Tag Archives: relationships

10 Ways to Make Your Imperfect Holiday a Happy One (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

Since I’m traveling today, on my way to visit my son and family, I thought I’d re-run one of my more popular posts. (The mp blog will be on hiatus until January 12th)

Merry Christmas, Everyone!!

~~~~~~~~~

This time of year is supposed to be joyful – full of good food, time spent with family, tinsel and bright lights and lots of packages under the tree.

We tend to have high expectations for the season, and also to feel that we have to meet others’ expectations so that everyone has a fabulous holiday! The reality sometimes falls short, and all too often in our attempts to make the holidays perfect, we end up short – as in short-tempered, and major stressed out!

Maybe we need to loosen up on some of those expectations… and prioritize what’s most important for ourselves and our families. First, let’s break things down a bit. We have gifts, decorations, food and family (I refer to Christmas below, but the same ideas apply to other holidays of the season.)

(This is actually a shopping mall in Canada; photo by Benson Kua, from Wikimedia Commons)

A shopping mall in Toronto, Canada (photo by Benson Kua, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

GIFTS: Some people (like me) love to shop; other’s loathe the process. If you fall into the latter category the first thing you can do is…

1. CULL THE GIFT LIST. Do you have people on your list for whom you have no idea what they want or like? Then you probably don’t know or like them well enough to be spending money on them. Are there relatives on the list with whom you exchange token gifts, neither party really caring whether the other likes what they get?

See if you can get them off the list without offending them. Suggest that you not exchange gifts, just enjoy each others’ company. (They may very well agree with great relief.) Or buy them something inexpensive and consumable, and repeat next year. You don’t have to be creative when nobody cares. (My mother-in-law got scented hand lotion from me every year. She was fine with that.) Suggest your extended family draw names and each person gets, and gives, just one gift.

2. SHOP EARLY. Whether you love or hate shopping, this is good advice. Yes, there are great bargains closer to Christmas but there’s also a lot more pressure. And these days, retailers often have sales going off and on throughout the fall.

Christmas shopping tends to bring out the procrastinator in many of us. It feels like such an overwhelming task. But the longer we put it off, the worse it will be. On the flip side, the sooner you start, the less pressured and the more fun it can be.

My brother and I begin in October with an all-day shopping trip. I love to shop; he’s not that keen on it. But we make it a fun outing. And because it’s only October, we know we have lots of time to find those items that don’t jump into our cart that day.

Get started early and get done early. You will be the envy of all your friends, and so, so much more relaxed as the holidays draw nearer.

3. DO YOU HATE TO WRAP? Or do you love it? If you love it (as I do) starting early on your shopping means you have plenty of time to enjoy the wrapping process. I make it part of my evening routine as I watch TV. Wrapping three or four packages a night, I’ve got it done in no time. And it gets me in the holiday spirit!

tow of red gift bags

Photo by Melinda & Cristiano, CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr/Wikimedia

But if you hate it, I have two words for you…

Gift Bags!!! For a buck or two apiece, your wrapping is done!

DECORATIONS:

4. DECORATE FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY, NOT THE WORLD. Unless you totally get off on decorating (I know a couple people who do), keep it simple. Ask yourself what is most important for you and yours?

For years I struggled with those #%@&* outside lights, stringing them over trees and bushes and freezing my tuckus off in the process. Today, the inside of my house is a Christmas wonderland, because I enjoy putting up those decorations. But outside, there’s a wreath on the front door and a pre-lit table tree in the dining room window. That’s all my neighbors are getting from me.

And you know what? None of them have complained.

5. MAKE IT A FAMILY AFFAIR. When I was a kid, my father was in charge of decorating the tree. He was meticulous. All the ornaments had to be balanced, the tree totally symmetrical. (He was an engineer.) He would carefully put one strand of tinsel on each branch.

449px-Christmas_Tree_(1) pub domain wiki

A slightly off-kilter tree, but still gorgeous! (public domain–Wikimedia)

He made my mother nuts!! And my brother and I fled to our rooms until the tree was done.

The blinkin’ tree doesn’t have to be perfect. Get the whole gang involved and it will be done in no time. And if you must have symmetry, you can move a few ornaments after everyone else is in bed.

FOOD: If you love to cook, go for it. If it’s not so much your thing (like me), look for ways to keep it simple.

6. PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME. I learned this from my grandma. Every year, she came over to our house on Christmas Eve. She made the dressing that night, and prepped the turkey. The next morning, Mr. Turkey just needed to be transferred from the fridge to the oven.

7. IS THAT BIG MEAL REALLY WHAT YOU WANT? Again, ask yourself what really matters. You just had a big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Is it crucial that you have another one a month later?

A few years ago, my family was facing some stressors around the holidays that made us want to simplify things as much as possible. We decided we would have a cold buffet for Christmas dinner, for just that year. I baked two turkey rolls the day before and my daughter-in-law and I made or bought various salads. I was sure it would be a letdown not to have the traditional big Christmas dinner.

Guess what? We didn’t miss the traditional dinner one bit! The meal was just as tasty, and so much less stressful. Instead of spending inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen prepping and then cleaning up from a big meal, we spent that time balancing plates on our laps and laughing and talking as we enjoyed each other’s company. We’ve been doing Christmas dinner that way ever since!

FAMILY: This is, after all, the heart of Christmas, being with family. But how do we define our families?

8. SPEND CHRISTMAS DAY WITH THE PEOPLE WHO MATTER THE MOST. One of the mistakes I sometimes see people making on Christmas is that they spread themselves too thin. Christmases were special for me as a kid because they were relaxed. We opened our stockings, then had a leisurely breakfast. We opened our presents, then had a leisurely dinner.

Christmas with the extended family.

Christmas with the extended family, on 12/26. We’re having a ball, can’t ya tell? 😉

We went to visit the extended family the day after Christmas, or the following weekend. We saw everybody eventually, but NOT on Christmas Day!

The first year I was married, my husband and I tried to keep everybody happy. We got up extra early to exchange our own presents, then went to my parents’ house for brunch. Then we jumped in the car and drove for two hours to have Christmas dinner with his family.

Never again!

9. WHAT IS YOUR FAMILY OF CHOICE? If you don’t like your biological family, do NOT spend the most precious day of the year with them. Politely tell them that you want to spend Christmas with just your spouse and your children. If you’re not married, it’s okay to make your close friends your family of choice. If it feels too hurtful to say no to your biological family on December 25th, then designate another day–perhaps Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas–as your “family of choice” Christmas.

