Monthly Archives: January 2013

‘Quiet’ makes noise in psychology circles

by M.C. Parker

Our culture made a virtue living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again.

– Anaïs Nin
(epigraph from the concluding chapter of

Quiet book cover

Growing up, were you ever told you were “too sensitive” or “too quiet”? Do you enjoy solitude, prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities, and would rather have an in-depth conversation than make small talk? If you answered yes to these questions, chances are you’re most likely an introvert, according to the introduction of New York Times bestseller Quiet by Susan Cain.

Subtitled The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Cain’s book seeks to redress the power imbalance between introverts and extroverts, and is a thoughtful treatise on the respect deserved of the quiet, introverted souls who make up as much as half the population.

Perhaps you had extroverted parents who tried to get you to “socialize” more, or the other way around: told to be “seen and not heard.” Either way, respecting the differences between introverts and extroverts instead of trying to make one more like the other, is the only logical way to proceed, notes Cain. In her quiet, methodical way, through diligent research of voluminous studies, she documents the characteristics and contributions of introverts in society.

Defined as a ‘person of contemplation,’ introverts are described as sensitive, reflective, serious, and shy. An extrovert, on the other hand, is defined as a ‘person of action’ and can be described as sociable, active, and dominant. Most of us fall on a continuum somewhere between the two extremes, and Cain makes the sensible argument that the two types complement each other.

The problem is that the extrovert personality has been labeled as the “cultural ideal” in North American society, particularly due to the heavyweight influence of the world of business, where assertiveness, sociability and outgoingness are seen as the norm, and the value of the reflective introvert largely ignored or discounted. Self-help gurus like Dale Carnegie and Tony Robbins and institutions like Harvard School of Business have all helped to promote this ideal. Cain counterbalances with many anecdotes, studies and examples that show introverts are just as good, if not better, at sales, leadership, and collaboration.

Exploring the science behind temperament, introverted children are found to be highly sensitive and reactive to their environment – experiencing sensory overload – hence the need for quiet and solitude. However, the extrovert is actually under-stimulated, hence the need for action, activity and excitement. There are also interesting cultural differences with the more introverted “soft power” personality favored in Asian culture.

Not to be confused with meekness, introverts can step into the spotlight when the cause is right, and examples are given of Rosa Parks, as well as artists, musicians, educators, etc. Working and living happily as an introvert in today’s society means understanding specific needs for downtime while respecting loved ones’ need to socialize and interact; Cain provides good advice for introverts on how to best function at work and at home.

Parents should note that introverts respond better to a gentle, soothing manner (“Very nice, keep up the good work”), while extroverts prefer assertive language (“You can do better!”). Teachers need to respect introverted children and not try to “cure” them of shyness; and praise their intense interests and passions as “they are the artists, engineers and thinkers of tomorrow,” says Cain. Some final words of advice: “The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk.”

© M.C. Parker, 2013. Former member, Professional Writers Association of Canada. For more information about this writer, please visit


Names CAN hurt – the art of verbal self-defense

by M.C. Parker

Chronic mistreatment the hallmark of verbal, emotional and psychological abuse

Teen girls gossiping ID-100103331

“Ha-ha!” Nelson gleefully taunts on favorite animated TV show The Simpsons. Remember those classic schoolyard chants like “Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah – Mary is a four-eyes,” or “Jimmy is a fatso”? When classmates call each other names, as all children are wont to do at one time or another, the “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me,” chant was a typical response – as though a protective force field that could break the evil name-calling spell.

But what happens when that torment happens repeatedly both on and off the playground, at school, home or work? The childhood rhyme doesn’t work when a loved one such as a parent or older sibling, or someone in a position of authority, such as a teacher or boss, is regularly putting you down and calling you names. It may not even be overt name-calling; it can be a general undermining of confidence. Since children have no frame of reference, they immediately accept the blame and internalize all criticism.

You can still come across the grown-up version of abusive behavior, from outright obscenities yelled out a car window as someone cuts you off, to the window-dressed, sophisticated language and labeling of the corporate work world, but it can be just as damaging. Schoolyard bullies can grow up to become workplace bullies. So how do you deal with verbal, emotional and psychological abuse in a productive, healthy manner?

How to identify “the systematic diminishment of another”

Psychological abuse includes acts such as belittling, denigrating, terrorizing, exploiting, emotional unresponsiveness, or corrupting a person’s to the point their well-being is at risk, according to Dr. Harriet MacMillan, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences and pediatrics at McMaster University.

