Recently, some things have come to light that I have found personally disappointing. A few people have behaved in a self-centred way and it puts me in an awkward situation.
If given a choice, I always try to be kind, open, honest, respectful and co-operative with others. However, sometimes some people don’t play by these same rules, and the more open and honest you are, the more this information can be used against you.
These experiences have led to me doubting myself. I wonder if I am too trusting like some of my friends say. Other friends tell me that the only way to respond is by playing the game also, putting my own needs first too.
What should we do if someone is being unkind, and only considering their needs irrespective of the consequences that these actions have on us?
Game theory looks at what is the best rational approach to take in a strategic interaction between two people or groups of people. There are many different games, including co-operative games, where the rules and consequences can be enforced, and zero-sum games, where one person’s gain is another person’s loss.
One of the most famous examples of a game is the ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’:
Imagine that you are a member of a criminal gang and that you have been arrested alongside one of your gang associates. You are in separate rooms at the police station, and you have no way of communicating with your associate. The Police tell you that they have insufficient evidence to get either of you on a big charge, but enough to get both of you on a smaller offence. The Police give you and the other prisoner one of two options:
You can betray your associate by testifying that they were the one who committed the crime, or
You can co-operate with your associate by remaining silent and refusing to testify.
The possible outcomes are:
A. If you both remain silent and co-operate with each other against the Police, you both only get one year in prison.
B. If you both try to betray each other by agreeing to testify, you both get two years in prison.
C. If they betray you, but you’ve tried to co-operate, they get to walk free, and you get three years in prison.
D. If they try to co-operate by remaining silent but you betray them and agree to testify, you get to walk free while they have to go to prison for three years.
The rational approach is not to co-operate with your associate, because at worst, you will get two years in prison (B), and at best you will serve no prison time (D). This is in comparison to the worst outcome of three years in prison (C) if you remain silent, and the best result is one year in jail (A). Not betraying your associate and co-operating will only lead to a worse outcome, even if you know that your associate will co-operate with 100% certainty.
It is therefore not always rational to try to co-operate with someone who could potentially take advantage of you, and positively not sound if you know that they are deliberately trying to take advantage of you.
What About Long-term Strategies?
If two people play multiple games of Prisoner’s Dilemma and they can remember what the other player did previously, does it make it more desirable to co-operate rather than betray the other person? This is more reflective of how most relationships are in real life, whether with family, friends, co-workers, bosses or in intimate relationships. We may win more in one situation, but at what cost? This iterated version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma is sometimes known as the ‘Peace-War game’.
In 1984, Robert Axelrod organised a tournament where participants chose their strategies in an extended version of the Peace-War game, let’s say with 2000 trials. He found that greedy approaches to the game actually didn’t fare too well, and resulted in more years spent in prison by the end of the game.
One of the most straightforward strategies was also the most effective, and this was ‘tit-for-tat’. In the tit-for-tat strategy, the aim is to always co-operate in the first trial, and then do exactly what your opponent did on the previous trial for your next move. This way, you punish a betrayal with a quick betrayal back and reward co-operation with ongoing co-operation. Sometimes (in 1-5% of the trials), it is good to co-operate once even after your opponent betrays you, but generally, the most effective method is still tit-for-tat, which is interesting to know.
After the tournament ended, Axelrod studied the data and identified four main conditions for a successful strategy when negotiating with other people:
We must be nice. What this means is that we should never defect or cheat before the other person does, even if we only want the best for ourselves.
We must retaliate quickly and at least 95% of the time if people try to defect against or cheat us. It’s not good to be a blind optimist or always co-operate no matter what the other person does. This only leads to us being taken advantage of by greedy people.
We must be forgiving, and get back to trying to co-operate once we can see that the other person is trying to co-operate reasonably again.
We must not be envious and just try to beat our opponent or score more than them. Creating a win-win scenario is ideal if possible, even if it means giving up some points by co-operating when you could defect.
What Relevance Does This Have For Real Life?
It may be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that screwing others over is the best way to get ahead in life. Or to not put ourselves out there so that we don’t get taken advantage of. In reality, this would only be the best approach in a world where every single other person tries to take advantage of everyone else every chance they can. This is not the case in any society on our planet as far as I know, so never trusting people and always assuming the worst from others is not the way to go.
Don’t get hurt
By looking at the table above, the best outcome is to try and trust individuals who are reliable (and co-operate with them) and not trust or co-operate with individuals who are not. The worst results are being hurt by putting our trust in those we shouldn’t or not letting in or co-operating with others that we really could have.
Maybe I am a little too trusting. I do assume that other people are kind and good people who have good intentions unless I am proven otherwise. This is the position that I will continue to take, even if it means that sometimes I get hurt once I realise that someone is a bit more self-centred or dishonest than I had hoped.
Looking at the four elements of a successful negotiating strategy, I know that I am nice, forgiving and non-envious. The lesson that I do need to learn is that of swift and appropriate retaliation, or enforcing a certain consequence shortly after someone is nasty towards me. This would help to deter the other person from trying any more selfish tactics going forward and could put them back on the path towards co-operating and trying to achieve a win-win situation for the both of us.
I have thought previously that if I always co-operate, then at least I can be happy with the person that I am. However, sometimes being firm and assertive and standing up for ourselves in the face of unkind and selfish behaviour is the far better, and more self-respecting approach to take.
I hope this article has encouraged you to not give up on trying to trust or co-operate with others. I also hope it will encourage you to stand up for yourself if someone is trying to take advantage of you.
I’ve been afraid to say this for a while because of how it will be perceived, but my favourite book of all time is actually a textbook. Now before you think that makes me someone that you would never want to speak to, I’ll ask if you have ever read anything by Irvin Yalom, American Psychiatrist and Author?
His book ‘Existential Psychotherapy’ is a true masterpiece that he worked on for 10 years, and is written as eloquently as any of his other titles, including ‘When Nietzsche Wept’, for which he won the best fiction novel award for in 1992.
What is Existential Psychotherapy?
Existentialism is the philosophical exploration of existential issues, or questions about our existence that we don’t have an easy answer for. We all suffer from anxiety, despair, grief and loneliness at times in our lives. Existential Psychotherapy tries to understand what it is about life and humanity that results in these painful experiences and feelings.
In the book, Yalom explores what he considers to be our four most significant existential issues in life:
These existential issues or ultimate concerns are “givens of existence” or “an inescapable part” of being an alive human in our world. He shows how these concerns develop over time, and how we can run into problems with each of these issues and what they might look like in patients coming to therapy. He also talks about how we can try to live with these concerns so that they have less of a negative impact on our lives, even if we don’t have clear-cut solutions to them.
Let’s go through each of these ultimate concerns…
Homo sapiens, or humans, as far as I know, are the only species in the animal kingdom that are aware that one day they are going to die.
The first time I heard this, it fascinated me and made me wonder if life would be more comfortable not being aware of the fact that one day we cease to exist.
Imagine it. Life is going well. Then suddenly it is no more. No worry about what the future holds. We are born. We experience life. Then suddenly we are no longer there. No fear. Just nothingness.
Being aware that we are going to die shapes and influences our lives much more than we would like to admit. A lot of our anxieties and phobias at their core are fear of some type of loss or death.
Irvin Yalom says that while the actuality of death is the end of us, the idea of death can actually energise us.
If we don’t know when we will die, being in touch with the fact that one day everything will vanish is enough to overwhelm some people and make them panic.
For others, it is enough to make them follow the maxim of carpe diem and helps them to seize the day by appreciating everything that they have so that they can make the most of the precious time that they have left on this planet. The time that is really just a bright spark of lightness between two identical and infinite periods of darkness – one before we are born, and one after.
Death is the ultimate equaliser, for no matter how much we have achieved or done with our time on this planet, the truth is that we will all one day die.
It is also true that we will not know exactly when death will happen. It might be with a car accident tomorrow, from cancer in ten years, motor neurone disease in twenty years, a heart attack in thirty years, a stroke in forty years, or during our sleep in fifty years.
Because our knowledge of our inevitable death is so inescapable and hard to confront and deal with directly, we instead focus on smaller and more manageable worries or concerns in our lives that we can do something about if we want to. If we successfully address all these minor concerns, however, we then come in contact with our fear of death again, and the cycle repeats itself.
Most people tend to have one of two basic defence mechanisms against their fear of death:
A. They can think that they are “special” and that death will befall others but not them, and try to be an individual and experience anxiety about life.
B. They can think they are an “ultimate rescuer“, and try to fuse with others and experience anxiety about death (their own mortality and that of their loved ones).
A breakdown of either of these defences can give rise to psychological disorders:
narcissism or schizoid characteristics for the “special” defence, and
passive, dependent or masochistic characteristics for the “ultimate rescuer” defence.
In general, trying to be an individual is a more empowering and effective defence than trying to fuse with others, but the breakdown of either can lead to pathological anxiety and/or depression.
The way to feel better about death anxiety is through an exercise called “disidentification“:
To begin with, ask yourself the question “Who am I?” and write down every answer that you can think of.
Then, take one answer at a time, and meditate on giving up this part of yourself, asking and reflecting on what it would be like to give up this part of yourself and your identity.
Repeat this with all the other answers until you have gone through all of them.
You have now disidentified yourself from all parts of your identity. See how you feel, and if there isn’t still a part of you that feels separate from all the labels you give yourself. This provides comfort and reduces anxiety about death and life for a lot of people.
What I try to do to manage death anxiety is to only focus on whatever it is that is most important to me that I can do something about in any given moment. I try to appreciate and be grateful for the time that I have had with each important person in my life. I try to be as fully present in the moment and with others as I can be. I try to use every moment and meeting as an opportunity to positively rather than negatively impact someone’s life. That way, I’ll hopefully not have too many regrets and be glad for the time that I have had on this planet, no matter how long it ends up being.
