Peter H Brown Clinical Psychologist

Psychology News & Resources

Don’t Just Sit There..Do Something: Why Men Prefer Direct Pick-Up Lines

(Reposted from the excellent psyblog at )


Both sexes know men prefer a direct approach from woman, but is it just because men can’t read the signs?

Men and women’s attitudes to relationships have become remarkably similar — when dating women are now much more likely to make the first move.

It will come as no surprise that research finds men prefer this first move to be direct. But do men and women agree on what a direct approach is and why such directness is necessary in the first place?

These questions are addressed in a new study published recently in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (Wade et al., 2009). Forty women aged between 19 and 22 were asked to list the types of opening lines they might use to signal their interest in dating a man.

Researchers sorted these into 10 categories, then 40 men and women rated them in order of perceived directness. Here are the 10 categories (with examples) from most to least direct:

  1. Directly ask out on a date: Want to go get dinner?
  2. Ask if single: Do you have a girlfriend?
  3. Give out phone number, or ask for a call: You should call me.
  4. Give a compliment: I like your hair.
  5. Ask about shared interests: Do you watch The Wire?
  6. Indirectly hint at a date: What are you doing later this weekend?
  7. Say something funny/sexual humour: Wanna make out?
  8. Suggest familiarity: Have we met before?
  9. Personal interest questions: How was your weekend?
  10. Subtle hello: Hey, what’s your name?

Then men were asked which lines they thought would be most effective for women to use on them. They pretty much put the chat-up lines in order of directness, with the most direct also perceived as the most effective.

When women were asked to do the same they produced a similar list with one exception. Women didn’t rate as highly giving out phone numbers or asking for a call. Overall, though, women clearly understand that men prefer the direct approach.

The only surprise is the low ranking of funny or sexual humour. Men don’t seem to appreciate the lewd come-ons suggested by gender stereotypes. This relatively low rating for a jokey approach is another thing shared by both sexes. Previous work by Bale et al. (2006) found that women weren’t particularly impressed with men trying to be funny, despite what we are often told. It seems opening lines are a serious business for both sexes.

Ambiguous signals

The interesting question, although it may seem easy to answer, is why do men prefer a direct approach? Two obvious answers are men’s purported inability to read body language or an assumed distaste for reading situational subtleties (in other words: too stupid or can’t be bothered).

But researchers in Germany provide us with evidence for an alternative explanation. Grammer et al. (2000) videotaped opposite sex pairs meeting for the first time to catch the nuances of body language in the first 10 minutes of an interaction. Afterwards women were asked how much interest they had in the man they’d been talking to. The researchers revealed two counter-intuitive results:

  • In the first minute women behaved no differently to men they fancied than those they didn’t. They sent many positive nonverbal signals to all the men and hardly any negative signals.
  • It is only between the 4th and 10th minute that any correlation was seen between an increased sending of positive nonverbal behaviours and wanting to date the man. But even then the difference was only between some positive signals and slightly more positive signals. Again negative signals were very rare.

The reason men prefer a direct approach becomes clearer. Women may think they are sending out all the right nonverbal signals and may blame men for failing to pick up on them. But from a man’s perspective there may often be little to pick up on because women, being polite, are always sending positive nonverbal signals.

While it’s not good practice to generalise too much from one relatively small study of 45 participants whose age



ranged from 18 to 23, the results accord with what men say anecdotally: they often can’t tell if women are interested or not because the signals are too ambiguous.

So subtlety is out and it’s back to the age-old problem for both men and women: who has the guts to risk rejection with the direct approach?


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July 24, 2009 Posted by | Intimate Relationshps, Sex & Sexuality | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teenage Drinking:The Critical Need for Better Coping Skills Training

Alcohol abuse statistics show that alcohol abuse among teenagers is increasing in the United States. What are some of the reasons for this? More than a few chemical dependency consultants declare that liquor, wine, and beer advertisements constructed by the media are a significant reason for the proliferation of youth alcohol abuse.

Other alcohol dependency consultants believe that the increase in teenage alcohol abuse is due to the acceptability and accessibility of alcohol in our society.

Still other alcoholism experts claim that many of our teens engage in excessive drinking due to the increased anxiety that they experience.

