Social blind spot

Orphaning the Sexual Instinct

Few ideas have had more of an impact in the last couple months on my way of thinking than Robert A. Johnson's first chapter in Inner Gold.  I don't even think I finished the chapter- it was the first two pages that hit me between the eyes and then I returned the book to the library, having needed time to digest what I just read.  If you were a psychology student, you might have studied him already in school, Johnson being one of the best-known Jungian writers on earth today, but having just found him, I am so excited to read every single one of his books.  I love Carl Jung and this guy now.

His first chapter is on projection.  You know how we develop crushes on people and we absolutely have to have that person in our lives.  It's embarassing to need or want someone that bad, especially if you know you don't have a chance.  At least I find it something to be embarassed about.  Well Johnson lays it out in the most compassionate of terms- basically we all have inner gold- our sense of value and worth, and sometimes, he says, that gold is too heavy for us to carry and we need someone else to carry it for us.  If that person is willing, ie. if they have the "psychic container" for the gold we can't carry, they'll smile and carry it for us until we demand it back.  Crushes on your teacher are like this- you have a crush on your grade three teacher and then you outgrow it.  The teacher knows you will, but she makes a fuss over your Valentine's Day flowers anyway and put them in some water. On the other hand, they might not have the psychic container for it, and it might make them feel really uncomfortable.

That's a phrase I keep coming back to- container.  Johnson says, "All psychic energy needs a container".  Just those six words- I've been seeing how they can apply on so many levels. 

If you know about the three instincts in the Enneagram, you know the Sexual instinct (the need for intensity, the preference for one-on-one interactions over group interactions, and the enjoyment of increasing the intensity in a group, like cracking a joke instead of keeping the pace and tenor of the conversation on a regular "beat".  You know Seinfeld's low talkers?  Well close talkers- there's a good chance they stand close to you to feel the intensity.  But I mean, that's just an example.  Not everyone with the Sexual instinct stands close to you when they talk to you, but it is a thing.)  I've written about this before- you can google it for more examples.

Anyway, I've been noticing amongst my friends a lot of Social couples having children who have the Sexual instinct.  (I seriously think we have children to balance us out, because Mr. M is the opposite- he's a Sexual 8 with a Social daughter.)  But yeah, I can name quite a few couples with a laid-back Social instinct with crazy intense children, the container for which the parents just don't have.  If the parents don't realize this and the intensity annoys them, they tend to "orphan" it.  Like cringe and be like, "Ooohhh, XXX, just settle down, PLEASE!"  It can happen between spouses too- I know a couple where the husband can get really intense- like either mad or excited and he'll raise his voice and his wife will bristle and say, "Just lower your voice- why do you have to get so angry?"  And he'll be like, "I'm not angry", and she'll roll her eyes really slowly and dramatically.  I guess I would call that orphaning the sexual instinct, like not holding it, not honoring it because the wife just doesn't have the Sexual instinct (ie. Not to say she doesn't have sex!- big difference- the Instincts are technical terms- it just means she doesn't have the instinct to instensify the energy in a conversation- she's fine with her Social instinct, where the energy is a lot more spread out and democratic amongst the group).

We have some families at school where only one kid in the family has the Sexual instinct and it's sad to watch because they have no container for it- neither of their parents knows how to "hold" it and they end up condemning it, or to borrow this phrase from a recent post of Fred Wilson's, "orphaning it", and it takes quite a few years- decades even- for you to figure out how to handle all that instensity in a graceful way if you don't have someone to emulate how they handle that energy. The Sexual instinct can be a curse that way, but I mean, once you create your own container for it, you're sailing.

Anyway, this is just what's been brewing in my head lately.  Looking forward to finding more applications. 

Neuroscience of Social: Attunement

My mom read me some advice out of a magazine once, that if you're going to lose weight, you need to get yourself a full-length mirror.  What you can't see, you can't heal. 

Something similar was said at a music workshop; if you want to become a better musician, record and listen to yourself repeatedly.  What you can't hear, you can't improve.

This very same principle applies if you're lonely or feel awkward around people.  Learn how to observe yourself through mindfulness.  If you can't attune to yourself through your highs and lows, you're going to find it hard to find a lover or a group of friends who are willing or able to attune to you in compassion and love.

Attunement is the result of feeling connected to someone, like your emotional state has been "felt" by them, or as Dan Siegel defines it, "how one person... focuses attention on the internal world of another".  Since pre-civilization, our brains have come with a circuitry that allows us to understand others' minds. He describes it as being able to come up with maps of other peoples' attention and intentions.  As the most fundamental example, when parents are in the present moment with their children, "the child's internal world is seen with clarity by the parent, and the parent comes to resonate with the child's state.  This is attunement."  Attunement has as its foundation an approach of curiosity, openness, acceptance and love (COAL), which contributes to healthier intimate relationships, resilience and overall health for the child.

Lily Aldrige and Taylor Swift are best buds.

As adults, having friends (and a spouse) is important to our mental, emotional, and physical health, and has been scienticially shown to affect how long we live.  Single people die from every disease at a higher rate than married people, and several studies have shown that people with only a few social ties and memberships in groups are between two and four times more likely to die sooner than people with many social ties, all other factors taken into consideration.  Loneliness is even a factor in developping cardiovascular disease, Alzheimers, and cancer.  "It is deeply human to have a strong need to belong, to feel a part of something larger than oneself, to be in relationship with others in meaningful and supportive ways" (Kabat-Zinn, pg. 264)

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of the most famous neuroscientists because he's the one who first paired mindfulness with neuroscience at UMass in the 1970's.  In recent times, a Stanford team took his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program that he designed and applied it to people with social anxiety disorder.  Those subjects showed improvements in anxiety and depression and an increase in self-esteem. Furthermore,

when asked to practice awareness of breathing in the scanner, the MBSR group also showed what the researchers describe as decreased negative emotion experience, as well as marked reduction of activity in the amygdala, and increased activity in brain regions involved in regulating where one's attention goes. 

When others reject us or skim over us, it makes it hard for us to look at ourselves.  Majorly embarassing yourself in front of a crush usually makes you want to peel your skin off and get a giant eraser to remove the episode from your brain.  That self-aversion is not being able to "see" yourself.  When you can sit with yourself through compassionate awareness in your neediness and pain, you're developping your "inner observer", which Siegel says is like becoming your own best friend.

So if you're wanting to develop better or more relationships, start by cultivating a mindfulness practice.  You need to see yourself in all your stressful, lovely, delightful, and varied states before you can be "seen" by others in all your states.  In other words, you need to love yourself before you can be loved by others.

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