Which character do we tend to side with in books, TV shows, or movies: the flawless, utterly competent “golden child” archetype who never makes a mistake, or the downright decent, down-to-earth striver who gets it wrong some of the time but sticks to his or her goal and gets the job done in the end?
The answer, of course, is the latter – we tend to have a negative reaction to people we perceive as never making mistakes and always achieving things with competence. This is because such people make us feel vaguely threatened, perhaps a touch envious, or even less secure about ourselves. And it’s why someone else’s mistakes can make us feel more at ease, more sympathetic, and more self-assured.
This is called the Pratfall Effect: it is a phenomenon in social psychology wherein witnessing someone else’s minor (and generally harmless) error actually improves the way we feel about that individual. Simply put, when we see someone spill a glass of water, miss a step and stumble, use the wrong word in a sentence, or commit some other pedestrian error – the exact kind we can and do make ourselves – we like that person more.
And the Pratfall Effect is most effective when the person making that minor mistake is someone we might otherwise have estimated as threateningly competent.
The Origins of the Pratfall Effect
While of course in practical terms the effects of this social phenomenon have existed for as long as humans have lived in societies, the specific identification of the Pratfall Effect can be dated to the year 1966 and attributed to a social psychologist named Elliot Aronson.
In seeking to prove a theory he had, Aronson created two audio recordings of a quiz-style game show (staged for the experiment, though participants were unaware of this). In the first version of the show, a poised and clever-sounding host led participants through the competition and the proceedings went off without a hitch.
In the second version of the show, the only difference was that the host was heard to knock over a cup of coffee and respond to his accident with casual humor.
As Aronson had expected, study participants in the group that listened to the recording with the spilled coffee incident found the host of the show much more likeable and relatable. The only difference? He had made a small mistake.
Examples of the Pratfall Effect
If you think back, you will probably realize you have experienced the Pratfall Effect myriad times in your life: perhaps your boss knocked over a cup of coffee during a meeting and laughed it off, suddenly seeming less powerful and unapproachable and instead amiable and relatable. Perhaps you have seen a Hollywood star slip on a red carpet or a runway model miss a step and found them suddenly relatable.
Even a president who makes the occasional gaffe during a speech or press conference can seem more down-to-earth and likeable than a cool, collected politician who always has the perfect diction. And in your everyday life, you have surely seen a stranger stumble on a street corner or drop a bag in an airport and immediately sympathized with and even been charmed by the person. (Ironic, isn’t it, how embarrassed we can be when we make these harmless little mistakes ourselves even though we know how we would feel when seeing someone else do the same!)
Those who have a clear understanding of the Pratfall Effect can use it as a powerful tool in politics, marketing, sales, and other arenas – mind you, they should only do so with good intentions, of course. By intentionally making yourself seem more relatable and likeable, you can help relate more closely to a constituency of potential voters; you see politicians doing this all the time when they adopt the mannerisms and speech patterns of a local population, even using improper grammar or colloquialisms that make them seem more approachable.
In sales or marketing setting, if the pitch person (be they a speaker at a conference, a TV presenter, or the car salesman or saleswoman sitting across the desk from you) seems perfectly polished, you are less likely to respond to them as a human and thus less likely to end up buying what they are selling. If, on the other hand, the person makes a few little mistakes, is a bit self-effacing, and seems a bit imperfect, you are more likely to connect with them on a human level and also to be more likely to be comfortable becoming a customer.
When the Pratfall Effect Backfires
When a person who seems highly competent makes a minor mistake, in most cases, our perceived attraction of them will go up and we will find them more likeable, more relatable, and more trustworthy, and that, to reiterate, is the essential nature of the Pratfall Effect. On the other hand, when someone who does not seem all that competent or capable makes a mistake, it has the opposite effect: we see that person as even less competent, as less likable, and as less attractive.
