Let Me Tell You About My Feelings

Remember Far Side cartoons created by Gary Larsen? They were often with animals having some sense of human feelings, often a deeper sense than many humans actually have. Or, Larsen would have a group of people allegedly thinking or doing something that was an exaggeration of some human tendency. I miss Far Side. The cartoons made me laugh at myself and humanity without derision. I remember one in particular that has to do with legs.

The “leg cartoon” as Deb and I refer to it has led to our rather frequent expression of “legging” and “leg people.” The cartoon is one picture of several folks in a bar setting. Everyone in the bar has evidently been in some kind of accident and has had some kind of amputation. Hence, all these people have some kind of peg replacing their lost appendage. There are several people with peg legs, of course, which is what we normally think with some kind of amputation. There are also people with peg arms, peg hands, peg feet, peg ears, and the like. There is also someone with a peg head. This is a barroom scene, so people are evidently talking about the accidents or illnesses that caused them to lose part of their bodies. Seems reasonable.

There is only one caption at the bottom of the cartoon, evidently a statement being spoken by one guy at the bar to another guy at the bar. The inference made from the caption is that the guy with the peg head has just explained how his head had come to be amputated and replaced with a peg head. The guy speaking has a peg leg; the guy listening in the one person in the bar who has a peg head. The caption reads, “That’s nothing. Let me tell you about my leg!” Get it? The guy with the missing leg thinks that his loss of his leg is more significant than the guy who has lost his head!

Do you know “leg people,” i.e. people who always want to tell you about their “legs,” i.e. what is going on with them, what they think, what they feel, or what they did? I know many such people, some very particularly. Perhaps more importantly, I notice that I have “legs” that often seem more important than the peg legs or even the “peg heads” that the other person is talking about. In such circumstances, I want to tell my story. I want to have air time. I want someone to hear my feelings. But in that moment I have run over my friend’s leg story, arm story, or head story. It is a challenge to listen while I have my own legs while hearing my friend’s legs.

Listening

Deb and I have been working furiously on our most recent book project, tentatively entitled Let Me Tell You How I Feel. If you have read some of our blogs over the past year you will notice that we have written quite a bit about “feelings.” I suggest you review these, particularly the one on hearing feelings. In brief review “feelings” would be a central ingredient of a person, closely aligned, or perhaps a representation of one’s “inner self.” We think (abstractly) of a human being as composed of concentric circles: God or godlike at the core; then “core self” (some people talk about inner self, spirit, or soul); then the next concentric circle is the gifts and abilities we have, some natural, some learned, some enhanced; this third circle is followed by an expression of these gifts, often in words but with an orientation that is physical, emotional, productive, or cognitive. Our focus in the book is to help people express themselves (this would be the third concentric circle) and take the consequences of this expression.

First of all, note that all these terms are abstract and representational. Furthermore, none of these terms is definable. We note that all the really basic elements of the universe, like time, distance, and mass, are undefinable. Velocity is defined: distance over time, and weight is defined: mass times gravity, but time, distance, and mass are not defined. Likewise, many elements of the human experience are not defined, like love, mind, and even life. We put “feelings” in this category of undefined elements of life. We understand time, life, love, and feelings by observation and effect. What is the effect of time, love, etc.? How do we experience such things? This is how we come to understand feelings: observation and experience. Then we do the hard job of communicating this undefined important matter.

The communication of “feelings” is fraught with danger, not the least of which is the danger of thinking that I can communicate feelings precisely. I cannot. But that does not mean I shouldn’t make an honest attempt to communicate my feelings. I just have to keep in mind that I am not an ET of the 1980’s movie who could just “beam” his feelings to someone else. We are not ETs. We have to use words. Or perhaps other means of communicating like play, work, art, music, or dance. But most of us use words, which is implicitly challenging.

Challenging as it is to express and ultimately communicate feelings, it is much harder to hear them. Hearing someone express feelings causes a host of challenges for the listener, not the least of which is his/her own feelings. (By the way, we make an important distinction between feelings and emotion understanding that emotion is but a subset of feelings, but this is not the time to discuss that important matter.) The important factor in our present discussion is to note that when someone expresses feelings, the person listening will have feelings. If the listener is working to understand the speaker, he must know his own feelings, value these feelings, and keep his feelings to himself. Otherwise, he will be talking about his legs. Nothing wrong with legs, but they intrude on the listening process. This containing one’s feelings while listening is no easy project because everyone has legs.

