Expletives for Pain. What fun.

“Swearing has been shown to relieve physical pain when it comes to banging your toe or slamming a finger in a door. Now, a new psychology study shows we shouldn’t be coy about cursing when suffering from an aching heart or hurt feelings.”*

Expletives for pain. Well, maybe this is why they let us say whatever we want when we’re in labor. It’s been over 30 years and I can still see the ‘it’s okay honey’ look on the faces of the nurses who just didn’t seem to get that, unusual as it would be, this particular baby was definitely going to come out of the wrong part of a woman’s body. Based on how it felt, I was sure of it, but they didn’t get it, which affected my language. I would have said that I invented a whole new natural childbirth language but something tells me that others before me had spoken the very same words. They’d heard it before, were completely unfazed by it, and knew before the science even told them so that foul language can help with pain. But how?

researchers speculate that brain circuitry linked to emotion is involved. Earlier studies have shown that unlike normal language, which relies on the outer few millimeters in the left hemisphere of the brain, expletives hinge on evolutionarily ancient structures buried deep inside the right half. One such structure is the amygdala, an almond-shaped group of neurons that can trigger a fight-or-flight response in which our heart rate climbs and we become less sensitive to pain.”

So the cursing may trigger a physiological response that lessens our pain, but not just our physical pain. A previous blog post, “Got REJECTION. Take TYLENOL,” addressed the neural circuitry connection between physical and emotional pain, such that what affects the one could similarly affect the other. This is known as “Pain Overlap Theory”* Hence, Tylenol for social/emotional pain; for example, rejection. In this post, we are not talking about something we take by mouth, Tylenol; but rather something that comes out of the mouth, profanity, as a treatment for pain.

I know, your mother told you not to. So did mine, but now it seems there really is a time and a place for just about everything, including cursing for pain. Now we learn that, while cursing is likely not the treatment of choice for deep grief, and that while unbridled cursing like road rage can cause serious harm – cursing can be good for when you stub your toe, break your arm, have a baby, wreck your car, or when you find out you got left out of the party or meeting that you wanted to attend. All of that stuff hurts, and studies now suggest that foul language can help.

Not all the time though. Has to be used sparingly or, like anything else, too much of a good thing. We humans habituate, we get used to things, which then lose their impact. So just for special occasions, okay. Pick and choose – what, where, when and with whom to curse – and then just let it rip. Have to say I wonder if this applies to taboos of verbal meanness that may not even include profanity per se. This would be a separate study but seems to me there could be a similar effect (heart rate up, pain down) when we dare to speak the unspeakable to the jerk who hurt our feelings, dirty words or not. I’m experimenting with this myself and, here again, all in good measure, so one does not habituate into a mean person to the detriment of all, including oneself. Reminds me of this Ghandi quote:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

Also reminds me of Mark Manson’s, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, in which the author does use the ‘F’ word a lot, at the same time he also tells us we have to pick and choose carefully what to even give an ‘F’ about. But we also have to be careful not to overthink the thing because, for the swearing to work its pain reduction magic, seems it has to come from the flight or fight (not the higher order thinking) part of the brain. So…not too much, not too little, but just right. You’ll figure it out. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* “Swearing relieves both physical and social pain, study finds (2017, June 1) Massey University https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-06-relieves-physical-social-pain.html More information: Michael C. Philipp et al. “Hurt feelings and four letter words: Swearing alleviates the pain of social distress,” European Journal of Social Psychology (2017). DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2264

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

Everybody’s Got A Story. What’s Yours?

“ [P] erception includes a multitude of assumptions….For instance, confirmation bias — noticing evidence that affirms one’s world view, but disregarding contradictory evidence….contributes to preconceived ideas that keep us locked into a narrow perspective on our personal and social reality.”*

Wait, so the truth is that we don’t (actually can’t) tell, nor even know, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Meaning that most if not all of what we think of as truth is no more than the sum total of the stories we create and tell. The above quote is from a story in Nature about stories in Deviate, a new book about the stories we tell ourselves that we live in as if they are true. Here’s some more:

“…neural networks that make sense of what we ‘see’ are fed by a relatively small stream of information from the eyes. About 90% comes from other parts of the brain, allowing us to recognize faces, identify danger or read a sentence such as ‘W at ar ou rea in ?’ despite the omitted letters. That you probably didn’t read that as ‘What are you dreaming?’ is the result of priming your attention to a context of reading. What enters the eye is often an insignificant part of the story.”*

This idea that the brain tells itself and us stories about most of what it ‘sees’ reminds me of the story about the Ten Blind Chinese Men asked to say what an elephant is. As more than an aside, I’ve seen this story as the 3 men, the 6 men, the 10 men, the 7 men, and sometimes but not always the men are Chinese. Stories morph over time, a point to which we will return, but you can click here for a nicely illustrated version of 6 blind Indian men and an elephant. In it, the blind man holding the trunk says an elephant is a pillar. The blind man holding the ear says an elephant is like a big fan. Each perceiving only what he can perceive is 100% certain that he is right and the other is wrong. And each is telling the truth and right that what is perceived is like a pillar or a fan – but inaccurate and incorrect in describing an elephant as either one. Perception is everything and can be grossly untrue.

