to develop habits to overcome my tendency to panic and to face life with an attitude that results in capable, adult handling of situations rather than my usual babyish crying and tantrum throwing, I am reminded of how the English language might affect us.

Often, I am afraid.

In French, J’ai peur.  Literally, that means “I have fear.”

In Spanish, Tengo miedo.  Literally, “I have fear.”

How come in English I AM afraid?  I AM the fear?  When you HAVE something, isn’t it much easier to get rid of it?  Race down the highway and toss it out the window?  Bye bye fear?  I have fear in my pocket, pick it out and throw it in the trash.  Worst case scenario, I throw out the pants.

I AM afraid.  That’s part of my being.  That’s essential to my existence.  I AM Elena, I AM a Mama, I AM afraid.  

I can say, I FEEL afraid or I EXPERIENCE fear, I suppose.  But that is not my go-to expression.  No, I AM hungry, tired, overwhelmed, sad.  Okay, none of those things right this minute, but I just mean when I feel something, I AM it.

At least in Spanish, they may say “I am sad,” but they have two forms of the verb “to be,” one indicates a temporary state, one is a permanent state of being.  Guess which one is used for emotions?  They give themselves a way out!  Do we?

Does our use of verbs have any psychological effect, or AM I just trippin’?

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Top Five: Things that Ground You

This may seem like a froo-froo dingy top five, but something else I took away from my Thanksgiving trip is a burning desire and steely resolve not to be such a stress-case, not to be so high strung, not to so easily fly off the handle, freak out, make a mountain out of a molehill, lose my cool.  I want to be mellow.  You’d think being from California I’d have a head start but no.  Might be too much to ask, but I’m determined.

To this end, I want to be able to bring to mind some things that ground me and make me feel calm, and if you all will share some of your grounding techniques or mental images, that might give me some more ideas…

My Top Five Things that Ground Me

1. upbeat music (not just upbeat rhythm but also lyrics)

2. Beer (I realize this is a total crutch, but it takes the edge off my fretting mind)

3. Cleaning house

4. Eating comfort food (another crutch)

5. ???

And there you have it.  None of these things come in terribly handy when my son has dumped out yet another bowl of cereal and has stomped it into the carpet and I begin the yell from hell.  Stuff my face, get a buzz going and clean while listening to Bob Marley.  Now you see why I have issues…

Please… your Top Five… STAT!

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Phone-a-phobia

Not many people are aware of one of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to face in this starting-a-business thing, I would venture to say, bigger than the utter scarcity of capital, the lack of self-confidence and initiative, bigger even than the total absence of any business sense.

I’m scared of phones.

I’m convinced that it all started when I was a young’un living at home, back in the dark ages before answering machines.  (Since my parents staunchly refuse to buy any new technology until the cooties wear off of it, there may very well have been answering machines around then, but you’d never have known at my house.)

Now those folks who read my rants know that I am generally opposed to blaming parents once you are out of your twenties.  And since my twenties are but a distant and embarrassing blot on the horizon at this point, you’d think I would fall into the responsibility-claiming category.

But honestly, credit where credit is due.

The awful, dark, horrible truth:  my Dad used to make me answer the phone.

Now I bet you are going to think that there were horrible people calling, creditors or some such, swearing and threatening removal of limbs to whoever answered the phone.

Well, no.  No one horrible ever called.  It’s just that, well, he hated talking on the phone, (could such a thing be genetic?) and so he wanted me to… you, know… how can I put this delicately… LIE.

Now I’m pretty sure there’s a commandment or something about not lying.  But there he’d be right next to me, shaking his head so hard his ears were waggling, waving me off like a swarm of wasps were attacking, while I said into the phone, “Yeah, he’s right here, just a minute.”

Now you’re going to think that he beat me or didn’t let me eat for a week as a punishment.  Not exactly.  I think he just looked at me sternly and said, “From NOW ON, I am AT THE STORE.  Do. You. Under. Stand. ?”

Of course I said yes.  But then the next time it would be like 9 pm when the phone rang, and it would be someone asking for him, and there would be like 45 minutes of silence while the two halves of my brain conversed.

