Self-doubt: “I’m afraid of looking like a fool.”

"Courage" by Mimi Stuart Live the Life you Desire

“Courage” by Mimi Stuart ©

Perfectionism is an imperfect way to live

The desire to excel encourages achievement. However, when aspiring for excellence turns into the pursuit of perfectionism, then you are creating unnecessary anxiety in your life. Perfectionism is an attitude often fueled by a fear of failure or criticism. In contrast, willingness to make mistakes and look a little foolish will help you improve your skills, accomplish excellence and enjoy your life. Most successful people have “failed” their way to success.

Note that avoiding perfectionism doesn’t entail becoming careless. There is a happy medium between perfectionism and being carefree. Too little attention to external feedback can lead to thoughtless, reckless and offensive behavior.

The benefits of handling a little discomfort

People who are not afraid of being a novice or making mistakes tend to get good at many things quickly because they are not held back by their doubts and a lack of confidence. Think of the possibilities you miss out on if you avoid the following situations because of your fear of failure:

• Striking up a conversation with someone despite the possibility of being rejected.
• Asking for a job despite potential for disappointment.
• Telling a loved one how you feel.
• Requesting that someone treat you differently.
• Asking someone for help.
• Talking to your children about awkward subjects.
• Starting a business venture.
• Participating in a sport or class when you are a newcomer.
• Practicing a foreign language.
• Singing and dancing.

The benefit of making mistakes

We should welcome mistakes because they show us how we need to make adjustments to improve our life. If we look objectively at the feedback we get from others, we will speed up our learning curve about how to execute tasks and interact with the world around us.

Socializing and dating

Think about dating and making friends. If you avoid the risk of looking foolish, you will have a hard time socializing. How can you learn interpersonal skills unless you put yourself out there? How would you learn to read body language and to hone your communication skills? No one is a master at making friends or reading the hidden meaning generated by body language without having some experience of engaging with people. You need to make mistakes and make adjustments in your behavior, desires, and expectations. You learn to modify your style of communicating, your openness, the topics of conversation you engage in by learning to be sensitive to feedback from others.

So it’s important to accept and even embrace discomfort and mistakes and to risk failure. Making mistakes is part of the human experience. That is how we learn and evolve – and succeed! By embracing the risk of failure you will be rewarded by a reduction in the negative anxiety associated with fear of failure, leaving only the healthy and normal anxiety associated with the excitement about future possibilities. A whole world of opportunities opens up to you.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Perfectionism: ‘I’d like to have people over more often, but I rarely do, because it’s so much work to cook a great meal.’”

Read “Fear of failure: ‘I’m worried about failing.’”

Read “Fear of Making a Mistake: ‘I’m deathly afraid of investing more time, money and energy in something that could be doomed no matter how hard I try.’”

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How to predict a divorce or the breakup of a relationship

"Content of Character" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Content of Character” by Mimi Stuart ©

How do you tend to respond to your partner’s benign comments about the weather, the news, or your surroundings? Do you often make cutting or critical remarks or ignore his or her comments? You may think that this is an insignificant issue. However, John Gottman’s research shows that the quality of every-day interaction makes all the difference in the world in the success of any relationship.

Among couples who get divorced within six years of getting married, one partner or the other is either ignored or receives a negative response 67% of the time. On the other hand, among couples who are satisfied with their relationship, the response to their partners’ actions and comments were negative only 13% of the time. They responded positively 87% of the time!

This is highly significant and shows that a relationship thrives or dies in large part as a result of all those brief moments and minor communications throughout the day.

Bids and turns

Gottman calls verbal attempts to make a connection “bids,” and he categorizes the responses people make as either a “turn toward” the partner or a “turn away” from the partner. When you turn toward a person, the person feels valued, whereas when you turn away from a person, he or she may feel invisible or not valued.

Here are some examples of bids and responses:

Bid: “Dinner’s ready.”
Turn away: “Spaghetti again?”
Turn toward: “Thank you, sounds great.”

Bid: “Wow, it’s cold today.”
Turn away: “Well it is winter in Idaho. We’re not in the tropics.”
Turn toward: “Yep, it sure is cold.”

Bid: “How do you like my new shirt?”
Turn away: “Are you kidding me? What did you pay for that?”
Turn toward: “Love it. Where did you get it?” Or “Interesting design. You always look good.”

Bid: “I’m so tired from work.”
Turn away: No comment.
Turn toward: “I’m so sorry, anything I can do to help?”

Bid: “Sorry I’m late.”
Turn away: “You’re always late. It’s driving me crazy!”
Turn toward: “I’m sure there’s a good reason. I hate to bring this up, but I think we should figure out a way where I’m not waiting for you so much. It’s starting to get really frustrating for me.”

Contempt vs respect

Contempt is the number one factor leading to unhappy relationships and divorce. When your response “turns away” from a person through neglect, criticism or a negative tone of voice, you express contempt or lack of regard for that person.

“Turning toward” a person does not mean that you have to agree with all comments made or become obsequious. It simply means showing that you are listening and responding with respect. As long as you don’t criticize or ignore your partner, you can disagree all you want.

When people repeatedly respond negatively or ignore their partners’ comments, there is often an underlying issue, such as resentment, feeling unappreciated, or a lack of self-empowerment in their lives. These issues are best dealt with through honest reflection and candid communication, not with passive-aggressive contemptuous behavior.

Sometimes a person is simply busy or focused on a project and does not want to be interrupted. Even in such situations, take the time to use a kind tone of voice when saying something like, “Do you mind if we talk later because I’d really like to finish this project. Thank you.”

Often couples don’t know why they have “drifted apart” or “fallen out of love” over the years. They need to realize that relationships wither or flourish depending on the daily care shown in how they respond to their partners’ attempts to communicate and connect. If you want your relationship to flourish, make sure you respond to bids for connection with kindness.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Changing Relationship Dynamics: ‘It’s too late to start telling my boyfriend to let me know when he’s coming home late because our communication patterns have already been established.’”

Read “Five Keys to a Great Relationship: ‘There’s nothing we can do to stay in love.’”

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Online dating frustrations: “Near the beginning I asked him to meet…. We did not meet.”

"Form" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Form” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

“I met a man online and he was the pursuer. Now I’m pursuing him and he’s distancing. Near the beginning I asked him to meet…. We did not meet. We recently talked of love and dating exclusively. He went silent and I texted him constantly for four days. He asked me to stop texting him. I texted him because my feelings wouldn’t stop. He said I was scaring him. Should I now just not send anything? Can I still send random stuff? I also feel weird dating other people when my inner emotions are on him.”

Online dating

I am receiving more and more questions regarding online dating and relationships involving two people who have never physically met. Online interaction seems to satisfy a need for many people who have limited opportunities to connect with other people.

Yet to “date” or fall in love with the mere words of someone you’ve never met is paramount to dating or falling in love with an avatar whom you have created in your own mind. When people limit their relationships to the internet and other keyboard interfaces, they may be giving in to their fears of face-to-face interaction and end up drastically limiting their relationship potential.

Intimacy requires knowing a person

Intimacy requires knowing a person and letting someone get to know you. For those who are physically and emotionally capable, I recommend multidimensional relationships that involve all the senses—including sight, smell, touch, and sound, as well as intuition. True communication involves a person’s tone of voice, body language, touch, smell, and energetic connection. Only by interacting with all our senses can two individuals get to know each other fully.

Online interfacing limits how deeply you get to know a person. We learn far more about a person by being in his or her physical presence than we do from any amount of texting or online communication. Unless you know a person well, his or her texted words are nothing but words that may be true, false, borrowed, or even sent to a multitude of people.

Beware of instant gratification

The only reason for continuing such a uni-dimensional and barren relationship is to be able to get that endorphin rush of receiving validation through a text that conveys a compliment, interest, or some other feeling of connection. However, if you want long-term fulfillment, you have to resist instant gratification. It is wasting your time and will getting you nowhere.

Addressing your question above, here are some thoughts as to how to behave differently in future online relationships.

“Near the beginning I asked him to meet…. We did not meet.”

First – End your hopes for this “relationship.” He clearly has no interest.

If someone keeps refusing to meet you, assume that he is unavailable. You really don’t know who he is. He may be texting with 15 different women and simply be addicted to the safe anonymity he gets with his handheld device and his own small world. Don’t waste any more of your time.

There are several reputable online dating services that provide specific and safe protocols that lead to meeting a person early on.

“He went silent and I texted him constantly for four days.”

Never text someone constantly. Don’t even send 2, 3, 4 texts in a row without a response, unless you are texting practical information. The more you pursue, the more the other will retreat.

“I texted him because my feelings wouldn’t stop.”

One of the difficult but important things in life is to pay attention to your feelings, but do not be driven by them. Take them into account, but also use objective reason about human behavior in deciding how to interact with others.

Good luck.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Does she like me? She doesn’t text me like she did at the beginning.”

Read “Sensuality: ‘I’m just not a sensual person.’”

Read “Fears and Phobias: ‘I avoid going out in public because I don’t like talking to strangers.’”

Read “Text… phone call… email… ‘Oh…what were you saying?’”

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Guest Author Sam Vaknin: Putting the Broken Humpty-Dumpty Narcissist Back Together

"Tempest" by Mimi Stuart ©  Live the Life you Desire

“Tempest” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Guest Author Sam Vaknin writes:

Positive feelings (about oneself or pertaining to one’s accomplishments, assets, etc.) are never gained merely through conscious endeavor. They are the outcome of insight. A cognitive component (factual knowledge regarding one’s achievements, assets, qualities, skills, etc.) plus an emotional correlate that is heavily dependent on past experience, defense mechanisms, and personality style or structure (“character”).

People who consistently feel worthless or unworthy usually overcompensate cognitively for the lack of the aforementioned emotional component.

Such a person doesn’t love himself, yet is trying to convince himself that he is loveable. He doesn’t trust himself, yet he lectures to himself on how trustworthy he is (replete with supporting evidence from his experiences).

But such cognitive substitutes to emotional self-acceptance won’t do.

The root of the problem is the inner dialogue between disparaging voices and countervailing “proofs”. Such self-doubting is, in principle, a healthy thing. It serves as an integral and critical part of the “checks and balances” that constitute the mature personality.

But normally, some ground rules are observed and some facts are considered indisputable. When things go awry, however, the consensus breaks. Chaos replaces structure and the regimented update of one’s self-image (via introspection) gives way to recursive loops of self-deprecation with diminishing insights.

Normally, in other words, the dialogue serves to augment some self-assessments and mildly modify others. When things go wrong, the dialogue concerns itself with the very narrative, rather than with its content.

The dysfunctional dialogue deals with questions that are far more fundamental (and typically settled early on in life):

“Who am I?”

“What are my traits, my skills, my accomplishments?”

“How reliable, loveable, trustworthy, qualified, truthful am I?”

“How can I separate fact from fiction?”

The answers to these questions consist of both cognitive (empirical) and emotional components. They are mostly derived from our social interactions, from the feedback we get and give. An inner dialogue that is still concerned with these qualms indicates a problem with socialization.

It is not one’s “psyche” that is delinquent but one’s social functioning. One should direct one’s efforts to “heal”, outwards (to remedy one’s interactions with others) not inwards (to heal one’s “psyche”).

Another important insight is that the disordered dialogue is not time-synchronic.

The “normal” internal discourse is between concurrent, equipotent, and same-age “entities” (psychological constructs). Its aim is to negotiate conflicting demands and reach a compromise based on a rigorous test of reality.

The faulty dialogue, on the other hand, involves wildly disparate interlocutors. These are in different stages of maturation and possessed of unequal faculties. They are more concerned with monologues than with a dialogue. As they are “stuck” in various ages and periods, they do not all relate to the same “host”, “person”, or “personality”. They require time- and energy-consuming constant mediation. It is this depleting process of arbitration and “peacekeeping” that is consciously felt as nagging insecurity or, even, in extremis, self-loathing.

A constant and consistent lack of self-confidence and a fluctuating sense of self-worth are the conscious “translation” of the unconscious threat posed by the precariousness of the disordered personality. It is, in other words, a warning sign.

Thus, the first step is to clearly identify the various segments that, together, however incongruently, constitute the personality. This can be surprisingly easily done by noting down the “stream of consciousness” dialogue and assigning “names” or “handles” to the various “voices” in it.

The next step is to “introduce” the voices to each other and form an internal consensus (a “coalition”, or an “alliance”). This requires a prolonged period of “negotiations” and mediation, leading to the compromises that underlies such a consensus. The mediator can be a trusted friend, a lover, or a therapist.

The very achievement of such an internal “ceasefire” reduces anxiety considerably and removes the “imminent threat”. This, in turn, allows the patient to develop a realistic “core” or “kernel”, wrapped around the basic understanding reached earlier between the contesting parts of his personality.

The development of such a nucleus of stable self-worth, however, is dependent on two things:

1) Sustained interactions with mature and predictable people who are aware of their boundaries and of their true identity (their traits, skills, abilities, limitations, and so on), and

2) The emergence of a nurturing and “holding” emotional correlate to every cognitive insight or breakthrough.

The latter is inextricably bound with the former.

Here is why:

Some of the “voices” in the internal dialogue of the patient are bound to be disparaging, injurious, belittling, sadistically critical, destructively skeptical, mocking, and demeaning. The only way to silence these voices or at least “discipline” them and make them conform to a more realistic emerging consensus is by gradually (and sometimes surreptitiously) introducing countervailing “players”.

Protracted exposure to the right people, in the framework of mature interactions, negates the pernicious effects of what Freud called a Superego gone awry. It is, in effect, a process of reprogramming and deprogramming.

There are two types of beneficial, altering, social experiences:

1) Structured interactions that involve adherence to a set of rules as embedded in authority, institutions, and enforcement mechanisms (example: attending psychotherapy, going through a spell in prison, convalescing in a hospital, serving in the army, being an aid worker or a missionary, studying at school, growing up in a family, participating in a 12-steps group), and

2) Non-structured interactions, which involve a voluntary exchange of information, opinion, goods, or services.

The problem with the disordered person is that, usually, his (or her) chances of freely interacting with mature adults (intercourse of the type 2, non-structured kind) are limited to start with and dwindle with time. This is because few potential partners—interlocutors, lovers, friends, colleagues, neighbors—are willing to invest the time, effort, energy, and resources required to effectively cope with the patient and manage the often-arduous relationship. Disordered patients are typically hard to get along with, demanding, petulant, paranoid, and narcissistic.

Even the most gregarious and outgoing patient finally finds himself isolated, shunned, and misjudged. This only adds to his initial misery and amplifies the wrong kind of voices in the internal dialogue.

Hence my recommendation to start with structured activities and in a structured, almost automatic manner. Therapy is only one and at times not the most efficient choice.

by Guest Author Sam Vaknin — the author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited” and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.

He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam’s Web site.

Read “Narcissism” by Alison Poulsen

Watch “How to become less self-critical.”

Read Sam Vaknin’s: “Inner Voices, False Narratives, Narcissism, and Codependence.”

Posted in Personality Traits, Vaknin, Sam PhD, Visiting Authors | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“At first he was the pursuer, but now he’s the distancer. When I asked him whether this relationship was going anywhere, he told me that for him our relationship has not developed into anything special yet, although it might in the future but it also might not….”

“Fire ‘n Ice”—Mark Wood & Laura Kaye by Mimi Stuart ©

“Fire ‘n Ice”—Mark Wood & Laura Kaye
by Mimi Stuart ©

He is clearly telling you that he is not in love with you, while at the same time keeping his options open. Someone who says after nine months that “it has not developed into anything special yet” is saying that he is in this relationship for his convenience until something better comes along. You are selling yourself short by staying together with someone who views his relationship with you so lackadaisically.

A fulfilling relationship should be based on mutual desire and respect. Despite the intermittent fun and exciting dates together, mutual desire is replaced here by apathy and ambivalence. This is clear from his own words, his lack of curiosity about you, and the scarcity of his efforts to talk to you when you are in town, out of town, or out of the country.

His lack of desire for a deeper connection with you is likely to leave you feeling more and more frustrated and disappointed. Unless you are satisfied with a perpetual feeling of unrequited longing, I would get out of this relationship now before your self-esteem deteriorates. Stop seeking his occasional validation and hoping that he will change.

Beware though, when you do back away, he will probably re-double his efforts and start saying things that you may enjoy hearing. Although you might take pleasure in his pursuit of you once again, if you go back to him every time he pursues you, his pattern of avoiding intimacy by distancing himself will probably become more exaggerated.

In the future, beware of the person who pursues you hotly in the beginning and then loses energetic interest. People like that often are drawn to the chase, but retreat from emotional intimacy.

When someone’s interest in you becomes lackluster, it’s time to let go.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Pursuit and Distancing: Intimacy vs. Needing Space.”

Watch “Seven keys to a great relationship.”

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“My girlfriend said she needed time and space to re-evaluate our relationship, for us to work on ourselves, and then see where we want to go from there. I was reassured that her moving out was not an end to our relationship, but just putting it on hold. We agreed that we could still see each other, fidelity would be respected, and we could also continue to communicate with each other. I complied.”

"Counterpoint" by Mimi Stuart ©  Living the Life you Desire

“Counterpoint” by Mimi Stuart ©
Living the Life you Desire

Avoiding honest discussions about difficult issues

No relationship is perfect. So one of the key ingredients in a long-term relationship is being able to be honest while diplomatic about changes that would improve the relationship and boundaries that need to be set.

If people are too worried about hurting each others’ feelings to be candid, then long-term intimacy may be severely compromised. While attack and defensiveness are counter-productive, honest expression of your needs and desires in a relationship is crucial. A couple needs to be able to talk openly about what is not working in their relationship.

Have you both been able to discuss the issues in your relationship? Do you know why your girlfriend needs to move out to re-evaluate the relationship? Are you sure she is not simply trying to ease out of the relationship without hurting you too much?

Having it both ways

Your girlfriend seems to be calling all the shots while you hand over all of the control in the relationship to her. Separating and the possibility of getting back together seem to be in her hands. Is she trying to have it both ways–keep you waiting for her, while she decides what she really wants?

Being too compliant

Notice that she was the one reassuring you, which means she assumes that you will be there waiting for her. Consider whether you have allowed a dynamic to develop in your relationship where you give her total control in the name of being agreeable and accommodating.

While it is important to be reasonably accommodating in a relationship, when you give up too much of your power and subordinate your needs and desires to another person, you will become emotionally debilitated. As a result, you will feel lackluster, your partner will lose interest in you, and passion will tend to diminish. Even if you do get back together, if this dynamic continues, you will lose your sense of self by being too compliant, and she will lose her desire for you.

Taking control of your own life and your role in the relationship

1. Have a candid conversation. Ask her to explain why she is dissatisfied. Assure her that you can handle the truth and see if she can be candid about why she wants to separate. In order for you to have the opportunity to re-evaluate the relationship, you need to know what’s bothering her and whether she can handle difficulties in a relationship as part of a team.

2. Live your life, don’t put it on hold. Keep your life engaged. Avoid sitting around waiting for her to decide whether she can do better. Give her space while maintaining your own friendships and social activities. It’s always good to keep your life interesting and continue to pursue your passions, whether living together, married or not. You will feel more alive and be a more interesting and desirable person.

3. Re-evaluate your relationship with her. Make sure you also re-evaluate the relationship on your own terms. Make sure you are in touch with your own needs and desires and not just simply complying with hers. Imagine that you do get back together. Can you avoid walking on eggshells wondering if she’s going to back away again? Will you two be able to discuss boundaries, needs, and desires? Will you be second-guessing her and trying to appease her so that she doesn’t leave again? Are you willing to simply wait and hope for her to decide to get back together with you? How do you really feel about her wanting to separate yet wanting to keep her options open?

Based on your reflections about these questions, you might tell her what your desires are and decide what actions you would like to take, and see if you can have a productive conversation together.

Separation can be helpful especially if you are both young and haven’t developed a strong sense of self. However, long-term relationships require trust, which is best promoted by honest and open discussions about the inevitable challenges that arise in a relationship.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Positive Bonding Patterns: ‘We never fight, but we don’t talk anymore and there’s no more passion.’”

Read “My boyfriend broke up with me last week.”

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