What’s So Great About Giving?

The researchers found that brain activity associated with happiness, along with self-reported happiness, increased simply after making a commitment to be generous to others. Happiness and happiness-related brain activity also went up when actually giving, the research team found, and left givers in a happier overall state than those who acted selfishly. Interestingly, relatively small acts of giving gave rise to just as big a happiness bump as bigger acts, the investigators said.*

Have you ever noticed how incredible it can feel to give? I have…years ago when I was drilling nails to build a child’s bedroom with Habitat for Humanity, a bedroom that kid might not have otherwise had. Not sure whether these Swiss researchers looked into how long the happiness bump lasts, but I can tell you mine has been around for decades. Every time I think of it I get that rush.

So they are right about just the thought of it. It will be a few weeks before my hospice volunteer work actually begins and, here again, just the thought of giving to another that way makes me feel good all over.

The ‘feel good all over’ that goes off in the brain when we give encourages us to do more of it, just like eating and, well you know, feel good to encourage us to do more of that too. Back in the day reputation mattered. Still does. It is speculated that givers appeared more trustworthy than takers, resulting in greater control over resources (or at least access to food and safety) with which to survive and to thrive. Doing well by doing good is what we would call it today.

We all want to be seen as good, and we feel happy when we are. In my Organizational Politics workshop, virtually every participant peeled down on our 5 Why’s exercise to being fundamentally driven by a deep desire to be seen as a good person. Makes us feel good.

Yeh but…what if the giving is obviously to get. What if, let’s say, a husband is stingy with his wife where no one can see, but an uber generous big tipper, big donator out in the world where everyone can. Or what if a woman sits on a variety of non profit boards, but is rarely home for her children, and rude to her employees. More about ‘looking good’ than being and doing good we might say.

Maybe you know people like this. And maybe you don’t like them, so not sure about the happiness bump for them. In fact, one such person** told me that, despite his most generous public persona, deep down he felt like a “wretched soul.” So the self cannot be fooled for long. Even if everyone else can, no real happiness for him.

Another woman I know** said she believes people only feel like giving when they are already happy, as in cup runneth over, so why not. To this I added my own yeh but…telling her what she said makes sense too but, if the research is right on what’s so great about giving, isn’t when we are feeling down a really great time to give. Look at all the happiness we can kick into motion for ourselves and others to help make the world we live in a better place.

She thanked me for this, which brings us to gratitude. There is plenty of research linking gratitude and happiness. And what is gratitude, after all, if not a form of giving itself. Giving thanks, that is. But don’t take their word for it, nor mine. Test it out yourself and let me know what you find.

So, for example, instead of spending on yourself, spend on someone else instead to see how that feels. Just a test. And remember, it doesn’t even have to be big. Something as small as offering a smile, or holding a door…could tell you all you need to know. Or something else you might like to try. Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Givers Really Are Happier Than Takers. MedLIne. Tuesday, August 15, 2017. https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_167833.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.







Narcissism Continued…

“Narcissistic Personality Disorder…An enduring pattern of grandiose beliefs and arrogant behavior together with an overwhelming need for admiration and a lack of empathy for (and even exploitation of) others.”*

Every day people thank me for my posts on Narcissism. When I mentioned this to someone I know** she replied that, not counting the current intensified interest in the topic politically, she believed that most people either know a Narcissist or are afraid they are one. And pity the ones who try to love one. Holy Hannah. It hurts. It matters. And people are trying to figure it out.

Some experts are saying that Narcissism is rampant these days; selfies, facebook, and the like. Others are saying that true pathological narcissism is in fact quite rare, that Narcissism is an overused term we lay on people who get on our nerves: in-laws, exes, ‘difficult’ people of different stripes.

So what is it and why is it? Here’s my take. At the risk of sounding grandiose and arrogant myself, I do want you to know that I am not just pulling what I am about to say out of my personal experience, although there is that. Having studied the topic with the masters, I have come to think of the ordinary old Narcissist, the kind a lot of us know and worry we may be, in a way I believe to be both useful and humane. See what you think.