The second ultimate concern is about freedom, responsibility and the will.
Every country in the world talks about fighting for the freedom of its citizens but also talks about taking away some people’s freedom to ensure the safety and security of all. The existential dilemma is, therefore, how much freedom do we give up to others to feel safe and secure, or how much safety and security do we give up to feel genuinely free? Are these concepts in direct opposition, or is it sometimes possible to have enough of both?
Responsibility means taking full ownership of:
“one’s own self, destiny, life predicament, feelings, and if such be the case, one’s own suffering” – Irvin Yalom
In the past, one’s life was set out for them by their parents or society, and many people struggled to fight for the right to live a life that was authentic and genuine to them.
These days, most people struggle instead with the amount of choice that they have in their lives. They come to therapy because they don’t know what they want to do or how to choose given all of the options that are available to them. They also know that if no one else is telling them what to do, then it is ultimately their responsibility if things do not work out the way that they want them to. People wish to choose for themselves but fear not having someone to blame when things don’t work out.
There are various defenses that we engage in to avoid responsibility and shield ourselves from freedom, including:
displacement of responsibility to another
denial of responsibility (“innocent victim” or “losing control”)
avoidance of autonomous behaviour, and
We can do something over and over again to relieve anxiety or stop thinking about things. This can present as OCD or hoarding or any type of addiction ranging from technology to drugs and alcohol and even dependency on others.
We can try to coerce others to make decisions for us, or seek out and find controlling partners, bosses or friends. We can also just play it safe, and try to do what we think everyone else does; focus on keeping up with the Joneses, engaging in passive activities that don’t require much effort, and feeling stuck in an unfulfilling relationship or career.
The problem with giving up the responsibility for how our lives turn out is that it creates an external rather than an internal locus of control. Depression and other forms of psychological disorders are more highly correlated with an external locus of control. It can also lead to learned helplessness, where people no longer feel like they can do anything to change their life in a positive direction.
The way to manage the responsibility and freedom paradox is to developan internal locus of control. This is generally more beneficial for most people’s well-being, unless we really are trying to blame ourselves or change things that are out of our control. This includes what has happened in the past, what other people do or say, and acts of nature.
The serenity prayer nicely spells out how we should approach responsibility:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr
Paradoxical intention is a good antidote too. This means that we try to do the opposite of what we typically do for a period of time and keep an open mind and observe how things go. We can then see if the outcome is better than what we usually do or if it has taught us something about what will be best for us going forward.
Anything that creates a double bind is potentially helpful for encouraging people to take more responsibility in their lives. One way is to remind someone who struggles to make their own decisions that by not deciding, they are still making a choice to not choose. This means that no matter what they do, it is impossible to not make a decision that impacts the direction of their lives. Even if we choose to follow what someone else wants us to do, we are still making a choice to do this. Therefore, why not take responsibility for our own lives and forge our own paths?
There are three types of isolation:
“A. Interpersonal isolation:isolation from other individuals, experienced as loneliness
B. Intrapersonal isolation:parts of oneself are partitioned off from the self, and
C. Existential isolation: “an unbridgeable gap between oneself and any other being.”
A common way that people try to escape from existential isolation is to fully fuse with another. This is is a strategy for dealing with death anxiety too, with people trying to be the “ultimate rescuer” of someone else. It can lead to an individual feeling temporarily less alone. However, the less isolated we are from others, sometimes the more isolated we are from ourselves.
Other people try to overcompensate for their feelings of isolation by never relying on anyone and trying to be fully independent. Both extremes can have negative consequences.
The main thing we can do to manage our feelings of isolation is to realise and accept that we are social creatures and we have always relied on others to survive. This drive creates a desire to feel closer to, more understood by and more connected to people than we can ever really achieve and sustain.
Growing up, many people feel loved and comforted in a relationship that is unbalanced towards their needs being met over their parents. They then try to reenact this within their adult relationships and usually end up feeling resentful, angry and disappointed as a result.
Yalom believes that a good relationship involves “needs-free love”, which is about loving someone else for their sake. This is opposed to “deficiency love”, which is a selfish love where we only think about how useful the other person may be to us. Trying to create a relationship where you want the best for the other person is a healthier way to manage interpersonal isolation than demanding for them to meet every need for you.
Some of the best solutions to intrapersonal isolation are to have time to get to know ourselves through practices such as journaling, therapy and meditation. Introverts may need to have more of this time than extroverts, so it’s important to tune into to how you agitated or lonely you feel to know if you have found the right balance or not.
Unfortunately, existential isolation cannot be fully breached, and therefore needs to be accepted, as it is out of our control. To feel the pain that comes with this isolation as well as our desire to not have it is challenging, but it can help to reduce the intensity of the feeling. Being grateful for the meaningful connections we have in our lives and trying to strengthen them without losing our sense of self is another way to lessen the intensity of the feeling.
According to Yalom and many non-religious philosophers, humans are meaning-seeking creatures in a world without a universal sense of meaning. As a result of this, the majority of the world turn to a religious or spiritual belief system of one type or another that clearly lays out the meaning of the world and our purpose in it. For people who truly believe these systems, they often provide a lot of clarity, reassurance and guidance. The tricky part is that these belief systems can vary widely, and it is hard to know which one is more correct or right than another, or if some of them are even harmful.
What we do know is that most belief systems tend to agree that
“it is good to immerse oneself in the stream of life“.
People can try to find meaning through:
A. Hedonism:Seeking out pleasure and positive experiences and trying to avoid pain,
B. Altruism:Dedication towards a cause that helps other people, and
C. Creativity:Transcending oneself through art.
Many philosophers believe that both the search for pleasure and the search for meaning are paradoxical. By this, they mean that happiness and meaning or purpose in life are tough to achieve when they are aimed at directly, but possible if they are aimed at indirectly.
So if you or someone that you know is complaining about a lack of meaning in life, try to see if there are other issues too. If there are, address these other issues first if possible, and see if your worry about meaninglessness has lessened or gone away.
The best indirect way to increase a sense of purpose and meaning in life is to build up kindness, curiosity and concern for others. This is often best done by helping out with a charity, joining a club, fighting for a cause, or attending a group activity or group therapy.
Yalom strongly believes that a desire to engage in life and satisfying relationships, work, spiritual and creative pursuits always exists within a person. The key to managing meaninglessness is therefore to remove the obstacles that prevent the individual from wholeheartedly engaging in the regular activities of life.
We may never be able to find the absolute meaning of life. However, what we can do is work at creating a life that is personally meaningful to us.
With the development of the internet, dating websites, social media, smartphones and dating apps, it is now easier than ever for someone to cheat on their partner or spouse.
This same technology can also make it easier to get caught too, due to the potential digital trail that is created with each of these unscrupulous liaisons.
The Ashley Maddison hack and subsequent scandal was one such example of technology helping people to have extramarital affairs, but also leading to them getting caught. The hackers tried to blackmail the company and many of the users, and then released all of their details in a massive data leak when their demands were not met. Families were broken up; reputations and even lives were ruined in the aftermath.
The consequences of infidelity continue to have a devastating impact on individuals, partners, children and society. Yet it remains an issue that is prevalent in every country and culture. Maybe even more so today with the advent of technology.
Given the massive changes that we have gone through in the past 30 years, I am interested to find out what the prevalence rates of cheating are, if our attitudes towards infidelity have changed, and if there is anything that we can do about it.
What is Cheating?
The definition of cheating is actually quite hard to specify and depends on who you are talking to and what their expectations are for the relationship that they are in. The stereotype is that males tend to perceive cheating to be exclusive to physical encounters or actions, whereas females also see emotional infidelity as cheating, which is sharing something with someone that you wouldn’t typically feel comfortable saying to your partner. Many people also believe that relationships that exist purely over the internet or phone can also be considered cheating, especially if there are explicit words, photos or sexual acts exchanged using these devices.
Infidelity has been defined by Weeks, Gambescia and Jenkins (2003) to be a violation of emotional or sexual exclusivity. The boundaries of what is meant to be exclusive are different in each couple, and sometimes these boundaries are explicitly stated, but most of the time they are merely assumed. This means that each partner can have different assumed limits, making it difficult for both partner’s exclusivity expectations to be met (Barta & Kiene, 2005).
Leeker and Carlozzi (2012) believe that when someone has a subjective feeling that their partner has violated the rules around infidelity, feelings of sexual jealousy and rivalry naturally arise. If an act of adultery has occurred, the consequence is often psychological damage, including feelings of betrayal and anger, impaired self-image for the person cheated on, and a loss of personal and sexual confidence (Leeker & Carlozzi, 2012).
Unfortunately, people who are suspicious when it comes to infidelity sometimes have a reason to be. More than half of all men (60%) and women (53%) confess to having tried to mate-poach before. This means that they attempted to seduce a person out of a committed relationship so that they could be with them instead. I can’t believe that these figures are so high.
I also can’t believe that in “committed relationships”, where the partners are not married to each other, the incidence rate of cheating has been found to be as high as 70%.
It gets a little bit better for married couples, with only 2-4% of married individuals admitting to having an extramarital affair over the past year in the USA. However, this increases to 30% of heterosexual men and 25% of heterosexual women who will have at least one extramarital affair at some point during their marriage. It’s scary to think that somewhere between a quarter to a third of all married individuals have affairs, but good to know that two-thirds of all married people stay faithful to their partner all their lives too.
