Kim Davis, Pope Francis, and the Moral Ambiguity of Courage

Exactly what was so compelling about Kim Davis’ court case that Pope Francis would squeeze her into his already crowded U.S. visit? On the surface at least, Davis’ illegally defiant behavior as a county clerk in Kentucky would hardly seem exemplary. Yet many have staunchly defended her--while others have contested her fundamentalist ideas about religious liberty.

Courage in Relationships: Conquering Vulnerability and Fear

It’s a profound—and paradoxical—truth that courage isn’t really courage at all unless there’s some fear attached to it. Without a moment’s hesitation before taking on something felt as hazardous, the act would exemplify not so much courage as foolhardiness or mindless impulsivity. As Mark Twain put it: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear."

Yogi Berra’s Mis-Quotes: Why They’re So Comically Endearing

On the advent of Yogi Berras’ passing this week at the age of 90, it seemed fitting for me to pay tribute to him here. But not so much for his being a sterling Hall of Fame catcher who helped lead his beloved Yankees to ten World Series victories, as for his wacky but so “winning” malapropisms—which over the years have delighted millions. . . .

What Does It Mean When We Stick Our Tongues Out?

Questions relating to sticking out one's tongue can be surprisingly complicated. For its meaning in babies and children may be quite different from adults doing the same thing. And there are so many nuances to it: Is the tongue sticking straight out? to the left? right? hanging down? curled? And what’s the accompanying facial expression and context in which it occurs? ...

Does Conditional Self-Acceptance Keep You From Being Happy?

Do you have a tendency to disavow compliments? Deny credit if what you accomplished was done with minimal effort? Or might you attribute your successes more to luck than to social skills, intelligence, or innate gifts? If any of these characterizations applies to you, you’re probably preventing yourself from experiencing what all of us most desire.

Now You See It, Now You Don’t: The Many Faces of Narcissism

Are writers on narcissism perhaps too quick to declare this core personality attribute dysfunctional? For in one way or another, narcissistic traits exist in us all. And those seriously lacking in narcissism—as in healthy narcissism—may be just as troubled, and have just as badly distorted a self-image, as those pernicious individuals “super-saturated” with it.

Does Your Partner Have Rage Attacks? Here's What to Do

If, for whatever reason—or possibly no good reason at all—your partner is blasting you, what do you need to do? Granted, many therapists would simply suggest that you leave the scene. For, as a matter of personal dignity and respect, you’re hardly obliged to tolerate such abuse. But although such a response is warranted, it can actually be dangerous. . . .

To Love Someone, Do You Really Need to Love Yourself First?

It’s become commonplace to proclaim that truly loving another depends on first loving yourself. But just how warranted is this maxim? Is it backed by science or academic research? Or is it little more than folk wisdom—or maybe, pseudo-wisdom? I’ve sought to track down any authoritative studies on this so-intriguing topic and . . .

What’s Subversive About Today's Humanism?

Humanism—the not so radical idea that you can be good without a god—doesn’t particularly sound like the next big subversive development in politics today. But with their numbers rapidly growing, humanists are beginning to realize that they can play a major role in influencing governmental policy.

What Really Makes Narcissists Tick?

Among other things, narcissists typically come across as arrogant, manipulative, entitled, and woefully lacking in empathy. But if these defining features are understood at a deeper level—as powerful psychological defenses to protect them from experiencing a truly frightening vulnerability—a quite different picture of them emerges. . . .

What Makes Romance So Romantic (and So Doomed)?

Once a relationship, however sweet, tender, and loving, has been domesticated. it can no longer be romantic. For some of the crucial things that make romance romantic—though they include feelings of amorousness and affection—also contain elements doomed to decay. So what is it about Romance that makes it so wondrous, yet ultimately so impossible to hold onto?

The Secret Reason So Many of Us Procrastinate

There’s no way of telling just how common this form of procrastination is. But given the phenomenon of psychological reactance, it’s safe to say that at some point you’ve probably been guilty of it yourself. That is, of delaying something which not only would be good for you to do but which you actually want to do. . . .

Trauma and the Freeze Response: Good, Bad, or Both?

Almost everyone is familiar with the fight-flight response—your reaction to a stimulus perceived as an imminent threat to your survival. However, less well-known is the fight-flight-freeze response, which adds a crucial dimension to how you’re likely to react when the situation confronting you overwhelms your coping capacities and leaves you paralyzed in fear.

Parenting Without Punishment: A Humanist Perspective, Part 3

Tragically, since recorded history corporal punishment has been the “default” system for disciplining children. In the past century, however, evidence demonstrating its ineffectiveness has mounted to the degree that it can no longer—whether ethically or pragmatically—be justified. It’s therefore regrettable that today it's still common in the U.S.

Parenting Without Punishment: A Humanist Perspective, Part 2

Given the particular situation, children (like all the rest of us) are doing the best they’re capable of. So what are some ways that parents might effectively confront their child’s annoying, hazardous, or otherwise troublesome behavior—without, that is, having to punish them for it?

