The stories of our lives

Scris în 18 July 2018

A handsome king is blessed with superhuman strength, but his insufferable arrogance means that he threatens to wreak havoc on his kingdom. Enter a down-to-earth wayfarer who challenges him to fight. The king ends the battle chastened, and the two heroes become fast friends and embark on a series of dangerous quests across the kingdom.


This is, on fast forward, the Epic of Gilgamesh, engraved on ancient Babylonian tablets 4,000 years ago, making it the oldest surviving work of great literature. What is even more astonishing is the fact that it is read and enjoyed today, and that so many of its basic elements—including its heart-warming „bromance”—can be found in so many of the popular stories that have come since.

As a pretty nice article mentioned a while ago: „From fireside folk tales to Netflix dramas, narratives are essential to every society.”

We may discuss about what can be called „literary darwinism”, meaning everything that makes a good story survive, together with all the evolutionary reasons for which some narratives—from Homer’s Odyssey to Harry Potter—have enjoyed such tremendous success. Today, we are no longer gathering around the fire, yet the modern adult spends around 6% of his time in a day immersed in stories displayed on various screens. A sort of clay tablets as well…

În jurul focului

How about the unfolding of Our Story while reading Other People’s Stories?

We live in a world in which the ability to tell a (good) Story can underline the difference between success and failure. Stories revolve around us continuously and, either we know this or not, we use the power of the narrative daily. We use stories to persuade, to dissuade, to explain, to entertain, to illustrate something. We tell stories to help an agitated child get to sleep. We tell stories to make a good joke better, to demonstrate a perspective, to convince someone of our truth. Lawyers use the power of the narrative to convince a jury of the innocence of their clients. Advertisers use stories to show how incomplete our lives are  without the products they sell, which will forever change our lives to the better. In their preaches, priests deploy stories to convince us to pursue the road to bettering ourselves. Whilst politicians…

All stories gravitate around the same themes: alliances made and broken, individuals rising and falling, complots, revenge, gratitude, hurt pride, successful and unsuccessful seduction, bereavement and grief.

Even if we are aware about this or not, we adore telling and listening to stories, because they take the chaos of our lives and render our days and hours more shape, a sens of order, and meaning.

Some say there are no new stories, but just new ways of telling the same old stories. We are all human, after all… We fall in love with the wrong person, we want to be rich, we want to reach the top of that mountain, we want to love and be loved, we want to earn that prize, and we want to be saved. The key-word here is „WANT”. This „Want” creates the Story, the movement, the dynamics. Yes, we are the Character, but the Character is not enough for the Story to exist; there is no Story unless the Character Wants something—and wants it badly. And we still don’t have a Story yet, as whatever the Character wants moves him through time and space, but what actually creates the Story is the moment when there comes an Obstacle between the Character and his goal. It’s only the Obstacle, together with the strong desire to overcome it, that pushes the Character—and the Story—forward. This forward movement creates conflict, action and more action, and, finally, the resolution. In every Story, always, the key is the Desire of the Character to attain his goal. This overwhelming desire strengthens the Character and gives him the power to survive all the ups and downs of the Story.

Any good story has an „Ah!” moment. Weak storytellers do not tell „ah” stories, because they avoid the climax moment, when the Character is in a balance moment and he gets—or not—what he wished for. Any story has a trajectory—a beginning, a middle and an ending. Any story ends with an aim, or at least this is what Aristotle named Telos. Telos signifies more than an ending, Telos means that the Character has reached his potential. As in, like, the Telos of an acorn is to become an oak…

Now, we know that in real life te great majority of acorns do not become oaks. And in our lives we do not get to Telos until we die. In exchange, we keep crawling through the second act of our lives, waiting for the climax of the Story.

This is why we are so satisfied reading a well structured Story. From the safe environment of our living room, we witness the efforts and the failures and the triumphs of a Character. We can follow the route to the Telos of other characters in the story, knowing at the same time that nothing has changed in our lives, maybe just that during our reading the sun has set, the phone rang or dinner is ready. Our Character maybe has fought hard battles and suffered significant losses, or something has changed him forever, and maybe, spiritually, this Story changed us, rocked our foundation but, during all this time, our world has basically remained the same.