Another famous example of how faulty human perception can be is the Harvard Gorilla Experiment. Participants are asked to watch a video of 3 people in white shirts and 3 people in black shirts passing a ball, and to keep track of how many passes the white shirts made. What gets completely missed by half of the participants is that a gorilla-costumed person enters the scene, looks right at the camera, thumps his chest, and after 9 seconds leaves. Participants said, and I’m sure believed to be true, that they would never miss anything like that, only to find out that, lo and behold, half of them did! The experimenters concluded that we are not only missing a lot of truth but have no idea how true for us it is that we are living more in our stories than in what we think of as truth.

And what about science altogether, thought by so many to be the epitome of truth. Not even counting the more conscious and deliberate fudge factoring to make data fit a scientist’s hypothesis, one need only consider the discoveries of Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein to know that what we hold true can become untrue over time. Seems that the best we can do is to tell ourselves stories that morph into new stories once new perceptions render the old stories unhelpful and false. This is why it is said that eyewitness testimony is not as truthful as we would like to think. Studies show that the story morphs over time. So, for example, if there is a weapon at the scene of the crime, the eyewitness may be more likely to focus so much on the weapon (like the white shirts in Gorilla Experiment) that other relevant and important details of the crime are forgotten, distorted, or missed at the time. It was also found that an eyewitness story could be altered simply by the modification of a single world in the interviewer’s question. Once again, more about the stories created and told than what we like to think of as truth.

Why, why, why? What is the point of all this illusion, deception, revision, and incomplete information in perception. Why hasn’t evolution or god or the universe or someone fixed this problem? Maybe because it helps us. We cannot possibly process all the stimuli in and around us. It’s too much. You already know what overload feels like. Can you even imagine life without the Selective Attention we use in the moment to help control the flow of information and keep us sane. And can you even imagine having to remember every single detail of everything that ever happened to you in the past exactly as it happened to you. Einstein said we should never have anything in our heads that doesn’t need to be there. It appears that what does need to be there is the right amount and kind of information to arrange into a story with enough meaning to help us move forward in our lives in the best possible way.

Do the stories we live in (star in) always help us to move forward in our lives in the best possible way? No they do not. Sometimes they restrict and ruin everything. Take the women** who tell me their stories that there is something wrong with them or, worse, that they are nothing without a man. This faulty perception is not their fault exactly. Evolutionary psychology might say that women are more and less wired for it. In the Origins of Virtue, Matt Ridley tells us that meat is the currency the alpha male chimps pays his allies to keep him in power, sharing the meat not just with male allies, but with his mother and girlfriends too. To the extent we may have behaved similarly, way back when our brains were forming, it’s conceivable that females competed for men to provide meat (iron) to help make and feed their babies, and for protection of themselves and their babies too. That’s one story.

Another story is found in Geoffrey Miller’s, The Mating Mind. Miller tells us that ancestral females would have been much safer in a group of a sisters, aunts, and female friends than with a single male in a nuclear family. He believes that female humans were large and strong as primates, and did not need to rely for safety on males only 10% taller than they were themselves. He adds that many hunter-gatherer women today, when asked, will say many men eat too much, require too much care, and are basically more trouble than they area worth. Okay, that’s a bit of a different story. Which one is true? Doesn’t matter. Look, times have changed. Women can feed themselves and their babies, not all women are even going to have babies, we are no longer on the savannah, and the ways in which people can now live purposeful and fulfilling appear limitless to me – and more dependent on the stories we tell ourselves, and how much we believe them and live in them, than anything else.

Take the people who live in a story that other people have it better, in work, in life. FOMO (fear of missing out), more stories (based on other peoples stories) that can be revised. To revise and improve the story in which we live we have to mess with the mind. But heck, the mind messes with us all the time, so why not. Go ahead and rewrite the beginning, the middle, the end, in whatever ways you like, to bring a smile to your life. For sure, we all have something for which to be grateful, if only that we live and breathe to fight another day – even better to enjoy it. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* “Our Useful Inability to See Reality,” Douwe Draaisma, April 20, 2017. http://www.nature.com.edgesuite.net/nature/journal/v544/n7650/full/544296a.html

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


Managing Mismatch: You vs. You.

Mismatch Hypothesis: According to evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology, humans evolved to survive in the African Pleistocene savanna. However, today’s environment is very different from that ancestral environment. This mismatch between our evolved psychological traits and today’s environment is detrimental to our well-being (Fitzgerald & Danner, 2012).”* 

Evolutionary Psychology’s Mismatch Hypothesis that behavior traits formed in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA) about 125,000 years ago do not always serve us well – is not without its critique. Arguments against, most notably from the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, center on the difficulty in disentangling biology and culture, particularly given the paucity of direct observational data on which the assumptions of the hypothesis are based, and the abundance of studies on American college students as somehow representative of Homo Sapiens all.

Skeptics of the Mismatch Hypothesis talk about evolutionary psychology’s explanations on why we are the way we are as “Just So” stories, from Rudyard Kipling’s seductively simplistic ‘Just So” stories or myths about, for example, how the leopard got its spots. But seduce they do for many of us, including yours truly and a long list of evolutionary psychologists, many of whose work I know and have really enjoyed. As a lot, they are smart and very funny on how ridiculous we as humans can sometimes be and behave.