“Don’t forget!  He’s at the store.”

“He’s not at the store, idiot.  He’s in the bathroom.”

“Just say it already.  It’s not hard! C’mon… ‘No, he’s at the store.’ ”

“Who the hell goes to the store at 9 pm?  We never leave the house after like 3:30.”

And then inevitably I’d go get him to tell him someone was waiting on the phone for him.

And as soon as he hung up with them, I’d start to dread the next time the phone might ring.

Ever since I was a kid and had to live through this psychological trauma, I’ve hated to answer the phone, even my own phone at my own home, you know, with like my own number, under my own name, so that they are calling for ME and never for my DAD.  Caller ID made it a little better, because at least then I knew what I was in for ahead of time.

But I figured I should never get a cell phone.  If the home phone ringing makes my heart race, my hands shake and my ears bleed, then surely lugging around that kind of potential horror would be a bad thing.

But I think I went about it the right way, accidentally.  The Pavlovian Dog training kind of way.  For the first couple of months after I got my cell, the only people who called me were my husband and my sister, both of whom I love dearly and am always eager to talk to.  Hence, the particular happy chime I picked out has now been imprinted in my neurotic brain as the precursor to a happy, non-horror movie conversation.

Now when a client calls asking about tutoring or a class, and I see an unfamiliar number show up on the phone, my first instinct is still not to answer it.  Just hurl the phone as hard as you can, preferably TOWARD a hard surface, and then run and hide under the first piece of furniture you come to!

But then, for reasons beyond my understanding, I answer it anyway.  And I’m not freaking out, only pleasantly curious as to who it might be and what they might want.

Is this how phones have been for you people your whole lives?

I’ve entered a whole new magical world of communication.

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Jealousy is definitely green

Because it makes me want to puke.

Jealousy feels strong enough to make me weak, big enough to make me small, green enough to make me red with rage.

Jealousy feels like everything I love is speeding away from me, back turned, ears closed to my pathetic cries for attention.  It makes me want to slam the door fast enough to hit them in the ass, since they are obviously leaving anyway.  It makes me want to drop out of the competition I don’t remember signing up for but suddenly find myself struggling to win.

Jealousy makes me simultaneously want to elevate myself to an untouchable height, from which the world can see that I am clearly the greatest human that ever lived, and crawl under a rock, embed my lowly self in the cold mud to hide away my shame and pain.

I cannot see any healthy use for the feeling of jealousy and would love nothing better than to find a way to kill it. Drive the dagger of faith or trust or reason into its nasty little face and banish it from my heart forever.  Drink the antidote to its debilitating poison so that it never again runs icy through my veins.

Never leave that point of view that I can get to sometimes, the one where I relax and feel strong in the midst of an understanding that there is nothing to fear.  Even if the worst things were to happen, I am still in control of my own selfsoul, who retains her value no matter how much evidence is presented that I am not the best, no matter how little attention I might receive from those whose attention I crave, no matter how low I might feel.

Green is such a wonderful color, the color of life and growth and spring.  Heck, the color of money.  But Jealousy is that bile green that comes up when you’ve wretched all day and there’s nothing left, just your insides trying to jump ship.  Useless, painful, self-defeating.  

I hate it and I refuse to go there ever again.

(Wish me luck.)

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A New Spin on Cannibalism

My whole life I have had a fairly common neurosis: chewing my fingernails.  Except that mine goes beyond the nail to include the skin at the side of the nail and a fair way down the finger, especially on my thumbs.

Euw.

Periodically I go into remission.  Up until just recently I had managed to keep nice nails for a couple of years, so nice that they actually got filed and painted (with clear polish… that’s as froo-froo as I get!)

Then a few months ago I slammed the middle finger of my left hand in the car door.  Aside from feeling incredibly stupid and having to push my fingernail back down onto my finger (and my lunch back down into my stomach), it wasn’t a big deal.