What we commonly refer to as Narcissism is a continuum on which we all live that has something to do with how much energy it takes to steady our sense of self, everyday. What it takes for each of us to feel okay enough about who and what we are to do well in love and work (that’s Freud, love and work, all there is) varies. Easier for some than for others. Some pretty much wake up feeling okay enough, maybe not perfect, but who is, and who needs to be. We’re all just peas in a pod trying to get through the day in the best way we know how. Others might be plagued by more crippling angst about themselves and their place in the world. These are the people who spend so much energy on ‘looking good’ to themselves and others that there is little if any energy left in genuine caring for anyone or anything else. These are the ones we may see as grandiose and arrogant who, underneath their glossy exteriors, may be all the more likely to be deeply demoralized and depressed.

Maybe their parents were stingy about loving them just for being, and/or stingy with praise for specific behaviors when it was deserved. Maybe that’s how the parents were raised and the only way they knew how. Or maybe the parents loved them in a enmeshed, hovering kind of way, or praised them too much, hooked to nothing particularly deserving of it. Sometimes it’s inconsistent; sometimes too much, sometimes too little. Either way, the child grows up wondering what if any of it had anything to do with him/her at all. Either way, there is little sense of stable self to wake up with everyday. And that’s where an unfortunate amount of time and energy goes – toward the stabilization of the self. The leftovers, what little there are if any, might go to caring about other people in love and work. But not necessarily even then, if it has become one’s habitual way of being in the world to almost entirely, if not entirely, care pretty much about oneself. Nature/nurture it seems because some experts are saying that Narcissism, as a character disorder or personality style, can have a genetic component too. And, culture, let’s say social media comparisons, not helping either, as you know.

So if we know one, love one, are one, too far along on the continuum of energy expenditure…what can we do? We can stop it. Yes, that’s right. Chronic stress shortens the telomeres on the end of our chromosomes, and shortened telomeres shorten our lives. When we find that we are being damaged chronically by another person’s utter disregard for us, we can and should run for the hills. Leave the relationship. Find a new job. What if you can’t? What if you love the guy/gal? What if you’ve done your due diligence and found that this is the best job, or only job, for you? Then please, please make it a priority to take very good care of you. Food, fun, sleep, exercise, interests, social supports; call on everything you’ve got to take care of you. Wait you say, won’t that make you one of them? With all this focus on yourself. Not necessarily. You should be taking care of yourself anyway, and they always say to put the oxygen on your own face before you try to help anyone else when the plane is in trouble. Take a good whiff and get on with your day.

Now, what if it’s you? What if you’re the one who spends too much of yourself trying to feel good about you. What can you do to ease the pain for you and everyone around you? Well, you can stop making your self-esteem your full time job. Check out Ron Siegel, PhD who talks about self-esteem collapse. For Siegel, self esteem (as in, our estimation of ourselves) is something that has a way of rising and falling when this or that happens for all of us whether we like it or not. And when this or that doesn’t happen too. So like when you didn’t get the memo, or the reply to your email, or the invitation to the party you didn’t even want to go to. You felt bad, real bad, even if you didn’t want to go! For Siegel, the what we can do is to begin to notice – to begin to notice the tyranny of self esteem, to notice what slaves we are to trying to make ourselves feel good not bad in the face of provocations, big and small, all day long. But we can get a grip on that. What if, instead of trying to win the all consuming self esteem game, we stopped playing it as much as we do. We are who we are. Unlikely we can stop altogether. Unlikely we should. But just think how much energy we could free up, for the good of ourselves and each other everywhere in our lives, if we started paying enough attention to discipline our minds in playing the game – a little bit, somewhat, or a whole lot – less. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me…

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*“Narcissistic Personality Disorder” PubMed Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024871/

**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.


Healing America: The Pathology & Pathway Out

americaA first-of-its-kind study that ranks nations by empathy puts the United States at No. 7, behind countries ranging from Peru to Korea to Saudi Arabia. While a top 10 finish isn’t bad, Michigan State University’s William Chopik, lead author of the study, notes that the psychological states of Americans have been changing in recent decades – leading to a larger focus on the individual and less on others.” *

‘Individualism overriding empathy’ is one way to view what America’s election was all about. What about me? What about me? A cry heard from every corner. There are many ways and many levels upon which to view our election and its aftermath. Here I would like to address the electoral outcome as a pathological reaction to dramatic change and to propose a treatment for it. On so many fronts, the pace and depth of change has been exponentially breathtaking. Boundaries are shifting all over the place like mercury. Who are we? Who are they? And where is this all going? What does it even mean to be a human being for crying out loud, given how many of us are becoming as much medicine and machine inside our bodies as anything else. Our very identities feel threatened in ways that we hardly understand, but that nonetheless shake us to our core. In response, to use the vernacular, whether we know it or not…We are freakin’ out.

