Friday, February 24, 2012


I never really ascribed to the belief that when looking for love you will "just know" when you've found "the one."  Honestly, it sounded like a recipe for disaster to me.  The first (but certainly not the last) time someone told me that, I'd already be in love enough times to know that I tended to fall for the wrong kind of men.  If I experienced the feeling of "just knowing" with a particular love interest, it was probably a sign that the man had commitment issues or was emotionally unavailable (and not that he was "the one"). 

There was no sense of instantly "knowing he was the one" when I first met my husband.  To the contrary, there were a lot of reasons that, at the time, he was completely wrong for me.  In the end, however, my husband and I discovered that we are, in many ways, quite compatible.  His personality is vastly different from mine, although I wouldn't go so far as to say we are exact opposites.  We share many of the same goals and values; we'd be decidedly incompatible if we didn't. 

So what is it that makes us compatible?  What makes any two people compatible, for that matter?  A book called, "The Love Compatibility Book: The 12 Personality Traits that Can Lead You to Your Soulmate" by Hoffman and Weiner attempts to answer this question.  (Find it on Amazon here:  The authors suggest that there are twelve factors that determine compatibility between two people.  I'm going to list them and share my thoughts but check out the book for more information. 

1. Need for companionship: It helps for you and your partner to prefer about the same amount of companionship.  If one of you hates being alone and wants constant companionship and the other needs a lot of alone time, this is likely to cause problems. 

2. Idealism: Are you a dreamer or do you tend to be very practical?  A dreamer with an extremely pragmatic partner might end up feeling like her partner is always trying to step on her dreams. 

3. Emotional intensity: This is an area where the most compatible partners seem to balance one another out.  It would probably create problems in a relationship for both partners to have the same level of emotional intensity -- imagine two hot heads always flying off the handle or two emotionally distant people who never share their feelings with one another.  It is also probably difficult for two partners to have exact opposite amounts of emotional intensity -- imagine an emotionally intense person trying to evoke feeling from a partner who is distant and emotionally contained.  As I said before, the key word when it comes to emotional intensity is balance.

4. Spontaneity: Do you like everything to be planned or do you enjoy doing things on a whim?  This is another area where balance is the key. 

5. Libido: How often do you feel like having sex?  Differences between partners in how often they want to have sex is a VERY common problem in relationships, especially in married or co-habitating couples.  

6. Nurturance: Do you like to take care of your partner or do you prefer for your partner to take care of you?  Honestly, I don't think you can put this into an "either/or" category.  Personally, I don't want to have to "take care" of my husband (every once in a while is ok, but not all the time); I also really don't like being "taken care of" (I can take care of myself). 

7. Materialism: How much stuff do you want to have?  If one partner tends to spend a lot of money on purchases that the other partner sees as wasteful it could cause problems.  In my opinion, this category should be replaced with "shared financial goals" or something to that end.  "Shared financial goals" seems far more relevant to compatibility than "materialism."

8. Extroversion: A person does not necessarily want a partner with the same degree of introversion or extroversion as he himself posesses.  In my opinion, what is most important is that each partner allows the other to be his- or her-self. 

9. Aestheticism: This refers to how much you enjoy art, music, or the beauty of nature.  To me, this category seems way too specific.  A more general (and, I think, relevant) category might be "shared interests."  Partners should enjoy at least some of the same activities (and should pursue individual interests as well).

10. Activity level: Are you a "homebody" or do you always seem to be going somewhere or doing something?  Activity level depends a lot on energy level.  For example, my husband has far more energy than I do.  After a few hours out and about I'm typically exhausted.  My husband, on the other hand, is full of energy and ready to do something else. 

11. Subjective well being: Are you an optimist or a pessimist?  If you are a pessimist, are you annoyed by people who are too "peppy" or positive?  If you are an optimist, do people with a negative outlook tend to bring you down?  Do you want a partner that shares your outlook on life or do you want someone who can help you look at things differently?

12. Intellectualism: Do you keep up with current events?  Do you read anything you can get your hands on?  Do you enjoy a good conversation about public policy, world history, the state of American society (or whatever it is you happen to be interested in)?  I think it is also important to consider intelligence.  People tend to select partners with levels of intelligence similar to their own. 