Attitudes Towards Extramarital Affairs
In ‘Modern Romance’, they share results from an international study that looks at people’s views on extramarital affairs across 40 countries.
In the USA, 84% of people strongly agreed that cheating was “morally unacceptable”. In Australia, 79% view extramarital affairs as morally unacceptable. Canada, the U.K., South America and African countries all have similar rates of cheating disapproval as Australia. Areas that have the highest disapproval rates are typically Islamic countries, with 93% of those surveyed in Turkey stating that marital infidelity is morally unacceptable, second only to Palestinian territories with 94%.
France is the most tolerant country for extramarital affairs, with only 47% saying that cheating is unacceptable. They also happen to be the country with the most extramarital affairs, with the latest data indicating that 55% of men and 32% of French married women admit to having committed infidelity on their spouse at least once. The second most tolerant nation is Germany with 60% finding extramarital affairs to be morally unacceptable. Italy and Spain are equal third, with 64% each.
Expectations vs Reality
When you compare the level of disapproval towards infidelity with the data on the actual prevalence of extramarital affairs, the numbers don’t quite add up. In the USA especially, it seems that a large number of people who cheat themselves still condemn the practice at large and would not be okay with being cheated on themselves.
A Gallup poll on cheating even found that infidelity is disapproved of at a higher rate than animal cloning, suicide and even polygamy. Although it is against the law, being married to two people is seen as less offensive than being married to one and breaching the honesty, trust and connection that you share with your partner.
People also differ between their beliefs and their practices when it comes to whether or not to confess an affair or infidelity once it has occurred.
A Match.com nation-wide survey in the US found that 80% of men and 76% of women would prefer their partner to “confess their mistake… and suffer the consequences,” rather than “take their secret to the grave”. However, the excuse given by most people who have cheated and haven’t told their partner is that they didn’t want to hurt their partner. It’s interesting that they only worry about the impact that their actions may have on their partner after the unfaithful act has already occurred and not beforehand.
Unfortunately, most people try to keep their own affairs to themselves and make excuses for their behaviour while demanding at the same time that their partners own up to their indiscretions if they stray. If their partner does own up, they are likely to treat them harshly for it, because after all, cheating is considered morally unacceptable by most.
Why Do People Cheat?
Dr Selterman from the University of Maryland looked into why 562 adults cheated while they were in a “committed” romantic relationship. He found eight main reasons given for why the infidelity occurred:
Anger: seeking revenge following a perceived betrayal
Lack of love: falling “out of love” with a partner, or not enough passion or interest in the partner anymore
Neglect: not receiving enough attention, respect or love (#1 reason for women)
Esteem: seeking to boost one’s sense of self-worth by being desired by or having sex with multiple partners
Sexual desire: not wanting sex with their partner or wanting to have sex more with others (a common reason for men)
Low commitment: Not clearly defining the relationship as exclusive or not wanting a future with their partner or anything too serious
Variety: Want to have as more sexual partners or experiences in their lifetime (a common reason for men)
Situation: Being in an unusual scenario, such as under high stress, under the influence of alcohol or a substance, or on vacation or a working holiday (a common reason for men)
Interestingly, not all of these factors suggest that infidelity is a direct reflection of how healthy a relationship is. Often it says much more about the person who commits the infidelity and their personality or impulse control than anything else.
Ways to Reduce the Likelihood of Infidelity
In ‘Modern Romance’, the authors explain that passionate love inevitably fades within every relationship. A loss of passionate love could lead to infidelity if people don’t realise that this may just be an indication of how long they have been together, not an issue with their relationship.
Companionate love, or that sense of building a life and a legacy with a partner, is different to passionate love. It can continue to grow across a relationship and a lifetime rather than decline with time. Couples in their 60s and 70s often rate their relationship satisfaction as much better than when they were younger and trying to raise children together and work full-time too.
One way to reduce the likelihood of committing infidelity then is to focus on building companionate love and a shared life and legacy together, rather than just equating real love with passion.
In his classic book ‘On Love’, philosopher Alain de Botton said that:
“Perhaps the easiest people to fall in love with are those about whom we know nothing…we fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as beautiful, intelligent and witty as we are ugly, stupid and dull.”
It’s much easier to idealise or become infatuated with someone that you don’t know that well. To imagine that they are perfect or have none of the flaws that your current partner (or you) possess.
The quickest cure for infatuation is to actually get to know the person a bit more (without breaching the infidelity norms of your relationship) and realise that they are just as flawed as the rest of us. Once you understand this, leaving one flawed relationship for another but having to start all over again carries much less appeal.
In another of his excellent books, ‘The Course of Love’, de Botton states:
“When we run up against the reasonable limits of our lovers’ capacity for understanding, we musn’t blame them for dereliction. They were not tragically inept. They couldn’t fully fathom who we were – and we could do no better. No one properly gets, or can fully sympathize with anyone else… there cannot be better options out there. Everyone is always impossible.”
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t leave abusive and neglectful partners. It just means that we need to avoid imagining that there is “a lover (out there) who will anticipate (all) our needs, read our hearts, act selflessly and (always) make everything better. (This) is a blueprint for disaster.” No one is perfect, and being grateful for what we do have with our current relationship and trying to make it as good as possible is much healthier than imagining that “the one” is probably just around the corner, if only we could find them.
Unfortunately, we still have the issue of love and sexual desire typically being separated in our society. Esther Perel, couples therapist and author, points this out better than anyone in her groundbreaking book ‘Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic’:
“Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity. At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling… our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness… (but) it’s hard to feel attracted to someone who has abandoned (their) sense of autonomy… Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?”
Another way to keep the spark of desire alive then is to make sure that even though you do a lot of things together with your partner, you must also do some things individually.
Fortunately, Perel also agrees that both love and desire can be maintained or grown over time with effort and a specific way of looking at things:
“For [erotically intelligent couples], love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time. Marriage is not the end of romance, it is the beginning. They know that they have years in which to deepen their connection, to experiment, to regress, and even to fail. They see their relationship as something alive and ongoing, not a fait accompli. It’s a story that they are writing together, one with many chapters, and neither partner knows how it will end. There’s always a place they haven’t gone yet, always something about the other still to be discovered.”
What About If Infidelity Has Already Occurred?
If cheating has already taken place, many people say that too much pain has occurred, trust has been breached and broken, and leaving is the best thing to do to maintain a sense of self-worth and self-respect. In other cases, going may not be the easiest, most practical, or best solution. For individuals in these cases, I would recommend reading Perel’s more recent book ‘The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity’.
In this book, Perel says that:
“Once divorce carried all the stigma. Now, choosing to stay when you can leave is the new shame.”
Perel warns against merely passing judgment about the act of infidelity, as this shuts down all further conversation about what happened and why and where to go from there. Perel believes that it is much better to see an affair as a symptom of a troubled relationship or a troubled person.
If it is the person who is troubled, and they are remorseful for what they have done and willing to try to make amends and not cheat again, it is essential that they get help to address whatever issue led to the infidelity in the first place. If they are not willing to get help and work on themselves but merely say it won’t happen again, be wary.
If it is the relationship that was in trouble, relationship counselling may be able to help too. Perel says that:
“Infidelity hurts. But when we grant it a special status in the hierarchy of marital misdemeanors, we risk allowing it to overshadow the egregious behaviors that may have preceded it or even led to it.”
If both people in a relationship can take ownership for the behaviours that they engaged in that caused pain and hurt to the other and are willing to start again to build a stronger relationship, it is possible to have a healthy relationship going forward. It’s just never going to be the same as things were before the infidelity took place.
My Personal Opinion
Monogamy is sometimes hard, as is continuing to work at having a healthy relationship, but it is a choice. We may not always have full control over what we initially think or feel, but we do have the capacity to think things through properly before acting.
My favourite relationship researcher, John Gottman, found that couples who turn towards each other when there is an issue in their life are much more likely to stay together than couples who turn away from or against each other. In one study, he found that newlyweds who remained married 6 years later turned towards each other 86% of the time when issues arose. Newlyweds who were divorced six years later only turned towards each other 33% of the time. Turning towards your partner when a problem occurs is the key to a close and connected relationship, and is much less likely to result in infidelity.
For me, it comes down to personal values. I want to have a relationship that is close and connected, with openness, honesty and trust. I don’t want to feel like I have to hide anything, and I don’t want to do anything that I am not personally okay with or that I know that the people who mean the most to me would not be proud of.
Anything that we hide from our partners tends to lead to greater distance and a feeling of disconnection. This is especially the case with stuff that we may know is dishonest, not respectful or something that we feel ashamed of. Our body language, microexpressions and tone of voice also tend to leak out how we genuinely feel over time if we are hiding something, even if we wouldn’t like to admit it.
Existential philosophers believe that our biggest challenge in life is to come face-to-face with the true nature of who we are. I think that over time, it is our actions and not our intentions that become our character, or who we indeed are. I aim to be the best partner, and person that I can be, and to learn from any mistakes that I make along the way so that I hopefully never repeat them again. What about you?
In 2018, the American Psychiatric Association identified what they considered to be the three major goals of parenting:
“1. Ensuring children’s health and safety
2. Preparing children for life as productive adults, and
3. Transmitting cultural values”
Many environmental and biological factors influence a parent’s and a child’s capacity to reach these ambitious goals. However, there are still a few simple changes in how we try to parent our children and how we work to manage emotions in ourselves and those closest to us that can make a significant difference…
In 1971, a researcher named Baumrind identified and developed three main parenting styles. These parenting styles include parents’ attitudes and values about parenting, their beliefs about the nature of children, and the specific strategies they use to try to help socialise their child.
