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The problem with Kindness

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Dating and Romance: The Problem With Kindness
Wray Herbert 09/03/14 12:18 PM ET
Here’s a simple and sad fact: A lot of people who are married, or in long-term relationships, are not very compatible. Partners disagree about very basic stuff, like religion and politics and values, or they simply don’t find each other attractive. Just look at the divorce statistics.

This raises a knotty and important question. If choosing a partner is such an important life decision, why do so many of us get it wrong? Why does the reality of a relationship fail so often to match our ideals? Obviously there are a lot of little differences that emerge over time, and people do change, but it seems like we should at least get the fundamental issues straight.

Psychological scientists are very interested in this question, but most have focused on self-focused errors in romantic choice. That is, we choose romantic partners who are rich or beautiful or fertile or otherwise valuable, but these qualities may not always make for a deep and enduring relationship.

This reasoning also assumes that we simply reject any potential partner who doesn’t match our ideals. But do we? A team of researchers at the University of Toronto is offering a radical new idea about why we make so many poor relationship choices: We’re too nice. According to Samantha Joel and her colleagues, the human mind has strong and automatic prosocial tendencies — we don’t like inflicting social pain — and this deep-rooted kindness keeps men and women from rejecting partners — even incompatible partners. What’s more, we are unaware of our generosity’s power. We think we will be picky about our romantic partners, but in reality, rejecting people is easier said than done.

At least that’s the theory, which the Toronto scientists have been exploring in the lab. Here’s how:

They recruited young men and women who were single but interested in dating, and showed each of them three dating profiles. These profiles were ostensibly of other people in the study. Each participant chose the potential date he or she preferred — much as you would on a dating site. After the participants made their choices, they were given additional information about the person, including a photo that showed an unattractive man or woman. All were asked if they wanted to exchange contact information with this person. In other words, were they interested in the possibility of a date?

But here’s the important part of the experiment: Some of the participants were told that their potential date was somewhere in the lab, available to meet now. Others were told to imagine that this potential date was nearby and available. The scientists were trying to distinguish here between how people see themselves choosing a partner, hypothetically, and how they actually choose in real time. They predicted that the young men and women would be much less picky — less rejecting — when they thought a real person’s feelings were on the line.

And that’s exactly what they found. Only one in six opted to date the unattractive person when it was a hypothetical decision. They saw themselves as choosy. By contrast, more than a third said yes to a date when they thought the unattractive person was in the next room. Importantly, the scientists asked the participants afterward about their motives for making the choices they did. Were you worried about the other person’s feelings? Was guilt a factor? Or was this person a good match for you? Did you think he or she would be fun? They found that people were motivated by both self-interest and generosity of spirit. They were more excited about imminent dates (as opposed to hypothetical), but above and beyond that, they were more concerned about the other’s feelings than they thought they would be.

So we’ve all heard uplifting stories about the most popular student on campus going to the big dance with the ugly duckling or the awkward nerd. But that noble gesture is usually a one-time act of pity, and besides, we know the unattractive loser is really brilliant and funny and so forth. But what if physical attractiveness is not a factor? What if the incompatibility runs deeper than that, to core values?

Joel and her colleagues ran a second experiment to explore this question. It was for the most part identical to the study just described, except that instead of receiving an unattractive photograph, the participants learned about undesirable habits or traits of the potential date. These traits were previously identified by the participants as “deal killers” — differences on matters of politics or religion or values that were grounds for rejection. As before, some made a hypothetical choice based on this information, while others made what they thought was a real-life dating decision.

And the results were the same. As reported in a forthcoming article in the journal Psychological Science, participants in the real-life situation were significantly less likely to reject a potential date based on deal-killing character traits. Indeed, three-quarters of the participants who knew of these deal-killing traits opted to date the person anyway. And again, they were motivated by a reluctance to hurt another person’s feelings.

So is this a good thing? Well, it’s encouraging that people are so powerfully motivated by empathy and kindness, but what if these emotions are contributing to unhappy relationships? It’s not clear from these studies just how far people would be willing to go to accommodate undesirable suitors. It’s plausible, the scientists say, that sparing others’ feelings may become less important as the costs increase — the costs of long-term commitment, for example. On the other hand, empathy can grow as people become closer and more intimate. So it’s possible that, the more we invest in a relationship, the less we want to hurt our partners — and the more likely we are to stay.