It’s not all funny though. Indeed, the ‘mismatch’ idea is that our biological priming to respond to an environment that no longer exists can really hurt us, if we let it. Maybe you’ve already heard about our famine related preferences for sugar and fat. Once upon a time, we had no idea where our next meal would come from. Now sugar and fat are everywhere, too much of a good thing, but tell that to the anxious brain primed to store up as much sugar and fat as possible because, well, you never know. Here’s another example: Way back when, we were all nomads with bodies accustomed to being on the go. Look at us now, with our Sitting Disease, and associated heart disease, diabetes, blood clots, and other inactivity related ailments. And another: In the ancestral environment, we were never far from kin. Now we are, on purpose, spread all over the place, away from our biological kin, with little to no consideration of the deleterious effects to our mental health.

The “Mismatch Hypothesis” holds that we were not built for these demands on our minds and bodies built at an earlier time for other things. Mismatches are everywhere. Even at, especially at, work. In “Evolution in the Office: How Evolutionary Psychology Can Increase Employee Health, Happiness, and Productivity,” the authors talk about how dramatically different our modern day office environment is from the savannah type environment for which our brains may be adapted. Their premise is that the modern day office causes “biophilia – an appreciation and longing for our natural environment.” So, for example, they recommend windows for sunlight, actual greenery, or images of greenery, napping times and places, and both exercise and socialization opportunities.

Now some would say, oh please…those office windows have nothing at all to do with our love of and yearning for sunlight. It’s cultural not biological. An office with a window is all about prestige. Well, guess what, some would say that prestige, or status seeking, is biologically programmed into who we are too. Let’s hear from one of my favorites, Robert Wright, who taught evolutionary psychology at Princeton, and wrote the book I cut my teeth on after hearing him speak at a small seminar I attended back in the 90’s. From his book, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology:

“The stakes are very real. Resources are allotted in rough accordance with status….The genes may work by instilling drives that, in humans, get labeled “ambition” or “competitiveness”; or by instilling feelings such as “shame” (along with an aversion to it and a tendency to feel it after conspicuous failure); or “pride” (along with an attraction to it and a tendency to feel it after doing impressive things. But whatever the exact feelings, if they raise fitness, they will become part of the species’ psychology….Whether we know it or not, we tend naturally to rank one another, and we signify that rank through patterns of attention, agreement, and deference – whom we pay attention to, whom we agree with, whose jokes we laugh at, whose suggestions we take (pp. 245, 257).”

Status matters, more than we think it should, and my clients tell the tale.** Otherwise wonderfully attractive and talented men and women, restricted in work and love, by their own condemnation of the very human nature Wright just described. Whether we know it or not, whether we think we like it or not, the best of us can experience ambition, competitiveness, shame, pride, envy, jealously… These are human qualities that may have helped us to survive and to thrive as a species, why they are here, even if they are at times overblown, overdone, overused in our present day environment.

So no, if someone else appears to have more status than we do ourselves, we will not be deprived of food and drink and left to die. And it is a serious case of “mismatch” to respond as if we will. We may be programmed to feel crummy if we have tried in work or love and missed our mark. We are wired for this, from a long, long, time ago when the stakes were a whole lot higher than in reality they currently are. Okay fine, we may even want to lay low for a limited period of time so no further shame nor harm will come our way until we feel better enough to try again, but we will not die. And breathing – in through the nose count of 6, out through the nose count of 6, belly out on the in breath, belly in on the out breath – is the best and most immediate way I know to calm the anxious mind when the mismatches come crashing in to bring us down. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* A Critique of Evolutionary Psychology, Kirk Honda, Psy.D., LMFT, October 7, 2014. https://psychologyinseattle.squarespace.com/a-critique-of-evolutionary-psychology/

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


Talking 101: True, Kind, Necessary, Beneficial.

On average, people resolve misunderstandings in communication once every 90 seconds….Without such a system, our communication would fail constantly,” says Mark Dingemanse, first author of the study.*

Some would say their communications fail constantly anyway. Okay, maybe not constantly but more than they’d like. So what can we do? First rule of Talking: True, Kind, Necessary, Beneficial. This from the ancient Hindu text, the Baghavad Gita – “Austerity of Speech.” All we need to know. All we need to do. Before we speak, we think…is it True, Kind, Necessary, Beneficial, and if it’s not we just don’t. We just don’t talk. Now what makes that so hard? Whenever I give a workshop and introduce this concept of right speech, people start scribbling frantically on their notepads as if they just heard something really important that they never heard before. It just happened the other day with an executive coaching client of mine.** And they’re right; it is important. So what’s the point of all the garbage that comes out of our mouths? Well…actually there is a point to some of our drivel but first let’s look at how we got started talking at all.

