Why Conformity Is About Group Norms

Have you ever thought one thing and done another? Have you ever changed your mind when in a group that had different ideas?

I know I have and it made me feel like a wimp.

Being an HSP means that my positions are not the norm, and I am always seeking ways to bridge the difference. Often that cannot be done and I feel bad when that is the case.

I am an introvert but I still care about people and relationships. So where does the need to conform against our best instincts come from?

Our Brains Help Us Cop Out

According to an article in Spero Forum, researcher Vasily Klucharev of Erasmus University in the Netherlands, conducted a study which demonstrated that

“when people hold an opinion differing from others in a group, their brains produce an error signal.”

“If you make an error, if means that something [wrong is going on]. And, whenever we experience an error, it means this error signal pushes us to change behavior,” Klucharev said. “And, we see it looks like we quite automatically produce this signal when our opinion is quite different from other people.”

“The researcher examined two brain areas,” said Klucharev. “The first, a zone of the brain popularly called the ‘oops area,’  becomes extra active signaling an error; while the ‘reward area”‘is less active, making people think they made a mistake.”

This explains why people are likely to conform and why in doing so they are responding to what their brain is telling them even if their instincts or “better nature” tells them something else.

This research tells us a lot.  It explains why:

  • people act against their better judgment
  • people are afraid of differences
  • people are afraid of what they perceive to be dangerous mindsets
  • people are more afraid of being different that the pain of giving up their authenticity.

Conformity’s Survival Value

Conformity has been necessary for us to survive. The human race would not have developed without the willingness of individuals to sacrifice their differences to create cultures that supported their survival need. You can say therefore that conformity has served our survival.

Our brains have developed in a way that supports our survival as well. As a result it has supported our conforming to group norms because groups have been the basis of an individual’s survival. Children know only too well how they must conform if they are to survive since they are unable to survive on their own.

The Down Side Of Conformity And Group Norms

This research also suggests that we can have difficulty when our brain’s error signals conflict with a need for change. Our brains may fight our intentions even when they serve our best interests. We may then suffer from ambivalence and procrastination.

Sometimes when we do not understand what is going on, we will feel bad about ourselves when in fact there is nothing wrong with us. Our brain is supporting our survival among others whether those others are right or not. Our group is our group.

Can We Become Mindful About Conformity?

It is not helpful to fight our brain’s attempts to protect us, not is it helpful to fight necessary change. Therefore we need to become extremely mindful about what we allow group norms to become because there are serious consequences if those norms are destructive.

Whatever group norms we choose need to be considered temporary to allow for changing circumstances. When group norms can become flexible as needed then our brain’s desire to protect us will not fight our needs for change.

Is that too much to ask for?

Put Negativity In Its Place

Negativity is not what you think.

Negativity is often thought to be a personal character trait.

There is some truth to that but it is so much more.

What Is Negativity?

According to the Your Dictionary, negativity,  at least in a social or decision making sense, is defined as follows:

  1. a word, affix, phrase, etc. that denies, rejects, or refuses (Ex.: no, not, by no means)
  2. a statement of denial, refusal, or rejection
  3. the point of view that denies or attacks the positive or affirmative: the negative won the debate
  4. an undesirable element or quality; drawback, shortcoming, defect, etc…

It is particularly useful to see the definition of negativity as a point of view that denies the positive because negativity is not simply a response to immediate events or misfortunes in life.  It may, in fact, be a world view.

The Free Dictionary defines negativism as

a habitual attitude of skepticism or resistance to the suggestions, orders, or instructions of others…

As the definition points out,  negativism is a habit of thought.

Negative Is Not Good Or Bad

Negativity has received bad press. It is strange, really, because on the one hand we abhor negativity – it is so depressing – but at the same time we also abhor change.

It makes me wonder if most of our social discourse is the collision of different forms of negativity.

To be negative can mean anything. It can mean that we are setting boundaries, respecting our limits and making chices that are life affirming.

To be negative can mean that we are totally risk adverse, and prefer to let others do the heavy lifting of making change happen.

To be negative can mean that we are stingy with ourselves to the detriment of others.

To be negative can mean that we are respecting our own negative experiences in order to live from a wiser place.

