Positive Psychology

I would ordinarily be posting something about my reading into The Gits of Imperfection, but this weekend has been a big one for a number of reasons, and has left me with very little time to read on. While I did get to my Family Connections class, and there is a lot of good news (well, for me) involving Calla, me, and our relationship, I don’t know that I can really say anything about it here without something concrete from her, so instead, I will just leave you with this, a TED Talk about the brain on love (not drugs, unless you consider love a drug):


Love’s Language Lost

Yeah, this book has been on my mind a lot lately. I’m not really sure why, but I find the whole idea of being able to break down expressions of love into five categories fascinating. I’m all for being romantic, the power of love and all that, but I also like that there is a way to break it down into easy-to-understand areas.It’s not just the five different divisions – no, languages is a better word – of love that the book has some interesting insight into, though.

One of the insights that the author, Gary Chapman, has into love is that in romantic relationships, there are really two very important stages. The first stage is what he calls the obsessive stage. This is the early part of the relationship, where you’re head over heels in love; you see the other person as awesome, amazing, even perfect, you can’t see any flaws they might have. , and everything just seems easy. This a stage that tends to last up to two years, and is when people often move in together or even get married.

The second stage is what Dr. Chapman calls ‘covenant love’, and is where things get more difficult. The obsession feelings dissipate, and you start to see all the things you didn’t before. This is the stage where a lot of relationships fail, because it requires work, and conscious effort. As the book says, “It requires thought and action.It does not wait for the encouragement of warm emotions but chooses to look out for the interest of the other because you are committed to their well-being.” This is where the love languages come in – knowing your partner’s preferred love language, and speaking to it, can help to make your partner feel loved, and can help a relationship endure.

It doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships, though. The relationship between parents and child, friend to friend, even co-worker to co-worker, can all be improved if we understand and identify not just our own primary love language, but also figure out how to appeal to theirs. This is where I am running into problems, because now I am trying to figure out the primary love languages of those I care about. I know my primary language is quality time, and I have a couple friends who also have that as their primary language, so we speak each other’s languages well.

So I end this entry with a with a request to my friends who read this – if you’ve taken the quiz (which is at www.5lovelanguages.com), and you know the results, I’d like you to share them with me. If not all of them, then at least the primary one. Maybe it’ll help, maybe not, but it’s worth a try. And maybe knowing these things about ourselves and the people we care about will help to improve our relationships. It’s worth a shot, right?

The Language(s) of Love

I’ve been reading through a book called The Five Love Languages – Singles Edition, by Gary Chapman. It covers something that I talked about months ago, that the expression of love can be divided up into five areas: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch. In our step-down program, we took a quiz based on this information (you can actually take this quiz here), and we talked about what it meant a little, but this book goes into much more detail about what each language means.

More than each individual language, though, what seems to be important to me – and, certainly at times, the author – is how to put this knowledge of love languages to good use. Knowing your own primary love language – the one you appreciate the most, and thus feel the most love from – is almost less important than knowing the languages of those who are important to you; knowing your own really only seems important in that you can then share that knowledge with the people who might care for you, so they can express how they feel more easily (for those of you who are interested, my primary love language is quality time).

Each chapter has some good advice about what to do to show love through that particular language, including one I really liked in gifts – giving a present or gift to someone as a way of apologizing isn’t a gift of love, nor is giving something you expect repayment for; only a gift given with no strings or conditions attached is truly a gift that shows love. And this in’t always romantic love, either; a birthday gift to a friend shows love just as much as an unexpected gift of flowers or dinner to a significant other – the love being expressed just isn’t the same kind of love.

To someone who often has trouble seeing why people do things, or understanding what the reasoning is behind what people do, a book like this is very interesting. It’s also interesting as someone who is interested in, but not at the moment in, a romantic relationship; while I may not spring the love languages quiz on every potential girlfriend, knowing things like this – and figuring out how best to express my feelings for a person I care about- seems like something that will be very helpful to me in the future.


Belief is an odd thing. By the dictionary (online, of course, since I don’t own a paper one currently, it is defined as: ‘1: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing; 2: something believed; especially : a tenet or body of tenets held by a group; 3: conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence’. I have always considered belief to be something along the lines of thinking that something exists or has worth, even when there isn’t necessarily any evidence to support that; I don’t believe in god, for instance, though that has less to do with a lack of evidence than a loss of faith.