In Evolution and Human Behavior, John Cartwright tells us that the first talker could have been Homo habilis, 2 million years ago or Homo erectus, 1 million years ago. You may also click here for no less than 200 references on the origins of language. But here is what matters for our purposes. To be sure, talking is a social plus, and one that has helped us to survive and to thrive all along, likely for millions of years. How else would we suppose that our ancestors could negotiate who gets to eat how much and what cut of the meat from the hunt? How else would they have been able to make deals, detect cheaters, alert each other to danger, and the like. Well why couldn’t they just do it with the wave of a hand or a point of the finger, “Food over here…ferocious beast over there”? Because it didn’t work in the dark for one thing and, even if it was light out, then we had to be looking at each other all the time, just in case someone decided to ‘say’ something, instead of either resting our eyes or using them to scan outward for food, danger, or sex opportunities. Listen to this from Schlain’s The Alphabet Versus The Goddess:

“…evolution came up with the economical idea of using the human tongue for communication. While virtually every other muscle group in the body engaged in a vital activity fairly regularly, the tongue just sort of lay in the mouth between meals, doing little except help with swallowing saliva. The brain, like a patient Olympics coach, taught the tongue to perform a wide range of acrobatic gymnastic…the langue (tongue) in language became the indispensable shaper of speech.”

The tongue just sort of lay there…wonderful! So by putting the tongue to work, hands could do all kinds of great things, like carrying babies, using tools… But the tongue’s sounds (words) can be misunderstood, so researchers have found universal mechanisms to repair these otherwise faulty communications that can make a huge difference in our lives. The 3 universal strategies* from 12 different languages include:

  1. a “huh” to call for a repetition of what was said.
  2. a call for more detail about certain information, such as “who” or “where.”
  3. a bid for confirmation when the listener repeats what was said.

The authors tell us that humans try to be kind by using an easier strategy for the speaker than the open ended “huh” one, when they can. What’s also really interesting here is that humans are the only species known to interrupt to repair. I happen to know people who freak when they are interrupted.** Little do they know what a tribute to the importance of what they are saying, what an act of kindness, and how completely human and normal interrupting can actually be. Turn-taking, as in listening and preparing one’s response at the same time, is something that comes out in the literature much better than we tend to think it is, for its efficiency and effectiveness in getting the communication job done.

But not all speech is as overtly purposeful as that. Some of it is just for… you know…bonding. Not to minimize bonding, we’d be nowhere as a species without bonding, but here’s where the drivel comes in.

Talking is a social lubricant, not necessarily done to convey information, but to establish familiarity…. these vocalizations are equivalent to the chitchat that we do. People think that conversations are like exchanging mini-lectures full of information. But most of the time we have conversations and forget them when we’re done because they’re performing a purely social function.”

That’s a relief in a way, isn’t it? Trouble is that the chitchat can be mindless and when we are talking just to talk it doesn’t always come out right. In fact, studies have shown American civility to be on the decline. As only one example, 25% of Americans reported using the f-word every day, up 10 points over the last 10 years. True, kind, necessary, beneficial. Maybe true, but has to be all 4. And even where talking may be civil, true, and kind, it may not be necessary and beneficial at all.

For some people, it goes something like this: I Talk Therefore I am. Why not just: I Breathe Therefore I Am. If all that is needed is reassurance that one exists, breathing should be enough. Breathing is true, kind, beneficial, and necessary. But breathing doesn’t tell us that we are really amazing and that the whole rest of the world knows it. Anyone can breathe. But impressing the world, just by making these amazing words come out of the mouth, well now we’re talking. Only no one is listening, more than likely not even the talker, when the talking has taken on a life of its own with no redeeming social value to it. So we think before we talk: Is it True, Kind, Necessary, and Beneficial? And, if it’s not we can repair the words before we let them out or, if there really is no point, for the benefit of all, let’s just breathe. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Universal patterns for the “repair” of human communication discovered. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, September 16, 2015 https://www.mpg.de/9405856/universal-repair-mechanisms-language

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



What is a fate as bad as death?….in the past, estrangement from family or friends, along with the corresponding exile away from the campfire or town gates, meant literally getting thrown to the wolves. Not surprisingly, our brains are wired with circuitry so that we can scrupulously avoid such fates….The neurological wiring that makes us feel [social] pain, new research suggests, also means that a common painkiller could ease the sting.* [Read more…]

In Love: Play Together, Stay Together

  “Play refreshes a long-term adult relationship. In a healthy relationship it is like oxygen: pervasive and mostly unnoticed, but essential to intimacy. It refreshes by promoting humor, the enjoyment of novelty, the capacity to share a lighthearted sense of the world’s ironies, the enjoyment of mutual storytelling, the capacity to openly divulge imagination and fantasies….these playful communications and interactions produce a climate for easy connection and deepening, more rewarding relationship – true intimacy.

Take play out of the mix and, like a climb up the oxygen-poor ‘death zone’ of Mount Everest, the relationship becomes a survival endurance contest. Without play skills, the repertoire to deal with inevitable stresses is narrowed. Even if loyalty, responsibility, duty, and steadfastness remain, without playfulness there will be insufficient vitality left over to keep the relationship buoyant and satisfying.”*

Someone I know** once said that couples do all this vacation, theater, movies stuff because they are bored out of their minds with each other. If people are really into each other, she said, they don’t need all that. And if they’re not into each other without all that, they shouldn’t be together. She makes adult play sound lame. Researchers on play make it sound not only normal and natural, but really, really smart. Here’s why.

