Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is Ego a Matter of Anatomy?

~photo courtesy of Indiana University

Hi everyone! I'm sorry I've been so scarce in the blogosphere lately. In my absence, I've been blown away with the ideas and insights of Eckhart Tolle and Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor (thanks, Janey!!!) Both have written books and can be found in various interviews and videos on the web-- so, I've been spending hours soaking it all up.

As I discussed in my last post, Tolle defines the "ego" as the part of us that thinks with words, the voice in our head. He believes that this voice is not our true self. Rather, we are the presence that hears the voice. And, if we consciously turn off the ego's voice and simply be present and aware of our senses, we will find a simple, open state of peace and joy.

One problem that I have is that Tolle's descriptions can come off as having a spiritual, even religious, feeling. He describes this ego-less state as energy which connects us all. Is it a higher plane of existence? Is it a brush with the divine? No. He's not really saying that at all. But as a probable Idealist (one of Keirsey's temperament types), Tolle has some difficulty nailing down his words in black and white. In a more scientific straight-forwardness. That's where Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor has made a huge contribution.

Dr. Bolte-Taylor is a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist who had a stroke at age 37. And, she remained awake and conscious the entire time and was able to perceive the changes in her brain as they happened! How cool is that?! Her left-sided hemorrhage effectively shut down her entire left hemisphere (language, rational and linear thinking, math skills). So she was living with only the functions of her right brain (intuition, contextual understanding, perception of intonation, spatial skills). She describes the experience in her book My Stroke of Insight.

Check out this incredible video of a talk she gave several years ago:

What I find fascinating, is that when her left hemisphere stopped working, she experienced the awareness of being that Tolle describes. She says that she lost her ego. That her thinking was silenced because the section of the brain that processes language completely shut down.

~excerpt from Oprah's Soul Series radio show (archived at

So is the ego actually our left hemisphere? It appears so. Our ability to use language seems to be the key to what ego is.

We think in words because we evolved language. And certainly, shared language is a huge advantage for survival. But, this thinking mind is also a bit of a curse.

To think requires words, which are just man-made labels for ideas and concepts. As Tolle teaches, words are just guideposts that point us to the ideas, they are not truth. And this is the curse. Just think of all the thoughts that we have. Aren't we defining our experiences (or limiting them) with thought? And so often, thoughts tend to either amplify emotion or block emotion. This is why some people preach positive thinking as a way to feel happier. But thoughts are not emotions.

Emotion is a physical function. It happens deep in the brain in the amygdala. It is a specific physiologic response that protects us and enhances our survival by, for example, preparing us to fight or flee when fear is triggered, or by creating a desire to attach to a caregiver or loved one when feelings of safety (happiness, joy, etc.) are triggered. Pure emotion (the physiological response) is fleeting. The brain function only lasts from a few minutes to about 20 minutes maximum (for fear and anger). But, thanks to our thinking mind, we continue to experience what we believe is fear or anger for hours, days, even years! In actuality, we trick our brain into triggering the emotional response in the absence of a real life event. By having thoughts. By having an ego that tells us stories.

It's the price we pay for having language.

So, can we stop creating these thought-induced emotional experiences? Yes! As Dr. Bolte-Taylor knows, we can turn off our left-hemisphere. As Tolle teaches, we can silence the ego. And the result is peace, joy, an undefinable (because we can't apply words to it) sense of connection with life. It is pure living, without the curse of false, thought-induced negative emotions.

Dr. Bolte-Taylor calls it Nirvana.

I call it life. And, of course...

Life is Beautiful...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who I Am

Currently, I'm reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. I've always been curious about books that people claim have changed their lives. And, as you may remember, Oprah was a huge follower of Tolle several years ago. So I decided to see what it was all about.

I am generally a bit skeptical of anything overly spiritual. Although I consider myself spiritual in a sense, I am atheist. And, having studied the hard sciences (biology major) and anthropology in college, I prefer to find physical or rational explanations. That said, I do believe that individuals can affect the quality of their experience in life through thought. And I am always open to hearing how another human has made sense of life, how their thoughts shape their experience. I recognize how my range of thoughts are limited by my individual experience, and I like learning new ways of thinking that I would never have conceived of on my own.

So in this spirit, I started reading A New Earth. And what I found was something fascinating...about me.

First, for those of you who haven't read Tolle, I'll do my best to summarize his ideas as I understand them thus far (I haven't finished the book yet).

Tolle says that a person is comprised of an illusory self which he calls the "ego", and the true self, or "consciousness," which is the presence within you who is hearing the thoughts of the ego. The ego is the speaker who we often think of as "I". But, he asserts that "I" is an illusion because it is given definition through human constructs (such as words). He says, "the greatest miracle is the experiencing of your essential self as prior to any words, thoughts, mental labels, and images. For this to happen you need to disentangle your sense of I, of Beingness, from all the things it has become mixed up with, that is to say, identified with." (A New Earth, page 26.)

This makes sense to me. I have been aware that there is a part of me who can hear myself thinking, that there is indeed a presence separate from and beyond the thoughts in my mind. A presence that doesn't think, it is just aware, it just "is." So, this is my true self listening to my ego. I just didn't define the two so clearly as the "ego" and my "consciousness."

What has amazed me while reading is my realization that I was fully aware of my true self from a very young age.

I remember doing a worksheet in 3rd grade (I was 8) about self identity. We had to answer questions like "my favorite food is...," "my favorite color is...," and "I'm really good at...." It is my first memory of defining my self, comparing myself to others and seeing how I am different. It was my first organized effort to figure out who I am. And I remember having a strong sense of "knowing" things that I couldn't put into words. Clearly, my intuiting function was already well developed. For example, I knew which group of friends the new girl would join upon my first interaction with her. I knew how to change my behavior to fit in with different "types". I had clear visions of how everyone in my world was connected-- I saw the structure of the interrelationships. Some of this was the development of Tolle's ego-- defining myself and the world with words and labels. But I also "knew" that my true self wasn't definable, it just was. And a few years later, that awareness became very strong.

When I was about 14 or 15, I used to wander off into the woods. I had a favorite boulder where I would sit and think. Sometimes I brought a journal. Sometimes I was working through a particular issue in my life (the usual teen situations). And sometimes I just sat to "commune with life" (as I called it then). The forest was filled with white birch trees which I loved, and I would sit and feel like I was one with them. Though my rational mind thought I was a bit bonkers at the time, I was aware of a joy that is beyond description. It was the start of my Life is Beautiful motto. I chose not to analyze it, because it was a source of strength that I knew, even then, was uncommon.

So when I read something in Tolle's book, tears came to my eyes. I felt a sense of validation that I've never felt before. He talks about the "influx of joy" and "inner peace" that fills you when you first experience the separation of the ego self (your thoughts and the content of your mind) from the simple awareness of being. Thoughts are constructs that limit our perceptions. Awareness is not limiting. It just is. This experience "happens in such a subtle way that [people] hardly notice it." (A New Earth, page 30.) This same subtle joy and peace is what came upon me in that forest. The joy of Being can only be felt "when you get out of your head. Being must be felt. It can't be thought." (A New Earth, page 40.)