I don’t believe in a lot of things. As I have noted before, I tend to have a rather pessimistic worldview, and this probably affects the degree to which, and the amount of things, I believe in. Actually, I would imagine a lot of people don’t have a long list of things they believe in, but then it probably isn’t something that people really consider on a daily basis. I have been thinking about issues like this a lot lately, so of course weird things like this tend to pop up in my mind and hang on like a dog with a bone. I don’t know how usual or unusual belief is for most people, though I would be interested in finding out, especially from readers – do you believe in a lot of things? Anything that particularly strikes you?

In any case, since this is my blog, I figure I ought to get back to me and my belief. Like I said, it probably isn’t a long list. I skip the obvious religious beliefs, because I don’t have any anymore; when we covered religion and spirituality in groups, I always left those sections blank. But high on my list of things I believe in are my friends. I know it is probably tiring to hear over and over that I value my friends probably above everything, but corny or not, it’s true. I believe in them; I believe that, as my friends, they won’t do anything to actively hurt me and will try to help me if they are able, and I believe they enjoy my company; in return I try to do the same.

I believe, as weird as it sounds, in love. I’m not talking about familial or friendly love here, but the romantic kind. I believe that I have experienced it in the past, no matter how badly it went for me, and I believe that I will experience it again in the future. It’s not something real or material, so I can’t see it or touch it, but I know I’ve felt it, and I know it can cause both terrible pain and ecstatic joy. That’s weird coming from me, because my excited expression tends to closely mirror my bored or uninterested expression, but there it is.

I believe in change. I came to Menninger a broken person, just a month out from a suicide attempt, unsure of what I was doing, where I was going, or if there was any point to any of it. After two months there, and four more in a step-down program, I have a group of new friends, a support network of others to help me and keep me on the right track, I am living in a new city and looking for a job and living on my own for the first time in my life and I have hope for the future. None of that is stuff I would have predicted when I first went to Menninger; I was just going because I had nowhere else to turn.

Like change, I believe in hope. It was something that was almost totally foreign to me when I arrived in the clinic, because I hadn’t had any for so long. I can’t show it to you, but I know it’s there. I didn’t even know that there would be a future for me six months ago; I wasn’t actively looking to end my life anymore, but I figured that my life would be essentially just trudging from one unpleasant event to the next, feeling nothing but numbness or pain. Now, I am so far from that that it almost seems like they aren’t my memories anymore; hell, I am considering getting something about hope tattooed on my arm to remind me of it even when things get rough (yes, it is Latin, and the phrase I have repeated here a number of times, dum spiro, spero – while I breathe, I hope).

I believe that there are ways for those of us who suffer from mental illness to get better, to some degree. I don’t believe in an absolute cure – anyone who is selling that line is a fraud – but it can be managed to a degree that we can live meaningful lives. In my time in treatment, I have met people with ADD, ADHD, depression, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, all manner of addictions, anxiety disorders, anger control problems, and a host of other things, and I have seen some degree of improvement in everyone who was willing to give treatment a chance. It can’t help if you aren’t open to it, and I have seen people go that route too, but those people who accepted they were in treatment and, however grudgingly, earnestly decided to try and work towards being better have changed. It won’t help everyone the same way, nor to the same degree; CBT works for some, DBT for others, group therapy on a few, and some people just need people to listen to them and accept them. It isn’t a one-time deal; once you work on it, you have to keep working, or else risk relapsing, but for me, at least, that small degree of continuing work is so much better than the terrifying, frozen hell that was the depths of my depression that I would take it any day.

There may be some other things I believe in, and some of them are probably pretty ridiculous, but I think I have covered the big ones, or at least the ones that matter the most to me. I have no real evidence that any of these beliefs have merit outside of me, but that’s what matters to most to me anyway. I don’t know if anyone reading this will make any sense of it, though I hope you will; belief has proven to be pretty powerful for me, even if it isn’t in some higher or divine power. sometimes it is what keeps me going, as I am sure it does for a lot of people. So maybe it is something worth thinking about for others, worth considering even if it isn’t something that crosses the mind often. The ideas that come from that can be some of the best ideas, in my experience; I have had a lot of them, here, and some of my best ideas in the past have come from things I have started looking at that I had never really thought of before. I think just about everything is worth examining; if you have any ideas for what else could be useful, don’t be afraid to let me know here.

Love Languages

So today, in one of our groups at the step-down, we were discussing how we each most appreciate receiving, as well as giving, love and affection. We have done this before, though I think the first time was before I started writing this. It seems there are five categories of love and affection – words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch/intimacy.

