Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Teenage Boys - Helping an Endangered Species

I'm not convinced that teen boys are any less capable of hearing, listening, and responding to their parents than their sisters, but that is in part the argument Steven Stosny is making in this entry on his Psychology Today blog, Anger in the Age of Entitlement

Teenage Boys

Helping an Endangered Species

Published on July 26, 2014 by Steven Stosny, Ph.D. in Anger in the Age of Entitlement

In my clinical experience, the biggest complaint I hear from parents of teenage boys is that they are angry.

Teenage girls get angry, too, of course, but they tend to be more amenable to processing emotions and talking them through, which at least gives parents a little more leverage in dealing with them. The testosterone surges that boys experience blunts fear and disinhibits impulses, making them more susceptible to dangerous behaviors that both invoke and result from anger.

Teenage boys need a lot of structure. Both parents need to know where he is and what he’s doing at all times. Don’t fall into the “You don’t trust me,” trap. The issue isn’t trust but a realistic assessment of the dangerous world that adolescents must negotiate with limited pre-frontal cortex development. Before 18, a child does not have sufficient articulation in the judgment and regulatory areas of the brain to be able to see possible consequences of behavior under the stress of powerful impulses. It’s a dangerous combination, even when substances are not at all involved – increased impulsivity with diminished regulatory capacity.

Compassionate parents focus on the long-term well-being of the child, rather than the momentary ego boost of feeling “trusted.” The trick is getting them out of the defensive and into the improve mode of the brain. A good parental rejoinder to “You don’t trust me,” is, “I don’t trust myself enough to know that you will be safe and well without knowing where you are and what you’re doing. So what can you do so that you will have some freedom without me having to worry so much?”

In particular angry teenagers need to learn that:
  • They are part of a family and community which require some emotional investment – in small ways helping the family (chores) and occasional volunteer work in the community
  • Respect for other people’s rights and property
  • Money is a resource that must be managed responsibly.
In general, boys do not auditory-process as well as girls, even when they're not angry. (They hear almost as well, but don’t interpret the meaning of the spoken word as efficiently, not without other sensory modalities engaged.) If you want to give your son instructions or say anything important:
  • Make eye contact and try to touch him while you speak (two or three sensory modalities work better than one)
  • If detail is important, ask him to repeat what you said
  • Use short sentences and give him a chance to respond before going on (never lecture).
It’s easy for boys to get into the habit of automatically tuning out familiar voices, a habit that will cause them serious problems in future close relationships.Habits are much easier to prevent than to alter.

Responsibility

The world is cruel to the irresponsible.

Kids are not naturally responsible –parents or painful circumstances must teach them. Responsibility can be learned by modeling – responsible parents enjoy a better chance of having responsible children – but it also must be taught deliberately. Children can learn responsibility relatively painlessly up to about 13. After that, the life lessons that teach responsibility – mostly in the form of social sanctions and punishments - become more painful. Teaching responsibility to children is one of the most compassionate things parents can do for them.

The key to teaching responsibility is to make sure that your children understand this crucial fact: Power, privilege, and responsibility go together. When responsibility is high, so are the other two. And when it is low, so are the other two.

Teenagers, especially boys, feel powerless a lot of the time. They need to learn that they have the power to affect what happens to them by behaving responsibly. And they need to know in advance exactly how much power and privilege they will lose for specific irresponsible behaviors. That is really the way of the world. When you behave irresponsibly, say speeding or cheating on your taxes, you know in advance what the penalty will be.

Finally, children learn emotion regulation principally by modeling, not by what parents tell them. Like all mammals, the juveniles learn by watching the adults. There is a same sex bias to modelling – the boys watch the men more closely and the girls watch the women more closely, but they watch both parents to learn how to regulate emotions. Anger is an attribution of blame. If parents are blamers, children, especially high testosterone boys, are more likely to have anger problems. (Testosterone doesn't cause anger but it amplifies it considerably.) It's crucial for parents to model responsibility in all that they do, including owning their own mistakes, especially those that relate to disputes with their children.

For more help, see Compassionate Parenting

Related Links

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Vanessa Fisher - Men and the Future of the Integral Movement--with R. Michael Fisher

 

Over at her blog, Poetic Justice, Vanessa D. Fisher has posted the final interview in a series she conducted in promotion for the book she co-edited with Sarah Nicholson, Integral Voices on Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: Critical Inquiries, part of the SUNY series on Integral Theory.

This interview is a little more special than the previous three - she is interviewing her father, R. Michael Fisher, author, philosopher, teacher, and a whole lot more. Here is the bio material that was posted at Beams and Struts:
R. Michael Fisher

R. Michael Fisher

Michael Fisher, a philosopher at-heart, who has studied and applied the work of Ken Wilber and other integral theorists to the general area of curriculum theory and instruction, healing and spiritual development, and specifically to social emancipatory praxis, since the early 1980s. His philosophy is liberational and grounded not so much in the human potential or new age movements of which he's often critical, but ground more in a path beginning with the theory and practice of Re-evaluation Co-counseling, Integral Studies, Sacred Warriorship Studies, Critical Theory and the Fearlessness Tradition.

A self-proclaimed fearologist and cultural critic, therapeutic counselor, artist and educator, with a BSc in Environmental Biology, a BEd in Science Secondary Education, an M.A. in Adult Education and a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction, his transdisciplinary research as a scholar and public intellectual has led to many published exhibitions, monographs and articles--while he continues to lecture, coach and counsel in private practice, facilitate workshops, and engage in trans(per)formative artistic practices and collaborations. He is former founder/teacher of the School of Sacred Warriorship (1993-96), co-founder and Director of the In Search of Fearlessness Research Institute (1989-) (http://www.feareducation.com), and founder Director of the Center for Spiritual Inquiry & Integral Education (http://csiie.org). His personal website can be found at http://loveandfearsolutions.com/

A prolific writer with over two hundred publications since 1974, his latest book, The World's Fearlessness Teachings: A Critical Integral Approach to Fear Management/Education for the 21st Century was published in the late fall of 2010 by University Press of America (Rowman & Littlefield). Michael is a certified school teacher and a Level-2 Spiral Dynamics Integral Technology facilitator. Born and raised in Western Canada, he has recently moved to Carbondale, IL, USA with his wife/partner, Barbara Bickel. Michael (pronounced my-ky-el), formerly Robert M. Fisher. He lives in conscious abstinence, as spiritual practice, without a motor vehicle, ownership of house or land, TV set, and the titillation of Facebook and Twitter.
It's a good interview featuring two REALLY smart people - check it out!