Last but definitely not least…

10. BE JOYFUL. The bottom line here is that this is a joyful holiday! So do your best to set it up so it is fun and relaxing for you and those who are most important to you!

Any other ideas for simplifying Christmas preparations and minimizing holiday stress? (Note: since I am traveling, it may b e a couple of days before I respond to comments.)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Best Way to Resolve Conflict

by Kassandra Lamb

A couple weeks ago, I posted about how to handle bullies, those who promote conflict for its own sake to make themselves feel better about themselves.

But what about more everyday conflicts? What’s the best way to handle all those times when we find ourselves locking horns with someone who has no more desire to fight than we do?

I saw this approach to handling conflict in a video in graduate school many (many, many) years ago. It’s stuck with me ever since. I, in turn, taught it to my psychology students. They often came back with reports of how well it worked with bosses, boyfriends/girlfriends, parents, etc. I think it is the absolute best approach to conflict resolution.

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0)

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia)

First, let’s realize what conflict is all about. It occurs when two beings assume that their needs/desires are mutually exclusive of the other’s needs/desires. “If you get what you want, then I won’t get what I want” is the underlying belief. But often, if we can stop fighting long enough to analyze the situation more carefully, we will discover that there is a solution that meets both parties’ needs.

This process makes that possible.

Here are the four steps, then I’ll give an example.

  • DISENGAGE:  This is the old “count to ten” adage. Separate yourself physically from the other person and take as long as it takes for both of you to calm down.
  • EMPATHIZE: This is more than just acknowledging the other person’s feelings. It’s truly putting yourself in their shoes and realizing how you would feel (in most cases, we discover we would feel the same as they do).
  • NEEDS ASSESSMENT: What does each party REALLY need? This requires digging beneath the surface. What the person is asking for/demanding may not be what they really need. Often it is what they think will satisfy their needs, when something else will also do so, and perhaps better.
  • SOLUTION: Look for a solution that satisfies each party’s needs COMPLETELY. Often we are told that in order to resolve conflict, we have to compromise, i.e., each party gives up something to get part of what they want. Well, sometimes that’s true. Most times, however, there is a solution available that gives both parties all of what they want. But we have to look for it.

The first step is the easiest of them. Steps 2 and 3 are harder, especially if you do them right and really dig beneath the surface. But if those steps are done properly, often step 4 isn’t all that hard.

Here’s the example I used with my psychology classes. For anyone who ever dated, it will strike a chord. Most of us have been there, on one side of the dispute or the other.

Jane and Phil, both full-time college students with part-time jobs, have been dating for several months and have committed to an exclusive relationship. More and more often lately, they have been fighting over how much time Phil is willing to spend with Jane.

Jane says: “I feel like you don’t appreciate me. You want me when you want me, but the rest of the time you expect me to sit on a shelf, waiting for your phone call. I feel like you don’t love me as much as I love you.”

Phil replies: “I do love you, but that doesn’t mean we have to be joined at the hip. I need some time to myself sometimes, and time to hang out with the guys. I’m starting to feel smothered here.”

My students had little trouble coming up with a way for them to Disengage. Their best suggestion was that Phil and Jane should take a day or two off from each other, and then make a date to sit down and talk about the problem when they were both calm, rather than when emotions were already running high.

young couple sitting apart on bench

photo by Elizabeth Ashley Jerman CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

When I’d ask about the Empathize step, I’d almost always get this response: “That’s easy too. Phil is feeling smothered and Jane is feeling neglected.”

“No,” I told them. “That’s not good enough. They each have to step into the other’s shoes. Phil needs to imagine how he would feel if half the time he wanted to get together with Jane she said she’d rather be doing something else.”

The students admitted that he would probably feel neglected.

It’s a little tougher to get Jane to empathize with Phil. The question for her is: “How would you feel if Phil wanted to be with you every waking moment, even when you want to wash your hair or when a friend calls for a heart-to-heart talk?”

I’d ask the class: “Ladies, have you ever had a boyfriend who was clingy and always wanted to be with you?” At least half the female students would raise their hands (as would I since I did indeed have a couple boyfriends like that).

“Drove you crazy after a while, didn’t it?” I’d ask. They’d all nod. “Jane has to imagine this scenario and realize she’d feel smothered too.”

Now for the toughest step in the model, the Needs Assessment!

Phil is relatively easy. He has stated his need–for more alone time and time with his friends (assuming he isn’t intimacy-phobic and just using this as an excuse…hmm, another good idea for a blog post. *stops to jot that down*)

Jane is tougher. On the surface she’s saying she needs more time with him, but look again at her words about her feelings. She feels unappreciated and wonders if he loves her as much as she loves him. So is it more time with him that she really needs?

There would always be a pregnant pause in the classroom at this point. Then someone would get it. “She needs reassurance that he loves her.”

“Bingo! Now for the Solution. How can Phil give her that reassurance without spending more time with her? Because that does not meet his needs.”

The ideas would fly around the room. “Text ‘I love u’ or ‘thinking of u’ several times a day.” “Buy her flowers.” “Leave her little notes to find, like in her textbooks or on the windshield of her car.” (That one is my favorite!)

Jane might even be content with less of Phil’s time, if he’s giving her these reassurances of his affection.

This process works like a charm most of the time. If you remember to use it (which I often don’t, sadly).

What do you think of it? How do you tend to deal with disputes?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist/college professor turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Why Is the Divorce Rate So Low? (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

No, that is not a typo in the title. I am asking why the divorce rate is not higher. As I contemplate the approach of the 38th Valentine’s Day I will spend with my husband, I thought this was a fitting time to again offer up this post I wrote in 2012.

I am absolutely amazed that anybody makes it for 38 years, or longer even, without divorcing. Or committing homicide.

First let me disabuse you all of the common myth that the divorce rate is 50%. This is just plain not true, but like most myths, it gets repeated so often, with absolute certainty on the part of the person saying it, that we all believe it.

This frequently quoted statistic is based on comparing the number of marriage certificates issued in any given year with the number of divorces filed in that year. That number indeed hovers around 50%, because the number of people GETTING MARRIED has been going down at the same rate as the number of people getting divorced.