Words of affirmation are just verbal compliments, appreciative or encouraging statements, and ways to express your care vocally. Quality time is time spent with your friends or loved ones, being close and having each other’s attention. Receiving gifts is just that, receiving material goods showing that you were being thought of. Acts of service are just doing something, menial task or grand organized party, for a friend. Finally, physical touch is also obvious – being physically affectionate for or intimate with someone you care about. There’s actually a quiz to determine which you place most highly; I will recreate it here.

The Five Love Languages Quiz (an online copy can be found here)
Select the one you prefer most of your two options, the one that fits the best right now.

1. I like to receive notes of affirmation.                                                                                      A
I like to be hugged.                                                                                                                            E

2. I like to spend one-to-one time with a person who is special to me.                          B
I feel loved when someone gives practical help to me.                                                        D

3 I like it when people give me gifts.                                                                                            C
I like leisurely visits with friends and loved ones.                                                                   B

4 I feel loved when people do things to help me.                                                                   D
I feel loved when people touch me.                                                                                            E

5 I feel loved when someone I love or admire puts his or her arm around me.          E
I feel loved when I receive a gift from someone I love or admire.                                    C

6 I like to go places with friends and loved ones.                                                                   B
I like to high-five or hold hands with people who are special to me.                              E

7 Visible symbols of love (gifts) are very important to me.                                                 C
I feel loved when people affirm me.                                                                                            E

8 I like to sit close to people whom I enjoy being around.                                                  E
I like for people to tell me I am beautiful/handsome.                                                          A

9 I like to spend time with friends and loved ones.                                                              B
I like to receive little gifts from friends and loved ones.                                                     C

10. Words of acceptance are important to me.                                                                    A
I know someone loves me when he or she helps me.                                                       D

11. I like being together and doing things with friends and loved ones.                     B
I like it when kind words are spoken to me.                                                                          A

12. What someone does affects me more than what he or she says.                          D
Hugs make me feel connected and valued.                                                                          E

13. I value praise and try to avoid criticism.                                                                          A
Several small gifts mean more to me than one large gift.                                                C

14. I feel close to someone when we are talking or doing something together.     B
I feel closer to friends and loved ones when they touch me often.                             E

15. I like for people to compliment my achievements.                                                          A
I know people love me when they do things for me that they don’t enjoy doing.     D

16. I like to be touched as friends and loved ones walk by.                                                  E
I like it when people listen to me and show genuine interest in what I am saying.     B

17. I feel loved when friends and loved ones help me with jobs or projects.           D
I really enjoy receiving gifts from friends and loved ones.                                             C

18. I like for people to compliment my appearance.                                                        A
I feel loved when people take time to understand my feelings.                                  B

19. I feel secure when a special person is touching me.                                                  E
Acts of service make me feel loved.                                                                                       D

20. I appreciate the many things that special people do for me.                                D
I like receiving gifts that special people make for me.                                                     C

21. I really enjoy the feeling I get when someone gives me undivided attention.      B
I really enjoy the feeling I get when someone helps me make decisions.                     D

22. I feel loved when a person celebrates my birthday with a gift.                            C
I feel loved when a person celebrates my birthday with meaningful words.         A

23. I know a person is thinking of me when he or she gives me a gift.                    C
I feel loved when a person helps with my chores.                                                          D

24. I appreciate it when someone listens patiently and doesn’t interrupt me.     B
I appreciate it when someone remembers special days with a gift.                          C

25. I like knowing loved ones are concerned enough to help with my daily tasks.      D
I enjoy extended trips with someone who is special to me.                                                B

26. I enjoy kissing or being kissed by people with whom I am close.                      E
I enjoy receiving a gift given for no special reason.                                                       C

27. I like to be told that I am appreciated.                                                                        A
I like for a person to look at me when we are talking.                                                  B

28. Gifts from a friend or loved one are always special to me.                                  C
I feel good when a friend or loved one touches me.                                                    E

29. I feel loved when a person enthusiastically does some task I have requested.      D
I feel loved when I am told how much I am needed.                                                               A

30. I need to be touched every day.                                                                                    E
I need words of encouragement daily.                                                                              A

Totals:         A:                     B:                     C:                        D:                           E:

A. Words of Affirmation
B. Quality Time
C. Receiving Gifts
D. Acts of Service
E. Physical Touch


For me, my primary love language is quality time. I just enjoy being around the people I care about; we don’t have to be doing anything specific. At 12 out of 30, it is the highest category of love language for me; the next one, at 8, is acts of service; I like to both do things for others I care about, and have them do the same to me. I’m often uncomfortable with compliments and affirmations, but I think actions are just more honest. I think that is certainly true for some other people I know; compliments are uncomfortable, or feel disingenuous, but acts of service are genuine. After that for me is words of affirmation at 5, because while compliments may be uncomfortable for me, I still like to know that people have good things to say about me. Finally, I have receiving gifts at 3 and physical touch at 2; I like to give gifts, but I don’t place a huge value on getting them from others, and I have never been big with physical intimacy.

