The Millennial Mind

In 2010, the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research found that college students then were 40% less empathetic than those of 1980, with the steepest decline occurring during the last 10 years leading into 2010. Spearheading the study’s research was the University of Michigan’s own Sara H. Konrath, who published her findings in an online Personality and Social Psychology Review. In this review, Ms. Konrath discusses how self-reported empathy levels of college students back in 2010 had dramatically declined since 1980, the greatest period of decline taking place during the last ten years leading up to 2010. Using a technique known as cross-temporal meta-analysis to measure whether the data collected at that time had changed over the years, Konrath was able to determine that 75% of students in 2010 described themselves as being less empathetic than the average student from 30 years ago.

A psychologist at San Diego State University by the name of Jean Twenge has also stated that during this same period, students also self-reported that narcissism was becoming more prevalent amongst young adults. Perhaps these statistics help explain why it is that Generation Y (anyone born between 1982-2002), also known as the millennials, stands accused of being far less empathetic than those before it. Cynical, lazy, egocentric. Add a false sense of entitlement, and you’ve got yourself the basis of why many Baby Boomers claim they are so frustrated with today’s youth and their demanding need for things around them to change in order to satisfy their preferences.

While Sarah Konrath and her associates examined 13,737 college students in the U.S., researchers were also analyzing 72 studies of students with a mean age of 20 from 1979 to 2000, all of whom were assessed using the Davis Interpersonal Reactivity Index Test, which focuses on empathetic concern and the emotional response to the distress of others. The test also evaluates perspective taking, or the ability to imagine another person’s perspective. The phrase “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” comes to mind here.

Those that scored higher on the empathy assessment were more likely to exhibit indicative behaviors relative to their ranking. These behaviors could be anything ranging from offering to help a complete stranger carry their groceries or belongings, assisting a blind person safely across the street, allowing someone to go ahead of you in line at the grocery store because they have less to purchase, showing compassion to a homeless person, or by simply helping anyone in general. The researchers reported that there had been a 48% decrease in empathetic concern, as well as a 34% decrease in perspective taking, between 1979 and 2009. The researchers also reported that today’s college students were less likely to have empathetic feelings for people less fortunate than themselves. Konrath, who is also an affiliate of the University of Rochester’s Department of Psychiatry, concluded that young adults nowadays make up one of the most self-concerned, competitive, confident, and individualistic cohorts in recent history. Researchers also cited a previous 2005 study that found a decreased level of empathetic concern amongst medical interns.

So why are people today this way? Movies, social media, and violent video games have oftentimes been identified as potential explanations for this rapid decrease in empathy amongst the millennials. Edward O’Brien has cited research being done at the University of Michigan, which states that exposure to violent media outlets numbs people to the pain of others. It is theorized that social media networking, which many have said is to blame for the increase in physically distant young adults, allows people today to create a buffer between themselves and the outside world. In the past 30 years, Americans have become more likely to live alone and less likely to join groups of any kind. Several studies have found that this type of isolation from the world can take a significant toll on people’s attitudes towards others. It is suggested that by isolating themselves, it has become subsequently easier for today’s young adults to ignore the pain of others, or more alarmingly, inflict pain upon others. I can’t help but speculate that the growing emphasis on self by young people has come with a decreased emphasis on others.

Konrath went on to argue that part of the explanation for decreased levels of empathy may be found by examining how today’s young adults were raised as children. Changes in parenting styles between 1980 and the present day may help reveal why it is we are seeing such a rapid decline in empathy and a sudden increase in narcissism. Where we once focused on nurturing, but not spoiling our children, and on success and competition, young people today may be too busy worrying about themselves and their own issues that they do not have time to spend empathizing with others. I suppose when we consider Generation Y’s high aspirations and dismal economic prospects, and we factor in most young American’s risk-aversive, sedentary approach to life and work, we can see how someone like Joan Chiarmonte, head of the Roper Youth Report, would say that the gap between what young people have and what they want has never been greater. If you were around in the 60’s, then you might be reading this and thinking it all sounds vaguely familiar. In 1967, Time Magazine ran an article about the hippies, claiming that they were nothing more than dangerous, deluded, and lazy riff raff in desperate need of a crash course in civics. Go further back to the 1920’s and you will find that even back then, the youth of that time were described as being uncaring, shameless, lacking honor, and having no sense of duty. Knowing this, perhaps we need to ask if social scientists should be using scientific research to fuel unfounded stereotypes of today’s youth.