How is this a strength? I have been told by several people through the years that I have a strength which they admire. In high school, my friends found my optimism curious. They joked about it, but I knew they also wished for the peace that I often felt. In college, my best friend told me I had an amazing "spiritual strength", which I chuckled at because I was on the verge of leaving my faith and embracing atheism. I hadn't considered my way of thinking a strength. To me, it was just the way life is. Just truth, as I saw it. Rational and realistic, not spiritual or some extraordinary ability to see through rosy glasses. And I didn't see myself as "stronger" than anyone else (I still don't.) I've got plenty of weaknesses. So what exactly is my "strength"?

Again, my heart stopped as I read Tolle's discussion on happiness. He says, "the primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral, which always is as it is." (A new Earth, page 96.) And furthermore, he says, "Don't seek happiness. If you seek it, you won't find it, because seeking is the antithesis of happiness. Happiness is ever elusive, but freedom from unhappiness is attainable now, by facing what is rather than making up stories about it. Unhappiness covers up your natural state of well-being and inner peace, the source of true happiness." (A New Earth, page 96.)

Yes! He has put into words something that I've "known" for all these years, but was unable to explain to others. We all have this ability to become aware of our true essence, by becoming aware of the presence behind our thoughts and emotions. And when we are aware of it, we can't help but sense a deep peace and happiness. Because happiness is our natural state of being, what "is" when we strip away all the thoughts and constructs that we have accumulated through thinking (the ego's function). This was the source of my "strength." I knew how to be free from unhappiness.

There was another reason tears came to my eyes while reading. I realized that at some time through the years I have woefully forgotten to separate my self from my ego. I have fallen into the ego's trap. I have been allowing my thoughts and emotions to define what is, instead of just "being". And as a result, I have caused pain, for myself and others.

So thank you, Eckhart Tolle, for skillfully using words to express what I could not. And for reminding me of who I am.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Basket Weaver

Sometimes I wonder who is living my life. The life I always envisioned. I hope that she is enjoying it. It was a lovely picture.

I've been challenged with a different life. And sometimes, like today, I feel lost. Not sure what my life should look like. Not sure which colors and strokes I should, or could, be applying to the canvas. All I know is that I don’t know.

I think of the things I would have done differently. But that's not valuable in the now. As Al Turtle says, "Guilt is time travel. It is putting today's wisdom into yesterday's event-- a time at which you only had yesterday's wisdom." I don't regret any of my choices because I know that I've always used the wisdom that was available to me in each moment.

But lately, I find that I don’t trust that I have any wisdom. I feel like a newborn. My eyes have been opened to a new world. One that was unknown to my past self. So nothing I've learned is useful in this new place. I suppose knowing that I don't know is a start. I am open to anything now. Is this an awakening? Perhaps. Or perhaps it's just my self/ego denying my failings, hiding in some esoteric idea about rebirth.

Sometimes I wonder if my tendency to think and explore ideas is a curse. I tried to have a career in which I helped others. Made life a bit sunnier or easier for others. But even as a student, I learned that I had few skills of practical value. During my apprenticeship my mentor said, "Aine, you're a scholar. But, keep your hands off the clients!"

Sometimes I wish I were a basket weaver. I could sit in the sunshine and create something useful, something that people needed and wanted. Life could be simple. I would be happy.

But I'm cursed with this tendency to think and explore ideas. Which I'm not even very good at. I rarely create my own ideas. I just enjoy exploring the genius of others. Alone.

I've been ignored or even ridiculed by all of my loved ones for my passions. But I don't blame them, my passions are all useless, impractical.

Al Turtle also said, "All humans are geniuses (at something.) Look for it."

I am, Al. I'm still looking.

Perhaps my genius is my ability to hope.

But, it's a curse,too. It makes me feel alone. It's impractical, unpopular, and just plain weird, as I've been told again and again. But that's the one thing I'll never give up.

If only I could weave baskets out of it...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Just a Wee Rant (or What's Buggin' Aine?)

A few days ago while browsing Yahoo, I (despite my better judgement) clicked on an article about Jon Gosselin. He probably needs no introduction, but for any fellow hermits, he's the wayward husband from reality TV's "Jon & Kate Plus Eight." In the article, a psychologist is quoted saying that Jon's behavior is due to the fact that he was married too young (he was 22), and so he never had an opportunity to sow his oats.

Whoa! Stop. Back up. Did he just say that?

My first thought was: so, 22 is now considered too young to get married, eh? For most of the past 100 years the average age of marriage ranged from 22 to 24 (for men in the USA). Hmmm.

Even so, maybe Jon Gosselin was too immature to use good judgement or make such a big decision (to get married). After all, I know that some human brains are not developmentally mature until 25. That is, they are incapable of processing higher level cognitive functions such as abstract thought, planning, or predicting consequences. This is why we provide parenting and parental guidance through the teen years. To ensure the survival of our genes, we protect our children until they develop all the skills required to make good decisions. Neuroscience tells us that this brain function doesn't reach full maturity until our early to mid-twenties. So, okay-- maybe Jon Gosselin wasn't developmentally able to make a good decision in choosing a life partner at 22.

And now that he is fully adult, he has chosen to not "own" his past decisions. That's his choice. It simply displays his character.

So, why did this article bother me?

Because a professional psychologist just provided an excuse for poor judgement. Perhaps even normalized it.

I suppose, following this thinking, that I should allow my seven year-old to sing songs about poop in her "outdoor voice" in a restaurant. After all, a seven year-old brain is incapable of impulse control, right?

So, I was bothered because this professional therapist validated poor judgement, effectively bypassing the issue of choice and accountability. Shouldn't a professional psychologist be modeling/teaching a healthier approach to situations? I'm not suggesting that he should've judged Jon's behavior based on some moral code, but he could have used the opportunity to discuss choice, accountability, character, and growth.

And this isn't the first professional counselor who has displayed such a lack of professionalism. I know of a situation where a psychologist told a married man (not a client) that it was okay to be unfaithful, that "it's" called DWM-- dating while married. And encouraged this choice as a method of getting needs met. Yikes!!

Why are people becoming so quick to ignore accountability and responsibility? Where are the role models for good choices?

Sorry. Rant over. As you were....

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fun and Games (or Connect Four!)

(Couldn't resist the continuation of the 4 theme... LOL)

For some reason a memory popped into my head this morning of one of my first therapy clients. So naturally, I decided to share.... :)

When I was a student, one of my term projects involved visiting the home of a disabled person to practice interviewing and building therapeutic rapport. The disabled clients were a group of spinal cord injured patients who, prior to their discharge from a rehab hospital, had signed up to take part in this annual project.

I knew that these willing participants didn't sign up because they desired to be part of the educational experience of young therapy students. And, I doubt that many of them relished the thought of strangers coming into their home to poke and prod into the tragedy that their life had become. They signed up because it was a great way to get continued, free therapy services. So as part of our project, we were to establish one goal that we would work on during our 8-10 visits. That way, the client benefited from our educated creativity (ha!), and we benefited by developing our therapeutic interaction skills.

My client was a young (20 something) African-American man who lived in an undesirable neighborhood of Philadelphia. He was quadriplegic, only able to control his head and neck with a bit of shoulder shrug function, thanks to a gunshot wound. And, he lived with his very supportive mother, girlfriend (also very supportive), and their two young children. I remember thinking to myself, "yikes, how am I going to connect with him?"

