Emotions

Always Be Honest With Yourself (And Others.)

“To thine own self be true…” – Shakespeare

“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” -Freud

“If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule – Never lie to yourself.” – Coelho

This reoccurring theme throughout the ages is simple, but they don’t tell you have fucking difficult it actually is.  I say this with no bitterness as I’ve been focused on keeping myself honest for almost a decade now. Though I feel like I’ve shared a bit of that backstory with you already… for those of you just joining us, long story short, I was a lying, manipulative asshole from my teenage years all the way up past the quarter-century mark of my life.  I paid for it, learned from it and the one shining lesson above all else that I embraced was as stated above: Be honest with yourself first.

At first it was easy.  My lies exposed, my life had shattered and come crumbling down around me.  So many lies over so many years meant I didn’t even actually know who I was.  Through all the attempts to be whatever I thought people wanted me to be, I actually began to buy into my own bullshit.  And so, when said bullshit was cleared away, there was simply nothing.  A husk, an empty shell stripped bare, an empty barrel with any trace of identity laying somewhere in the bottom of it.  The easy part of this phase was that I had nothing to lose.

When you don’t care about anything, there is no reason to lie.

You always know where he's coming from.

You always know where he’s coming from.

So I went on for a while as a non-filtered, brutally honest asshole.  Abrasive, uncaring, broken.  I severed ties with people whom had similar habits in lying that I had.  In fairness I did try to educate them in the futility of that lifestyle, but like any drug it’s an ugly and destructive habit that is not so easily escaped.  But I absolutely could not stand to be around it any more, so I left.  After a while on my own I found those that respected and had the resilience for my abrasive honesty, but only some of them could actually handle it.  The others felt they needed to change me, to fix me.  The truth is I did need fixing, but not the way they thought.  In the end it backfired on them because everything I represented came straight from the source, and when you’re in touch with your core like that – a direct link – nothing gets skewed.

But although that sounds ideal, it was miserable.  Brutal, abrasive honesty with nothing to lose is lonely and broken and mostly incapable of operating in our society.  Eventually I began to value things and people in various ways.  Not (to this day) on an ideal level of love, but they became important nonetheless, and I was able to at least partially convey that to them (admittedly, some attempts went better than others.)  I began to develop a filter.  I still would not lie, and to this day I keep that tenant.  But I began to withhold things for the sake of others, and maybe (without realizing it) for the sake of myself.

Many say that withholding is the same as lying, but I can’t quite get behind that.  It’s situational, it depends on what you withhold from who, and why.  It’s a grey area.  Obviously if you are withholding relevant information from somebody that trusts you, then it is probably as destructive and deceptive as lying.  So yes, in that case it’s along the same lines.  This also includes “protecting” somebody from being hurt when they have every right to the information you have.

On the other hand, withholding information that falls into the lines of gossip about another, or exposes the secrets of somebody that trusts you is a virtuous thing.  You have the information perhaps because you were involved or because they confided in you, but their secret is not yours to tell, even if that means that you must also withhold something about yourself that you might not normally.

But like all grey areas, all of those rationalizations are a delicate balance… sometimes only a step away from falling back into the habits of lying and deceit for the sake of self.  This balance must be carefully maintained, and in every case it must start with you.

Situational... but clever.

Situational… but clever.

It is easy to say “I’m honest with myself, and I’ve proven it so I can relax.”  But that’s a trap, and one I believe I may be falling into.  Don’t get me wrong, I still abhor lying outwardly and choose to be (at times) uncomfortably forthcoming.  But inwardly I think it’s easy to become careless and I might very well be experiencing the results of that.

You see, the key to remember when endeavoring to be honest with yourself is to remember who you are.  But the complicated aspect of that, is that who you are changes. Often. Sometimes gradually, sometimes near-instantly (and with an abundance of cosmic energy if you’re especially cool.)  Being honest with yourself is a constant exercise in checking yourself against who you are, and in order to do that, you have to be ready to consistently accept some really unpleasant truths about yourself.  Then, once you’ve pinpointed where you’re weak and ugly, you have to be willing to accept and then be outwardly honest about those faults through both words and action.  This is the process of improving those things and therefore making yourself a more balanced, ultimately happier person.