Men and the Future of the Integral Movement--with R. Michael Fisher

Jul 22, 2014

As the third and last of my special dialogues devoted to giving people a taste for the contents of our book, yesterday I interviewed Dr. R. Michael Fisher (who is also my father) on his chapter in our anthology entitled "Are Men Tragically Hopeless? A Critical Integralists' Perspective". A chapter which situates men at a significant point of crisis in evolutionary history and presents the case for a radical shift in how we think about men's liberation. Responding critically to both integral and postmodern theory, and drawing from his personal experience, Fisher's chapter follows the developments and struggles of men in conscious community and advocates for the liberation of both genders by working from the ruins of hopelessness.

In this, dialogue we explore Fisher's unique approach to men's liberation work as a practice of social identity development which includes political, economic, cultural, and social systems perspectives. We also chart and personally reflect on the history of the integral movement, and discuss important critiques of integral theory and leadership, while exploring our own relationship to the questions of gender as father and daughter.


Download this Dialogue as an MP3

This was a provocative dialogue that touches on many topical issues. At times theoretical, at times deeply personal, and at times controversial in our discussion of men, women and the integral movement.

This is the third of a series of three dialogues I conducted in preparation for the launch of my book this month, in order to give a taste of some of the topics that will be covered in the anthology. Click here to see and listen to all three free interviews I hosted for this series, with Diane Musho Hamilton, Dr. Elizabeth Debold, and Dr. Warren Farrell.
* * * * *

My book, Integral Voices on Sex, Gender and Sexuality: Critical Inquiries, co-edited with Sarah E. Nicholson, is now available on Kindle through amazon! Paperback and hardcovers will be available August 1st.

I also put together a short video trailer for our book this weekend on imovie, I'm not a professional, but I liked how it turned out, and it was a lot of fun! Check it out:


There's also seven days left to enter our draw for a free copy of our book before it is published, through Goodreads. 
If you'd like to receive automatic updates when a new dialogue is posted, you can subscribe to my new Poetic Justice iTunes podcast page, which I've recently created and uploaded all my dialogues to. This will give you free access and automatic updates on all my Poetic Justice Dialogues in future.

Sarah Nicholson, my co-editor for this anthology, and I have also created a group Facebook page, where many of these dialogues and topics related to sex, gender, and sexuality are being discussed in more depth. If you'd like to join the group conversation, please click this highlighted link and request to be added.

Enjoy....

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Myth of Wealthy Men and Beautiful Women

"All you need is money or power, the notion goes, and beautiful lovers present themselves to you for the taking." Well, not so much.

For the majority of men and women, the major factor in choosing a partner is twinship (to use a Self Psychology term), meaning "this person is like me," and companionship - we want someone who's company we enjoy.

I suspect there are people of both sexes who choose partners for wealth or beauty, but those relationships are probably not going to last very long.

The Myth of Wealthy Men and Beautiful Women

Similarity and companionship are the currency of attraction, for better or worse.

James Hamblin | July 15 2014


In one illustrious study of love (“human sexual selection”) in 1986, psychologists David Buss and Michael Barnes asked people to rank 76 characteristics: What do you value most in a potential mate?

The winner wasn’t beauty, and it wasn’t wealth. Number one was "kind and understanding," followed by "exciting personality" and then "intelligent." Men did say they valued appearances more highly than women did, and women said they valued "good earning capacity" more highly than men did—but neither ranked measures of physical attractiveness or socioeconomic status among their top considerations.

People, though, are liars. Experiments that don’t rely on self-reporting regularly show that physical attractiveness is exquisitely, at times incomparably, important to both men and women. Status (however you want to measure it: income, formal education, et cetera) is often not far behind. In real-life dating studies, which get closer to genuine intentions, physical attractiveness and earning potential strongly predict romantic attraction.

While people tend to prefer people similar to themselves in terms of traits like religiousness or thriftiness, when it comes to beauty and income, more is almost always seen as better. On these “consensually-ranked” traits, people seem to aspire to partners who rank more highly than themselves. They don’t want a match so much as a jackpot.

The stereotypical example of that is known in sociology as a “beauty-status exchange”—an attractive person marries a wealthy or otherwise powerful person, and both win. It’s the classic story of an elderly polymath-billionaire who has sustained damning burns to the face who marries a swimsuit model who can’t find Paris on a map but really wants to go there, because it’s romantic.

All you need is money or power, the notion goes, and beautiful lovers present themselves to you for the taking.

When Homer Simpson once came into a 500-pound surfeit of sugar, his id instinct was to turn it into fortune and sexual prosperity. “In America," he said, half dreaming after a night spent guarding the mound in his backyard, "first you get the sugar, then you get the power, then you get the women.” That’s an homage to Scarface (in the movie the quote was “money” instead of “sugar”), and it’s where both Simpson and Tony Montana went emphatically astray.

University of Notre Dame sociologist Elizabeth McClintock has done exhaustive research on the idea of people exchanging traits. Her work was published last month in American Sociological Review, looking at data from 1,507 couples in various stages of relationships, including dating, cohabiting, and married. “Beauty-status exchange accords with the popular conception of romantic partner selection as a competitive market process,” McClintock wrote, “a conception widely accepted in both popular culture and academia.” She referred specifically to the gendered version, “in which an economically successful man partners with a beautiful 'trophy wife,'" as commonplace.