The parenting styles are known as:
Includes being warm and involved in the child’s day-to-day life, helping the child with reasoning and inductive thought processes and reflective practices, democratic participation, or letting the child have a say in what goes on, and being good natured and generally easy-going with the child.
Includes being verbally hostile towards the child, using corporal punishment, not reasoning things through with the child, using punitive control strategies or excessively harsh punishments, and being directive towards the child rather than discussing things through with them.
Includes high levels of warmth, but a relaxed and non-consistent discipline style, with minimal rules, expectations and guidance. This includes lack of follow through on consequences, ignoring misbehaviour and boosting self-confidence rather than disciplining the child.
The graph above highlights that there is a fourth style known as uninvolved (Maccoby & Martin, 1983), which includes very little control or strictness, and very little parental warmth too.
Subsequent reviews by Baumrind in 1989 and 1991 found a clear winner for parents who employed an authoritative parenting style over an authoritarian or a permissive parenting style, especially once children reach higher.
An authoritative parenting style has been shown to lead to the more significant development of child competence, including better maturity, assertiveness, responsible independence, self-control, better co-operation with peers and adults, and academic success (Baumrind, 1989; 1991). Children of authoritative parenting also exhibit higher levels of moral conscience and prosocial behaviours (Krevans & Gibbs, 1996).
Other research has found that non-authoritative parenting styles can lead to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, ADHD and conduct or behavioural problems (Akhter et al., 2011). Authoritarian parenting can lead to antisocial aggression, hostility and rebelliousness (Baumrind, 1991), and anxiety (Chorpita & Barlow, 1998).
Indulging children too much and not setting appropriate boundaries can reduce the child’s academic performance and social competence (Chen et al., 2000). Permissive parenting can also lead to low self-control and impulsive, bossy or dependent behaviour in children (Baumrind, 1967).
Uninvolved parenting leads to a greater risk of behavioural problems and depression (Downey & Coyne, 1990).
The chart below clearly highlights the consequences of each style of parenting:
If you want to develop a more authoritative parenting style, be warned that it is the most time-consuming and energy demanding of all the methods (Greenberger & Goldberg, 1989). If you would still like to give it a go, try any of the following strategies from a questionnaire developed to identify an authoritative parenting style, and see if they work for you:
“Learn the names of your children’s friends.
Ask about your child’s problems or concerns at school and communicate with their teachers about any issues that they may be having
Encourage the child to talk about their troubles
Give praise and acknowledgment when the child does something positive
Tell your child that you appreciate what they try or accomplish
Give emotional comfort and understanding when the child is upset
Respond to the child’s feelings and emotional needs
Show sympathy or empathy when the child is hurt or frustrated
Express affection by hugging, kissing or holding your child when it is appropriate to do so
Explain the consequences of your child’s behaviour
Give your child the reasons for the rules you have
Emphasize why the rules need to be followed
Help them to understand the impact of their behaviour by encouraging them to talk about the consequences of their actions.
Explain how you feel about your child’s good and bad behaviour
Take into account your child’s preferences when making family plans
Allow your child to give input into family rules
Take your child’s desires into account before asking them to do something
Joke and play with your child
Show patience with your child
Try to be easy-going and relaxed around your child.”
The Relationship Cure
There isn’t an author out there who has conducted more in-depth and scientific research on interpersonal relationships than John Gottman. ‘The Relationship Cure: A Five-Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships’ is his 2002 book that offers a 5-step guide to improving the quality of your relationship with your partner or children.
The five steps to improve your relationships are:
1. Look at Your Bids for Connection
We need to analyse both how we bid for connections with others, and how we respond to other people’s bids for connection.
A bid is simply any form of expression, whether it be a verbal question, a visual look, or a physical gesture or touch that says, “I want to connect with you!”
A response to a bid can be either an encouraging sign that shows that you also want to connect by turning towards them, or a discouraging sign that indicates that you do not wish to connect, through turning away from them or turning against them.
Over time, turning towards responses lead to even more bidding and responding and a stronger, closer relationship. Both turning away and turning against reactions leads to less bidding, hurt or suppressed feelings, and the breakdown of the connection you share in the long-term.
2. Discover Your Brain’s Emotional Command Systems
There are seven main areas in which people differ that can influence relationship needs. Once you have discovered if you and your family members are low, moderate or high on each system, it becomes easier to see how it affects the bidding process in the relationship.
The systems are referred to as the:
Commander-in-chief (dominance and control)
Explorer (exploration and discovery)
Sensualist (sensual gratification, pleasure)
Energy Czar (regulates need for energy, rest, relaxation)
Jester (play, fun)
Sentry (safety, vigilance)
Nest-builder (affiliation, bonding, attachment)
3. Examine Your Emotional Heritage
People typically develop one of four emotional philosophy styles. These styles are learnt during childhood and can affect your method of bidding and your ability to connect with others.
The four emotional styles are:
Emotion-dismissing (“You’ll get over it!“) = less bidding and turning away
Emotion-disapproving (“Don’t feel that way!“) = less bidding and turning against
Laissez-faire (“I understand how you feel.“) = bidding may or may not increase
Emotion-coaching (“I understand. Let me help you!“) = more bidding, turning toward, with the added bonus of guidance being offered for how to cope.
Families that create emotion-coaching environments give their children a higher chance of having more successful and loving relationships with their parents, siblings and friends. They also tend to get along better with their co-workers and romantic partner when they are older.
4. Sharpen Your Emotional Communication Skills
By learning effective communication skills, we are more likely to be able to say what we actually mean and feel without the other person becoming defensive, which can increase our chances of positive changes occurring and relationship satisfaction increasing.
The four steps of effective communication are as follows:
D –Describe the situation, and stick to facts, not judgments
(e.g., ”When you don’t clean up your room”, not “When you are disrespectful and don’t care about your things!”).
E – Explain how you feel
(Emotions – e.g., “I feel hurt and upset!”. Not opinions – e.g., “I feel like you don’t care about me or the house rules!”)
A – Ask for what you need or would prefer
(Behaviours – e.g., “I would prefer that you follow the rules we have established and clean up your room before going outside to play with friends”. Not feelings – e.g., “I would prefer if you actually cared about this family and your things like you say you do”).
R – Reinforce the potential benefits to them, you and the relationship if they could do what you have asked
(e.g., “Then your things won’t get wrecked, you can play, I can relax, and we can all have fun together later instead of me having to nag you all the time!”).
You might be sceptical, but it really can work, and it does become more comfortable with practice.
5. Find Shared Meaning with Others
This can be done by sharing your dreams or visions with each other, or it can be about developing consistent rituals together that over time can lead to more shared experiences and a stronger emotional bond.
With the kids, this may be prioritising having dinner around the table with the whole family and chatting each night without technology, or it could be:
a regular movie night every Friday,
church every Sunday morning,
games night once a week, or even
Christmas and Family Day with the extended family
New Years at the beach every year, or
Anything else that you can repeat on a regular basis
Rituals provide great memories for the children and predictability too and help them to feel loved and secure. What you do does not matter too much; it is about what is meaningful to you and your family.
So there we have it. If you try to develop an authoritative parenting style, turn towards your child’s emotional bids, foster an emotion-coaching philosophy in the home, and try to effectively communicate and find shared meaning with your children, you will be you will be well on your way to raising emotionally healthy children. I wish you all the best of luck with the challenges along the way!
Ever notice how any successful story throughout history tends to have a similar cast of characters?
If you haven’t bothered counting, I’ll let you know that most characters will fall into one of 12 principal roles, and this explains why and how we can find favourite stories so relatable. Carl Gustav Jung, a famous psychoanalyst, defined these characters and the journey they go on as Archetypes.
What is an Archetype?
An archetype is something that symbolises primary human motivations, drives, desires and goals. It influences how one finds meaning in life, what one values, and the personality characteristics that one has. Most people tend to identify primarily with one archetype, although it is possible to be a mix of a few different ones.
Below are the 12 archetypes, with a brief description below them:
If you’re a visionary, you value innovation above all else. You look for patterns in the ordinary and try to create order out of chaos. You are intuitive and tend to find it much more comfortable than others to accurately predict trends and look into the future. You love to exchange ideas, share your opinions, and try out new gadgets. But you also have a tendency to overthink things or catastrophise if stressed and overwhelmed. When this happens, it is essential for you to retreat to somewhere secluded and/or scenic so that you can once again focus in on your next innovative idea that you would like to put into action.
The visionary archetype tends to include the designer, the detective, the director, the entrepreneur, the hermit, the futurist or the strategist.
If you’re a caregiver, you value being compassionate, caring and kind to others, but especially your family and friends. You struggle to say no to people because you love to help out and give as much as you can. Burnout is a risk if you spread yourself too thin, however. You are easy to get along with, flexible to various situations, and always willing to do what is required to adapt to and fit in with others without losing your sense of self. Your favourite activities involve spending time with those you love, and you are the person that people call or talk to if they have been going through something tough or are in crisis.
The caregiver archetype tends to include the loving parent, the teacher, the nurse, the doctor, the best friend forever, the rescuer, the mentor, the healer, the veteran and the civil servant.
The royal wants power and to be in control. They love being a leader and the boss and love living the high life and the sense of entitlement that comes with this. The royal is not afraid to throw money at a problem so that it will go away, and is willing to use their status, title or name to get what they want and feel that they deserve. Activities, holidays and clothes all need to be the best that money can buy.
Royal archetypes include the king, the queen, the prince or princess, the boss, the executive, the politician, the diva and the networker or social climber.
The performer is all about entertaining others and being the centre of attention. Even at social and family gatherings. Like Lady Gaga, they live for the applause and moving others emotionally or making them laugh. The performer wants to be seen and believes that being dramatic and in the right places with the right people is the best way to achieve this.
