When the Empath Met the Narcissist

When the Empath Met the Narcissist

5 Signs Someone Is Manipulating You

About 10 years ago I had to break off a friendship when I finally realized how badly A. was manipulating me. I wish I had then known about these five signs to watch for:

(1) Knowing they’ve manipulated others.

This wouldn’t have helped me, at least not initially, with A. because I didn’t know about her past relationships with other people. But I did begin to wonder when I found out that she had been divorced three times.

(2) They’re the fast moving fast talking types.

A. did seem eager to pull me into a close relationship. I met her not long after my two closest friends had died, when I was looking to cultivate new friendships.

(3) They get impatient fast.

This is the one that should have set my alarm bells ringing. Whenever A. and I were together, we talked about her issues and did what she wanted to do. As long as I commiserated with her, everything was fine. But if I broached some other subject or started to talk about something that was happening my life, she’d quickly dismiss me with a cutting remark or her need to depart.

(4) They make you into the bad guy.

And if #3 didn’t alert me, this one certainly should have. Once I realized how self-centered A. was, I began trying to tell her how her actions hurt me. Her response: “Anything I do is neutral. It’s up to you to decide how you want to interpret it. So if you’re hurt, that’s your problem, not mine.”

(5) They play to your feelings.

This was the one that finally made me realize nothing was ever going to change with A. Once she learned the things that hurt, she routinely did them over and over again. And at times when one of her adult children had pushed her buttons, she’d turn on me viciously. She seemed to think that making me feel bad would make her feel better.

It took me a long time to figure out that my relationship with A. had to end because I first needed to come to two realizations:

  1. I am an empath.
  2. A. is a narcissist.

Although I usually try not to label people, in this case understanding and applying these two labels was exactly what I needed to do.

An empath is someone who feels other peoples’ emotions along with them. The empath doesn’t merely understand another person’s emotions but actually shares in experiencing them. We’re the ones who cry at sad movies and experience our friends’ grief, sadness, and joy.

A narcissist is in many ways the opposite of an empath. As psychiatry professor Thomas G. Plante explains:

You know you are around a narcissistic when someone brings all conversations back to them and their stories and interests. They really can’t listen for more than a mere moment to others (unless the topic is about them). Sure, they’ll ask about you or listen to your story or needs for just a minute but then they’ll get that glazed over or distracted look pretty fast or change the topic to something about them. They can’t put themselves in the shoes of others and can’t experience empathy in a sincere manner.

The following article explains why meetings between these two types can be so explosive.

The Toxic Attraction Between an Empath & a Narcissist.

Like me, Alex Myles realized she was an empath after she got involved in a “highly destructive relationship with a narcissist”:

The narcissist’s agenda is one of manipulation, it is imperative they are in a position whereby they can rise above others and be in control. The empath’s agenda is to love, heal and care. There is no balance and it is extremely unlikely there ever will be one. The more love and care an empath offers, the more powerful and in control a narcissist will become.

In my case, I kept trying to explain to A. how certain of her actions hurt me. The first few times she apologized, but the apology was always qualified: “I’m sorry if I hurt you” rather than “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” But before long she would treat me the same way and I’d be deeply hurt all over again.

I kept wondering why A. didn’t learn from what I explained to her. This is one of the characteristics of narcissists: They can’t learn from their mistakes because they don’t believe they make mistakes. Everything is always all the other person’s fault.

I finally realized that A.’s behavior would never change and that I had two choices: (1) to remain in the friendship and continue to be hurt frequently or (2) to exert my own right to be respected. In the end, I decided that I had to either change this relationship or break free of it. After one particularly hurtful episode, I told her that we had to talk about how she had treated me. Her reply was that she didn’t want to do that.

For a while she continued to email me, acting as if nothing had happened. I told her a couple of times that she should let me know when she was ready to talk about how she had treated me. She tried for a while longer to act as if nothing had happened, and eventually I stopped responding to those overtures. It has now been almost 10 years since our last communication.

Yes, A. treated me badly, but I continued to allow myself to be treated badly for much longer than I should have. I have since realized that empaths must learn to exert themselves by setting their own boundaries. A. was never going to stop abusing me as long as I let myself be abused. In the end, I had to require respect from her in order to maintain my own self-respect.

At first I thought I’d miss our friendship. However, I soon realized that I didn’t miss the emotional roller-coaster ride of interacting with someone whose approach to self-esteem was to demolish my self-esteem. In the end, this empath had to give herself permission to pursue self-protection.

Garth Stein on Writing

Garth Stein on Writing

Yesterday I attended Tacoma Community College’s Write in the Harbor regional writers conference at its Gig Harbor campus. Seattle writer Garth Stein, whose books include A Sudden Light (2014) and The Art of Racing in the Rain (2008), opened the morning with a talk on how he writes. (Stein also presented a keynote address on Friday night, which I was unable to attend.)

The title of Stein’s Saturday morning talk was “It’s All About the Rock.” As this title suggests, he’s a writer who loves metaphors, and he used several of them to explain writing to us.

Here’s my paraphrased notes on the meaning of that title:

For me, writing a book is like pushing a giant boulder up a hill. At the beginning, it’s about me, the writer. I have to start pushing that rock up the hill. But once I get the rock to the top of the hill, the rock takes over and starts rolling down the other side. That point is when the rock (the story) takes over. After that, it’s all about the rock, not about the writer.

Another metaphor Stein used to describe the writing process was his advice to “write fat, edit lean.” “Nobody loves a thin baby,” he said. When writing a first draft, fatten that baby up. Put in everything when you begin. But no one likes a fat LeBron James. The writer’s job in subsequent drafts is to put that baby on a diet, to go through the manuscript with great rigor to remove excess fat, to make it as lean as possible.

He used yet another metaphor to explain plot: Plots are not guided missiles that seek out the proper plce to land; they are ballistic missiles that are launched from a certain point and then land wherever their fixed trajectory takes them. If there’s a plot problem in chapter 46, the writer can’t fix the problem in that chapter. Instead, the writer must go back to where that plot point was launched and correct the problem there. A reader builds up a set of expectations about the story on the basis of the clues that the writer launches throughout the work. The writer must make sure that the story somehow satisfies those expectations.

Writers always want to know the details of how other writers work, and the conference participants had some typical questions for Stein:

  1. Does he write in long hand or on a computer? He writes on a computer with the program Scrivener. He also has a sit-to-stand desk and does much of his writing barefoot, standing up.
  2. Does he have a fixed writing routine? He usually spends mornings attending to business matters, then writes in the afternoon.
  3. What writing books does he recommend? These:
    • Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
    • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
    • The Writer’s Journey by Chris Vogler
    • Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

Stein concluded his talk with the reminder that writers must take the ego out of the writing process: it’s all about the book, not the writer. He also stressed that writers must be readers. After finishing a work of literary fiction, he told us, go back and reread the first chapter. If it’s a good book, the writer will have let you know by the end of that first chapter how the book will end.

Garth Stein is an interesting guy and an engaging speaker. If you ever have the opportunity to hear him in person, I encourage you to take advantage of it.

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I also love Scrivener, as do many writers. You can read how I use Scrivener to manage three blogs here.

Right now the folks at Literature and Latte are offering specials in observance of National Novel Writing Month. And you can always get a free trial version of the software to experiment with.



Here’s the Halloween edition of SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2015 WEEK #43.

share your world

If you were on a debate team, what general subject would you relish debating?

I actually was on the debating team for a short time in high school, but I think I only participated in one competition. The public speaking part just wasn’t for me.

I thought the debate team would be perfect for me because I loved doing research and was good at it. Preparing for debates was a giant research project. We had to make index cards that we’d carry in a box so we could pull out a relevant card and cite the argument and the source for whatever point we had to make. That was the part I loved.

But I nearly died of fright during my first and only competition. I then decided that I’d stick to writing research papers instead of speaking them. Research and writing I was good at. Public speaking, not so much.

What’s your strongest sense?

Vision. The way I always learned things was by making a mental picture of them. I still, to this day, know how to spell words by closing my eyes and looking at the word printed on a white page. When studying more complex subjects, I’d make lists that I would then commit to visual memory.

I’ve also always had a good eye for colors. I’m able to discern between close shades of the same general color and can call up colors in memory, which always made it easy to shop for clothes that coordinated with something I already owned.

Having just had cataract surgery on both eyes, I’m glad to have my good eyes back. I didn’t realize how much the cataracts had clouded my vision, especially for colors, until after I had surgery on one eye and could compare vision in that eye with vision in the other. Now that both eyes are repaired, the world is a once again a gloriously colorful place.

What would you name the autobiography of your life?

Wow. Answering this question is harder than it sounds. Here are some possibilities:

  • My Life as a Series of Research Projects
  • Lessons My Stepfather Taught Me
  • Finding My Voice, Finding My Self
  • No Regrets

But I think I’ll have to write my life story first to discover what the title should be.

List your favorite flavors or types of tea.

  • Earl Grey
  • Barry’s Irish Tea
  • Constant Comment

My husband and my daughter are really into learning about, sampling, and categorizing different types of tea. I’m much easier to please. I just want a cup of something warm that tastes good to me. Once I find a rut that I like, I’m content to remain stuck in it.

Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I’m grateful that I finally had cataract surgery in my second eye and can now see colors vividly again. I also no longer need corrective lenses for distance vision and need only minor corrections for reading.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Psychology Round-Up

Psychology Round-Up

Why Are Old Women Often The Face Of Evil In Fairy Tales And Folklore?

In time for Halloween, Elizabeth Blair looks at why evil in folklore and fairy tales is so often represented by an old woman. Maria Tatar, who teaches a course on folklore and mythology at Harvard, says “old women villains are especially scary because, historically, the most powerful person in a child’s life was the mother.”

Here’s another possible explanation:

Veronique Tadjo, a writer who grew up in the Ivory Coast, thinks there’s a fear of female power in general. She says a common figure in African folk tales is the old witch who destroys people’s souls.

See what Baba Yaga, a monstrous female figure of Russian folklore, and Yama Uba, an old woman from Japanese folklore, have in common with the old lady in Hansel and Gretel and the queen who poisons Snow White: “Elderly women in folk tales often use their knowledge and experience of the world to guide the troubled protagonist.” Blair concludes:

old women in fairy tales and folklore practically keep civilization together. They judge, reward, harm and heal; and they’re often the most intriguing characters in the story.

Why We Favorite Tweets, According To Science

How often do you mark someone’s tweet as a favorite? And why?

Thanks to a study published by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, this year we now have what amounts to an official taxonomy of faving behaviors. Conducted by Florian Meier and David Elsweiler from the University of Regensburg, Germany and Max L. Wilson from the University of Nottingham after extensive surveys with 606 Twitter users (many long-term users), the study sought to classify the myriad of individual reasons for favoriting a tweet in order to “enhance our understanding of what people want to do with Twitter.”

Read the explanations of what the study found out about why people mark certain tweets as favorites to see if they agree with your own practice.

And what did the study conclude? “findings highlight that the favoriting feature is currently being over-utilized for a range of motivations, whilst under-supporting many of them.”

Can We End the Meditation Madness?

I used to reject the notion of meditating out of hand because it seemed too religious to me. But when I discovered Dr. Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response, I was happy to adopt it to reduce my blood pressure. Since I performed it lying on my back in bed at night, I found that it also helped me fall asleep instead of lying awake with my mind whirring. (Placebo or not, whatever works…)

It’s always good to feel validated, so I was gratified to come across this article in the New York Times recently. Adam Grant notes “Meditation is exploding in popularity,” particularly in association with mindfulness. To discover why meditation is so popular he consulted meditation teachers, researchers, and practitioners. His conclusion: “Every benefit of the practice can be gained through other activities.” He cites a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that drew a similar conclusion:

“We found no evidence that meditation programs were better than any active treatment (i.e., drugs, exercise and other behavioral therapies).”

I’m gratified to find validation for what I discovered through my own research several years ago: with the relaxation response, I can achieve the benefits of meditating without having to meditate. As Grant says:

Evangelists, it’s time to stop judging. The next time you meet people who choose not to meditate, take a deep breath and let us relax in peace.

Are You Aware of Your Self-Defeating Habits?

man unfocusedDaniel Goleman, author of the seminal book Emotional Intelligence, offers advice and recognizing and overcoming one’s self-defeating habits, those “invisible emotional patterns” that are “habitual ways we react that get triggered over and over.” Such self-defeating habits “often stem from our learning early in life, and are so deeply ingrained that we repeat them over and over, despite the sometimes obvious ways in which they do not work.”

Read about Goleman’s five-step process for recognizing your own trigger sources:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the self-defeating habit.
  2. Be mindful.
  3. Remember the alternatives.
  4. Choose something better.
  5. Do this at every naturally occurring opportunity.

Recognizing your triggers is the necessary first part of cultivating more useful responses. If necessary, Goleman adds, a coach or therapist can help you develop new, more positive, habits of response.

How to Turn a Bad Day Around

Since this article is in the Harvard Business Review, it’s aimed at improving work productivity. However, the advice here can help anyone turn a bad day around for any purpose.

Amy Gallo begins the article with the assertion that happiness is a choice, according to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage. Gallo offers some ideas for recognizing the positive aspects of life even in the face of negative occurrences:

  • pinpoint the problem
  • take a moment to be grateful
  • take action
  • change your routine
  • reset realistic expectations
  • learn from your bad days to prevent future ones

In addition, she has some specific suggestions for how to achieve these goals. She concludes with two case studies that put these general ideas into specific contexts to illustrate how the principles work.

Remember: You can’t keep bad things from happening, but you can improve the way you respond to them.



Another week, another episode of SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2015 WEEK #42.

Are you usually late, early, or right on time?

I am ALWAYS early, sometimes dramatically so. I’m so afraid of being late that I always allow way more time than necessary to get to where I’m going. As near as I can figure, there are two reasons for this:

  1. I hate it when other people are late, especially those who are routinely late. I can understand an occasional emergency, but some people make a habit of showing up whenever suits them. These are the people who get my dander up.
  2. I’m a Virgo. It’s what we do.

If you were or are a writer do you prefer writing short stories, poems or novels?

writingNone of the above. I am strictly a writer of nonfiction. I recently took WordPress’s Blogging University course on poetry writing and even managed to produce a few poems that I thought were moderately good. But I’m way better at nonfiction.

One of my pet peeves is people who think that a writer practices on nonfiction until getting good enough to write fiction. It doesn’t work that way at all, at least not for me. I’ve tried writing short stories a few times—enough to realize that my brain doesn’t work that way. I cannot for the life of me come up with an interesting plot, although (of course) I’m very good at critiquing other writers’ plots.

Lots of writers produce work in several genres, but I’ll stick with what I’m good at: nonfiction.

Where did you live at age ten? Is it the same place or town you live now?

When I was 10 my mother took me to live with her parents on their farm while she was getting a divorce. I lived there for two years, and they were the happiest years of my childhood.

No, I don’t live there now. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been back since leaving the farm. But I visit it frequently in memory.

Would you rather be able to fly or breathe under water?

My idea of hell is being in a submarine (confinement in a small space) under water.

I’d much rather fly. In fact, I sometimes have dreams in which I am able to fly to a high place from which I can survey everything going on below. This is the perspective on life that I prefer.

Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

It’s my favorite time of year: baseball playoff time. I’m grateful for last week’s preliminary series (even if my Cardinals did get eliminated), and I’m very much looking forward to the World Series, which starts on Tuesday, between the NY Mets and the KC Royals.

I’m also looking forward to having cataract surgery on my other eye on Wednesday. I had the first eye done last month. It made such a dramatic difference that I’m eager to have the second one done so I’ll once again have a matched set. Three weeks after this second surgery, I’ll finally be able to get new reading glasses. My distance vision will be corrected by the implanted lenses.

I hope everyone has a good week. I’ll see you on Halloween!

On Creativity

On Creativity

These are the world’s “most creative” countries

Quartz reports on data compiled by the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) at the University of Toronto into the Global Creativity Index (GCI):

To create their ranking, researchers defined creativity as the product of three measurable variables, “the Three Ts”: technology, talent and tolerance.

“Technology” rankings were determined by looking at investment levels in research and development, plus patents per capita. National “talent” was evaluated as a composite of the percentage of adults with higher-education degrees and the percentage of workforce involved in creative industries. Interestingly, the third factor in MPI’s creativity index was “tolerance”: a ranking based on how each country treats its immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBT residents.

When looking at the results, it’s important to keep this in mind:

Based on MPI’s definition of creativity, it comes as no surprise that there’s a strong link between each nation’s creativity ranking and its overall economic development.

It’s also important to note that the terms this report evaluates comprise a concept of creativity different from our usual notion.

Head to head: Does every creative genius need a bitter rival?

Jacob Burak examines well known rivalries between creative geniuses:

  • painters John Constable and J.M.W. Turner
  • mathematicians Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz
  • researchers into electricity Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla
  • computer pioneers Steve Jobs and Bill Gates

Burak references psychological research that found:

rivals tend to be the same age, gender and social status. True rivals know each other and, indeed, often have long, enmeshed histories. Rivals are, by definition, evenly matched – but the higher the level of their attainment, the more they propel each other on.

And rivalry can exist between entire societies and social groups, not just between individuals.

Here’s how two of the world’s most famous psychologists described rivalries:

An especially profound exploration of rivalry comes from the psychologist Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, who said that we have more in common with our rivals than we would like to admit. The qualities in our rival that arouse our hostility are exactly the ones we prefer to repress in ourselves: weakness, anxiety, greed, aggression, lust and rudeness are a few common examples. Jung called this panoply of traits ‘the shadow’.

In Freudian theory, we defend ourselves from urges we don’t want to acknowledge by denying their existence and ‘projecting’ them onto others. This makes us attribute qualities, intentions and desires to others that are actually our own. According to Jung, such urges are buried deep within the ‘shadow’ part of our mind. The less cognisant we are of the shadow inside us, the darker and denser it becomes.

Say no more often. You’ll be happier and healthier.

A long time ago I knew a woman who was moderately successful at writing books for middle-grade readers. She wasn’t a household name by any means. She once told me that she had been asked to speak at her nephew’s school, not too far from her house.

“I can’t spend my time giving talks at schools,” she told me. I thought that giving that talk would probably increase her exposure among children and their parents, who buy the books, after all. “I need to spend my time writing my next book.”

This is one of the burning questions for aspiring writers: when to talk for free and sometimes even write for free to increase their name recognition and connect with a wider audience.

In this short article author Cory Doctorow explains that creative people need to say “no” more often, for exactly the reason that my writer acquaintance gave. The best part of the article is the sample letters, reproduced from Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist, used by writers such as E.B. White, Robert A. Heinlein, and Carl Sandburg to say “no” as gently and unobnoxiously as possible.

9 Tricks Brilliant Innovators Use To Come Up With Big Ideas

When I think about creativity, I think foremost of artists such as painters, writers, and musicians. But creativity plays a large part in innovation in many life areas, including business (see the article above on the world’s most creative countries).

This article from Inc., aimed at business people, catalogs the best practices for finding ideas from the book The Idea Hunter: How To Find The Best Ideas And Make Them Happen by Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer.

Read the full explanations of why these suggestions work:

  • Get to know your competition.
  • Listen to your customers.
  • Take long walks.
  • Invite in diverse opinions.
  • Keep careful track of your ideas, and refer back to them when you’re stuck.
  • Set aside time to pursue big ideas.
  • Pay attention to news and culture.
  • Schedule downtime.
  • Turn your attention elsewhere.

With just a small change of emphasis, most of these suggestions can be adapted by people in fields other than business.

Why Creative Play Matters

Katie Simpson doesn’t break any new ground here, but it’s good to be reminded occasionally about why it’s good to take time to look up at the clouds, to color a picture with crayons, to mold a figure out of kids’ clay, or just make up stories about people who walk past you.

Back To The Future? We’re Already There. — Medium

“Drivers? Where we’re going we don’t need drivers.” That’s what Doc Brown should have said. But instead, he uttered the …

Source: Back To The Future? We’re Already There. — Medium

World Osteoporosis Day

World Osteoporosis Day

Today is World Osteoporosis Day, sponsored by the International Osteoporosis Foundation. This global event has been observed on October 20th since 1997.

Osteoporosis is the loss of bone strength over time. The process is usually gradual. Eventually the condition may become so severe that the stress on bones of normal activities such as sitting, standing, or coughing can cause a fracture. Often, a person’s first sign of osteoporosis is a broken bone. Other signs of advancing osteoporosis can be a loss of height or a dowager’s hump (rounded spine between the shoulders). The risk of osteoporosis increases with age.

We usually associate osteoporosis with women, particularly post-menopausal women. In fact, women over age 50 are the group at highest risk of developing osteoporosis. However, men also develop the condition. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis affects one in five men over age 50; men are more likely to have a bone fracture related to osteoporosis than they are to develop prostate cancer. Although men do not experience the same rapid bone loss that women do after menopause, by age 70 both men and women lose bone mass at about the same rate.

Bones are made of living tissue and require the right nutrients to stay strong and healthy. One key to preventing osteoporosis is to eat a healthy diet. On the International Osteoporosis Foundation web site you can download a patient brochure that outlines the proper diet for building and maintaining bone strength throughout life. You can also learn which nutrients and macronutrients support bone health.

A second key to maintaining strong bones is regular exercise. Weight-bearing exercises, the kind that make your muscles work against gravity, are best for maintaining strong bones when done three to four times a week. In addition, strength and balance exercises strengthen muscles and may help prevent falls that can lead to bone fractures.

Every year World Osteoporosis Day reminds us to do all we can to build and maintain strong bones. Eating right and exercising regularly are important steps. Your doctor can order a bone density test to determine if you are developing osteoporosis and prescribe medication to help maintain bone health.



It’s Saturday again, my usual day for undertaking Cee’s Share Your World challenge. Find this week’s challenge here: SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2015 WEEK #41.

What genre of music do you like?

Nowadays, I’m pretty much classical music all the way: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt, and those guys. The only other music I occasionally listen to is classic rock from the late 1950’s and the 1960s: Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, Dylan, Stones—and the Beatles, of course.

What is the worst thing you ate this last week?

I didn’t eat anything outstandingly bad. Maybe this is another aspect of getting older: You don’t have to do (or eat, or sit through, or associate with) anything or anyone you don’t like.

I think we may have just hit upon the reason why, every week, I answer the bonus question with “I’m grateful for everything from last week.”

Would you like to be famous? In what way?

I would like my NAME to be famous as the author of informative, definitive works of nonfiction (e.g., Devil in the White City, The Soul of an Octopus, Quiet).

But I don’t want to be famous myself, mostly because I’m terribly unphotogenic and would therefore not want to have my picture all over the tabloids and entertainment shows and web sites.

So if I do ever become a famous author, I’ll have to become a recluse like J.D. Salinger or Elena Ferrante.

Complete this sentence: This sandwich could really use some …

mayoThis sandwich could really use some mayonnaise. I have always loved mayonnaise on all sandwiches, no matter what else was between the slices of bread. And cheese. Just about any sandwich can be improved by a slice of cheddar, Havarti, or American cheese.

However, this whole discussion is merely hypothetical, since we are now following a low-carb diet and therefore almost never eat sandwiches any more. (That doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally desire a sandwich on good bread, featuring cheese and mayonnaise.)

Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I’m grateful for everything from last week. I look forward to more of the same in the upcoming week.

I hope everyone has a good week.

Psychology Round-Up

Psychology Round-Up

How The Impact Bias Affects Your Expectations Of Happiness

It seems to make sense that an extreme experience, such as a catastrophic injury, would affect our future level of happiness. But, writes James Clear, the truth is much more counter-intuitive. Research has shown that six months after a traumatic event, people’s happiness levels are about the same as they were before the event.

The inaccuracy of our expectations about how major experiences will affect us is called the impact bias:

Researchers refer to this as the “impact bias” because we tend to overestimate the length or intensity of happiness that major events will create. The impact bias is one example of affective forecasting, which is a social psychology phenomenon that refers to our generally terrible ability as humans to predict our future emotional states.

Moreover, the impact bias applies to positive experiences, such as winning the lottery, as well as to negative ones.

Read why Clear draws the following two conclusions from a study of the impact bias:

  • First, we have a tendency to focus on the thing that changes and forget about the things that don’t change.
  • Second, a challenge is an impediment to a particular thing, not to you as a person.

The Benefits of Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty

Back in 1971, when my husband and I left our families in New England for St. Louis, where he would attend school and I would start my first teaching job, my mother-in-law hosted a “happy/sad party.” She was happy that we were going to start our new life together, but sad that we were going so far away.

Even though we naturally seek clarity, it’s important to understand that people, including ourselves, can feel contradictory emotions about a single situation or event. In his article for The Atlantic, Julie Beck interviews Jamie Holmes, author of Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, about “the many ways that uncertainty shapes people’s behavior, and what gets lost when people seek clarity above all else.”

Says Holmes:

I think the reason why ambivalence is just downplayed in general, is because we don’t like ambiguity. We don’t like to think of intentions as fluid or ambivalent and I think they are, far more often than we acknowledge.

For True Freedom, Learn to Deal With Uncertainty

In the New York Times, financial planner Carl Richards discusses the uncertainty of a life in which our fortunes fluctuate in relation to the economic conditions of a particular time. He bought a house that appreciated quickly in value, then borrowed against the equity in the house to start a business. But when the economy tanked, his house became worth less than he had paid for it and his business, closely tied to the local economy, floundered as well. But a couple of years later, his life changed again: “He now has superpositive net worth. His relationships are better than ever.”

Richards writes that he has asked himself many times what he did wrong to deserve the bad experience and what he did right to deserve the the better experience. But deserve, he says, is loaded language. It’s a myth that we “deserve” any specific outcome:

For years, many of us have believed this myth. In reality, life is irreducibly uncertain. That doesn’t make us more or less successful or more or less happy. The true joy in life, the real peace, comes when we let go of the idea that we deserve a predetermined happy ending.

Whatever the goal, we can learn to trust ourselves and deal with the reality of uncertainty. And for me that’s become the definition of true freedom.