But McClintock found that outside of ailing tycoons and Donald Trump, in the practical world it basically doesn’t exist. Where it does, it doesn’t last. The dominant force in mating is matching.

What appears to be an exchange of beauty for socioeconomic status is often actually not an exchange, McClintock wrote, but a series of matched virtues. Economically successful women partner with economically successful men, and physically attractive women partner with physically attractive men.

“Sometimes you hear that really nice guys get hot girls,” McClintock told me, “[but] I found that really nice guys get really nice girls. [Being nice] is not really buying you any currency in the attractiveness realm. If the guys are hot, too, then sure, they can get a hot girl.”

Because people of high socioeconomic status are, on average, rated as more physically attractive than people of lower status, many correlations between one partner's appearance and the other partner's status are spurious and misconstrued.

“Women spend a lot more time trying to look good than men do,” McClintock said. “That creates a lot of mess in this data. If you don’t take that into account then you actually see there’s a lot of these guys who are partnered with women who are better looking than them, which is just because, on average, women are better looking. Men are partnering 'up' in attractiveness. And men earn more than women—we’ve got that 70-percent wage gap—so women marry 'up' in income. You’ve got to take these things into account before concluding that women are trading beauty for money.”

The study concludes that women aren’t really out for men with more wealth than themselves, nor are men looking for women who outshine them in beauty. Rather, hearteningly, people really are looking for ... compatibility and companionship. Finding those things is driven by matching one's strengths with a partner who’s similarly endowed, rather than trying to barter kindness for hotness, humor for conscientiousness, cultural savvy for handyman-ship, or graduate degrees for marketable skills.

At least partly because physically attractive individuals are treated preferentially by the world at large, they enjoy improved school performance, greater occupational success, and higher earnings. So these variables can be hard to isolate.

“It would be very hard to separate out class and attractiveness,” McClintock said, “because they’re just so fundamentally linked. I can’t control for that—but I don’t see how anybody could.”

Past research has found that both physical attractiveness and education “help a woman achieve upward mobility through marriage (defined as marrying a man of higher occupational status than her father),” McClintock noted in the journal article, “and help her marry a man of high occupational status, in absolute terms.” But these studies regularly excluded any evaluation of the men’s physical attractiveness, and so didn’t address the simple fact that it might just be two attractive people being attracted to one another, probably in attractive clothes in an attractive place, both perpetually well slept. Any “exchange” was an illusion.

McClintock has also found that the pervasive tendency toward rating higher-status people as more attractive seems to perpetuate itself . "Because of that," she said, "there’s a bias toward seeing women who are married to high-status men—who are themselves high-status—as being more attractive. It creates this self-affirming circle where we never even stop to ask if we perceive the man as good-looking. We just say she’s good-looking, he’s high status—and she’s good-looking in part because the couple is high-status."

“Assuming that the importance of beauty and status is gendered may cause researchers to overlook men’s attractiveness and women’s socioeconomic resources,” Eli Finkel, a psychologist at Northwestern University, told New York magazine, praising McClintock’s work. In so doing, scientists misidentify matching as exchange.

“Scientists are humans, too,” Finkel claimed, “and we can be inadvertently blinded by beliefs about how the world works. The studies that only looked at men’s (but not women’s) income and only looked at women’s (but not men’s) attractiveness were problematic in that way, as was the peer review process that allowed flawed papers like that to be published.”

“Controlling for both partners’ physical attractiveness may not eliminate the relationship between female beauty and male status,” McClintock wrote, “but it should at least reduce this relationship substantially.”

Even as its pervasiveness in popular culture is waning, the gendered beauty-status exchange model is harmful in several insidious ways, McClintock said. “It trivializes the importance of women’s careers in a social sense: It’s telling women that what matters is your looks, and your other accomplishments and qualities don’t matter on the partner market. The truth is, people are evaluating women for their looks, and they’re evaluating men for their looks. Women are as shallow as men when it comes to appearance, and they should focus on their own accomplishments. If women want an accomplished guy, that’s going to come with being accomplished.”

So this is just one more place where upward mobility is, it seems, a myth. But in this case, no love is lost. Within the gendered beauty-status exchange model, physical attractiveness “might enable class mobility for women,” yes, McClintock wrote, but not without ensuring the women’s economic dependency on her husband and anachronistically ignoring her valuation of his physical attractiveness.

“It also sets up this idea of marriage being mercenary,” McClintock said, “which doesn’t fit with our usual conception that we kind of like our spouse and we want someone that we get along with. It’s not just this trade of his money for her beauty, and he’s going to dump her as soon as she starts to get some wrinkles around her eyes.”

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Omnivore - Men's Issues

From Bookforum's Omnivore blog, this collection of links on men's issues should give you plenty to read for a Sunday afternoon.

Men's Issues

Jul 24 2014
3:00PM

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What Do You Call a “Male Feminist” Who Only Wants to Pick Up Women? Meet the “Macktivists”

It seems that the exploits of the sociopathic, ex "male feminist" wonder-boy, Hugo Schwyzer, has spawned a new word - the macktivist: a male who poses as a sensitive, even feminist man in order to attract impressionable and naive young women for the purpose of sex. There is nothing really new in this, only that these cretins are now using social media as the terrain in which they stalk their prey. 

Oh, wait, did I just imply that these guys are sexual predators? Damn straight. Hugo Schwyzer was the worst type of predator, the one wearing sheep's clothing. Or a the Oakland Sister Circle suggests:
First, check if he has both a beard and an astigmatism. Then, make sure he’s wearing a political T-shirt with culturally relevant tattoos creeping out of the sleeves. He may request that you let him recite a poem.
 This is a good article - give it a read.