I think this is a cool topic, because finding out these things from other people who are important to you can reveal some very crucial information. If you assume those around you have the same love languages as you, you might be confused when they don’t react to things the way you would; finding out that they value can improve a friendship or other relationship. Knowing how your friends and loved ones will react best to affection seems pretty important to me. So, feel free to take the test. If you want, leave the results here, or share them with those you care about. Maybe something good will come out of it.

Father-Son Camp

It probably comes as no surprise that I have had difficulties with my family. My parents, while very supportive in many ways, have had areas where we did not see eye to eye, which is probably putting it mildly. When it came to teenage rebellion, I, the bookish, introverted nerd, was the rebel in the family – I had difficulties in high school and I had a goth phase (and no, you still can’t see the pictures), while my sister did well all through high school, became co-captain of her school’s cheerleaders, and even dated (and, many years later, married) her high school football team’s captain.

Primarily, my issues seem to be with my father. There are definitely reasons to why I say this, from the fact that two of my three non-psychological fears, sharks and aliens, are a result of being made to watch Jaws and Aliens when I was 9, to the fact that my father is a high-powered businessman, while I am an English student aspiring to be a teacher or writer. There are parts of our personalities that just don’t mesh very well, and it has caused a lot of friction over the years.

Some of it is just that we don’t have very similar interests. I like to read fantasy and science fiction, whereas he prefers crime and thriller novels like those by James Patterson and Vince Flynn. I like to play video games and RPGs, while my father prefers to sit on the beach, go find a good place to eat, or occasionally play Tetris or Dr. Mario. He is a little less picky about his choice in movies,and while I like the occasional good drama, he tends to avoid them. During my teen years, when I was very into being a Boy Scout, my father was one of the few fathers who had absolutely no interest in being out camping. Our chief areas of corresponding interest seem to be action movies and football – though even there can be tricky, since my father liked The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, while I thought it was a crime against film.

On a more personal level, we also don’t have a lot in common. My father works in business, primarily marketing, and has for most of my life. He is very interested in concrete details, numbers and progress he can see, and being in charge. He likes lists and charts and hard data, even if he does still write things out longhand before getting someone to type them out. I, on the other hand, am a classic liberal arts person; I like to think in abstract concepts and metaphorical terms. I read and write long papers on ideas, not facts, and opinions are the rule of the day in my field. I avoid being in charge like any such position would give me the plague, and I am OK without having all available data on a subject.

It has been pointed out to me that my aversion to positions of authority is likely rooted in a desire to not be like my father – which was a false aversion, since regardless of whether or not I held a title or official position of power, I still had power and influence over the lives of those who cared about me, especially when I do something like try to commit suicide. Even after that was pointed out to me, though, it was only with a great deal of anxiety that I took a position in patient government at Menninger. Maybe that’s a trend that will continue, though I think I am happy not always being in charge.

On an emotional level, my father and I were alike for a long time – both seeming very out of touch with an emotional side. My father has said that for him, it is because showing most kinds of emotion was regarded as weakness in business, and I can imagine that is true. But it was also a model for me, because I never saw much in the way of emotion from my father, and so I had difficulty with my own until I essentially just ignored them and pushed them aside – which, as you might guess, had unpleasant consequences for me. Now that I have been to Menninger, it has been a lot of work to realize that emotions are necessary, and they can’t just be shoved aside and forgotten. They need to be dealt with, and felt, if you want to get through them.

There were things that my father never told me that probably could have been very helpful earlier in life – the fact that he used to be shy, for instance. I’ve been painfully shy for a long time, and all my life I have thought of my father as the high-power businessman who has no problems in social situations, but after hearing this, it kind of made sense, because I rarely see my father interacting with someone he doesn’t already know. But never knowing he felt shy too made him seem like an intimidatingly social figure. Knowing that he had had problems in school as well might have also helped, because then I would have felt more comfortable talking to him about it. But those are issues that are in the past, and I can’t change the past.