Counting the number of people who are STILL MARRIED in any given year and comparing that to the number of divorces is a more complicated and costly process, so it isn’t done very often. (This data, by the way, is collected by the Center for Disease Control. So I want to know which is the disease, marriage or divorce? I’m assuming the latter. But I digress.)

Comparing those getting divorced to those still married paints a very different picture. The divorce rate in the U.S. actually peaked in 1979 at 23% (yes, that is TWENTY-THREE PERCENT; it has never been 50%). These days it hovers around 20%. Much better odds than 50-50!

(If you don’t want to take my word for it, here is a good article on the subject at PsychCentral and a study from the Center for Disease Control.)

So why am I saying the divorce rate is surprisingly low, if it’s actually a lot lower than everybody thinks it is?

Because it just isn’t all that easy to stay married for decade after decade. First we’ve got that whole men-and-women-don’t-really-understand-each-other thing going on. (See my gender differences posts for more on that topic.)

Then throw the stress of parenthood into the marriage mix. Are we clueless about what we are getting into there, or what? But then again, if we weren’t clueless, the species would have died out by now. If we knew in advance how hard parenting is, nobody would do it!

This is me at 3 months old; would you look at that hair!

Then we’ve got the whole aging process, and the fact that people change over time, as they experience new and different things. We don’t always change at the same rate or in the same direction as our partner does. So it takes a lot of work to stay on the same wavelength.

And we should keep in mind that marriage was invented back when the average lifespan was twenty-five years! As recently as the early 1900’s, one partner or the other was bound to die after a couple decades–from childbirth, disease or a cattle stampede. And I can’t help but suspect that, before the days of modern forensics, a certain number of household accidents were early versions of a Reno quickie divorce.

So how have hubby and I made it this long? First, you’ve got the making-the-right-choice-to-begin-with factor. We lucked out there, or perhaps it was divine intervention, because I had definitely dated my share of losers before he came along.

The most important part of making that right choice is marrying someone who shares your values. You don’t have to have all the same interests or even come from the same background or ethnic group. But you do need to care about the same things in life. And fortunately we do.

Probably the single most important factor in surviving marriage over the long haul is communication. You gotta talk to each other, every day, about the little stuff and the big stuff, and about how you feel about things. It’s real easy to get out of the habit of doing this, or to decide that a certain subject is just too painful, or will start a fight, so you don’t go there.

Study after study has found that the single most important factor in marital satisfaction is that both spouses consider their partner to be their best friend.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to my best friend! I hope we have many more, but I’m not taking anything for granted, because marriage is hard work.

 

When you stop laughing at hubby’s funny-looking tuxedo, please let me know what you think are the important aspects of keeping a relationship strong.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Men Are More Aggressive, Women More Emotional–Actually Not! (an encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

(Part 3 in our encore presentation of my gender differences series; See Part 1: Gender Differences in Relationships here, and Part 2–Men Do, Women Process here.)

Most people assume that men, in general, are more aggressive than women, and that women, in general, are more emotional. In fact, the genders do not differ with regard to their natural tendencies in these areas. You heard me right. These are not true gender differences.

Aggression:

It is true that testosterone, when injected into animals of either gender, immediately makes them more aggressive. This experiment, to the best of my knowledge, has never been done with humans because of ethical and legal issues. But my guess is the results would be the same.

Male Nyalas fighting

It is also true that men have far more testosterone in their bodies than women do. So logic says that men should be more aggressive, and they are, physically, but not when you consider other types of aggression. More on that in a moment.

In the 1970’s, researchers attempted to prove the testosterone/aggression link in humans by looking for a correlation between testosterone levels and violent crime. They compared the levels of this hormone in violent criminals in prison with those of non-violent criminals, i.e., those who committed “white-collar” crimes such as embezzling or insurance fraud. Sure enough, the violent criminals had more testosterone in their bloodstream. There was just one wee little problem with this study. It couldn’t be replicated. Several attempts to repeat the study did not get the same results. Some studies found no differences. Several found that the violent criminals actually had lower levels of testosterone than the nonviolent ones.

Here’s another piece of confusing data. If one just considers physical aggression, elementary-school-aged boys are more aggressive than girls. But guess what? They don’t have all that much testosterone in their systems yet. This hormone is not released in any great quantity until the onset of puberty.

Strasbourg porcelain ca. 1775, in Victoria and Albert Museum, photo by Valerie McGlinchey

There are several kinds of aggression. But first let me define aggression. It is the act of invading another person’s territory, physical or emotional, or of violating their rights. So here are the different types:

Instrumental aggression:
the goal is to get something the person wants or avoid something they don’t want. Examples would be a child grabbing another kid’s toy because they want to play with it, someone intentionally butting in front of you in line, or the little brats above fighting over a bunch of grapes.

Reactive aggression:
the person responds to something they perceive as a hostile act with their own aggression. One kid pushes in front of another in line (instrumental aggression); the other kid hits him (reactive aggression).

Unprovoked aggression: intentionally hurting someone, physically or emotionally, because the act of inflicting pain is pleasurable or rewarding for the aggressor. This ranges from the schoolyard bully to the sadistic rapist or serial killer.

And here is the one that levels the playing field gender-wise. Drum roll, please.

Relational aggression:
using ostracization, spreading rumors, withdrawal of friendship, etc. to punish, manipulate or otherwise intentionally harm others’ social standing.

Studies that only look at physical aggression–be it instrumental, reactive or unprovoked–will most definitely find that boys and men, as a group, exhibit more aggression. But when you include relational aggression, the gender difference disappears.

So despite the whole testosterone issue, level of aggression does not seem to be a true gender difference. What is different is the way girls and boys are socialized to express aggression. “Boys will be boys” while girls are admonished to “play nicely.” So the girls quickly learn to use other tactics to express their aggression.

Now, think about the men whom you know personally. How many of them are truly aggressive, physically, verbally or relationally? Probably just a few. Most men are as uncomfortable with anger and conflict as women are. Fighting is not fun, bottom line.

Now think about the women you know. How many of them are spiteful, or at least rather snarky when gossiping about someone they don’t like. You probably know about as many spiteful women as you know truly aggressive, ready-to-pick-a-fight men. Maybe more.

Emotions:
When writing fiction, the task of making my male characters’ emotional reactions both realistic and believable is sometimes challenging. Why is this challenging?

Because realistic and believable, in this case, are not the same thing. People believe that women are more emotional than men. While in reality, they actually feel the same emotions internally as women do, and at the same level of intensity. They are just socialized not to express them.