The performer archetype includes the actor, the entertainer, the comedian, the clown or fool, the eccentric, the trickster, the storyteller, the spellcaster, the magician and the provocateur.
The spiritual person has their faith as the cornerstone of who they are. They are belief driven, and pray and seek for what they know to be true to come to fruition. They love to engage in yoga, meditation, and connecting with others on a deeper level and can feel very connected with others and the world around them. The biggest trap for the spiritual person is magical thinking and not doing enough to take action and change the questionable things in their lives. They instead have hope and faith that things will work out the way they want, even when all the evidence suggests otherwise.
The spiritual archetype can include the shaman, the saint, the mystic, the guru, the angel, the missionary, the martyr, the disciple and the Samaritan.
The tastemaker values the beautiful nature of things above all else. They pay attention to trends, fashion and decor, and ensure that whatever they have is as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Different from the royal, they don’t assume that this is just about what is most decadent or expensive. A tastemaker loves to explore new restaurants, shops, technology and holiday spots. Their weakness is judging others who do not prioritise aesthetics as much as them.
The tastemaker archetype includes the fashionista, the goddess, the gentleman and the metrosexual.
The explorer loves adventure, exploring the world, and seeking excitement wherever they are. They are curious about everything new and things they are yet to encounter, and as a result, fear commitment and being stuck in one spot or tied down by someone else in any way. The explorer feels drawn to things unseen and undiscovered and is willing to be practical about what it takes to live their life in this way. They love meeting new people and immersing themselves in new cultures and experiences.
The explorer archetype includes the adventurer, the traveller, the seeker, the discoverer, the wanderer, the individualist, and the pioneer.
The advocate is always being a champion for a good cause and hoping that things will get better if they put up a fight for what they believe in. They may have a tendency of getting too caught up personally in the cause but are willing to back up what they believe in by getting signatures for a petition, fundraising money for a campaign, or organising a protest. They also try to live their lives in a way that is consistent with their values and standing up for those less fortunate or those without a voice, such as flora and fauna.
The advocate archetype includes the hero, the environmentalist, the crusader, the vegan, the lawyer, the feminist, and the human rights advocate.
The Intellectual takes pride in their extensive knowledge about things that are important to them. They are always seeking new information and trying to apply this information in a useful way to increase their wisdom. The intellectual can come across as a know it all, but they never feel like they have enough new things to learn. They love to spend time reading books and going to museums and are happy to impart their knowledge to anyone who is willing to listen.
The Intellectual archetype includes the philosopher, the student, the geek, the sage, the scientist, the theologian, the crone, the inventor, and the judge.
The rebel’s core values are justice and autonomy. They are fiercely independent and cannot be contained by the social niceties, order and dutifulness. They do what they want at all times, and like adventure and excitement, challenging convention and being deliberately provocative too. They are at risk of not thinking through the consequences of their decisions, and as a result can overconsume drugs or alcohol or get into trouble with the law, at work, or with those closest to them.
Rebel archetypes include the warrior, the hedonist, Don Juan, the femme fatale and the wild man or wild woman.
The athlete lives for staying active, fit, and in shape. They love to compete in anything involving physical activity and are happiest when they have achieved a big, athletic goal. The athlete has a tendency to turn everything into a competition, which can annoy others, but they are just as happy pushing themselves to improve their health and body. Clothing is worn for comfort and performance only, not aesthetics. The athlete loves to attend sporting events and is also happy to watch sport on the TV.
The Athlete archetype includes the competitor, the outdoorsman, the dancer, and the tomboy.
The creative loves being original and genuinely expressing themselves. The creative hates to just repeat or copy what others have done before them. They are happiest creating something from nothing, and this may include a piece of art, but it could also be a meal, an outfit, room in a house or even an idea. The creative does have a tendency to be a perfectionist, and this can make it difficult to begin a new project. Once you get started, you then tend to get into the zone until a project is complete or you need a break.
The creative archetype includes the artist, the chef, the child, the poet, the novelist, the shapeshifter and the romantic.
What Are Your Main Archetypes?
At archetypes.com it’s possible to find out which archetypes you are most similar to. This may help you to identify what journey it is you need to take in life, or what areas may be best for you to focus on going forward. Included below are my results:
I’m pretty happy with these results, and not surprised by my top 2, but I was surprised to see visionary my third highest archetype. I’ve never thought of myself as that imaginative or innovative, but I do want the world to change for the better and am willing to do what I can to improve the mental health of others.
Based on these results, it’s apparent that I love to help others, but I need to be cautious about taking on excessive responsibility for others or feeling too guilty or inadequate when I can’t help as much as I would like to. I love to learn and be curious about new things, but I still need to be humble and understand that there’s still so much that I’ll never know. I also need to realise that not everyone wants to learn like I do, and that is okay too. Lastly, when I have an innovative idea, it is vital that I put this plan into action so that I can make a real difference. I would also benefit from making sure that I connect with others and collaborate with the right people to help make these dreams become a reality.
I know that archetypes and the test are not highly scientific, but I still found them useful to think about what story I am trying to live out, and what values or principles I am being guided by. Caring for others, learning new things, and creating positive change is what I care about. What about you?
I love the above quote by Lao Tzu. It really highlights to me that all of the little choices we make in life are important, especially in the long run.
Not any one choice, or any particular action, unless it is unusually severe or unforgivable. I’m talking about the little things that we do on a regular basis which cumulatively build up over time and define the type of person that we are, and who others see us as.
This may be something like choosing to make your bed every morning or getting up to go the gym before work or having a veggie smoothie rather than a jam-filled doughnut and caramel macchiato for your 3pm work snack. Taking the easy or not so healthy option may not seem like such a big deal if it’s just the once, but what if this then becomes habitual over time?
Without even realising it, you may wake up one day and recognise that you have a severe sugar, junk food, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, TV or smartphone dependency, and it’s no longer as easy to stop this behaviour as you may have hoped for or believed.
Most obese, unfit and unhealthy individuals probably didn’t expect that they would be where they are, but it didn’t just happen overnight either. They started with an initial thought, felt something, experienced an urge or craving, and made a choice to act in a certain way. The more they repeated this action in similar situations, the more the brain learnt that this is just what they needed and that this behaviour should be repeated whenever they thought or felt this way. Eventually, the action no longer felt like a choice, but a compulsion, where they may not have even realised what it was they were doing until it was too late, let alone be able to change it going forward.
William James said something similar, but offers a solution out of this trap:
I’m not sure if I agree with William James completely, because in my experience it is often easier to act ourselves into new ways of thinking, rather than think ourselves into new ways of acting. While how we think and feel about things is important, if we don’t also challenge and change our behaviour, it is going to be very difficult to make any type of positive long-term change. Change our behaviours first regardless of our thinking, however, and we will have more and more evidence that is contrary to the unhelpful thoughts or beliefs that we hold. In time, it then becomes more comfortable to shift these negative thoughts and perceptions, shaping your reality.
Why Bother Trying to Change?
Someone asked me the other day “will you ever just be satisfied with how you are, and eventually stop using questionnaires and other measures to keep trying to track and change your life?”
It seemed like a weird question to me, but it is consistent with how my father tends to view life too. He knows what makes him happy in life, and does it. He’s not too worried about changing or growing and just focuses on enjoying each day, even if it’s the same as yesterday.
That’s great for him, and on some level, it would be nice, but I just don’t think I’m built that way. Maybe it was because I was a pretty stressed out, anxious and sometimes unhappy child. Or perhaps I have seen how much I’ve been able to improve my life and my relationships with others through learning about psychology, reading a lot, going to therapy, making specific behavioural changes, and continuing to monitor and challenge myself over time.
A quote by Charles Bukowski probably sums it up better than I ever could:
Some Worrying Statistics
We’re meant to do at least 4 hours of moderately vigorous physical activity each week according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and yet researchers have found that the average American adult only does 17 minutes each day.
According to the 2017 OECD findings, more than 50% of adults and nearly one-in-six children are overweight or obese and this figure is projected to increase further by the year 2030.
The World Health Organisation says that 3 million people died worldwide in 2016 as a result of harmful alcohol use in 2016. Fortunately, the drinking of alcohol has continued to decrease in Australia since its peak in 1974-1975. However, regular teen consumption of alcohol is still the most significant risk factor for problematic drinking of alcohol in adulthood.
In 2014 in the US, 6.2 million people were reported to suffer from an illicit substance use disorder, and more than 115 people die every day from opioid abuse or misuse.
Social isolation and loneliness are becoming much bigger problems these days, with one-quarter of all Americans reporting in a survey that they have no one that they can discuss important matters with or call in case of an emergency. Both social isolation and loneliness are correlated with an increased risk of dying younger too.
The average American household was watching 8 hours and 55 minutes of TV a day in 2009-2010 (the peak), but this has only dropped down to 7 hours and 50 minutes per household in 2018, which is still an extremely high amount. Viewing time per household increased every decade since the 1950s, and now seems to be the thing that Americans do for leisure, as was brilliantly documented in Robert Putnam’s sociological book “Bowling Alone”.
59% of all Americans and (48% of Europeans) now play video games, including 97% of teenagers in the US. A 2016 study found that 6% of gamers worldwide could be considered to be addicted, and another study found that 7% were problematic gamers, who played at least 30 hours each week.
Lastly, smart-phone usage continues to increase around the world, with excessive social media and smartphone usage also being linked to adverse mental health outcomes. As I’ve previously mentioned in another blog post, Australia is now fourth in the world regarding smartphone usage. The average for all Australian mobile phone users is 2.5 hours a day, which adds up to 38 days per year. We check something on our phone 30 separate times each day, and 45% of Australians now say that they couldn’t live without their phones.