On the other hand, my father has been incredibly supportive in some ways. He was willing to financially support me through the years I worked on my MA, and while I’ve worked on my PhD, even if he doesn’t always understand what I’m doing. He made a real effort – a successful one – to help me get into the PhD program when I had initially been rejected. He even supported my coming to Menninger, which, no matter how long it took, was a big step. Despite the many disappointing things that have happened in my life over the years, he has never disowned me or thrown me out, though I often feared he would. 

Right now, I’m just trying to work on understanding my father, and trying to show him who I am in a more honest way so he can understand who I am. It’s not an easy process, since this is pretty far out of either of our comfort zones. We both find it tough to try to explain to each other how we feel about things, and so sometimes we rely on my mother and my sister to try and help us out. I know it is difficult for him to talk about, and read about, things like this; I can’t say that I wouldn’t feel the same if my (hypothetical) son were to start a blog along these lines. Our relationship is a work in progress, and while I’m not quite sure where it will end up, I think it will be in a better place.

If not, I can always drag him back to camp.

Dum Spiro, Spero

One of the parts of my life I find most difficult to think about these days is the area of love. By love, I don’t mean friendship, because I know my friends love me and I love them, and I don’t mean family, because that’s essentially the same. No, I mean romance, and my general lack of success in that area.

Feeling unloved has been one of the key components of my depression for a long time. There were times I felt totally unloved, and unlovable, which I am told is not all that uncommon in people with depression. Even now, it is something I struggle with, because my experience in the romantic arena has been, frankly, not too great. I have never had a girlfriend, which at 33 puts me over 80% of the way to being a Steve Carrell character, only not as funny. I had one relationship, which largely failed because I was emotionally unavailable when I wasn’t deep in depression. Every time I have asked a woman out has ended badly for me.

There are times I wonder if it is still worth trying. As a guy, I have never been good at reading the signs from women; as far as I know, there’s only been one instance where a woman was attracted to me, and as noted above, that didn’t work out so well. I just can’t seem to observe any proof that women are interested in me, which means either I am totally blind in that area or there’s really nobody interested – for now, I’ll go with the former. Without having any idea if a woman is interested, I find myself afraid, perhaps unreasonably so, that I will once again be rejected, and that’s a leap I find myself unwilling to take.

While I am told I have a great sense of humor, which is something that people find attractive, I know that there’s a lot about me that isn’t terribly attractive. I’m short and overweight, both of which contribute to self-esteem issues that are deep-seeded. I don’t have much in the way of fashion sense; most of my wardrobe is untucked collared shirts, t-shirts, and jeans, with a few pairs of khakis thrown in. I have difficulty initiating conversation, and I am hard-pressed to continue conversations with people I don’t know.

Is this an issue I can really address in treatment here? I’m not sure. I see relationships forming around me, and I am happy for my friends, but I also don’t see much hope for me in this area. I don’t even really remember what having feelings for someone is like, other than that I remember as one of the best, and worst, experiences of my life. I’m not sure that I would recognize what that feels like if it happened. I feel like being alone might be all that I have to look forward to, and it is hard to come to terms with that.

I have some physical issues to work through in regard to relationships, as well. Not regarding my appearance, but rather because I am not very good at allowing myself to be touched by other people or to know when to reciprocate. With people I don’t know or trust, this is pretty severe, but even once I get to know people I have problems. I never know when to give a friend a hug, or put a hand on their shoulder, or what to do when the object of such affection. I imagine I would be even worse in a romantic relationship; the combination of overactive protective impulses and difficulty with physical intimacy would not make for a great relationship.

I know that a lot of this is just fear talking; that I am probably a lot more likely to end up having some sort of relationship than I realize. But it is a hard fear to shake, because I have been without any kind of relationship for so long. I am really afraid of being hurt again, because the first time was so bad that I felt like I had nothing left, that it just hollowed me out. Again, I don’t blame anyone; I was a relatively unemotional person who went from virtually no emotional response to one of the strongest emotional situations you can have, and then when it ended I just didn’t have any means of coping with what I was feeling.

So I am trying to have some hope for my love life. Even if I don’t know if anyone will ever have feelings for me, or if I will ever have feelings for anyone else, hope is what I got. Like the blog entry title says, dum spiro, spero – while I breathe, I hope. I’m tempted to get a tattoo of that to remind me about it constantly. Because really, if I don’t have hope, what do I have?

Love still terrifies me, though.