518ML4q94zL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_From a somewhat different perspective, because both parents in many families are gainfully employed, the lack of parental supervision surely has to play a significant role in the increase in teen alcohol abuse. And last of all, different alcoholism specialists state that the expansion of adolescent alcohol abuse is due, in part, to our “anything goes” society.

Coping Skills and Abusive Drinking

One component of adolescent alcohol abuse that looks like it is lacking in the substance abuse research literature, then again, is the paucity of educational programs that teach students how to augment their coping skills so that their dangerous drinking behavior is drastically reduced or gotten rid of.

More explicitly, science has disclosed the fact that there is an indirect relationship between poor coping skills and excessive drinking. In effect, this means that the poorer the coping skills, the greater the frequency of alcohol abuse. To the degree that this is an accurate argument, why isn’t coping skills training a significant part of the educational core curriculum in all of our high schools, junior high schools, and elementary schools?

A Society That Underscores Youth Coping Skills

Let us create a scenario for the purpose of clarification. Let us imagine a society in which students are trained how to achieve superior coping skills all the way from kindergarten up to and including their final year in high school.

In such a society, when life gets stressful, individuals who are ”coping skills experts” will be able to respond in a healthier and more successful way, contrary to others who fail to put their coping skills into operation.

Stated differently, students who demonstrate good coping skills will be more able to think logically and display top-shelf decision making as opposed to teenagers who, because they were unsuccessful in their attempts to learn quality coping skills, are attracted to the “quick fix” of excessive drinking.

What would happen in the above “ideal” society, moreover, if students not only obtained exceptional coping skills 51OBVAU6WxL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_education but also received an exceptional education that underscored the short term and long term injurious results associated with drug abuse and alcohol abuse? Emphasizing these types of drug and alcohol abuse facts, along with more advanced coping skills training, it is asserted, would help students stay away from the apparent appeal related to adolescent drinking and, accordingly, would radically diminish the alcohol abuse shown by teens in our country.

Teenage Abusive Drinking: Conclusion

There are certainly various compelling reasons why so many of our adolescents drink in a hazardous manner. Such a complicated subject demands a thorough and more pertinent educational and preventative response by our students, parents, politicians, and educators so that our teenagers can learn how to cope with life’s difficulties in a more productive and responsible way rather than gravitating to risky drinking behavior to solve their problems.


July 23, 2009 Posted by | Addiction, Alcohol, Resilience | Leave a comment

Is Vegetarianism Among Some Teens Possibly Masking an Eating Disorder?

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Dr. Robinson-O’Brien and colleagues examined the link between vegetarianism and a number of health indicators to help us better understand the benefits and risks of vegetarianism in young adults. The authors discussed how vegetarianism is associated with a number of benefits such as increased consumption of fruits and vegetable and lower caloric and energy intake. However, if not done properly, vegetarian diets may also lead to deficiencies in a number of nutrients. In addition, some studies have suggested that teens who have image problems and eating disorders may be more likely to turn to vegetarianism in order to lose weight.

In order to more carefully examine the possible risks and benefits of vegetarian diets in teenagers, the authors collected information from 2,516 teenagers (15 to 18) and young adults (19-23) regarding their eating habits, vegetarian status, weight, dietary quality, physical activity, binge eating practices, healthy and unhealthy weight control behaviors, and substance use.

The authors found that the rate of vegetarianism were relatively low. Only 4% of the teens and young adults stated that they were currently vegetarians, and 11% stated that they used to be vegetarians. Vegetarianism was associated with a number of benefits including:

9780936077031-crop-325x325– a lower body mass index;

– lower rates of obesity;

– higher consumption of fruits and vegetables and;

– lower consumption of calories from fat.

However, in the younger cohort, both current and former vegetarians were more likely to engage in more extreme unhealthy weight loss measures and binge eating. Specifically, 20% of current vegetarians and 21% of former vegetarians reported engaging in unhealthy weight loss behaviors, while only 10% of the never vegetarians reported unhealthy weight loss behaviors. Likewise, 21% of current, and 16% of the former vegetarians reported binge eating, while only 4% of the never vegetarians reported engaging in this behavior. Therefore, teen vegetarians were 2 times more likely to engage in unhealthy weight loss behaviors and up to 4 times more likely to engage in binge eating.