The Pratfall Effect is also ineffective or works against a person when they make a major mistake. While we may laugh at and appreciate a famous neurosurgeon flubbing a word or dropping a stack of notes during a lecture, there is no good that could come of a doctor making a mistake during an operation, for example – not in the eyes of others or for the patient on the table. Major mistakes – or transgressions or judgment errors – just don’t make someone likeable.
So too can someone who makes too many mistakes go from initially more likeable to less so. If you want to put the Pratfall Effect to work in your factor, take care not to try too hard to appear likeable through error lest you may accidentally lower others’ estimation of you. A safer bet is to just be your genuine self and not to worry so much if and when you do make a mistake, because chances are good an honest mistake will actually work in your favor.
Motivation is the “why” behind human behavior. It is the energy to act, the driving force behind the things we do.
Without this energy and desire comes a lack of inspiration, or the feeling of being unmotivated. This can lead to procrastination, a general lack of vitality, as well as less willingness to grow or seek out new and challenging opportunities.
Human motivation is intertwined with self-development and psychology. Within the field of psychology, motivation is separated into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
Intrinsic motivation can be described as doing an activity for its inherent satisfactions rather than for some separable consequence or from fear of negative outcomes.
Extrinsic motivation refers to an engagement in activities due to the influence of outside factors, or “extrinsic motivators,” rather than doing them for the simple feeling of satisfaction they bring.
Examples of extrinsic motivation might include studying for a test because a fail would force you to repeat a grade, or working out early in the morning before work in order to fit into a wedding dress. Unlike intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivators are not done for their own sake.
Although studies have found intrinsic motivation to be a more effective form of motivation, extrinsic motivation has a wealth of benefits as well. In recent years, more and more studies have found its value… when used skillfully.
In this article, we’ll explore the subtleties of extrinsic motivation before providing tips on how to integrate these insights into your life. Not only will this give you a clear overview of the “why” of your behavior, it will offer steps to boost your motivation in all areas of life. What more motivation do you need to read on?
What is the definition of extrinsic motivation?
The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines extrinsic motivation as “an external incentive to engage in a specific activity, especially motivation arising from the expectation of punishment or reward (e.g., completing a disliked chore in exchange for payment).”
Extrinsic motivation is tied to the outcome. The activity isn’t performed from enjoyment itself, but because of the result the action will bring. Studies in behavioral psychology have long associated motivation with the dynamic of reward and punishment — where it was assumed people are incentivized to avoid pain or pursue some form of pleasure.
However, recent research has shown the truth is more complex. Self-determination theory, created by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan (who created the categories of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation) explains motivation as existing on a spectrum. Extrinsic motivation is separated into four groups:
External regulation (external): Activities are carried out purely to satisfy external demands, such as requests from a boss or instructions from a teacher, or for external rewards. It lacks freedom or willingness.
Introjected regulation (somewhat external): Activities carried out due to external pressure, such as avoiding feelings of guilt or shame, or looking to attain ego-enhancements or pride. Although internally driven (and psychological in nature), it still feels restrictive or lacking willingness.
Identified regulation (somewhat internal): This action is more autonomous, due to finding personal importance in an activity. For example, a child studying for a spelling test because they see the overall value of writing. Although requests or demands to act are external, identified regulation has an element of willingness due to an interest in personal growth.
Integrated regulation (internal): This is the overlap between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Integration occurs when someone has fully internalised extrinsic factors, and now takes on the activity fully as their own. This is the most desirable form of extrinsic motivation.
These behaviors move up the scale in terms of how much the person experiences a sense of freedom or autonomy in their behaviour. The first feels completely outside of control, the last feels harmonious, and borderline intrinsic. In experimenting with these above types of extrinsic motivation, Ryan and Connell (1989) referred to this scale as the “continuum of relative autonomy.”
The value of extrinsic motivation, then, is related to this degree of autonomy.
The difference between internal and external motivation
To be clear, extrinsic isn’t the same as external.
Not all rewards are located in the outside world, but rather, exist as inner experiences or feelings. Internal rewards are psychological, while external rewards are tangible, such as money or a certificate of study. Intrinsic motivation is driven by internal reward, including the joy of the task alone. Extrinsic motivation can be driven by internal rewards, external rewards, or a mix of both.