To be negative can mean a lot of different things. It depends on the person.

Can Negativity Be Systemic?

Yes, it can. Whenever we try to maintain the status quo in the face of the need for change we are supporting negativity.

Change is a big deal and needs to be respected. However, ignoring the need for change only makes things worse. When changing circumstances do not result in appropriate responses, then we are all harmed.

Nothing stays the same.  A 2 year old enjoys learning to move a round, but we so demand that a person still be crawling at age 18. The same needs to be true of cultural systems.

We all, however, have resistance to change. It is natural and can be self protective. We need, after all, to respect the limits of time, resources and abilities. We can, therefore, empathize with resistance to change. It is part of being a human being.

When we are aware of our resistance to change, respect it but are also skeptical about it, we then can thoughtfully make necessary changes. Cultures can do the same.

Not all systemic negativity, however, is so benign.

Discrimination As Systemic Negativity

Discrimination is a serious and cruel form of systemic negativity. It is not based on facts. It is a use of attitude to exclude and denigrate other people. It is a kind of negativity that extends to animals and nature, because underneath it is a basic distrust of life and people.

I am not trying to be pollyanish here and deny the reality of negative behavior and even evil behavior. I am talking about a way of thinking that denies the good in others. It is a way of refusing to relate and work with others, a way of denying the reality of an ecosystem that includes different people and life forms.

Discrimination is essentially a power grab that controls decision making and resources and tries to maintain that control by managing a social discourse that devalues others.

Resistance As A Way Of Life

Unfortunately, it is easy to get caught up in resistance. We can encounter resistance and react to the resistance and we are then all off and running into a negative spiral.

I think we have to be as intelligent and considered as we can be about negativity and resistance. it is there, but we do not have to give it its head. We can pu it in its place as simply one approach among many  and get on with what we have to get on with.

I think there is a spirit afoot of being fed up with negativity that I think is healthy. If we each do our part, perhaps the legacy of negativity that the world has suffered with for so long, no longer has to be our future.



Workplace Bullying: A Survival Guide

Unfortunately, difficult economic conditions can increase the negative behaviors that people will tolerate in order to keep their jobs. If you ever find yourself the target of workplace bullying, it is important to have strategies to safeguard your emotional and physical well-being.

If You Experience Workplace Bullying

If you are being bullied at work:

  • Don’t deny the problem. It is important to recognize when you are being bullied and to take steps to protect yourself.
  • Don’t blame yourself. Workplace bullying is usually about control and rarely has anything to do with you personally.
  • Get help.
    • Check your company’s policy. Are there any guidelines or protocols that address workplace bullying? Is there a resource person that you can talk to about the situation?
    • Contact your employee assistance group, if one is available. These groups are confidential and may be able to advise you. As an added bonus, your request for assistance can help document your experience of being bullied.
    • Reach out to family, friends, and/or a professional counselor.
  • Create a paper trail of the bully’s “bad behavior” and your “good behavior”. For example, if you receive a threatening phone call from the bully. Don’t call the bully back and subject yourself to further abuse. Instead, respond to the call via email, reiterating the bully’s threats and formulating your own professional response. If the bully ignores your work-related requests, send an email indicating that you haven’t received a response and copy others.
  • If you choose to confront the bully’s bad behavior, always do it in writing. State your concerns in an email, and keep it professional. Indicate that you are raising your concerns in an effort to work better together.
  • Exercise caution when confiding in your co-workers. Be careful about saying things to others that you don’t want to get back to the bully. The last thing you want to do is provide evidence against yourself. Also, some co-workers won’t want to be put in the middle, in which case you should respect their wishes and seek support elsewhere.
  • Be impeccable. Keep your performance level high, and play strictly by the rules. This is often the best defense against someone who is trying to sabotage your success.
  • Maintain a cheerful and positive attitude, even if you have to fake it. While this will be very difficult to do, it will show the bully that his or her campaign is not having the desired effect, which is sometimes the best revenge. (One caution though, some bullies may respond by escalating their campaigns.)
  • Do not lose your temper. Always behave in a professional manner, regardless of how the bully is behaving. Not only will feel better about yourself, but it will also prevent the bully from gathering ammunition against you.
  • Be proactive. Bullying behaviors are repetitive and often predictable. Do your best to anticipate the bully’s behavior, and have an action plan ready. Try to stay one step ahead of the bully.
  • Take care of yourself. Relish your downtime. Relax, and do things you enjoy. Consult your healthcare provider if you are experiencing signs of stress or other medical issues.
  • Update your resume, and keep your eye out for other jobs. It is empowering to know that you have other choices and that you don’t need to tolerate a hostile work environment. You should also realize that many workplace bullying situations can never be satisfactorily resolved. It’s best to be prepared for all possible outcomes.