Say what?

Yup, you heard me right. Studies that tease apart how men and women actually feel from what they are willing to express find that the feelings are the same. One particularly good study asked both men and women to place themselves in the shoes of the protagonist in hypothetical situations. They were given several scenarios to read and then asked to identify what emotion they would feel if they themselves were in such a scenario, and then to rate the intensity of that feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. After they had done that with all the scenarios, they were asked to go back and describe how they would express those feelings.

Both the men and women identified the same emotions. The anger-provoking scenarios provoked anger; the sad scenarios, sadness; the scary ones, fear; and the you-screwed-up ones, guilt.

The more surprising finding, however, was that there was no significant difference between the genders in the intensity of the feelings!

But, boy, did the differences start to show up when it came to expressing those feelings. That’s where the learned gender roles came into play. These are called display rules–which emotions each gender is or is not allowed to express in any given culture.

Paris, 1940, the day the French army pulled out and the Nazis took over the city.

When I talk about gender differences with my developmental psychology students, I ask the question, “What emotions are women allowed to express in our society?” They list every emotion out there, except anger.

Then I ask, “Guys, what emotions are you allowed to express?” There is a long silence, and then one of the male students will say, “Anger.”

“None of the others?” I ask. They think about it for a minute or two, then the guys all shake their heads.

“What?” I say. “You haven’t heard that women like a sensitive guy? Isn’t it okay for you to cry now?”

At this point, the room usually erupts into a lively discussion. The guys cite examples of times when they’ve let their softer sides show to girlfriends, and it didn’t go all that well. Unless she was a platonic friend. Then it was okay, but not with romantic partners.

And some of the gals will admit that it unnerves them when their guys cry. That they might feel empathy for him at the time, but there is a subtle loss of respect. But more and more, in recent times, the female students tell me that they are more assertive, more comfortable expressing anger. And yet the guys still can’t admit to being scared or sad.

In our society, the gender roles for boys and men are actually more rigid than for females.

Are women still discriminated against in the workplace and a variety of other arenas? Sadly, yes, all too often. But when it comes to gender roles, we are more accepting of females exhibiting masculine roles than we are of males exhibiting feminine ones. Think about the different implications of “tomboy” versus “sissy.” And girls and women have been wearing pants since World War II, but how often do you see a man in a dress?

Times have changed regarding gender roles in our culture, but perhaps not as much as we pretend they’ve changed.

What are your thoughts on all this? What gender differences have you observed in how men and women express anger and other emotions?

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist and college professor turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington Mystery series.)

We blog here at misterio press once a week (usually on Tuesdays), sometimes on serious topics and sometimes just for fun. Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

Men Do, Women Process (an encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

This is Part 2 in our summer re-runs of a series I posted a couple years ago on gender differences. Last week, we talked about the hierarchal vs. egalitarian male/female difference. This week, we’re going to have some fun with the next gender difference in relating, which has to do with how men and women approach problems and deal with their emotions.

Meet caveman Charlie Spearhead. (Okay, folks, get your minds outta the gutter! We’re not going to have that much fun.)

 

Charlie is really beat. He had to chase that damn elk halfway to the end of the world. As his stomach rumbles, he contemplates the rabbit stew that should be bubbling over the fire at that very moment, and afterwards a nice romp in the furs with his cavemate, Georgette. He grins even as his stomach growls a bit louder.

He soon discovers, however, that a fat elk haunch is not going to be sufficient to buy him a peaceful and fun-filled evening. Georgette starts in the minute he crosses the cave threshold. “You will never believe what that Gertrude Deerhunter did today when we were tanning hides.”

“Hummpf,” Charlie says.

“She had the audacity to imply that my hides are always stiff and I never get all the hair off. Oh, she didn’t come right out and say that but…”

Charlie yawns and scratches his chest, looking hopefully in the direction of the stew pot.

“Charlie, are you listening?”

“Just ignore her. Why do you care what she thinks?”

“I don’t care about her, but she was putting me down in front of all the other women, and she was being so indirect about it that I couldn’t confront her. She’s gotten so high and mighty every since her husband got elected war chief… Charlie, what are you doing?”

“I’m cleaning my spear.”

I’m trying to talk to you here.”

“Hurummph.”

“Charlie, are you listening to me?”

“Yeah, yeah.” He puts down his spear.

“As I was saying, I couldn’t confront her directly. I’d be the one who’d come off sounding like a bitch, and we’re all going berry-picking tomorrow. I know she’s gonna start up again–”

“Why don’t you go out early,” Charlie interrupts, “and strip all the berries off the bushes before she gets there.”

“I can’t do that. All the other women will think I’m trying to cheat them out of their share. I just can’t believe how she’s just gotten so full of herself since…”

Charlie starts to nod off, sitting by the warm fire.

“Charlie!”

“Hummf, I’m listening already. Can’t we eat while you talk?”

Georgette dishes up some stew for him. “And I can’t believe that nobody else said anything in my de–”

Charlie jumps in. “Hey, why don’t you wear your good dress? The doeskin one that’s so soft. That’ll show her.”

Georgette glares at him for interrupting again, then her expression softens. “Actually I kinda like that idea.”

“Good, glad to help. Man you’ll never believe how far I had to chase that elk today.”

“I still can’t believe that nobody came to my defense, not even Wilma–”

“Why are we still talkin’ about this, Georgette? We solved the problem.”

“Well. I guess you just don’t care that they hurt my feelings. After all, why should my feelings matter when your feet are sore from chasing elk!”

“Hey, why are you getting mad at me?”

“Cause you never listen!”

“Hunh? What have I been doing for the last half hour?”

“Cleaning your spear and eating your dinner.”

Kissing the idea of a romp in the furs goodbye, Charlie sighs.

Are you feeling a bit sorry for Charlie about now? Or are you thinking Georgette married a dimwit? This poor couple has stumbled into one of the most common pitfalls of male-female relationships.

This pitfall is caused by a major difference between the way men and women deal with feelings and problems. Men take action; women process feelings. I’m not saying women don’t act to correct a problem; they do. But they prefer to sort out how they feel about it first, and most women like to do that by talking about the situation and their feelings out loud. And sometimes they have to repeat themselves a few times until they’ve vented sufficiently to move on to a plan of action.