If you’re on the path of self-development and are interested in exploring the reasons behind your behavior, noticing this difference requires reflection and self-awareness. That’s because it might appear you’re intrinsically motivated, when in reality, there is confusion between the internal reward you’re expecting to receive once the task is complete.
Using some personal data as an example, I’ve noticed there have been times where I’ve written articles that, unconsciously, I was looking for some form of validation or praise. It wasn’t my only motivation to write (it’s a practice I find highly rewarding). But at times, when I write a piece that I’m proud of, and the response is less than expected, I become aware of my inner desire for external rewards.
The creative process can be a liberating and joyful experience. But once that creative work is released into the world, the ego can hijack the process, and seek acclaim.
Extrinsic motivators: a closer look
The most common example of extrinsic motivation with a tangible reward is working for money. Many people work in jobs they don’t love due to the guarantee of a paycheck at the end of the month, with the salary, and the security it provides, being enough incentive to turn up each day and work. In terms of internal rewards, or psychological rewards, someone might work in a role due to its acclaim, status, or respect.
A modern form of extrinsic motivation is FOMO — or fear of missing out. During the worldwide lockdowns and restrictions during 2020, FOMO wasn’t much of an issue. Yet now things are opening up, it becomes easier to feel a subtle pull to keep up to speed with what others are doing. Social media shows a constant reel of people’s lives and everything they’re up to. FOMO is the motivation to take part, even if it’s an activity or experience you’re not internally motivated or enthusiastic about.
Although it’s a slang term, FOMO has genuine consequences on wellbeing and behavior. Due to its rise in recent years, FOMO has been scientifically researched, with one study finding it to be “identified as a meaningful extrinsic motive.” Although FOMO is a relatively new phenomenon, acting to maintain self-image, or fit in socially, is part of the human DNA. Ryan and Deci refer to this as ego involvement, “in which a person performs an act in order to enhance or maintain self-esteem and the feeling of worth.”
Extrinsic motivation is also linked to social media and modern smartphones. Our devices and apps are filled with external rewards that provide dopamine hits — think of “likes” on social media, or design techniques, such as the infinite scroll, that keep your attention. Chamath Palihapitiya, the former VC of growth at Facebook, went as far as to express guilt because “the short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”
When it comes to people behaving the way they do, with mental clarity and a strong sense of connection, it’s unlikely most people would choose to spend hours upon hours browsing Facebook or Instagram. Yet once in those feedback loops, the extrinsic rewards affect motivation by getting you hooked to a burst of feel-good chemicals or social validation.
More on extrinsic rewards
Extrinsic rewards aren’t always negative, and their role in motivation is often complex. Think of a student studying to get good grades. If it’s a subject they don’t like, there’s a chance they won’t find much joy in studying itself. Yet the outcome of getting good grades, and progressing in the academic ladder, is enough to make the extrinsic reward a solid motivation.
Like all aspects of human behavior, there are many layers involved. It’s not as straightforward as motivation being intrinsic or extrinsic or motivated internally or externally. There is overlap. For example, in a work setting, someone may be motivated to work extra hard to receive a financial bonus (external reward). They may also have the desire to receive praise from their boss (internal reward). The work they’re doing could be aligned to their values, too, making it intrinsically rewarding.
Another daily example is completing a chore — such as taking out the rubbish or cleaning the flat — which is motivated by the sense of satisfaction that will result once the job’s done. It’s rare these activities are enjoyable. But it’s part of life that there are many occasions in which we have to work through unpleasant, boring, or mundane tasks.
Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation: the benefits
In our article on intrinsic motivation, we explored why having intrinsic interest in taking an action is more effective for success over the long run, rather than relying on external factors. Research and peer reviewed studies into motivation has found this to be the case, and much more effective than the approach of avoiding punishment and chasing rewards. Studies find that extrinsic motivation is effective short-term, but loses its impact over longer periods of time.