What I have come to do is simply listen to the “legs” of the person talking to me, and do my best to understand my friend’s story. The more difficult task is when I am speaking about my story and my story is interrupted with the other person’s legs. Painful as it is for me to stop telling my story, I am often required to do so. I like to think that this is an act of grace on my part, but I sometimes render this grace with less than true graciousness, and maybe a bit of resentment. I have come to believe, however, that the person with the legs needs to tell me about her legs, and let it be. Thank goodness I’m a therapist.

Further Reading

Previous blogs on feelings

Forthcoming book on Feelings, probably available in a few months in manuscript form

The Best of Times. The Worst of Times

This is a quote from the first page of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, and it represents a profound statement of a good portion of life, namely that there is always a combination of good and bad to every experience we have in life. Dickens was speaking, now 200 years ago, about the good times and bad times in post-revolutionary France where the country was trying to find itself as a new democracy with all the good and bad about such a political system. Certainly, Dickens was speaking about the value of the French revolution that transformed the country from a royalty-dominated society to one governed democratically with “the people in control.” Dickens was also speaking of the abuses of the French revolution, or any revolution for that matter, which always has excesses and abuses, not the least of which were the frequent use of the guillotine as leaders of France shifted from left to right. Napoleonic rightwing excesses occurred after the leftwing Revolution as many Frenchmen came to want the authority that had existed under the nobles but had been lost in the creation of a democracy

I would dare say that there is no period of time, no country, no experience, no person, no relationship, and no idea that has not also been “the best of times” simultaneously with “the worst of times.” We tend to live in a society where people want things to be black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. This desire for there to be some exact right or wrong is a seeking of safety and security in the absolute. We currently see the absolute working itself out in the current political climate where, for instance, President Trump is seen as some kind of anti-Christ by some people but by many Trump followers as a person who just speaks what he believes and does what he wants, which is certainly right in his eyes and in the eyes of his many followers. I wrote a blog some time ago written about the “power” element of morality, borrowing from Jonathon Haight’s fine book on morality. The power of morality may seem like contradiction of terms, but it is not. Just ask Trumpers, many evangelicals, or the many people who follow dictators on many countries. There is nothing wrong with valuing power, but the danger of power is in its excesses: absolute power corrupts absolutely. Yet people yearn for the right person, the perfect person, the right morality, the perfect morality because it would be so nice, and so secure to have such a thing. But it doesn’t exist.

I was raised in the “best of times and the worst of times” with my family of origin. My household was libertarian, which means “do what you want and take the consequences of what you do.” I didn’t know it was libertarian at the time, but I knew both the “do what you want” and the “take the consequences of what you do” parts of my family. I was rarely punished but I suffered the consequences of my behavior many times. I took it as a matter of course that I would take the consequences of what I did. The best of times was that I was not criticized, castigated, demeaned, or threatened. I just did what I wanted and took the consequences. The best of times was the “do what you want” part; the worst of the times was taking the consequences. I recall missing the bus to school one day. We lived seven miles from school. So I came back home from the bus stop and told my mother that I had missed the bus. “I am so sorry, Ronny, that you missed the bus. That is too bad.” That is all she said. She didn’t berate me for my lifelong inclination towards tardiness. She didn’t threaten me. She didn’t say anything about getting out of bed earlier so I could catch the bus. She just said that she was sorry. But I knew what that meant, and I didn’t have to ask. It meant I would walk to school. Seven miles. I did that once. We never talked about it again, and I never was late for the bus again. The best of times and the worst of times. Great to have freedom, but not so great to take the consequences of freedom when you are tardy. This situation where I was never criticized or shamed gave me great self-confidence. I simply thought well of myself, not particularly better than anyone else. But this self-assurance did not play well in many circumstances because was perceived as arrogant. I wasn’t arrogant, i.e. feeling better than anyone else. I just felt good about me. Much of my self-esteem was developed in the trial-and-error nature of a libertarian atmosphere where you take the consequences of your behavior, good or bad, and are not inclined to blame anyone for your errors. This was the best of times. The worst of times is that this attitude of self-confidence did not play well in the real world of America where everyone and everything is criticized, blamed, or shamed. I wasn’t prepared for that part of life and it took me some time to understand the “best of times and worst of times” with having confidence.

In addition to the “best of times” in my libertarian family, I also had the privilege of saying whatever came to mind. Some of this was that both of my parents were extraverts, as I am by nature, but it was more than that because we had a household of everyone saying whatever they wanted to say with very little governance. We didn’t yell and swear at one another, but we would express our feelings and our thoughts without restraint. It took me decades of trials, and many painful errors to learn to govern what I say. Like, some places you can talk of God as a real entity in your life, and in other places you can use curse words seemingly using his name in vain. But I didn’t discriminate in my expressions of “God loves me” one moment and “godamnit” the next moment. The best of times was freedom of expression; the worst of times was the emotional damage that did to me, which in turn led to be being emotionally damaged by people whom I had hurt or scared But enough about me.