On the same turn, you need to be really honest about what you like about yourself and what your strengths are.  You would think this would be easy, but insecurity has a way of diminishing these attributes to you.  It’s a defense mechanism that your mind puts in place when society starts teaching you that it’s bad to be different, or to like certain things depending on who you are, or any of the five billion other idiotic standards society tries to program into you from a young age.

So what’s the point?  Why put so much effort into checking yourself when you could just act naturally and let that be who you are?  Well, as I’ve been finding out through a number of difficult situations lately, if you don’t pay attention to who you are and what you’re about right now. You fall into the trap of personal rationalization.  Instead of rationalizing your thoughts or actions outwardly, you do it inwardly and in regards to who you actually are.  So you create this ideal image of who you are in your mind without the gut check.  Instead of paying attention to how you feel about a particular situation or action you take, you create a persona and begin to check yourself against that as if it’s who you are.  This is the lie, and one that many people intentionally fall into.

fine,honest,hurt,life,quotes,sad-cda72d0c8b592856321a43478cf8d32f_hBut the problem with believing your own persona, is that who you really are deep down doesn’t go away.  If you’re really, really lucky it might adapt itself to your persona, but the vast majority of the time, it will instead sabotage it. If you don’t face it, the person you really are will sabotage you.  Have you seen when seemingly powerful people have massive breakdowns?  What about celebrities that have it all and then abruptly crack or even die?  This list of causes is endless: Drugs, depression, anxiety, alcoholism, or general crazed, reckless behavior but it all comes down to the fact that those suffering in those cases were lying to themselves.  About who they were, where they were weak, how they felt or what they needed help with.  Celebrities are extreme cases because they live in extreme circumstances, but none of us (not even me) are immune.

So, for your sake, take some time to get to know you.  Explore how you feel about things, people and the world completely separate of what anyone else thinks is best for you.  Once you’ve done that, make sure you keep doing that as you change and grow and feel differently about things.  Don’t lose touch with who you are and absolutely do not fall into the trap of rationalizing who you are – to yourself first – and then to anyone else.  There is no rationalizing who and what you are at your core, you simply are. Though it takes some balance to know what to allow to the surface for others to see, you must accept yourself within raw and unfiltered.  When you have a foundation of honesty such as that, it is both liberating and empowering.  You know who you are, and nobody can take that from you.

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The Roar Of Silence

“You’re reaching.” she wrote.  A gentle reminder that I was once again allowing my desperation to influence my actions.  Eventually I cut myself off from her because I didn’t trust myself to not repeat that behavior.  I didn’t want to burden her and embarrass myself further.  She was actually much more irritated about it than I had expected and I may very well have damaged that connection permanently.  Such is price I pay for indulging what I know is foolish behavior, when I allow the emotions I keep so well in check to bubble through the cracks and control me.  That wouldn’t be the last time they would cause such damage.

Well okay, not *totally* alone. :)

Well okay, not *totally* alone. 🙂

So what happens?  How does the one who some say seems so strong and often emotionless crack and screw up like that?  As I’ve mentioned before, it’s because after so much time, desperation temporarily sets in and I start to really feel alone.  I say often that I am good at being alone, that I like being alone.  Everyone who knows me knows that I like my space, there are very few people I care to spend more than a day or two with, and much much fewer whom I can tolerate for more than a month.  But even though I actually do have people I could call, they are not really my people, at least not yet.

Allow me to try and make some sense of this.  I’ve spoken before of cycles and I know where I’m at in mine.  Before I was isolated following a major change and the same has happened again.  Those I was close to the during the previous cycle are essentially ghosts now (there are notable exceptions, but none are in the foreground due to circumstance) and though some who were previously in the background might be moving to the foreground, right now is a transition… a very, very quiet transition.  I have no room to complain, my life is good, my job is good and I have some really great people in my life.  But make no mistake that I am quite alone and sometimes, late at night or early in the morning when I’m starting or ending my day and there is nothing to distract me, I notice how very silent it is, and that silence is very, very loud.