What do you call a “male feminist” who only wants to pick up women? Meet the “macktivists”

The Internet has made it easy for a crop of men who call themselves feminists to creep on unsuspecting ladies

By Alex-Quan Pham
Thursday, Jul 24, 2014


(Credit: tommaso79 via iStock/Salon)

The outrage machine’s latest buzzword is “macktivist,” which refers to men who claim to be feminists in order to meet women. It is as gross as it sounds. The Oakland Sister Circle has helpfully broken down the anatomy of the macktivist so we can better identify him when needed. First, check if he has both a beard and an astigmatism. Then, make sure he’s wearing a political T-shirt with culturally relevant tattoos creeping out of the sleeves. He may request that you let him recite a poem.

The term “macktivist” is fairly new to the mainstream activist community. But these guys have always lurked within activist circles. Perhaps the most scandalous case of macktivism was Hugo Schwyzer in 2013, who rose through the ranks of feminism to become a professor of gender studies at Pasadena City College. After gaining a considerable amount of clout in the women’s movement, Schwyzer ultimately made two confessions that ended his reign as America’s token male feminist: He had consensual sex with several of his students, and he tried killing himself and his ex-girlfriend in 1998. He later also tweeted apologies to feminists of color whom he abused and dismissed because they were “in his way” along that shiny yellow brick road to male feminist glory.

But today, on just about every prominent social media platform and feminism message board, macktivists have sneakily staked out a vantage point from which they can seduce and manipulate women. Last year, YouTube musician Edd Blann admitted to abusing a fan with whom he had also initiated a sexual relationship. “Over the course of those eight months, I treated her appallingly, manipulated her, and behaved in an extremely misogynistic way towards her,” Blann wrote on his Tumblr page. A year before that, another YouTube musician named Mike Lombardo was charged with soliciting explicit photos from a minor, which ultimately led to a five-year prison term that he is currently serving. Tumblr celebrity Joshua Macedo faced a similar scandal, but in his case, he was the one allegedly sending sexually explicit messages and photos to a 15-year-old girl. One common thread among these cases is that these men were propelled to minor celebrity status via social media, at first projecting personas that seemed by all accounts to be gentlemanly — singing sensitive lyrics about loving, romancing and pining for women.

Then there was Charles Clymer, who was once the administrator of a now-defunct Facebook group called “Equality for Women.” Clymer previously wrote a chain of articles about feminism for the Huffington Post and PolicyMic. But eventually he was accused, whether rightfully or not, of abusing the Facebook group’s members.

What Schwyzer was trying to achieve from his public meltdown is debatable; what’s clear is that he was trying to reap some kind of personal reward from his macktivism. And he was successful until the online feminist community held him accountable.

“Macktivists” collectively evoke that ceaseless riddle of the feminist movement: Can men really be feminists? The answer, thus far, has been a definitive yes, with some parameters. The general consensus is that men can and should call themselves feminists. It’s good for everyone. But claiming an ideology is not the same as putting that ideology into practice.

Feminism and macktivism are not always antithetical; they can exist in the same person. And they can exist in varying degrees. While Hugo Schwyzer is an extreme example, his macktivism was not an isolated incident.

Sometimes, male feminists — whether knowingly or not — do damage in a less visible, immediate way. Often, male feminists don’t grasp the impact of their sexism on women’s lives. There is something crucial to learn, though unexpected, from macktivism: We might not all be as slimy as Hugo Schwyzer, but we don’t have to be straight-up macktivists to accidentally engage in macktivist behavior online.

The best example of this was the reactionary #notallmen, a reaction to the globally trended #yesallwomen. The hashtag defended the last shreds of male honor, rather than forcing men to hold themselves accountable for the ways they reinforce a flawed system. The word “feminist” can be used by men to falsely excuse themselves from that accountability. And that’s the reason why too many women in my life are more vigilant around men who call themselves “feminists” than men who don’t.

I think the first lesson in Better Male Feminism 101 is recognizing that feminism is a space for women. It’s true that men need feminism too, but men clearly possess more latitude in the social landscape. Male feminism is often about men advocating for a seemingly remote ideology that will eventually circle back to them, granting them even more privileges than before. Women, by contrast, often claim feminism not just as an ideology, but as a way of pushing back against episodes of sexism and abuse. But take it from this male feminist: The prize will never come. There is no reward for being male and not being a macktivist — it’s just something #yesallmen should aim for.

Alex-Quan Pham tweets at @alexquanpham.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Feeling Overwhelmed? Remember "RAIN"

Some days we can feel completely buried by the responsibilities and obligations we carry. For some of us, when we get in this place, rather than acknowledging the magnitude of our burdens we can become self-critical and beat ourselves up for our perceived failure to "man up" (a phrase I hate, by the way).

The acronym RAIN is shorthand for a simple method to deal with overwhelm and self-criticism.
Recognize what is going on;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with kindness;
Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying with the experience.
Tara Brach is a well-known spiritual teacher and the author of several books and audio teachings, including True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart (2013) and Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha (2004).


Feeling Overwhelmed? Remember "RAIN"

Four steps to stop being so hard on ourselves.

By Tara Brach | Mindful Magazine


Illustrations by Michael Woloschinow

When I was in college, I went off to the mountains for a weekend of hiking with an older, wiser friend of twenty-two. After setting up our tent, we sat by a stream, watching the water swirl around rocks, talking about our lives. At one point she described how she was learning to be “her own best friend.” A wave of sadness came over me, and I broke down sobbing. I was the furthest thing from my own best friend. I was continually harassed by an inner judge who was merciless, nit-picking, demanding, always on the job. My guiding assumption was, “Something is fundamentally wrong with me,” as I struggled to control and fix what felt like a basically flawed self.

Over the last several decades, through my work with tens of thousands of clients and meditation students, I’ve come to see the pain of perceived deficiency as epidemic. It’s like we’re in a trance that causes us to see ourselves as unworthy. Yet, I have seen in my own life, and with countless others, that we can awaken from this trance through practicing mindfulness and self-compassion. We can come to trust the goodness and purity of our hearts.