Psychology professor Jean Twenge of the San Diego State University stated that younger people are more self-assured than their parents, but observed that they were also more depressed. Since the creation of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index in 1979, thousands of students have completed this assessment while actively taking part in studies focused on things ranging from neural responses to others’ pain to levels of social conservatism. Using 14 years of research and 12 studies of generational differences based on data from 1.3 million young Americans, and by comparing the results of personality assessments distributed to baby boomers when they were under the age of 30 to those administered to millennials today, Twenge believes she knows why today’s youth is more confident, and more unhappy. Her findings became the basis of her book, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – And More Miserable Than Before. She believes that this is a result of misplaced emphasis on the self-esteem movement of the last few decades. In her book, Twenge goes on to explain that those belonging to Generation Y “speak the language of self as their native tongue. The individual has always come first, and feeling good about yourself has always been a primary virtue. Generation Me’s expectations are highly optimistic: They expect to go to college, to make lots of money, and perhaps even to be famous. Yet this generation enters a world in which college admissions are increasingly competitive, good jobs are hard to find and harder to keep, and basic necessities like housing and health care have skyrocketed in price. This is a time of soaring expectation and crushing realities.”

Self-assured Generation Y takes many things for granted. Where Baby Boomers may have been self-absorbed, young Americans today are self-important. They know they are special, they know they are independent, and they do not feel the need to contemplate these things. English teachers in the U.S. have reported an increasing number of students who are completely detached from the rest of the world, largely, they say, because they do not read or watch the news and are not exposed to it at home. They think that this detachment spread into their personal relationships, which are fast and frequent, and sometimes carried out primarily through electronic means. It is thought that this is why their interpersonal skills are best described as being cold. While these are certainly generalizations, as there are many empathetic young people out there, a large number of educators have discussed witnessing such trends in their classrooms, which is something that has been the subject of many lunchroom discussions in recent years.

We have seen what years of research, studies, and observation reveal about Generation Y’s shortcomings. But there are, as they say, two sides to every coin. So what exactly is it that this generation has going for it? A significant amount of data collected from recent studies shows millennials are actually surprisingly collaborative people. Experts say their research concludes that they are also talented, open-minded, versatile, and that many of their qualities, including their fondness for social media, make them well suited to the new economy. We can compare findings and statistics gathered today to those from the 80’s, but must do so with the understanding that the world we live in today is a very different world indeed. Consider all of the advances we have made in science, technology, and medicine alone. Look at how education has evolved, and all of the history, both good and bad, that has been made over the last 50+ years. Seeing these changes, and knowing how they’ve redefined the way we live our lives, is it really that surprising that people have changed over the years as well?

Professionally, Generation Y expects only that the workplace reflect their values, and they place great emphasis on the potential for personal growth. They seek out work that is meaningful to them, but their families always come first. Rebecca Ryan, author of Live First, Work Second, says that millennials love their parents. She goes on to describe them as individuals who abhor conflict, love to work in groups, and argues that they are not complainers or victims. She states that they are hard workers who simply want employment that is challenging to them. The Cone Millennial Case Study conducted back in 2006 found that today’s youth genuinely care about the companies they work for. More than half in their 20’s stated that they would rather be employed by companies that provide volunteer opportunities. They feel very strongly about working for a company that cares about and contributes to society, and are likely to refuse employment with a company seen as being irresponsible. Generation Y is also said to be highly motivated by their friendships, so much so that workers will choose jobs that allow them to be with or close to their friends.

