rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
So I've been reading and pondering a book that was loaned to me not too long ago by my mother. Getting the Love You Want is an interesting relationship book, both for what it contains, and what it does not (so highly heteronormative). In a nutshell, its goal is the promotion of "the conscious marriage," defined as "a state of mind and a way of being based on acceptance, a willingness to grow and change, the courage to encounter one's own fear, and a conscious decision to act in loving ways."

There are a lot of elements to unpack. I'll touch on the omitted subjects first, mostly to remark that with the way the book is written, it doesn't necessarily come into any direct conflict with alternative relationship structures except in how it stresses the importance of "closing your exits" to create a critical degree of security in the relationship at hand (boiling down to making time for the relationship instead of avoiding it). Sexual in/compatibility isn't directly addressed, either.

Laying those elements aside, I'm still left pondering several aspects of the book's approach to marriage. It is based around some rather Freudian notions, in addition to a specific concept of individual development and relationship progression. Specifically - it posits that we have all experienced unmet childhood needs, which have deeply shaped our personas and affect who we are attracted to, date, and marry (generally, significant others who resemble our parents or caretakers in key ways). These things don't rise to the surface until an intermediate relationship stage is reached, when the interplay of those combined unmet needs leads to conflict and a power struggle. For the relationship to progress beyond the stage of the power struggle, it can be helpful to go through a series of exercises to identify those suppressed unmet needs, cope with the emotions that arise upon their identification, and develop concrete methods to ask for, give, and receive these things from one's partner.

I feel like the Freudian aspect is one that a person could take or leave, depending on one's perspective on developmental psychology. There's clearly a lot that happens in terms of emotional development when one is young, but it seems to me this basis leads to the creation of a "just so" story. On the flipside, we are all sample sizes of one, and I don't think there's any serious harm that would come from taking this perspective unless it was used deceptively. And deception just wouldn't really hang in this whole framework - at that point, it isn't much of a relationship anymore. And if it helps a person pinpoint his or her hangups, well, that's useful, regardless of the source of those hangups.

The "development" aspect of the book kind of made me rock back for a minute, because it made me realize a longstanding implicit assumption of mine - the notion that a human's lifetime is a developmental experience (emotionally and intellectually). This notion is highly ingrained, tied to a concept of lifelong "spiritual development" (which can occur whether one is religious or not). I operate under an assumption that a life-long developmental process is a fundamental aspect of the human experience. The thing to ponder is, what would be an alternative to this perspective? I don't think it's the notion of being "stuck" - that just brings you back to the context of development. Humans aren't simply random, either - memory comes into play, somehow. And regardless, I *do* think the book is correct that one's personal development is intimately tied to one's relationships with others, even though the book has defined the nature of those relationships a bit narrowly. Working through this line of thinking has been helpful in figuring out why I put emphasis on long-term relationships (best friend, family members) in thinking about my own identity and priorities.

Food for thought, at least.

I also suspect that, regardless of whether one accepts the underlying theories or not, the prescribed set of activities will nurture a relationship in concrete, pragmatic ways, by creating structured opportunities to talk about and practice good, kind, and loving behavior. Will I sit down and do them? I'm not sure yet. But I can't help thinking about them anyway.

There's also a section in the book on figuring out how to express and deal with anger in constructive ways. I hadn't thought about the subject so directly before, but it touches on the notion that it's important to be able to express and experience the full range of one's human emotions.


While work is busy, I have grabbed the closest fluffy read I could find, Gnarr, about the Icelandic comedian who unexpectedly launched a political career, starting a new political party, the Best Party. After that, I am going to read The Book on Forgiveness, and then I think Nonviolent Communication. I suspect these two will be thought-provoking as well.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Some people say that many of those who go into studies of psychology, do so because they experience some level of psychopathology that makes it difficult for them to relate to other human beings, and so they study psychology to obtain at least some level of working knowledge of how other human beings function, and use that knowledge to be able to function on at least a pseudo-normal level in society.

A basic and related concept presented by my Abnormal Psych professor is that everyone displays symptoms of different psychological diseases, but if the person generally isn't pathological he or she shouldn't freak out about it and make the giant leap to concluding he or she is ill. Thus, the boundaries between pseudo-normal and normal are thin or nonexistent.