First things first, I needed to interview him about his injury. What a way to connect with another human, eh? Turns out there was an unbelievable twist to his tragic story. Embarrassed by my preconceived guesses, I learned that he and his girlfriend were simply stopped at a redlight, when a gunman approached the car and shot him in the neck. It was a case of mistaken identity-- the gunman thought he was someone else.

But the point that I wanted to blog about is the goal he expressed for our time together. He wanted to find activities that he could do with his kids. He simply wanted to interact in more meaningful ways with his children. (Sigh. What a lesson in humility. As a parent now, I think of how we jump through hoops to get our kids engaged in something for 30 minutes so that we can have some "me" time, and here’s a Dad who just wants to be more than a fun wheelchair ride through the house.)

We came up with the idea of card games and board games. His boys were about 6 or 7, so they were old enough to start playing the types of games that actually engage parents, too. And, his mouthstick hadn't gotten much use since inpatient rehab, thanks to the two very loving and well meaning women in his life. (They helped him do everything.)

So, I made a cardholder out of a hunk of wood, and charged him with the task of painting it. And we spent much of our time together playing checkers, chess, connect four, and various card games.

My greatest lesson? Engaging in tasks together is far more rapport building than any conversation. He knew that, but had such limited physical ability to do it. So, we both found new ways to connect with those we love. And, now that I'm a mother, I look back to that experience, and hope that he shared many meaningful activities with his kids.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Mating Game: Rationals and Idealists

Sorry I've taken so long to post this. I can blame two distractions: children (need I say more?), and the discovery of another personality scholar, Dr. Katherine Benziger. I've been delving into her book and ideas, and I can't wait to share her findings-- very exciting stuff! But for now, here's the post about personality theory I've promised...

I remember when I was young, maybe 11 or 12, how I used to imagine what my "soulmate" would be like. I used to walk through my day, speaking to him in my mind. I used to pretend that he was just outside the window, and that he could hear my thoughts. Naturally, I imagined that he was responding to my needs perfectly. And I intuitively "knew" that I'd know him when I found him.

For Idealists (members of Keirsey's Idealist temperament, or those with NF in their Myers-Briggs personality type), the soulmate bond is more than having common interests, more than enjoying time spent together, more than a chemical attraction, even more than best friends. A soulmate is one's other half. When together, they create a whole. They are part of each other. Once found and devotion confessed, they would be together forever. With undying commitment. Always keeping each other as first priority. (I'm sure you Idealists are vigorously nodding your heads right about now, while others of you are thinking "whoa! I'd be suffocating"...)

And, I always believed (since girlfriends and movies and books all seemed to provide sufficient evidence) that everyone wanted the same thing from their mate. Right??

Wrong!-- wow-- I had no idea how wrong I was!

The truth is that all personality types (Idealists, Rationals, Guardians, and Artisans) are mostly "self" centered. That is, although we recognize that others have different interests, beliefs, and values, we tend to assume that others basically think the same way we do. If we aren't aware there are other ways of seeing the world, what else can we think, really? For example, don’t we all want to be loved? And, we know what that means, right?

Again, wrong! Let's take a look at Idealist and Rational pairings.

Idealists seek "soulmates," while Rationals seek "mindmates."* The Idealist soulmate connection is based on a deep spiritual bond, the search for wholeness, and the merging of two individuals. In contrast, the Rational mindmate connection is based on shared interests, the search for truth, and the connection of two independent individuals. For an Idealist, the bond "is" and always will be, because both partners choose it to "be." For a Rational, the connection is only as real as it is objectively present at any given moment. So, for an Idealist the bond is formed at the start. Subsequent positive interactions simply reinforce that they are soulmates, and negative interactions are brushed off as the imperfection of human nature. Whereas, a Rational uses objective observation to determine whether a relationship achieves mindmate status, and subsequent interactions may reinforce or nullify the bond (clearly they allow for everyday rubs, but the overall belief in the bond is more transient.)

So, what happens when an Idealist and a Rational come together?

This is where things get interesting. They have a common preference for abstract language, so communication feels easy. So easy in fact, that I propose that (thanks to self centered thinking) the Idealist believes that he/she has found another Idealist who is remarkably grounded and has figured out how to translate visions into reality (in other words, a super Idealist!) And the Rational believes that he/she has found another Rational who has mastered the uncomfortable realm of emotion (in other words, a super Rational). Interestingly, I found a theory online called the "Grand Miscommunication Theory" (by IgaNoKami). He rather succinctly sums it up as thus (I changed his terminology to match "Rational" and "Idealist"):
It is my theory that within the relationship between the (Rational) and the (Idealist), there is a grand accident that lends itself to compatibility between the two types.

The (Rational) is most happy when allowed to rationally examine, explore, and explain his motivations and self-analysis and observation to an intimate partner. This is simply because the (Rational) loves self exploration, loves to gather knowledge and insight into his own actions, not for the sake of emotional discovery, simply out of a sense of curiosity and need to analyze and collect data.

The (Rational) unemotionally and detachedly explains why he or she thinks in a certain way - that is what (Rational)s are best at, observation, particularly of themselves - and the (Idealist) then thinks that they are opening up to them, and becomes moved and emotionally attached to the (Rational). The (Rational) sees that their observations are being received and interesting to the (Idealist), so they continue.

A fascinating relationship between two types. A relationship of total mutual miscommunication, the motivations are completely different, but with a reinforcing result. The (Rational) feels the closeness and intimacy of being able to share their scientific self-analysis, and the (Idealist) feels that the (Rational) is sharing their innermost thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and so the cycle of miscommunication keeps them locked together in a positively reenforcing relationship.
And neither is the wiser until the Idealist becomes confused by the Rational's focus on achievement, and the Rational feels uncomfortable with the Idealist's focus on connection. It is then that the two must recognize and accept that their basic fuel for a relationship is different, and that the other will never truly fulfill the concept of mate that each values. In other words, the Idealist is not a mindmate and the Rational is not a soulmate.

So, does that mean we should mate with someone of our own temperament? Not necessarily. Most often, it is our differences that attract us to another. For good reason. Each personality type has strengths and weaknesses. One's strengths can complement the other's weakness. It is easy to see how "self" centered thinking would lead to confusion and misunderstanding between the two mates.

Some lucky couples do find an amazingly compatible mate to share their life with. But for the majority of us, once the romantic love phase of a new relationship fades, we start to experience rubs. And then we start launching our own Pygmalion Projects, each attempting to reform the other into a person more like ourself. Since, naturally, we all believe that our aim in life is the most valuable for everybody. But, as Keirsey points out, others cannot adopt our goals without violating their own character. The key to success, I believe, is maturity, a willingness to learn how others think, and a willingness to embrace others' values as equally valid as our own.

Personality theory experts tell us that any type pairing can be successful. Certainly, any two mature, well adjusted adults can learn to meet each others' needs and make a marriage work. But interestingly, studies have shown that there is a pattern to mating. Keirsey spent 40 years "people watching," and he has documented clear patterns in mating. By far, the most common marriage is between an Artisan and a Guardian. Not surprising, given that Artisans (SPs) and Guardians (SJs) comprise 85% of the population (according to Keirsey). And, though it's difficult for the relatively rare Rationals (NTs) and Idealists (NFs) to find each other, there is a significant frequency of Rational-Idealist marriages. I won't get into the explanation here, but Keirsey has a clear theory about why these pairings occur. It has to do with the preference for abstract vs. concrete use of language (N vs. S), and the preference for using tools in a cooperative manner to pursue goals (SJs and NFs) vs. using tools in a utilitarian (or most effective) manner to pursue goals (SPs and NTs.)