How To Report Bullying

If you decide to report the bullying:

  • Keep a written diary that details the nature of the bullying (e.g. dates, times, places, what was said or done, and who was present).
  • Maintain copies of harassing/bullying paper trails, such as emails, and save threatening voice messages. You should also hold on to copies of documents that contradict the bully’s accusations against you (e.g. time sheets, audit reports, etc.)
  • Keep a list of people you think may have observed the bullying. Find out if any of those people would be willing to speak on your behalf.
  • Make a list of all the efforts you made to work the situation out (e.g. emails, phone calls, requests for help from HR or Employee Assistance)
  • If you are experiencing serious health problems as a result of the bullying, get a documentation from your doctor.
  • Report the behavior to an appropriate person or department, such as Human Resources or your Union Representative. Be prepared to present your case and back it up with plenty of documentation and evidence.

Don’t be a victim. Take a proactive stance to protect yourself. Use this situation to motivate yourself to find a better situation and environment.

Note: This article was first published in Cliff Harwin’s newsletter.

Creating Harmony: When Not To Try And Make It Work

I like harmony.

I suspect that many HSPs do.

Harmony to me is important because at its best it tells us that we are making effective choices.

At its worst, we are keeping a destructive peace.

Which is operating in your life?

Why Is Harmony So Elusive?

I have often wondered why harmony is so elusive.

As a young girl, there was so much acrimony around me that I would scratch my head until it bled. I found it so upsetting.

All the conflict and misery also seemed very unnecessary.

I did not get it.

My parents grew up during the depression and World War II, so perhaps that explains some of it. If you grow up during a war, war can become your reality and it certainly seemed that war was their reality.

But I ended up thinking that their childhood spent in war was not the total answer.

Sensitivity And Conflict

I pick up on conflict easily.

I also find it uncomfortable since often what causes conflict are unresolved past issues, denial, expectations – in other words, the issues and problems people do not want to see or engage about.

Like many HSPs, I can absorb the unhappiness around me, and it brings me down.

I often do not know what to do with my awareness but know I do not want to cause harm. That is important to me.

However, if I encounter a conflict or unresolved problem and say nothing then I have a problem with myself. At the end of the day I have to be able to feel that I have made good choices to be square with myself.

Being sensitive sometimes means that I feel caught between a rock and a hard place. I live in the spaces between thoughts and actions, intentions and results, wishes and realizations, ideas and reality. It’s a place where non HSPs do not see. It creates our disconnect, our disharmony. I would love for it to be different so we could share a similar space to work from.

Sensitivity And The Big Picture

Sensitives notice the disconnects the places where something does not work. It is also part of our natures to be conscientious so we can be very uncomfortable with all of the loose ends, that are left to be taken are of. Guess who usually does that.

In our zeal to promote well-being and good will we can be the ones who do the little things that get overlooked, fix the places were denial left a gap, and extend ourselves beyond our breaking point to keep things working when those around us don’t care about it so much.

But we do.

Sometimes we are the ones who care too much.

It can not only exhaust us but also break us.

It can cause us to feel lonely, neglected and cheated.

We need a better way.

How Capitalistic Thinking Hurts HSPs

Capitalism is essentially an acquisitive, exploitive system.

Its drive for profit means that people may skim for the good and leave whatever is “unprofitable” to them. Taking care of loose ends is often considered unprofitable activity even if having things run smoothly makes life better and more enjoyable.

The demand for profit skews the way people invest their time. It forces people to be opportunistic. It also means that people may want benefits without incurring the costs – something for nothing.

