Sunday, December 7, 2014

Relationship Dynamics - The Good & The Bad

Here is the latest topic that I’ve been pondering. Relationship dynamics. I’m talking more about the dynamics between two people rather than in a group of people here.

When I was younger, I used to believe that we just are who we are. No matter what friends we have, or who we date, we’re always the same person…we’re always “us”. But in reality, that’s not necessarily true. The relationship dynamics are so different from person to person that you interact with, because it depends not just on you, but on them. Have you ever had a friend who was really quiet, so you started to naturally take on a more outgoing type role? Or how about the opposite…having a friend who talks so much you naturally just become quieter to “make space” for that person? It happens all the time. We make accomodations for the people in our lives. So even if we’re still “us”, there can be a lot of versions of who we are, depending on the person we are around.

I think the real key to successful relationships is finding someone who is really compatible with us. They allow us to be the best person we can be. We don't have to worry about being too quiet, too loud, too moody, too excitable, too boring, or whatever. 

Take for example my first serious boyfriend. He and I just meshed. We never fought, we always got along and personality wise, we were very much alike. He never pressured me to be anything different than what I was and I never pressured him to be different than how he was. It alleviated a lot of tension and a lot of potential issues. I was young and took it for granted, thinking I'd be that way in all relationships, that I would always be free to be me, and that it would be simple and easy.

 A later relationship I had was the total opposite. He was kind of overbearing, and had very clear ideas about “what a man does” and “what a woman does”. Even though I’m not generally a passive person in relationships, I began to take on that role because of him. And I really didn’t like it. I wasn’t happy being “the little woman”. But after awhile I stopped rocking the boat because I didn't want to cause tension, which just left me unhappy. He and I did not mesh on a lot of things and it caused a lot of conflict. It was a huge relief when that relationship ended and I didn’t have to take on a role/roles that I didn’t want or "tone down" parts of myself to suit someone else. Yes, Underneath, I was the same person, but because of outside factors coming from the him, it affected me quite a bit, and my behavior and reaction to things changed into a person I didn't really recognize.

My current relationship has been very toxic for a very long time. He and I are not very compatible people, and most of the time it has been like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It doesn’t fit and trying to make it fit is a big pain. There is constant fighting, arguing and just negativity. Rather than bringing out the best in each other, we bring out the worst in each other. For awhile, I started to think that was just who I was…a negative, angry and depressed person. But when I started getting away from him more, I noticed I wasn’t that way! I was happier, more positive and just, in general, a better person. The dynamics between us caused this perfect storm of crap that became inescapable. Which I why I realized I had to get out.

Now, I’m aware of all of these things. I realize that we are who we are, but that can change somewhat depending on the particular dynamics with any other individual. The best relationships help you thrive and be the best version of you. The worst relationships make all your negative traits come out and can leave you feeling lost and unrecognizable to yourself. It makes me think about people quite a bit, and why we end up with who we do, and what we get out of these relationships. Thankfully, I've learned a lot from all the relationships/friendships I've had in life and that has me better prepared to not settle for bad dynamics with someone and to keep looking for something that brings out the best.

Going forward in life, I’m interested in finding people (friends, lovers, or otherwise) that have that positive dynamic with me. People that I don’t have to “dial myself down” for or otherwise change. People often make the comment after relationships fail that, “There are plenty of fish in the sea!” And while that may be true that there are millions of people on this earth and a plethora of potential meetings/friendships/relationships you could have, it doesn’t mean that everyone you meet you will want to be around! Worse yet, no one should force themselves to be around someone they have a bad dynamic with, although sadly it happens a lot. Low self-esteem, loneliness, dysfuctional coping mechanisms and a whole host of other things contribute to us staying in relationships/friendships with bad dynamics. At this point in my life, I realized that I would rather be alone than deal with any of that garbage. Maybe I will find great new people that I'm just DYING to be around, and maybe I'll just find shallow surface friendships/relationships. But I know better than to settle for less than I want anymore.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mental Stimulation and always striving for MORE

I got to really thinking about our brains and about the idea of mental stimulation. Now, granted, everyone needs mental stimulation because we are human beings. No one wants a life that is dull, boring or monotonous. But I think some people *cough cough – like me – cough cough* have more of an extreme need for this kind of stimulation than others. It has nothing to do with any sort of “mental illness” either. It’s just how I am. Let me dig into this a little more.