Men don’t get that, because that’s not how they are programmed. Their minds jump immediately to action-oriented problem-solving. So halfway (or sooner) through the venting/sorting out feelings process, they start jumping in to suggest what the woman can DO about the problem. They are then totally mystified as to why their woman is now mad at them!

Men, on the other hand, tend to mull it over inside their own heads when they need to sort out how they feel about something. Then if they think it’s relevant to share, they’ll tell you about it. So they get real quiet when something is on their minds.

Now, women tend to be fairly sensitive to the non-verbals of emotions (I’m not making this up; research has found this to be true). The woman catches on pretty quick that something’s bothering her guy. So she asks, “What’s the matter, honey?”

And what answer does she get?

“Nothin’.”

“I can tell something’s bothering you. What’s the matter?”

“Nothin’. I’m fine.”

“Is it me? Did I do something to annoy you?”

“I said, I’m fine,” he says through gritted teeth.

Now she is totally convinced that he’s mad at her, and he is, because she’s not leaving him alone to sort things out.

John Gray, in his book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus, talks about this. He shares the advice passed along by a woman who attended one of his workshops. She said her grandmother had told her, “When a man withdraws into his cave, do not try to follow him, or you will be burned by the fire from the dragon that lives in that cave.”

Image by Antonella Nigro, share alike license on Wikimedia Commons

Does any of this ring a bell for you? Have you ever been burned by the dragon fire? Any fun, or serious, stories to share about venters vs. mullers? Or maybe you know of some exceptions to the rule?

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist and college professor turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington Mystery series.)

We blog here at misterio press once a week (usually on Tuesdays), sometimes on serious topics and sometimes just for fun. Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

Gender Differences in Relationships (an encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

Since summer is the season of re-runs, and since I’m theoretically on vacation this month, I thought I’d re-run this three-part series on gender differences in relating.

Have you ever wondered why a guy or a gal said or did something that seemed counterproductive in your mind? Well, I’m going to try to explain the logic behind the opposite sex’s thinking (or sometimes reacting without conscious thought), starting today with one of the primary differences between men and women. (Please keep in mind that these are generalizations; there will be lots of exceptions to the rule.)

Men tend to be more hierarchal; women tend to be more egalitarian.

Photo by Lisa Hall-Wilson WANA Commons

Men are concerned about where they are in the pecking order. Women tend to emphasize that we’re all in this together.

So in a mixed group at a social gathering, someone mentions a problem he or she is having, and what happens? The men jump in with possible solutions (this is also related to another difference we’ll talk about next time). But the women say, “Oh, I know just what you mean. I had a similar problem when…”

Now, notice I didn’t say that men need to be at the top of the pecking order. Most men don’t necessarily need that; they just want to know where they stand. Which is good because not everybody can be king of the hill.

Men get frustrated with women who want to turn everything into a team effort. My husband once had a female boss who drove all the men in her department crazy. She had a “team” meeting every week that was (my husband’s words) “us listening to Jodie’s stream of consciousness while she figures out what she wants us to do this week.” I’m sure Jodie perceived it as seeking her subordinates’ input. Indeed, she might have been uncomfortable with the word subordinate.

My husband’s other comment was “She’s the boss; why doesn’t she just tell me what she wants me to do instead of wasting my time in these silly meetings.” He didn’t mind having a female boss; he just wanted her to act like a boss, i.e., be the leader, the top dog.

This major difference between the genders was researched by the well-known sociolinguist, Deborah Tannen. She found this pattern in various cultures around the world. Her theory about its origins was based on the concept of survival of the fittest. In more primitive times, a man who understood and respected hierarchies was a better hunter and warrior (i.e., better provider and protector for his family), and therefore his children were more likely to make it to adulthood to pass on his hierarchal genes.

When you’re chasing a herd of elk or defending the village against an invading enemy you don’t have time to stop and have a committee meeting to discuss how to handle the situation. You have a hunting chief or a war chief who says “You go here, you go there!” And everybody follows orders because the hierarchy has already been established.

On the other hand, the tasks the women did to contribute to the survival of their families and tribes were better accomplished through cooperation. They minded the children, tanned the hides, dried the food for winter consumption, gathered roots and berries. So those women who were better at being part of the team were more likely to see their children make it to adulthood to pass on their cooperative/egalitarian genes to yet another generation.

This ties in with the whole issue of competitiveness. There’s a lot of research out there that indicates men are more competitive than women, in general, and that this is probably at least partly innate. They are much more likely to feel the need to be “one up” on the next guy.

Photo by kbowenauthor WANA Commons

Yeah, yeah, I know, there are plenty of women out there who are super competitive. There are at least two other factors that play into competitiveness that have nothing to do with gender.

One is genetics. The personality continuum of agreeableness vs. ruthlessness has a heritability factor of 42%. What does that mean, you ask. It means that 42% of our tendency to be agreeable and cooperative vs. aggressive and ruthless is inherited, male or female.

The other factor is our perception of the availability of resources. If we think that resources are limited, then we need to compete for them. So the girl who grows up not getting much attention from her dad perceives male attention as a limited resource that she has to compete with other women to obtain.

This whole hierarchal thinking tendency is, by the way, why guys are reluctant to ask for directions if they get lost (this is less of an issue now, since the advent of GPS devices). Admitting that you are lost and need help is a one-down position. Women don’t understand this, because they have no problem with asking for directions.

Photo by Basher Eyre, Wikimedia Commons

I was explaining this to one of my developmental psychology classes a few years ago and one of my male students piped up, “Yeah, and if you do ask for directions, ask a woman, not a guy. Cause if a guy doesn’t know, he’ll make something up and get you even more lost.”

I gave that student an A for class participation. What an astute observation!

Now, ladies, before you start shaking your heads and exclaiming about how dumb guys are, let’s look again at more primitive times. The guy’s lost in the jungle. He encounters a male stranger. If he admits to that stranger that he’s lost, this may be perceived as a sign of vulnerability and the guy may attack him to steal his possessions. So he blusters his way through until the other guy shows that he’s friendly by inviting him to come enjoy the local village’s hospitality for the night.

Now if a woman is lost in the jungle and encounters a strange male, unless she’s armed to the teeth and has a pet tiger on a leash, she’s already physically one-down. So her best bet is to throw herself on the guy’s mercy and ask for his help.

So what do you think about all this? Have you noticed these differences in the men and women you relate to? How about exceptions to the rule?

My great grandma used to say, “There’s an exception to every rule, including this one.”