The point is that our system is not communitarian, but HSPs often are and therefore may spend time serving that which is overlooked in the service of profit causing us to feel taken advantage of.

Service and exploitation are not the same thing.

HSPs Need For Self Protection

We HSPs need to consider how we are using our time.

Are we doing other people’s work?

Are we fixing things for others but not ourselves?

Are people taking our time with problems that are not our own?

Are we being “delegated to” and taken for granted?

Are we expected to clean up after others?

How To Own Your Time

The easiest way to limit being taken advantage of is to get a handle on certain realities:

  • you only have so much time as does everyone else and you need to respect your limits
  • you are not responsible for the excesses of other people
  • you have a right to set your priorities and a responsibility to make sure you are taken care of.
  • it is good to let others solve their own problem
  • people become more responsible when they clean up after themselves.

Taking back your time is a great way to rebalance your life and make sure that you are taking care of yourself, and not just keeping the peace at your expense.

We HSPs are precious and need to treat our time and energy as important.

When we do, interpersonal conflicts can diminish and we can let go of taking care of everyone else at our expense.

Then we can flourish and thrive.

Sounds good to me.

Overcoming The Need To Please

Highly sensitive people have many ways of handling their nature and the overwhelm that they experience. Being different means that relationships are often difficult for us. We often feel at a disadvantage in relationships feeling one down because we feel disrespected.

There are many reasons for this. Our compassionate non-competitive natures seek mutuality in a one-upsmanship world which does not respect our kindness. So we often want the respect we deserve but cannot claim. So we seek ways to achieve social acceptance. Pleasing is one of those ways.

Do You Feel The Need To Please?

The need to please comes from our need to establish and maintain the interpersonal bridge with others. there are many ways that the interpersonal bridge is created and sustained. Most of the time there is some kind of shared experience or another kind of bond created through:

  • blood relationships
  • being neighbors
  • school and school activities
  • shared interests
  • work
  • community activities
  • shared values
  • shared life experiences

Highly sensitive people have trouble with the interpersonal bridge because often their values are different from those around them and also because they are different and experience most things differently it is hard for them to bond over shared experiences. Many times HSPs are loners but not by choice.

The weakness of the interpersonal bridge is something that we live with each day and it is often a source of feelings of vulnerability. We do not fit in and know it. We suspect therefore that we are unwelcome.

Coming To Terms With The Challenges Of Being Different

Being different does not necessarily mean that we are unwelcome. Humans are notorious for comparing themselves to each other so we may remind others of undeveloped aspects of themselves and in that way create feelings of discomfort. That is not our fault but something to be aware of.

However, if we expect to be close with people whose values are radically different then we are probably inviting some hurt into our lives. There are many people who do not and will not “get” HSPs and that is something that we have to accept.

We can improve our social life if we reserve our serious social investments to those where our values are compatible.

When Do We Start To Please?

The need to please will surface when we are trying to fit in with a group that is different from us where we would like to have some social standing. It could be a work environment or family group. Whatever the situation, pleasing comes from thinking that the burden of the interpersonal bridge is primarily ours and that unless we make a special effort there may not be a relationship and we may be harmed in some way.

In these situations being ourselves is something we think will harm us or cause us to be rejected. We have to be someone else in order to survive socially.

Overcoming The Need To Please

The need to please is above and beyond doing one’s part in a relationship. The need to please is a function of being made inferior in some way. It is an outcome of trying to survive in a social structure where you are disfavored. It is a way of trying to cover up your differentness so that you can acquire needed resources. Pleasing is a social strategy of minorities and social outsiders throughout history.

So what can you do?

Here are some questions to ask about how you are living to see if you can make some changes that will provide you with more social safety:

  • what relationships do I have where I feel a need to please?
  • in what way am I dependent on others for supplies (of any kind) that cause me to be in relationships where I need to please?
  • what changes can I make to reduce my needs so that I have fewer relationships that require unnatural pleasing?
  • if I cannot reduce my needs can I find alternatives that are more supportive of my self-respect?
  • can I create what I need?
  • can you ask for more of what you need from relationships that are one-sided to make them feel more mutual?

Sometimes a little strategy can make all the difference in helping us rebalance our relationships and make them more mutual.

Stuck In The Spider Web Of Approval?