Except then I had this awesome mangled finger to pick at.  And once I had the one, I might as well tug at another until it rips, and then I might as well straighten it out by removing more of the nail with my teeth, and then… 

I currently have four chew toys on my hands.  I don’t know how I manage to leave the other six fingers alone (when I was a kid I chewed all of them all the time.)  During the day I leave them all alone because I’m always doing something else with my hands… typing, cooking, changing dirty diapers, etc.  But when I sit down to watch tv or a movie in the evening, I won’t even realize I’m gnawing until I’ve already started in on the healed bits.

Once I bought myself a really cheap silver ring with a cool spiral on it and I made myself promise that if I wore it, I would have to stop decimating the finger it was on.  That made me quit for a while.  So I just need to buy myself jewelry?  What am I, courting my hands?  

Do I need to wear gloves?  It’s so hot, though!  Tabasco won’t work because I LOVE spicy food.  Do I need to include more protein in my diet so I don’t consume my own self?  Do I need extensive psychotherapy?  (Like THAT isn’t obvious!)

Could be worse, I suppose.  At least I have the opportunity to ponder the mysterious workings of the human mind.

I just can’t hold anything up for someone to look at closely or else they’re bound to remark, “Ooooh!  What’d you do to your finger?”

Sigh.  I ate it.

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Will the REAL me please stand up?

I think we have all experienced a change of personality depending on where we are and who we are with.  I’m not the same potty-mouthed moron in front of my kids as I might be with friends after we’ve had a few.

But are all these situational personalities me?  Is there just one that’s “real?”  Are the rest me being a poser of sorts?

I remember feeling  uncomfortable when someone I knew would come into the restaurant where I was waitressing because I had developed an almost airhead personality (Hey, I’m from California, it just comes natural…) It was a way to tap into a part of myself that had boundless energy to play along with people’s demanding idiocy.  

There were times it came in downright handy: once, I had a guy ordering a drink from me who I could tell had already had too much before he even got to our establishment.  Since I was too much of a wuss to refuse his drink order outright, I was able to avoid serving his drunk ass by responding to his repeated angry gestures with a spacy twitter that went something like, “Tee hee!  Oh yeah, I forgot!”  And then I flounced off again, avoiding his table as long as possible.

I didn’t want any real people to see me being such a bubblehead.  And I sure didn’t want to have to be my usual thoughtful self, because I would have taken a look around me at what I had to deal with and run screaming.

When I was an college instructor I went for more of a guilt-tripping mother role.  I would assign the class to pair up and discuss what they did last weekend to practice their French, but inevitably, words in English would glide through the air and I would have to confront the Anglocentric offenders.  I’d stare them down and say, “En français, s’il vous plaît!” in the same tone of voice I use on my son when he leaves a dirty  heap of clothes in the middle of the floor.  When the student looked down sheepishly and began emitting guttural syllables that vaguely resembled the vocabulary we had learned that week, I knew I’d been effective.

My other dominant personality in the classroom is the comedian.  This has to be my favorite persona.  It is similar to the airhead in that one must surrender all dignity to the almighty inspiration of goofiness.  The difference is, as a comedian you can retain a good measure of intelligence.  Whenever the opportunity presented itself, I would grab onto a mistake I’d made (NEVER one of the student’s mistakes!) or some lame part in the textbook (of which there was a veritable gold mine) and I would ham it up for all it was worth.  If I could even get a couple of chuckles it would make my whole day.

But which is the real me?  The snuggly mama?  The amorous wife?  The polite granddaughter?  The fearful doubter that turns some worry over and over in my head, destroying all hope of sleep?  

They could all be me, but there is such a wide variation that it almost makes the whole idea of “me” become phony.  A person is “supposed” to be able to be described by a few well-chosen adjectives, but you would get a different response depending on who you asked.

Perhaps the core of our authentic selves is adaptability.  Maybe we are diamonds who hold in each facet a reflection of the truth we see outside of us in that moment.  Perhaps the “real” me only exists as I interact with the present situation, and in the hermetic vaccuum of space, it doesn’t matter who I’d be anyway.

With this line of reasoning, the boundary between Self and Other becomes palpably porous.  The “real” me couldn’t possibly stand up without bringing along, through a chain of causality, the rest of the world.

As John Muir said, “When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

(But if you still insist on finding adjectives to describe me, definitely ask my Grandma…)

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