So what did I do when this solitude began to set in and I wanted to reach out to everyone I could?  Well, obviously I became intentionally introverted.  For years I was one of those people at the center of the parties.  I would arrange massive gatherings, bring people from all walks of life together and usually serve them ridiculous amounts of alcohol until crazy shit happened.  It was great for a time, especially when many of those were my people.  But eventually the novelty faded and I began to question the point.  Most recently at the turn of the year I examined a similar event and realized that for what I put out, I wasn’t really getting much back any more.  Unless I actively pursued these people, I wouldn’t see them, hear from them and if I reached out and they responded, they were doing me a favor. In fairness some probably don’t even realize that dynamic exists, but then, that’s the point.  They don’t really consider it, they don’t really consider me.  So, I basically said “Fuck that.” and withdrew.  I made it a general rule that I would happily address those who addressed/invited me.  If they did not, then we all have our priorities, and I simply wasn’t one.  It sounds a little bitter, but it’s more a resignation that (especially for me) things change and nothing is permanent.

Not THAT silence... I need a marker...

Not THAT silence… I need a marker…

Understanding the way of things doesn’t always make it easy though.  My inner-voice tells me to simply be “patient” (wisdom springs from experience and patience after all…) but sometimes lately I like that word a little less every time it is whispered to me.  It is restlessness that sets in after a very long time of enduring something.  It will ebb and flow and fade, but sometimes it does get difficult, and that’s when I begin to reach.  That’s when I get myself into trouble.  But until the universe throws me another inevitable curve ball (it loves doing that…) I will remain withdrawn and selectively accept the company of those who seek it from me.  I don’t owe the world anything more than I am willing to give and the universe will put me where it needs me anyway.

It’s a fight though… to not try and shatter the silence with something, anything.  The last cycle I was put into a position in which I didn’t have a choice but accept somebody that I knew I probably shouldn’t have… and at the same time another far more important person was beginning to be alienated, eventually seemingly permanently (thus far anyway…)  So I will try not to reach and I will focus on not repeating my mistakes in whatever form they present themselves in this time.  I will wait and be patient until I can remember how to wake up and find my way out of the silence the right way.  I will be stronger, I will endure and I will try not to lose all of the person I was when I was happier.  Things change and nearly everything is temporary in this, so I will endeavor to control the one thing in this world that I can: me.

Sexual Dynamics, Part 2: Making Love

My first thought (and perhaps yours) is: “Why do you think you’re qualified to write about this!?”  I’m not.  I’ve had my brushes with the grey areas over the years, and let’s say that at times maybe it refreshed my memory, but I haven’t been consistently, romantically, lovingly involved with somebody for nearly a decade.  So am I an expert on the fine art of love-making as I feel I was for hooking up?  Fuck no.  But I’ll give it a shot anyway, maybe I can paint an ideal, unrealistic picture for us all!

This is less love and more a fire hazard...

This is less love and more a fire hazard…

So what’s the difference between sex and making love?  Rose petals? candles? magic?  No, not really.  It comes down to comfort and trust.   Yep, that thing I’ve talked about as being dangerously bad in the past is one of the defining differences between hooking up and making sweet love.  Trust is a given, if you don’t trust your partner, you have no business being with them and claiming you love them.  In my experience, even if you don’t automatically trust the person you love, you choose to.  So with that in mind, if you trust your partner mentally and emotionally, it seems reasonable that physical will follow.  Especially when the element of communication is present.  As I’ve said, that’s pretty essential for any sort of good sex, but if you don’t communicate properly with the person you’re supposedly in love with, it’s going to severely dampen you sex life (along with your relationship.)