In the older group, 27% of former vegetarians reported using unhealthy weight loss measures, which compared to 16% of current vegetarians and 15% of never vegetarians. In addition, 18% of current vegetarians and 10% of former vegetarians engaged in binge eating, compared to only 5% of never vegetarians. Therefore, young adult vegetarians and former vegetarians were more likely to engage in binge eating than never vegetarians, but only the former vegetarians (not the current) were more likely to engage in unhealthy weight control measures.

The authors conclude that although there are some clear benefits of vegetarian diets, in some teenagers and young adults vegetarianism may actually be masking eating problems.

Thus an important issue for parents encountering a teen who wants to become a vegetarian is “why.” It seems less likely (although possible) that vegetarianism is masking an eating disorder in a politically active teen who decides to become vegetarian for well presented philosophical issues related to healthy diets and/or animal rights. However, it would be more concerning if a non-politically active teen with a history of unhealthy eating habits and self-image struggles suddenly decides to become a vegetarian as a form of weight control. Now, this is not necessarily bad, since one could argue that going on a vegetarian diet is a healthy weight loss alternative – one that may actually prevent these kids from engaging in even more unhealthy eating behaviors. However, the danger is that poor vegetarian diets may further compromise the child’s health, especially among adolescents already experiencing nutrient deficiencies due to unhealthy eating habits. Thus the answer may not be to keep your child from starting a vegetarian diet, but instead to make sure that such a diet is carefully monitored, so that the child does not experience further nutrient deficiencies.

Finally, please note that the authors never actually assessed for eating disorders. They assessed unhealthy eating and weigh loss behaviors, which are usually associated with underlying eating disorders. Therefore, contrary to some news reports about this study, this study does not show that vegetarian teens are more likely to have eating disorders than non-vegetarian teens. Instead the data show that vegetarian teens are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors that are often associated with eating disorders.

Robinson-O’Brien, R., Perry, C., Wall, M., Story, M., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2009). Adolescent and Young Adult Vegetarianism: Better Dietary Intake and Weight Outcomes but Increased Risk of Disordered Eating Behaviors Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109 (4), 648-655 DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.014

Parents Guide to Eating Disorders at

Parents Guide to Eating Disorders at


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July 22, 2009 Posted by | Eating Disorder, Health Psychology, Parenting | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Girls Who Get On Well With Dad May Have More Successful Relationships with Men

This post is is sourced from a series of reports on research presented  at the Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science in May this year. This one struck me as very interesting but not surprising.

Researchers have noted for decades that children view their home environment and relationship with their parents as “models”, and that this is usually reflected in how these children interact in new environments in the future. For example, children who are exposed to highly aggressive parenting are in turn more likely to use hostility and aggression as means to attain their own goals (see our review of Hoevet et al. 2009 meta-analysis on parenting and delinquency). Children also model positive behaviors. For example, children who see parents reach amicable resolutions to conflicts are also more likely to learn better conflict resolution skills.

Following this line of research, some investigators have examined whether child exposure to specific bonding or attachment styles are also likely to affect how these children act in their own close relationships later on. To answer this question, a research group from Rider University examined the role of the quality of father-daughter bond in the development of positive romantic relationships during young adulthood.

The authors studied 78 teens and young adults (average age 19), who reported on the quality of their relationship with their fathers and their current boyfriends. Three specific relationship domains were examined, namely: communication, trust, and time spent with their boyfriends/fathers

The results:

1. Girls with good communication with their fathers also had significantly better communication with their boyfriends when compared to girls with low communication with their fathers.

2. Girls with high levels of trust with their fathers also had significantly better communication and trust with their boyfriends.

3. Finally, time spent with their fathers was not associated with communication, trust or time spent with their boyfriends.