In American anthropologist, human behavior researcher, and self-help author Helen Fisher’s Why We Love, we learn about phases of love:

“Lust, the craving for sexual gratification, emerged to motivate our ancestors to seek sexual union with almost any partner. Romantic love, the elation and obsession of “being in love,” enabled them to focus their courtship attentions on a single individual at a time, thereby conserving precious mating time and energy. And male-female attachment, the feeling of calm, peace, and security one often has for a long-term mate, evolved to motivate our ancestors to love this partner long enough to rear their young.”

As you may know, there is a bit of a trade off over time. Rather like wine pairing for multi-course meals, different wines for different phases of the meal, Fisher tells us about the different hormones accompanying different phases of love. So the crazy, wonderful, roller coaster buzz we feel at the beginning, left to mother nature, over time not so much. She has other things, like the long-term stability of our nest, in mind for us. Hence the calm, peace, and security that can morph into boredom if we are not mindful of the potential for just that. Boredom.

Fortunately, a lot of people know this. They know what to do, and they do it. All manner of adult play together, including, according to Bloggers Brett and Kate McKay: Body play (dancing), Object play (golf), Social play (dining with friends), Pretend play (role play), Narrative play (sharing stories), Creative play (trip planning), Attunement play (viewing together TV, sports, movies, theater, the Grand Canyon…). Whatever feels to the two of you like play, meaning that even if there is some point to it (like sex for procreation), if the delight of it outweighs the point of it, it can qualify as play.

To repeat: “…these playful communications and interactions produce a climate for easy connection and deepening, more rewarding relationship – true intimacy. Take play out of the mix and, like a climb up the oxygen-poor ‘death zone’ of Mount Everest, the relationship becomes a survival endurance contest.”*

Okay, so in truth, just because there is no apparent point to the play other than for the fun of it, there really is a point to it. That’s a good thing. Play is a good thing, although theories abound on what the fundamental and enduring point of play is. Studies have shown playfulness in adults to be positively associated with academic performance, work performance, stress management, sense of well-being, physical health, social bonding, and problem solving abilities, to name a few. Nice outcomes. They go on to posit that the positive emotions associated with these outcomes may explain at least in part why men and women rank playful, fun loving, and sense of humor so highly when asked what they are looking for in a mate. That is, playfulness would be seen as good for the relationship, the well-being of each individual partner, and their long term excitement and affection for each other – to help us to pair bond and reproduce in ways that helped us to survive and to thrive as a species, no less.

But alas, not only do too many couples get buried in the daily grind of everyday life, as in, Who has time for play?, but researchers have mentioned as well that it is hard to get funding for research on play – precisely because it’s all so positive in the face of a hardwiring for negativity, known as the “negativity bias.” Here’s how that goes: In what we call the environment of evolutionary adaptation, millions of years ago when our modern brains were forming, if something great happened (like a mating opportunity) and we missed it, oh well, too bad, but there will be another. If, on the other hand, something terrible was coming down the pike and we missed it, no oh well, too bad’s about it; we just became somebody’s lunch. So it makes sense we’d be more vigilant about the negative than the positive as a survival rule. Trouble is we’re no longer in that environment and, though it may feel at times that we are about to become someone’s lunch, we’re not, not really. There are, therefore, much happier, healthier, more productive ways to spend our energy and our time than in the default of this normal, natural negativity mode.

Some of us live more in the negativity mode than others. Someone has to keep an eye out for danger and, if your partner has taken on that role more than you have, it would be nice if you expressed your gratitude (Thank you for your service) and took some of it on yourself some of the time. Just to be nice. And nicer still, would be if, as a team, you acknowledged that the normal hormonal shifts over time in relationships, coupled with the negativity bias in humans in general, are significant forces to contend with, together. Then, you two can, on purpose, plant play into your lives, as a habit forming staple from the start and for the long haul. Then you two can be and stay happy in love.

So how are you as an individual and as a couple going to Play today just to Play? Start today? Why not? Play Together. Stay together. For a happier, healthier, more productive Love. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202 617-0821

* Brown, Stuart, M.D., Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York: Penguin, 2010, p..166

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



After LOVE; Let Us PLAY

To the brain, getting dumped is the pain equivalent of getting burned by a hot cup of coffee….merely looking at a photograph of an ex-partner energized the neurological regions…that also process physical discomfort. Defensively, the dejected brain also signals the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and amplifies the body’s immune defenses as though warding off emotional pathogens. Indeed, as additional research further confirms, matters of the heart and mind are intimately connected.*

Ouch. That sounds serious. And it is. In love – and at work too, let’s say when we are let go or are unhappy enough to leave on our own – when our deeply held connections are severed and our dreams for a future in that connection are dashed – it hurts. The heart hurts, and the mind hurts, and sometimes we feel that loss of connection all over our bodies. So don’t let anyone tell you that you are not supposed to feel exactly as crummy as you do when you break up with the one you love. We are wired for this. By and for nature and nurture, in an effort to survive and reproduce, Pair Bonding matters to humans, and when the pair bond is ruptured that incredible urge to either repair it or replace it tells us all we need to know about how much we want to pair. Yes, there are what the attachment theorists call avoidant types. But it seems the wish to bond was once there in them too before ‘Enough is enough; I’m going it alone’ set in because s/he was either mistreated or ignored by an attachment figure too much of the time. By the way, try having a relationship with an avoidant type, and see how kicked in the stomach it feels every time you try to get close. Not a bad reason to break up, if things cannot be improved. You deserve better, you say. And you do.