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist and college professor turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington Mystery series.)

We blog here at misterio press once a week (usually on Tuesdays), sometimes on serious topics and sometimes just for fun. Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

Hard-Learned Lessons

by Kassandra Lamb

We don’t usually blog about the writing process here at misterio press, but I was recently tagged in a game of blog tag and it got me to thinking. Maybe I should share some of my hard-learned lessons with newbie writers who are first venturing into this marvelous and scary world of publishing. And perhaps our readers might find it interesting to peek behind the curtain and get a sense of what it’s like to be a writer.

So here’s to Barb Taub who tagged me. Do check out her wonderful blog. Her sense of humor is fabulous! Every one of her posts has me rolling on the floor.

Here are the questions I’m supposed to answer. I’m going to answer them in a rather round-about way, because as you will see in a moment, I’m a bit of a rebel.
1.  What am I working on now?
2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?
3.  Why do I write what I do?
4.  How does my writing process work?

I’ve always been a writer–ever since I picked up my first crayon and scribbled incoherent markings on a piece of paper. (I knew they were words even if my mother thought it was a picture of a horse. Sheez!) As a kid, when I wasn’t reading, I was acting out the stories I made up in my head. Unbeknownst to my mother, our backyard was really a ranch in the Wild West and my swing set was a corral full of horses.

In college, I realized writers needed day jobs in order to eat. So I studied psychology, my other great passion (that I discovered, ironically, when I took my first sociology class, but that’s another story). I had a wonderful career as a psychologist, and I honed my writing skills authoring and editing journal articles and professional newsletters. One editor paid me the ultimate compliment of printing one of my articles without suggesting a single change!

Thus when I retired from my psychotherapy practice and seriously embarked on my long-postponed creative writing career, I did so with a rather swelled head. But like all owners of swelled heads, I had no idea I had one.

Kass with distorted head

       Me with a swelled head. Not a pretty sight!

I won’t bore you nor embarrass myself with those humiliating moments that brought my head back down to size. Rather I’m telling you all this as background. You see, I came into the world of creative writing with both the advantage and disadvantage of never having had any formal training in it. Because I already knew how to write. Right?

Oh, I could describe a scene, develop a character and plot a story. But I didn’t know the rules. No problem, my inner rebel said. Rules were made to be broken. Plus, I’ve always learned best by doing.

So I plunged in and did. I dug out an old manuscript, the first five chapters of the book I’d started fifteen years prior, and I started writing. Two humbling years later, beta readers, critique partners and an editor had helped me shape that book into something publishable. And my head was much more in proportion to my body.

me with normal-sized head

          Ah, much better!

Five years later, I have six books, a novella and a short story published and I’m still writing. I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. Here are some of the most important ones.

Lesson 1 (Question 4): Plotting vs. Pantsing
I learned somewhere around year two that the way I write is referred to as pantsing. As in one writes by the seat of his/her pants. You have an idea for a story and you sit down and start writing.

I never realized there was any other way to do it. But those who had studied the craft knew that one should outline the plot, develop the characters, do the background research, etc. before one actually starts to write the story.

Glad I didn’t know that up front; I never would have gotten past the first book.

It’s ironic that I’m a pantser, because I’m highly organized in the rest of my life. But then maybe that’s why I love writing so much. It’s the one part of my life where I just let things happen.

Advice to Newbie Authors: Most writers/editors respect both styles, but there are a few plotters who want to make pantsing wrong and vice versa (because they can’t imagine writing the other way). If you’re naturally a pantser, don’t let them force you into the plotting mold. But you do need to realize that once that first draft is done, you will spend months, maybe years, taming it into a publishable work. The plotters, on the other hand, spend months plotting up front, and require far fewer rewrites of their first draft. It all evens out in the end.

Lesson 2 (Questions 2 & 3): Genre Does Matter
I really wanted to write women’s fiction, but in more recent decades I had mostly read mysteries. So that was the genre I knew best. I decided to combine the two genres by writing mysteries with a strong emphasis on the relationships between the main characters.

My first draft of my first book was 169,000 words (twice the average novel and almost three times the average mystery). I gave it a sappy, too-long title and tried to sell it to literary agents as a blend of the two genres.

Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. Now that book is less than 85,000 words and has a two-word title that screams “MYSTERY” loud and clear.

Advice to Newbie Authors: You can write a book with a foot in two different genres but you’d better decide which one you’re going to lead with and abide by the basic rules of that genre. Why? Because no one will read a Gone With The Wind-type saga that’s billed as a mystery. Not agents, not publishers, not readers.

If you don’t believe me, let me quote my editor, Marcy Kennedy, on the subject:
If you’re craving chips and someone tricks you into eating a piece of cake instead, you’re probably not going to feel satisfied. You need to know what readers expect so you can either meet (and exceed) those expectations or so you can help them adjust their expectations.
(from Marcy’s blog post, Does Genre Still Matter in 21st Century Fiction?)

Lesson 3 (leading up to Question 1): Show, Don’t Tell–Most Of The Time
I had heard this rule before, and I kinda got why it was important. But it took lots of practice to get good at showing emotions with a “sharp intake of air” or a “clogged throat,” instead of telling the reader “she was shocked (sad, angry, scared, etc.)”

This is referred to as Deep POV (Point of View) and it’s all the buzz these days in the writing world.

But I’ve also learned, with the help of my wonderful editor, Marcy Kennedy, that one can have too much of a good thing. In the mystery genre, things need to move along at a pretty good clip to keep the reader intrigued. So there are times when it’s better to just tell.

I can hear the sharp intakes of air amongst my writer friends. (Which is why I’m blaming this on crediting this lesson to my editor.)

Advice to Newbie Authors: Check out Marcy’s book on the subject; she explains it far better than I can.

Lesson 4 (Question 1, finally!): Multiple POVs vs. Head-Hopping
Since the characters and their relationships are so important to me, I naturally showed what was going on in most of their heads by using multiple points of view, without even knowing that was what it was called.

I got positive responses to this from readers and reviewers who liked knowing how the different characters were reacting internally to whatever was going on. Then I started getting feedback from other authors that the “head-hopping” made their heads hurt.

About that time, I found Marcy. She was the third editor I had used to help polish my books. The first two were good; they did a fine job of helping me with that task. But Marcy is a fabulous teacher as well. She has helped me grow so much as an author!

And she helped me identify and begin to recover from my head-hopping addiction.