I know, I've said A LOT more than I usually do.  So I'm done, for now;-)

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Intuition is a primarily unconscious process; we are not aware of it happening as it is taking place.  We have accumulated a great body of knowledge from our past experiences; this knowledge is stored in our long term memory.  When faced with a given situation, we subconsciously evaluate it to identify its most important elements. We compare these elements with any similar or related pieces of information stored in our long term memory reserves.  Again, all of this takes place outside of our conscious awareness.  What we are consciously aware of is the outcome of the intuitive process: a "gut feeling."

It is difficult, if not impossible, to rationally analyze intuition.  In fact, when a person has made a choice based on intuition, he is usually not able to explain why he made that choice.  Just because it is not amenable to rational analysis, however, does not mean that intuition is an irrational process.  In fact, research has shown that how reliable your intuition is in a given subject area depends upon the degree of your past knowledge and experience in that area.  Reliable intuition, then, is gained from experience.  The more experience you have in a given area, the more you can use your intuition in related situations to guide decision making.

When I decided to write about intuition, what I really wanted to know was how a person can go about improving his or her intuition.  It seems the most obvious way is through experience, which takes time.  Outside of this, I was not able to find very much information about how to improve intuition.  I therefore decided that I should try to generate my own suggestions for doing this.

Everyone has intuition.  We differ in how readily we recognize it, how comfortable we are with it, and how confident we are of its reliability.  There are definitely people who rely too heavily on their intuition; there are also people who completely ignore their "gut feelings."

It seems logical to me that the first step in developing one's intuition is to start to recognize the product of the intuitive process (i.e., a "gut feeling") whenever it occurs.  Pay attention to the times when you "have a feeling" about something but can't really say why.  Take notice when you have a strong negative or positive reaction to someone or something without understanding why.  Make a conscious effort to attend to your initial impressions of people and places.  Notice your hunches, especially those that ultimately prove to be accurate.  Become familiar with the physical sensations that accompany your "gut feelings."

The next step in improving intuition would be to begin to use it as information when you are making decisions.  This doesn't necessarily mean to start "following your gut" in everything you do.  Rather, you should simply be aware of what your "gut" is telling you about a given situation.

When considering your "gut feeling" as information when you make decisions, it is important to be aware of your weaknesses.  You need to be aware of your weaknesses so you can determine exactly how to use the information provided by you "gut feeling."  Know what your weaknesses are.  If you have a tendency to consistently over-react to a certain type of situation then your "gut feeling" about this type of situation is probably an over-reaction.  This is important information.  Recognize that your intuition is probably skewing your judgment.  Either adjust your actions accordingly or seek feedback from someone you trust before deciding what to do.  If you have a history of being attracted to the wrong types of friends or romantic partners then be aware of this; you might consider doing the exact opposite of what your intuition suggests in this type of situation.  In short, recognize the areas in which your intuition is not likely to be reliable.  That doesn't mean to ignore your "gut feeling" in these areas; you can still use it as information, even if that information is, "I should probably do the opposite of what I feel in this situation."

Also be aware of your strengths.  Do not, however, be over-confident.  People who are right 9 times out of 10 are still wrong 10% of the time.  The more strongly you believe in the "rightness" of your decision the more resistant you will be to feedback that suggests your decision was, in fact, wrong.  This makes it more difficult to identify and correct your mistakes.

What are your suggestions for improving intuition?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Self Dialog

I admit it: I talk to myself.  And quite frankly, I don't see anything wrong with it.  In fact, I actually encourage my patients to talk to themselves.  Honestly, I suspect most people talk to themselves anyway; some do it out loud and some do it mentally.  It pretty much amounts to the same thing.

So yes, I talk to myself.  Sometimes it's just mental chatter (e.g., wondering if I remembered to lock the door, asking myself what in the world the lady that just walked by was wearing; planning my weekend, remembering something that happened last month or last year, etc.).  Sometimes I have full conversations with myself; sometimes, I have arguments with myself.  A typical argument taking place in my mind might go as follows:

Me #1: God, you look terrible this morning.  Maybe it's because you're getting old.  You did just turn 30.

Me #2: You know, it really isn't very nice to say things like that to yourself.  It does't make you feel any better. Besides, you look fine.  And 30 isn't old.

Me #1: I'm not being mean to myself, I'm just being honest.