Or maybe you two were close and really enjoyed being together. Maybe even though you both loved the same music, loved to hike or bike together, to take in the theater, or sit by the fire, or walk on the beach; maybe there was always something that didn’t feel good or right. Maybe it was the pain of incompatible core values that derailed you. As numbers of clients** have explained, they loved being together in the moment but for the long haul the plain truth was that their life plans and core values did not match. She embraced commitment; he embraced independence. She embraced intellectual and financial career success. He embraced simplicity and serenity via his art. Core values are the virtually unshakeable rules by which we live, and living long together by fundamentally different rules can sometimes, not always, but often enough make things too damned hard. So then they breakup – talk about hard.

Before we get to what makes breaking up so hard, and what we can do to make it easier, here are some interesting stats on breakups compiled from Facebook status updates*:

  • When: the most common day for breakups is first Monday in December, cleaning up mess before not during the holidays. Early March, spring break, a popular time for breakups too.
  • How: People born before 1975 tend to breakup in person 74% of the time. People born after 1984 breakup in person only 47% of the time, more likely by phone (30%), text (14%), email (4%).
  • Why: Everything from soup to nuts: Cheating, unsatisfying sex, not enough time together, loyalty, support, just not feeling it, “economy, politics, boredom and even vocal pitch as the final straws for various couples.” Kind of makes me wonder how many people really even know.
  • How Long: By this I mean how long does the grieving process take. “Eight weeks after getting dumped, 40 percent of people in one study exhibited signs of clinical depression, and 12 percent appeared moderately or severely depressed.” Remember, it’s supposed to hurt because evolution and culture want us to want to bond.
  • Who: Women initiate two-thirds of divorces and have the statistical breakup edge. Of course, sometimes her life partner left emotionally way in advance of the actual breakup, so it’s not clear who actually dumped whom.

In any case…Breaking up is hard to do. Hormonally hard. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or pleasure inducing drug, that can send us soaring, make us crazy, and boy does that feel good. The mere sight of a romantic partner can stimulate the brain’s reward system and flood us with this love drug. The realization that the loved one is gone deprives us of the drug. To avoid this deprivation we may find ourselves out of our minds motivated to repair the relationship to get the love drug back. Being with the one we love, also produces endorphins, and with endorphins comes that “general sense of well-being, including feeling soothed, peaceful and secure.” Without that drug we’re in withdrawal and, until we grieve a bit and restabilize, we feel none of the above.

So how do we grieve? Pioneering attachment theorist, John Bowlby, gave us 4 stages of grief: Numbness, Yearning, Disorganization and Despair, Reorganization. The more widely known psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kübler Ross, gave us 5: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. It appears that in Bowlby’s model the anger pretty much rolls into the yearning, that phase of bargaining to get the love back, and the anger associated with the frustration this fruitless effort entails. So these two models are very much alike, stages beginning with ‘make it not be over’ and ending with the acceptance that it is. Turns out the stages are not any more neat and clean than any relationship is. They can be a mess. No sooner do we think we’ve moved along to acceptance than something happens, let’s say a facebook post, and we are hurled back into the throes of painful emotion all over again. The brain does not forget that easily and can be triggered by almost anything, as you may know.

But visits by feelings from earlier stages of grief do not necessarily mean that we haven’t moved along in the grief process. We may think of these visits as all part of the process instead. Rumi has a wonderful poem, The Guest House, to help us think about all emotion in this way. And one of the best things I ever heard, may sound obvious to you, but hit me hard in a good way when I needed it, came from a philosophy mentor who said, “You know, Madelaine, it is possible to be happy and sad at the same time.” Great. So tears of frustration or sadness are not necessarily a setback. They are okay. In fact, studies have indicated that emotional tears calm our breathing and heart rate, and carry stress hormones that can be cleansed from our bodies when we let ourselves cry. So live it up. Don’t hold back. Go on. Have a good cry.

And then Play. Because, even if we can’t get back with the one we loved, there are plenty of other ways to get the peaceful, joyful lovin’ feeling back. Romantic love and sex are not the only ways to get the love drugs back. No sir. Exercise and playing games, video games, card games, varieties of challenging or competitive play – can increase dopamine levels. Dopamine (the pleasure drug) motivates us to achieve and rewards us with pleasure when we do, making us want to set and reach goals all the more. So after love, when it can feel like all is lost and you hate that deep, dark, foggy pit you’re in – Get up, Get out, and Play. And then your dopamine will motivate you to do even more of the kinds of things that increase endorphins, the inner morphine that can ease our pain and help us to feel happy again.