Comfort is a double-edged sword.  When you grow emotionally comfortable with somebody, the personas you put out to the outside world (including those you may have hooked up with) strip away and you feel good about showing / giving yourself to somebody completely.  Exposed, vulnerable, honest, raw.  They get what the hookups don’t, they get all of you.  Getting naked and getting off with somebody is easy, letting them have you with all your mental and emotional defenses down and trusting them to do right by you is much, much harder.  Making love is (and should be) a physical metaphor for your entire relationship: physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual.  Over time though, that comfort can easily fall into taking each other for granted.  Even the act of making love can begin to feel mundane over a long amount of time and lose the very thing that differentiates it from simply hooking up.  It’s a fine line, balanced properly by effort, communication and dedication to satisfying each other’s needs. The physical aspect of a long-term relationship must be maintained as much as any other aspect, or it can just as easily end said relationship as anything else.  You’ve pledged yourselves to each other for the long haul, that means taking care of all the needs you can for them.

Pictured: Magic (I had no idea I was being painted...)

Pictured: Magic (I had no idea I was being painted…)

Don’t get me wrong about magic either, when you’re in love with somebody the magic is (ideally) in everything, especially at first.  But the magic is the love itself.  In the beginning.. the “honeymoon phase” the newness and excitement makes this magic almost automatic, but once that fades it takes some level of work to recognize, appreciate and make magic.  You have to make  love.  Perhaps that’s where the term comes from as many of the more romantic (and in my opinion misguided) belief systems consider sex to be the ultimate expression of love.  While that’s utter bullshit, it makes a decent point in reinforcing that the physical certainly is important as a balanced form of expressing your love physically.  In my experience, the special someone will always have that pull, the intangible, explainable thing that draws you to them, but it’s up to you both to recognize and elaborate on that.  Part of loving somebody is being dedicated to exploring and nurturing the magic that you have with them, and that very includes the bedroom.  If it doesn’t… well then you fall in the very large percentage of people who do what they feel they have to on the side.  It doesn’t meant the love is gone, but it means something has fallen to the wayside on a physical level at least (if not other levels as well.)

NOT Love.  But REALLY, REALLY fun.

NOT Love. But REALLY, REALLY fun.

So, what about non-traditional situations?  Threesomes, Orgies or just open relationships?  I’m not going to go into Polyamory or other alternative relationship situations because this isn’t about the relationships, this is about the love-making within the relationship.  Can people really be in love with multiple people equally?  Yeah, probably.  But let’s talk about that some other time.    In the meantime let’s start with three or more people since I’ve got some experience with this.  First of all, this is by no means wrong or bad for the relationship as long as both people are totally open and honest with each other.  This keeps misunderstandings from happening and allows ground rules to be set if necessary.  Done properly, adding an addition person the mix for a couple to share can be very exciting and fulfilling.  The key is that both partners are equally interested in the situation and they regard the third person as a toy for them both play with.  The third person should also be very clear about their role, and honestly would rarely complain.  In my experience, the threesome+ itself is exciting, sexy and even satisfying, but not making-love.  It’s more like the couple as a singular entity are “hooking-up” with another person.  It’s recreation, fun, sexy recreation for all parties involved.  The nifty side-effect I’ve noticed is that such situations usually result in a second, more connected “love-making” session a bit later on.  Call it reconnection,  reclaiming, whatever.  It’s probably just because the threesome highlighted the contrast between hooking up and making love enough for the couple to crave the added intimacy.

As for open relationships, the best way to explain this is simply that when those in love are with each other, they have that greater connection and intimacy that is making love.  When they venture out and see other people, they are just plain fucking.  It’s like masturbating, but better because it’s always better when somebody else does it.  Obviously this sort of situation requires that the couple not be possessive of each other physically and have spectacularly good, straightforward communication (both of which are much harder in practice than in theory.)  This maintains the necessary trust along with the obvious need for open communication among all parties regarding healthy sexual practices.  I absolutely must point out that love is not possessiveness.  I’m not saying that it’s wrong to want your partner all to yourself, but if somebody isn’t physically possessive, it doesn’t mean they don’t love somebody, it just means they have drawn a clear line in their mind between making love and hooking up.  I’ve heard people say in the past that they like it when their spouse/partner gets jealous because it means they love them.  Fuck that.  Jealousy isn’t love in any way, shape or form.  It’s about possession and nobody owns anyone.  A good relationship is when two people want to give themselves to each other and share their lives equally.  Ownership has nothing to do with it. Ever.  So with that said, while jealousy is natural, it can also be controlled and mastered, and if that’s the case, then a loving and open relationship is certainly possible.

They OBVIOUSLY get it.

They OBVIOUSLY get it.

So what is “Hooking Up”?  Two (or more) consenting adults happily get naked and do sexy things to each other until they end up in a happy heap of post-orgasmic bliss.  What is “Making Love”? Two (or possibly more) people come together without barriers, personas or presumptions and give themselves to each other mind, body and spirit.  They truly connect on multiple levels and and express their total desire to share their lives with each other.  Hooking up is great when done responsibly, but making love is a rare treasure on a whole different level.

Philosophy of Moderation – Part 2: Emotional

I am admittedly not so qualified to write this entry.  If I had named it “mental” and gone on about self-discipline and such then perhaps I would have a bit more merit.  However, as you saw in my last post, I have to write about what I’m feeling, and this is a good time to talk about emotional moderation, when it’s needed, and when maybe it isn’t.

A few posts back I talked about about what it is to be happy.  I struggle with that a bit as my natural state is to be quite neutral/cold.  On the plus side, I typically don’t get bent out of shape or overly depressed about a lot of things (there are, however, specific things, such as last week’s rape article…)  On the downside, getting me overly excited about any specific concept is tough.  I’m set at a certain level of “happy” that is very moderate.  Though my level is probably lower than your average well-adjusted “happy” person, for most people being set at a certain level of “happiness” is not a new concept.

Hedonic-Treadmill

A bit oversimplified but you get the idea.

The Hedonic Treadmill is the concept that humans tend to return to a specific level of happiness despite major events or life changes (be they positive or negative.)  In essence it compares our emotional state to walking on a treadmill, in which we simply need to keep walking (living) at a comfortable, indefinite pace in order to stay in place (so essentially our “natural” state of happiness.)  When something awesome happens, the treadmill turns up allowing you to run and gain more (happiness), faster.  But inevitably (psychologically) you’ll get tired and have to take it back down to your natural pace.  Likewise when something terrible happens, the treadmill slows to a crawl, slowing your progress and setting you back until you regain your energy, allowing you to return to normal pace.  Another (perhaps less confusing) way to look at it is like a thermostat, your normal happiness is set at a certain level.  The outside world might make you warmer or colder for a while, but inevitably your thermostat will bring you back to the temperature you are naturally set at.

The case is often made with lottery winners and those with near unthinkable amounts of money to the average person.  We always think “Man!  If I had that kind of money I would always be happy!”  But the truth is, those that do have that sort of money are no happier than you are most days.  People adapt to basically anything (good or bad,) and no matter what we have, we always want more (especially if we think we can’t have it…) Some of us are better at it than others, so it may happen faster for some, but inevitably everyone returns to that set point.  Be it Lottery, New Car, Sex, Marriage, Children, Car Accidents, Losing Your Job, Divorce and even a death in the family, life events can extend for months or even years, but your base happiness with eventually attempt to return to a certain level of happiness regardless.

Sometimes "Happy Work" means going to the beach in your suit...

Sometimes “Happy Work” means going to the beach in your suit…

Initially this idea was a little disturbing to me.  To say that no matter what happens we’re always going to achieve the same general level of happiness makes it sound like striving for anything is pointless.  But fortunately it actually gives us a purpose:  Find a way to raise your treadmill/thermostat/hedonic set point.  It sounds simple but naturally it’s more difficult than simply making yourself happy.  You have to figure out what moves you, and what you can consistently to do to make yourself happier than you are now.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s (obviously) happy work.

But there’s a flip side:  depression.  Depression (in this case) is basically the state in which perpetual negative circumstances / state of mind keep you from returning to your normal happiness setting.  This can be any number of consistent negative influences: abusive relationships (usually family or spouse), imprisonment, consistent anxiety, chronic illness and drug/alcohol abuse are fairly common examples.  Something key to note here is that this doesn’t mean the depressed person is “broken”, simply that a consistent negative stimuli is acting as a barrier to keep them from returning to their set point of happiness.  Unfortunately it’s probably possible that an extended duration of some of these could even lower the setting on somebody’s hedonic treadmill.  But the good news is, in most cases studies show that once the negative situation is removed/resolved, the majority of those experiencing this depression bounced back to their hedonic set point.

So, how do we turn up our happiness setting?  Nobody knows for sure.  To some extent it will vary depending on the individual.  Most recent research points to some fifty percent of our happiness/hedonic set point being determined by genetics.  Personally, I’m not willing to allow some unseen statistic (whether factual or not) to control how I feel, so I’m not going to think about the half that I supposedly can’t control.  Instead I’ll focus on what I can.  A pretty interesting study by psychologists Headey and Wearing (1989) suggested that our position on the spectrum of the stable personality traitsneuroticism, extraversion, and openness to experience (wiki links for you psych majors that want to dive in…) accounts for how we experience and perceive life events, and therefore indirectly contributes to our happiness levels (Elaborated via handy wiki-table:)

Neuroticism Extraversion Openness to experience
Anxiety Warmth Fantasy
Hostility Gregariousness Aesthetics
Depression Assertiveness Feelings
Self-consciousness Activity Actions
Impulsiveness Excitement/Sensation Seeking Ideas
Vulnerability to Stress Positive Emotion Values

The goal is minimizing your neuroticism category, while trying to increase your extraversion and openness to experience.  This somewhat supports my longstanding philosophy that experiences are the key to being happy (over material gains… more on this in a few.)  Don’t let the term “extraversion” mislead you though, you don’t have to be an extrovert to be happy, as you can see under that category many of those aspects are present in many an introvert.

wjn-1So WHAT experiences then?  There is no clear answer due to individual reactions to individual experiences.  What should be noted though is that your hedonic set point is, in fact, chemical.  As such experiences that bring temporary satisfaction through chemical interaction (such as drug/alcohol use) can have the reverse affect over time requiring more of said substance to even maintain your hedonic set point. Instead research indicates that maintaining a positive outlook / attitude, adaptability and altruism (due to the personal satisfaction reward) are the keys to staying on the positive side of your hedonic set point.  As a result, reinforcing or strengthening those aspects of yourself should theoretically allow you raise your base happiness.  This might help explain why those with a great deal of those with an abundance of money who appear relaxed and/or good natured are known to be highly involved and give a great deal to charity, whereas others who are equally endowed on a material level but less giving often appear more uptight, irritated or generally disagreeable.

So, long story short:  We all have a pre-set level of happiness we return to.  We should endeavor to live in order to raise that setting for ourselves and those around us.  Money is fine, but it is best used as a key to happy experiences and to help others be happier.  This, in turn, will raise our happiness.  There will be setbacks, but we are, in fact programmed to return to our hedonic set point and as such, no matter what happens, we always have a chance to make more happiness so long as we can get past any circumstances keeping us from that point.

That's a lot of experiences... just sayin'..

That’s a lot of experiences… just sayin’..

On a personal level, as stated above I am an experience seeker.  I seek those moments of bliss and euphoria (note: NOT drug related in any way… though maybe occasionally some scotch or vodka.)  But it is not so much the moment itself that contributes to my hedonic set point, but rather the positive memory of the moment that gets better and better as time goes on.  Though extremely selfish, I am also fairly altruistic towards the people I believe are worthy of it.  Going back to the title (though I haven’t said much of it thus far) I remain at a very moderate emotional state, which allows me to be objective in situations where other’s emotions may get the best of them.  However, that leaves me more vulnerable to falling into negativity, and if I do not properly moderate those feelings, they can hold me back from the experiences that would help me feel better in the first place.  All that said, who doesn’t want to be happier?  I think anyone who tells themselves that is lying.  Maybe when it comes to being happy, the philosophy of moderation should instead be the philosophy of abundance.

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