Who even knows what it means to be a family anymore, a gender, a nation? What does it mean to be a Republican now? Depends on which one we ask. Doubt they know themselves. What does it mean to be a Dem? The party of tolerance? Not so much, when we hear good people among my own dear friends and family saying things like “only half the country cares about others.” And they think it is the proverbial Us. We’re good; they’re bad. Us versus Them. Surely they know this is not true, or surely they should. Take a look at this passage from J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, his memoir about America’s white working class.

“Jacksonians say hello to everyone, willingly skip their favorite pastimes to dig a stranger’s car out of the snow, and—without exception—stop their cars, get out, and stand at attention every time a funeral motorcade drives past. It was that latter practice that made me aware of something special about Jackson and its people…”

So careful please whom we cast as people who don’t care. And while we might even consider the smashing to smithereens of both parties as a kind of long overdue creative destruction; still, any among us, of any party or not, who want the privilege of seeing ourselves as openhearted champions of democracy and diversity really need to walk this talk in tolerance of all. Not just the people like us, but the other ones too, the ones whose needs and perspectives may be different from our own. Casting the other as wrong, stupid, or bad is a solution that perpetuates the very pathology of ‘individualism overriding empathy’ that we must heal. The Cambridge dictionary defines an informal usage of pathological as “(of a person) unable to control part of their behavior; unreasonable.” What was pathological, what was out of control and unreasonable – and the losing party and pundits have already told us this themselves – is how many Americans were unable to listen to voices other than their own, how little empathy for the other was in the mix. This pathological ‘individualism overriding empathy’ went both ways and still does.

Doesn’t have to be this way. We have choices. We can go with the solution that is creating the problem of frightening discord and unbearable uncertainty, trying desperately to secure ourselves in our divisive We’re good; they’re bad. Or, no matter which side we are on, we can put ourselves in the shoes of the other, trying hard to see and respond to the cry for help outside of ourselves, in ways that make us feel bigger and better without feeling that we are losing ourselves. We can choose empathy over individualism to heal our nation and ourselves. We can take control – of our minds and behavior. We can call forth the better angels of our nature, as Lincoln would say. And, because we can, we must. Or at least that’s how it seems to me.

So here’s a little help. The goal is not so much to change our minds as it is to calm the lower brain enough to put the higher brain in control of how we respond to the very real and raw feelings of anxiety, depression, even rage, that so many Americans are feeling. The goal is not to take our feelings away but to calm the nerves so that we can think clearly about how we want to behave. Sure, some may say this is their grief process, that the only way out is through, that they are entitled to vent. True enough. And, through this, some will begin to notice the shortcomings of unbridled venting, if prolonged, for themselves and everyone else. Then they can begin to breathe. The day after the election the New York Times provided us with a simple guide to controlled breathing. In through the nose, out through the nose. Belly out on the in-breath. Belly in on the out-breath. Calming the body and the mind, to find and release the better angels of our nature, residing in us all. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* Is America still an ‘empathic and generous giant’? http://phys.org/news/2016-10-america-empathetic-giant.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.


More on Narcissism: Perfection Poison

Dalhousie’s Personality Research Team describes a narcissistic perfectionist as someone who is grandiose, has a high sense of entitlement and holds unrealistic expectations of those around them. In other words, narcissistic perfectionists see themselves as special and as unique, and these individuals demand perfection of those around them in a very critical way*.

A lot of people seemed to appreciate the March 28 post on Narcissism. Of course they did – it’s epidemic – so they say, so just about everybody knows at least one and, if you do, you are trying to figure out what to do about it, because it can really hurt. Sure, you may love yours very much. S/he can be as charming as anyone you’ve ever known, outright dazzling you may say, but a lot of what goes on can really get to you, especially what is now being called narcissistic perfectionism.