So whether your spouse is an Artisan searching for a playmate, a Guardian searching for a helpmate, an Idealist searching for a soulmate, or a Rational searching for a mindmate, any pairing can be successful. And learning how another sees the world can be a wonderful, lifelong, grand adventure!

(*Guardians seek "helpmates," and Artisans seek "playmates.")

Friday, July 24, 2009

Connecting By Numbers (or FOUR!, part 2...)

(photos by Jason Evans)

This morning I was thinking (or, for those of you who follow my personality theory posts, intuiting) about numbers.

I've always loved numbers. They fascinate me. Each has it's own personality or vibe (in my mind, anyway.) For example, I've always loved 3 and 7-- they are the most magical numbers. And my favorite number when I was a child was 8. Because it is so symmetrical, so balanced. (Not to mention how cool it is that if you lay it on it's side it is infinity!)

But this morning I was reflecting on the significance of 4. I don't remember ever being "taken with" 4. It just had a vibe of solid integrity. Nothing flashy or magical. So I surprised myself as my intuiting led me to some interesting observations about 4. No wonder 4 always felt simply solid-- it is solid. Four creates a base, a square. And each part of the four is necessary for the integrity of the foundation. Take one away and you are left with 3-- a triangle. Triangles are mighty tricky to keep balanced. (Precisely why 3 is so's dynamic!)

Anyway, to continue on my dissertation of 4, I (naturally) began thinking of all the 4's I know. There are four elements, four seasons, four Hogwarts houses (you knew I'd go there), four Beatles(!), four temperaments, and... (drumroll)... four cognitive functions in personality theory. Yes! There's the connection! Perhaps because we have four basic ways of thinking, we find four is the number necessary for balance. Now, let me try to put my intuition into words.

The four cognitive functions are thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuiting. We each have a dominant-- our strength. Personality experts tell us that we should not strive to achieve balance by improving our skills in the three non-dominant functions to a level that equals our dominant, because that would leave us without a strength, or a core personality. But, (here's where my love of finding evolutionary connections comes in) to survive as a group, we need the strengths that each cognitive function offers. Perhaps this is why we have evolved different personality types. To ensure that among the group there are some gifted in Thinking, some gifted in Feeling, and others gifted in Sensing and Intuiting. We need specialists. So that when we put those four cognitive strengths together, we have a solid base.

I can see how, as an Idealist, I need to have input from a Rational to keep my visions realistic and logical, otherwise my visions will never have purpose or be useful to others. I need a Guardian to ground me in priorities and integrity, otherwise I can place too much selfish importance in my desires. And, I need an Artisan to remind me that it's important to experience joy from the carefree, playful aspects of life, otherwise my life will become too serious and heavy. A world of Idealists would feel wonderful to me, but it would be a very weak community, indeed!

Personality theory expert Lenore Thomson says, "fourfold schemes in popular culture…seem archetypally perfect and become part of our social mythology. They appear to represent psychological wholeness in ways that we intuitively recognize." She pointed out that the Beatles are comprised of representatives of each of the four functions: John is the acerbic Thinker, George is the mystical Intuitive, Paul is the romantic Feeler, and Ringo is the earthy Sensation type. And I can find the same balance in the four Hogwarts houses: the Idealist Gryffindors, the Rational Ravenclaws, the Guardian Hufflepuffs, and the Artisan Slytherins. Perhaps this is why these pop culture phenomenon have such global appeal. Everyone can relate to one of the four. And all four pieces are necessary for a balanced whole.

My dominant intuitive function is humming happily today...

(But, with no disregard to 4, I still love my favorite warm, yellow, soulful 7 over there....)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Hi everyone! Sorry I've been away from blogland for so long. School let out, and I found myself working overtime as Mom. I hope to get back to visiting all of you more regularly now that I've adapted to the summer schedule (and thank goodness for summer camp next week!)

I'm working on another Personality Theory post. It should be ready for posting by next week, so I hope you'll all stay tuned. (**keeping fingers crossed**) But in the meantime, I decided to steal a quick, easy (or so it seemed) meme which was making the blog rounds several weeks ago.

Here's my take on the Four Things Meme:

Four Movies You Can See Over and Over

Harry Potter (all of them)
Lord of the Rings
Grease (silly, I know, but it was my first favorite... )
Somewhere in Time (love the soundtrack!)

Four Places You Have Lived


(I only have two)

Four TV Shows You Love(d) to Watch

American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance (I thought I'd lump the reality shows together)
Little House on the Prairie (I was addicted when I was 10)
Star Trek
The Twilight Zone

Four Places You Have Been on a Vacation

Disney World (Florida)
Ocean City, NJ
Chincoteague, VA

Four of your favorite foods

dark chocolate (especially 70%)
wild mushrooms

Four Websites You Visit Daily

The Leaky Cauldron
The Clarity of Night (and as many blogs as I can)

Four Places You Would Rather Be

On a boat, saltwater fishing
Riding a rollercoaster
At our cabin
Hogwarts (only Muggles think it's fiction...)

Four Things You Hope to Do Before You Die

See the cave paintings in Lascaux, France
Visit the pyramids of Egypt
Hold my grandchild
Follow through on at least one of my crazy therapy/career ideas

Four Novels/Books You Wish You Were Reading for the First Time
(This was really hard. Well, other than the obvious first one... )

Harry Potter (the entire series)
What to Expect When You are Expecting (such an exciting time!)
a novel by Jason :)
Please Understand Me II (by David Keirsey)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

This is why I love the Harry Potter fan community.

Just about everyone on the planet has heard of Harry Potter. It is one of the most beloved stories of all time. But simmering beneath the surface is another story. The story of the fandom.

In many ways, I believe the fandom represents the generation of kids (now young adults) who grew up with Harry. In fact, it could be argued that Jo Rowling did more than write a bestselling book series. It could be argued that Jo inspired and defined a generation.

There are hundreds of online fan sites, hundreds of fan fiction authors, and hundreds (yes-- I'm not exaggerating) of wizard rock bands. (If you don't believe me, check out this: wizrocklopedia-band-listings). But what is fascinating to me is how the fandom transcends their love for a story. When these fans get together, it's not just to discuss the literary merits of the books, have a pick-up game of Quidditch, or enjoy socializing at a Yule Ball. These folks are living the messages that Rowling models: promoting literacy, giving to charity, creating (house) unity.

For example, one of the top websites (The Leaky Cauldron) just held a conference (LeakyCon 2009) two weeks ago in Boston. In addition to the academic HP "experts," they also had big names like award winning YA author John Green (and his brother Hank), Cheryl Klein (an editor of the HP books at Scholastic), and Michael Goldenberg (the screenwriter for the Order of the Phoenix movie, as well as Contact and Peter Pan). Also, Jo Rowling and Scholastic donated a signed 10-book set of American Edition Harry Potter books for fundraising (the only such set in the world.) It was a huge event for fans. Thousands attended. It was organized and run by the fans who run the website-- median age: probably 24. And if that's not inspiring enough, all proceeds went to charity: Book Aid International and the HP Alliance (who raises awareness of Darfur and runs a book drive for Rwanda)!