I made a video a couple of years ago, I don’t think I ever uploaded it though, about this idea. I believe I called it “over active brain.” I’ve kind of always been this way, with a constantly active mind, but I think it is increasing with age instead of decreasing. There are some times when I really feel almost like a computer and that I can just sit and have all this output spitting out from my mind through my hands or body. It’s kind of a cool yet intense feeling. I think perhaps this is why I have a tendency toward more elevated periods in recent years. I really honestly believe that the two sort of feed off each other. The more elevated you become, the more open your mind is and the more knowledge you can access. But it works the other way too. Actively working to use my mind for something somewhat strenuous causes my mind to open and then I can go on to become elevated. It’s a very interesting circle, a weird feedback loop going on.

Anyway, back to this idea of mental stimulation. I realized a few years back that I am a person that really needs it. Now, obviously, not everyone has mental stimulation all the time from outside sources. Sometimes our relationships are boring, jobs are boring, our day to day life is boring! For a long time I just accepted that. I would sit with my husband night after night in the dead of winter, bored, watching TV shows. UGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH *clawing my brain* I became so mentally inactive it was terrible and my moods really suffered. I noticed I was sort of apathetic and my brain felt like it had started to atrophy and shrivel.

With day to day responsibilities, it can be hard to find time to engage in meaningful activities or interesting activities. But I finally decided I was going to. Writing has always been a really big outlet for me, and that is great, and I continue to blog, journal, write prose. But there are so many other things that I want to do/try and am starting to get into more. I find that when I get good at something, or have learned a lot about something, I become slightly bored with it and I need to move on to the next thing and attempt to master that. Obviously the more you do something the more adept you will be at it (generally, and especially if you have a passion for it. Now, if you’re repetitively doing the same thing again and again and don’t care, I dunno. Haha.) I get a weird kind of pleasure and excitement over the idea of mastering any sort of skill/concept/ability. Also it isn’t really narrowly defined in my case. It could literally apply to anything, as long as it’s challenging my thinking abilities.

In the world, there are endless possibilities.  I’m naturally a pretty creative person and so I gravitate toward those expressive areas – writing, music, art, literature. But really, anything that challenges my mind is exciting to me. Maybe part of that plays into the novelty of something. Naturally, everyone gets excited by something new because it’s unknown and you don’t know what to expect. Eventually the novelty of anything wears off though and you’re left seeking the next thing. So that can leave a person feeling empty if they don’t have something else to fill that gap. But I never ever have any shortage of ideas or things to fill it with. In fact, I think I have TOO much!

Most people wind down from their day at night, but I am the opposite. It’s when I’m most alert, I cannot wait for the day to be over usually and for 9 PM to roll around so that I can start purging my brain of all the things that are whirling inside of it constantly. And it’s really a gratifying feeling to be able to take something that is a mere abstract idea and make it into a reality simply by your sheer force of will and desire. To take something completely intangible existing only within the spaces in one’s mind and form it into something physical, concrete, and easily able to share with others is darn cool. Very very cool.

But at the same time, it can be a little tough to deal with. It leaves me restless sometimes because I have so much I want to do and seemingly so little time to do it and I get thwarted by just, well, day to day life. Also I get so interested in something, either wanting to do it, or learn about it, that I become obsessively consumed by it and the urgency can be unbearable. Like reading a book and not being patient enough to get through it, but wanting to siphon the entire volume of information into my brain at once. Or trying out a new skill, like video editing software, and not wanting to learn all the ins and outs but to just sit down and DO IT. That sort of furious, urgent NEED to do it can feel good and bad at the same time. Sometimes I gorge on something so much for so long I just drop it entirely. Then a couple months later, I circle back around and go back to it incessantly. It’s kind of bad too because I sometimes become so consumed with something I sacrifice sleep and even food because I don’t want to tear myself away from it. It’s almost like mental stimulation is like a drug to me, and I can be like that lab rat that gets administered doses of heroin and will keep pressing the button to get that pleasurable reward to the detriment of its own health. (Hey that just gave me another random idea about correlation between elevated states and addiction in our reward circuitry…interesting…)