However, extrinsic motivation isn’t useless. The relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is known as “synergistic combination.” There is a sweet spot, where the internal and external elements of motivation combine and enhance each other — think of the example above, of someone working for the satisfaction of the job, plus the desire to receive a financial bonus.
It’s unrealistic to expect to enter a flow state all day, every day, and to feel intrinsically motivated to carry out every activity. If we waited to feel an inner desire, it’s likely we’d end up procrastinating on many tasks. So while extrinsic motivation isn’t as effective long-term, the short-term effects can be harnessed, under the right circumstances.
There’s a significant difference between relying purely on extrinsic motivation for a full-time job or study, compared to being extrinsically motivated to carry out certain undesirable tasks. A good example of this is treating yourself when you’ve completed a certain task. For example, “once I’ve written 1,000 words, I’ll have a cookie.” Or “if I do my tax returns, I’ll book myself a massage.” And so on.
As long as you’re not using these techniques all the time, their short-term effects can be used skilfully. And keep in mind the four types of extrinsic motivation and the scale of autonomy. You want to avoid external regulation as much as you can and aim for identified regulation and integrated regulation. It’s not quite intrinsic mutation, but the more autonomy in a task, the more fulfilment.
How to make the most of extrinsic motivation in 5 steps
So, how can you implement this knowledge? How can you find the sweet spot of synergy, and move towards implementing the best kind of extrinsic motivation? What is the best way to stay motivated? Below are 5 takeaways from the above research, distilled into practical tools:
1. Examine your motivation inventory
Earlier, I mentioned that extrinsic motivations can be confused with intrinsic motivations. The first step is to examine your motivation inventory, which means looking at all the areas of life in which you take action, and building clarity around the “why” of your behavior.
When looking across the different areas of your life, consider what motivates you. Are there activities that are clearly intrinsically motivated, those you’d do for free in your spare time? Are there obligations or areas in which you’re extrinsically motivated, but lack inner enthusiasm?
This examination also boosts your self-awareness. It allows you to take more conscious control of the way you’re acting. You begin to notice the whys behind your behavior, which gives you the chance to change.
2. Explore what needs to be changed
Once you have examined your motivations, and where they reside on the spectrum, the next step is to see what needs to be changed. What enhancements can you make? Are there adjustments in your approach? Do you need to swap some external motivators for more intrinsically motivated ones? For example, quitting a class you don’t find interesting, and replacing that with an activity you find internally rewarding.
Are there areas of life where you’re constantly taking action due to introjected regulation, to avoid guilt or to find praise? Are there certain areas of life where you feel you’re only acting because of external pressure? People-pleasing is a common cause of acting outside of what feels fully aligned for the sake of ego involvement.
When reflecting on your motivation inventory, consider what actions you’re doing because of others, and consider letting them go.
3. Adjust your mindset
Integrated regulation demonstrates that it’s possible to internalize a cause, even if the motivation starts externally. For example, internalizing the goals and ethos of a company. This is a shift in mindset, rather than a change in environment. To adjust your mindset to maximize integrated regulation, consider how the activity aligns with your core values.
For example, you might work in a job where the work itself isn’t exciting. You could consider a job with different challenges, of course. But are there other options? Could it be that you’re part of a great team, and your values of connection and supporting others adds a level of intrinsic motivation to do your job well?
This step is designed to look below the surface to discover causes you can connect to, to make what you do more fulfilling and enjoyable. A student might connect with the values of learning, a churchgoer might connect to values of community, even when these acts in themselves aren’t particularly enjoyable.
4. Use extrinsic rewards skillfully
I used the example of writing 1,000 words and earning a cookie earlier. This is a practice that can be used to boost motivation (and… eat cookies). You’re bargaining with yourself, but it does work. If there are areas in life where you’re struggling or procrastinating, consider setting up extrinsic rewards to give you a boost.