Another example is the Wizard Rock community. Founded and led by the band Harry and the Potters (brothers Paul and Joe DeGeorge), Wizard "Wrock" bands tour the US, playing in libraries, schools, and bookstores to celebrate and promote literacy. Harry and the Potters, for instance, encouraged concert goers in the summer of 2006 to read some of their favorite books in exchange for toothbrushes (bearing their band name) with the receipt of a book report (that gets a huge "yay" from moms everywhere!), and wrock band The Remus Lupins' motto is "Fight Evil, Read Books."

So I was not at all surprised to learn of this most recent endeavor by a HP fan. Emerson Spartz started the largest HP fansite in the world (Mugglenet) in 1999 when he was just 12 years old. He is at the forefront of the fandom: appeared on FOX news, was parodied by Jimmy Kimmel, and co-authored a bestselling book about HP. And he was one of only two people invited by Jo Rowling to her home for an interview after the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Now at the ripe old age of 22 (ha!), he has started a new website in reaction to a site that has been gaining popularity: is a site where people share stories explaining how their day was completely ruined. Tired of always hearing about negativity, Emerson and his fiancee, Gaby, launched "where people share with the world their most hopeful, uplifting moments and allow others to draw strength from their experiences."

This is why I love the Harry Potter fan community.

They give me hope.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Living History

(Part 3 of "Finding a Home in Nursing Homes")

(Photo by Jason Evans)

Though the nursing center is modern and current events are blaring from TVs, I was constantly reminded of the era that shaped the residents. There was a curious duality in the Octogenarians and Nonagenarians wearing Nikes and toting CD players. Those moments when evidence of their vintage broke through are some of my most treasured memories. I'll start with Milly...


Milly was a happy, fun-loving, easy-going woman who raised 8 or 9 children on her farm in rural Pennsylvania. She had suffered a stroke which left her hemiplegic-- with little or no function of her left arm and leg. We could bathe and dress her in bed easily, but she required two aides to help her stand and pivot into her wheelchair.

No one minded the interruption when called to help with the transfer. Because Milly was a joyful soul, with wonderfully contagious laughter. Actually, the stroke damaged her emotion control center, leaving her with emotional lability: inappropriate (often exaggerated) expression of emotion. When Milly laughed, everyone laughed, then Milly would laugh harder and so on. She was known to exclaim that she had peed because she was laughing too hard, which would require a change of her "diaper." So the regular aides knew to get the laughter out before finishing the bathing and dressing routine.

When I first met Milly, two aides were in the process of helping her into her chair and laughter filled the room. Something was said that inspired a great guffaw from Milly, which sent her dentures flying across the room! Naturally this resulted in more laughs and by the time we had her dry and seated, we all were wiping the tears from our faces.

At the start of summer, a young girl who was studying nursing at the local university took a summer job as an aide. Darla was African-american, and from the city. She clearly had the disposition for nursing, and was immediately accepted by the staff. So, at the end of her first day of training, we sent her to answer Milly's call light (Milly was an "easy" resident-- generally happy and not medically complex).

Darla shuffled down the hall and disappeared into Milly's room. Next came an ear-splitting shriek and we saw Darla backing into the hall with a mixture of shock, concern, and resigned amusement on her face as Milly shouted, "Help! She escaped! Send her back on the boat!"

After a moment of confusion (we weren't accustomed to hearing Milly angry or scared), Darla looked at us and we all erupted into laughter. It was a sudden reminder of the generational differences. Milly was scared. Because she had not been exposed to cultural diversity in her quiet, rural life.

By the end of the summer, Milly enjoyed Darla's care, and was sad to say goodbye when fall semester resumed.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Eyes of dusty green


strong line of jaw


feelings of rare comfort


darkest hours of night


souls dance together


You stood with grace and calm as I walked the aisle. Strength and intelligence, under the eaves of Victorian twilight. Seventeen years ago, at seven in the evening, you joined my life's path. Thank you for the magic, for the beauty, for the understanding.

For the love.

Happy Anniversary, my Prince of Twilight.

From the deep sea of Clouds
To the island of the moon,
Carry me on the waves
To the lands I've never been,
Carry me on the waves
To the lands I've never seen.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Finding a Home in Nursing Homes-- Elizabeth

I was introduced to Elizabeth after a warning from my new coworkers. Several of the aides rolled their eyes and sniggered as my trainer said to them, "Oh come on, she's a very nice lady…. She just likes things done her way."

Elizabeth sat in her nightgown, one arm in a sling and her eyebrow raised as we entered one of only four private rooms in the nursing home.

"Good morning!" chirped my trainer.

"You're late," stated Elizabeth, but I noted a bit of a mischievous glint in her eyes.

I soon learned that Elizabeth expected help to walk to the closet, using her four-point cane, so that she could choose which silk blouse she'd like to wear with the dark slacks that filled her closet. She also had a particular order in which she liked her sponge bath to proceed. And the entire process took at least 30 minutes, a queen's ration of the 2 ½ hours that we had to wash and dress the 12 residents on our assignment. When finished, she sat in her wheelchair with a straight back, blotting her bright red lipstick and patting her coif into place. She smiled at me.

"You'll do fine, she likes you," my trainer remarked as we swept from the room.

Elizabeth had more grace and dignity than any other resident I had ever met in my career. Though the aides joked and called her "the queen mum," I detected a friendly undercurrent. They simultaneously hated answering Elizabeth's call bell and loved receiving her approval.

As months passed, I grew closer to Elizabeth. She warmed to me quickly when she discovered that I had graduated from the same college as her son. And she appreciated my gentle touch, when other aides were a bit gruffer (which was necessary with some residents-- much like the difference between a strict, but fair teacher and a warm, gentle teacher.)

Elizabeth's stroke had left her with right-sided hemiparesis: weakness in her right side. She wore a special shoe with a brace which was difficult to put on. It required massaging her foot and ankle to relax the abnormally high muscle tone in order to slip her foot into the shoe. Many of the aides got frustrated. It soon became known that a few of us were more adept at donning the shoe. So whenever possible, we'd be called in to help. When I was called in, Elizabeth would give me the "thank goodness it's you" look along with a scowling grimace and a fake bop on the head of the aide who was kneeling in front of her, intent on stuffing her foot into the shoe. I'd smile and take over.

But the real gem underneath the dignified exterior was revealed when one of my co-workers (my best friend at that job) began teasing Elizabeth. Her sense of humor reluctantly emerged as she felt more at ease with us.

One day, the aide who trained me, my best friend, and I were in Elizabeth's room. The trainer was telling us the story of how she thought her vacuum was broken.

"I attached the hose, you know, and it wouldn't suck! It would only blow, not suck!"

Elizabeth burst into laughter along with my friend and I, as a look of embarrassed surprise came over the trainer's face.

"Oh! I didn't mean it to sound that way," she exclaimed as she giggled. But Elizabeth just waved her off and laughed heartily.

And then there was the day that Elizabeth called my friend and I into her room, blushing and insisting that we close the door. She had a book in front of her, she'd been reading a romance.