Advice to Newbie Authors: Here are a couple rules (nope, can’t bring myself to use that word) guidelines for using multiple POVs. Stick to one POV per scene, and/or give the reader some indicator that the POV has changed, such as a blank space between paragraphs or a line or symbol of some kind. Secondly, indicate as quickly as possible whose POV that scene is in, so the reader can get themselves grounded in that character’s head.

Finally, I answer Question 1: What am I working on now? The last couple months I’ve put my other works-in-progress on hold a bit as I’ve re-written the first novel in my mystery series.

Now I’m hearing gasps from my loyal readers. Don’t worry, I did not change anything about the plot or the characters’ personalities. I just corrected the POV violations within the scenes by deciding on one character’s POV for each scene and then re-writing accordingly. I also added a bit more deep POV.

Wow, do I love the results. Of course this first-published story was already near and dear to my heart, but now it’s also some of my best writing!

Multiple Motives' new coverOne of the really cool advantages of modern electronic publishing is the ability to upload corrected text so easily. So I am re-releasing Multiple Motives (and it has a spiffy new cover as well; click here to see the blurb and buy links).

I’ve put it on sale for $0.99! So now’s a good time to tell your mystery-loving friends about this great deal.

But before you run off to do that, talk to me a bit. What lessons have you learned the hard way? Are you a rebel like me, or do you usually play by the rules?

Oh, and I’m tagging Kirsten Weiss and Vinnie Hansen to play this little game. If any other writers out there would liked to be tagged, let me know in the comments!

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Introvert vs. Extrovert — Do We Really Understand the Difference?

And do opposites attract, or are we birds of a feather?

flock of birds at sunset

On the subject of introversion vs. extroversion the answer to that question is some of both.

Introvert/extrovert – We assume we know the meaning of these words. Extroverts are outgoing and talkative. Introverts are quiet and shy. Right?

Well, yes and no.

Extroversion–introversion is one of the continuum in the Big Five Trait theory. This is a well-researched theory regarding how our personalities tend to be organized. There are five major continuum of traits in this theory, with quite a few other traits within each of these categories.

In addition to Extroversion–introversion, these continuum are:
Agreeableness (how ruthless vs. softhearted you are)
Conscientiousness (how reliable you are)
Neuroticism (how emotionally stable you are)
Openness to New Experiences (how adventurous you are)

Now with regard to most of these trait continuum, the phrase, “birds of a feather flock together” applies. We tend to be attracted to people similar to ourselves. But there are two exceptions.

One is the neuroticism/emotional stability continuum. Those folks like me who are more intense (more high maintenance, some–like my husband–might say) are usually attracted to people who are easy-going. But this is another whole post. So let’s get back to extroversion-introversion, which is the other continuum where opposites attract.

drawing of a gril talking to a silent boy

(‘Talk’ by Mr. Seafall, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia)

On the surface, I present as an extreme extrovert. I’m very talkative. I start conversations with strangers on a regular basis. (I draw the line at inanimate objects, though I do talk to animals, and the occasional plant. 😉 )

Roughly two-thirds of my friends, including my husband, are introverts. The other third are very close to the cusp between the two versions of this trait (sometimes called ambiversion, as in ambidextrous when it comes to these traits).

Most of my friends are introverts because their personalities complement my own. Introverts make a good audience for the extrovert. As one of my friends put it: “I like it that you talk so much. That way I don’t have to think of much to say.”

Other than relieving one of the obligation to make conversation, I can only speculate about our appeal from the introverts’ point of view. My guess is they find us extroverts entertaining.

But why are so many of my friends near the cusp–neither strongly extroverted nor blatantly introverted? Ah, this brings us back to the true meaning of extroversion–introversion. It is a lot more complicated than we tend to think.

You see, I am actually very close to being an ambivert myself. Despite my obvious extroverted traits, I score on the introverted side on one very important but little understood aspect of this continuum–how one experiences social stimulation.

diagram of the extroversion--introversion continuum

(by RCraig09 CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Extroverts draw energy from interacting with others; introverts are drained by such interactions and need to be away from people for awhile to recuperate. Regarding this crucial trait, I am an introvert. I crave large quantities of alone time. My mother was the same way. She referred to herself as an introvert who operated as an extrovert.

Now this doesn’t mean introverts dislike being around other people. They have social and emotional needs just like extroverts. But after awhile, they need to be alone.

And while we’re on the subject, let me point out another misconception about introverts. They aren’t all shy, nor do they necessarily have difficulty making friends. They are somewhat quieter, less quick to speak up, but they may very well be quite talkative amongst friends (my husband certainly is!)

And I know several introverts who are better at making friends than I am, even though I may appear more “friendly” on the surface. I’m quick to start a conversation with just about anyone, but I’m actually slow to make a friend.

Fortunately my cofounder of misterio press, Shannon Esposito, is one of those introverts who makes friends easily. We met at a writers’ conference. I initiated the conversation but she was the one who opened the door to friendship and invited me in with a flourish.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Big Five Trait continuum are somewhat independent of each other. Shannon is quite adventurous. As bold as I am at trying new things, she is always right there with me. Indeed she’s often leading the way. This is not a trait we usually associate with reserved introverts. And it shouldn’t be, because it’s on a completely different continuum–Openness to New Experiences. An introvert can be adventurous; an extrovert can love predictable routine (I know a couple of them).

I guess the moral of all this is to not be too quick to label someone as introverted or extroverted, and don’t be too surprised if most of your friends are from the other side of the continuum. Unless you’re a true ambivert, in which case you will probably “flock together” with other ambiverts.

How about you? Do you consider yourself an extrovert or an introvert? Are you drained or energized by being around others?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

In Sickness and In Health

How blithely we say those vows when we are young and healthy and starry-eyed in love!

bride and groom axchanging rings
My husband and I have been blessed with better than average health. I have my share of chronic older-woman issues but the only time I’ve ever been in the hospital was when my son was born. My husband has an incredible resistance. He’s been lying-down sick with a cold or the flu, at most, three times in the 38 years I’ve known him. And the last time he was in the hospital (before this time) was at age 5 to have his tonsils out.

We are also both fairly independent types. We are “folks who like to do for themselves” as my grandmother used to say.

All this has made it a bit tough for hubs this past two weeks, as he’s started the long journey of recovery from hip replacement surgery. He’s been a good patient so far, but it’s been tough having to rely on me to even fetch him a cup of tea or help him into the shower.