Word of caution: this isn’t to be overused. I had a friend who once used the extrinsic reward of a pint of beer and a takeaway after successfully going to gym class! You can see the issue there. So consider, how can I maximize rewards and use them intelligently?
Using extrinsic rewards for motivation doesn’t have to be a daily occurrence. It could be that you work hard for a few weeks and get ahead with your projects, feel satisfied with the levels of productivity and self-discipline, and take a weekend vacation, or completely “switch off.”
5. Know what you want from life
This last step is really the foundation for all of the above. I’ve mentioned core values and self-awareness. It goes without saying, inner clarity around what is meaningful, what motivates you, and what your values are is crucial in order to orientate yourself and know when you’re on the right track.
In today’s society, it’s easy to be motivated extrinsically. Without awareness, the default setting is to act in accordance with social or cultural demands, or peer pressure. You might feel motivated to get ahead, be a success, even if it doesn’t feel quite right. This can keep you in a rut, chasing money or praise without examining the underlying why.
With added clarity, you’ll know what you want. Then you can understand your deepest motivation, or what your Big Why, and gradually align your life with that.
The beauty is, once aligned, motivation takes care of itself, and it builds momentum. When momentum builds and motivation flows, that’s when you start to believe in chasing your dreams. You’re almost exactly where you need be. Take the first step.
As a child, John couldn’t train because of his asthma
Soon after he was born, John developed severe asthma and allergies for which he started being treated for at the age of two.
As a kid, he spent several Halloween nights at the hospital and his condition prevented him from participating in physical activity.
“I was constantly bullied from a young age until I graduated high school. I couldn’t walk around school because of my weight,” John remembered.
I had to be given a key to the elevator in school because I couldn’t walk up and down the stairs, and I had to write book reports instead of participating in gym class.
John struggled with low self-esteem and hated the way he looked and felt. His weight stopped him from going to college after his high school graduation, because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to get around campus or fit behind the desks.
But then, he had a major wake-up call
After his grandmother passed away in early 2015, John fell into a deep depression and coped with food and drinking, but that all changed when he had a massive asthma attack he almost didn’t survive.
“I couldn’t take a breath, it was like every bit of air was trapped inside my lungs while the weight of the whole world rested upon my chest,” remembered John.
I couldn’t speak, sweat started to pour from every part of my body. Somehow I was able to scream for my parents to call an ambulance.
Paramedics apologized to John while they put him on a stretcher, just as slipped in and out of consciousness.
“I remember looking at the clock above the door of the ambulance and praying to God and to my grandmother who had recently passed that February for another chance. I knew I had messed up,” he said.
He took his second chance seriously
Once he regained consciousness, he knew he was running out of options and committed to changing his ways.
My life was spared so it was time to make those changes I promised.
As soon as he could, John started going to the gym regularly and was able to lose 80 pounds, but his asthma kept getting in the way of his progress and he went back on steroids after another attack.
When he realized he wouldn’t be able to lose all the weight he wanted to on his own, John made the life-changing decision to undergo gastric sleeve surgery, in November 2016.
The surgery helped him drop down to 252 pounds from his initial 500 and John’s learned not to take life for granted.
The best part? How he feels about himself
“I am a totally different person now, I love life, I love challenges and I love proving myself and other people wrong and rewriting my life story,” he said.
“My health has improved dramatically, I no longer have high blood pressure or sleep apnoea, and my asthma is pretty much non-existent.”
His transformation journey has allowed him to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a professional wrestler and has since performed in several shows, calling the experience “the thrill of his life.”
He’s documented his journey on instagram to keep himself accountable along the way, but also uses his platform to inspire others who are struggling to lose weight.
“Honestly it’s the greatest feeling in the world being able to inspire others because I know when I was at my lowest, I needed someone like my current self to guide me, to show me things were possible when I didn’t think they were,” said John.
“’My major goal in life is to help show everyone that the ‘impossible’ doesn’t exist, and you can truly have anything you want in life and pursue every single dream and break every goal, that’s the only thing that matters to me.”