How to increase endorphins: Get out of the bed. Get off the couch. Hang out with people you like. Laugh. Go to the beach. Take a sauna. Play volleyball. Dance. Eat (dark chocolate, hot peppers, alcohol in moderation, and to some extent just about anything you enjoy). Help someone (helper’s high). Exercise. MEDITATE. Yes indeed, studies have found every one off these to impact our chemistry in ways that make us feel good when we might otherwise have felt nothing but bad. How to be happy and sad at the same time. How to lift oneself up and out, to help oneself to Play for the benefits to our overall health and happiness. And okay, who knows, maybe even to find that oh so delicious high, romantic love, out there in the playground once again. You never know what can happen when we least expect it, with an aura of health and joy on our side. Play, play, play. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Conger, Christen, How Breakups Work. congerhttp://people.howstuffworks.com/breakup.htm/printable

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

Play is Not the Opposite of Work

“Dr. Brown, is…the founder of the National Institute for Play, and he states, ‘when employees have the opportunity to play, they actually increase their productivity, engagement and morale.’….There is good evidence that if you allow employees to engage in something they want to do, (which) is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation.”*

Hmm, something they want to do, (which) is playful. I hope this means that, at work or outside of work, no matter where, no matter what, doing things we really want to do is nourishing and fun like play. Or even better, doing things we want to do is play, just because we want to do them. Unfortunately, people often talk about work and play as though they are separate and different. Work Hard. Play Hard. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Teddy Roosevelt said, “When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all.” But Einstein and others would disagree:

Albert Einstein: “Play is the highest form of research.”

Richard Brandson: “I don’t think of work as work and play as play. It’s all living.”

Simon Sinek: “The goal is not simply to ‘work hard, play hard.’ The goal is to make our work and our play indistinguishable.”**

Work and Play Indistinguishable…Amen! We have already looked at some of the benefits of play for work in “Let’s Play. Here’s Why.” Here we are looking at how to mush the two together to make play useful and work fun, all jumbled together so that if someone asked us whether we were working or playing, we wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care. Sound like a great way to live?

Look at Google, all employees have access to and can play during their workday. They have all sorts of activities like bowling, meditation, wall climbing, volleyball and more. Facebook, LinkedIn and Ideo also provide opportunities for play time at work, anything from ping-pong to arcade games and a few take it one step further by instilling a culture of play. These fun activities are not just for lunch, employees can get up and go play when they get tired of working on a project or answering emails.*

And, as the article goes on to say, trainers and consultants are bringing fun and games right into learning activities to help the learning stick. Contrasted with flatter types of spoon fed learning activities, emotional learning experiences get tagged in the brain, easier to retain. But these examples are at the group level, and I’m thinking too of folks I know who just wish with all their might they could wake up in the morning wanting to go to work. Of course, if they could make it workplay chances are they would, I mean if they are going to go in anyway, why not?***

Life is what our thoughts make it (Aurelius). So how can we use our thoughts to make work (a something we want to do) play. Well, it’s not really enough to just want to do it. We have to actually be into doing it while we are doing it. And that means we have to be paying attention, exquisite attention, to create what Csikszentmihalyi calls FLOW, the joyful state of optimal experience when we lose ourselves in what we are doing by paying attention to it. We all know what it is like to be reading a book and 3 pages later have no idea what we just read. Or driving to our destination without any recall of anything on the road that took us there. Boring. But ahh…attention, attention to what my philosophy tutors have called the working surface – where my fingers meet the keyboard when I am typing to you, where my listening receives the sound of my client’s voice, or my sight receives my client’s face and body language. Is there joy and play in this work I do? You bet there is and can be for you in yours too, all through the power of your attention. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202- 617-0821

* The Power of Play at Work, The Huffington Post, 9/14/2016 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/the-power-of-play-at-work_b_12011462.html

**Above quotes found via Work play internet images: https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=A0LEV7p8NbBYxHQAroUPxQt.?p=play+work&fr=yhs-adk-adk_sbnt&fr2=piv-web&hspart=adk&hsimp=yhs-adk_sbnt&type=ma_appfocus29_ff#id=84&iurl=http%3A%2F%2Fi.quoteaddicts.com%2Fmedia%2Fq2%2F456111.png&action=close

***Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



Let’s Play. Here’s Why.

When you’re stressed, the brain’s activated emotional hub, the amygdala, suppresses positive mood, fueling a self-perpetuating cycle of negativity. Play can break you out of that straitjacket. It’s the brain’s reset button. This tonic we write off as trivial is a crucial engine of well-being. In its low-key, humble way, play yanks grownups out of their purposeful sleepwalk to reveal the animating spirit within. You are alive, and play will prove it to you.”*

According to Oxford Dictionaries, to “play” is to “engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.” Wait a minute, if “recreation” is the “Refreshment of one’s mind or body after work through activity that amuses or stimulates; play,” I don’t think we can rightfully say that refreshing one’s mind or body lacks serious or practical purpose. Anybody who has ever suffered burnout will tell you how practical and serious it is to bring one’s energy back to life – at work and at home.

In fact, Harvard researchers have found that play not only relieves stress but improves brain function, stimulates the mind, boosts creativity, improves relationships, builds energy and resistance to disease. Wow. But then, if it’s that good, how come we don’t play more. Seems to me right up there with the best of ways to spend our time. And yet, a lot of folks don’t look at play that way. As one author put it:

Our society tends to dismiss play for adults. Play is perceived as unproductive, petty or even a guilty pleasure. The notion is that once we reach adulthood, it’s time to get serious. And between personal and professional responsibilities, there’s no time to play.

Make time. You know you can. Somehow we all manage to find time for whatever it is we really want to do. But maybe you haven’t played in a long time, and don’t even know what would be play for you. After all there are so many kinds of play:

  • Object play (basketball)
  • Locomotor play (running)
  • Social play (pretending)

And there is play that doesn’t look like play at all. Take imagination. When we have a problem on our hands and may ask ourselves what someone we admire might do in a similar situation, is that not a form of playing around up there in the brain. In fact, more than a few people** I know play most of what could be the best parts of their lives up there in the brain, more as spectators up in the stands than players out there on the field of their very own lives. These folks spend time planning trips they never take, imagining love they won’t go out to find, wishing for their dream career from the desk they will not dare to leave. It’s a fine place to start, with that glimmer in the mind’s eye about how we dream things to be. But it’s a terrible place to be stuck, and won’t get us much of those serious and practical benefits of play if we are.

So, what’s in the way for those who don’t or won’t play as much as they could? Fear? Fear of looking like a fool? Fear of making a mistake? Fear of being undeserving? Fear of work undone? You name it. Name it for yourself. So for example, when the spoiler in you says ‘You have work to do’ you may follow that with something like ‘Yes, I do, and it will be there for me when I’m done refreshing my mind to do it better’. Or when the spoiler says ‘You will look like a fool out there on that dance floor’, you can agree again with something like ‘Yes, you are right, I might, but how I look is irrelevant for a physical activity aimed to improve how I think and feel.’ And for anyone having trouble figuring out what’s the best play for you, you may take a magic carpet ride back to your childhood, and picture yourself playing at what you loved to do. I, for one, spent hours on end writing books as a little girl, with construction paper covers, sewn up the middle with yarn. For me, reading and writing were play, and still are favorite ways to spend my time. And you? What was it for you then? How do you dream about playing now? How about to start: One time a day designated just for play? Or something else you might devise. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202- 617-0821

* Working Smarter “The Missing Link to Life Satisfaction: Play. Joe Robinson


**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


Love at Work

Chartered Psychologist (Occupational) Dr. Fiona Beddoes-Jones, in a study of over 300 managers/leaders, found the majority of respondents were dissatisfied with the level of warmth and care displayed at work and believed that their wellbeing would be improved if there was more ‘love’.”*

Not what you thought? Maybe you thought ”Love at Work” would be about affairs, 85% of which were found to begin in the workplace. Or maybe you thought we were talking about finding true love and marriage at work. Turns out a lot of people do meet their spouses at work, around 10% in 2009, down from 20% in the 1990’s, due to the rise of internet dating, one study finds. But affairs at work and finding true love at work are not what this piece is about. What we are talking about here is love at work about the work, for both the work, and the people who are doing it.

In business school there was a course called “Managing Work Groups,” which was in essence a T-Group. T-Groups “use feedback, problem solving, and role play to gain insights into themselves, others, and groups.” One of the men and one of the women** in the group seemed to lock horns every time the class met. So one day one of the students asked, “What do you two think is underneath all the fighting?” The answer was affection. The truth beneath the fighting was that these two had a crush on each other – and that no one in the group had any idea what to do with affection at work, no doubt a large part of why, if not exactly why, warmth and care (aka love) tend to get withheld at work. Awkward. Doesn’t feel appropriate. Doesn’t feel safe. And to some extent it’s not if it is not mindfully managed, especially with people working such long hours and traveling together so much of the time. So what kind of love does it take to enrich the work, to enrich the worker’s experience of it, and to enrich the relationships in and out of the workplace, all at the same time. Let’s take a look at Hot Groups.

Hot group members behave like people in love…. The excitement, chaos, and joy generated in hot groups make all the participants feel young and optimistic regardless of their chronological age. In hot groups, the usual intellectual and social inhibitions are relaxed. These qualities almost re-create the sense of exuberant confidence people feel as children. Many people may have felt the excitement of a hot group when they were at school, putting together a show or a school magazine. It may have been in the military in a squad fighting its way up an impossible hill. Perhaps it was in a research group on the trail of an elusive gene or in a cross-functional new product team building the next generation of pasta makers. We have even received unsubstantiated reports of hot groups taking root in boardrooms. Overall, however, hot groups are rare, especially within traditional organizations.

Note the wording “sense of exuberant confidence people feel as children.” That’s what is too often missing in the workplace, that sense of exuberant confidence. But it doesn’t come from warmth alone. The bird wants to fly. The tree wants to grow. So do we and, as children or adults, to grow and to fly we need clear guidelines and boundaries, as much a part of loving as anything else. As the study found,* “People want clarity from a logical and pragmatic manager, but they also what to feel that a manager and the organisation genuinely care about them and that is often what is missing.” So for example, Hot Groups can be too heavy on emotion and not heavy enough on the guidance and boundaries they need to help them protect their outside relationships and to avoid burnout altogether from the intensity of it all. Everything, including love at work, in good measure, I guess we could say, and for this we need to pay attention to the work, to the work relationships, and to the impact of these on everything else. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202- 617-0821

*“Leaders and managers should be taught how to ‘love’ their staff,” January 5, 2017 https://phys.org/news/2017-01-leaders-taught-staff.html

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.