Lies our Culture Tells Us

College mental health facilities are swamped, suicide rates are spiking, the president’s repulsive behavior is tolerated or even celebrated by tens of millions of Americans. At the root of it all is the following problem: We’ve created a culture based on lies.    

(Among them:) Rich and successful people are worth more than poorer and less successful people. We pretend we don’t tell this lie, but our whole meritocracy points to it. The message of the meritocracy is that you are what you accomplish. The false promise of the meritocracy is that you can earn dignity by attaching yourself to prestigious brands. The emotion of the meritocracy is conditional love — that if you perform well, people will love you.      

No wonder it’s so hard to be a young adult today. No wonder our society is fragmenting. We’ve taken the lies of hyper-individualism and we’ve made them the unspoken assumptions that govern how we live.

David Brooks writing in The New York Times

5 internal contributions to anger

1-Self-esteem

People who try to be self-sufficient are easily frustrated and angered when they see evidence of their dependence on others. They get angry at themselves for needing others and they get angry at other people for “keeping” them in this weakness.

2-Desire for Power in Relationships

Some people feel threatened by the need to give up power in love relationships. For instance, a batterer may use anger to intimidate others in a quest for power. It’s a way to caution the abused person against using their own power. To avoid rousing their anger, spouses end up tiptoeing around the other to avoid confrontation because the price is too high to pay.

3-Desire to be Perfect

Unrealistic standards must be met for the person to feel worthwhile and accepted.

Whenever there is a perceived loss of perfection, the person becomes depressed (angry with themselves) for small failures. The student who gets a B-plus instead of an A, etc. These people also set up high standards for others to achieve and are quickly judgmental. They are hurt by others who do not join them in the quest for perfection. Even though they may be chronic confessors, but growth comes slow because they don’t want to accept their limitations.

4-Guilt

Unresolved guilt can lead to irritability. People have trouble admitting their faults.

5-Rejection

Rejection leaves people feeling hurt and worthless. When significant others disdain our contributions or act as if we are inferior and unimportant we bolster self-esteem by rejecting others ourselves, using the weapons of anger and hostility.  Since it does not heal the relationship or self-esteem, it is a temporary fix. 

Within Arms Reach

Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it's a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.

The people who love me and will be there regardless of the outcome are within arms reach.

This realization changed everything. That's the wife and mother and friend that I now strive to be. I want our home to be a place where we can be our bravest selves are most fearful selves. Where we practice difficult conversations and share our shaming moments from school and work. I want to look at Steve and my kids and say, “I'm with you I'm in the arena. And when we fail, we’ll fail together, while daring greatly.”

We simply can't learn to be more vulnerable and courageous on our own. Sometimes our first and greatest dare is asking for support.

Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Social Media’s Outrage Mob

So what is it about social media that transforms ordinary internet users into pitchfork-wielding villagers? Futurologist David Brin notes that feelings of righteous indignation can give people a drug-like high. “You go into the bathroom during one of these [indignant] snits,” he says, “and you look in the mirror and you have to admit, this feels great! ‘I am so much smarter and better than my enemies!’” Everyone can now get an instant, ego-boosting high by opening their computer or smartphone and joining in the online shaming of a perceived offender. But they haven’t made the world any better. All they’ve done is made a stranger’s life a little worse.

Theunis Bates writing in The Week Magazine

Open Arms

Perhaps because your father questioned you for so long, you question yourself.. just out of habit. Despite the fact there's plenty of evidence to show that you are usually on the right track, a vague nagging feeling persists.  You may not measure up to your father's ideals.

Compare these expectations to those who love you; They don't ignore your inadequacies. Instead, they are willing to pitch in. They cheer for you. They don't run away when you fail. Their arms remain outstretched in acceptance.

Stephen Goforth

Selfishness and Self-love

If it is a virtue to love my neighbor as a human being, it must be a virtue and not a vice-to love myself since I am a human being too. There is no concept of man in which I myself am not included. A doctrine which proclaims such an exclusion proves itself to be intrinsically contradictory. The idea expressed in the Biblical “Love thy neighbor as thyself!” implies that respect for one’s own integrity and uniqueness, love for and understanding of one’s own self, can not be separated from respect for and love and understanding of another individual. The love for my own self is inseparably connected with the love for any other self.

The affirmation of one’s own life, happiness, growth, freedom, is rooted in one’s capacity to love, i.e., in care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge. If an individual is able to love productively, he loves himself too; if he can love only others, he can not love at all.

The selfish person.. can see nothing but himself; he judges everyone and everything from its usefulness to him; he is basically unable to love. Does not this prove that concern for others and concern for oneself are unavoidable alternatives? This would be so if selfishness and self-love were identical. But.. selfishness and self-love, far from being identical, are actually opposites.

Eric Fromm, Man for Himself

do I have value?