"I have a question for you. What exactly is…" she paused with a nervous smile, then whispered, "oral sex, you know, for the woman?"

My friend, who thankfully was embarrassed by nothing, explained.

"You mean… the man… does that... there?"

She had a horrified look for a moment, then, "Oh… oh!" And she smiled, causing my friend and I to giggle like teenagers at a sleepover.

Elizabeth taught me that day that it doesn't matter what time period we live in, how sophisticated we try to be, or how old we are… we are all human. All the same. These withered, weakened bodies who had lived through world wars, gender inequality, and a culture that held family values higher than any generation since, were just like me. There was no reason to feel fear or shy when helping them with basic daily tasks. I could be in that wheelchair one day. And I wouldn't want to be treated like a mothball ridden relic either.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Finding a Home in Nursing Homes

The summer I turned 19, with aspirations of becoming a physician, I landed a summer job in a nursing home. I was a Nurse's Aide. Back then, there was no licensure or educational requirements. It was all on-the-job-training. And what training it was! (Especially for a teenaged girl…I'll share more about that later!) After college, I again worked as a Nurse's Aide to gather more hands-on experience before entering graduate school for Occupational Therapy (OT) . Finally, I began my OT career specializing in geriatric rehab. Since I have many stories and experiences to share, this will be an ongoing blog series.

Photo found on Flickr

The Experience

Many people shudder at the thought of nursing homes. They conjure sad images of frail people waiting to die and cold, sparsely decorated rooms. Reality often validates these impressions. But only on the surface.

Nursing homes assault your senses. The smell of cleaning products mixed with body fluids. The sight of people napping in wheelchairs. The sound of pain, confusion, and croaks for help. (Once a woman with a stroke-damaged smile pointed and shouted to me, "There! Do you see it?! A lemming!")

However, the hushed, depressive atmosphere and the sense that you are in a place between worlds are false. In truth, nursing homes are much more warm and familiar, fun and alive, and surprisingly comfortable. A visitor can't experience those depths. Let me take you inside.

In a way, working in a nursing home is like caring for 15 infants and toddlers at once. You scramble to:

  • Wipe noses and wash hands.

  • Help them stand at the sink to wash and dress.

  • Soothe one crying in the corner while catching one trying to escape out the door.

  • Mediate squabbles.

  • Help people use the toilet (and wipe).
At mealtime, there are drink boxes to open, food to cut, and fork-fuls to be fed. And there's diapers! You feel like you are constantly changing diapers. Not to mention, there's always the threat that you'll discover the source of the unseemly odor too late, only to find an artist fingerpainting with poop. Naptime seems like a break, but you've got to make sure that each one has what they require to sleep.

But despite the work, most of my days ended with a smile and a warm heart. Why? Because working with adult-sized people is about more than meeting their physical needs. Each one has a lifetime to share and lessons to teach. History lessons (I've met several folks who were born in the 19th century!). Cultural lessons. And plenty of psychology.

A nursing home is a home-- an extended family. And nothing is warmer than that.


One of my beloved "grandmothers" called me into her room one day. Elizabeth knew I was engaged, and had even met Jason once. She gave me a piercing look, set her lips firmly, and declared "You must have something blue with you when you marry." Then she handed me the embroidered handkerchief pictured below.

Months later she suffered a second stroke. The charge nurse phoned me on my day off to let me know that it was "time". I sat with her for several hours, the other aides joined me when they could spare a few minutes. She quietly slipped away later that night.

And I proudly carried "something blue" down the aisle six months later.

Next time, I'll tell you about another time Elizabeth called me into her room....

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Equilibrium (Personality Talk, part 8)

"We know that three of the four functions of consciousness can become differentiated, i.e., conscious, while the other remains connected with the matrix, the unconscious, and is known as the 'inferior' function. It is the Achilles' heel of even the most heroic consciousness…." Carl Jung, 1959

Time for another personality post! I've been reading more about inferior functions and how stress is expressed in each type. So I thought I'd share!

If you need a refresher, read the Basics of Type Theory first. If you already know your type, you can determine your hierarchy of functions there.

Balance has a unique meaning in type theory. At first glance, you may think that a balanced personality is one that has developed equal competence in all functions. This would result in no clear preferences. Essentially, you would be typeless. But that's not how the human brain develops and functions.

Balance means we develop our inferior function (the 4th function) sufficiently to keep our dominant function from becoming overbearing, over-expressed, and running amok. It's healthy to develop the inferior function to achieve this balance. But no matter how balanced we are, or how skilled we are at using that inferior function, it can also cause trouble, because it remains our least comfortable, least controlled function.

What kind of trouble? Know how you can act out of character when under stress, feeling tired, or ill? When you have a day when you don't recognize yourself? In type theory it's called "being in the grip." And in type terms, it is the eruption of your inferior function. When we are in the grip of our inferior function we experience tunnel vision (become too focused or narrow-minded), lose our sense of humor, and make "all-or-none" statements.

Each inferior function has different triggers or stressors that lead to a grip experience, behaviors that characterize the grip experience, and ways to return to equilibrium. Because of their make up, INFJs and INTJs can be especially stressed when they are forced to focus on details, to face unexpected events, or to be more extraverted. Their inferior function, extraverted sensing (Se), unconsciously comes forward. Their "grip experience" causes them to focus obsessively on external data, to overindulge in sensual pleasure, or to take an adversarial attitude toward the external world. To return to equilibrium, they may need time alone to recharge, to lighten their normal schedule, or to be free from others giving advice or suggestions.

So, as an INFJ (and I can attest to the truth of this) I can get stressed when plans change at the last minute, causing me to pick a fight with Jason, which resolves only after I've had some alone time. :) Or, after spending all day shopping with my extraverted mother-in-law, I just need to sit and eat chocolate, and put off the laundry and vacuuming until the next day (yeah-- that sounds right!)

If you want to know your inferior function, triggers, form of the grip experience, and how to get back to equilibrium, tell me your type in the comments. Let's see how accurate this theory is!

I also want to wish all those who celebrate it, HAPPY EASTER!

Hope your holiday is hopping! (Follow the little ones, they know where the best eggs are!)

(back to part 7)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Neanderthals Among Us

Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, photo by Jason Evans

I was looking at my stat counter log the other day, and I found a most interesting visit. Someone found my blog while searching for "brain function theory INTP." Naturally, I clicked on their search to see what else they found. And I was led to a fascinating site called The Neanderthal Theory. (No, INTPs are not Neanderthals in disguise! LOL!)

I've mentioned in previous posts that I've always been interested in early humans and human evolution. In particular, my imagination has been sparked by the idea that modern humans and Neanderthals lived at the same time. Authors such as Jean Auel have brought this idea to life, exploring the possibilities of interactions between the two hominid groups, including interbreeding. And, genetic research supports this notion.

It's been rather accepted that a Neanderthal could walk the streets of New York City undetected. Their appearance would not be outside the range of modern human variation. A bit shorter, stockier, more muscular, but largely considered unremarkable to other humans. Here is a reconstruction of a Neanderthal child based on research at the University of Zurich (by Elisabeth Daynes, photo by Philippe Plailly).