Parenting Without Punishment: A Humanist Perspective, Part 1

However exasperating a child’s behavior may be, it’s still—in most instances—age-appropriate. So when kids misbehave (according, that is, to grown-up standards), they’re prompted to do so primarily because of powerful forces in them they lack the cognitive development to control.

9 Ways to Talk Yourself Out of Unnecessary Guilt

Feelings of guilt arise from betraying your ethical standards. As a psychological phenomenon, though, guilt can be quite thorny. For if you’re afflicted with a tyrannical superego—one that feels compelled to torment you for the slightest perceived infraction—you’ll be haunted by such feelings even when you haven’t done anything that culpable.

Enough About “Inner Demons” Already!

Maybe it was the 1000th time I heard that familiar, but fictitious, explanation: “It must have been his [her/their] inner demons that made them do it!” that I felt the strongest urge to scream. Why? Simply because the errant thoughts and behaviors we’re all prone to can almost always be understood without alluding to satanic forces insidiously goading us from within.

What’s the Key Imperative for Lasting Love?

In the idyllic state of romantic love, you typically attempt to secure the object of your passion by putting their wants and needs ahead of your own. It’s as though you’re saying to yourself: “So I can make you mine, I’ll make fulfilling your desires more important than my own.” But that relational stance yet includes a crucial contingency clause. . . .

Return of the King—LeBron James, That Is

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers' sweep of the Atlanta Hawks last night to capture the Eastern Conference title and earn themselves a trip to the NBA Championship Series is—certainly for Cavs fans—cause for considerable celebration. And what a vindication! . . .

What Keeps You From Being Unconditionally Self-Accepting?

The desire to become your personal best is normal—and it’s admirable. But wanting to become better than others, not so much . . . maybe not at all. For, so defined, this particular goal reflects an inflated, aggressive, and possibly domineering ego. If you genuinely see yourself as unique—for, after all, there’s never been anybody exactly like you, then . . .

Anxiety and Self-Doubt: Perfect Recipe for Underachievement

So many of us are afflicted with negative, left-over-from-childhood, programming that keep us from reaching our full potential. In my many years as a psychologist, the two self-defeating inscriptions I’ve encountered most are “I’m not good enough” and “I can’t succeed” (or “will fail”). And there are many other self-defeating beliefs that hold us back. . . .

What's the Downside of Self-Soothing?

When you’re feeling stressed, out-of-sorts, or on-edge, you should be able to turn to whatever offers you comfort. Still, some forms of self-soothing are much healthier, safer, and adaptive than others. And regrettably, certain ways of comforting yourself can carry a steep price tag—and in the end be seriously detrimental to both you and your relationships. . . .

Angry Tears

It’s become increasingly common for therapists to note that underlying your anger are feelings of hurt. In fact the more pronounced your anger, the greater the hurt it conceals. So if the phrase “angry tears” sounds oxymoronic to you, that’s because it is: It’s profoundly descriptive of human experience yet, on the face of it, certainly seems contradictory. . . .

What Causes You Inner Turmoil?

Being in heated conflict not with others but with yourself can—let’s face it—be agonizing. To be split down the middle, to endlessly waver between two (and sometimes more) options, can at its worst be almost unimaginably distressing. Obsessive to an extreme, it can lead to a paralysis of will (not to mention, much lost sleep). . . .

The Last Thing You Want Someone to Tell You

There may be no more disagreeable remark you can make than to tell someone: “I know you better than you know yourself.” Why? Simply because such a comment is almost always taken as a put-down. So whether or not your analysis is correct, they’re likely to be offended. Or they may feel embarrassed or humiliated by your so authoritatively “dissecting” them.

Unnaturally Good: The Plight of the Goody Two-Shoes

There’s authentic virtue, and then there’s a kind of chronic, not-quite-credible virtue that doesn’t—and can’t—reflect the individual’s true nature. Their righteous words and actions, though perceivable as virtuous, may not come from their heart but their head. And what they say may belie what they’re really thinking—may not, in essence, “capture” who they truly are.

The Blissful Torture of Unrequited Love

Whether fast or slow, it comes on hard—as powerful as a bludgeon, but one covered in the softest velvet. It’s two-faced as well, like an optical illusion. And it’s also supremely paradoxical. How can an unreturned love engender such ecstatic, sublime feelings? Yet the chemical dynamics of reciprocation fantasies can be incredibly powerful...

How to Respond When Your Partner's Bark Feels Like a Bite

The closer your attachment to someone, the more an effect their words will have on you. So assuming you’re in a committed relationship, how your partner addresses you can closely connect to how good, or secure, you feel about yourself. Moreover, given the nature of intimate relationships, your partner is as likely to be reactive to your words as you are to theirs...

The Danger of Trying to Possess Who You Love

When you become passionate about something, or someone, you want to hold onto it, attach yourself to it, possess it. Fascinated or enchanted, you experience a high, your spirits soar. So naturally you desire to have the object of your attraction close by, to make it your own—and permanently. So what’s the problem with this? Unfortunately, just about everything...