Not to be confused with neurotic perfectionism, which is pretty much turned in on the self; self doubting, self critical… You know this type too. Sad to see, wearing in its own way, but not necessarily as toxic to you. The narcissistic perfectionist projects outward. For this person, you are an extension and reflection, and reflect well you must, or be met with disgust and disdain for your failure to make him/her look and feel good. But you can’t…not for long, because the problem lies within and within problems cannot be solved from the outside. So it’s a bottomless pit and, just as the narcissist feels deep down ‘no matter how good, not good enough’, so too will you if you mindlessly go along.

The narcissistic perfectionist wipes out your own good sense that ‘perfection is the enemy of good’, that always striving for this unattainable state of perfection can drain the very enjoyment out of life and living. It can also prevent ever completing anything, sometimes from even starting anything. If one believes whatever it is will not be good enough, then why bother.

Look, this whole thing is a continuum from healthy to toxic narcissism and, if you think there is some of this overly critical, entitled, demanding, expectation of perfection toward others in you, it’s okay, it can be tempered. It is said that narcissists don’t change absent a major life catastrophe not of their own choosing, let’s say a job loss or divorce. But I have seen many people who did it for love, either a love that dropped into their laps and this time felt precious enough to preserve and protect, a yearning for a love never had, or because they had made it, already had it all, except love, and wanted to see what they could do to get ready, willing, and able to love**.

In all fairness, somewhere in the narcissist’s life there was likely someone somehow letting him/her know that ‘no matter how good, not good enough’, just as the narcissist may be doing to you, and probably why. And, whether at work or at home, if you are laying your perfectionism on another, or someone is laying theirs on you, the prescription is the same. First we breathe, belly out on the in breath, belly in on the out breath, to put the higher brain in charge…of reminding us that Perfection is Not Possible. Spending one’s life trying to attain an unattainable state of perfection is the enemy of good. And we all want to feel good. So when perfection attacks, either from within or without, you may try this, if you care to, only if you care to: 3 luxurious breaths, then “There Goes Perfection,” letting it come and go like a cloud in the sky, each time bringing your attention back to “Good is Good Enough.” Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you. Write or call:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

*”How narcissistic perfectionists hurt those around them ” April 12, 2016 http://bit.ly/1rcpgp5

**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.

Good to Know About Narcissism

Narcissism lies on a continuum from healthy to pathological. Healthy narcissism is part of normal human functioning. It can represent healthy self-love and confidence that is based on real achievement, the ability to overcome setbacks and derive the support needed from social ties. But narcissism becomes a problem when the individual becomes preoccupied with the self…*

The author goes on, and you can read about symptoms and causes via the link below and elsewhere all over the Internet. What matters here is that if pathological narcissism is something good gone awry, how can we get it back to good. One way would be to consider narcissism as a strategy to right one’s ship, as we remind ourselves that, even if something went wrong, we are essentially good, strong, smart enough people and will be just fine. Positive self-talk, affirmations, doing something kind for someone else… You know the drill. And although I am not much of a fan of trophies conferred on kids just for showing up, it does help that parents confer real praise for real deeds done well. That kind of nourishment from parents, from spouses and bosses too, can stick to the bones and be there when we need to draw on it, when things get tough.

But a solution can become a problem – let’s say when people spend all day long, in one way or another, trying to make themselves feel good so they don’t feel bad. The over indulged, accustomed to false praise, figure other people will just keep on keepin’ on loving their false self and give it what it needs when it needs it no matter what. What kind of connection is that? The authentic self is not even there. How can it feel seen, let alone loved? And the under indulged, accustomed to not much of anything useful at all from social ties, just curl up even more into themselves when the going gets rough. But I say that, in depriving themselves of real human connection, both are making a big mistake. And the Harvard Grant Study says so too. This 75 year study found that not money, not power, not fame – but connection with other(s) we feel we can really count on – is the secret to the happiest and healthiest of lives.