At first glance, the data seem to show that the quality of bond between daughters and fathers, specifically communication and trust (albeit not time), predicts better communication and trust with their boyfriends. One interpretation is that these girls learn to create secure attachments with their dads, which allow them to then have more positive relationships with their boyfriends (more trust and better communication). It is also possible that fathers contribute to the modeling/development of good communication skills and trust, which affect how these girls interact with their boyfriends. However, it is also possible that this reflects an individual characteristic of the girls themselves and is not necessarily a reflection of the quality of the father-daughter bond. That is, it is possible that girls who have good communication with their fathers simply have a specific temperament or communication styles/skills that facilitate the development of good father-daughter communication, and it is this individual characteristic that also leads to better communication with their boyfriends. But more than likely a combination of individual characteristics and child-parent relationships is driving this effect, which would be in line with previous research on the effects of adolescent-parent relationships in later romantic relationships. For example, Donnellan et al. (2005) found that both personality traits and parenting experiences during adolescents predicted the quality of romantic relationships in young adulthood.

All in all, the results are nonetheless very interesting in showing how the quality of father-daughter relationships may affect how daughters experience their relationships with their boyfriends

The references:

Nemeth, Ansary, Seiden, & Keith (2009). Father-Daughter bonds and the quality of daughter’s romantic relationships: Are the two significantly linked? Poster presented at the Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science. San Francisco, May, 2009. Dr. Nadia Ansary is at Rider University.

Donnellan, M., Larsen-Rife, D., & Conger, R. (2005). Personality, Family History, and Competence in Early Adult Romantic Relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88 (3), 562-576 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.88.3.562

Hoeve, M., Dubas, J., Eichelsheim, V., Laan, P., Smeenk, W., & Gerris, J. (2009). The Relationship Between Parenting and Delinquency: A Meta-analysis Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology DOI: 10.1007/s10802-009-9310-8
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July 22, 2009 Posted by | Intimate Relationshps, Parenting, Resilience | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This is Water: Are Persistence, Tolerance, Compassion and Mindfulness the Keys to Resilience and Happiness?

Today I have been re-reading the late David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Commencement Speech to KenyDavid Foster Wallaceon College Students. David Foster Wallace, the brilliant American author who sadly suicided in late 2008, had a brilliant way of cutting through the ‘crap’ and his writings have a way of taking your mind to deeper places that would be obvious and evident if we actually took the time to notice what was going on not just within us, but for those around us. Aside from his award winning novel ‘Infinite Jest’, Foster Wallace’s Commencement Address remains one of his greatest legacys to us. As the text is is the public domain, I have taken the liberty of posting it in its entirety below. Read it, and I hope it reaches you the same way it has me and many of my patients and clients.

Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address – May 21, 2005

(If anybody feels like perspiring [cough], I’d advise you to go ahead, because I’m sure going to. In fact I’m gonna [mumbles while pulling up his gown and taking out a handkerchief from his pocket].) Greetings [“parents”?] and congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story [“thing”] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

9780316068222-crop-325x325Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I’m supposed to talk about your liberal arts education’s meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about quote teaching you how to think. If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I’m going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I’d ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Here’s another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.'” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”

It’s easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our 41CqUvHML1L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy’s interpretation is true and the other guy’s is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person’s most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there’s the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They’re probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists’ problem is exactly the same as the story’s unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being “well-adjusted”, which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education — least in my own case — is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, yojestu finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of you graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.

9780316013321-crop-325x325But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you what to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible — sounds like “displayal”]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

“This is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.


Buy the full text in Hardcover Form Here or if you are an Australasian Resident you might like to Purchase Here: This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life


July 21, 2009 Posted by | Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness, Resilience | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hypnosis Really can Help:Debunking Common Myths around being Hypnotized

I am pleased that I’ve actually come across some sound and sensible information regarding hypnosis on the internet! Hypnosis when put in to action well, can be a very effective tool for some interpersonal and habitual problems. However there are a number of reasons why a lot of people won’t touch it with the preverbial bargepole! From the site here are some accurate debunks of 5 myths about hypnosis.

Hypnosis Myth 1) All hypnosis is the same As with anything, hypnosis can be good, bad or indifferent. The most common is old-style authoritarian hypnosis of the type “You are getting sleepy, you are feeling confident”. Unsurprisingly, this sort of hypnosis doesn’t work well with many people. Good hypnosis uses subtle psychological principles and advanced communication patterns. It’s like the difference between a football coach who thinks you’ll perform best if he yells at you, compared with the more elegant style of a great leader who knows that to get the best from his people, he needs to understand motivation, to cajole, encourage and reward. Hypnosis offers hundreds of sessions using the best type of hypnosis.