I like getting approval. I suspect we all do. Yet I hate wanting or needing it.

I hate all the games that go with approval:

  • the withholding of it – treating it like it is a prize or a weapon.
  • the distortion of information to manipulate approval
  • the overvaluation of approval when we are really all in this together.

We are social creatures, so social issues are important to us. Since none of us survive alone, our social life has great weight and can cause us pain or provide us with immense joy. Often we personalize social issues and judge each other while disregarding the toxic social climate that can create many behavioral challenges. So many issues that are labeled emotional and are assumed to be simple but are really anything but. Approval is one of them and it is one of our biggest challenges.

What Is Approval?

Approval is a kind of social stake in the ground. A position, if you will, with group force behind it. That is why we take it so seriously and should.

It is the manifestation of group structures, an expected allegiance. The viability of any and all social arrangements require allegiances. Validation is a way of enforcing allegiances. So it often feels as if we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t and there is some truth to that. We cannot simply ignore the group structures that we need to negotiate. We also cannot let destructive groups totally control us either.

One way to think of approval is to consider it an initiation into human social culture. Of course, it occurs in our childhoods, and if unexamined rules our entire life. Approval is a handed down formula for how to be, how to behave and who to be courtesy of those around us especially our families.

Approval: The Spider’s Web That Claims Us

It is impossible to escape the wounds of our social structures. The best we can hope to do is do our healing work, find our integrity, our calling and make our contribution to the world.

We need to be kind to ourselves about approval because it is such an important part of our lives. Approval can be very seductive and cause us to feel safe. It is a false security but can cause us to give up opportunities to learn and grow.

One of the reasons we need to be kind to ourselves about our susceptibility to approval is that approval is an important tool for learning. When we are young we are learning and do so in a number of ways:

  1. trial and error as when we learn to walk
  2. imitating others or approval based learning.

Imitation is more than peer pressure or conformity. It is actually a way to learn skills. Neuroscientist David Eagleman, who has investigated conscious awareness, memory and unconscious mental processing, demonstrates how imitation is an important form of learning. In this article, he shows how approval was used to teach chicken sexing in Japan in the 1930’s and plane spotting in World War II in Great Britain.

It may seem like a reach, but the point is that much of our learning is absorbed through imitation, and cues from our environment from approval. We store the learning in our brains and draw on it in the future from our memories.

Therefore, it is inevitable that approval will play a role in how we learn. In fact, according to the article it can be the most effective way to learn some things. Unfortunately, we may also naturally develop the bad habit of starting to judge ourselves on the basis of the approval or disapproval that we receive.

The Application Of Approval

Validation may be used to teach us many things:

  • group values to promote social cohesion
  • how we are expected to demonstrate loyalty
  • our “identity”
  • how to be in a relationship
  • what are acceptable behaviors and boundaries
  • what group customs are important
  • how we are to contribute to group stability and often therefore what change is likely to be rejected.

Approval is the past carried forward. It is a kind of solidified social opinion.

Often when we are making decisions we take the temperature of the social circumstances around us. That is not necessarily bad, however, it means that we will be constrained by the approval of others. If we are in a supportive, benevolent and constructive environment, we can easily make decisions that support us. If our environment is not so benign, our self-affirming choices will likely generate a backlash.

Group norms which are supported through approval and disapproval play a huge role in the ability of a group and its members to embrace change and personal growth. For many, abiding by group norms is fine and comfortable. What do you do, however, when those group norms are toxic and resistance to change is high? What do you do when group norms become a kind of sleepwalking so that the groups’ members are really not engaging with reality and potentially risking the well-being of the group?

The big problem with approval is that we and other can become ossified by sticking to what is approved and what is not. What can be a useful learning method can come to block our ability to fully engage with life and our development.

Highly Sensitive People And Approval

Highly sensitive people have trouble fooling themselves about what they are experiencing because our nervous systems are like an ever-present alarm system. So if the approved method of doing things is not working or even dangerous, we will likely become aware of it. As a result, we may not be able to go along with what is approved. Our awareness carries social risks. So we always have to make a decision about our awareness: to follow it, reject it, postpone it, tell others about it. It can feel like a tremendous social burden and it is. It can also help us develop our wisdom and serve others.

Can You Identify These 5 Different Types of Loyalty in Your Life Or Our World?

Loyalty is one of those complicated subjects that can touch a nerve. It is like a two-edged sword; it can help us and make life worthwhile and also hurt us.   Loyalty is an important subject that is worth thinking about because issues around different types of loyalty are part of our basic social fabric and always have been.

Loyalty comes in many flavors and means different things to different people. Ideas about loyalty have changed as we humans have changed. Here are five different types of loyalty used in human culture:

  1. for some, loyalty is an absolute whether it is loyalty to a tribe or religion. Loyalty under these circumstances means loyalty not only overtly to the group, but also the beliefs, practices and expected behaviors. Since groups that seek absolute loyalty create dependency in their members, escape can be difficult.
  2. loyalty demands can manifest in rules and role requirements that have nothing to do with the individual’s abilities. These kinds of demands can feel like a kind of rejection of the individual, a yoke of slavery to group norms.
  3. for others, loyalty is extremely conditional. This is the type of person who operates on the “what have you done for me lately?” premise. The point of view of this kind of loyalty is economic rather than institutional.
  4. others think everyone deserves at least some loyalty since we are all “in this” together. The point of view of this person is universal.
  5. another type of loyalty is loyalty based on the inherent dignity of all living creatures, a kind of transcendent and transpersonal loyalty. This is the most spiritual kind of loyalty.

Getting A Handle On Different Types Of Loyalty

Loyalty on a one-on-one basis isn’t too difficult and is sometimes straightforward and based on the quality of the relationship. However, when you add the complex expectations of societal structures it can become messy. In all kinds of loyalty expectations, there are values underlying them that are often tied to the identities of people. This is why changing the values in an individual or a society can be difficult.  People create lives around our values and identities.

Highly sensitive people have a challenge with loyalty that others may not have. Since HSPs love very deeply, it causes them to act on values that others may not have. If I were to characterize HSP loyalty, it would be of the universal and spiritual kind. Unfortunately, this brand of loyalty may not be valued or reciprocated by others causing an HSP serious emotional pain.

It is very important for highly sensitive people to recognize the type of loyalty in those around them so that they form realistic expectations about their relationships with others. Errors in expectations can create a lot of hurt for HSPs, which they do not recover from easily.  As part of your self-care program, you need to take care of your relationship expectations.

Benefits Of Letting Go

Haven’t we all met the person who never gets over it?  The person with a grudge for everyone else to pay their whole life?  The person who is always pulling teeth to get their way?

For thousands of years, human beings have been invested in a vengeful and controlling way of life, with seriously painful ways of treating each other.  When will it stop? When do we change it? Sounds simple, but it is easier said than done.

Letting Go Is A Process

Letting go isn’t an event; it’s a process.

It is not really a mental switch that you pull or can turn off.  Some people think letting go is a form of abdication.  It isn’t.  It is more a way of giving up control so that you can stop forcing the world to be the way you want it to be. The less you strong arm the world into “your way” the more you are open to all the world has to offer.

Letting Go Feels Better

Letting go means you are there for the world. Letting go is generous.

It comes from a kinder place, a place of deeper regard for yourself and others. It comes from a place that is grounded in an appreciation for the challenges of life for all of us.

Life always was and always will be short and imperfect.  That is true for me, you and the other 7 billion people on the planet. It is true for all life forms. We are the only life form that seems to stomp around the planet trying to make someone pay for the arrangement. Unfortunately, the person or persons that we are trying to get to pay have no more control over the arrangement that you or I.

Letting Go Means Making The Best Of It

So how can someone else offer us security when they don’t have it or can’t get it either? How can someone offer us immortality when they don’t have it, won’t have it and get get it? Why do we persist in thinking that the arrangement is different for us than someone else?  Or why do we insist that it should be?

We all want a joyful and secure life, and that is fine, but we cannot get there at someone else’s expense.  And that is the crux of the problem. We can only get joy and security by making the best of it, but being a part of the ongoing creation of life. We can’t get there by pulling teeth from everyone around us to extract a comfortable arrangement that suits only us. Once we include the well-being of the rest of the world in our agenda, there is no longer any need to pull teeth.