Sun Life Financial in Canada recently took a poll that determined 90% of people aged 18-24 felt a great deal of stress due to economic instability and underemployment. Elliott Blair Smith, a reporter with Bloomberg News, wrote an article about professionals entering the U.S. workforce. In it he writes that they are finding careers that were once gateways to high paying and upwardly mobile lives. However, what they are finding now is that these once lucrative career paths are turning out to be nothing more than detours and dead ends. Evidence of this can be seen in how the average income for individuals aged 25-34 has fallen by 8% since 2007. Cliff Zukin, a Rutgers University professor and senior research fellow, believes that this generation will earn significantly less income during its lifetime. Sadly, this shift to a downwardly mobile lifestyle may be a lasting one. Bloomberg News reports that middle-income jobs are disappearing, as is evident when we consider the number of financial counselors and loan offices between the ages of 25-34, and how it has dropped by 40% since 2007. What’s more, the number of hours worked by young legal associates in law firms has also been steadily dropping. But perhaps the millennials have a game plan. Joanne Sujanski, of the Pittsburgh-based consulting firm Key Group, has been analyzing employment trends for nearly three decades. Her findings revealed that many millennials are actually turning their backs on what we would consider being traditional corporate careers, and are instead choosing to start their own businesses. Author of When Generations Collide, David Stillman, explains that Generation Y is of the “think mentality,” and oftentimes we see them go into business with friends. Additionally, the Pew Research Center Poll has also shown that Americans that are 18 years of age or older, and who are also entrepreneurs, are significantly more satisfied with their yearly income and their work life than those employed by corporations (who the heck wouldn’t be?).

Generation Y also brings its own special blend of characteristics to the political arena. A report by the New America Foundation entitled “Yes We Can: The Emergence of Millennials As A Political Foundation” states that “Millennials have brought with them a very different set of attitudes and behaviors than those of the youth who preceded them: a confidence and conventionality, a preference for the group consensus, an aversion to personal risk, and a self-image which tells them they are special and worthy of protection.” Additionally, the report went on to state that the individuals that make up Generation Y will, over their lifetimes, greatly strengthen the connection between citizens and the communities in which they live, between ordinary people and public institutions at all levels of government, and when they assume national leadership, they will then forge a new social contract.

Suffice it to say that a few things are pretty clear regarding Generation Y. Their views regarding a number of matters is drastically different than those of the Baby Boom generation. Furthermore, our troubled economic times are clearing having an adverse affect on their lives, impacting them on both a social and economic level. Much of the evidence on one side seems to conflict with what studies supporting the opposing view have found. But even with all that we’ve just covered, I think that it’s probably best that we not use scientific research as a means to fuel unfounded stereotypes about young Americans. There’s a lot of information out there on the matter. Some conclusions are good and some bad. I guess only time will tell who was right in the end.


Love | Hate

“I’m not blaming you, I’m just saying it’s all your fault!”

There are certain people we meet throughout our lives that really make life miserable for everyone around them. Whether you knew it at the time or not, I am sure we have all met at least one such person. They habitually blame anyone else for problems they created for themselves, have no genuine empathy (which is evident in how frequently you will witness them trying convince people of the contrary), and ALWAYS seem to be conjuring up some form of trouble. There is a subset of these individuals called “high conflict people”, the majority of which typically have some kind of personality disorder such as borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. Certain high-conflict people have some maladaptive personality traits, but not quite enough to constitute a full-blown personality disorder diagnosis. For these people , it is possible for them to have some self-awareness and make some attempts to change.

It important to note that not all people with BPD and NPD are HCP’s, and alternatively, not all HCP’s have a personality disorder. You will find that there are some that simply have the traits. Additionally, there is a significant number of people with BPD that try to avoid conflict in its entirety, and who are more likely to harm themselves than anyone else. Understanding the areas in which these disorders are inextricably intertwined allows us to focus on the behaviors instead of the reason for them. The term is also beneficial because it guides us in responding adequately when signs are present.

HCP’s (along with the others we already mentioned) have a very distinct personality pattern consisting of skewed or distorted emotions, actions, and thoughts. They are predictable in that they habitually avoid taking responsibility for their problems. Time and again, they argue against feedback, despite how helpful and truthful it may be. Furthermore, they constantly try to persuade anyone that will listen to agree with their uncompromisingly rigid points of view in an effort to help them attack and vilify those who become the focus of their blame.

A high-conflict person regards themselves as a victim or injured party, always claiming they are the target of someone else’s shortcomings (many times you will see this trait manifest itself in long winded, melodramatic, “woe is me”, theatrical  performances in which they take center stage). The issues they have may come and go, but it is their personality which keeps them in constant conflict. They never seem to learn from their experiences or mistakes. There is an old cliché I’ve used many times in the past that states “He would cut off his own nose to spite his face”. Many would agree, myself included, that this saying was written precisely for them, which becomes painfully evident when we review legal disputes.

High-conflict people are highly prone to the following thoughts, feelings, and actions:

  • They split, or engage in all-or-nothing thinking
  • Their negative feeling shape their reality (“feelings equal facts”…and they think they ALWAYS know better than EVERYONE else)
  • For the most part, their emotions are intense and fluctuate rapidly
  •  They have difficulty empathizing with others
  • They have a hard time accepting and healing from a loss
  • Their behaviors are extreme, in keeping with their distorted thoughts and feelings
  • They’re preoccupied with blaming other and do not take responsibility for their actions

When we say that HCP’s engage in all-or-nothing thinking we mean that they live in a world in which everything is black and white. It is common for them to not analyze situations they find themselves in hear different points of view, or consider other possible solutions to problems. Things must be their way, and they’re not willing to be flexible or compromise because it feels like everything is at stake. 

This next part never fails to be a source of amazement for me these days. An HCP’s negative feelings shape their reality (“feelings equal facts”). They base their view of themselves, situations, and others on what they’re feeling at that moment rather than objective reality. They cannot fathom why it is people around them might, and usually do, perceive them as being irrational. The truth is, many people find that they are dumbfounded by the raging, blaming, or self-destructive actions of the HCP.

Their emotions are extremely intense and fluctuate rapidly. This, in my opinion, tends to me one of the more readily noticeable traits and is particularly the definition of BPD and typical of vulnerable NP’s. Grandiose NP’s are excluded here, as they tend to manage their own shallow, empty feelings while simultaneously exploiting or manipulating others to carry out their wishes. They are extremely arrogant and insensitive, so much so that they are a knack for seriously hurting or infuriating the people around them while the HCP remains clueless about why others are making such a big commotion. An example of what a grandiose HCP might think, “This person is trying to insult me, but I am so superior that it doesn’t bother me at all. I’ll just point out his or her stupidity when next I have the chance.”

People with BPD are especially too self-absorbed and egotistic, just like those with NPD see others as chess pieces on the black and white chessboard of their lives, and therefore they have a very difficult time empathizing with others. 

It has been said that people facing huge losses go through the following stages to grieve:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

HCP’s, however, always seem to be stuck in the anger stage, and will fight for years to prevent the feeling of loss within a relationship they are involved in. It can be many years down the road, HCP’s will still experience intense emotions when something reminds them of a prior “abandonment, almost as if it just happened yesterday. HCP’s have been known to engage in:

  • Stalking
  • Getting revenge on those who leave (such as destroying possessions or threatening a family pet)
  • Prolonging divorce and custody of proceedings
  • Continually changing their mind about ending a relationship
  • Threatening to leave the relationship in a childish attempt to scare the other person into begging them to stay (this type of reassurance is like crack to them, they live for it)

With intense emotions comes extreme behaviors. They become so caught up with a particular target of blame that they take aggressive actions against their target. Shoving, hitting, spreading lies and rumors, obsessive stalking, and the silent treatment are all examples of some of the behaviors an HCP might engage in. Most of these excessive behaviors are directly linked to them losing control over their emotions, while others are related to their drive to control or dominate you. This might include hiding your personal items, keeping you from leaving a conversation, or threatening extreme action if you do not agree with them. 

Blaming others helps them feel safer, stronger, and better about themselves They’re CONSTANTLY in crisis and blind to the negative, self-sabotaging effects of their own behavior. In a sense, they are emotionally blind (even though they usually perceive things as being the exact opposite). These types of people fail to see correlation between their actions and their consequences, which results in the progression of their difficult behavior and disposition and growing conflicts. 