“We are talking about extremes and the likelihood of harm, or risk of harm, resulting from the kinds of behavior that make a child feel worthless, unloved or unwanted,” she said, giving the example of a mother leaving her infant alone in a crib all day or a father involving his teenager in his drug habit.

Harmful forms of interaction

A parent raising their voice to a strident pitch after asking a child for the eighth time to put on their running shoes is not psychological abuse, says MacMillan. “But, yelling at a child every day and giving the message that the child is a terrible person, and that the parent regrets bringing the child into this world, is an example of a potentially very harmful form of interaction.”

Emotionally abusive traits have been defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as causing fear by intimidation, threatening any kind of physical harm, destruction of pets and property, and forcing isolation from family, friends, school or work, notes Wikipedia. You can also refer to an earlier article that helpfully lists basic human rights.

Social scientists believe it is a pervasive pattern of behavior. Andrew Vachss, author, attorney and former sex crimes investigator, defines emotional abuse as “the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event.”

Subtler emotionally abusive tactics include insults, put-downs, arbitrary and unpredictable inconsistency, and gaslighting (denial that previous abusive incidents occurred), notes Wikipedia. Of course, modern technology has led to new forms of abuse, by text messaging and online cyber-bullying.

Effects of emotional abuse

“The effects of psychological maltreatment during the first three years of life can be particularly profound,” says MacMillan. This form of mistreatment is more common in homes with multiple stresses, including family conflict, mental health issues, physical violence, depression or substance abuse.

Children whose families are characterized by interpersonal violence, including psychological aggression and verbal aggression, may exhibit a range of serious disorders, including chronic depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation and anger, according to one study. Another study reported that victims exhibit high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, drug addiction and alcoholism.

How to circumvent verbal abuse

“Hostile language — often called verbal abuse — is one of the worst problems people face today,” according to Suzette Haden Elgin, an expert in applied psycholinguistics. “Hostile language is as dangerous to health and well-being as toxic waste, not only because of its own destructive nature but because it so often escalates into physical violence.”

Elgin identifies two types of verbal aggressors, the first, who is merely ignorant and needs to be educated, and the second, more common, repeat offender, who sets off warning bells quickly. She suggests two effective strategies for responding: boring the aggressor to tears or affecting an emotionless computer mode.

Bore aggressor to tears

For the boring response, Elgin suggests saying something along the lines of “That reminds me of the time when I was a kid in North Bay…no, we were living in Paris then…and my aunt came to visit…and she had this little dog, you know the little ones with the big ears?…” The message the aggressor gets is that it’s too boring and annoying to attack you, so they leave off, noting that you don’t make a good victim.

Emotionless computer mode

The other approach is to make a simple statement without any emotion. For example, if someone who’s looking for something and blaming you for not being able to find it, Elgin provides some good sample emotionless responses.

“People get irritated when they can’t find things.”

“It’s very annoying not to be able to find things.”

“Misplaced [items] cause problems in every workplace [or home, or clinic, or whatever].”

“Nothing is more distressing than having to hunt for things.”

Although it may take awhile for the attacker to catch on, Elgin says once they do, they will once again note that you don’t make a good reactive victim and move on. The key is to avoid reacting in an emotional manner since that only adds fuel to the fire.

So the next time someone tries to verbally abuse you, instead of reacting emotionally or walking away, try boring them to tears, or repetitively empathically describing their complaint without any emotion.

Elgin’s book The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense offers a system for establishing a language environment in which hostile language interactions almost never happen, and if they do, are handled efficiently, effectively, and with no loss of face on either side.

Although verbal abuse is usually part and parcel of emotional abuse, dealing with it effectively is the first step to standing up for yourself and moving away from abusive treatment.

Image courtesy of Ambro/

© M.C. Parker, 2013. Member, Professional Writers Association of Canada. For more information about this writer, please visit

People can change: New Year’s Affirmations not Resolutions

by M.C. Parker

There’s nothing wrong with having goals and dreams

Setting goals like New Year’s resolutions give you something to shoot for. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, right? As the ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Just be sure to take “baby steps” as discussed in the humorous Bill Murray-Richard Dreyfus movie What About Bob?

ID-10043345 New Year

What do you want to change?

