14 Nuggets From Psychology Today’s Essential Reads

On relationships, personal growth, and substance abuse.

Posted Sep 27, 2020

 James St. John, Creative Commons 2.0/Wikimedia Commons
Source: James St. John, Creative Commons 2.0/Wikimedia Commons

Twice, I've reviewed Psychology Today’s Essential Reads to find nuggets that might particularly benefit readers of this How to Do Life post, plus my amplifications. Here's the link to the first and to the second.

Since the previous effort, 900 new Essential Reads have been published. From those, here are 14 nuggets plus my additions.


Sorry, But Your Ex Probably Isn't a Narcissist: Being selfish doesn't mean you necessarily have a personality disorder. "NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) is a relatively rare condition … The highest prevalence rates run around 6-7% for men and 4-5% for women ... NPD results in dysfunction across contexts ...: occupational, social, health, legal, etc. ... Many, many more people are simply selfish ... That is an important distinction ... (We may not say) that our exes are "selfish and mean" because that sounds like a value judgment, so instead we say they have NPD: 'I'm not judging; they just meet all the diagnostic criteria I found online.'"

Many people label their exes with some clinical diagnosis as a way to "objectively" deflect responsibility for their role in their relationship's difficulty. For example, in some relationships, one partner usually insists on his or her rectitude not because the partner s/he's a narcissist, s/he's a "gaslighter," or even is selfish, but because s/he is more often correct.

4 Great Ways to Get Your Partner to Follow Your Advice. "Establish your authority but don’t go overboard. That double-edged sword of humility ... can apply also to close relationships. If you heap too much advice because of your own perceived superiority, you’ll come off as offensive. However, if you’re too reticent and tentative, your words of wisdom will come across as weak."

Striking that balance isn't easy, especially since most of us start out with a predisposition to one or the other: assertiveness or humility. Do you want to increase one or the other?

9 Questions to Assess the Health of Your Relationship. "The big question: Do you feel like you can be yourself, that you feel loved and supported, that if problems come up they can be resolved, that life is more than just getting by and accepting, that the relationship has rewards that you can’t get anywhere else and that you don’t want to lose?"

That may be too high a bar. Many couples reasonably stay together because they believe the cost/benefit of being alone or trying to find someone better is too risky, because the children would suffer, or because breaking up can take so much effort and cause so much pain and perhaps money, that it's wiser, net, to stay together.

10 Commandments for Partners in Couple’s Therapy. "Thou shalt not blame, shame, or criticize your partner in therapy. Come to therapy each time prepared to learn what you can do to be a better partner. Ask not what your partner can do for you, but what you can do for your partner."

That's good advice for a second and subsequent sessions. But in a first session, before the counselor can understand the situation in full dimension, it may be helpful to air your criticisms of your partner. In addition, getting the criticism off your chest can make it easier to listen and learn rather than be distracted by seething blame that lurks beneath the surface.

New Era, New Beliefs: Singles Do Better, but the Married Feel Better. "Getting married does not typically result in lasting increases in happiness. Maybe in another decade, the general public will start to realize that the emotional rewards they were promised for getting married may not last, if they even materialize in the first place; they are as fleeting and as fanciful as a fairy tale."

I like that statement because it injects needed counterbalance to the often frothy pronouncements about "wedded bliss," especially by vendors of wedding rings, gowns, and other accouterments for "Your magical day." But for my taste, the statement is a bit too harsh. Even today, when singlehood is much more accepted, many married couples are glad they tied the knot.


The Power of Journaling. "If you’re considering a writing practice, how should you begin? … A good place to start might be with a gratitude journal ... research consistently shows that it helps. "

Journaling does often leads to self-improvement because you know a lot about yourself and what you're willing and able to do. Also, it's empowering—you're retaining control rather than surrendering it to someone else.

Surprise: Sometimes Catastrophe Thinking Is Just What You Need! "Imagine the most disturbing circumstances—which our minds tend to do first anyway—and force yourself to contemplate the best outcome. Then consider what’s most likely to happen and develop a plan for the realistic scenario."

Yes, asking yourself what you might do in a realistic worst-case scenario usually helps you realize you can survive even that.

How to Stop Yourself From Self-Sabotaging. "Replace judgment with self-compassion so you can recover more quickly."

That may be obvious but is important. Remember that even highly successful people make mistakes, often big ones. What differentiates them from other people is that they tend to quickly ask themselves if there are lessons to be learned, then they forgive themselves and suppress further rumination about their mistakes.

Are Zoom Meetings Tiring You Out? "(Consider) what kind of information is better absorbed through what we now refer to as old-school methods such as email. . . The same rationale applies to social Zoom use. ... Believe it or not, some people have actually gone back to using the telephone. Remember those?"

Yes, ask yourself whether the added value of video is worth the costs, for example, having to dress up and to sit there in front of your computer for so long. On cordless and cell phones, you can move —after all, sitting is the new smoking.

6 Common Ways People Justify Unethical Behavior. "As long as we are motivated more by a desire to appear moral than to actually be moral, self-serving justifications are unlikely to promote behavior that serves our long-term interests, or those of our organizations and communities."

Yes, we rationalize unethical behavior, for example, using, "I need to support my family," "Other people cheat," or "The company can afford it." The options for rationalization are endless, which can be a slippery slope into a life that you're embarrassed about.

5 Mechanisms that Drive Polarization. "People tend to gather and make use of evidence that confirms the things that they want to believe, especially when the belief is tied to their identity."

It seems that today, strong emotions about politics, race, gender, and redistribution, are making it more likely that we are indeed subject to confirmation bias—confirming what we already believe—and dismissive of dissenting ideas and, yes, people. Wisdom tends to reside across the spectrum and we grow from asking ourselves, "It is possible that an opposing view has some validity?"

Substance Abuse

The Price The Brain Pays: Adolescents and Drinking. "Like the infant brain, the developing adolescent brain is damaged by exposure to high levels of alcohol. Heavy drinking can impair a young person’s memory and ability to process and relay information. Frequent binge drinking—the norm for many adolescents and young adults—can cause long-term damage to the brain’s ability to make decisions, plan, organize, focus attention, control impulses, and accurately assess risk."

Teens have long behaved unwisely, caused by a cauldron of experimentation, rebellion, and perceived immortality. What's a parent to do? Yes, the standard advice may help: Have open communication, encourage friendships with non-abusers, and set an individualized level of limit-setting. But especially today, many teens worry that their future will be worse than their parents', thus a desire to escape. So an additional antidote may be to help your child find a realistic career path that capitalizes on strengths, skirts weaknesses, and in which, even in a tough economy, s/he'll likely prevail. These articles may help: Work in 2021-25, Work in 2021 and Beyond, and Careers for Generation COVID.

How to Quit Smoking. "The ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy) app iCanQuit has cessation rates one year later of 28.2 percent, the highest ever found for an app, vs. 21.1 percent (p < .001) for the app deployed by the U.S. National Cancer Institute (“QuitGuide”) … It taught psychological flexibility skills: acceptance of internal smoking triggers such as urges, thoughts, and emotions and motivating themselves to quit via their own values."

When choosing an an app, the average result is only a starting place. One size doesn't fit all, so before choosing an app, you might also consider these smoking cessation apps.

5 Ways to Keep Alcohol Use in Check During Stressful Times. "Create a new routine. If you usually have a glass of wine after dinner, then start going for an evening walk instead."

That's the the sort of simple yet often helpful tactic I like: it's individualized, makes common sense, isn't time consuming, is side-effect free, and is free.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

NOTE: A commenter accused me of not having given attribution to the authors of the articles.  In fact, each name of the article does include the link to the full article and the author's name.