To say a person has worth or value formulates only half a sentence. It begs two questions and raises a third: Worth what? To whom? Who says? These questions reveal a search for a source, a valuer, an authority behind the action of attaching worth. This quest implies our awareness of a person larger than us, who initiates relationships with us. Our parents stood as the original superhumans in whose eyes we wanted much worth. Now as adults, when we feel worthless, we ache with the dangling half-question. Do I have any value?  We used to seek evidence from Mom and Dad of our importance to them. Though we no longer look to them as our source, we have not yet identified a new one. We spin our wheels with the unanswered questions of our half-sentences. We wistfully yearn for some authority to come along and fill those gaps that our parents left.

Dennis Gibson, The Strong-Willed Adult

Proving Your Worthiness

Have you ever had someone bait you during family gets together?  “Come on. Join me in those old patterns you’ve wanted to shed.” Maybe they don't say that out loud, but that's the invitation.

While you try not to let the person get under your skin, somehow you still end up behaving in a way you thought you had left behind long ago. There’s a tone in your voice that shows you are irritated. You can't stop yourself. You stumble backward into an old pattern of conflict.

Why does the other person say these things? Maybe they wants to feel superior. Perhaps they are feel comfortable in that unhealthy relationship with you.

You might have learned to avoid the conflict by being passive. That puts off the problem, setting it aside for the sake of peace.  But it doesn't redefine the relationship. And a healthy relationship should be the goal instead of the absence of conflict.

You could be vulnerable to other people who use the same kind of put-downs or teases or unhealthy behavior. Perhaps you rise and fall as their approval or rejection comes or goes. You may be overly sensitive to the suggestion that you are inadequate, fearful you are "unworthy" of respect. You may be spending a lot of your life bouncing back and forth between working hard to prove worthiness and resenting the need to prove it.

Stephen Goforth

The Toll of a Negative self-concept

Your self-evaluations are important because they influence most areas of your behavior, defining the limits of what you will attempt. You avoid an activity if you self-concept predicts you will perform so badly as to humiliate yourself. For instance, if your self-concept includes the belief that you would be a poor ice skater, you might never try it, and will indeed remain a poor ice skater. Often people excuse themselves with “That’s just the way I am.” By using this excuse, they deny themselves opportunities for personal growth.

Sharon and Gordon Bower, Asserting Yourself

the self-esteem secret

You can either let your self-esteem ride on the answer to questions like:

Do people think I am smart?

Am I shaped like a model?

Do I look weak and foolish?

Or you can let your self-esteem be based on the knowledge that you are of value because you are made in God's image and that he has set his affection on you.

You've made quite a journey already, struggling to keep going and learning to rest in that knowledge. Won’t it be enjoyable to march down that path, head held high and a big smile on your face? It’s there, not because you are ignoring your trouble, but because you know the secret.

Stephen Goforth

Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

Imperative people can have too strong a sense of responsibility. In pushing themselves to do right, they often pay the price of burnout. When others encourage them to slow down, they won’t for fear that a bad habit of laziness might develop. Or perhaps someone will be displeased. The saying, “When you want something done, ask the busiest person in town to do it” may contain a lot of truth. Especially if the busiest person in town doesn’t have the ability to say no.

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

matchless

To run yourself down hinders you doing what you can. In effect, when you belittle yourself, you are belittling God. He made you who you are – with your unique talents and lacks. To compare yourself with others is not good. Remember, you are God’s unique original! What an honor and privilege it is to be designed by the Almighty God! He know the end from the beginning. He never makes a mistake. He created you an individual – none other like you – for a purpose.

Ella May Miller

What's behind anger?

According to Albert Ellis, the most common irrational ideas behind anger are the following.

1. I must do well and win the approval of others for my performances, or else I will rate as a rotten person.

2. Others must treat me considerately and kindly and in precisely the way I want them to treat me.

3. The world (and the people in it) must arrange conditions under which I live, so that I get everything that I want when I want it.

Mark Cosgrove, Counseling for Anger

selfishness and self-love

If it is a virtue to love my neighbor as a human being, it must be a virtue and not a vice-to love myself since I am a human being too. There is no concept of man in which I myself am not included. A doctrine which proclaims such an exclusion proves itself to be intrinsically contradictory. The idea expressed in the Biblical “Love thy neighbor as thyself!” implies that respect for one’s own integrity and uniqueness, love for and understanding of one’s own self, can not be separated from respect for and love and understanding of another individual. The love for my own self is inseparably connected with the love for any other self.

The affirmation of one’s own life, happiness, growth, freedom, is rooted in one’s capacity to love, i.e., in care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge. If an individual is able to love productively, he loves himself too; if he can love only others, he can not love at all.

The selfish person.. can see nothing but himself; he judges everyone and everything from its usefulness to him; he is basically unable to love. Does not this prove that concern for others and concern for oneself are unavoidable alternatives? This would be so if selfishness and self-love were identical. But.. selfishness and self-love, far from being identical, are actually opposites.

Eric Fromm, Man for Himself

I count you

When you talk with your partner, what you say and how you say it tells a great deal about your attitude toward both your partner and yourself. For example, when you listen attentively, you indicate to him or her: I count you. When you clearly state what you want for yourself or what you are feeling, it is a way of saying: I count myself.

When you value or count someone--either yourself or another person--you express a positive set of assumptions about that person’s significance:

- faith in the intention to treat each person as important,

- confidence in the ability to handle situations, or to recognize when help is needed,

- trust in the willingness to follow through on promises,

- belief in the commitment to each person's well-being.

On the other hand, when you discount someone--including yourself--the set of assumptions is just the opposite: lack of faith, confidence, trust and belief.

You do have a choice: you can act in ways which say, “I count myself,” or in ways which say, “I don't count myself.”

The reason you always have a choice is this: your counting attitude is not the same as your feelings. It is not the same as your momentary view of yourself, or even your more stable and enduring self esteem. None of these is the key. Instead, the key is whether you treat yourself as significant, as someone whose intentions, thoughts, feelings, etc., are worth taking into account. The same thing is true about counting your partner.

Your counting attitude seems to grow out of a deeper belief in the fundamental value of every person.

I feel smart when...

Certain kinds of verbal praise can be detrimental to learning. Young children who constantly hear “person” praise (“you’re so smart to do this well”) as opposed to “task” praise (“you did that well”) are more likely to believe that intelligence is fixed rather than expandable with hard work. When they subsequently face setbacks after receiving person praise, their views of intelligence can cause them to develop a sense of helplessness (“I’m not as smart as I once thought I was”).

When researchers asked these children to describe what made them feel smart, they talked about tasks they found easy, that required little effort, and they could do before anyone else without making mistakes. In contrast, their peers who they thought they got smarter by trying harder and learning new things said they felt intelligent when they didn’t understand something, tried really hard, and then go it, or figured out something new.

In other words, the children with the fixed view of intelligence and a sense of helplessness felt smart only when they avoided those activities most likely to help them learn – struggling, grappling, and making mistakes.

These children are likely to have “performance goals”. They want to achieve perfection or get the “right” answer to impress other people because they want to appear to be one of the “smart people”. They are afraid of making mistakes. They will often carefully calculate how much they need to achieve to win the proper praise and do no more than that, for fear that they might fail in the eyes of others. Some of these people do excel by some standards, but they still achieve primarily for the sake of that external recognition and fall short of where they might go.

In contrast, students who believe that they can become more intelligent by learning (a “mastery orientation’) often work essentially to increase their own competence (adopting “learning goals”), not to win rewards. They are more likely to take risks in learning, to try harder tasks, and consequently learn more than children who are performance-oriented.

Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do

listening to children

Why exert effort to focus totally on the boring prattlings of a six-year-old? First, you willingness to do so is the best possible concrete evidence of your esteem you can give your child. If you give your child the same esteem you would give a great lecturer, then the child will know him or herself to be valued and therefore feel valuable. Second, the more children feel valuable, the more they will begin to say things of value.

They will rise to your expectation of them. Third, the more you listen to your child, the more you will realize that in amoungst the pauses, the stutterings, the seemingly innocent chatter, your child does indeed have valuable things to say. Listen to your child enough and you'll come to realize that he or she is quite an extraordinary individual. And the more extraordinary you realize your child to be, the more you'll will be willing to listen. And the more you will learn.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Wings are best grown after you jump off the cliff anyway

Life after college is like getting hit by a bus you didn’t see coming because you were too busy texting to look both ways before crossing the street. And why would you? You’ve crossed that street every single day at the exact same time for 20 years and a bus has never run over you before. Here’s the thing: Up until this point, your entire life has been hinged upon a concept of preparation and reward. You study for a test, you get a good grade. You exhibit good behavior, you don’t get thrown in detention. You do your chores, you get an allowance. 

The real world doesn’t really care about any of that. Sometimes you fail when you should have succeeded. Sometimes you’re punished when you’ve done nothing wrong. Sometimes you lose, even when you did everything in your power to win. So lay down your ego and stop waving that degree around like it’s a Get Out Of Jail Free card. Jump in. Grow your wings.

Alex McDaniel

The power of sibling rivalry

Sibling rivalry can be a year-round tradition for some families. University of Missouri researchers followed more nearly 150 pairs of siblings for a year and found the conflict fell into two overall categories:

1. Conflicts about shared resources and responsibilities which focused on equality and fairness, like whose turn it was to empty the dishwasher or use the computer or ride in the front seat of the car. These siblings were more likely to become depressed.

2. Meanwhile, those who argued over privacy and personal space, such as borrowing clothes without asking or entering a room without permission, were more likely to be anxious and have low self-esteem. The most vulnerable for this twist were younger siblings.

The researchers say the way preteens and teens react to the conflict with siblings to the has to do with what they perceive is at stake. You'll find details about the study in the journal Child Development.

Stephen Goforth