Me #2: No, you're not being honest.  You're being judgmental and unkind.

Me #1: Well I'm sorry if you can't handle the truth.  Get over it.

Me #2: I will not get over it.  Why don't you get over it?

Me #3: Why don't you both get over it.  This conversation is over.  Now stop looking at yourself in the mirror and finish getting ready.

I sometimes share this little anecdote with my patients; it usually gets a laugh.  I laugh too because, after all, it is kind of funny.  But I also let them know that I'm serious; it really is okay to have these kinds of conversations with yourself.

Initially, my advice to my patients was not based upon any scientific evidence or clinical practice theory.  Instead, it was based upon experience.  I know from my own experience that talking to yourself -- and sometimes talking back to yourself -- can be a powerful change agent.

Recently I discovered, quite by accident, that there is actually a theory to support the knowledge that I've gained from personal experience.  The theory is called dialogical self theory.  This theory asserts that for each person there is not one self, but many.  These separate selves communicate (or dialog) with one another to maintain psychological stability, thereby creating the illusion of a single, unified self identity.  From this perspective, there is no core self in charge of integrating and making sense of all of our experiences, beliefs, emotions, and perceptions.  Rather, there are multiple selves that work together to make sense of these things.

So what exactly are these separate "selves?"  There are actually several opinions about this, depending on who you ask.  Some dialogical self theorists conceptualize these separate "selves" as internalized representations of the important figures in our lives.  These internalizations are like templates that contain the norms, values, and beliefs of our early caregivers, culture, peer group, religion, etc.  Other theorists conceive of these "selves" as past, present, and future versions of our personal identities.  Still others visualize these "selves" as sub-selves called "I-positions," each with a different voice representing different aspects of an individual's identity.  Others see these "selves" as "sub-personalities," some of which are more conscious than others.

Despite these differing views, there is one thing that all dialogical self theorists seem to agree on: what we perceive as a core "self is really a collection of parts.  These different parts communicate with one another, often through dialog (hence the name dialogical self theory).  It is therefore normal and in fact necessary to engage in internal dialog in order to preserve psychological stability and to maintain a sense of individual identity.

I think intuitively we all know this.  We have all, at some point, probably said, "Part of me thinks...but another part wants to..."  We have no difficulty conceptualizing ourselves as being made up of different parts.  So why shouldn't these parts talk to each other?  It is common knowledge that communication is the key to a good relationship.  In order to have a good relationship with yourself, then, it is important for all of the parts of you to communicate.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Does your name say anything about who you are?

Human language is necessary for reflecting upon and giving meaning to the world we perceive.  Language enables us to identify objects that are not present, to refer to sensations that are not tangible, to recall experiences that took place in the past, and to envision a future that has not yet occurred.

Naming is one of the processes through which language assigns meaning to the world around us.  Naming an object, a person, or a concept allows two people to refer to something that neither can see and yet both be able to understand what is being referenced.

When a child is born, he is given a name.  To give a child a name is to endow him with a unique identity in the eyes of other people.  This occurs long before the child develops any sense of personal identity.  A person's name, then, begins to first impact his identity in the way others respond to it.  Research has consistently demonstrated that people react emotionally to a person's name, even before ever meeting that person.  The way others respond to one's name in turn affect how others react to the person himself, even if only in subtle ways.  These reactions ultimately play a role in shaping the way an individual comes to think about himself (i.e., his self concept).

For example, some children have names that make them targets for ridicule by their peers.  (For instance, I recall feeling particularly bad for a classmate in high school with the unfortunate name of Harry Johnson).  Recent research has shown that boys with names that are traditionally associated with females do fine during early childhood but have, on average, a significantly higher rate of behavioral problems in middle school compared to their peers.  College-aged women with names traditionally associated with males are statistically more likely to take classes in math and/or science than their peers with more "feminine" names (who tend to take classes in liberal arts).  Other studies have shown that teachers respond differently to children with names they associate with low socioeconomic status.  Specifically, they have lower expectations of these students than they do of their peers.  Research has also found that adolescent boys with "unpopular" names are more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system than their otherwise similar peers.  These are just a few examples of how our names influence the way others perceive us.

So do our names define us?  Well no, not exactly.  There is far more to a person than his or her name.  Our names do, however, play a role in how others define us and in how we come to define ourselves.

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