In order to flower, self-compassion depends on honest, direct contact with our own vulnerability. Compassion fully blossoms when we actively offer care to ourselves. To help people address feelings of insecurity and unworthiness, I often introduce mindfulness and compassion through a meditation I call the RAIN of Self-Compassion. The acronym RAIN, first coined about 20 years ago by Michele McDonald, is an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness. It has four steps:
Recognize what is going on;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with kindness;
Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying with the experience.
You can take your time and explore RAIN as a stand-alone meditation or move through the steps in a more abbreviated way whenever challenging feelings arise.


R—Recognize What's Going On
Recognizing means consciously acknowledging, in any given moment, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are affecting us. Like awakening from a dream, the first step out of the trance of unworthiness is simply to recognize that we are stuck, subject to painfully constricting beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations. Common signs of the trance include a critical inner voice, feelings of shame or fear, the squeeze of anxiety or the weight of depression in the body.
In order to flower, self-compassion depends on honest, direct contact with our own vulnerability. Compassion fully blossoms when we actively offer care to ourselves.

Different people respond to the sense of unworthiness in different ways. Some might stay busy, trying to prove themselves valuable; others, fearful of failure, may become discouraged or even paralyzed. Still others may resort to addictive behaviors to avoid facing their shame and fear. Any of these strategies can lead to either defensive or aggressive behavior with others, or unhealthy attachment.

Some of us are at war with ourselves for decades, never realizing how our self-judgment and self-aversion keep us from finding genuine intimacy with others or enjoying our lives. One palliative caregiver reports that a key regret of the dying is not having been true to themselves. Rather than listening to and trusting our inner life, most of us try to live according to the expectations of others, which we internalize. When we inevitably fall short of the mark, we condemn ourselves.

Though it may sound depressing or overwhelming, learning to recognize that we are at war with ourselves is quite empowering. One meditation student described the trance of unworthiness as “…the invisible and toxic gas I am always breathing.” As he became increasingly mindful of his incessant self-judgment and feelings of inadequacy, his aspiration to free himself from his painful inner prison grew.

A—Allowing: Taking a Life-Giving Pause

Allowing means letting the thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations we have recognized simply be there. Typically when we have an unpleasant experience, we react in one of three ways: by piling on the judgment; by numbing ourselves to our feelings; or by focusing our attention elsewhere. For example, we might have the sinking, shameful feeling of having been too harsh in correcting our child. But rather than allowing that feeling, we might blame our partner for not doing his or her part, worry about something completely different, or decide it’s time for a nap. We’re resisting the rawness and unpleasantness of the feeling by withdrawing from the present moment.

We allow by simply pausing with the intention to relax our resistance and let the experience be just as it is. Allowing our thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations simply to be doesn’t mean we agree with our conviction that we’re unworthy. Rather, we honestly acknowledge the presence of our judgment, as well as the painful feelings underneath. Many students I work with support their resolve to let it be by silently offering an encouraging word or phrase to themselves. For instance, you might feel the grip of fear and mentally whisper yes in order to acknowledge and accept the reality of your experience in this moment.

Victor Frankel writes, “Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in this space lies our power and our freedom.” Allowing creates a space that enables us to see more deeply into our own being, which, in turn, awakens our caring and helps us make wiser choices in life. For one student, the space of allowing gave her more freedom in the face of urges to binge eat. In the past, whenever she felt restless or anxious at night, she’d start thinking of her favorite food—trail mix—then mindlessly consume a half pound of it before going to bed, disgusted with herself. Learning to recognize the cues and taking a pause interrupted the pattern. While pausing, she would allow herself to feel the tension in her body, her racing heart, the craving. Soon, she began to contact a poignant sense of loneliness buried beneath her anxiety. She found that if she could stay with the loneliness and be gentle with herself, the craving passed.

I—Investigating with Kindness

Investigating means calling on our natural curiosity—the desire to know truth—and directing a more focused attention to our present experience. Simply pausing to ask, what is happening inside me?, can initiate recognition, but investigation adds a more active and pointed kind of inquiry. You might ask yourself: What most wants attention? How am I experiencing this in my body? Or What am I believing? What does this feeling want from me? You might notice hollowness or shakiness, then discover a sense of unworthiness and shame masked by those feelings. Unless you bring them into awareness, your unconscious beliefs and emotions will control your experience and perpetuate your identification with a limited, deficient self.

Poet Dorothy Hunt says that we need a “...heartspace where everything that is, is welcome.” Without such an attitude of unconditional care, there isn’t enough safety and openness for real investigation to take place. About ten years ago I entered a period of chronic illness. During one particularly challenging period of pain and fatigue, I became discouraged and unhappy. In my view I was terrible to be around—impatient, self-absorbed, irritable, gloomy. I began working with RAIN to recognize these feelings and judgments and to consciously allow the unpleasantness in my body and emotions to just be there. As I began to investigate, I heard an embittered voice: “I hate living like this.” And then a moment later, “I hate myself!” The full toxicity of self-aversion filled me.

Not only was I struggling with illness, I was at war with the self-centered, irritable person I believed I had become. Unknowingly, I had turned on myself and was held captive by the trance of unworthiness. But in that moment of recognizing and allowing the suffering of self-hatred, my heart began to soften with compassion.

Here’s a story that helps to describe the process I went through. Imagine while walking in the woods you see a small dog sitting by a tree. You bend down to pet it and it suddenly lunges at you, teeth bared. Initially you might be frightened and angry. But then you notice one of its legs is caught in a trap, buried under some leaves. Immediately your mood shifts from anger to concern. You see that the dog’s aggression sprang from vulnerability and pain.

This applies to all of us. When we behave in hurtful, reactive ways, it’s because we’re caught in some kind of painful trap. The more we investigate the source of our suffering, the more we cultivate a compassionate heart toward ourselves and others.