One working mom I know, we’ll call her Sue**, felt painfully unsure of herself as a mom. Because she did not view her own mom as having been adequate, she was not sure she ever would be a good mom herself. Sue’s understandable, but not particularly satisfying, ways of making herself feel better about her presumed failure as a mom were to establish herself as a child development expert and to delay going home to her husband and baby at the end of the workday by spending hours at the gym. Nothing against the gym for sure, and there are ways to squeeze that in, but here’s a case of someone spending pretty much her whole day into evening trying to make herself feel good so she won’t feel bad, which way down deep she does anyway. Only thinking about herself, you may say. Some may call it narcissism. Others may call it faulty strategy. Either way, it wasn’t working. She was exhausted and very sad.

On the other hand, the best definition I ever heard for narcissism referred to the amount of time and energy spent each day to get to and stay at okay. This varies among us, and for narcissists it is a lot. So what else could Sue do to make herself feel better than to come up with solutions that seem to create and perpetuate the very problem she is trying to resolve. Well, she could take the brave and courageous plunge of trying to connect more with her loved ones, and see what comes up. She could be delighted to find that sometimes these things come more naturally to some than to others for a variety of reasons, and that we are not and don’t have to be exactly like our parents. She could find, through meditation or even lesser pauses, that fears and doubts may arise in a kinder, gentler, more welcoming context in which they can actually be addressed, rather than avoided in ways that just make people tired. Whether at home or at work, my mantra is always, “Just do good work.” Knowing that we have done all we could, as well as we could for now, can help us free up hours in the day to spend connecting for real with the others who matter in our lives. And, when that’s done, just putting up our feet and basking in the job well done on all fronts…now that’s self-esteem. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you. Write or call:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

*Opinion: Why are we becoming so narcissistic? Here’s the science. Olivia Remes, Cambridge Institute of Public Health, bit.ly/1pFlOBY

**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.


Why Some People are Jerks

…and How Not to Be One Yourself

Yale researchers conducted a game theory study in which people would either be helpful or selfish, using intuition or deliberative thought to decide which way to go. Bill Hathaway of Phys.Org sums up the results this way:

People who come from a supportive and friendly environment learn intuitively to cooperate—even with strangers where there is no potential payoff—because they have often benefited from such generous behavior. However, if they take time to deliberate, they overrule their cooperative instinct if they realize there is no possibility of future payoff. People who are typically surrounded by jerks, on the other hand, learn intuitively to be selfish—and also learn not to deliberate. So, the model shows, they wind up acting selfishly even when cooperating would actually pay off, because they don’t stop to think.

Selfish people “don’t stop to think.” Just keep on doing what they do. Rules don’t apply. Even if the selfish one gets no real benefit…mindless, habitual responses prevail. You know where this is going: To Mindfulness, of course. But first, to Narcissism. Twenge and Campbell, in The Narcisissm Epidemic (2010) point out that narcissism has risen just as fast as obesity since the 1980s, and is accelerating still. And as you can see from the Yale study, it’s contagious! The greater the selfishness in the environment around you, the greater the risk of selfishness in you. Not exactly news to everyone. The Advaita Vedantists (Hindu) have a concept, “Good Company.” This means for us to fill our lives with the finest of what we can in life; in literature, music, food, wine, art…and yes, in the company of people we keep. If you tend more toward helpfulness and caring for others naturally yourself, be sure to surround yourself with as many others who are also helpful and caring as you can. This way you will not have to waste your precious energy trying to be someone you are not, to protect yourself from others not like you. If, on the other hand, your experiences or environment have primed you more for selfishness as your primary way to be in the world, it doesn’t always have to be that way. People in mental health circles sometimes think of narcissism as intractable, but if we think of selfishness as someone trying to make it through the day in the only way s/he knows how, then other ways of being can become possible once s/he learns how.

As one client* put it, when I introduced the notion of a loving relationship with someone someday for him, “I don’t even know what that would look or feel like.” So now he mindfully pays attention to what he feels, in a way that no one else ever did. What does he feel and where does he feel it – as a way to connect with and grow his compassion for himself and for others, his capacity to both love and be loved. Two steps forward, one step back. We do not know if things can be different and richer until and unless we try. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, call or write at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

Do the math – why some people are jerks yet others are even nice to strangers, Bill Hathaway, http://phys.org/news/2016-01-mathwhy-people-jerks-nice-strangers.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 © 2016. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.