Hypnosis Myth 2) Subliminals work Subliminals are words that you can’t hear. Common sense says they shouldn’t work, and there’s no research proving that they do.

Hypnosis Myth 3) Some people can’t be hypnotized .The only reason you can’t be hypnotized is if you are incapable of paying attention due to extremely low IQ or brain damage. That’s not to say that every hypnotist can hypnotize you however. The more flexible the hypnotist, the more effective she will be with the largest number of people.

Hypnosis Myth 4) Hypnosis is something weird that other people do to you If you couldn’t go into hypnosis, you wouldn’t be able to sleep, to learn, or get nervous through ‘negative self hypnosis’. (You know when you imagine things going wrong and it makes you feel anxious? Well that’s self hypnosis!)

Hypnosis is simply a deliberate utilization of the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) or dream state. We’re not giving people medication here – if it wasn’t a natural ability, hypnosis wouldn’t work!

Hypnosis Myth 5) You lose control in hypnosis Crazy news stories, stage hypnotists and gossip have created the illusion that you lose control in hypnosis. In fact, when hypnotized, you are relaxed and focused – and able to choose to get up and walk away at any time. You choose to give your attention to the hypnotist, and you can withdraw it at any time.

If you have been scared of hypnosis in the past, this article has hopefully helped give you a more balanced perspective. But remember, ensure what you’re getting is the real thing. If you are curious, ask you therapist or psychologist before you seek further information or help. Online, try for further resources or information.

Adapted from an article by Mark Tyrrell of Hypnosis


July 20, 2009 Posted by | Health Psychology, Hypnosis | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sex After Marriage?: Resurrecting Sex & Developing Passionate Intimacy in your Relationship

In July 2002 I had a ( and I know I am sounding melodramatic here) life-changing and career rattling experience when I attended a two day workshop with Colorado-area Marriage and Family Health Center director and psychotherapist Dr David Schnarch, in Sydney,Australia.  (UPDATE: also see a related post HERE)

Dr David Schnarch

Dr David Schnarch

Schnarch is plugged as the “rightful heir” to sex science pioneers Masters and Johnson. But he’s not their disciple. In the 1950s they introduced the idea that sex was a natural function and should be regarded as such. At one level, that was tremendously liberating, he says. But at another level it was an inherently pathological model in which sexual difficulties (or dysfunction, as they became known post-Masters and Johnson) were treated as abnormal. In fact, says Schnarch, sexual difficulties are a normal part of the healthy development of an emotional relationship between adults.

We were a mixed group that arrived at the Mary McKillop Centre for the workshop.  Dr. Schnarch went to some trouble to make us all feel at home (even forsaking his tie, as is the custom in this part of the world).

He warned us it would be “like drinking from a fire hose” and he was right. There was so much practical wisdom in what he was saying that it was hard to take it all in. But we did. People changed over those two days. I did.

At the same time I became more and more excited at the robust promise of Dr. Schnarch’s work. It is increasingly accepted that he is offering a new paradigm in sexual and marital therapy, however I see this paradigm as offering new approaches to all forms of psychotherapy. To be able to approach clients from a genuinely non-pathologizing stance, and to work in such a way that I am speaking to and drawing on the best of them is a goal often promised but rarely, if ever, delivered on till now.

Materials in Dr Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage series highlight how common issues about intimate sexual relationships and common problems with sex and intimacy are really part of a system: Marriage is a natural 41NRT1PJ1TL._SL210_“people-growing process” and the inevitable sexual boredom, lack of passion, and communication difficulties are the drive wheels and grindstones of adult development. Relationships are shaped by more than unresolved childhood issues, past “wounds,” and family-of-origin problems. Even when these are non-existent, marriage becomes contentious because the growth processes in emotionally committed relationships surface in sexual interactions and other intimate exchanges. These are not situational problems to be solved and avoided. Rather, they are dilemmas to go through because they make us grow capable of the intimate sexual relationships and eroticism we seek. Common sexual and relationship difficulties are midpoints in the evolution of healthy relationships rather than signs of personal inadequacy, incompatibility, or falling out of love.

Passionate Marriage focuses on life-long sexual development rather than merely curing sexual dysfunctions or improving sexual relationships (it does this too). Most people never reach their sexual potential–and those who do are generally well into their 40s, 50s, and 60s. This is a pleasant surprise to many people because it’s common to confuse genital prime with sexual prime. In reality, we are more capable of intensely intimate sexual relationships and blatant eroticism as we mature. Most people are much better in bed as they get older. Sexual potential and cellulite are highly correlated!

Instead of emphasizing listening skills, communication, compromise, or negotiation, Passionate Marriage shows how “your relationship with yourself” controls both intimate connection and sexual desire for your partner. This revolutionary approach offers concrete ways to use your sexuality to build a stronger sense of yourself while getting closer to your partner. Most marital enrichment approaches emphasize other-validated intimacy: expecting empathy, reciprocity, and validation from your partner when you disclose. Passionate Marriage emphasizes self-validated intimacy: validating and accepting your own disclosures, and learning to soothe your own heart. This shift allows you to use emotional gridlock, difficulties being intimate, and problems in your sexual relationship like sexual boredom, and low desire to develop yourself while creating a more intimate, passionate, loving relationship with your partner.

41S1BZZ2V9L._SL210_This approach has lots of practical applications. Passionate Marriage decodes the “language” of sex, showing how your interactions in your sexual relationship reveal you, your partner, and your relationship. Discover new psychological “styles” of having sex and dimensions of sexual experience. Learn how eyes-open sex (and orgasms) can bring hot passion and new intimacy to your relationship–and make you grow. What partners learn about maintaining themselves in their intimate sexual relationships has immediate application outside the bedroom too. Although better sex doesn’t automatically make for a better relationship, the personal growth required to enhance the sexual and intimate aspects of relationship is the same growth that improves relationships in other ways, often at the same time.

Rather than focusing on “touch techniques,” the book Passionate Marriage and associated workshops emphasize intimate and emotional connection during sexual interaction. Expect explicit discussion of sexual behavior, practical tips, and details of couples’ going through the “people-growing” crucibles inherent in emotionally committed relationships.

These books are essential resources for all married or committed couples, not just those who think they are in trouble. More over the next few weeks.

Questions? Leave them in the comments. email me via the link on the right or tweet them.

Buy the books HERE!


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July 19, 2009 Posted by | Intimate Relationshps, Marriage, Resilience | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Landmark US study finds Australia’s Triple P-Positive Parenting program lowers child abuse injuries and fosters placements

This news article  from the University Of Queensland News pages is very exciting, as I was involved in the original research of the efficacy of Triple P as a graduate student in the early ’90’s!

A landmark US study has found that The University of Queensland’s Triple P – Positive Parenting Program can significantly lower rates of child abuse injuries and foster care placements when offered to parents community-wide.

Results of the five-year study, which was funded by the prestigious Center for Disease Control and Prevention and led by Dr Ron Prinz at the University of South Carolina, were published today in the online edition of the Prevention Science journal.

Professor Matthew Sanders

Professor Matthew Sanders

It is the first large-scale study to show that providing all families – not just families at risk – with access to proven parenting information and support can reduce rates of child maltreatment.

The study found that making Triple P available to all parents led to significantly lower rates of confirmed child abuse, fewer out-of-home placements and fewer hospitalisations from child abuse injuries, when compared to communities without access to Triple P.

Researchers estimate for every 100,000 children under the age of eight, the results could translate annually into 688 fewer cases of child maltreatment, 240 fewer children in care and 60 fewer children being admitted to hospital or emergency departments with abuse injuries.

Study co-author, UQ’s Professor Matt Sanders said the research added to the already-strong evidence base of Triple P.

“We already know Triple P can alleviate parents’ stress and depression and help prevent and reduce child emotional and behavioural problems,” said Professor Sanders, who is the founder of Triple P and director of the Parenting and Family Support Centre at The University of Queensland.

“But this research shows that by providing all parents – not just those at risk – with parenting support through evidence-based programs, we can have a major impact on child maltreatment.

“We can hold back the growth in child abuse, keep kids out of foster care and in their own homes and see fewer injured children in hospitals.”