Putting all of these statistics together, it’s pretty easy to see the long-term consequences of our brains wanting to conserve energy, take the easy option, or avoid pain. These little, seemingly insignificant moments probably happen at least 20 times a day, and in each moment, as long as we are paying attention, we have a choice. We can stay on autopilot and do what is easy, or we can tune into our core values, ask ourselves what type of person we would like to become in the long-run, and then take the action that is consistent with this vision, even if it feels strange or different or outright uncomfortable.
Going to the gym will always hurt the first time you go, but the 20 minute walk that you choose to do today is better than the 10km run that you put off until next week. It may be tempting to say that you’ll start a new diet next Monday, but why put off making a healthy decision in the here-and-now if you don’t have to? It is these moments that will eventually define who you become, and you can begin to make a positive long-term change today…
But What Do We Do if We Want to Change?
So let me ask you the following three questions:
Is there anything in your life that you wish you could do more of?
Is there anything in your life that you wish you could do less of?
What is stopping you from making these changes?
If you answered YES to either question 1 or 2, and you don’t know the answer to number 3, it is worth exploring deeper…
It is worth finding out what makes you tick. It is worth finding out what your values are, what your personality is like, what your strengths are, and maybe even your attachment style. Change is possible…and inevitable. You just have to know what steps to take. I wish you the best of luck on your journey of self-discovery and growth. Like me, I doubt that you will regret it.
In 2004, Tom Butler-Bowden, an Australian born author based in England, released the book ’50 Success Classics: Winning Wisdom for Work & Life from 50 Landmark Books’.
As well as summarising classic books such as Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’, and Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think and Get Rich’, Butler-Bowden also suggests his own list of 10 characteristics that successful people all have in the introduction to his book. Let’s see if there is any research to support his claims:
1. An optimistic outlook
In ‘Learned Optimism,’ Martin Seligman shows that having an optimistic mindset, or favourable expectations towards the future, leads to better mental and physical health. Optimistic individuals have better immune functioning and are less likely to develop depression (Carver et al., 2010). They are also more likely to persevere in tough challenges and are therefore more likely to experience psychological growth following a traumatic experience (Prati & Pietrantoni, 2009). Optimism can also reduce mortality rates over a four year (Galatzer-Levy & Bonanno, 2014) and forty year period (Brummett, Helms, Dahlstrom, & Siegler, 2006).
The good news is that an optimistic mindset can be taught and developed. A recent meta-analysis by Malouff and Schutte (2016) showed that across 29 studies, an individual’s optimism level does significantly increase with training. The most effective way to do this is with the ‘Best Possible Self’ intervention: “Imagine yourself in the future after everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded in accomplishing all the goals of your life …” – Boselie et al., 2014, p. 335
Optimism training works. However, you must keep it up as the benefits typically wane once the intervention has finished.
2. A definite aim, purpose, or vision
“The primary cause of success in life is the ability to set and achieve goals. That’s why the people who do not have goals are doomed forever to work for the people who do. You either work to achieve your own goals or work to achieve someone else’s.” — Brian Tracy
Although I like this quote, Stephen Covey provides a caveat to this when he says that there is no point exerting all of your energy climbing up a ladder that is leaning against the wrong wall. First, we must determine where it is that we would like to climb.
“The key to prospering and adapting in the coming decades amidst an ever-escalating rate of change is to first be clear about and resolutely dedicated to what you stand for and why that should never change. You must then be just as resolutely willing to change absolutely everything else.” — J.W. Marriott Jr.
Successful people are clear on what their values are and what they stand for before taking purposeful action. Values clarification and committed action are two of the six essential components of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, with the other four elements focused on teaching clients mindfulness skills. According to the American Psychological Association, ACT has strong research support for chronic pain, and modest research support for depression, anxiety, OCD and psychosis.
An interesting study by Chase et al. (2013) found that goal setting alone had no effect on students grade point averages (GPAs) across a semester. However, it did when training in values clarification was provided alongside the goal setting. The clarifying of values before setting goals also significantly reduced the drop out rate of these students the following semester (Chase et al., 2013).
3. A willingness to work hard and persevere
“There is absolutely no limit to what plain, ordinary people can accomplish if they’re given the opportunity and the encouragement and the incentive to do their best. It takes risk, hard work, knowing where you want to go and being willing to do what it takes to get there.” — Sam Walton
Professor Angela Duckworth studied the students at West Point Military Academy over some years and tried to determine which ones made it through to graduation. She was aware that each cadet admitted to West Point was intelligent, physically fit and had excellent grades and test scores. She was also cognizant that nearly 6% of the cadets dropped out during the first seven weeks (Beast Barracks training), and one-fifth dropped out before graduation.
Eventually, Duckworth identified two qualities that were more predictive than anything else for determining which students made it to the end: 1. passion and 2. perseverance. Together, they make up a quality known as grit. People who score high in grit are much more likely to put in the effort required, do whatever it takes and persist until they succeed. She has since found that grit is a great predictor of success in other areas too.
“Often we are caught in a mental trap of seeing enormously successful people and thinking they are where they are because they have some special gift. Yet a closer look shows that the greatest gift that extraordinarily successful people have over the average person is their ability to get themselves to take action.” — Anthony Robbins
4. Discipline to consistently work until goals are achieved
“Undoubtedly, we become what we envisage… Genuine success requires both courage and character – patience, discipline and rationality.” — Claude Bristol
Duckworth and colleagues (2010) have also researched self-discipline, and show that this needs to be sustained for long-term goal commitment and implementation. Without this self-discipline, adolescents struggle to set long-term goals and strive towards them.
Fortunately, it can be improved using two strategies:
Mental contrasting – elaborate upon a future that you desire with the relevant obstacles that you currently face.
Implementation intentions – identify the action that you will take when an opportunity arises that is relevant to your goal.
In comparison to a control writing exercise, eleventh-grade students who spent 30-minutes writing on the above two strategies completed over 60% more practice questions in preparation for a high-stakes exam. This indicated a higher level of self-discipline in the pursuit of a meaningful goal (Duckworth et al., 2010), which over time could result in higher knowledge, deeper understanding, and better results and grades.
“The first step on the road to success is good character. The second is openness to new perspectives. The third is ensuring that daily action is shaped by higher aims, with the knowledge that you always reap what you sow.” — Stephen Covey
5. An integrated mind utilising both logic and intuition
In his excellent book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” Daniel Kahneman talks about our two systems of interpreting the world.
The first one, appropriately named ‘system one’ is perceived quickly, is instinctual and is generally our emotional reaction, or our intuition. ‘System two’ takes more effort and time to access but is also more rational and logical.
As Kahneman shows in his research, people typically use heuristics when making decisions or judgments, which are generally adequate but not optimal solutions to severe problems. This uses our first system and helps us to conserve brain power, but it is only accurate about 80% of the time.
Successful people are able to utilise both system one and system two. If the decision has minimal long-term consequences, such as what to have for dinner, system one is excellent. If the decision has potentially significant implications, however, such as whether or not to buy a house or change jobs, the more energy depleting and more accurate system two going to be better, even if it takes more time to come up with the right answer for you.
“Stroll through the open spaces of time to the center of opportunity. Wise hesitation ripens success and brings secrets to maturity. The crutch of time can do more than the steely club of Hercules.. Fortune gives large rewards to those who wait.” — Baltasar Gracian
6. Prolific reading
Reading fiction has been shown to be great for developing empathy towards others as it really does provide an opportunity to see inside the characters head and experience their internal world in a way that you often don’t get in movies or TV shows. It’s helpful for developing imagination, as the brain works to create the visual images that it reads in words on the page. 30 minutes of reading has also been shown to significantly reduce acute stress as indicated by lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure and lowered heart rate (Rizzolo, Zipp, Stiskal & Simpkins, 2009).
I love reading non-fiction because of how much I can learn from the experts in psychology and related fields for such a low cost. If I were to see them give a talk or book a one-on-one consult, I might be paying up to a $1000, and it would only be scratching the surface of all of the fantastic knowledge that they have accumulated in their lives. That is if I could even get a chance to see them. A book in comparison is $30 or less and contains the majority of their pearls of wisdom in one place. Sure, some books can take a while to get through. However, the value for money and knowledge gained is definitely worth it.
“The movers and the shakers of the world are often professional modelers – people who have mastered the art of learning everything they can by following other people’s experiences rather than their own.” — Anthony Robbins
7. The willingness to take risks
There is a big difference between always engaging in risky behaviour, and being willing to take risks when it is the sound decision to make. Someone like Sir Richard Branson has taken many chances with his Virgin empire, and if it weren’t for these risks, then he wouldn’t have been able to expand and grow at the level that he has. For optimal success, some degree of risk does need to be taken.
“People that don’t risk anything will inevitably find themselves behind those that do. You can lead a change or it can lead you.” — J.W. Marriott Jr.
However, recent research looking at female and male CEOs supports the notion that too much risk isn’t a good thing either. Faccio, Marchica and Mura (2016) found that firms run by male CEOs tend to make riskier decisions, with generally higher leverage and more volatile earnings than firms run by female CEOs. They are also less likely to remain in operation in comparison to firms run by female CEOs (Faccio et al., 2016). More significant risks may lead to higher growth, but also a higher risk of overall collapse.
8. Understanding the power of expectation
Successful people think big instead of small, and believe that they can achieve anything they set their mind to, even if it takes more effort, setbacks and time than they initially envisioned. If thinking big is combined with grit, a growth mindset, and the right timing, look out. There’s no saying how much someone could achieve.