hubs with his walker

Hubs taking his first walk outside. He has to use the walker for another two weeks.

He keeps saying that I’m a saint. I’m not.

But I think he’s realizing for the first time just what that vow meant, 37 years ago.

I’ve known what it meant for 34 of those years, ever since our son’s birth. Hubs was there for me through 21 hours of labor, toward the end rubbing my back to ease the pain until his hands were literally raw. He never complained, never hesitated to do whatever I needed.

Somewhere during that time–through the haze of pain, fatigue and eventually the drugs I begged allowed them to give me once the little bugger decided to get serious about making an appearance–I realized on a much deeper level that this man was meant for me. That he was the finest, most reliable man on earth!

Now the roles are reversed. He has to rely on me to take care of him, and he thinks I’m a saint for doing it.

I’m not. I’m a spouse.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Happiness Part 2: Self-Esteem

A few weeks ago I posted on the subject of happiness and how it is an inside job. That post focused on stopping periodically to make sure you are doing the things that make you happy, but there’s another aspect to happiness that also comes from within. Our self-esteem–how we feel about ourselves–has a huge impact on our happiness.

I’ve talked about self-esteem here before in the context of other things, from weight-management to dealing with shame and guilt. It’s really quite central to so much of our emotional life. How we esteem ourselves relates to two things–our general feeling about our beings (self-worth) and our belief in our ability to do things, to handle life (self-confidence).

Today I’m going to focus on self-worth. This can best be defined as our acceptance of ourselves as imperfect but nonetheless worthwhile human beings.

painting of a woman looking in the mirror

When you look in the mirror, do you like WHO you see? (“The Green Mirror” by Guy Rose, public domain)

If we don’t have good self-worth then happiness is going to be a fleeting thing. We have to believe we are worthy of being happy in order to actually feel happy on a regular basis. But what goes in to believing we are worthy?

Before I answer that question, let me ask another one. Is there any newborn baby on the face of this planet who is NOT worthy of taking up space and breathing air?

blakc and white photo of a babyIf your answer to that question is a resounding “Of course not!” then you must agree that all of us start out as worthy beings.

Whether or not we will feel worthy, however, will depend on several factors.

The first of these is whether or not we perceived ourselves as being loved unconditionally as children by our families. The key word here is “perceived.” Very few parents don’t love their children. But their ability to convey the message that they love their kids, and that this love is unconditional, that’s another story.

So perhaps you did not receive the message sufficiently as a kid that you were loved unconditionally, and thus grew up feeling less than worthy. If you can look at your parents now, through the filter of an adult’s mind, and know that they do indeed love you, that’s a great first step. But emotionally-charged beliefs from the past don’t let go inside of us just because we “know better’” intellectually now. It may take much more than this for your psyche to truly believe you are worthy. More on this in a minute.

If you had the misfortune of being born to people who are not capable of unconditional love (often because they never received it themselves), then we come back to that innocent babe who, like all other babies born into this world, was inherently worthy. The fact that this child (you) had parents who could not see his/her worthiness, well that’s not his/her (your) fault, now is it?

Another factor is the level of unconditional acceptance you receive as an adult. We can have pretty decent self-worth to start with, but if someone important to us–spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, close friend, etc.–is telling us we are not good enough unless we change in some way, then our self-worth may begin to suffer. Even a constantly negative boss or co-worker may eventually wear us down.

Yet another factor has to do with feeling bad about one’s being when one’s behavior is out of line. I have talked about this before in my posts on guilt and shame. When we have done something we are not proud of, it is okay, useful even, to feel guilty. The guilt is our motivation to change that behavior. But if we start beating up on ourselves in a shaming way, then we are undermining our self-worth.

So what exactly can you do about self-worth? Here are several things that can help improve your self-worth and your level of happiness.

1) One of the most important things we can do to bolster/maintain self-worth is to separate behavior from being. No matter how despicable our behavior, we are still good people if we are owning up to that behavior and trying to do something about it.

Ironically, having good self-esteem makes it easier to take responsibility for our bad behavior. Someone who feels bad about themselves is more likely to become defensive about their behavior. They are struggling to hang onto the few shreds of self-esteem they may have left. But someone who is solid in their belief that they are a good person can more readily say, “Boy, I really made a mistake here,” without fearing that their entire ego is going to fall apart. (Trust me, I recently had this tested when I royally screwed something up!) See my guilt post for more on how to do this.

2) Use affirmations and positive self-talk to bolster your sense of your worthiness.  I know this sounds like a simplistic cliché from the 1980’s, but it works. Tell yourself every day, throughout the day, that you are a good person. And pay attention to how you talk to yourself in your head (we all talk to ourselves internally a good bit of the time; it’s normal). If you notice that your self-talk is mostly negative, make a conscious effort to stop and rephrase your self-talk to positive messages. Turn “I’m a screw-up” into “I’m a good person even if I don’t always get everything right.”

3) Cultivate a nurturing relationship with the “child within.” Yeah, I know, another 80’s cliché. But again, it works! One way to do this is to carry around a picture of yourself as a kid. When you catch yourself beating up on yourself, take out that picture and tell that little kid that s/he is okay and loveable.

small child in old car

My all-time favorite picture of myself as a kid. I look like I’m ready to take on the world, don’t I?

4) Stop letting people put you down. This is easier said than done, and is a bit of a vicious cycle re: self-worth. When you don’t feel all that worthy, it’s hard to stand up for yourself and demand that you be treated right. But letting others dump on you will continue to keep your self-worth in the toilet.

Some role-playing with a trusted friend (or in front of a mirror) may help you practice politely telling people how you want to be treated. And there may be some people in your life that you need to get out of your life. Remember: No one has the right to put another human being down!

5) Cultivate the people in your life who do care about you unconditionally!

one cat licking another's face

(photo by Takashi Hososhima from Tokyo Japan, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

When we don’t feel good about ourselves, sometimes we dismiss those who care the most about us. If we aren’t worthy of love, then they must be crazy or stupid to love us, or maybe they don’t really know us like they think they do. These are the things we unconsciously believe about those folks who esteem us more than we do ourselves. Stop holding those people at arm’s length; instead accept that they see something worthy in you and let their love into your heart.

Nothing is more important than your sense of self-worth. Because without it, you will not be happy in life!

 

How’s your self-worth? Do you think it’s in good shape, or does it need some work?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

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