I would like you to consider the “best of times/worst of times” in your own life. This might be any of the following:

  • Love your job; don’t make enough money at it
  • Hate your job, but you make lots of money
  • Lover your spouse, but don’t like her
  • Like your spouse, but really don’t think you love her
  • Love your kids; hate the fact that they are so demanding
  • Love to eat junk food; hate the fact that it’s bad for you
  • Good to have a family; not usually good to be with them
  • Good to be alone, but it’s often lonely
  • Fun to watch TV, but don’t feel so good after 3 hours of TV drama
  • Love your sports car; don’t like that you can’t drive it in the winter
  • Love God; don’t like what God seemingly allows
  • Lover your political persuasion; don’t agree with much of it at the same time

There is much to be said to allow yourself to have these paradoxical thoughts and feelings. We are living in a time when people want simple, exact, and perfect answers, but it is equally likely that humankind has always wanted such things, like “always right” or “always wrong.” No such luck. We have to contend with these paradoxes of life. I have found that the more I admit to these mixed feelings, the best and the worst, the paradoxes of life, the more it becomes clear to me what my correct course of action should be.

Temperament VI, Players: Challenges and Opportunities

This is the sixth in a series of blogs on “temperament,” which is the primary way we understand personality differences in people. Previous blogs have summarized the four temperaments as we seen them: player, analyst, lover, and caretakers. The primary ingredient of a player is his or her desire for experience. You might want to review the player blog (Temperament II) for more information on how players feel, think and operate in life.

Players are loved or hated. They will be entertain you or offend you. They bring much joy and fun to the world, which is their special gift but they get into more difficulties in life than all the other temperaments combined. The difficulties are sometimes of their own making and sometimes from the negative reaction that they so often get from people who simply may not want to play all the time. Our North American culture has long neglected players, and the play they bring to the world. Worse yet, players have been truly despised because of the offense they bring to people, always unintentional. Their cavalier nature leads them to their being judged as irresponsible, disrespectful, or dangerous. Male players are seen as playboys who just want to get all they can from people, while female players are seen as wild women who abandon respectability and responsibility. This judgmental attitude toward players has not helped players mature. It has made them defensive. Worse yet, the offense that players so often give has prevented them from successfully giving to the world what it so desperately needs: fun and joy.

It would be wonderful if players were able to bring to the culture the element of play so as to enhance society and improve society, just as it would be equally wonderful for the world to profit from the gifts that analysts, caretakers, and analysts have for the world. The key for players to succeed in life is for them to understand themselves, value themselves, and successfully communicate themselves. Understanding, valuing, and communicating is a challenge for anyone, but it is hardest for players because they don’t put much effort in communicating. They just engage, experience and excite assuming that their audience will understand their intention to bring fun to the world. For players, fun and the joy that comes with it is what life is about. It is only through painful maturity that players are able to be themselves and find ways to use their gifts, a maturity that many players fail to find. But when players find ways to be themselves while also understanding people of different temperaments, they can be at their best.

Challenges for players

  1. The Boredom Challenge.

Because of their strong inclination towards excitement, players are very inclined to become bored. They are especially bored with anything that is repetitive, largely because something that is repeated is not new. Since so much of normal life requires people to do things repetitively, it can be difficult for players to simply do much of what we consider to be normal and necessary. Players are at their worst when there is nothing new to a procedure, nothing new to a day, or nothing new to an hour. A player’s mantra is something like, “If I have seen it before, heard it before, or done it before, it is boring to see it, hear it, or do it again.” While players can’t tolerate most things that are truly repetitive, they can repeat things that offer some opportunity for change.

When players have not had enough of the new, exciting, and different, they can fall in a boredom so severe that they are depressed. Because their basic nature is so excitement-oriented and based on something new or temporarily different, they are psychologically depleted when they are forced to do the routine and repetitive. They can even become disoriented in life and become quite self-critical thinking that they should be able to do what everyone else seems to be able to do. When players have been in situations that are intrinsically boring to them, they can say or do things that are quite inappropriate or even harmful because they are desperate to get out of their boredom.

  1. The Academic Challenge

Players generally find school to be boring. At least traditional school. The academic challenge is huge for players. School, as we typically know it, is not designed for players. The very nature of sitting in a class for an hour with a teacher lecturing is unnatural for players because it is not experiential and certainly not exciting and adventuresome. Fortunately, alternative schools and online classes have begun to remedy some of this difficulty giving players and other nontraditional students a way to learn. Even so, very nature of the traditional American learning environment does not serve players. Players are usually right brained. We also know that there are many ways of learning, specifically by hearing, seeing, and doing. These ways of learning are usually called auditory (words), visual (seeing), and kinesthetic (hands-on). Most of traditional classrooms focus on hearing and its cognates: writing, reading, and speaking. Ninety percent of school has to do with words, whether spoken, written, or read despite the fact that most people learn by doing (kinesthetic) or watching (visual). Players tend to be in this group.

Players actually learn quite well if they are given a chance to learn the way they learn. Simply put, they need to see things and to touch things. If we would allow for these ways of learning, players would fare much better. But it is no easy challenge for teachers and school administrators to find ways to help player children learn, and ultimately get excited about learning, if learning is going to be primarily words-based. The typical player kid enters a classroom ready to experience something, either personally by engaging physically in the activity or vicariously by seeing someone else engaged in the activity. Consider how hard it would be to teach Shakespeare to a player child who doesn’t necessarily want to learn Shakespearian words, but might be able to really grasp Shakespeare if she could be on the stage. Puck comes to mind again.

My wife, now a PhD psychologist, barely passed classes until late in her High School years when she took a psychology class and got her first academic A. Some of her difficulty in learning was due to the trauma associated with an abusive home life, but much of it was because of her player nature that made traditional learning difficult. Not until college did she learn that she could read well if she read out loud, read while walking, or read while she was signing (American Sign Language). She was liberated by simply having the privilege to roam hallways and city blocks with text books in hand. Player kids need to read a paragraph, get up and do a jig, and then read two paragraphs before looking at the leaves falling outside. If they are allowed this privilege of multi-focusing and multi-tasking, they can read the whole chapter and then the whole book, something Deb does routinely these days. The challenge is for parents and teachers to give players an environment that enhances their ways of learning without indulging their whims and wishes. We will discuss these positive possibilities later in this chapter. In the mean time we want to avoid diagnosing players with one or more commonly used diagnoses.

  1. The ADD challenge

We are all quite familiar with the phenomenon known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and its subcategory ADD (without the hyperactivity component). The principal symptoms of ADHD are impulsivity, distractibility, and hyperactivity. More specifically, ADHD individuals may also “fail to give close attention to details,” “fail to listen when spoken to directly,” “reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort,” and many other behaviors. I think most of the people, both children and adults, who have been diagnosed with one form or another ADHD are players. I would suggest that instead of identifying these people as “inattentive” and unable to focus, we might consider that they might be “multiply-focused” and very attentive…to everything around them. Instead of being “impulsive” and disorderly, we might consider that they are simply seeking experience and excitement.

Deb and I were at a Dane Dance last night, one of the many wonderful opportunities in Madison for summer play. There was a little girl, probably around 10 or 12 who wore a shirt that simply said “This is my summer shirt.” The clincher was that the phase was written upside down! I thought, “yup, a player kid!” Maybe Mom was the player in the family and had the idea of an upside-down writing. Regardless, someone wanted to play with words. Mozart once played the piano while facing outward from the instrument, just to see if he could do it. Players might just learn better upside down or backwards because it is different…not wrong.

  1. The Discipline Challenge

Most people think of discipline as a means of punishment, but etymological root of the word discipline is learning. We get the words disciple (student) discipleship (learning) from the same Latin root. It is helpful to think of discipline as purposeful and active learning done with a certain effort and commitment. Successful professional players, like dancers, athletes, and musicians have disciplined themselves to work at their professional play. Yet discipline is a challenge for young players, and often for players of all ages, because of the requirement for work and purposeful effort. Free players, as we have defined them in the last chapter, have a particularly difficult time disciplining themselves in some purposeful activity because they are more interested in the play of the moment rather than in some kind of professional play. Free players, who are the bulk of players in the world, need to find ways to find discipline enjoyable, exciting, and ultimately rewarding. The key word here is ultimately, something that is not naturally a part of free players’ view of the world and of play. They want to play now, play easy, and play all the time with little effort into finding a way to play more successfully and purposefully. Their need for immediate stimulation makes discipline very challenging.

Whether in business, school, or relationships, players need discipline, the discipline to do what you don’t want to do now so you can do what you do want to do later. This kind of discipline has to start in childhood or it will be very difficult to find it later in life. If player children are indulged with too much free play, or restricted too much from any play, they will not find the balance of work and play that is essential to success in life. People with a caretaker temperament can work all the time, but this is absolutely not true of players. They may actually be able to accomplish just as much alternating between playing and working, but it can’t be work all the time. And it can’t be work first, play second. Play has to come first…but it can’t end with play. This is the challenge for players: they want to play all the time.

  1. The Offensive Challenge.

The biggest social problem players face is that they offend people by their intrusions, albeit without intending to do so. Both adult players and child players offend, but because children are not usually developed in self-awareness, much less self-governance, player children offend easily and often. They intrude on teachers and fellow students in class. They intrude on their parents and siblings. They even intrude on fellow players in group play or free play. The hardest social task for players who are truly seeking to mature in life is to remember that everyone doesn’t want to play all the time, and that players’ tendency to engage people in some kind of play is experienced as an uninvited intrusion. Players are misinterpreted as being purposefully intrusive and are pushed away, often with great offense. Players simply want to bring fun to other people. It is very hard on them when they disappoint other people, harder when they hurt other people, and hardest yet when they are criticized for playing. They think something like, “All I want to do is to have fun and bring fun to other people. Why does this offend people?”

The essence of the offense that players bring to people is that of emotional hurt. They hurt people when they violate other people’s boundaries, whether those boundaries are physical (usually caretakers), relational (usually lovers), or ethical (usually analysts). The teacher’s boundaries may simply be to finish his lesson plan, and she is hurt when she is not able to get the lesson done because of the player’s interruptions. Friends and partners are hurt by players’ seeming lack of concern about their property, time commitments, and predictability. Players hurt bosses and supervisors who may simply have a desire to get work done compared to the player’s desire to play at work. Player children offend their parents, siblings, and extended family members with frivolous statements or actions meant to be playful and enticing. First, players are unaware of the hurt they bring to other people, and secondly, they do not understand it because their honest desire is to bring joy and laughter to everyone.

  1. The Addictions Challenge.

The danger of addiction for players is neurological, or more accurately neurochemical. Excitement is much related to endorphins, which might be simply understood as “happy hormones.” Endorphins are secreted by the pituitary gland to reduce pain, but they are also secreted as a result of some activities, like running, dancing, eating, listening to music, and even laughing. Importantly, the secretion of endorphins is strongly related to all addictions. An addiction is an activity or a chemical that causes the secretion of endorphins. You can see how players could seek activities that induce the secretion of endorphins, and thereby be inclined to become addicted to some chemical substance or some activity. If something is potentially addictive, players have experimented with it. They usually are addicted to several activities and substances.

The charge of endorphins into their blood system is much of the cause of players’ becoming addicted to certain chemicals. Players usually have experimented with one or more addictive substances, usually settling on one of these substances as a drug of choice. Their tendency is to become addicted to substances that are stimulants, like nicotine, caffeine, and cocaine although alcohol can be a kind of stimulant in large doses. It is not by accident that the pharmacological drugs of choice for ADHD/players are stimulants, like Adderall, Vivance, and Ritalin. Much more rarely are players addicted to the prescribed sedatives and marijuana, but opiates can also raise the level of endorphins in the system. Many drugs find their way into players’ lives because they are in some daily activity, whether work or relationships, that are less than stimulating. They can even look forward to coming home and having “a bowl” (of pot) after tolerating a day on the (factory) line, while not particularly liking the sedating experience of pot. The quick fix nature of drugs gives players an easy way out of their life dilemma of how to survive in a non-playing world. I think that most alcoholics have at least have a large player element in them.

While players often become addicted to chemical substances, they are much more inclined to become addicted to some activity. Activities that are addictive are called behavioral addictions. Most typical among these activities is screen time: TV, Internet, Facebook, Facetime, Texting, and video-game playing. The addictive nature of screen time is the instantaneous nature of these activities. Screen time, which is benign in itself, is only one of the behavioral addictions that players are inclined to. People, whether players or not, become addicted to self-harmful behaviors like gambling, pornography, promiscuity, and fast driving. They also become addicted to essentially good activities that are taken to a fault, like overeating, undereating, shopping, running, working out, playing games, reading, and working. Sometimes addictions can lead to genuine deviance, criminality, or physical harm to others, but this is rare, at least for most players.

Contentment as a player

  1. Understand yourself, accept yourself, and enjoy yourself
  2. Be prepared to be sad often.
  3. Understand that most people will not understand you, accept you, and like you.
  4. Know that you will unintentionally hurt people.
  5. Add to your nature by developing the characteristics of other temperaments.

 Further Reading

Temperament II: The Player

Previously noted reading