When I recognized how my leg was in a trap—sickness compounded with self aversion— my heart filled with sorrow and genuine self-care. The investigating deepened as I gently put my hand over my heart—a gesture of kindness— and invited whatever other feelings were there to surface. A swell of fear (uncertainty for my future) spread through my chest, followed by an upwelling of grief at losing my health. The sense of self-compassion unfurled fully as I mentally whispered, It’s all right, sweetheart, and consciously offered care to the depths of my vulnerability, just as I would to a dear friend.

Compassion arises naturally when we mindfully contact our suffering and respond with care. As you practice the RAIN of Self-Compassion, experiment and see which intentional gesture of kindness most helps to soften or open your heart. Many people find healing by gently placing a hand on the heart or cheek; others, in a whispered message of care, or by envisioning being bathed in warm, radiant light. What matters is that once you have investigated and connected with your suffering, respond by offering care to your own heart. When the intention to awaken self love and compassion is sincere, the smallest gesture—even if, initially, it feels awkward— will serve you well.

N—Natural Loving Awareness

Natural loving awareness occurs when identification with the small self is loosened. This practice of non-identification means that our sense of who we are is not fused with any limiting emotions, sensations, or stories. We begin to intuit and live from the openness and love that express our natural awareness.

Though the first three steps of RAIN require some intentional activity, the N is the treasure: A liberating homecoming to our true nature. There’s nothing to do for this last part of RAIN; we simply rest in natural awareness.

The RAIN of Self-Compassion is not a one-shot meditation, nor is the realization of our natural awareness necessarily full, stable, or enduring. Rather, as you practice you may experience a sense of warmth and openness, a shift in perspective. You can trust this! RAIN is a practice for life—meeting our doubts and fears with a healing presence. Each time you are willing to slow down and recognize, oh, this is the trance of unworthiness… this is fear… this is hurt…this is judgment…, you are poised to de-condition the old habits and limiting self-beliefs that imprison your heart. Gradually, you’ll experience natural loving awareness as the truth of who you are, more than any story you ever told yourself about being “not good enough” or “basically flawed.”

A friend of mine was sitting with her dying mother while she was in a coma. At one point the mother opened her eyes, looked at her daughter with great lucidity, and said “You know, all my life I thought something was wrong with me.” She closed her eyes, sank back into a coma and died shortly thereafter. For my friend, her mother’s words were a parting gift. They inspired her to dedicate herself to the mindfulness and self-compassion that frees us.

We each have the conditioning to live for long stretches of time imprisoned by a sense of deficiency, cut off from realizing our intrinsic intelligence, aliveness, and love. The greatest blessing we can give ourselves is to recognize the pain of this trance, and regularly offer a cleansing rain of self-compassion to our awakening hearts.

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~ Clinical psychologist Tara Brach is the author of True Refuge: Finding Peace & Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart. For guided meditations and talks, visit Tara Brach's website.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Myth of the Alpha Male (The Art of Manliness)


This is a nice little article dispelling the myth of the alpha male - men and masculinity is far more complex than a polarity between alpha male and beta male. The "Manly Guest Contributor" of this article is Scott Barry Kaufman.

The Myth of the Alpha Male

A Manly Guest Contributor
July 7, 2014 
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Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Scott Barry Kaufman.

There are a lot of false dichotomies out there — left brain vs. right brain, nature vs. nurture, etc. But one really persistent myth, that is literally costing human lives, is the distinction between “alpha” and “beta” males.

As the story typically goes, there are two types of men.

“Alpha” males are those at the top of the social status hierarchy. They have greater access to power, money, and mates, which they gain through physical prowess, intimidation, and domination. Alphas are typically described as the “real men.” In contrast are the “Beta” males: the weak, submissive, subordinate guys who are low status, and only get access to mates once women decide to settle down and go searching for a “nice guy.”

This distinction, which is often based on observations among other social animals (such as chimpanzees and wolves) paints a very black and white picture of masculinity. Not only does it greatly simplify the multi-dimensionality of masculinity, and grossly underestimate what a man is capable of becoming, but it also doesn’t even get at the heart of what is really attractive to women.

As the expression goes, when all you have is a hammer, all you see are nails. When we impose just two categories of male on the world, we unnecessarily mislead young men into acting in certain predefined ways that aren’t actually conducive to attracting and sustaining healthy and enjoyable relationships with women, or finding success in other areas of life. So it’s really worth examining the link between so-called “alpha” behaviors (such as dominance) and attractiveness, respect, and status.

The Science of Dominance

Consider one of the earliest sets of studies on the relationship between dominance and attractiveness. The researchers presented their participants with videotaped and written scenarios depicting two men interacting with each other. The scenarios varied on whether the male acted “dominant” or “nondominant.” For instance, here’s an excerpt of a scenario in which the male was depicted as dominant:

John is 5’10” tall, 165 lbs. He has been playing tennis for one year and is currently enrolled in an intermediate tennis class. Despite his limited amount of training he is a very coordinated tennis player, who has won 60% of his matches. His serve is very strong and his returns are extremely powerful. In addition to his physical abilities, he has the mental qualities that lead to success in tennis. He is extremely competitive, refusing to yield against opponents who have been playing much longer. All of his movements tend to communicate dominance and authority. He tends to psychologically dominate his opponents, forcing them off their games and into mental mistakes.

In contrast, here’s an excerpt of a scenario in which the same tennis player is instead depicted as “nondominant” (the first three lines, in italics above, were kept the same across conditions):

. . . His serve and his returns are consistent and well placed. Although he plays well, he prefers to play for fun rather than to win. He is not particularly competitive and tends to yield to opponents who have been playing tennis much longer. He is easily thrown off his game by opponents who play with great authority. Strong opponents are able to psychologically dominate him, sometimes forcing him off his game. He enjoys the game of tennis but avoids highly competitive situations.

Across four studies, the researchers found that the dominance scenarios were considered more sexually attractive, although dominant John was regarded as less likeable and not desired as a spouse. Taken at face value, this study seems to support the sexual attractiveness of the dominant alpha male over the submissive beta male.

But not so fast.

In a follow up study, the researchers isolated various adjectives to pinpoint which descriptors were actually considered sexually attractive. While they found that “dominance” was considered sexually attractive, “aggressive” and “domineering” tendencies did not increase the sexual attractiveness of either males or females. There seemed to be more to the story than just mere dominance vs. submissiveness.

Enter a study by Jerry Burger and Mica Cosby. The researchers had 118 female undergraduates read the same descriptions of John the tennis player (dominant vs. submissive), but they added a crucial control condition in which some participants only read the first three sentences of the description (see italics above). Consistent with the prior study, women found dominant John more sexually appealing than submissive John. However, the John depicted in the control condition had the highest ratings of sexiness of them all!

What’s going on? Well, this most certainly doesn’t mean that the extremely brief three-sentence description of the John depicted in the control condition was sexually appealing. Rather, it’s more probable that hearing about either dominant or nondominant behavior, in isolation of other information about him, made him less sexually attractive. The researchers conclude: “In short, a simple dominant-nondominant dimension may be of limited value when predicting mate preferences for women.”

Next, the researchers fiddled with the descriptors of John. In the “dominant” condition, participants read a short description of John and were told that a recent personality test found that his five most prominent traits were aggressive, assertive, confident, demanding, and dominant. Those in the “nondominant” condition read the same paragraph but were told that John’s five most prominent personality characteristics were easygoing, quiet, sensitive, shy, and submissive. Those in the control condition only read the short paragraph but were not told anything about John’s personality.

The researchers then asked women to indicate which of the adjectives used to describe John were ideal for a date as well as for a long-term romantic partner. They found that only 1 woman out of the 50 undergraduates in their sample actually identified “dominant” as one of the traits she sought in either an ideal date or a romantic partner. For the rest of the dominant adjectives, the two big winners were confident (72% sought this trait for an ideal date; 74% sought this trait for an ideal romantic partner) and assertive (48% sought this trait for an ideal date; 36% sought this trait for an ideal romantic partner). Not one woman wanted a demanding male, and only 12% wanted an aggressive person for a date and romantic partner.

In terms of the nondominant adjectives, the big winners were easygoing (68% sought this trait for an ideal date; 64% sought this trait for an ideal romantic partner) and sensitive (76% sought this trait for an ideal date and ideal romantic partner). Not one woman wanted a submissive male for either a date or romance. Other low-ranked nondominant adjectives were shy (2% for dating; 0% for romantic) and quiet (4% for ideal; 2% for romantic).

This analysis was revealing because it suggests that dominance can take many forms. The dominant male who is demanding, violent, and self-centered is not considered attractive to most women, whereas the dominant male who is assertive and confident is considered attractive. As the researchers suggest, “Men who dominate others because of leadership qualities and other superior abilities and who therefore are able and willing to provide for their families quite possibly will be preferred to potential partners who lack these attributes.”

Their results also suggest that sensitivity and assertiveness are not opposites. In fact, further research suggests that the combination of kindness and assertiveness might just be the most attractive pairing. Across three studies, Lauri Jensen-Campbell and colleagues found that it wasn’t dominance alone, but rather the interaction of dominance and pro-social behaviors, that women reported were particularly sexually attractive. In other words, dominance only increased sexual attraction when the person was already high in agreeableness and altruism.

Along similar lines, Jeffrey Snyder and colleagues reported that dominance was only attractive to females (for both a short-term affair and a long-term relationship) in the context of male-male competitions. Tellingly, women did not find men attractive who used aggressive dominance (force or threat of force) while competing for leadership in informal decision making among peers. This suggests that women are attuned to cues that indicate that the male might direct his aggression toward her, with dominance toward competitors considered more attractive than dominance toward friends or coalition members. To put this study in a real-world context, the guy in high school that all the girls go for is the guy who can dominate a player from a rival school on the football field on Friday night, but who’s likeable and friendly to his own classmates during the week.

Distinguishing between the different shades of dominance, and how they interact with kindness, is not just important for understanding sexual attraction among humans. It also has deep implications for the evolution of social status.

“But wait…don’t some women go for the Bad Boy? I’ve seen it happen!”

While studies show that most women find prestigious men more attractive than dominant men for both short-term affairs and long-term relationships, the research also suggests that, when given the choice, some types of women will still pick the dominant asshole over the upstanding prestigious man. Women with a “fast life” history (meaning they grew up in an insecure and unstable environment with little or no parental support), insecure attachment, and who hold hostile, sexist attitudes about their fellow females typically prefer a short-term mating strategy and engage in frequent, uncommitted sexual activity (Olderbak & Figueredo, 2010; Bohner et al, 2010; Kirkpatrick & Davis 1994). These sorts of women typically prefer the stereotypical dominant and aggressive “alpha” male to the more pro-social, prestigious male (Hall & Canterberry, 2011).
While it is possible to pick up some types of women by acting “alpha,” because of the kind of women this seduction method attracts, the flings you successfully land can become messier than you bargained for. It’s for this reason that men who go for the alpha male ideology often fall victim to a selection bias in regards to their perception of women: because the women who are attracted to them are less stable and more promiscuous, they come to believe that all women are “skanky” and “crazy.”
At the same time, when these men try their dominant pick-up techniques on more well-adjusted women, their hostility and narcissism creep the women out, and cause them to turn these guys down. This rejection makes these would-be “pick-up artists” more hostile to women, and they figure the problem is that they’re still too much of a “nice guy.” They then try to up their alpha quotient even further, which makes even more women turn away from them. And the cycle continues.

