One of the infuriating things about cracking open most authorised textbooks on psychology is that they are preoccupied with defining abnormal psychology: narcissism, sociopathy, depression, anxiety, borderline, bi-polar, dissociative personality disorder, and so on. An endless litany of things that could be wrong with someone. Curiously they don’t often, if ever, make positive claims as to what mental health is. What is a mentally healthy person? How does a mentally healthy person behave? The reasons for this are fun to speculate: maybe they don’t know, or maybe the mental health profession is full of narcissistic, autistic, and other abnormal people and so they can’t describe mental health themselves, or maybe human nature is so varied there isn’t truly a healthy condition, just lots of shades of mental grey?
So, I’m going to make sure to write about the few things which I’m confident fall in the category of mentally healthy processes and behaviours. Today, I want to write about trust, and hopefully illustrate why being able to trust is an essential component of overall mental health.
Trust is a complex subject because it isn’t only a philosophical concept, it is actually also a feeling mediated by the neurotransmitter oxytocin. Because of this trust is not a simple concept to nail down, but for this article let’s keep it simple: trustworthiness is the quality of a person/animal/thing to display consistently beneficial behaviours, and therefore “to trust” refers the capacity to bond with a trustworthy person/animal/thing. Johnathon is trustworthy when it comes to turning up to work on time, being non-violent, and moderating his alcohol consumption, but don’t leave money lying about in view because Johnathon is notorious for pinching every unattended penny he lays eyes on. Mary is trustworthy when it comes to money, but is almost never at work on time, and should not be trusted when drinking with young men. Johnathon trusts Mary with his wallet and is not disappointed, but when Mary trusts Johnathon with her purse, she’s a few dollars less wealthy than before.
When it comes to the topic of narcissism, you might be surprised to learn that psychologists still hotly debate what narcissism actually is. Some say they have very high self-esteem, others that they have very low self-esteem. Others that they are self-aware and clever, others that they’re cognitively deficient and barely aware of themselves as active participants in their lives at all. Object relations theory suggests something is fundamentally wrong in their perception of objects both internal and external. Some say they don’t have any empathy, others that they have empathy, but they just don’t care. More importantly for a therapist; some say they can be treated successfully, but others that they are completely beyond rehabilitation. Then there are countless others who take up various positions between those ranges, and some additional views that I haven’t even mentioned. The only things that psychologists seem to agree on regarding narcissism is that they’re very difficult people to get along with; they tend to avoid therapy, they’re very easily offended, they are horrible parents, they’re almost never happy, and they’re controlling and destructive.
So when I talk about narcissism it is important that I am clear about what I am talking about, but also I often think with all the debate and disagreement among experts in the field maybe I should use a new term altogether in referring to them. I tend to use the term “tyranni” to refer to narcissists because for me the most distinctive aspect about a narcissist is not their supposed “self-love”, which is hotly debated, but their pervasive desire to dominate and subvert all their relationships: to act as little tyrants so to speak, hence I call them tyranni meaning “the little tyrants”. For this article I will use the term narcissism, but rest assured if I ever write a book about them I will probably call them tyranni instead.
The topic of narcissism is intensely interesting to me, I could really write a book about narcissists, I even have my own private word for describing them, “tyranni” which I think is clearer in describing them and their perfidious nature. However, in the interests of keeping my blog updated I thought I would share a few thoughts I’ve been having recently regarding the topic of bonding and how it concerns the nature of narcissists.
Bonding is a complicated subject, and one that is often brought to my attention by people asking me about women who have had multiple sexual partners and how compromised their ability to bond is. I am familiar with the research being referenced here, and statistically it is true, women who have had multiple sexual partners before marriage are a very high risk of divorce… However, statistics are not as straight forward to interpret at they may appear. For instance, how many of those women had lost (or lacked) the ability to bond before they had any sexual partners? I mean, is multiple sexual partners the cause of the lack of ability to bond or was their lack of ability to bond the cause of them having so many sexual partners?
Consider it this way, these women had to have a first time with someone, so why didn’t they just bond with him?
Have you heard people complain about dating websites lately? Sometimes it comes from the men saying that the women are rude, snarky, and just not women anymore. Sometimes it is the women saying that the men are crude, desperate, and verbally abusive. After having read a few messages to and from people on dating websites I can see a lot of problems with people’s approach to dating. Namely, it appears to me that neither men nor women have a clue what qualities to look for in each other and what qualities in themselves they should be working on. The women are typically making dating profiles that look like auditions for porn movies, while the men are crafting unbelievable tales of their wealth, fitness, and charisma. In other words; they have become skilful at creating attractive profiles, but not skilful in recognising what elements are needed to build and sustain a successful romantic relationship. There is a lot of conflict on dating website because of this both sexes are reporting harassment by the opposite sex through verbally abusive messages demanding to know what the other person’s true intentions are.
Yes, men are attracted to physical beauty in a woman, and yes women are attracted to a variety of specific qualities in men. However, attraction stops being important the moment you decide to message someone (and they decide to message you back). After this, attraction is no longer important to the relationship. Stage one of dating is finished and one should stop focussing solely on how attractive the other person is and/or how attractive you appear to them. Telling people how attractive they are at this point is merely trying to play on their vanity. In stage two, since both parties have established they have mutual attraction, the goal is now to collect information about the integrity of the other person. Integrity is the most important quality in a relationship. It doesn’t matter how smart he/she is, how good looking he/she is, or how good at conversation he/she is, all these things are gifts. Gifts are qualities a person has that are a bonus to their character, but they aren’t important in making a relationship work. How smart, funny, interesting, skilful, etc… a person is might influence how attractive a relationship will be, but it won’t ever play a decisive role in the viability of that relationship.
The word hypergamy is being used more frequently, so much so that my spell checker now recognises it as a word. Hypergamy is a term borrowed from biology that refers to one sex’s preference for a mate who is smarter, stronger, taller, more mature, and wealthier than they are. It has been appropriated from biology by some groups in the manosphere and is now frequently used to describe human females and their preferential mating strategy for a man smarter, taller, stronger, wiser, and especially wealthier than she is. However, the opposite mating preference, hypogamy, is still not recognised by my spellcheck and I haven’t read it outside of academic essays relating to biology. Hypogamy is a preference for a mate dimmer, weaker, shorter, less mature, and poorer than oneself. While I have read and heard a lot of discussion about women and hypergamy, I don’t think that there’s nearly enough attention to men and their tendency for pursuing a lower quality mate. Indeed, it is a common complaint from women that they have to play dumb with men, play down their virtues, or even hide their wealth, so as to avoiding intimidating men who shy away from women they don’t feel they are good enough for. Men who date women taller or smarter than them usually get some mockery for this from other men, implying the ideal is to have a weaker dumber girlfriend. An obvious exception is physical beauty. This is possibly the only aspect of hypergamy that men display, except even with this most men are still more willing to sleep with a low quality woman than a woman is to sleep with a low quality man. It often surprises men when they find out that fat women report more sexual attention than thinner women. Continue reading
Men and women are different: physically, psychologically, and sexually. All differences between people create potential areas of conflict: Rich and poor, left wing and right wing, old and young, clever and dull, straight and queer, black and white, etc… A rich person and a poor person have a difference in economic status that can potentially lead them into conflict with each other. The rich person might not want to be seen with the poor person, while the poor person might want to take some of the rich person’s things. However, conflict is not inevitable: the rich person could give the poor person a job, and the poor person could learn to be a valuable employee. In this circumstance, the rich and the poor can have a harmonious relationship whereas in another circumstance, if the poor person is stealing from the rich person, the relationship is antagonistic. This is the same with sexual relationships. Men and women are different from each other, but this difference does not mean that they have to be in conflict with each other. Harmony is possible if both sexes and accept some fundamental differences between each other.
Women are disposed to hypergamy, which means they would prefer to marry someone taller, smarter, stronger, more confident, and wealthier than they are. Basically, someone better than they are, which means the more gifted and attractive a woman, the smaller her potential dating pool in terms of marriage compatibility. For men the opposite is true; the more gifted and attractive the man, the broader his dating pool. Women do make compromises on these things sometimes and it can difficult for them to do this, but there is a definite trend towards hypergamy. This is because women are effectively disabled by child-rearing from pregnancy, breast feeding, and taking on the bigger burden of supervising the children. If you’re going to invest years of your life into children like this, you want some assurances that they’re going to be children you can feel proud of. Would you feel prouder to raise the children of a strong, intelligent, tall, confident man or those of weak, dull-witted, short, fearful man? Women also have to consider that they suffer a huge loss to their sexual market value once they have children; men do, too, but it doesn’t reduce theirs as much. Continue reading
Agency is a philosophical term that refers to one’s ability to act in a given situation. When discussing the nature of free will and responsibility, it is important to be mindful of how much agency a person has. If there’s an electrical fault in your house and you’re alone, there might not be anything you can do about it. If you’re a trained electrician, there might be a great deal you could do to fix the problem. However, being knowledgeable about electronics might not be enough if your tools are at your workplace. Thus, agency depends on both having the knowledge and having the means. A person with electrical training and tools has full agency over the problem of the electrical fault, whereas a person with no training and no tools has no direct agency over their electrical problems. They will have to pay someone who does have agency in this situation to fix it. Despite sounding so simple, problems with agency account for a lot of drama in relationships. This article will discuss a healthy sense of agency and then compare it to unhealthy perceptions of agency such as hyper-agency and hypo-agency. Continue reading
Alice is angry with her husband Greg. She asked him to mow the lawn before the weekend when the rest of the family will come over, but he hasn’t done it all week. Greg keeps saying he will, but it’s Friday now and their guests arrive tomorrow morning. Greg meanwhile is angry with his wife for complaining about him spending too much time out with his friends last week. Both Greg and Alice know the other person is angry, and both of them know that this implies they’re hurting. But neither Alice nor Greg want to make the first move towards listening to the other person’s hurt. They are locked into a struggle to see who gives in first. Neither is willing to talk to the other about this, and more importantly neither is prepared to listen. Continue reading
Growing up I used to watch Star Trek. Both the original 1960s series and the 1980s Next Generation series feature main characters who supposedly have no emotions: Mr Spock and Mr Data. Spock considers emotions to be a weakness and actively suppresses them so as to be more logical; meanwhile Data has an apparent desire to fulfil his creator’s wish to build an android that is as human-like as possible, so Data seeks to have emotions. While as entertaining as these characters are, the series never actually explored emotions, what they are, why we have them, and what their meaning is in any depth. Rather, one gets the impression at times that the sole purpose of emotions, as far as the creators of Star Trek are concerned, is for personal amusement; they make life interesting but we don’t really need them. However, emotions are far more important than just mere novel reactions of our nervous systems to particular stimuli; they are what makes life alive beyond the organic/material level. Consider that each individual cell in your body is a living organism in its own right, additionally, the collective activity of the billions of cells that make up your entirely body is a secondary level of life, and finally the thoughts and feelings that make up what we call, for lack of a better term, “our mind” is a third tier of life built on top of the previous two tiers. But why do we have feelings at all? Continue reading
For many years now I have worked with children. Most of them have had autism, speech problems, cognitive delays, or some kind of behavioural problem. It has been an immense privilege to work so closely with so many children and their families over the years. No two families are the same in how their household is run in my experience, every family is its own unique culture. However, I have never encountered a family without the most classic and pervasive power struggle dynamic of them all: the tantrum thrower and the enabler. In every family I have encountered there has always been two people taking on these roles in some way. Child to child, child to adult, and adult to adult: the methods of throwing a tantrum may vary in age groups, but tantrums are ubiquitous. Understanding the nature of tantrums is a good strategy for unravelling the origins of dysfunction in any unhealthy relationship.
First, since we’re all about philosophy here, we need to make sure that we define our terms. A tantrum is a display of hyper emotionality usually resulting from being informed of some bad news. They can be overt through the use of shouting, crying and other verbal cues. They can be violent with the throwing and breaking of things. They can be subtle with silent treatment, passive aggressive words and deeds. They can be sophisticated with rationales, lies, excuses, and guilt trips. A tantrum never involves negotiation or an honest account of one’s situation. Continue reading