All posts by Dr. Michael Thweatt

I am a retired professor of psychology. But old professors never die, they just matriculate.

BODY IMAGE and SELF-ESTEEM

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BODY IMAGE is very important to self-esteem. We look for flaws, we compare ourselves to attractive, air-brushed celebrities and that is a battle you can’t win.

“Honey, do you think she is more attractive than me?”

“I, uh, well, I guess, it depends.”

A better idea is: don’t ask, don’t tell.  Or maybe, don’t seek perfection but TRY to be as healthy as possible.  On the one hand, it’s damaging to drive yourself crazy over perceived or exaggerated physical imperfections. On the other hand, it’s also damaging to go the route of complete acceptance, like the Fat Acceptance Movement.  You’re beautiful the way you are, except if you weigh 660 pounds and they have to remove a wall to get you out of the bedroom, not so much.  Accepting the way you are at the moment, does not mean you can’t strive in a realistic way, to improve.

I think the philosophy of Frank Zappa can be applied to this issue of body image and self-esteem.  Zappa asked the haunting question: “What’s the Ugliest Part of your Body?”  And he has an unexpected answer.  I made the video below with my version of the Zappa song.

HATING HATERS

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If you HATE a HATER, then you’re a Hater too, right?

But WAIT- Didn’t Jesus throw the “money changers” out of the temple in an act of righteous indignation?  Did he HATE them? Certainly, he loathed, detested and despised what they were doing.

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Maybe some type of HATRED is justified. Like, say, if you hated CRUELTY or IDIOCY or Three-eyed ABOMINATIONS or BANKERS.

Let’s face it: HATE is an ugly word. You can be convicted of Hate Crimes. Most people, don’t want to think they are a hater. So lets make it more acceptable. Maybe a kinder phrase…

For the really annoying people and situations in life, like traffic lights,  Rudi Giuliani and cold coffee, consider me a PASSIONATE DISLIKER.

 

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THE REAL THING

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We have been assured that Coke is the “real thing.”  Also Jesus is the “real thing” and Hillary WAS the real thing but actually, come to think about it, whatever you really believe in [ or are promoting ] could be construed as the real thing. In my experience, this is a dangerous proposition because it simultaneously implies that all other participants in the domain – Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Buddhism, Ted Cruz – are merely pretenders to to the throne, wanna-be’s. Because the REAL THING, for Christ’s sake, is the precious fragment of pure gold lying in a sea of impure alloys. It is our self-appointed mission as human beings to find this thing and forsake all others.  Like a soul mate or something.

Forget about it. You’ll be a lot happier.

 

LANGUAGE & REALITY

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Words matter.  Whether spoken aloud or self talk, words are the FABRIC that weaves together our perception of the way things are. It’s not that the words have magic, it’s more that we give them magic — they have the power to influence, magnify, focus and set the entire framework that we use to view the world.  In other words, language creates and maintains our psychological “reality.” Words and thoughts are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate them. Can you have a thought without words?  Can you have words without thoughts? Shakespeare though it was possible but not a great idea:

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

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Clearly our choice of words influences, insults, and charms other people. But perhaps more importantly, if we say the right words to ourselves often enough, they can completely alter our attitude.  The good news is that the mind is very susceptible to positive programming. The bad news is that the programmer is often asleep or in some endless daydream of worry and anxiety.  Wake up and encourage yourself!

 

 

 

 

 

PROVE IT

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In one of the greatest Western movies ever made, the mysterious gunslinger Shane engages in a climactic showdown with the delightfully evil Jack Wilson.  Before they pull out the weapons, the obligatory ritualistic exchange takes place.  First the challenger delivers a vicious insult that cannot be ignored: “I’ve heard that you’re a low-down Yankee liar.”  The required response is: “prove it.”  As it turns out,  the fastest usually prove their point because the disputing party is unable to refute it, being dead.

GOGGLED SCIENTIST

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The scientific procedure for proving something is a variation on this Western theme. The scientific challenger issues a knowledge claim instead of an outright insult ( although certain claims about what is true can certainly be insulting to the intelligence, as in the case of Creationism).  The required response is the same as the gunfighters: “prove it.”

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The scientific method is not just about truth-seeking, it is very valuable for demonstrating what is not true.  When the gunsmoke clears, after the crucible of experimentation, only the most valid theory will be left standing.

 

THE FEAR OF DEATH

THE FEAR OF DEATH  by Dr. Michael Thweatt

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Seasons don’t fear the reaper, nor do the wind or the sun or the rain.  We can be like they are…

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As human beings, we fear a lot of things. If the fear becomes exaggerated and irrational, it is considered to be a phobia. Always high on the phobia list is fear of snakes, spiders, heights and crowded spaces.

 

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Ironically, FEAR OF DEATH (THANATOBIA), is often missing from the lists of most common phobias.  Death is so scary and so avoided it is not even considered a phobia by a lot of people.  Of course for the fear of death to be a true phobia, it must be irrational – so therein lies the issue: is it RATIONAL to fear death?  Can there be a “rational” fear of death, compared to a more obsessive “irrational” fear of death?

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WOODY ALLEN & DEATH

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WOODY ALLEN once observed that the fear of public speaking was the number one reported phobia, even ranking above the fear of death. He concluded that people must be more afraid of delivering the eulogy than being in the coffin.

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“When the music’s over, turn out the lights.”

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 It could be argued that people fear death above all else, because it is the end of all other projects. As JIM MORRISON bleakly but succinctly puts it:

This is the end, my only friend, the end.  Of our elaborate plans, the end.  Of everything that stands, the end.  No safety or surprise, the end.   I’ll never look into your eyes, again.”

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THE DENIAL OF DEATH

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In his astonishing masterpiece, the Denial of DeathErnest Becker argues that death-denial propels us to engage in activities, beliefs and “projects’ that affirm our immortality, despite strong evidence to the contrary: 100 Billion human beings are estimated to have lived and died since the emergence of homo sapiens. What makes you an exception to the rule? 

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Comedian STEPHEN WRIGHT declares his IMMORTALITY PROJECT with more simple honesty than most humans:  “I plan to live forever. So far, so good.”

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RELIGIOUS AND PHILOSOPHICAL RESPONSES TO DEATH

CHRISTIAN

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Christians believe in a Life after Death, in which the individual personality is preserved.  In other words, the body-less “soul” remains an individual and furthermore retains awareness of others so that they may be recognized in the “here-after,” thus enabling a reunion in heaven.

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EXISTENTIAL

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For Existentialists, the key problem is that people can’t conceive of non-existence and so we make the fundamental error of importing existence into the concept of death. To put it simply, people are terrified of being dead, but you can never BE dead, because when you die, you ARE NOT. So, we mistakenly project a continued consciousness past death and create the horrors of hell and wonders of heaven to fill the vastness of eternal time.

You experience dying, you don’t experience death. There is no blackness, void, loneliness, pain, burning in hell fire, glory in heaven, etc. There is not even nothing because nothingness is a concept. There are no concepts, no words, nada. To talk or think about death is self-defeating because you are imposing language and the dynamics of consciousness on that which is not.

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BUDDHIST

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Buddhist believe the “self” is not a permanent thing.  The self is a socially-constructed, temporarily convenient invention.  Useful, but it doesn’t have the inherent “realness” of the body.   So, grieve not, nor should you ask  for whom the bell tolls, because we are ephemeral as individuals. Attachment equals grief because all things must pass.

 

BIZARRE PHOBIAS by Dr. Michael Thweatt

 

BIZARRE PHOBIAS   by Dr. Michael Thweatt
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In our modern era of global financial meltdown, cyber warfare, biological weapons and various other unnamed and unknown apocalyptic threats, it is perhaps understandable that there are now literally hundreds of named phobias.
Particularly bizarre phobias are now emerging.  This whacky new generation of phobias reflects our increasingly chaotic world. The more crazy the world gets, the more crazy our fears get.  Let’s consider a few examples:
ZEMMIPHOBIA: FEAR OF THE GIANT MOLE RAT

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Okay, the Giant Mole Rat is a little creepy.
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GENIOPHOBIA – FEAR OF CHINS

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I’m guessing that Fear of Chins is more like fear of multiple chins, not fear of Jay Leno’s chin.
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TYRRANNAPHOBIA – FEAR OF TYRANTS

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I thought it was normal to fear tyrants, especially tyrants that are 13 ft. tall and weigh 7 tons.

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GNOSIOPHOBIA – FEAR OF KNOWLEDGEBooks_Ted_Cruz-05a70 (1)
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POLITICOPHOBIA – FEAR OF POLITICIANS
Optimized-42-79118890-2 I believe that Ted Cruz will make America what it once was –   an arctic wasteland covered with snow.

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HIPPOPOTOMONSTROSESQUIPEDALIOPHOBIA – FEAR OF LONG WORDS.

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 If you’ve got this one, avoiding reading Faulkner.

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REAL PHOBIAS are no laughing matter. They are very disruptive to normal living.  Phobias are symptoms of some hidden anxiety that we don’t want to face, like an insane clown with spider’s crawling over his face. Who wants to see that? I’d rather see Ted Cruz than that clown.

ANXIETY, TIME & LANGUAGE by Dr. Michael Thweatt

ANXIETY, TIME & LANGUAGE  by  Dr. Michael Thweatt

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ANXIETY is the mother of most psychological disorders and problems. Alcoholism, phobias, drug abuse, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, all stem from anxiety.  In fact, it’s fair to say that many psychological problems are merely symptoms of the fundamental disease – anxiety.

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Anxiety comes from dwelling on  the PAST or FUTURE.   Of course, it’s natural to “visit” past events and future scenarios – but if you start to dwell there, live there, establish your residence there, it can become a real problem.  if you start to import past regrets and future concerns into the present, then you lay the foundation for anxiety.

TIME JUMPING

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“Time jumping” into the past and future  is one of the legacies of acquiring language.  Awareness of it is the key to moderating anxiety.   It helps to develop a sensitivity for the trigger words that send us temporarily away from the present.

For Past Time Jumping, a key phrase is “if only.”  If you stop to think about “if only” is about the most useless and self-destructive mental exercises you can engage in.  “If only” is at the heart of all regrets.  If only I had done this other thing, instead of what I actually did, life would now be perfect.  Wrong.  But we obsess about it anyway.  Let’s consider some specific examples:

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IF  ONLY I HAD STAYED IN COLLEGE

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IF ONLY I HADN’T PUT THAT MESCALINE IN MY BEER.

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IF ONLY I HAD ASKED HER OUT ON A DATE.

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IF ONLY I HAD BOUGHT 100 SHARES OF MICROSOFT IN 1986

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WHAT’S THE POINT OF SAYING ‘IF ONLY” ??

It is completely ridiculous to cry about “if only.”  You can’t go back in time and re-write history, so why wonder about it?_____________________________________________________

For Future Time Jumping, a key phrase is “what if?”  Let’s consider some specific examples:

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WHAT IF I GET ATTACKED BY FIRE-PROOF ZOMBIES AND THERE’S NO WHERE TO HIDE?

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WHAT IF I FORGET TO SEND MY GIRLFRIEND A VALENTINE CARD?

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WHAT IF BATMAN HAD THE POWERS OF THOR & SUPERMAN?

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DON’T WASTE TIME WITH “WHAT IF”!

Most of the future “what ifs” we worry about will never come to pass.  So it is simply an anxiety project to speculate about them.   If you can slow down the inevitable human propensity to time jump and dwell in the simple present, you will be much calmer.

But WHAT IF you can’t slow down enough to BE HERE NOW?
IF ONLY you had studied Zen Buddhism at an earlier age….

PROJECTION and Secular Humanism

PROJECTION

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In Freudian psychology, PROJECTION  is a defense mechanism in which undesirable thoughts are attributed to an external source, usually another person.  For example,  you dimly realize that your are often loud and obnoxious, but you don’t want to admit it to yourself, so you accuse other people of being loud and obnoxious.   This type of projection can have two ego-stroking effects: (1) Social dilution –  “I have lots of company, so I’m not so bad” ;  (2) Comparative easing “Compared to Donald Trump, I’m not that obnoxious.”

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PROJECTION is even more effective when aimed at a supernatural external object. In this way,  Satan becomes the immortal personification of all evil.  Satan is far worse than anything you could ever be.  His crimes are certainly more horrendous than any blasphemous horror you could concoct.  As Mick Jagger informed us,  He “rode a tank, held a General’s rank when the blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank.”   This ultimate type of Projected Blame Shifting is  summed up nicely in Flip Wilson’s signature line – “the devil made me do it.”

THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT.

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There is a powerful inverse relationship between blaming the devil and assuming blame ourselves.   If the Devil is 100% to blame, you are off the hook entirely.  You murdered that family because you were completely possessed by Satan.  If the Devil is only, say, 30% to blame, then you may can plea bargain down to “reckless endangerment.”  I don’t see how you can believe in the Devil and Free Will at the same time.   And it seems obvious ( to me) that Satan is a very convenient and very unfortunate psychological projection.

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Following this line of thought, God and Jesus and all other “good” supernatural beings are also projections of our more positive aspects.   There is actually a New Age philosophy called “Self-Projection as God” which describes this phenomenon as “vicarious autotheism.”   In this case, we aren’t shifting blame, we are shifting credit.  Apparently it’s too much to believe that the human mind alone could be capable of  self-healing and other psychological “miracles.”

 

The Winter Solstice

THE WINTER SOLSTICE

DAWN AT STONEHENGE

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It is no coincidence that the massive monoliths of the neolithic Stonehenge are arranged to form  a perfect line of sight for the  Winter Solstice sunset  – the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.  Clearly, the ancient Druids understood and venerated the day.   So did the Romans whose Saturnalia festival ran from December 17 – 23 and featured gift giving.   Eventually, Saturnalia was observed on December 25 and merged with the festival of “dies natalis solis invicti,” ‘birthday of the unconquered sun.”   By 354 AD, December 25th was appearing on Roman calendars as the birthday of Christ.

THE BIRTHDAY OF THE UNDYING SUN

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Scandanavia had the Festival of Juul, with featured the burning of the Yule log during the winter solstice, a tradition which spread over Europe.

THE YULE LOG

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The Winter Solstice celebrations are  a recognition of the slow but inevitable turning of the seasonal clock. It is more than hope, it is Astronomical proof that the distant spring will once again emerge in it’s green glory from the bleak, white winter.   The Winter Solstice is the turning point, the pivot that reaffirms the continuation of Cyclical Time, because the days do get longer again as they always did and always will.

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But there is also the haunting melancholy of mortality, echoed in the deep unconscious mind at the Winter Solstice, reverberating in the ancient drinking songs.  So,  God rest ye merry gentleman, let nothing you dismay and  don’t look too closely at the passing of time. Yes, spring will come back,  Jesus is scheduled for resurrection at Easter,  December will come back, Christmas will come back, but 2015 will never come back, your grandmother will never come back and your death awaits after a few more trips around the sun, so bring on the figgy pudding and bring it right now.

The Winter Solstice  / Christmas is at once the “most wonderful time of the year” and the most depressing time of the year.   But to a large degree, we can choose how we will react and perhaps the safest path is the middle one.  Enjoy the Winter Solstice, celebrate Christmas, but don’t make it into an impossibly beautiful fantasy where we “all will be together” because we know that can never come true.   The truth is that the Spring WILL return. The reality is that you won’t always be around to see it return.

WALKING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND

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MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY SOLSTICE!