Huge, sweeping changes would be daunting for anyone, so, it’s much better to break it down into small “baby steps.” Changes both great and small all have a starting point – and that begins with an awareness that you want to change. One of the top goals is losing weight and the Mayo Clinic has some great tips. Other classic New Year’s resolutions include quitting smoking, drinking less, exercising more, and eating healthier – all wonderful changes that indicate a willingness to nurture and care for yourself.

If you’ve been using food, nicotine, alcohol or other drugs to self-medicate, you may want to begin thinking about what life would look like if you used these things in moderation, and then gradually sparingly or perhaps not at all.

Make a list of all the things you would like to improve in your life. It helps to write them down, read them out loud, think about how you might get to there.

Dream big, start small

Do you dislike your job? Do key relationships add to or detract from your happiness? It’s never too late to make changes. You’re hampered only by your imagination – so dream big, you only go around once. Begin taking small steps towards accomplishing the changes on your list.

Want to lose weight? Start by taking a 15-minute walk per day. That’s it. Once you can accomplish this daily, you’re ready to take your next baby step – maybe it’s two 15-minute walks per day or one 30-minute walk after dinner – you decide. From there you might join a gym and commit to going to one class per week, and gradually work your way up to a comfortable routine. Warning: exercise is addictive!

Want to quit smoking? Start by delaying your first cigarette of the day by 15 minutes. See if you can gradually wean yourself off smoking throughout the work day. Any time you make a change such as a move or a new job, these are actually great times to shed bad habits or at least rein them in. Again, you’re experimenting and pushing yourself towards being a non-smoker; and when you’re ready, it’s actually pretty easy.

Want a better job? If you’re not sure what type of job would make you happy, why not explore vocational counselling? If you already know what direction you want to go in, start researching the best professional associations and begin to attend meetings and network, perhaps find an internship or mentor. The trick is to surround yourself with people who are already doing the type of work you want to do.

Can you visualize yourself changing?

Change takes practice, it doesn’t happen overnight. Rather than simply stopping cold turkey, gradually replace an unhealthy behaviour with a healthy one. When you’re learning new, healthier techniques such as living as a non-smoker, joining a gym, cooking healthy meals, you can’t expect to hit it out of the park the first time or every time. Go easy on yourself.

Practice builds confidence and expertise for any activity; the trick is to get started and begin building it into your routine little by little, and before you know it, it’s become a new healthy habit in your life without even really trying.

For example, gradually replace smoking with meditation; junk food with healthier alternatives; inactivity for short walks; keep a journal to track the emotional triggers and determine healthy alternatives. For example, when you’re angry, rather than have a cigarette, practice meditation and deep breathing. If you’re lonely, rather than eat that doughnut or bag of chips, invite a friend for lunch or dinner. Instead of having a drink after work to deal with stress, hit the gym.

What would the outcome be?

The great thing about change is that instead of “some day,” you’re living the way you want to live now. Instead of seeing the future as some far off place, you’re living in the present moment, which makes for a much happier life.

By acting as though the future is already here, you start deciding to live your life as you want it to be right now.  That’s where New Year’s resolutions come in. They help lay the groundwork for living how you really want to, not just reacting the same old ways and feeling guilty or hopeless about it.

Other people have done it: quit smoking, lost weight, moved toward healthier and happier living. If there’s anyone in your life you admire and who has made these types of changes, ask for their support.

New Year’s Affirmations anyone?

Rather than New Year’s Resolutions, how about a list of affirmations about you and your life? The word “affirmation” has a much more positive ring than the bossy “resolution.” Not only that, self-affirmations put a positive spin on life and “affirm” certain attitudes and behavior, focusing on important qualities that make each of us unique. Self-affirmations allow us to ride out our missteps and errors, so that we keep our eyes on the prize. Instead of “no smoking” or “no junk food,” think “I lead a healthy life,” or “I enjoy healthy foods that give me energy.”

Here are a few sample affirmations to get you started:

– I value myself and what I have to contribute.

– I let go of life-depleting cravings.

– I let go of excess body weight.

– I take in new life-enhancing mature habits.

– I see what needs to be done and commit myself to action.

Celebrate your triumphs

Throughout the year, take the time to note your special achievements and milestones on a slip of paper and store them in a jar. Come next New Year’s Eve or Day, go through the notes and be sure to pat yourself on the back for everything you’ve done. Once you’ve acknowledged all that you’ve accomplished, you’re in the right frame of mind to start setting new goals and affirmations for the coming year. Happy New Year, indeed!

Illustration credit:

© M.C. Parker, 2013. Member, Professional Writers Association of Canada. For more information about this writer, please visit