Follow Wray Herbert’s reporting on psychological science in The Huffington Post and on Twitter at @wrayherbert. Follow Samantha Joel’s work at and on Twitter at @datingdecisions.



The sound of shutting the window

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‘No’ he screamed and stamped his feet . He was tired of listening and trying to understand all the time.

Tired of parents telling him what to do, with no affection when he actually tried. His little feet grew bigger, until they made the scary sound he wanted. He stamped until the ground shook and the floorboard cracked. His ‘no’ was now a real threat and the gleam in his eye of defiance lethal. He now finally got what he wanted;  Attention. His own attentive stare glared at her face. He remembered exactly how a face carved in contempt looked; His parents knew the expression exactly. Sometimes he remembered the lines in their faces so vividly that it almost felt like their girlfriend had the same look of disgust behind the contempt. Their lines superimposed on everyone else’s, almost like a lid almost fitting a box. He also remembered how they shut their windows so nobody could see their valuable assets and steal them. He knew how important it was to hide from thieves and couldn’t understand why the people at school complained over ‘he just blanked out’. Didn’t they know that was necessary to protect them from taking what is yours ?


It’s tough being a child when navigating in a dangerous world.

‘No, I won’t accept your drama!’ He shouted. When another flinch on her reignited more memories of withdrawal, he took her thin arm and held it tight. No one could win over him anymore. He would never be weak again

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The sound of stumbling

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Some stories have an effect on us. The following story stayed with me. 

Remember, life is precious

What You Learn When You Attempt Suicide DEC. 6, 2013 By


I learned that dying is hard. You wouldn’t think so, but it really is.

There’s all these options, you know? And you Google them because
you want to learn but Google keeps telling you not to do it. And
even after you do all the research, there’s such a huge chance that
you’ll fail miserably at it. That you’ll survive. And then you’ll
really be screwed. I learned that I really, really don’t like
Mountain Dew. I bought a can of it at the gas station to wash down
two bottles of pills. I’d never tried it before, honestly. I’m not
one to drink sodas—the gas hurts my throat as it goes down, the
bubbles piercing my throat, but I remember thinking, ‘Hey, might as
well try something new while I can.’ I learned that the
Chattahoochee River is a wonderland in the rain. Fat drops of water
burst on the rippled surface like the bubbles in my soda, spitting
out tiny splinters of mud in every direction when they hit the
ground. The water beat against the shore like one giant heart, its
color the perfect combination of burnt umber and ultramarine blue.
I learned that time is not linear, and the race between the rain
drops sliding across the car window is most definitely not a fair
fight. All of a sudden, I’m seven years old again, and it is
Christmas Eve and my parents are in the front of the car, driving
us back home. It’s pouring out. I pick my favorite raindrop—it’s
huge, as swollen as my belly (because, God, I ate so much red
jello), and the biggest raindrop of the bunch. It’s sliding fast,
beating every other pathetic little druplet, and then…not fair. It
split up into tenths of tiny pearls in the wind. It lost. Suddenly,
time warps and I’ve finished swallowing all the pills. I learned
that even trying to kill yourself will leave permanent wounds on
the people who love you. That your parents will know to call the
one person who might know where you are when you phone goes
straight to voicemail and they’re worried out of their minds. I
learned he knew I’d be at the river. As I dove in and out of
consciousness, I saw his blue shoes on the shiny pavement. They
were the ones I helped him pick out during Black Friday. Man, that
line was the longest one of our lives. I saw his hands dial 911. I
saw his face, wet from the rain. I learned there are some things
people will never forgive you for doing. For even trying to do. I
learned what charcoal tastes like, what hospitals smell like, what
a mother’s desperate grip feels like. When I was little, she would
sometimes grab my wrist instead of my hand to cross the street. I
always asked if she was mad when she did this. She never was. It’s
more than a decade later, and her hand is on my wrist. It feels
just as terrifying as it did then. I asked her if she was mad. She
said, “I love you.” I learned to pee with the door open. To have
nurses sitting in my room through sunrises and sunsets, each and
every one of them as kind and wonderful as the next, each and every
one of them as unwilling to let me close the damn door. But I
learned to live with it, to get over it. I learned that I really
love The Lion King and cheese pizza with ranch dressing. I wasn’t
allowed to eat pizza. I wasn’t allowed to eat anything that didn’t
taste like yellowed, wrinkled hospital sheets. But boy, the pizza
on all the TV commercials on the hospital screens looked like
steamy heaven. So I promised myself, as I watched Disney’s
best-movie-ever on repeat, that I would eat all of the pizza when I
got out. All of it. I learned about religion. I walked into my
apartment to find that my mostly atheist parents had set up an
altar for me. There was a picture of me in the middle, fifteen
pounds heavier that my current ghostly self, surrounded by
mismatched candles, angel statuettes, and a wooden sign painted
with the words “Today: Begin”. They prayed to a God I’m not sure
they even believe in. As the door slowly shut behind me, I learned
about love and heavy, heavy stomachfuls of regret. I learned that
living is hard. That my depression would constantly make me feel
like my lungs were filled with dark water and my legs made out of
melting wax. That I was going to have to try harder than most,
every single day of my life. But I also learned that the fight is
worth it. I mean, life is cheese pizza, rain drop races, and
fathers with hearts coated in gold. It is love and faith, and
though there might not be much we can do about how horrible
Mountain Dew is, life is worth sticking around for a second or two.
I learned that living is hard. But I learned that dying is much,
much harder. You should like Thought Catalog on Facebook here.
Tagged Depression, Raindrops, Recovery, Suicide Natalia
Castells-Esquivel Natalia Castells-Esquivel is a native of Mexico,
currently living with four (currently alive) plants in Atlanta. She



