Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Empathy Part 2

We talked about empathy recently. Today we're going to add another element.

Along with learning to pay attention to others, empathy is also about paying attention to yourself.

One of the things that makes empathy harder is getting so blocked by our own thoughts or feelings that we aren't able to pay attention to the other person. We're so caught up in our own stuff that we don't see that he's feeling uncomfortable, or that she really wants us to kiss her, or that the other person is too busy needing to pee to pay attention to anything we're saying, no matter how brilliant it might be.

In fact, one of the real challenges in empathy is learning to parse out the difference between what I'm experiencing and what my brain and feelings are TELLING me I'm experiencing. So in a counter-intuitive way, paying more attention to ourselves helps us be less selfish.

 Empathizing with people is also remembering that we are ALSO a people. If we're repeatedly finding myself in a situation where I'm reacting a certain way or feeling certain feelings in my body, it's helpful to check into that.

(ETA - that said, There is also a subset of people that are a special case. Those are folks (this is not Asperger's or autism, btw) who need someone empathetic to 'feel' their feelings cause they can't do it on their own. I've found we can't treat them QUITE the same way as other people because they tend to manipulate our own empathy against us. But that's a topic of its own--and it's an interesting one. Start a thread if you're curious; the secret password is 'narcissism.' Put it in the title)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

For people who feel other's feelings

A reader wrote in concerned because s/he "feels other people's feelings strongly." S/he has been accused of being too sensitive and wonders how to deal with it.

One of the things to remember is that we are in fact built to pick up on each other's emotions. As Paul Ekman says, "Thoughts are private. Emotions are public." Picking up on others' emotions is what holds us together as social animals. There's nothing abnormal about it. People like you and I just happen to be better at it then most.

An approach I've found helpful treat it like any other trait--trying to shape it to be the best version of itself. So just as recklessness can become forged into courage or anxiety can be gardened into conscientiousness, bit by bit you sculpt sensitivity into compassion.

One thing I've done is made a commitment to take responsible for whatever feeling happens to be registering. It doesn't matter whether the emotion "belongs" to me or someone else, I still need to process it as best I can and I'm still accountable for my behavior while under an emotional influence.

That attitude has given me a sense of control and accountability. So instead of looking at myself as someone being buffeted around by other people's stuff, I look at it as a chance to rise to the occasion or an opportunity to practice my skills. Just making that change has helped a lot.

On a more technical note, another thing I've found helpful is to throughout the day check in with myself, identify what I'm feeling and rate that feeling on a scale of 1-10. So, for example, right now I'm feeling peaceful (1), rushed (3), contentment (2) Desire to be understood/make myself understandable (3).

By taking my emotional temperature throughout the day, I get an empathic baseline for myself. I have a sense of what is a typical emotional fingerprint for me under most day-to-day situations.  So if I'm suddenly experience an unexplained emotional spike, I have a better shot at knowing what or who triggered it. I also get better at knowing what my own feelings feel like physically. I've also noticed that other people's feelings are sometimes feel physically different than the same feeling when it comes from within--they're similar enough that I can identify them, but often there are slight differences in tone, intensity, or nuance. So if I'm feeling an anxiety that doesn't quite feel physically the same as the anxiety I'm used to, I know that it might be something outside myself.

Take the attitude that it DOESN'T MATTER whehter the emotion you're experiencing is yours or someone else's. You're feeling it now, so it becomes yours to transform.

One way I do this is with negative emotions imagine I'm feeling it for EVERYONE who has ever experienced it. So I say to myself "I accept this anxiety on behalf of everyone who feels anxious, I take their anxiety and offer them peace of mind (whatever emotion feels appropriate)"

Hope that helps.

Monday, August 3, 2015

(Editorial) Social Proof

Social Proof is the theory that we like people that other people already like. It’s not a new concept in dating; the tricks are legion: Women sending themselves flowers so their boyfriend thinks she has a secret admirer. Guys “rolling with their posse” (or whatever the expression is) in the club or bragging about how they played Bantam hockey with Andrew Cogliano. Hanging out with people we wouldn‘t be got dead with normally just to get ahead.