“When our attitude toward ourselves is big, and our attitude towards others is generous and merciful, we attract big and generous portions of success.” –Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone
Research indicates that individuals who believe that they can improve are more likely to actually grow (Bergsma, 2008). Higher expectations have been shown to strengthen hope, increase determination and goal completion (Geraghty, Wood, & Hyland, 2010). Higher expectations of outcome can also improve distress tolerance (Williams, Thompson, & Andrews, 2013).
9. Developing mastery in what is most important to them
“The world does not dictate what you shall do, but it does require that you be a master in whatever you undertake.” — Orison Swett Marden
While it may be tempting to try to learn as many different things as possible, the saying “jack of all trades; master of none” often becomes the consequence for people that try to take on too many different projects or career paths all at once.
Warren Buffett has been quoted as once saying to his pilot that he should write down the top 25 things that he wanted to do in life, then circle his top 5 priorities, and finally label items 6-25 as “avoid at all costs” until items 1-5 were completed.
The reason for this is that to reach full mastery can take a long time. Up to 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in many cases, as proposed by Malcolm Gladwell and Anders Ericsson. This equates to nearly 7 hours a day of deliberate practice, every day, for four straight years. If we take these numbers seriously, it makes sense to not spread yourself too thin, unless you don’t want to develop mastery in anything.
“I believe the true road to pre-eminent success in any line is to make yourself master of that line. I have no faith in the policy of scattering one’s resources.” –Andrew Carnegie
10. Well-roundedness and balance
Developing proficiency and accumulating achievements in one area of your life isn’t going to mean much if you are not also a success as a person.
“No kind action is ever lost. You will be indebted to these trifles for some of the happiest attentions and the most pleasing incidents of (your) life.” — Andrew Carnegie
After watching ‘The Founder’ movie based on the life of Ray Kroc, I was appalled by how willing he was to trample on anyone in his way throughout the pursuit of wealth and power without a second thought. This included ignoring his first wife, poaching the wife of another business associate, not keeping his word, and screwing the initial founders of McDonald’s for millions of dollars annually.
“Systematic giving is a powerful practice that blesses every phase of our lives, as it keeps us attuned to the wealth of the universe.” — Catherine Ponder
Ray Kroc was a workaholic, with his famous catchphrase “if you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean” still repeated throughout McDonald’s franchises worldwide.
“Without time for recovery, our lives become a blur of doing unbalanced by much opportunity for being.” — Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz
If no time is dedicated to personal growth, spiritual growth, health, relaxation, leisure, relationships and community, it becomes difficult to have the well-being, vitality, meaning and support required to achieve ongoing success.
My two cents
Remember, relationship warmth is the number one predictor of long-term health and happiness, not how much money you have in the bank, or how hard you have worked.
Focus on building genuine connection and a sense of belonging with others who embrace you for who you are. Don’t let old friendships go by if they give you these things.
“Various scientific studies have proven that if you learn how to deal with other people, you will have gone about 85% of the way down the road to success in any business, occupation, or profession, and about 99% of the way down the road to personal happiness.” -– Les Giblin
Try to be kind, compassionate, patient and accepting. To others, but mainly to yourself. No one is perfect, and we all fall into the same traps time and time again. If you can learn from these mistakes, you will improve and grow.
Lastly, try to accumulate positive experiences, not things. Materialism and consumerism are empty pursuits, void of meaning and purpose. Doing fun, new or helpful things alongside the people you love never is.
After writing this blog for just over three years now, I find it quite interesting to see what types of posts are immediately successful, and which articles continue to be successful over a long period of time.
Most posts tend to track like the typical movies being released at the cinema, or book at the book store, or song at the record store (back when they still existed). Their biggest week of views (or sales) tends to occur right near the start, and a lousy opening release indicates that the overall views (or sales) aren’t likely to be that great either. Very rarely, this isn’t the case.
At boxofficemojo.com, they even talk about and predict opening multipliers for films, or how much a movie will gross in comparison to its opening weekend takings. One of the most significant drops was the remake of ‘Friday the 13th’ in 2009. It grossed over $40 million in the first week, less than $8 million in the second week, and only $65 million all up on the US Box office. This was a multiplier of only 1.625, indicating that it had no staying power. Essentially, anyone who wanted to see it saw it as soon as it came out, and that was it.
At the opposite end of the spectrum you have ‘La La Land’, which started out with just over $9 million in ticket sales in the US in the first week, but over $12.5 million the second week and more than $151 million at the US box office all up. Good reviews and Oscar buzz must have played a bit of a role, as its overall take was nearly 17 times that of its opening weekend. In 2005, ‘Sideways’ produced a multiplier of nearly 30 times that of its opening weekend, and ‘Titanic’ and ‘E.T.’ remained at #1 at the US Box office for 15 and 16 weeks respectively.
Avatar is the highest grossing movie of all time worldwide. It stayed in release for 238 days and grossed nearly 2.8 billion dollars, or $600million more than Titanic, the second place movie of all time worldwide, also directed by James Cameron. Apparently, he knows how to make films that impact people.
In the U.K., Wet Wet Wet pulled their song ‘Love is All Around’ after 15 weeks at number 1 on the charts, and Gnarls Barkly did the same with their song ‘Crazy’ after 9 weeks at #1. While most bands would love nothing more than for their song to reach the top of the charts, sometimes other artists want to pull their song before everyone gets sick of it, worrying that they will become forever known as one-hit wonders otherwise (can anyone remember or name another Wet Wet Wet or Gnarls Barkly song?).
Other songs may not have even been that big at the time, but continue to be hits months and years after first being released. ‘Mr Brightside’ by the Killers, ‘Chasing Cars’ by Snow Patrol and ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra never even reached number 1 on the UK charts, but remained in the top 100 singles chart for 203, 166 and 133 weeks in total respectively.
With books, ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho stands out like no other. Initially, sales were so slow when it was first published in Portuguese in 1988 that the rights of the book were given back to the author after a year. Since then, it has gone on to win over 100 international awards, been translated into 80 languages, and sold over 65 million. And most people already know that Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before it was finally accepted, and then sold 120 million.
So how is it that some movies, books and songs defy the odds and have seemingly miraculous staying power? I’m not sure if the exact reason is fully known, but it does seem to be that they all make an emotional impact on the audience and come out at the right place and the right time to have the effect that they do. One year earlier or later, and the same magic just may not be recreated. It’s why remakes often fail.
What if you could recreate that though? Are there certain elements that all big successes have? That helps things go viral? That lead to box office or New York Times bestselling gold?
Let’s find out what makes ideas genuinely stick, why relationships always seem to interest people and the most important thing you need to know if you want your relationship to endure and stand the test of time…
Looking at the above list of top ten videos on YouTube, are there any similarities that seem evident to you?
Yes, 9 out of the 10 are music videos, and all have been released since 2012. This indicates to me that YouTube is getting more and more popular as a platform to watch videos, and music videos have something about them that makes people want to watch them again and again. But what is it?
In their book ‘Made to Stick’, Chip and Dan Heath show that any idea that is successful has two essential qualities:
It is memorable, and
People are eager to pass it onwards
They also say that successful ideas all tend to have the following six elements, which they use the acronym SUCCES for. They are:
S – Simple: They manage to uncover the core of the idea, and don’t complicate it too much beyond that. Like a boy survives evil, but his parents don’t; gets rescued from an awful family; goes to wizard school, and is the one chosen to save the day.
U – Unexpected: They surprise people and grab their attention by doing something unexpected. ‘Gangnam Style’ definitely did this.
C – Concrete: They make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later. Like this plot: Poor boy meets rich girl on a big boat; they fall in love; the ship hits iceberg and sinks; the rich girl doesn’t share the door; the poor boy dies.
C – Credible: They make an idea believable or give it credibility. Expert or celebrity testimonials in ads might be the best example of this.
E – Emotional: They help people to see the importance of an idea. Watch ‘Sugar’ by Maroon 5, and you’ll see that it has a clear emotional tone (surprise, joy), and the message is obvious (Having a famous band randomly turn up to play at your wedding would make a pretty cool story to tell the grandkids one day).
S – Story: They empower people to use an idea through the power of story. Think of how successful Marvel has been with their movies through the power of storytelling, and how DC hasn’t quite managed the same. ‘Batman vs Superman’ sucked.
Yes, I am aware that they didn’t include a final S in their acronym, but maybe that is the Heath’s way of being unexpected. I still find it annoying.
Why Does the Topic of Relationships Always Seem to Interest People?
As I was saying earlier, my most successful post looked at how dating has changed over the years, especially since the invention of online dating. The article does try to tell a story, is surprising for people to see how times have changed, and is broken down into small, simple, easy to digest parts. It is also credible because it’s based on a book by a celebrity and a Sociology researcher, and has some concrete do’s and don’t for texting in the courting phase of dating. This essentially means that the post was sticky, even though I didn’t realise at the time.
Having said that, people do seem to love learning or reading about relationships, and this may have played a bigger role than anything I wrote about or didn’t do in my other posts. Would ‘Titanic’ or ‘Avatar’ been as massively successful as they were if it weren’t for the central role that the relationships played in the movies. I highly doubt it.
Looking at any celebrity gossip magazines, a lot of them centre around who may or may not be getting together with each other or breaking up or cheating on one another. Even I have read far and wide on the topics of relationships, with ‘Mating in Captivity’ by Ester Perel and ‘Essays in Love’ and ‘The Course of Love’ by Alain de Botton being the three best books about relationships that I’ve read already in 2018.