The US study was conducted in 18 counties in South Carolina, nine of which were chosen randomly to receive Triple P. Parents of children from birth to 12 years could easily access Triple P information through a variety of methods, include mainstream media, brief public seminars and trained counsellors at clinics, schools, churches and community centres.

“We would expect similar results in Australia if all families here were offered easy access to Triple P.

“Parents are looking for practical solutions to parenting problems that work,” Professor Sanders said.

The CDC chose Triple P as its preferred parenting method for the study because of its solid evidence base and its flexibility for parents seeking support.

Triple P was developed at The University of Queensland by Professor Sanders and colleagues and is based on 30 years’ clinical research. The program is now used by governments and health authorities in 17 countries – The United States, England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Iran, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Singapore, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Curacao and Australia

(Sourced from


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July 18, 2009 Posted by | Parenting, Resilience, Social Justice | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Scientists and Clinicians Meet to Better Understand “Rain Man”

UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) will host a workshop for clinicians and scientists seeking to better understand the syndromes associated with a brain development condition made famous in the movie Rain Man.
The workshop will feature some of the world’s leading experts in development of the corpus callosum – the largest fibre tract in the brain, which connects neurons in the left and right cerebral hemispheres.
Dustin Hoffman (right) played Raymond Babbitt in the 1988 movie Rain Man © 1988 United Artists Pictures Inc.
Malformation and absence (agenesis) of the corpus callosum are rare developmental disorders that result in a wide spectrum of symptoms, ranging from severe cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism to relatively mild learning problems.
The Hollywood screenplay Rain Man was inspired by the very real abilities of an American man, Kim Peek, whose brain lacks a corpus callosum. Like the character portrayed in the movie, Mr Peek is capable of extraordinary mental agility, although he nevertheless faces many day-to-day challenges with seemingly simple tasks.

QBI’s Associate Professor Linda Richards said the workshop was an opportunity for clinicians and scientists to better understand the fundamental brain mechanisms that regulate the plasticity and formation of connections in the brain.

“Understanding what happens inside the brain during its development may hold the key to solving a wide range of neurological disorders,” Dr Richards said. “Advanced imaging techniques being developed at QBI and other research centres around the world are expected to play an important role in better understanding this condition.” Among the workshop’s objectives is to form an international alliance of clinicians and scientists working together to develop diagnostic tests and treatments for children and adults with agenesis of the corpus callosum.

“We’ve already identified about 30 candidate genes in animal models, and it is likely many of these genes regulate corpus callosum formation in humans,” Dr Richards said. “If we could more accurately identify the causes of agenesis of the corpus callosum we can develop therapies to treat people with this range of disorders.” Among the 12 leading scientists and clinicians speaking at the workshop will be Associate Professor Elliott Sherr (University of California, San Francisco), an internationally recognised leader in imaging and genetics of corpus callosum agenesis.

The workshop will be held at the Queensland Brain Institute on Tuesday, July 24.

(Sourced from:


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July 18, 2009 Posted by | Aspergers Syndrome, Autism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Harry Potter Parenting: “Geek Dad” on Tips Embedded in the Tomes

I love reading Geek Dad’s blog at If you haven’t caught up with the jottings of Kevin Makice ( make sure you do so soon. Once you’ve read his lighthearted and insightful parenting posts, you’ll more than likely add him to your favorites. As this blog is about resources as much as it is about rants, I’ve taken the liberty of reposting his latest offering below. I’ve done this because it’s timely, it’s humorous, it’s wise and…It’s Harry. Enjoy!

Harry Potter

Harry Potter

The sixth film in the Harry Potter seriesHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—enjoyed a record-setting Wednesday opening, netting $22.2 million to top The Dark Knight’s $18.5 million in 2008. Once again, we are transported to J. K. Rowling’s magical world of wizards, monsters, and the wisdom of Headmaster Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. As much as his students at Hogwarts, we parents are enchanted by how relevant his words are to our own struggles, particularly those surrounding raising our Muggles. Here are five such gems and the parenting themes they inspire.

SPOILER WARNING: Although I’ve restricted the content to the first five novels (so, no Half-Blood Prince or Deathly Hallows), some information below might reveal plot points to anyone who has never read the books nor seen the previous movies.