Social Psychology was the only college course where the professor: (a) tested us on whether the material we learned came from the textbook or lecture, and (b) curved grades downward, such that my 94% turned into an A-minus or B-plus (don't remember which, and it hasn't really mattered, aside from the sting of diminished reward relative to effort). Aside from that, I found the course to be highly informative with respect to how individuals manage different kinds of social contexts (groupthink, the fundamental attribution error, self-fulfilling prophecies, stereotype threat, attitudes, persuasion and routes to persuasion, the diffusion of responsibility, cognitive dissonance, et cetera). As someone with strong empiricist leanings, I think the field appealed to me more than other subdisciplines like cognitive psychology or developmental psych, because it is rooted in experimental design and testing of human behavior.

There are just two small problems, for me. The first is that, as a field rooted in empirical research, findings generally deal with average behavior, not with individual behavior. And if there's anything I know about individual behavior, it's that it can be tremendously variable, to the point where it's often hard to distinguish signal from noise. It can also be affected and changed through education, which is a hopeful message for negative behavioral attributes (think stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination). So, how useful is it, really, on an individual level? It's also pretty hard to engender goodwill when pointing out someone's self-fulfilling prophecy.

The second problem is, how good are we, really, as individuals, at identifying and characterizing our own behavior and thought processes, as they relate to these identified behavior patterns? A recent, excellent long read might suggest that we're not really good at all at identifying what we know and what we don't know. What I know for myself is, I'm rarely certain, for it seems unwise to be certain after we become aware of how our individual perceptions and moods shape our memories of events.

And so, despite devoting their lifetimes to the study of human cognition and behavior, many psychologists persist in having just as many social abnormalities as the rest of society.

While my academic focus shifted away from psychology and towards animal behavior more broadly, I'm still grateful for the time I spent in the Psych department as an undergrad. If anything, I hope that having learned more about how humans behave, as compared to the behaviors humans hold up as ideals, can help me be a more compassionate and forgiving human being, myself.


Mar. 23rd, 2008 08:02 am
rebeccmeister: (Default)
I'm feeling a trifle busy these days. This past week, there was a two-day intensive workshop on an area of biological theory that's complex yet fascinating: several brilliant biologists flew in from out of town to converse on the subject (multilevel selection theory), and I felt like I was able to make many connections between different ideas. A lot of the connections are still on an intuitive level, so I can't quite explain them without doing a lot of back-explaining. And I don't really have time for that right now. Heh.

Along with the workshop, one of "my" undergrads has started her second series of intensive behavioral observations of leafcutter ant colonies: five days of ten hours of observations per day. Everyone in the lab is pitching in to help out, and this morning I'll take a five-hour shift so L gets a bit of a break.

I took yesterday off so that instead I could ride my bike to the Downtown Phoenix Public Market with some friends. Among other things, I bought two small tomato plants and a beautiful bunch of rainbow beets, but the award for most awesome purchase goes to [ profile] sblat for the purchase of a goose egg. They don't make goose-egg cartons, though: they gave her the egg in a styrofoam cup. We'd brought the trailer for ease of plant transport, so we were able to snuggle the egg into a cushy spot to ensure its survival. We also enjoyed a most delicious breakfast at Matt's Big Breakfast--one of the best breakfasts I've ever eaten, perhaps THE best.

In the afternoon, I hosted a backyard Crafternoon so I could get at least one of my myriad projects done (a long-overdue wedding gift) AND spend time with my friends. It was a perfect day to be crafty in the back yard, and everyone had a great time working on some incredibly creative projects. While crafting, I also twice-roasted some beets (mmmmm) and baked a chocolate cake in my giant cupcake cake pan. That cake pan produces an extremely adorable cake, if I may say so myself. If I remember to bring my camera home, I'll even take a picture of it.

And then there are the dinner parties: on Friday night, my ceramics instructor hosted a party at her house, where we enjoyed some utterly delicious foods (the brie and roasted figs were a definite winner, though it was hard to choose). Last night, a newlywed graduate student couple held an informal wedding party, which was also quite lovely up until I couldn't handle being around other people anymore. I enjoy solitude.

So. This morning I'll watch ants, and then I'll meet up with a high school friend who I haven't seen since graduation. I seem to be having a lot of reunions with old friends recently. If I'm lucky, I'll then have time to go to the grocery store. I can only hope.


rebeccmeister: (Default)

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