HCP’s usually try to persuade others over to their side, like negative advocates to be used against the targets of their blame. I like to refer to this as the blind leading the blind.  To avoid confronting their own behavior, HCP’s engage negative advocates to enable the things they do, convinced that they are always in the right. This is why nothing changes and their high-conflict situations continue. 

Family, friends, or professionals acquaintances are all examples of the type of people an HCP may try to make their negative advocates. Their purpose is to help in the blaming of another person, which subsequently escalates the conflict (also like crack to people of this sort). If the HCP is your partner, typical negative advocates are almost always your partner’s immediate (and almost always dysfunctional) family, friends, roommates, etc., who are convinced you are an abusive person to their innocent child, brother, friends, whatever the case may be. 

HCP’s are notorious for searching through information to identify the criteria that pertain to any of the relative disorders. They do this to see if they can see themselves, along with anyone around them, within the descriptions for each diagnosis. It is recommended by psychiatrists, therapists, and countless others who have any experience dealing with individuals which fall into any of these classifications, to have a private working theory that someone may be an HCP. People are strongly urged not to tell the person you suspect may be an HCP, as it is almost a sure bet that this will make you an enemy (as tends to be the case in these situations). The best way to approach the issue is to focus on strategies to help you be more effective in managing your relationship. It is also highly advisable to speak with a professional regarding your own mental health, as frequent interactions and exposure to these individuals can easily result in the deterioration of your own mental state. Living day to day with someone that exhibits these traits is anything but easy, and it goes without saying that if you choose to remain in a relationship with someone who has any combination of HCP, BPD, or NPD, it is going to require nerves of steal and the patience of god damned saint.

For example, someone with HC/BPD will consistently misinterpret what you and other people intend to mean in even the most non-threatening conversations. They have a tendency to be excessively controlling and volatile by nature, acting like they have a real chip on their shoulder. Other times, they can be loud and boisterous, kissing around in a sarcastic and childish manner, and always needing to be the center of attention (be it good or bad). Some have a “nice act”, or altruistic facade they use when around certain people. They are known to be patronizing and condescending at varying times, and many people in their lives will either walk on eggshells around them, withhold information from them intentionally, or avoid them altogether eventually, not knowing what will set off the next episode of irrationality. They can be VERY demanding of their friends and partners in terms of their expectations and because of this, they constantly have people “breaking-up” with them as a lover or friend. Those who are close to them are constantly experiencing high stress feelings and emotions, and are frustrated by always having to accommodate their demands and put out the fires they start. 

If you are reading this and realizing that you may be a high-conflict person, that is probably the single biggest step someone in your shoes can ever take. HCP’s very rarely are able to self-reflect because it is usually everyone else’s fault but theirs. I suggest that you consult with a GP and explain the problem with them. Your GP will probably know where you can turn to with your issue and direct you to a mental health professional best equipped to provide you the help you will need. These can be terribly destructive personality disorders, especially in mothers with children who adore their mommy and think her behavior is perfectly normal.

Beyond Boundaries

Trauma, whether psychological or physical in nature, can have lasting effects on the human psyche. A person who has suffered mistreatment will often struggle emotionally and socially throughout their life as a result of being abused. Trauma victims are also at an increased risk for developing depression, anxiety, substance abuse problems, and a myriad of other emotional disorders. However, one of the most difficult challenges they can expect to face will be cultivating healthy relationships. This is due to the impact that pain and trauma can have on one’s capacity to love. It is often devastating.

It begs the question of whether it is possible to be so damaged emotionally that you actually cannot love again. As time goes on, those who are less able to realize their own self-worth may also begin to internalize specific behaviors due to their inability to properly comprehend their circumstances. These tendencies will oftentimes become consolidated, transforming them into a definitive part of the person’s personality, rendering them incapable of achieving any sort of relationship satisfaction. Additionally, it is very common for someone that has been exposed to high levels of fear and stress to gradually lose their ability to be self-aware enough to stay in touch with their own feelings, which in turn affects their ability to relate to the feelings and experiences of others (such as an intimate partner).