The idea is, if you get popular enough, people will like you and find you attractive.

Personally, I think that’s putting the cart before the horse. I believe that if you’re a likable, attractive person, “social proof” will take care of itself.

I’m not saying the other way doesn’t work. But it’s a shortcut, and odds are, it will eventually backfire. Yes, there are people who will like whoever happens to be popular. Unfortunately those friends are often the first off the bandwagon once the Next Big Thing comes around.

Look at Britney Spears circa 2007. Sure, she was popular. But what good did all that popularity do her when she was trapped in her house hanging out with tabloid photographers and missing court dates? Those are the days when you need a little less social proof and a few more friends.

That’s why I think it’s more important to focus on being a quality person than it is on being popular. You don’t always have control over how other people perceive you, but you do have control of yourself.

Besides, even if you don’t get famous…well, chances are you’ll still have someone to help you move.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Diary of a Gateway Boyfriend: The Last Day of Summer

The last day of summer was beautiful.

The leaves were starting to turn color, but the temperature was sunny and bright. The intermittent cool breeze was the only sign of impending fall and winter.

It was a beautiful day and I shared it with a beautiful person.

I got a kidney stone (that part wasn't so good) and she took me to the hospital and waited with me. We talked and read the battered television playing a game show in the waiting room. After I was discharged, we  went shopping for groceries together and then we went back to my place and put them away and then we broke up.

Just an ordinary day.

We knew the break-up had to happen at some point. We met in the spring and found out early that we wanted different things for the future. We also found that we had a good connection...natural and easy.

Our future was uncertain, but our now was good.

We weren't sure what to do. We decided to defer the decision until the end of summer.

On August 31st, we postponed the conversation. Too much going on in other areas of our lives.

And then, randomly, on a beautiful September evening, the decision made itself.

She talked about the weirdness of ending something in which we were both happy.

I shared the same confusion. To me, the whole separation happened BECAUSE our relationship had such a solid foundation. We communicated so well that we broke up almost before either of us realized it happened.

It's not fair, I remember thinking.

 I know people in bad relationships. They're painful, unhealthy, dysfunctional, and they drag on and on an on. The people in them don't communicate well, make decisions out of fear, don't know what they want...and   their relationship continues to lurch along, powered by their unwillingness to face the truth about their situation.  They aren't together in spite of their relationship's shittiness; they're together because of it..

And these people have someone to go to weddings with. They don't have family members asking them uncomfortable questions about when they will settle down. They don't have to jump back into the unknown of dating, and they get Valuable Social Approval Points just for staying together.

Meanwhile, this woman and I have to grieve and soul-search and start over and endure sympathetic looks from friends and family and go through the irrational suspicion that every couple we know is secretly judging us for not measuring up.

In the eyes of the general population, and maybe even deep down in our own hearts, this relationship gets placed in the failure category despite the fact that by every conceivable metric except longevity, it was as good as any I've ever been a part of.

I rant about this injustice for a while. She listens patiently. Then she says some more things and I say some more things, and eventually there's nothing left to say. We look for more anyways, because I don't think either of us particularly wants the evening to end, but the door is always there, and sooner or later she will have to step through it and I will have to close it behind her.

Crossing the threshold, she stops and turns to me.

"Funny," she says. Offically, today is the last day of summer."

And then it's just me and the feelings jostling in the queue.

- There's relief. It's over. I don't have to worry about fucking this up anymore. I don't know what the 'this' is, but you can't fuck up a relationship that is no longer there.

- There's guilt at feeling relieved. What does it say about me that part of me is happy that it's over?

- There's the feeling of failure, the thought that so many people seem to be able to DO this move in together and get married and have kids and have Responsible, Mature relationships, to grow old together in contentment, intimacy, and quiet dignity...Not only can I not seem to do that, and I can't even want it even though I WANT to want it more than anything.

It's all very dramatic

Other feelings come and go over the next few hours.

I make imaginary plans for the future, some of which involve her and some don't. I think of how much I care and believe in her. I worry about what she's feeling--how sad is she? Does she feel relieved too? Is she mad at me? (Oh, please don't let her be mad at me. If she was angry at me I would JUST DIE).

I think about how well I'm doing. I think about how mature, responsible, and compassionate we both were about the whole thing and feel a swell of pride for us. I think about the things she is doing in the next couple weeks. I want to know how they go for her.

Hurt. Oh my god, she's doing things next week. I'll never know how they go. That 'how well I'm doing' and 'how mature we are' I was thinking a second ago. That's denial. I'm a liar.

Peace...sadness...frustration...regret...pride...affection--each feeling comes bearing its own story and when I'm in the grip of it, each one feels like the most important feeling in the world.

Then the next comes, and I've forgotten the one before. This Feeling...this is the important one.

I remember a black squirrel I saw running across the grass while I was in British Columbia a couple days previous and how it made me think of her. I'm suddenly, irrationally angry at myself for forgetting to tell her about it. Yes, we cried and shared our fears, hopes, and dreams, and feelings and came to the best conclusion we could, but I NEVER TOLD HER ABOUT THE SQUIRREL.

That squirrel is suddenly the most important thing in the world. It's the most important thing in the enitre universe. It's the most important thing ever and I never told her about it and now we're broken up and we've agreed to give each other time to deal with our emotions and when that time is up it will be too late and a stupid little squirrel sighting won't matter to either of us.

The anger goes away.

The feelings are done for now. What's left is an empty, spacious feeling like an empty jar waiting to be filled with whatever comes next.

I look out the window where the September sun is setting, lighting the trees and leaves in the unmistakeable fiery glow of the ending of a Canadian summer.

I go to bed not expecting to sleep at all.  I wake up the next morning with an ache in my chest and a swarm of happy memories of our time together bloom in my head before I even consciously remember we've broken up.

I see the glass she drank from last night alone and empty in the sink. It makes me feel sad because it's a reminder that she's gone. It makes me feel happy because it's a reminder that she was here in the first place.

Summer is over. And while it will come again, it will never be this summer. The realization makes this moment all the more precious. Instead of sweeping up the pieces of broken heart, I want to kneel on the kitchen floor and cup them in my hands. I want to squeeze them until blood runs through my fingers, not because I want to hurt, but because I want some a reminder that this last day of  summer--and all the days before it--were real.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cleaning Up Your Dirty Talk

When it comes to whispering naughty naughty things in your partner's ear, context matters.

If you and your partner are into such things, here's something to experiment with.

Notice I said, you and your partner. These are NOT for use with strangers or people you've gone on one date with. You've been warned.

To me, there are two types of dirty talk.

I call them Turning On talk and Getting Off talk.

Turning on talk is about building tension and anticipation. I tend to make it more indirect, 'flowerier', and use a lot more sense details. When I'm using turning on talk, I also leave a lot more to the imagination.

Turning On talk is more for when you're apart and looking forward to what you'll do to each other when you see each other next. Or when you're together but in circumstances where fooling around isn't possible (at the opera or your parents house or something)

 Examples of turning on talk might include: "I was just thinking about the way you touch me" or "You were in my dreams last night," "It's hard to concentrate when I know I'll be seeing you later. I keep thinking about   or "I'm shopping for something new to wear just for you. What's your favorite color?"

Getting off talk tends to be shorter, sharper, and more direct. It's more for use towards the run-up to climax whether that's happening in the bedroom or over Skype or whatever the latest technology is.

I also find that it's possible to misuse both kinds of dirty talk. If you're in the getting off phase, turning on talk can be distracting and annoying; if you're in the turning on phase, getting off talk can be crude and inappropriate.

So just like so many other things, the type of talk you use will depend on what works for you personally and what you are trying to accomplish.

-May All Beings Be Sexy

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Time Is On Your Side

Time is on your side.

I don't mean that you have forever. Life ends for all of us.

I mean that whatever else is going on in your life, every moment you have is a chance to practice the things you value.

Keep at it.

-May All Beings Be Sexy