Pleasure Addiction And The Stories We Tell

Do we need pleasure all of the time? Is the amount of pleasure in our lives an indication of our worth?  Is the amount of pleasure in our lives proof of our character and goodness?

Can pleasure be addictive?

The Problem Of Pleasure As A Measurement Tool

Obviously there is nothing wrong with pleasure.  Who doesn’t want pleasure in their lives? We all want to enjoy life and there is nothing wrong with that. A problem occurs, however, when our left brain starts to interpret pleasure as not just a part of life but the purpose of life and even proof of our goodness.

Often we personalize pleasure and pain which only magnifies them. Since life is continually changing we can be continually contorting ourselves to maintain the levels of pleasure that we are accustomed to in our lives. We can feel desperate and self-hating when we are not successful.

What we have done is turn the reality of life – constant change – into an indictment of ourselves. No wonder so many people are so unkind to themselves. They are treating their lives as a continual report card!

How We Can Hurt Each Other Through Pleasure Addiction

I suspect that the more left brained a society is, the greater the potential for pleasure addiction, not that anyone is immune.


Because left brained societies use their “reasoning” to attribute judgments to results and events. It can be a pleasure addiction for the brain.

Unfortunately, when we judge we are often jumping to conclusions which means that we can make a lot of mistakes. When these conclusions enter and find a place in group consciousness, a lot of harm can be done. Stories can have a life of their own. They become real to people and  solidified in their minds. Even if we are wrong, our pleasure at having an answer, seduces us into conclusions who often have no business making. Often it is the feeling of pleasure from feeling that we know that becomes addictive to us, so much so that we will sacrifice due diligence in investigating a matter or situation.

Once we think we understand the “story” we then apply it to all the situations around us, often without question. It may feel good to us but not necessarily the people who are on the other side of our preconceived notions and mistaken assumptions.

Stories have serious group and cultural weight.

How We Buy Cultural Stories

From our earliest years we are encouraged and rewarded for being “right”. We are rewarded for having the answers to whatever question comes up in school and receive grades based on our success at developing the right answers. Tests are great for measuring our successful adoption of the right answers. Of course, we often have no way of knowing what is right and what is not, so we follow the lead of the adults in our lives. If our real self is unhappy or confused it is often overridden by the practical consideration of getting along with the adults in our lives or assuming that the adults must know what is best and that we must be wrong.

Stories about reality and what is right are passed down from one generation to another. They are a part of our heritage. When we adopt the stories, we become a part of them. Being a part of the story brings us pleasure – we know we belong. We know we are important.  Our stories also inform our identities to us and the people around us so they can become the anchor in our lives.

Using Stories To Handle Our Vulnerability And Mistakes

Stories are also a way of  handling the unknown.

We are naturally curious as well as vulnerable which causes us to seek answers to life questions of all types. Our drive to understand and make sense of our world is a natural extension of our curiosity. However, we are rewarded so much from our early years for being “right” we are often reluctant to reconsider a story that is not working because of social and other consequences. We sometimes tell ourselves stories to explain a mistake, setback or other failure. Our inner critic is a champion at helping us cope with mistakes and failures – ours and others. Families and other groups also have stories that explain failures and mistakes. If you are the family scapegoat, you learn early in life how stories are not necessarily on the up-and-up.

Stories And Relationships

When our stories mesh with someone else’s story then we feel we are compatible. Sometimes it becomes the basis of a love relationship. So what happens when the story changes? What happens when one person grows and the other does not causing a relationship with two or three stories not just one.

When we perceive a story as a fiction and someone else treats a story as reality then we have a hard time relating to that person. We cannot synch with them and so the relationship cannot get off the ground. Sometimes we are expected to live someone else’s story and then our relationship becomes one-sided creating resentment. Stories have such weight that the person who controls the social story controls a group, family and agenda.

It is important to recognize that stories are not necessarily innocent and do a lot of harm. (One way to think of Nazi Germany is to consider the story about themselves that the Germans accepted from Hitler that helped pave the way for the Holocaust. Hitler gave the Germans a reason to feel good again after a humiliating defeat in World War I. What would have happened if he had not?)

Handling Our Desire For Pleasure

There are so many ways that our society creates pleasure and displeasure to ensure that we participate in a certain way. In order to really get control over our lives, we have to recognize our legitimate desire for pleasure and see how it can work against us. We have to own our stories, the family and cultural stories that form our human world and evaluate them. Only then can we live authentically and in harmony with our true self.

If we adopt the cultural paradigm that has us continually seeking pleasure, which becomes a pleasure addiction, then we are pursuing pleasure at the expense of our real self.

That is a very high price to pay for pleasure.

Is it worth it?

Why You Can Afford To Lose Control

Does losing control scare you? Do you see not having control as a weakness? Do you receive criticism and negative feedback when you make a mistake and are “out-of-control?

What Is Control?

Given how much attention and pain are associated with control, what is it exactly? According to The Free Dictionary, control is the ability to direct, regulate and restrain. It is essentially the ability to demand of others. You would think that it would not be a big deal since most people recognize that we all need to cooperate and work together. But it is and is a long standing problem between people. So where did all of this control come from? We can point to several culprits all from our ancient past:

  • our fear of the unpredictability of nature. Even today, with all of the resources we have to manage our lives and secure our physical well-being, we are still vulnerable to natural forces and often in fear of them.
  • the violence of our past. Given the difficulty of surviving for our early ancestors, violence was frequently used to secure basic necessities. We acquired a bad reputation with each other.
  • in a world of scarce resources educating a few people was more practical than educating everyone, so knowledge was concentrated in a few hands, creating perceptions of superiority and entitlement.
  • people get used to a system, their perks and entitlements or the lack of them, start protecting their positions and limiting change to the detriment of everyone.

So we have a systemic control problem developed over time that is not going away any time soon.

The Downside Of Control

Control comes with such a downside, it is surprising that we humans have not put the subject on the table more openly. So what are some of the downsides of control?

  1. it makes assumptions about people that then result in expectations which unfortunately seem to have a life of their own – like they are etched in stone. So expectations start to control behavior and we have lost sight of the reality of real people who are all alike in some ways and different in others.
  2. expectations eliminate the need for give and take which means that we are hurt each other by refusing to engage in natural give and take. Bullying becomes the norm in relationships rather than mutual respect.
  3. control is results oriented, and demands a fixed, specific and usually known outcome. It does not necessarily seek the best possible outcome in the present. We significantly shortchange ourselves when we do this.
  4. control seekers value security which they would have more of by recognizing that life and people are ever changing.
  5. control seekers in my experience rarely take in to account how much we do not know. Expectations are funny that way. They create a false kind of knowing based on approval and the status quo and overlook other types of knowing. The consequences can be short-sighted or counterproductive mistakes to terrible disasters. Many civilizations, like the Mayan and others, collapsed by holding on to the status quo when change and adaptation was required.

So What Can We Do About Control?

The easiest way I know of to make peace with this issue in my experience is to recognize that in each moment both the known and the unknown exist and coexist. And we need to respect both. Our past history with all its warts got us this far at great expense to many. I marvel at the people centuries ago who got into rickety boats to find new lands and the incredible work that went into creating some of our heritage sites like the pyramids and Taj Mahal.

So how to approach control:

  • respect that past as we seek to move forward and improve quality of life on the planet.
  • avoid all or nothing battles. Usually the past has something to offer even as we change it. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater is a reckless as refusing any and all change.
  • think of change as a rebalancing rather than a rejection. When you approach problems and people in this way, you are treating the past and people as a part of the solution which honors the good in them.
  • life conditions are more important than expectations. Sometimes we can enjoy our comforts and other times we need to relinquish them.
  • respect the good in other people. Some of our failures are failures of imagination rather than desire.
  • be kind always. We all suffer from fears and limitations.
  • use the baby step method to create change, to let positive steps build on each other.
  • forgive as much as you can.

Control And Trust

Control issues are often about a lack of trust. Distrust can become institutionalized and entrenched in our minds. As a result, cynicism has become a popular attitude about life. When we do our part on control issues, we are helping to restore trust in a world battered by conflict and fear. Every step you take to reduce control issues is an act of courage but also an act of generosity. And something to be proud of.