And now, this Neanderthal Theory takes my imagination to a whole new level. The author proposes that Autism, Asperger's syndrome, ADHD, and Tourette syndrome may not be "disorders" at all, but rather that the symptoms of these conditions are a result of the expression of Neanderthal DNA in the Caucasian genome! Wow-- sounds like science fiction, doesn't it? But the author of this theory presents an interesting case.

Oh, and what did INTP brain function have to do with the Neanderthal Theory? There is mention that there seems to be a correlation between ADHD and the following types: ENTP, ENFP, INFP, and INTP. And that "there is also considerable overlap between criteria of aspie(Asperger's syndrome) and INTP."


Monday, March 30, 2009

Aine Revealed, part 2

As promised, here are some photos from my teenage years. First, a shot of me in school, looking so alert. I think this was 7th grade, so I was 12 years old. Sorry for the poor quality, but ya know, these are rather ancient. ;)

Next, for Sarah, who asked for proof of the cheerleading... the press shot (I'm in the back row, last on the right):

Here are cheerleaders at work. (What? You thought it was all about glamour? Puh-lease.) This is my friend and I (I'm on the left), on a freezing, rainy Thanksgiving morning. It was the last game of the season, and our team blazed out with an exciting zero to zero tie! Fun game, that one.

And lastly, my junior prom photo. I was 16. My brother-in-law fancied himself an amateur photographer...too bad he didn't correct for the massive flash shadows and reflection from the vintage wood paneling. :D

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Aine Revealed (part 1)

Aniket has challenged us to reveal ourselves (though I blame Jason for throwing down the gauntlet-- just had to show some skin, didn't ya, dear?). Aniket has complained that he's seen my legs and finger, but not the parts in between. Well-- here I am.

My parents used this photo for their Christmas card for my first Christmas. That's me-- the New Year Baby (we were 6 months old). Thanks for dressing me for the occasion, Mom! My brother was so roly-poly that they had to lean him against me to keep him upright.

And, here's another glimpse. I was 8. And had just experienced my first fishing trip. Notice the bountiful catch. That's unheard of in the back bays of New Jersey these days (so sad...).

That's enough for part one. Tune in next time for a teenaged version of Aine as we work up to the present.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Life is Beautiful-- and Wonderful!

I found the song! The song that captures my mantra. Sure he changed "beautiful" to "wonderful", but he didn't want to steal my phrase... ;)

Each lyric is full of meaning yet simple. As is life. We need to cherish all experiences, the positive and the negative, because "it takes the one to have the other."

So, without further ado, here is the wonderful live recording of Life is Wonderful by Jason Mraz:

It takes a crane to build a crane
It takes two floors to make a story
It takes an egg to make a hen
It takes a hen to make an egg
There is no end to what I'm saying

It takes a thought to make a word
And it takes some words to make an action
It takes some work to make it work
It takes some good to make it hurt
It takes some bad for satisfaction

La la la la la la la life is wonderful
Ah la la la la la la life goes full circle
Ah la la la la la la life is wonderful
Al la la la la

It takes a night to make it dawn
And it takes a day to make you yawn brother
And it takes some old to make you young
It takes some cold to know the sun
It takes the one to have the other

And it takes no time to fall in love
But it takes you years to know what love is
It takes some fears to make you trust
It takes those tears to make it rust
It takes the dust to have it polished


It takes some silence to make sound
It takes a loss before you found it
And it takes a road to go nowhere
It takes a toll to make you care
It takes a hole to make a mountain


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fitting In

(photo by An_Tarzan on flickr)

I've been struggling with blogging lately. My interest in personality theory continues to be a huge part of my conscious thoughts, but I don't want that to be the focus of my blog.

So today I thought I'd share a glimpse into the zany, illogical way my brain works. (Which I'm sure is in large part due to my INFJ preferences.)

I had a revelation this morning. Throughout my life I've always categorized people (big surprise, eh?). But my intention has never been to label people or confine them by limitations. Rather, I use the categorizations to make interactions easier and smoother. As an introvert, I'm not a natural socializer. But I became very skilled in getting along with everyone by recognizing people's motivations, different ways of thinking, values, etc. and using that knowledge to find connections. I can't relate to everyone, but I can relate to a part of everyone.

By high school I was able to move in and out of different social cliques with ease. I was an "A" student, president of the National Honor Society, and my best friends were "brains." But, I was also a varsity cheerleader and could hang with the jocks. At school dances I was known to break dance with the basketball players. And the first guy I dated was a hard partier. At home, I was a "tomboy" and very comfortable hanging out with my brother's friends (think "greaser" meets southern rock lovers--I think I confused my classmates when I greeted those guys in the halls!) And my ballet background gave me a solid position among the drama/theater crowd.

But what I didn't know was how to label me.

So that brings me to my revelation. I started watching the vlogbrothers on Youtube. Those guys are brilliant! They are very intelligent and hilarious, but what I love most about them is the relationship they share. They just adore each other and their families. One is an award-winning novelist and the other is a web designer and environmentalist who runs What hit me while watching them, is that they are of the "type" that I most admire and (naturally) feel most awkward around. So, I created a new label for me: I am a nerd-wannabe. (Ha! Who would ever admit THAT?) I want to be as intelligent and quick witted as they are. I want to understand the nuances and implications of each reference they make. I want to be able to respond in kind: have a witty comeback, a creative thought that takes the conversation to new possibilities. I want to be like them.

So, why is it that the one "type" who I feel most awkward with is the one type I most want to be like?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Kid Writing

While searching for a drawing to use for my last post, I found a story that my daughter wrote in kindergarten. Her school uses a curriculum called "Kid Writing." Every day the students were instructed to draw a picture in their Kid Writing Journal and then write a sentence or two about it. They were taught to write any letters that they heard in the words (phonic based spelling). Then, an adult (teacher or parent volunteer) helped them translate it into "adult writing". Once a child became an independent writer (no longer needed help to compose sentences) the teacher required more, such as a paragraph.

When I saw this story, I just had to share it with you. Given Jason's writing skills and his recent sci-fi vignette, it is quite apparent that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree! LOL! Most of the kids write about something that their family did recently, describe a beloved pet, or draw a picture of their house. Not our kid-- she writes multichapter stories!

(Chapter 2: The Curse of the Aliens)

Abby and I were on the twirling bar. The aliens put a remote in the baby's brain. He took over the baby and made the baby scatter buttons around the world. Karen came. She didn't know about the buttons. She stepped on one. A box appeared. I opened the box! I didn't know it was Pandora's box. And all the sadness and sickness came out.

And, to further demonstrate the power of DNA-- here is a poem our other daughter wrote in second grade. (Jason can rest easy that his genes have been passed on!)

Love is like a rainbow in my heart.
Love is red like the first rose of the season.
Love is orange like a skinny pumpkin that grows in my garden.
Love is yellow like the first stars you see at night.
Love is green like a fresh bunch of grapes that came from the garden.
Love is blue like the crystal blue sky.
Love is indigo like the night sky with bright stars.
Love is violet like the beautiful flowers I pick in the meadow.
Happy Valentine's Day

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Through a Child's Eyes

~drawing by my youngest daughter at age 5

I've been reading a book about infant brain development and I discovered a little fact that I'd never heard before: vision develops differently in boys and girls.

There are several different types of cells that send visual information from the retina to the brain. One is called parvocellular (or P cells) which link to the cones--they transmit information about color and shape of stationary objects. Another type is called magnocellular (or M cells) which link to the rods--they carry information about depth and motion.

Researchers have found that girls have more P cells and boys have more M cells. So, girls are born with a better skill in seeing shape and color (or "what something is"), whereas boys have an advantage in seeing motion, depth, and shades of gray (or "where something is"). I can easily see the evolutionary link here-- female gatherers need to recognize plants by shape and color, male hunters need to process the motion of prey to make a successful kill. But I digress…

The impact of this anatomy on preschool function is what I found so interesting. Girls tend to use many bright colors to draw things (like houses, flowers, people, or animals). While boys tend to use a few crayons, often black, gray, silver, and blue, to draw actions (car crashes, airplanes, etc.)

Just imagine the psychological impact on little Sam when his teacher (mostly females in preschool settings) inadvertently criticizes him for not using more color, or asks him to draw more "happy people." He'll get the message that he's not doing something right or somehow lacking.

And, his feeling of failure is more important than we realize. Other studies have demonstrated that children decide whether they like school by the end of their first year and that their decision remains stable throughout their lifetime!

Ack!-- I hope preschool and kindergarten teachers have heard about this! I don’t have any sons, so I haven't seen this play out. Have any of you?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Communication (Personality Talk, part 7)

Do you ever feel frustrated when someone doesn't seem to hear a request you've made? Or perhaps you have been labeled "bossy" despite your best intentions. Maybe you know someone who seems to be so passive-aggressive that you just want to shout at them "will you just ask for what you actually want already?!"

These communication issues may be explained by personality theory!

There are two styles of communication: informing and directing. And guess what? We each have a natural preference for one or the other, and it tends to coincide with our other thinking preferences (see previous personality posts for the type functions).

How do you ask for something? There are many ways to communicate a simple request. Suppose you are asking your spouse to get bread when they go to the store. How would you phrase that request?

We're out of bread.
We need bread.
Would you be able to get us some bread?
We're out of bread and I was wondering if you could get us some?
We're out of bread. Would you please get us some?
Would you please get us some bread?
Please get us some bread.
Get some bread.

This list illustrates the continuum from informing to directing style. The styles are rather self-explanatory. The intent of directing is to direct the actions of others to accomplish a task, often by telling or asking. The intent of informing is to give information in order to engage others in the process.

As with all cognitive functions, we have a natural preference for one style. We all use both styles for different purposes, but one style feels more comfortable. Often, our natural style can be heard when we are relaxed, whereas when under stress we may awkwardly use the non-preferred style. Also, life experiences can train us to use the non-preferred style, sometimes making it difficult to determine our natural style. For example any naturally "informing" person who undergoes military officer training is going to become very competent with the directing style. Likewise, many counselors are trained to use an informing style.

What can really interfere with communication, though, is how we also prefer to receive communication in our preferred style. Thus, when we are talking to someone of the opposite style, all manner of miscommunication can happen! A directing person may not even hear the request imbedded in an informer's statement. Imagine the frustration of an informing mother who tells her directing daughter that "the laundry is finished" with the intent that the daughter will fold the clothes. I can just hear the daughter twenty minutes later when mom is upset: "but you didn't ask me to fold the clothes!" And how about a directing girl telling her informing friend "Let's color! Go get the crayons." Her friend may start to feel that she's too bossy and stop playing with her.

The examples I've been using are clearly one style or the other. But, sometimes it's difficult to determine what style is being used. A directing person may try to soften their request by adding "please" or "would you mind" and an informing person may think they are being directive by saying "we need to go now!", but both are still using their preferred style. More examples of each style can be found here.

Ideal communication incorporates both styles -- it simultaneously provides information and tells the listener what's wanted of them. For example: "Please open the door because the guests are here." OR "The guests are here so please open the door." Only saying, "The guests are here" provides insufficient information, while only saying "Please open the door" seems rather bossy without the accompanying explanation.

So, have you figured out what your natural style is? Here's what personality theory predicts. If your preferences are: I/ENFJ, I/ENTJ, I/ESTJ, or I/ESTP you probably prefer directing. And if your preferences are I/ENFP, I/ENTP, I/ESFJ, or I/ESFP you probably prefer informing.

So (in my natural style), go forth using this knowledge and communicate more successfully with your friends and family! (please?)

(back to part 6)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Connecting the Dots

Sorry I haven't been around the blogosphere much lately. Between Jason's awesome contest, a new cat (a very sweet stray cat adopted us during the holidays), and germs taking up residence in our home (ugh!-- this is the first week since the holidays that both girls are actually at school, where they belong!), I haven't had much "me time" to devote to blogging. I had no idea what to blog about when I woke up this morning. But while reading Chris Eldin's blog, an idea was sparked.

Have you ever had the experience of discovering that you can connect the dots between seemingly unrelated interests and experiences in your life? I feel such glee when this happens. But then, I am predisposed to enjoying connections and meaning thanks to my thinking preferences (you know, the I, N, F, and J ways of thinking…)

So I thought I'd share one of these connections with you.

Dot #1:
Some of you know that motherhood is a topic of great interest to me. I had no idea how much motherhood would change my life (cliché, I know…), but my postpartum experience made me consider shifting gears in my career. I had been a geriatric rehab specialist. Now I'm considering breaking new ground in Occupational Therapy by starting a practice devoted to the needs of new moms who are struggling with role transition.

In my research into the struggles of motherhood, I came upon a book by Dr. Harvey Karp-- The Happiest Baby on the Block (which, btw, should be a mandatory baby shower gift!) and found his "Fourth Trimester" theory. He calls the first 3 months of an infant's life the Fourth Trimester, because according to the positive (and significant)correlation between mammalian body size and length of gestation, human pregnancy should last 12 months, not 9. But since modern humans evolved larger craniums (relative to body size) than our hominid ancestors, moms who carried to full term died during childbirth. Those who delivered at 9 months, when the baby's head could still pass through the pelvis safely, survived. And, as a result, we are left to deal with newborns who would much prefer to still be in the womb for the first 3 months of their life.

Dot #2:
When I read Dr. Karp's theory, I just smiled. Because I had heard a similar theory 15 years before I became a mother. During a time when motherhood was the farthest thing from my mind.

In college I wrote a term paper about how the pelvic and cranial anatomy of Neanderthals may predict gestation length. At that time, a new theory in physical anthropology fascinated me-- that Neanderthals' pregnancies probably lasted 12 months.

That class, Human Evolution, was the beginning of what became an anthropology minor (my major was biology). And of course, that can be connected to:

Dot #3:
When I was 8, I told my parents that I wanted to be an archeologist when I grew up. This interest came from my fascination with human evolution, dinosaurs, and:

I was always interested in time travel. I read every story I could find about time travel. Those Choose Your Own Adventure books were the best!

Believe it or not, there is an even earlier connection that can be made. An interest in time and connections across time can be argued to be a result of:

Dot #5:
My inborn thinking preferences: INFJ (see my posts on personality theory for the definition). My brain was wired to gather data through intuiting processes and make decisions based on feeling. These ways of thinking, paired with introverting and judging, make for a personality type (INFJ) that finds meaning in connections and often displays ESP-like foresight.

Which is why I am so delighted when my foresight fails to predict a connection and I discover it after the fact…