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The sound of children

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     "Eighty-four. Because at that age, you don't have to work anymore, and 
     you can spend all your time loving each other in your bedroom." (Judy, 
     "Once I'm done with kindergarten, I'm goin      o find me a wife."  
     (Tommy, 5) 


     "On the first date, they just tell each ot      her lies, and that usually 
     gets them interested enough to go for a         second date." (Mike, 10) 


     "You should never kiss a girl unless you       have enough bucks to buy her 
     a big ring and her own VCR, 'cause she'll want to have videos of the 
     wedding." (Jim,10) 

     "Never kiss in front of other people. It's a big embarrassing thing if 
     anybody sees you. But if nobody sees you, I might be willing to 
     try it with a handsome boy, but just for a few hours." (Kally, 9)  


     "It's better for girls to be single, but not for boys. Boys need  
     somebody to clean up after them." (Lynette, 9) 

     "It gives me a headache to think about that stuff. I'm just a kid. I 
     don't need that kind of trouble." (Kenny, 7) 


     "No one is sure why it happens, but I heard it has something to do  
     with how you smell. That's why perfume and deodorant are so popular." 
     (Jan, 9) 

     "I think you're supposed to get shot with an arrow or something, but 
     the rest of it isn't supposed to be so painful." (Harlen, 8)  ON WHAT 


     "Like an avalanche where you have to run for your life." (Roger, 9) 

     "If falling in love is anything like learning to spell, I don't want 
     to do it. It takes too long to learn." (Leo, 7) 


     "If you want to be loved by somebody who isn't already in your family, 
     it doesn't hurt to be beautiful." (Jeanne, 8) 

     "It isn't always just how you look. Look at me. I'm handsome like 
     anything and I haven't got anybody to marry me yet." (Gary, 7) 

     "Beauty is skin deep. But how rich you are can last a longtime." 
     (Christine, 9) 


     "They want to make sure their rings don't fall off, because they paid 
     good money for them." (David, 8) 


     "I'm in favor of love as long as it doesn't happen when The Simpsons 
     are on TV." (Anita, 6) 

     "Love will find you, even if you are trying to hide from it. I've been 
     trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding 
     me." (Bobby, 8) 

     "I'm not rushing into being in love. I'm finding fourth grade hard  
     enough." (Regina, 10) 


     "One of you should know how to write a check. Because, even if you  
     have tons of love, there is still going to be a lot of bills." (Ava 8) 


     "Tell them you own a whole bunch of candy stores." (Del, 6) 

     "Don't do things like have smelly, green sneakers. You might get 
     attention, but attention ain't the same thing as love." (Alonzo, 9) 

     "One way is to take the girl out to eat. Make sure it's something she 
     likes to eat. French fries usually works for me." (Bart, 9) 


     "Just see if the man picks up the check. That's how you can tell if 
     he's in love." (John, 9) 

     "Lovers will just be staring at each other and their food will get 
     cold. Other people care more about the food," (Brad, 8) 

     "It's love if they order one of those desserts that are on fire. They 
     like to order those because it's just like their hearts are on 
     fire."(Christine, 9) 


     "The person is thinking: Yeah, I really do love him, but I hope he 
     showers at least once a day." (Michelle, 9) 


     "You learn it right on the spot, when the gushy feelings get the best 
     of you." (Doug, 7) 

     "It might help if you watched soap operas all day." (Carin, 9)


     "It's never okay to kiss a boy. They always slobber all over 
     you...that's why I stopped doing it." (Jean, 10) 


     "Spend most of your time loving instead of going to work." (Tommy, 7) 

     "Don't forget your wife's name...that will mess up the love." 

     "Be a good kisser. It might make your wife forget that you never take 
     the trash out." (Randy, 8)



The sound of the attachment cry

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I`ve followed Ashana`s blog for a long time, since she writes about topics I need to know more about, and she writes clear and informative posts. Her personal story is tough to read, but it shows the importance of working with stopping abuse as early as possible. Here you find a reblog from one of her posts, about a topic most people find interesting: attachment.

Playing with an idea: attachment

Posted on October 30, 2013 by Ashana M 12 Comments

last a lifetimeAdults who were abused as children frequently find themselves in other harmful relationships. That is not any secret or anything new either. And there are also various ideas out there about why this happened: lack of self-esteem, repetition compulsion, or simply that harmful relationships have become more comfortable.

I’m not really satisfied with any of these as explanations. They lack a certain solidity to their reasoning. I have never once mistreated anyone just because they didn’t think much of themselves. Why should anyone mistreat me because of the problems I’m having with myself? And we may be a bit dysfunctional, but we aren’t totally mad. Who would wish abuse on themselves?

Still, I know self-harm is not uncommon among survivors. I’ve done it myself. But why the need to outsource our own self-hatred? Most of us can handle this just fine on our own. There is no need to involve anyone else.

So, I’m after a new explanation. And I think I’ve got one. Let me know what you think.

cycle of violenceChild abuse necessarily means that someone you are close to, someone you are dependent on not only for warmth but for survival, is harming you. And so the way you respond to that harm will necessarily be different than how you might respond to harm from a stranger, or from someone you don’t know as well.

First of all, you cannot flee. You especially cannot flee into the arms of a protective and comforting parent. Neither can you afford to be too aggressive in most cases: standing up for yourself is usually out of the question. Instead, you need to find a way to obtain comfort and protection from that very same person who is harming you.

Although the abusive parent is a frightening figure for the child, those are the arms you very often end up fleeing into. So I think perhaps you continue to do that.

In the beginnings of relationships, there is often little conflict. Both parties are on their best behaviour, and the bliss of new love often gives everyone enough of whatever they need to push long-standing problems into the background. So, it’s not hard to form an attachment to someone who has significant problems so long as you aren’t attuned to the small indications of danger.

Then once the problems begin, you respond to them in the same way you always have–not because you want this kind of thing, but because that has been the only reasonable option for so long. That response isn’t to flee. It isn’t to distance yourself from the relationship.  And it isn’t to establish ground rules or to otherwise assertively defend your own rights. If you do respond that way in the moment, the tendency later on is to relent and to feel that you were wrong to be so assertive–or to flee.

And what you do instead is to seek out the arms of the person harming you, just as you had no other choice but to do as a child.

In contrast, both assertiveness and retreat tend to drive away those interested in having power over others in relationships. Flight renders you out of reach and dull besides. Assertive behaviour is maddening. So rather than ending up in a nine-year mess–as I did–the whole thing collapses of its own weight in a matter of weeks or even days.

So maybe that’s a compulsion to repeat. You could say it is. But that implies an interest in the long-term outcome, which is further relational harm. And I don’t think that’s a goal. I think it’s really about the cage in your mind, the limitations of reality you grew up with, and learned set of facts, emotions, and behaviours that take hold of you while you are in a hot state of feeling afraid or hurt or, later on, guilty.

Harm typically damages feelings of attachment. Betrayal, as we all know, is often a death knell to love. But survivors of childhood abuse have been betrayed all their lives. They are able to maintain a bond in spite of it: they have been infinitely resourceful, and they know how to patch things up regardless of how frayed at the edges the relationship has become.

And so the harm continues.

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