In the absence of these skills, a person is left with a diminished ability to both give and receive love. Incapable of identifying and understanding the real reasons behind their struggles, some may begin to question why they are the way they are. For example, after a number of failed partnerships, one may adopt the mindset that it is safer to be self-sufficient than to risk letting themselves get close to someone else. All too often, as soon as they love someone, they are quickly let down. It is believed that if they rely on someone, then they are giving that other person the ability to hurt them. Under normal conditions, as we grow older, we embrace the realization that life is very complex. We learn through our experiences that we can trust certain people in some ways, but not in others, which usually keeps us from making unfair generalizations. However, this is seldom the way of it when you start to factor psychological reactions to stress into the equation. In much the same way as a child deals in absolutes, so, too, do the victims of abuse. They learn to keep an emotional distance between themselves and every other person. For them, trusting in the present or the future is almost impossible when they’ve been hurt in the past.

So, knowing all of this, how are we supposed to allow ourselves to trust someone when we live in a world where it seems as though all you hear about is how people hurt one another? How are we ever supposed to allow anyone else into our lives after having someone that was once close turn against us in an instant? Can we really let down the very defenses that have kept us safe and, in some cases, even alive? Even within my own life I have struggled with allowing people to get too close. I hid behind the assumption that everyone was the same, and because of this, that I would only open myself up to more pain should I let them in. I taught myself how to seem friendly while essentially keeping everyone around me at a distance. Anyone that did manage to get too close was immediately pushed away, which was typically the precursor to me launching them out of my life altogether. But after five years of slowly trying to put the pieces back together following the grisly eight years of mental abuse, physical torture, and shattered hopes that would ultimately shape me into who I am today, I was somehow starting to see things in a more rational way. I realized that the very thing I had been using to protect myself over the years might, in fact, be that which had also driven me further into isolation. In realizing that I was stifling my own capacity to live a fulfilling life, I eventually began to let myself open up again.

I had come to a crossroads in my life where I had to decide to let go of my survival mechanism so that I could begin to heal and make room for something worth living for. There came a point where, little by little, people began to come into my life and teach me what it meant to be able to trust. The more I saw them, the more I trusted them. They listened, they followed through on things, but most importantly, they never hurt me. The closer we became, the more thankful I was that I had been willing to trust and love again, even if I did so imperfectly. I learned that when it comes to trusting each other, we as people need to accept that our past is not our present. Being able to understand that what hurt me before was not a part of my life anymore was monumental. It opened the door for me to build incredibly deep and meaningful relationships with people for the first time since I was a child. Rather than pretending to be friendly, I was able to truly draw out the very best within me and create a new reality for myself. These days I live my life by a different credo:

“It is impossible to go through life without trust: That is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself.” – Graham Greene

Finding Purpose in Pain

Denial, withdrawal, and the isolation of one’s self from others. All are characteristic of a person experiencing the repercussions of deeply felt emotional pain. Self-inflicted pain, physically, mentally or emotionally, is far reaching and a stranger to no one. Show me an individual that claims to have never attempted to find a means of inflicting one form of pain or another on themselves at any given point in their lives, and I will show you the face of denial. But why would anyone want to feel pain?

The answer to that question is actually very straightforward: Because we want to feel alive, because we want to feel period. For some of us, pain has a purpose. It is all that remains to remind us that our hearts are still beating. A close friend once told me that the reason he liked being tattooed was because it was excruciating. He explained that this physical agony, which he actively sought out, was a means by which to feel something, anything at all. At the time I thought this to be a bit odd, however, after many years of observing those around me behave similarly in their own unique ways, I too have begun to see the benefits and advantages of feeling pain, even though my own personal pains are not physical.

If we ever wish to understand why it is we seek out and harbor pain, we must first start by finding the root or cause of it. We must identify and examine the instances in our pasts that set in motion the negative changes that would lead us to this very moment in time. Have we any hope within us of rectifying a problem and implementing the modifications necessary to forge a better existence, we must begin with an appreciation and comprehension of all the relevant factors that contributed to our present state of being. Only by doing this may we begin our journey in the pursuit of balance and harmony. We must realize that we need to always experience both ends of the broad spectrum of human emotions in order to fully appreciate them. To abuse one is to diminish its worth and, in very much the same way as any other addiction, you will eventually find that you require an increasing amount of it to achieve even remotely similar results. Sam Veda said it best: “A life devoid of struggles is a life bereft of happiness because the value of happiness is realized only after pain.”