The Truth is a Beautiful and Terrible Thing

After Harry survived his encounter with Professor Quirrel in Philosopher’s Stone, Dumbledore told the young wizard to be cautious with the truth. As parents, we play around with evolving notions of truth all the time. Whether it’s perpetuating a childlike belief in a generous fat man or choosing to explain birth and death in different ways as kids grow up, the spirit of what is true is linked to what is necessary and what is helpful.

For kids, however, truth is who they are, sometimes painfully so. (Even when they do lie, they’re truthful about it.) Kids say the darndest things. My wife once shattered the passenger-side mirror pulling out of a driveway into a mailbox, leaving the mailbox in similar shape. Several weeks later, our then 3-year-old son noticed another damaged mailbox and speculated, “Our car must have been there.” Multiply that by every time toddlers walk by someone who has an undesirable physical feature, and it’s easy to recognize the terrible in truth.

Fear of a Name Increases Fear of the Thing Itself

The main bad guy in Harry Potter mythology is Lord Voldemort, aka Tom Riddle, aka He Who Must Not Be Named. So scary is this dude, the mere mention of his name turns pink cheeks white. Dumbledore, though, encourages Harry to use his proper name. The corollary to that advice is that we shouldn’t put too much power in a label.

In her book When the Labels Don’t Fit, clinical social worker Barbara Probst describes ways to reject disease-based labels of children in favor of identifying the unmet needs influencing their behavior. In an interview, Probst said many parents run from label to label, looking for one that works, but their kids are not really helped by that. Most behavioral plans reward a child for not meeting his needs. Just as Dumbledore wanted to make Voldemort less threatening by using his name (ok, he’s still evil), we can limit the prescriptive damage that labels do by treating each child as someone with a fundamental goodness who is struggling to make sense of the world.

We All Face the Choice Between What is Right and What is Easy

Dumbledore defied the Ministry of Magic by supporting Harry’s claim that the popular Cedric Diggory died at the hand of Voldemort in Goblet of Fire. Cedric becomes a cautionary tale for how dangerous HWMNBN can be, whether or not he’s called by name. In eulogizing the boy, Dumbledore makes a distinction between right and easy. That also describes the difficulties of remaining engaged with your child during a tantrum, either hers or yours.

When someone is angry or upset, emotions dominate the moment. That person can’t hear rational arguments or respond in ways they would otherwise. It is much easier to separate yourself from the child with a bedroom door than stay in the room with him, where you have to hear the noise. It is much easier to justify some snippy retort or bark an order than it is to continue to communicate effectively with those emotions flying around the room. Eventually, calmer heads do prevail, but it is important for both parent and child to stay present as that journey takes place.

The Best of Us Must Sometimes Eat Our Words

When the Headmaster toyed with Ron Weasley about his expulsion in Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore reminded us all that even adults aren’t perfect. In fact, the mistakes we make and the failures we display can become some of our best parenting opportunities.

Parenting is a lot like social media in this sense. It’s one thing for people to hate Comcast. It’s quite another to see how Frank Eliason responds to those kinds of messages and the effect it has on his customers. When we make mistakes as parents, eating our words models how we can deal with the gaffes we make. Teaching kids to respectfully disagree and compromise—traits most parents covet in their offspring—requires that we be willing to do the same.

Old Men are Guilty if They Forget What it Was to Be Young

In the Order of the Phoenix, Harry gets an apology from Dumbledore for his part in manipulating Harry’s dangerous path to power, observing that while young people have never experienced age, old men have simply forgotten what it’s like to be young. The old wizard isn’t alone. Being older and wiser, we parents are sometimes so far removed from our experiences as kids we can be blind to the perspective of our children. We listen to them talk about their feelings (in those rare moments of sharing) and then tell them they don’t feel that way. We watch them play and hear the noise instead of the story.

My eldest inhaled all of my Calvin & Hobbes comics, which was one of my favorite strips as a teenager. Until my son started narrating our interactions in the voice of Spaceman Spiff, I had always identified with Calvin. Now, I’m the Dad, wanting to tell him to quit throwing things at me instead of playfully dodging the Death Ray Blaster, in character as a Zealous Zarch. In these situations, it is like someone cast Obliviate on me and removed my childhood.


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July 17, 2009 Posted by | Parenting, Resilience | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment