Boasting, Sometimes Regretting


Remember to Forget?

Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess.

- Samuel Johnson

If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from

I've included these quotes mainly to ensure that I don't forget that no one is all bad.  Everyone generally has an explanation for what they do that probably doesn't include, "I did it because I'm greedy and selfish" but instead goes something like, "I did it because I thought it would be okay," or because "It seemed like a good idea at the time," or even, "I did it because I thought no one would ever know."  It's a good idea to maintain compassion (in my opinion, even for someone like Timothy McVeigh).


The closer you come to being yourself on the screen, the longer you last
[because] on television there's always the risk of a quick shot in an off-guard moment,
a chance insight; and if you're playing a part, you'll be exposed.

- Jack Lescoulie

The development of "imposture" in adolescent males parallels eating disorders in females.  Adolescent boys prove themselves not by starving themselves into a beautiful figure but by pursuing perfection.  Impostors often work by drawing attention away from themselves and onto the imperfections of others.  They are actually aware of their audience, particularly in their ability to discover what their audience is ready and eager to believe.  (The ordinary braggart offends an audience by disregarding their feelings.  Imposters are masters of flattery and appear empathetic, especially when such qualities impress their audience.)  There are several narcissistic themes here: early mimicry skills, charm, exaggeration and self-enhancement, perfectionism, and audience awareness.

Narcissism is a failure to go beyond one's own perspective and see another as a separate individual with different needs and points of view.

High self-monitoring sensitises those who practice it to their impact on other people and allows them to mask any thoughts of personal incompetence which might accidentally surface.  They usually perceive themselves as paying a more central role in other individuals' thoughts and actions than is usually the case.

Source: Competence Considered edited by Robert J Sternberg and John Kolligian

The Secret Lives of Just About Everybody

by Benedict Carey

One mislaid credit card bill or a single dangling e-mail message on the home computer would have ended everything: the marriage, the big-time career, the reputation for decency he had built over a lifetime.  So for more than 10 years, he ruthlessly kept his two identities apart: one lived in a Westchester hamlet and worked in a New York office, and the other operated mainly in clubs, airport bars and brothels.  One warmly greeted clients and waved to neighbours, sometimes only hours after the other had stumbled back from a "work" meeting with prostitutes or cocaine dealers.  In the end, it was a harmless computer pop-up advertisement for security software, claiming that his online life was being "continually monitored," that sent this New York real estate developer into a panic and to a therapist.

The man's double life is an extreme example of how mental anguish can cleave an identity into pieces, said his psychiatrist, Dr Jay S Kwawer, director of clinical education at the William Alanson White Institute in New York.  But psychologists say that most normal adults are well equipped to start a secret life, if not to sustain it.  The ability to hold a secret is fundamental to healthy social development, they say, and the desire to sample other identities - to reinvent oneself, to pretend - can last well into adulthood.  And in recent years researchers have found that some of the same psychological skills that help many people avoid mental distress can also put them at heightened risk for prolonging covert activities.

"In a very deep sense, you don't have a self unless you have a secret, and we all have moments throughout our lives when we feel we're losing ourselves in our social group, or work or marriage, and it feels good to grab for a secret, or some subterfuge, to reassert our identity as somebody apart," said Dr Daniel M Wegner, a professor of psychology at Harvard.  He added, "And we are now learning that some people are better at doing this than others."

Although the best-known covert lives are the most spectacular - the architect Louis Kahn had three lives; Charles Lindbergh reportedly had two - these are exaggerated examples of a far more common and various behaviour, psychologists say.  Some people gamble on the sly, or sample drugs.  Others try music lessons.  Still others join a religious group.  They keep mum for different reasons.  And there are thousands of people - gay men and women who stay in heterosexual marriages, for example - whose shame over or denial of their elemental needs has set them up for secretive excursions into other worlds.  Whether a secret life is ultimately destructive, experts find, depends both on the nature of the secret and on the psychological makeup of the individual.

Psychologists have long considered the ability to keep secrets as central to healthy development.  Children as young as 6 or 7 learn to stay quiet about their mother's birthday present.  In adolescence and adulthood, a fluency with small social lies is associated with good mental health.  And researchers have confirmed that secrecy can enhance attraction, or as Oscar Wilde put it, "The commonest thing is delightful if only one hides it."  In one study, men and women living in Texas reported that the past relationships they continued to think about were most often secret ones.  In another, psychologists at Harvard found that they could increase the attraction between male and female strangers simply by encouraging them to play footsie as part of a lab experiment.

The urge to act out an entirely different persona is widely shared across cultures as well, social scientists say, and may be motivated by curiosity, mischief or earnest soul-searching.  Certainly, it is a familiar tug in the breast of almost anyone who has stepped out of his or her daily life for a time, whether for vacation, for business or to live in another country.  "It used to be you'd go away for the summer and be someone else, go away to camp and be someone else, or maybe to Europe and be someone else" in a spirit of healthy experimentation, said Dr Sherry Turkle, a sociologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Now, she said, people regularly assume several aliases on the Internet, without ever leaving their armchair: the clerk next door might sign on as but also cruise chat rooms as Armaniguy, Cool Breeze and Thunderboy.  Most recently, Dr Turkle has studied the use of online interactive games like Sims Online, where people set up families and communities.  She has conducted detailed interviews with some 200 regular or occasional players, and says many people use the games as a way to set up families they wish they had, or at least play out alternative versions of their own lives.

One 16-year-old girl who lives with an abusive father has simulated her relationship to him in Sims Online by changing herself, variously, into a 16-year-old boy, a bigger, stronger girl and a more assertive personality, among other identities.  It was as a more forceful daughter, Dr Turkle said, that the girl discovered she could forgive her father, if not change him.  "I think what people are doing on the Internet now," she said, "has deep psychological meaning in terms of how they're using identities to express problems and potentially solve them in what is a relatively consequence-free zone."

Yet out in the world, a consequence-rich zone, studies find that most people find it mentally exhausting to hold onto inflammatory secrets - much less lives - for long.  The very act of trying to suppress the information creates a kind of rebound effect, causing thoughts of an affair, late-night excursions or an undisclosed debt to flood the consciousness, especially when a person who would be harmed by disclosure of the secret is nearby.  Like a television set in a crowded bar, the concealed episode seems to play on in the mind, attracting attention despite conscious efforts to turn away.  The suppressed thoughts even recur in dreams.  The strength of this effect undoubtedly varies from person to person, psychiatrists say.  In rare cases, when people are pathologically remorseless, they do not care about or even perceive the potential impact of a secret on others, and therefore do not feel the tension of keeping it.  And those who are paid to live secret lives, like intelligence agents, at least know what they have signed up for and have clear guidelines to tell them how much they can reveal to whom.

But in a series of experiments over the past decade, psychologists have identified a larger group they call repressors, an estimated 10 - 15% of the population, who are adept at ignoring or suppressing information that is embarrassing to them and thus well equipped to keep secrets, some psychologists say.  Repressors score low on questionnaires that measure anxiety and defensiveness - reporting, for example, that they are rarely resentful, worried about money, or troubled by nightmares and headaches.  They think well of themselves and don't sweat the small stuff.  Although little is known about the mental development of such people, some psychologists believe they have learned to block distressing thoughts by distracting themselves with good memories.  Over time - with practice, in effect - this may become habitual, blunting their access to potentially humiliating or threatening memories and secrets.  "This talent is likely to serve them well in the daily struggle to avoid unwanted thoughts of all kinds, including unwanted thoughts that arise from attempts to suppress secrets in the presence of others," Dr Wegner, of Harvard, said.

The easier it is to silence those thoughts and the longer the covert activity can go on, the harder it may be to confess later on.  In some cases, far stronger forces are at work in shaping secret lives.  Many gay men and some lesbians marry heterosexual partners before working out their sexual identity, or in defiance of it.  The aim is to please parents, to cover their own shame or to become more acceptable to themselves and society at large, said Dr Richard A Isay, a psychiatrist at Cornell University who has provided therapy to many closeted gay men.  Very often, he said, these men struggle not to act on their desires, and they begin secret lives in desperation.  This eventually forces agonizing decisions about how to live with, or separate from, families they love.

"I know that I did not pursue the orientation that I have, and know that I have always been as I am now," one man wrote in a letter published in Dr Isay's book Becoming Gay.  "I know that it becomes more difficult to live in the lonely shell that I do now, but can see no way out of it."  When exposure of a secret life will destroy or forever poison the public one, people must either come clean and choose, or risk mental breakdown, many therapists say.

Dr Seth M Aronson, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, has treated a pædiatrician with a small child and a wife at home who was sneaking off at night to bars, visiting prostitutes and even fighting with some of the women's pimps.  At one session, the man was so drunk he passed out; at another, he brought a prostitute with him.  "It was one of those classic splits, where the wife was perfect and wonderful but he was demeaning these other women," and the two lives could not coexist for long, Dr Aronson said.

In a famous paper on the subject of double lives, published in 1960, the English analyst Dr Donald W Winnicott argued that a false self emerged in particular households where children are raised to be so exquisitely tuned to the expectations of others that they become deaf to their own longings and needs.  "In effect, they bury a part of themselves alive," said Dr Kwawer of the White Institute.  The pædiatrician treated by Dr Aronson, for example, grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household in which his mother frequently and disapprovingly compared him to his uncle, who was a rogue and a drinker.  Dr Kwawer's patient, the real estate developer, had parents who frowned on almost any expression of appetite, and imprinted their son with a strong sense of upholding the family image.  He married young, in part to please his parents.  Both men are still getting psychotherapy but now live one life apiece, their therapists say.  The pædiatrician has curtailed his extracurricular activities, returned home mentally and confessed some of his troubles to his wife.  The real estate developer has separated from his wife, but lives close by and helps with the children.  The break caused a period of depression for everyone involved, Dr Kwawer said, but the man now has renewed energy at work, and has reconnected with friends and his children.  The secret trysts have stopped, as has the drug use, and he feels he has his life back.

"Contrary to what many people assume," Dr Kwawer said, "quite often a secret life can bring a more lively, more intimate, more energized part of themselves out of the dark."

Source: Tuesday 11 January 2004

Narcissists Brilliant Workers, but Terrible Colleagues

by Emma Young

Narcissistic people do not make pleasant colleagues, but they perform better than average at tasks that would daunt others, according to new US research.  "Narcissists will leave everyone else to do the drudgery and come in at the end to take all the credit, or show up when there's some opportunity to be admired," says Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, who led the research.  "But if you need someone to make a crucial presentation or to do something spectacular, they could be good to have around," he adds.

The study is the first to find that narcissistic people perform better on tasks that give them the opportunity for glory, Baumeister says.

The team studied 248 people, who completed questionnaires assessing the degree to which they agreed with statements such as: I am an extraordinary person, I like to look at myself in the mirror, the world would be a better place if I ruled it.  They then took part in four tests: the children's board game Operation (a test of manual skill), darts, and measures of arithmetic and creativity.

People who scored higher on the narcissism measure performed on average about 20% better on the tests when they were given the chance to shine, says Baumeister.  "For example, we'd have an audience present or not present.  Or we'd tell them that to do well, they'd have to outperform 95% of other people, or only 50%.  Being better than average isn't much incentive to a narcissist, but 95% was something they could really shoot for," he says.

Noxious Self Esteem

When given a high or public target to aim for, the more narcissistic people also performed better than those with lower narcissism scores.  But the trait is poorly understood, Baumeister says: "We are at a fairly early stage of finding out about these people and what makes them tick."

Most people have a degree of narcissism, but at its extreme it is characterised by a "noxious sense of self esteem," he says.  "But why people grow up to be narcissists is a really important question and we do not have enough data on that."

Baumeister presented his research at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society in Blackpool.

Source: 15 March 2002 New Scientist

Confidence as Important as IQ in Exam Success

by Ewen Callaway

Do you think you're smarter than most?  Chances are, your children will feel the same way about themselves.

A new study of thousands of twins suggests that intellectual confidence is genetically inherited, and independent from actual intelligence.  Moreover, these genetic differences predict grades in school, says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a psychologist at Goldsmiths University in London, whose team found that 7- to 10-year-old children who achieved the best marks in school tended to rate their own abilities highly, even after accounting for differences due to intelligence and environment.

Psychologists have long known that intelligence isn't the only predictor of scholastic achievement and that intellectual confidence does a good a job of predicting grades as well.  "There has been a very, very big lobby within educational psychology against the notion of IQ," says Chamorro-Premuzic.  "And part of this lobby has been based on the idea that self-perceptions matter more than actual ability."

Most of these researchers assumed that environmental factors – the influence of parents, teachers and friends – explained why some students think more of their abilities than others.  That's only partially true, says Chamorro-Premuzic.  About half of differences in children's self-perceived abilities can be explained by environment.  The other half seems to be genetic.  For comparison, genes can explain about 80% of the differences in height.

Chamorro-Premuzic's team drew this conclusion by comparing intelligence, grades and personal ratings of 1,966 pairs of identical twins and 1,877 pairs of non-identical or fraternal twins.  Identical twins share nearly all their genes, while fraternal twins just half.  This allowed researchers to calculate how much of the differences in intellectual confidence were due to genetic versus environmental factors.  Determining what specific genes affect self-perceived ability won't be easy, Chamorro-Premuzic says.  Many of them should be linked to actual intelligence, but some will not.  Genes that are linked to personality, which is another partially heritable trait, could also explain why some children think more highly of themselves than others.

"The findings challenge conventional thinking on student psychology and may suggest that the assumptions underlying student academic attainment are erroneous," comments Timothy Judge, a psychologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Journal reference: Psychological Science (DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02366.x)

Source:  26 May 2009

Now, Sarah’s Folly

by Maureen Dowd

Sarah Palin showed on Friday that in one respect at least, she is qualified to be president.

Caribou Barbie is one nutty puppy.

Usually we don’t find that exquisite battiness in our leaders until they’ve been battered by sordid scandals like Watergate (Nixon), gnawing problems like Vietnam (LBJ), or scary threats like biological terrorism (Cheney).  When Lyndon Johnson was president, some of his staff began to think of him as "a sick man," as Bill Moyers told Arthur Schlesinger Jr.  Moyers and his fellow Johnson aide Dick Goodwin even began reading up on mental illness — Bill on manic depression and Dick on paranoia.

And so it was, Todd Purdum learned, as he traveled Alaska reporting on Palin for Vanity Fair, that the governor’s erratic and egoistic behaviour has been a source of concern for people there.  "Several told me, independently of one another," Purdum writes, "that they had consulted the definition of 'narcissistic personality disorder' in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — 'a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration, and lack of empathy' — and thought it fit her perfectly."

The White House can drive its inhabitants loopy.  So at least Sarah Palin is ahead of the curve on that one.

As Alaskans settled in to enjoy holiday salmon bakes and the post-solstice thaw, their governor had a solipsistic meltdown so strange it made Sparky Sanford look like a model of stability.  On the shore of Lake Lucille, with wild fowl honking and the First Dude smiling, with Piper in the foreground and their Piper Cub in the background, the woman who took the Republican Party by storm only 10 months ago gave an incoherent, breathless and prickly stream of consciousness to a small group in her Wasilla yard.  Gobsmacked Alaska politicians, Republican big shots, the national press, her brother, the DC lawyer who helped create her political action committee and yes, even Fox News, played catch-up.  What looked like a secret wedding turned out to be a public unraveling as the GOP implosion continued: Sarah wanted everyone to know that she’s not having fun and people are being mean to her and she doesn’t feel like finishing her first term as governor.

She can hunt wolves from the air and field-dress a moose, but she fears being a lame duck?  Some brickbats over her ethics and diva turns as John McCain's running mate, and that dewy skin turns awfully thin.

Maybe there’s another red Naughty Monkey high heel to drop — there’s often a hidden twist in Sarah’s country-music melodramas.  Or is this a reckless high-speed escape from small-pond Alaska, where her popularity is dropping, to the big time Below?  Even some conservative analysts admitted that the governor’s move seemed ga-ga before venturing the spin that Palin might be "crazy like a fox," as Sarah’s original cheerleader, Bill Kristol, put it.

Maybe, Kristol mused, she could use the 18 months she would have spent finishing her term to write her book and study up on the issues for 2012.  Why not?  Palin/Sanford in 2012, with the slogan: "Save time — we’re already in Crazy Town."

Palin’s speech is classic casuistry.

After girlish burbling about how "progressing our state" and serving Alaska "is the greatest honour that I could imagine," and raving about how much she loves her job, she abruptly announced that she was making the ultimate sacrifice: dumping the state on her lieutenant.  Why "milk it," as she put it, when you can quit it?  "Only dead fish go with the flow," she said, while cold fish can blow out of town.  Leaving Alaska in the lurch is best for Alaska.  She can better "effect change" in government from outside government.  She can fulfill her promise of "efficiencies and effectiveness" by deserting Juneau midway through her term — and taking her tanning bed with her.

"We need those who will respect our Constitution," said Palin, who swore on the Bible to uphold the Constitution.  She said she can't fulfill that silly old oath of office in the usual way because she's not "wired to operate under the same old politics as usual."  Naturally, she dragged the troops in, saying that her trip to see wounded soldiers overseas "fortified" her decision to give up because "they don’t give up."  [Huh?]  She refuses to succumb to the "politics of personal destruction."  It’s no fun unless she's the one aiming those poison darts, as she did when she accused Barack Obama of associating "with terrorists who targeted their own country."  Sometimes, she explained, if you're the star, you have to "call an audible and pass the ball" and leave at halftime, "so the team can win" somehow without you.

The maverick must run free when greener pastures beckon.  The musher must jump out of the dogsled when warmer climes call.  As Palin’s spokeswoman, Meg Stapleton, says, "The world is literally her oyster."

But just remember, beloved Alaska, it’s all about you.

Source: 4 July 2009

Let me begin by stating that I detest Sarah Palin.  But that's only because she's in politics and could therefore impact me directly down the road.  Otherwise, she's just another person of a certain type.  That type, I believe, is destiny for her and something she can help no more that a shy person can help breaking into a sweat when he or she is forced to address a large crowd.  I don't think Sarah is capable of imagining what it's like to be in someone else's shoes, much less being able to empathise with any image her mind could call forth (in my experience, people like this will either think the other person is stupid or is "just like them").  Her world is quite small and she takes up all of it.  I suspect that she lack mirror neurons - probably she has a degree of autism.  I'm not a professional and this is just my opinion, so don't threaten to sue me, Sarah - but I've seen this first hand and over time in other people I have known well.  She may annoy me no end, but she can't help it.  True, she doesn't want to help it either, but that's because she can't imagine it.  Her life is quite distorted.  Give her a job, put her on tv, buy her a new wardrobe, whatever - but please don't elect her to office.  Just because this personality type can fool people doesn't mean that he or she can continue to deliver what people think they are getting.

The Three Enemies

by Steve Biddulph

Women have had to overcome oppression, but men's difficulties are with isolation.  The enemies, the prison from which men must escape are:

bulletcompulsive competition
bulletlifelong emotional timidity

Facing the Facts

We are told it's a man's world, but the statistics on men's health, happiness and survival show this is a lie.  Here are facts about being a man in the late 21st century:

bulletMen, on average, live for six years less than women do.
bulletMen routinely fail at close relationships.  (Two indicators: 40% of marriages break down, and divorces are initiated by the woman in 4 out of 5 cases.)
bulletOver 90% of convicted acts of violence will be carried out by men, and 70% of the victims will be men.
bulletIn school, around 90% of children with behaviour problems are boys and over 80% of children with learning problems are also boys.
bulletOne in 7 boys will experience sexual assault by an adult or older child before the age of 18.
bulletMen comprise over 90% of inmates of gaols.  Men are also 74% of the unemployed.
bulletThe leading cause of death amongst men between 12 and 60 is self-inflicted death.  Men and boys commit suicide 4 times more frequently than women.  (The rate for men exceeds the road toll, though the two are probably blurred together.  A "single-vehicle accident" is often impossible to differentiate.)

Most men experience suicidal episodes and many men are ambivalent about life.  As a result they're really only half alive - stressed and neurotic.  Consequently, men have unique health problems which point clearly to pressure, loneliness and stress as causes.  One study looked at the most common time of death for men and found it was 9am on Monday, from a heart attack.  (Monday was also the most common day for men to suicide.)

The reality for most men is that life is just not working.

Source: Manhood: An Action Plan for Changing Men's Lives by Steve Biddulph

See also:

bulletSelf Deception - By nature, people are soft on themselves.  Everyone is inclined to think they and the things they care about are undervalued.  People are partial in assessments of political programs or religious creeds and rarely judge themselves by the standards they apply to others.  Nor, arguably, should self-deception be eradicated, even if it could be...

Through a Glass Darkly

Personal competence must be gauged in relation to some standard.  That standard can be comparison to a norm, comparison to one or more specific people, or comparison to one's self over time.  Usually, it's good to compare yourself now to yourself in the past when your skills are improving.  This produces self-satisfaction.  But when capabilities begin to fade, self satisfaction is better served by social comparative standards.  Surpassing comparative agemates can contribute to a positive self-appraisal even if personal capabilities are declining.

I think people (myself included) would do better to cease evaluating their competence and instead focus on the satisfaction and meaning they find from their pursuits.  For one thing, continuing personal attainments don't, by themselves, ensure personal satisfaction.  The person who does really well initially, then slows down, is less happy about his or her performance than the person who starts out slowly, but makes increasing progress until the end, though the beginning and ending points for these two may have been the same.

Depressed people usually display realistic self-appraisals of their social competencies.  The non-depressed view themselves as much more adroit than they really are.  Thus, depressed people are realists while the non-depressed are confident illusionists.

High self-monitoring sensitises those who practise it to their impact on other people and allows them to mask any thoughts of personal incompetence that might accidentally surface.  (But they usually over-monitor, as they perceive themselves as playing a more central role in other individuals' thoughts and actions than is usually the case.)

How would it feel to be measured and compared from the moment of birth (as if we aren't already)?  For the kids in the upper two quartiles, possibly wonderful - like constant applause.  For the rest of the kids - demoralising at best...

Documentary to Test Nature Versus Nurture

London - The age-old nurture versus nature argument is to be put to the test in a British television documentary which will follow a group of millennium babies through two decades of their lives.  Fertility expert Professor Robert Winston will explore opposing views of how humans are conditioned by their genes as the series, which has the working title Child of our Time, charts the progress of some of the first citizens of the year 2000 from the womb to adulthood.

The series, one of the highlights of the BBC1 winter schedule unveiled Wednesday, will use DNA diagnostics, cognitive psychology, embryology and neuroscience to track the progress of the babies — all due to be born in January 2000 — whose life stories it will follow.  It will attempt to reveal the truth behind a range of widely-held beliefs, such as whether playing music to a baby in the womb effects the fœtus, whether intelligence is inherited, and how the environment a child grows up in affects its development.

In another experiment, the BBC is challenging 30 volunteers to create their own tiny society on a remote Scottish island.  The volunteers will spend a year on the island for the Castaway 2000 program.  With limited resources, they will have to build homes capable of withstanding the Scottish winter, cultivate land and keep animals.

Source: Reuters Science Headlines Yahoo Wednesday 24 November 1999; © 1996 - 1999 Reuters Limited all rights reserved

While I realise that invaluable information can be gleaned from the millennium baby experiment, I wonder if sufficient thought has been given to the effect on the children themselves of comparisons and rankings which seem to me would be an inevitable fallout.  The children who interpret their demographic data as indicating that they are in the lower quartiles would suffer self-image problems.  But I suppose rankings in school tests could do the same.  Is that useful?  Is that necessary?

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