Everyone has heard someone mouth the all too familiar platitudes we’ve grown to loathe and abhor: I share your pain, don’t dwell on it, you have to move on, this too shall pass, we all have problems, time heals all wounds, happiness is a choice, don’t linger in the past, there is someone worse off than you, etc. Personally, I find these to be less than helpful and mildly disingenuous, but I digress. We as humans would do well to teach ourselves how to take full advantage of both emotional pain and bliss. Discovering and using healthy outlets that work for us in times of need and heightened emotion is an ideal way of taking all of that energy, all of that joy or misery which has awakened the passion and fire within us, and using it to give birth to what may just end up being our greatest works.

Finding ways of harnessing all of this emotion is the key to becoming stronger and more resilient. I’ve found that when a person has dealt with a great deal of pain in the past, they are numbed or desensitized to the mundane issues that lie ahead and are able to venture forth in life with more confidence with respect to any future obstacles. How could those challenges yet to come possibly compare with what they’ve already endured to some extent in the past? In the end, it comes down to how you curtail your mindset and your actions to foster personal growth and development. All pain is not bad. It instills us with mental fortitude, can trigger and inspire us in ways we never thought possible, teaches us valuable life lessons, and so much more. But above all else, it is our own personal afflictions that teach us to treasure those special moments that, when all is said and done, truly make life worth living.

The Enemy Within

Whether it’s fleeting self-consciousness or paralyzing anxiety, once the balance of power between self-perception and reflected self-perception begins to shift in favor of the reflected, we begin venturing ever closer to the edge of a slippery slope. The onset is triggered when healthy reconsideration gives way to crippling self-doubt. Thoughts begin to manifest themselves as an undermining inner voice that represents the part of us that has turned against ourselves. It longs to rob us of our joy and enthusiasm, to break our spirits, and turn us into fundamentally one-dimensional people. It goes without saying that this is a true testament to human complexity and the innate ability we have to create and maintain obstacles in our lives as a means of self-sabotage. I’ve come to think of that inner voice as the enemy within. More often than not, we tend to be our own worst enemy and harshest critic. It is so easy to see the beauty in everyone around you, yet impossible to acknowledge that any exists within yourself. I always find it amusing when someone catches me staring at myself in a mirror and accuses me of being vain or narcissistic. Despite what may seem like egotism and conceit to an outsider looking in, my purpose for doing so couldn’t be any more to the contrary.

The desire to improve one’s self aesthetically, or otherwise, is what I believe to be an inherent and inescapable part of the human condition. However, there is a fine line between self improvements and unhealthy obsessions. Sadly, most people will spend their entire lives balancing on the precipice of an endless downward spiral. Even sadder still, a great deal of them may lose their footing at one point or another and, in doing so, themselves.

In a perfect world we would learn to just accept who we are and value our imperfections as much as we do our perfections. We don’t really live in a perfect world though do we? In reality, we exist in a state of perpetual war against ourselves. It’s a purely psychological battle being waged internally with no clearly defined enemy. A swami once said: “The hardest enemy to fight is the one who has outposts in your head.” It is only when there is no enemy within that the enemies without cannot hurt you.

I’ve often heard people attribute their lack of self-confidence to society and its arbitrary standards of beauty. They allow those standards to completely define their value as human beings. We tend to forget that the way we think of ourselves sets the standard for others. If a person’s self-worth is hinged on what other people think of them, and they live only for their reflection as seen in the eyes of others, then they are doomed to a life of emotional disruption and dysfunction.

In the end it all comes down to a single truth. Your worth can only come from one place and that is from within yourself. Thinking you are worthy, makes you worthy. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Tell yourself that, and then remember that you are the beholder. Challenge yourself to find beauty where others have not, including in yourself. Don’t be surprised when after you’ve discovered it, others also begin to take notice. That, after all, is the beauty of love…it grows.