Stories of my life

„The more people read fiction, the easier they find it to empathize with other people.”—Joseph Carroll, University of Missouri-St Louis

Most probably, this is because reading to or telling stories activates certain regions in the cerebral cortex, known for their involvement in the social and emotional processing of information. We are used to the cliché: „the left hemisphere is about reason and calculus, the right hemisphere is about emotion and creativity.”, yet things are not that clear-cut.

„The left hemisphere holds a narrative function, it is a region serving at the linguistic articulation of the unfolding of a person’s life. But our autobiographic memories are mainly located in the right hemisphere, and the creation of a coherent narrative requires at least this bilateral form of integration. The integration of the two hemispheres helps us give meaning to our own life.”—Daniel Siegel, „Mindfulness and neurobiology”

Each Story starts with harmonizing the cerebral hemispheres (right for remembering the experience, left for being able to speak about it) and with finding the Voice. But this cannot be achieved by standing on the side; one has to get into the Story, clear one’s throat and let the Story begin…

Now think at your own Story and ask yourself:

  • Who truly ‘owns’ the Story? Whose Story is it, anyway?
  • What happened before the Story began?
  • What happens after the Story ended?
  • How do I know the Story ended?
  • What’s at stake for the protagonist?
  • What will happen if the story does not get told?
  • What does the protagonist really want?
  • What kind of secrets is the protagonist keeping from the audience? And from himself?
  • What is the protagonist doing to seduce his audience, to convince it of his Truth?
  • How much will the protagonist grow during the Story?

Surely, surely, we polish OUR STORY all our life, hoping to perfect it. But art is never perfect, and the Story will not end up exactly the way we want it to end. Stories breathe in their own rhythm and, when they are ready, they leave us to live their own lives, they abandon us. Sometimes, years later, they come back so transformed, that we do not even recognize them anymore. The best thing to do is dress them nicely, comb their hair and let them loose into the world at large. Who knows, maybe in 4000 years, someone will still be able to read them on other clay tablets…

How does the mind protect itself?

Scris în 3 January 2015

We aim at instinctively protecting our ego (i.e. an acceptable self-image), in many ways. The only issue is that defenses usually are short-term and may, in the long run, be more hurtful than helpful, by masking out the problems that we have to solve here-and-now. These defenses block us in jobs we do not like, bore the ones around us and hurt the ones that love us. We all have them and use them from time to time; the important thing here is to know when they are no longer useful and we need to put them aside.

People use at least five defense mechanisms to protect their souls every day. If we know what these are, we can more easily be aware of them and use them properly, without ‘fooling ourselves’.

  1. Denial – we do not admit we have a problem.
  2. Projection – we throw the negative feeling from and about ourselves towards the other, as if the other person would think all these negative things about us.
  3. Internalization – we prefer to have a poor opinion about ourselves in order to avoid the thought that someone else has a poor opinion about us or does not love us.
  4. Sublimation – we translate thoughts which we consider unacceptable towards other forms of manifestation (ex. through artistic expression). Sublimation is the healthiest among the defense mechanisms.
  5. Regression – when life seems difficult and overwhelming, we return symbolically towards the past (during childhood mostly) and to a carefree life, when we used to live feeling protected by the adults taking all responsibility for our lives.
  6. Rationalization – consists in logical explanations for truths that we cannot stand.
  7. Intellectualization – we look for rational intellectualized defenses to our problems.
  8. Reaction formation – we do exactly the opposite of our initial feelings.
  9. Displacement – redirecting of our negative feelings which we are ashamed to recognize (usually, they are aggressive impulses) towards other areas, which seem more at hand.
  10. Fantasy escape – dissociation from reality through dreams, books, movies, sexual fantasies (pornography) etc.
  11. In detail, but also succinctly, you can find more about defense mechanisms used by your mindhere, in a short movie abundant with examples (click “Playlist” in the bottom left corner, then 2/13 – Anna Freud):

How can talking about my feelings help me?