Now that you know how to create something that can stand the test of time let’s look at how to make relationships last. The most important predictor, according to the most productive and scientific relationship researcher John Gottman, is something known as conflict style. He can predict with over 90% accuracy whether or not a couple will make it in the long-term after watching them discuss a contentious issue together for only 5 minutes. This is about how long it takes to get a good sense of what someone’s preferred conflict style is.
Conflict styles are something that exists on a spectrum, but there are three main points along the continuum:
At one end, we have an avoidant conflict style. These individuals will try to avoid conflict at all costs, and would rather focus on the good things in their relationship and sweep the bad stuff under the rug. Their motto may be “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it!” even if a vase has just broken in the living room.
At the other end, we have a volatile conflict style. These individuals don’t care what they say or how they say it, as long as everything that is on their mind is out in the open and the other person has heard it. Their motto may be “better out than in!” no matter who’s feelings get hurt.
In the middle, we have a validating conflict style. These individuals won’t bring up every little issue that they have in a relationship, but they will discuss the important stuff in a calm, rational manner until a nice compromise has been reached that works well for both parties. Their motto may be: “be honest AND respectful, and we can get through anything!”
Now most psychologists will say that the validating conflict style is ideal, but Gottman’s research actually suggests that all three approaches can lead to long and happy relationships – the key is whether or not your conflict style matches up with your partner or not.
If your ideal style is avoidant and your partner is volatile, then the four horsemen of the apocalypse will appear in the relationship sooner rather than later, and break-up town will be the destination. Same with avoidant-validating and validating-volatile relationships. Unless you can find common ground with how you want to deal with the inevitable disagreements that will occur, the connection cannot last. Not happily anyway.
If you found any of this information memorable or useful, please feel free to share it or pass it onto others. This post probably won’t be the next ‘Mr Brightside’, and that’s okay by me. I’m happy to compromise…
Life-traps are self-defeating ways of perceiving, feeling about and interacting with oneself, others and the world.
If you are wanting to get a sense of what your life-traps may be, the book ‘Reinventing your life’ by Jeffrey Young is an excellent place to start, as it goes into 11 different ones. If you want a more in-depth analysis, however, then do go and see a Psychologist who specialises in Schema Therapy.
A Psychologist has much more thorough and scientific questionnaires that can give you results on 18 schemas (life-traps), help you to identify your most common traps, and show you what you can do both in therapy and outside of it whenever you realise that you have fallen into a trap.
I have taken the Young Schema Questionnaire (YSQ-L3) three times now to help identify my main life-traps. The first time was at the beginning of 2014 when I was stuck in the middle of a complicated relationship while also trying to complete the last part of my Doctoral thesis and play basketball at a semi-professional level.
The second time was in April 2017, when I was in a Clinical Psychology job that I loved and a warm and supportive relationship. I had also stopped playing basketball at such an intense level, and was just playing with some friends (and without a coach) twice a week, which was way more fun.
The most recent time was August 2018, where I had just finished up my work in private practice in Melbourne, Australia and was about to leave my friends and family to volunteer for two years in Port Vila, Vanuatu as past of the Australian Volunteers Program (funded by the Australian Government).
I’d like to share these results with you to show you that:
context influences personality and how people view themselves, the world and others,
personality and ways of perceiving yourself, relationships and the world can change, and
even though it is possible to grow and improve over time, we all still fall into traps at times, and this is okay. It’s about trying to identify when you have fallen into a trap, and then knowing what you need to do to get out of it.
When looking at the results, a 100% score would mean that I have answered every item for that life-trap a 6, which means that they describe me perfectly. The higher the % score, the more likely it is that I will frequently fall into this life-trap.
By looking at the table above, the green items indicate an improvement in comparison to the prior assessment, meaning that these life-traps are a little bit less powerful for me. The yellow indicates no change since the last assessment, and the red indicates a worse score, meaning that these life-traps may have a more powerful sway over me.
From 2014 to 2017, 7 out of the initial top-10 life-traps had improved, one stayed the same, and two had worsened. Two additional traps not included in the initial top 10 had worsened and made the list (Negativity/Pessimism & Mistrust/Abuse).
From 2017 to 2018, 7 out of the 2017 top-10 life-traps had improved yet again, with one staying the same and two worsening. One additional trap (Vulnerability to harm/illness) had increased, but I believe this was due to the medical and safety briefings that I had been going through in the preparation of moving to Vanuatu for 2 years.
Overall, I am less likely to fall into any life-trap in 2018 than I was in 2014 and 2017. The average of my top ten in 2014 was 53.29%, whereas in 2017 it was 48.28% and in 2018 it was 46.13%.
I also rated 21 items a 6 (= describes me perfectly) in 2014, only five in 2017, and none in 2018. This means that I am much less likely to get completely pushed around by my life-traps, but they still do have some sway on me, especially the self-sacrifice and the emotional deprivation schemas, and to a lesser degree punitiveness and subjugation.
Here is Young’s description of these schemas:
SELF-SACRIFICE: Excessive focus on voluntarily meeting the needs of others in daily situations, at the expense of one’s own gratification. The most common reasons are: to prevent causing pain to others; to avoid guilt from feeling selfish; or to maintain the connection with others perceived as needy. Often results from an acute sensitivity to the pain of others. Sometimes leads to a sense that one’s own needs are not being adequately met and to resentment of those who are taken care of.
EMOTIONAL DEPRIVATION: Expectation that one’s desire for a normal degree of emotional support will not be adequately met by others. The three major forms of deprivation are:
Deprivation of Nurturance: Absence of attention, affection, warmth, or companionship.
Deprivation of Empathy: Absence of understanding, listening, self-disclosure, or mutual sharing of feelings from others.
Deprivation of Protection: Absence of strength, direction, or guidance from others.
SUBJUGATION: Excessive surrendering of control to others because one feels coerced – usually to avoid anger, retaliation, or abandonment. The two major forms of subjugation are:
1. Subjugation of Needs: Suppression of one’s preferences, decisions, and desires.
2. Subjugation of Emotions: Suppression of emotional expression, especially anger.
Subjugation usually involves the perception that one’s own desires, opinions, and feelings are not valid or important to others. Frequently presents as excessive compliance, combined with hypersensitivity to feeling trapped. Generally leads to a build up of anger, manifested in maladaptive symptoms (e.g., passive-aggressive behaviour, uncontrolled outbursts of temper, psychosomatic symptoms, withdrawal of affection, “acting out”, substance abuse).
PUNITIVENESS: The belief that people should be harshly punished for making mistakes. Involves the tendency to be angry, intolerant, punitive, and impatient with oneself for not meeting one’s expectations or standards. Usually includes difficulty forgiving mistakes in oneself, because of a reluctance to consider extenuating circumstances, allow for human imperfection, or empathize with one’s feelings.
Three out of my top four life-traps have improved since 2014, but emotional deprivation unfortunately continues to climb with each assessment. I’m not entirely sure why, but I do think that self-sacrifice, subjugation and emotional deprivation schemas may be common life-traps for people who decide to become psychologists. The therapeutic relationship is meant to be one sided, and focused on the patient or client’s needs, not the psychologist’s needs. It is for this reason that it is crucial for psychologists to get their relational needs met outside of their job, and to get their own therapy if needed to ensure that they can have a space that is about them too. I wonder how these life-traps will continue to evolve over the next two years while I am in Vanuatu…
How Can Life-traps Be Overcome?
The first step to changing anything is awareness. If you are not aware that you are falling into any traps, it means that you either don’t have any, or you are so enmeshed in your experience that you cannot see them.
Once you have an awareness of your traps, the next step is to try to understand them and why they occur for you. Most life-traps originate in childhood typically, which is why most psychologists and psychiatrists will ask about your upbringing and your relationship with your parents in particular.
Life-traps are actually considered to be adaptive ways of coping with maladaptive environments. What this means is that your life-traps were probably quite useful in the particular family dynamic that you had, or you wouldn’t have developed them in the first place. For example, my family often called me a martyr when I was younger, because I said that it didn’t matter what I wanted. In reality, it was just much more comfortable to let everyone else decide and take charge. Then if things didn’t work out, I couldn’t be blamed. I saw it as a win-win, but often didn’t get what I wanted, because I didn’t speak up, and then complained that my parents loved my siblings more, who were more than happy to speak up and ask for what they wanted.
Once you move out of the family home, however, these ways of coping are generally not as effective, and tend to become maladaptive ways of interacting with yourself, others or the world. If I keep playing martyr and refuse speak up as an adult, my needs still don’t get met. As a result, I may become excessively demanding of others as a counterattack measure (not likely for me), or I may try to escape from all relationships where I need to speak up about my needs. Either way, it keeps the life-trap going, and it isn’t helpful.
I need to realise that there are relationships out there where it is beneficial for me to speak up, as people then know what I want, and can then respond effectively to the situation at hand. It still doesn’t “feel right” when I think about telling others my wants or needs (and I’m not sure if it ever will), but I logically know that it is the best approach for me to take going forward. If I want to break free from my main life-traps, I have to learn to speak up, in a reasonable way, when it is important to me (and others). By doing this, eventually, the life-traps will become much less prevalent and less powerful too.
If you have been trying with therapy for a long time but don’t think that you are getting anywhere, please do seek out a Psychologist with experience in Schema Therapy. If you are stuck in a relationship where your needs aren’t being met, it could help too.
Learning about Schema Therapy and undergoing training in it has taught me more about my own personal life-traps than anything else that I have done before and really does give me a sense of what my most significant challenges are going forward. I’ve made a lot of progress so far, but there is still a long way to go, and that is okay. With acceptance, self-compassion, patience, reflection and perseverance I know that I will continue to improve, and I am confident that you can too!