Archives for posts with tag: self-examination

There’s a famous developmental model in clinical psychology developed by Drs. Mark Greenberg and Carol Kusche. It is rooted in the larger cognitive behavioral model. The model is called, “ABCD”. It refers to Affect (emotion), Behavior, Cognition, and the Dynamic interplay among them. Because it is a developmental model, it refers to this interplay not only in a particular moment, but across time.

Sometimes AB and C work together in cohesion. Often they work at odds with one another. Sometimes they work in cohesion but in a way that is not healthy. “I am angry with you and I’m beating the shit out of you because I believe I am entitled to beat the shit out of anyone I don’t like for any reason.”
I know that many of us strive to live more peaceful, loving, and cohesive lives. And for extra credit, we are decent and upstanding people. I have worked hard over the years to live a life that is cohesive and healthy. I have focused on this in particular in my mindfulness practices in the last couple of years.

I am pretty happy. In general, I live a pretty balanced and cohesive life that makes sense. To be perfectly honest, I sometimes watch people I love say they want to be a certain kind of person, living by certain values, and then make choices that totally contradict their stated goals without apparent knowledge of this discrepancy. I have tried to make a habit of turning inward at these times. I am getting better at it. Bit by bit.

I decided a few weeks ago to dig deeply into the parts of myself that I try to avoid. To be honest, it is a narrow part of me but it runs very deeply, and when I hit it, it is very painful.

I know I am a good person who does mostly very good things. But there are areas in which I fail. Areas in which I let fears, irrational thoughts, and habits drive behaviors that are very much out of line with my values.

I lose my temper with my husband. I respond to situations as if they are much bigger than they really are. Sometimes, I let other people’s unhealthy behavior toward me define my own sense of worth. At times, I take on a love one’s hurt not only as if it were my own but as if it were my responsibility to fix.  Sometimes these misfires of affect, behavior, cognition, and their dynamic interplay are brief. Other times, they play out over the years, like increasingly gnarled tree roots underground. I can feel them. I know they are there but I can’t see them.

I know I am not alone in this. No one is perfect. But I’m tired of feeling happy and balanced so much of the time only to find myself acting grouchy, ridiculous, and sometimes outright mean, when I pass my stress tolerance. I used to live my life very near or at capacity so I stressed very easily. It’s not so easy now so I figure this is a particularly good time to work on this.

There is a concept of “radical acceptance” in mindfulness meditation. In my understanding, it means observing our own painful thoughts and feelings and allowing them to be, instead of resisting them.

This is why my blog sometimes reads like a confessional. I am, however, not seeking reassurance or absolution. I am trying to better understand myself and be a more balanced person.

I am also trying to show that it is possible to be a happy person without being a perfect person. Over the past year, I have begun to view a lot of coping statements people use as being counterproductive for me. I don’t like telling myself “beauty is only skin deep” or “fat is beautiful” when I am not feeling good about my body. Similarly, in terms of aging, I don’t want to tell myself, “I’m only as old as I feel” or “age is only a number.” I would like to keep working to a point where I say things to myself like, “I am overweight. That may not be the greatest for my health. What do I want to do?” Or, “I am getting older. I’ve had a serious illness. I’m living a pretty healthy life now, doing the best that I can. I think I will get on with my day.”

I am working to get to a point where self-examination is objective and leads to serenity or agency. I am getting there but I still have much further to go. I am trying to take apart the mechanism, bit by bit, that turns self-examination into doubts of worth.

I used to think that having a balanced life meant almost never feeling stress and shuffling through the states of joy, bliss, serenity, faith, hope, and resolve. I actually had a friend years ago who practiced mindfulness, who seemed this way. Then there was the day I tried to say something empathetic about her stress level because we were all working hard. She quickly and somewhat sharply told me that she “never” got stressed. Then I knew. She was one of the rest of us.

People are complicated. Life is complicated. We spend our whole lives at A, B, C, & D. And thank goodness. I want to live a long life and how boring would it be to have it all figured out.

In my job as a psychologist and a diagnostic specialist, I am asked to answer questions and make recommendations. Answering diagnostic questions can be really hard, especially in my areas of specialty. I sift through multiple data sources, try to find patterns of behavior, and predict how behaviors change across settings and over time. Meanwhile, I have to remember that diagnoses do not define children and that their functioning at school, home, and in the community vary as a function of many many other individuals and environmental factors.

Often however just asking the question is harder than answering it. Yesterday, I received the following email:

We have a 13 year old son who is struggling in school. His main challenge is executive functioning and spacing out in class. We are not interested in assessments or medications but do want to understand how to get at the root cause of the lack of motivation. Do you think this is something you can help us with?

This email was obviously written by a very loving parent. The parent has also done some reading, I suspect given the terminology used in this letter and the reference to medication. But it is hard for me to help when I am asked to help solve a problem without finding out what it is. Asking the question, “Is there something wrong with my child?” is sometimes even more frightening than asking, “Is there something wrong with me?” Parenting hits us in the tender places in our heart. For many of us the two questions are really the same question, “Am I a bad person who is passing off my inherent badness to my child?” Some of the variations of this question are less severe but it boils down to fear of coming up short in some very critical way.

Fear of asking the question, “What is wrong” can lead to all kinds of odd little dances. So often, people try to solve problems without knowing what they are. Some people even try to solve problems without admitting that there are even problems. This sounds silly but problems have real consequences with which we are left to cope. You can’t make a problem go away by not believing in it.

Parents often feel responsible for their children’s issues. And honestly, as parents we are responsible for a lot. But we aren’t responsible for every part of our child’s reality. It is particularly hard for people who appear to be successful and high functioning on the outside but fear being exposed for the horrible people they fear themselves to be. I have met many parents who think, deep down, that they are awful people. And you know what? They are never horrible people. And some of them are quite wonderful people who nonetheless feel fundamentally flawed.

The saddest part is that when people refuse the help I can give them because they fear themselves, it perpetuates bad decision-making and bad problem solving. Then they just feel like really bad people and are even less likely to seek help for themselves and their children.

I believe that I am a worthwhile person, a good wife, and a good mother. I believe I am good at my job. But like everyone else, I am deeply flawed. I am a kind person but I hurt people and sometimes I do it on purpose. I am a loving person but sometimes feel contempt for others. I am a generous person but at times act with keen selfishness. It has never been easy in my life to engage in constructive self-reflection. At times, I have sought professional help but with great difficulty. At other times, it was not so hard. It was pretty easy to be open to seeing a psychologist after my cancer diagnosis. After all, who am I to begrudge myself support for CANCER? But I have seen psychologists multiple times in my life for individual, parenting, and marital purposes. I am happy for all of the experiences. They were extremely valuable. I did it because I felt like I owed it to myself and my family to be a well-adjusted person. Because truthfully, unhappy people are hard to live with, especially when a very unhappy person resides in your own heart.

I will keep working on myself and I wish all of you the happiness that comes from seeing yourself, the good and the bad, working on things knowing that things can get better but not perfect, and being okay with that. Self-acceptance is an amazing power and I have been happy to have gotten more and more glimpses of it as I continue through life as a beautiful and flawed human being.

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (


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