Scris în 23 December 2014

Not long ago, I was saying that by the end of the year I will respond to the most frequent three questions I hear in my therapy office. About the first one—Why am I the one who has to change?—I wrote quite recently.

Today we move on to the next one. Talking about one’s feelings – and how can it help?

I meet a lot of people saying: I do not need to talk to a therapist. I can as well confess to a friend, s/he can give me good advice, and, moreover, I do not have to pay him/her for listening to me. What’s more, it’s easier for me to talk to a person I know. Is this correct? Yes and no.

It’s true that any close person can be a valuable resource in the therapeutic process. You meet your therapist one hour per week, whilst a close friend will accompany you for a longer period of time. I always encourage my clients1 to discuss with their close ones some of the things we talk about in my office, if they consider it useful. In this way, they can benefit of an enlarged support in their effort of change.

However, this is not enough. What is the benefit to discuss with a therapist? What is the purpose of a weekly 50 minutes meeting to ask for a paid qualified support? What’s the use of talking?

Below are five of the benefits:

  1. Talking orders one’s mind. Thinking is like a playful child, always restless, always inconsistent. Similar to writing, talking forces the thought to become more disciplined, to get shape, to be firmly contoured. And, more importantly, to have a logic that lets all imperfections and all wounds be seen, as without this lucid look no healing is ever possible.
  2. Talking gets information from all the hide & seek places. I have witnessed many times small revelations such as: “Wait, it’s only now that, by saying this to you, I realize that actually…” and “It’s strange, I have never thought about this before!” Talking has the merit of making us more aware about our thoughts.
  3. The therapist is trained to identify dysfunctional thinking and reaction patterns. The therapist is not any kind of listener. Unlike a close friend, the therapist has ‘secret little boxes’, obtained throughout the long training years, in which life stories, frustrations, and failures lay carefully and exhibit their ties: weak, vulnerable, solid, dishonest, authentic…
  4. The therapist does not provide advice. S/he is a ‘benevolent mirror’ reflecting back, in a more distilled way, what she has captured from the client. Friends, colleagues or relatives give advices; they are sometimes experts on how we should be living our lives. Therapists refrain themselves from doing this. Who am I to take the arrogance to tell you how you should be living your life? The psychotherapist is like a trainer for an athlete: he can give him the water and the towel and will encourage him constantly, but he will never perform in his place. Some clients feel disappointed about it: what, I come here and you do not tell me what to do? What kind of a therapist are you? I am a therapist that trusts you to find the solution in yourself, with my help. I am a therapist that respects you enough as not to dictate how you should live your life.
  5. The therapist is bound by oath (similar to the Hippocrates’ oath for medical services) to keep full confidentiality on the things disclosed in her office. She provides full confidentiality for the souls that open up in her palm, hoping to heal themselves.

Why am I the one who has to change?

Scris în 3 December 2014

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Why am I the one who has to change?
  1. Because it is an illusion to think that you can determine the others to make a change for you.
  2. Because changing the others is a more or less subtle manner of manipulation.
  3. Not doing anything hoping the change will come from the other one, can only postpone a beneficial change.
  4. Because it is the only thing you can do, besides waiting endlessly for the rescue to come from outside of you.
  5. Because you can transform the things the way to want them to change.
  6. Because you, human being, are a fighter and a conqueror of unknown territories.
  7. Because only you know what you really want.
  8. Because the one sitting next to you can start his own change, just by seeing your courage to change yourself.
  9. Because one of the greatest illusions of mankind is to believe that, whilst people stop and think, time is waiting for them to make a decision.
  10. Simply because you can.

The perverse effects of motherly love (2)

Scris în 9 June 2014

In fact, this post should have been titled „Why the bad children are always boys?”, as a second-grader girl used to say, rolling her eyes whilst spitting out this universally-acknowledged truth (to her).

Girls? A delight for every teacher: sweet, tender, purring, always smiling, getting under your skin. Boys? Always trouble: running like little devils, do not stay still, do not learn. Clichés, isn’t it? These are as cliché-istic as dressing the girls in pink and the boys in blue since the day they were born. In order not to nourish one cliché over the other, we should better not feed any of them.

Boys are being offered toy cars and toy guns and Lego, to develop their pragmatic-rational skills. Girls receive puppets, to learn their emphatically-emotional roles. Can we then wonder that men drive cars, get around without a map, and women read books and are more sociable? Or that all the ladies of the world await for Prince Charming to come, to sing them serenades and bring them flowers, whilst the Prince ultimately fails to come?

Behind each boy that has not receive his fair share of emotional education there is a prince searching for his girl that he can love the way his mother has not taught him how.

„Big boys don’t cry”, used to say Lucky Dube, among many others.

Boys suffer from emotional ignorance, determined by their lack of emotional education; they are brought up in the culture of cruelty and taught to offer typically masculine answers to life situations—fury, aggressiveness, and interiorization of emotions. Boys need an emotional vocabulary able to amplify their ability to express themselves in other ways than via fury and aggressiveness.

„A boy needs to see and to believe that emotions are a natural part of a man’s life.”—Thompson Kindlon, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, 2000

„Boys that have problems in managing their own emotions will tend to totally ignore the signs of someone else’s grief.” (idem)

We do not have empathic husbands, lovers, children, and fathers. Have we raised them to be ones? It has been scientifically proven that the high testosterone level is an effect and not a cause of aggressiveness. We should thus not totally blame genesis or totally blame ourselves for that – the truth always lies somewhere in the middle.

I am not always strong.

Here is an example of poor emotional education:

„—Mom, why should I have to sit in the child’s car seat if you do not do the same?” The mother responds with a discourse on safety and tells the child it is illegal for a child to travel without sitting in a special car seat. Thanks to her detailed response, the child feels rewarded for having asked about how things work and thus feels encouraged to ask more questions in future situations.

But when the next day, he points towards a little boy crying in the park and asks his mother why the little boy cries, she gives him a shorter, less detailed answer: „—I don’t know, he just cries. Come on, let’s go, it’s not polite to stare.” Would she had given a similar response of she had a little girl instead of a little boy?

Primary school is a feminine environment, populated by skirts and seeming to have an a priori problem with restless boys.

Apparently, girls’ agitation is stopped by just shouting at them, and boys’ restlessness—by beating them up, motivating that shouting at them is not enough and does not hurt them. It does hurt them—as much as it hurts the girls; it’s just that they are not allowed to show it.

Boys are being told that they are bad because this come from within them. In reality, they have the same amount of restlessness and frustration in themselves just like girls do, who have learned from their mothers to ventilate their fury by verbalizing their emotions; at the same time, boys have learned to get rid of negative emotions by concrete actions.

During teacher-parents meetings, boys’ parents are told about their sons’ rebellious acts, and girls’ parents – about their make-up days. It’s almost certain that the boys have their coquette moments and the girls – their Amazonas’ times. It’s just that nobody talks about these. Or when they do talk about them, they usually say: „My daughter is so boy-ish, I don’t know what to do with her” and „My boy is rather feminine, he does not like football, all the other children laugh at him. I am afraid he might become gay.”

The Pawnee Indians are strengthening their boys by throwing them in the snow. Is the harsh emotionless discipline the modern snow? Big boys don’t cry because they have not been taught how to. Big boys don’t cry because they have not been taught how to do it in such a way that they don’t feel like girls. That they don’t feel shitty.

I have a boy. It’s difficult for me to teach him notions like empathy, tears as a relief, as joy, as a normal sign of weakness. But I will not give up. Because there, somewhere, there is a girl that will thank me one day.


The perverse effects of motherly love (I)

Scris în 29 April 2014

I will probably get on the nerves of my readers, so I am hurrying to confess from the very beginning: I, myself, have the tendency to be a helicopter-mother as well.

The unintended perversity of good intentions originates in the parents’ need to provide their children, in this era of all opportunities, everything they missed during their own childhood. The Y generation cannot grow up because of their helicopter-parents1. The helicopter-parents fly low; they are also known as eagle-parents, hyper-present parents, but which sometimes are psychologically missing.