Currently I am interested in getting some software/hardware to record music and voice, I am also interested in getting back into drawing (which I did as a teen and sporadically over the years) and trying my hand at painting, I’m interested in some makeup design as well, on top of all my usual reading, research, etc. etc. So much stuff…infinite possibilities…but so little time….

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Motivations and Needs - Are all people just selfish?

So today I want to write about this idea of motivation. Not really People Who Are Motivated To Do Stuff (e.g. ambitious, driven) vs. People Who Are Unmotivated To Do Stuff (e.g. lazy, procrastinating), but more of internal motivations for what we do as human beings. I’m always digging down, down, down, to the root of things and believe that everything starts somewhere. And where do our motivations for doing (or not doing) anything stem from? Well, ourselves of course.

Now, it might be said that I am at times cynical. However, I like to think of myself as a realist. I think of being cynical as more hard and skeptical of everything, whereas being a realist means you see it as it is and accept that THAT IS JUST THE WAY IT IS.

As a realist, I try not to get my hopes up about things that involve others because ultimately I do understand human nature and that innately, people are generally selfish. Whenever I mention this, inevitably someone will say to me “Not everyone is like that!” Or something to that effect. But really, it’s true!!! It’s not cynicism, it’s realism. And I’m going to tell you why.

If we really examine the motivations that other people have to do things, it typically comes down to one thing: themselves. Now, I guess I can’t really criticize because I am a human and so whatever I apply to other people I have to, by default, apply to myself. If all humans are by nature selfish, that means my own motivations are also selfish. Kind of an unsavory thought, but I can’t make an exception for myself just because I’M ME! Right? (Although, that is what everyone does!) I like to believe I think a little different than the average person in that I’m 1) self-aware enough to realize these things and 2) I admit them. People really never want to admit to anything negative about themselves because ultimately it will skew their entire self-concept. So they apply it outwardly and not inwardly. But, I’m doing it both ways in making a generalization about humans.

Now, this question of selfishness and motivation especially applies in intimate relationships (and I don’t mean intimate as in just lovers, but friends and family members too.) Essentially, I have come to see that people are motivated by what they get from someone else, not by what they give to someone else. In essence, most relationships are futile and worthless if you really get down to the bottom of it. They fill a need that someone has and beyond that, I can’t really say much else. People are only as interested in you as you are in them. Maybe that’s why some intimate relationships work well, because there is a reciprocal need that keeps being fed by the other and it becomes a back and forth cycle. People tend to think of this as “give and take” but realistically, it’s more about filling our own needs than theirs. We give hoping we will get in return. And if we don’t, we becomes angry, resentful and may leave the relationship entirely.

So anyway, let’s throw a few examples out there about how all motivations come down to selfishness.

SITUATION #1: You’re at the park and you exchange numbers with a person you had an interesting conversation with. They call you and invite you to go do something, and you agree. You go and have a good time and enjoy each others company. Sounds good right? Yes? Not really. How come? Look at the motivation. What is the underlying motivation? Are you REALLY thinking about them? Are they REALLY thinking about you? No. You each want to be around the other because of the way they make you feel ABOUT YOURSELF. Maybe they make you feel smart because you’re able to talk about really complex topics. Maybe you make them feel witty because you laugh at their jokes. They like that feeling. You like that feeling. So you continue to see them. They continue to hang out with you because of the way you make them feel ABOUT THEMSELVES. It’s reciprocal, but only as long as you each fulfill that need in the other person. When that stops, the relationship tends to end.

SITUATION #2: You have a friend that you have known for ten years. Obviously, you know a lot about each other because of the amount of time you spent together. Your friend moves away and begins living a new life. You’re still in the same place, living your life. You’re so consumed with your own lives that your contact becomes more and more sporadic. First it’s a week, then two weeks, then a month between contacts. You rarely hear from them, so you don’t bother contacting them either. Eventually, you realize you haven’t talked to them in a year. Your friendship falls by the wayside. Why? You NEED them to listen to you. It really has nothing to do with them. And they NEED you to be there for them, and it isn’t much about you. Do they really care that your dog died? Probably not (well, maybe on a surface level but it really doesn’t affect them at all). They’re too busy worrying about how they’re going to manage their first summer with kids after their divorce and they NEED YOU to listen. Do you really care about how their work is going? Not really, you’re too busy concentrating on your GRE’s and you NEED THEM to listen. So is the friendship selflessly motivated? Not really. It all boils down to our own needs. Our friend stopped listening to us and we stopped listening to them and therefore, we are no longer friends.

SITUATION #3, Part 1: Let’s make this a non-relationship related one. Let’s say that you just want to do a good deed for someone. You know the local homeless shelter needs donations of blankets. You decide to hand make one just so that someone will have something soft, cozy and comforting. You drop it off and the person who takes it smiles and thanks you and can see how you genuinely affected their day in a positive way. You walk away feeling good inside, and you decide to make some more blankets in the future to give away. Why do you keep doing it? Because YOU got a good feeling from it.

Part 2:             Let’s take that situation and give it a different spin. You make your blanket and when you give it to the person, they glance at it disdainfully, spit tobacco juice on it and say “I wouldn’t give that to a dog!” You walk away feeling crummy and wishing you had never done anything. Are you likely to make more blankets and drop them off? No. Why not? Because YOU DIDN’T feel good about it.

So you see, people do things for themselves first and foremost. The idea of altruism is something I would like to believe in, but ultimately, all I really see is selfish motivations behind anything that anyone does, whether it has a good outcome or not. Because after all, I’m not talking about outcomes here. I’m talking about what motivates people to have relationships, or what motivates them to do ANYTHING.And that is: what they get out of it.

Now that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy people’s company, that you can’t have relationships, that you can’t ever try to do something nice for a stranger or let them do something nice for you. What it does mean is that you can’t expect people to A) always be appreciative and B) always be there for you when YOU need them.

In the end, all we really have is ourselves (and isn’t that all we really care about deep down?) Once we stop filling the needs of others (whatever they may be) we get replaced by the next person that will. And we do the same back. It happens to everyone, all the time. No one is perfect, infallible or beyond it. It is just a fact of life. Cynical? More like realistic.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


I got my hair did! Yeah, I LOVE IT!!!! My hairstylist is the absolute BEST. :) And you know, pink is so girly!!!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Self Esteem

I’ve been thinking a lot about people lately – it’s never ending for me. I’ve been noticing patterns that people get into in their lives or relationships or in different forms. How they love, or don’t love, are attached or detached, selfish or altruistic, those sorts of things (mainly in the sense of how it relates to people in their relationships, friendships, families, jobs, etc.)

So then I got to thinking quite a bit about insecurity and self-love, and self-esteem.

Alright, we all have insecurities. No doubt. We are all human beings and none of us are perfect. It varies a lot from person to person but there is no one out there who feels 100% great about themselves 100% of the time. But, we CAN feel very good about ourselves and be confident about our abilities/skills/talents/appearance. But that involves acceptance of those things. If we are always trying to change things or wishing they were different or pushing them away it’s a sure recipe for feeling crappy about yourself.

Hard for me to admit now, but most of my life I had fairly low self-esteem. I was often told that I was attractive, smart or talented by my peers or people within an academic realm (“Your hair is gorgeous!” “You have the highest grade in class” “That was an amazing project” “I wish I could sing like you!”) Yet despite the positive messages I received from peers, in my personal home life, I really got none. It was sort of like a complete discredit to anything anyone else said. Why didn’t anyone in my actual life notice that I was smart? Why didn’t they tell me I looked pretty? Why didn’t I ever get told they were proud of me? I believed that it was because I really wasn’t any good and felt a sort of paranoia that the nice comments others made were somehow false or just lip service. So, really they wound up doing nothing for my self-esteem and it remained very low even into my adult years.