Dominance vs. Prestige

In our species, the attainment of social status, and the mating benefits that come along with it, can be accomplished through compassion and cooperation just as much (if not more so) as through aggression and intimidation. Scholars across ethnography, ethology, sociology, and sociolinguistics believe that at least two routes to social status – dominance and prestige – arose in evolutionary history at different times and for different purposes.

The dominance route is paved with intimidation, threats, and coercion, and is fueled by hubristic pride. Hubristic pride is associated with arrogance, conceit, anti-social behaviors, unstable relationships, low levels of conscientiousness and high levels of disagreeableness, neuroticism, narcissism, and poor mental health outcomes. Hubristic pride, along with its associated feelings of superiority and arrogance, facilitates dominance by motivating behaviors such as aggression, hostility, and manipulation.

In contrast, prestige is paved with the emotional rush of accomplishment, confidence, and success, and is fueled by authentic pride. Authentic pride is associated with pro-social and achievement-oriented behaviors, agreeableness, conscientiousness, satisfying interpersonal relationships, and positive mental health. Critically, authentic pride is associated with genuine self-esteem (considering yourself a person of value, not considering yourself superior to others). Authentic pride, along with its associated feelings of confidence and accomplishment, facilitates behaviors that are associated with attaining prestige. People who are confident, agreeable, hard-working, energetic, kind, empathic, nondogmatic, and high in genuine self-esteem inspire others and cause others to want to emulate them.

These two routes to male social status have also been observed among the Tsimané (a small-scale Amazonian society). In this society, dominance (as ranked by peers) was positively related to physical size, whereas peer-ranked prestige was positively associated with hunting ability, generosity, and number of allies.

Interestingly, while advocates for acting dominant often point to chimps as proof of the exclusivity of this route to male status, recent research has shown that even among primates, alpha male status can be achieved not only through size and strength but through adept sociability and the grooming of others as well.

Flexibility and Adaptability: The Advantages of Prestige

While it’s tempting from the above descriptions to decide that dominance is “bad” and prestige is “good,” that’s a bit too simplistic. What too often goes missing in discussions about being “alpha” or “beta” is that status is context specific. A CEO of a Fortune 500 company has a high level of status in our society, but if he was thrown into the general population at Sing Sing Prison, he’d find himself at the very bottom of the pecking order. You can be an alpha amongst one group, and a beta in another.

In the context of a harsh, dangerous environment, the dominant male is valued because he can get what he wants, and provide resources to those who will submit to and follow him. He doesn’t need to employ skills beyond strength and intimidation. But outside of pure barbarian society (i.e., most of human history), it’s the prestigious man who rules. He’s primed to have the most success in the widest variety of circumstances.

In one set of studies conducted on university-level varsity athletes, dominant individuals were found to have lower levels of genuine self-esteem, social acceptance, and agreeableness and higher levels of narcissism, aggression, agency, disagreeableness, and conscientiousness. Dominant individuals were rated by their peers as higher in athleticism and leadership, but lower in altruism, cooperativeness, helpfulness, ethicality, and morality.

In contrast, prestigious individuals had lower levels of aggression and neuroticism, and higher levels of genuine self-esteem, social acceptance, agreeableness, and even GPA. What’s more, prestige was weakly related to self-aggrandizing narcissism. Just like their dominant peers, prestigious individuals were rated as being better leaders and more athletic, but they were also considered more intellectual, socially skilled, altruistic, cooperative, helpful, ethical, and moral.

These results clearly show that dominance and prestige represent very different ways of attaining and maintaining status. But it’s also worth once again reiterating the overlap: qualities like strength, leadership, kindness, and morality can exist in the same person; strict categories of “alpha” and “beta” truly set up a false dichotomy that obscures what a man is capable of becoming. While dominance may be advantageous in a narrow set of circumstances, prestige is far more valued in nearly every context. Due to their authentic pride, prestigious individuals are more likely to be respected, socially accepted, and thus successful. Who would you rather have on your team — Kevin Durant or Dennis Rodman?

Here’s another way of looking at the difference between the two routes to status: Dominance is a short-term strategy for success; prestige is a long-term one. Dominance is a quality that can help you conquer, but it lacks the ability to govern what you’ve won. Amongst chimps, once a male has fought his way to the top, and becomes the alpha, his enjoyment of that status is short-lived; another dominant male will soon come along to challenge him and knock him off his throne. On a cultural level, peoples like the Mongols or Vikings dominated others and were the alphas in their time, but were unable to adapt, and died off. Prestigious men — like the Founding Fathers — were able to create a legacy that continues on today.

Conclusion

It is neither the alpha nor the beta male that is most desired by women.

Taken together, the research suggests that the ideal man (for a date or romantic partner) is one who is assertive, confident, easygoing, and sensitive, without being aggressive, demanding, dominant, quiet, shy, or submissive. In other words, a prestigious man, not a dominant man.

In fact, it appears that the prestigious man who is high in both assertiveness and kindness is considered the most attractive to women for both short-term affairs and long-term relationships. This research should offer some assurance that the genuinely nice, passionate kid who learns a culturally valued skill can be immensely attractive.

Further, seeking to become a prestigious man is not only the surest route to success with women, but achievement in any area of life.

Thus, I think a much more effective and healthier route for men having difficulty attracting women is not to attempt to cultivate the traits of the stereotypical, dominant “alpha,” but to cultivate the traits of the prestigious man. This means developing a skill that brings value to society, and cultivating a stable sense of identity. Such a route will not only make you more attractive to women, but will also create the most satisfying life for yourself in general. In my view, attempting to don the persona of the “alpha” is analogous to building a house of cards. There’s no stable foundation supporting your worth.

It’s time we shed these black and white categories, and embrace a much more multidimensional concept of masculinity. The most attractive male is really a blend of characteristics, including assertiveness, kindness, cultivated skills, and a genuine sense of value in this world. The true alpha is fuller, deeper, and richer.
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Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute and a researcher in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He is co-author of Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love and author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined.