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Author: Richard O'Connor

Prioritizing: Getting Somewhere

A very helpful way to thinking about stress is that it often results from our failure to live up to our own standards and goals. Psychotherapists hear over and over again from patients that they are never satisfied with themselves. Often the patient is excessively perfectionistic; sometimes the patient’s goals are so far out of reach that he feels too demoralized to even take the first step. Having goals that are unrealistically high can certainly contribute to stress. But many of us don’t even know what our goals are. Some people think they know exactly what principles are important...

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Self-Esteem: In A Culture Where Winning Is Everything and Losing Is Shameful

Psychologist Harold Stevens at the University of Michigan discovered that American students far outrank those in Japan, Taiwan, and China in at least one area: self-confidence about their abilities in mathematics. Unfortunately, the students’ self confidence was not grounded in reality; in actual performance, American students were far behind their Asian counterparts. “True self-esteem requires an accurate appraisal of one’s own abilities in comparison to those of others… a phony self-esteem is vulnerable to puncture by life’s experience.” Psychologist Harold Stevens at the University of Michigan discovered that American students far outrank those in Japan, Taiwan, and China in...

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Guilt and Shame: Destructive or Useful?

Guilt can be a very healthy stimulus to change our behavior for the better. Unfortunately many people seem to be nagged by a pervasive sense of guilt which stays with them no matter how moral a life they lead. But is it true guilt, or guilt’s nasty cousin shame, which causes such distress? Psychologists have written reams trying to differentiate between guilt and shame, but the best way to describe the difference is to evoke our own feelings. Robert Karen, writing in the February 1992 Atlantic, gives a gut-wrenching example: A professional man, divorced, in his 50s, stands on...

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Can Parents Counteract Mass Culture?

Television is so powerful that we’re all afraid of it. When my son was small I didn’t want him to watch “He-Man” cartoons. I thought they taught violence as a means of solving problems, were sexist, and were more than a little scary — much the way parents today think about “Power Rangers,” or whatever the latest is now. For a while I held out, but all Michael’s friends at school watched “He-Man” every day. It was the major theme of their play. Michael begged, and I relented. When they were adolescents, I wished my children wouldn’t watch MTV,...

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Hasty Divorce

divorce is so common in our society today that it’s a shame people don’t do it more carefully. Too often it’s just another stage of self-deception, doomed to disappointment — an out of control emotional process, the dark side of falling in love. Though occasionally mature people can agree that they’ve grown apart and need to go in separate directions, and occasionally there are couples who bring out the worst in each other and really need to separate, for the most part divorcing couples are fueled by anger, projection, and blame. Divorce brings out our strongest feelings of anger...

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