The children of the helicopter-parents have heard more ‘yes-es’ than ‘no-s’ from their parents and have hot learned how to live with frustration. On the contrary, their parents will feel it fully just several years later, confronted with the ‘ingratitude’ of their (now adults) children. „Are you slamming the door in my face after all I’ve done for you?”

In the last half of century, the experiences of young people aged between 18-29 years old have changed dramatically in the post-industrialized societies. At an age when their parents had already been married and had kids, their children are still pondering their options in life and thus creating, practically, another development stage between adolescence and young adults’ age.

Some say than generation Y is a narcissistic generation; some argue that not only this is not true, but that there actually is no gen Y whatsoever and that all of us have been such a generation as compared to our parents and that the only difference lies in the technological jump.

The issue here is not that gen Y has too good of an opinion about itself. The most difficult challenge that the children of the helicopter-parents find themselves confronted with is to manage their conflicts, disappointment and depressions and to think with their own minds, as long as their parents want to solve even the smallest of their children’s conflicts themselves.

A study issued in 2013 in Journal of Child and Family Studies indicates that the students that have been raised by helicopter-parents have exhibited high levels of depression and use anti-depressants on a large scale. The researchers suggest that an education style that is too intrusive impedes the normal development of autonomy and competence. Thus, the helicopter-parents contribute to an increased dependency towards themselves, as well as a diminished capacity of their children to successfully finalize their tasks without parental supervision.

Another study, completed by Adecco last year in the US has shown that 8% from faculty graduates are accompanied by their parents when they go out for job interviews. Is this a form of micro-management? Freud was talking about the syndrome of the castrating mother. One hundred years later, we lapidate Freud but we are still stuck with the same issue. Who does not understand the mistakes of the past is condemned to repeat them. But do we really know how NOT to repeat them?

„It was a bitter moment for us.”—Erma Bombeck

Potential causes:

  1. Increase of life duration / expectancy, making life events appear much later as compared to previous generations.
  2. Jobs that are more & more difficult to find even by university graduates, a situation which limits / delays children’s financial independence from their parents. A university degree today is close to becoming the equivalent of a high school one obtained two generations ago.
  3. The need for parents to take care of their children’s children, as the state allowance for well-paid mothers is below their salary level.
  4. The ubiquity of mobile phones, considered by professor Richard Mullendore from Georgia University as ‘the longest umbilical cord ever invented.’

Perverse effects in adults:

  1. Once leaving their homes – the impossibility to manage their time without the surveillance of their parents: massive procrastination.
  2. Clients in therapists’ offices that keep piling up university degree after university degree of fear they will become adults ‘too soon’ (some of them having already reached 30 years old), fearing the adult age.

Parents’ legitimacy is not the same as several generations ago; it has to be conquered again and redefined again. Today, parents need to be not more than an existential GPS for their children. The parents of the eagle-parents were firm; the latter are benevolent. The ideal spot between these two extremes is a benevolent firmness. If you ask any adolescent today how does he plan to raise his children, he will most probably say: „I will be firm!”

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Life for parents today is difficult. The digital revolution is turning their word upside down: on one hand, because they cannot reproduce the standpoints they grew up with which they had learned from their parents; on the other hand, because they need to ask for their children’s advice for all sorts of things, from the way technology works to the hidden meaning of emoticons.

Children today think about suicide at the unhappy end of a love affair that only lasted for 4 months. A couple of generations ago, the same problem would have been solved by a few more drinks at the bar.

Where is the fine line between vision and hallucination in playing democracy with children? How many years can be counted, for real, between:

‘The spoiled child
Is pampered by his mother.
he just says NO
And does not want to do anything.
-„I cannot do it alone!”, he keeps saying
And waits for his grandma to come.
But here, at the kindergarten
Both girls and boys
can do things on their own.
Come on, look at them
And try it for yourself! Will you?’


‘Understand? I love you dear
how the hell should I speak to you
you are everything to me
and I want to meet you.

But is difficult, you see
as your mother is watching
and every five minutes
carefully comes to check on you.’

Read part two