Having low self-esteem caused me to get into a lot of bad relationships and have bad experiences in general. In ways I’m sure I (subconsciously) allowed myself to be treated in a poor manner because I BELIEVED that I didn’t deserve any better. Sometimes the people actually told me that I didn’t deserve any better. It became this lifelong message drilled in – you’re not any good, you have too many flaws, no one is going to want to be with you and if they do you should consider yourself lucky.

Yeahhhhhh, not exactly messages conducive to feeling good about oneself, eh?

I’m not sure when the real turning point came. I think I simply had some realizations and insights into things after years of talking in therapy, discussing feelings and life experiences with friends and family and just stepping outside myself and DISTANCING myself from my feelings and taking a cold hard look at the reality of the situation.

Awhile back I came across some old papers I had from grade school. Report cards, projects, the works. I looked through them and was amazed because everything in there had positive comments, teachers singing my praises, high marks and just an overall glowing portrayal of me. I never ever saw myself that way and I think it really hit me then, wait a second. Why have I thought I was no good all this time? Why did I listen to the bad messages instead of the good ones? Maybe it’s because of conditioning. Maybe because as I got older the positive messages became less and less as I entered the adult world of work and relationships. I had forgotten all that stuff from childhood. But it came back to me and made me rethink things I previously thought about myself.

Most of my life I viewed self-esteem as something that needed to be bolstered by someone outside myself. I needed someone to like me to feel good, I needed someone’s praise to feel good. I was always a sensitive person and in ways I think that was more of a personality trait than anything. But it became completely maladaptive. It got to where I just internalized everyone else’s view of me and that is who I became. If someone thought I had done a nice job on something, then I was good. If someone thought I looked terrible, then I was ugly. It was the exact opposite of self-esteem. It really had nothing to do with self and everything to do with others.

When I finally started realizing all these things, I knew that in order to feel good, and I mean TRULY good (and not the fake front that you put on so that others can’t see your insecurities) you have to learn to LOVE YOURSELF FIRST. You have to love yourself even if no one else does. It’s very hard at first because you don’t believe it. You have to dig down, (sometimes wayyyy wayyyyy down) and find those things that you know make you special. Everyone has them. I do believe that everyone has something worth celebrating, whether that be that they are a great listener, a stellar cook, good with animals, a generous giver, or whatever. Everyone has something within them to celebrate, regardless of what those outsiders say. Loving yourself means holding onto those things and allowing yourself to revel in them. Don’t listen to the naysayers if they think your talent is useless or that you are just “no good”. What do they know? Generally, not much, especially if they are the types of negative people who would make such comments to begin with.

Now, my self-esteem has soared in the last couple of years and there have been so many positive outcomes from that. A) I accept myself more now and feel far far less of a need or even desire to change for anyone else B) I am more likely to go after the things I want because I know that I CAN achieve them and that it isn’t a futile goal or investment C) This is huge – my depression levels have gone WAY WAY down. I used to be incredibly depressed much of the time. Now I find that I am rarely depressed. And when I am it only lasts a day or 2 and then I pop back up ready to tackle the next thing. Having that self-esteem and self-confidence bolsters me into more positive thinking such as “I know I’ve got this” instead of “I’m just going to fail.” It gives me a lot more resiliency than I previously had. D) Whenever things DO happen that are negative, I don’t automatically attribute it to myself. I used to think anything and everything that went wrong was my fault. No more! I realize that when people do/say things to us, it often has more to do with how THEY feel about THEMSELVES and very little to do with us. Recognizing that helps keep things in perspective and realize, hey, they are just one (or two or three) people on the face of this earth. There are millions upon millions of people on the earth! Why should I care what a few negative nellies say???

So I really think that self-esteem is a core issue in so many problems, both social and psychological. We have to assess ourselves and ask, how am I doing? What can I do to pick myself up? True self-esteem comes from within and exists independently of anything else. It can be a hard road (in my case, 30 year road!) but completely worthwhile pursuit that really can change your life.