Though Janet Jackson isn’t a hot topic of discussion these days, no one can deny that she’s one of the most famous pop singers of all time. People forget that she’s still a thriving artist who’s continuing to release singles, produce albums, and perform for her fans whenever she has the chance. Instead of cherishing her artistry and dynamic stage presence, the media and the public continue to put her through the wringer.
Janet’s public reputation is mostly dominated by her controversial performance at the Superbowl 2004 half-time show — an incident that spoke to the double standards prevalent in society and the entertainment industry. Yet the singer also grabbed headlines in 2017 when it was announced that she’d become a mother to her son Eissa.
Celebrities having babies is hardly a newsworthy item, but Janet’s age made her pregnancy a subject of intense discussion and speculation. Instead of celebrating a woman’s journey through pregnancy and motherhood, the media chose to sensationalize the story, which, in turn, had adverse effects of its own.
This is why it’s crucial to examine Janet Jackson’s evolution over the last few years and take notes on how the media portrayed a massive chapter in her life.
Janet thinks it was a “gift” to give birth at age 50
Janet did what many think it’s impossible — conceive at nearly fifty years old. At the time, she was married to businessman Wissam Al Mana and, by all public accounts, was able to get pregnant naturally. She never divulged to the media whether she had been on any kind of fertility treatment but as far as one can tell, the pregnancy was smooth. Janet’s representatives also confirmed shortly after Eissa’s birth that the delivery was “stress-free.”
Though the whole situation was as simple as it could, it didn’t stop the tabloids from jumping into conclusions and cooking up crazy theories about her pregnancy. But Janet herself has never concerned herself with revealing the truth or dismissing the information. To her, it’s God’s greatest gift that she was able to get pregnant at such an age.
When asked about when she feels the most beautiful, Janet said:
I feel most beautiful when I’m with my son, because of the gift that God has given me and that he allowed me to do so at that age.
Janet also credited her trainer for helping her body adapt to a pregnancy at her age. Janet is someone who achieved fame as a teenager, and therefore had to spend the majority of her life in the public eye. It’s not a surprise that she got caught up in body image issues and began to feel self-conscious about most of her features. But welcoming a baby into the world reiterated what truly mattered and that she couldn’t afford to waste even a second on these trivial details.
Shortly after Eissa’s birth, Janet separated from her husband. Being a working single mother meant that she had to find time for her child no matter what. Janet said the hectic showbiz life can become overwhelming for any artist but being able to hold her son at the end of the day makes everything just a little better. She added:
love is limitless […] day after day and night after night, holding my baby in my arms, i am at peace. i am blessed. i feel bliss. in those moments, all is right with the world.
Janet’s pregnancy may have brought a world of joy into her life but the media’s approach to covering this news story has been riddled with missteps. From the onset, they’ve been treating the pregnancy as some sort of a massive mystery that needs to be dissected to no end. Articles were written about the various scenarios that could’ve been made the pregnancy possible. Doctors were called, fertility experts weighed in, and women were told that anything was possible as long as they believed.
The problem with such immense and fruitless speculation is that, ultimately, that’s all it is. Speculation doesn’t lead to any concrete evidence or answers. Janet herself has chosen not to share how she was able to get pregnant at 49, and she’s entitled to maintaining her privacy. Given that the media didn’t have any hard proof over how this pregnancy took place, they should’ve dropped it and let Janet be.
Instead, they pushed hard at the story, coming up with theories, drawing up hypotheticals, and offering false hope to other women desperately hoping to get pregnant. Women struggling with fertility would read the story and begin to wonder a range of things. Starting from “Is there something wrong with my body that Janet could get pregnant and I couldn’t?” to “It’s going to happen to me as well.”
The first thought reflects shame, something that exacerbates the stigma around older moms, whereas the second feeling of confidence might be setting you up for failure. Both shame and confidence can have a negative affect here, so it’s key to offer no certainties when covering such sensitive stories.
At the end of the day, it’s about having realistic expectations when looking at celebrities. Janet very well may have frozen her eggs or gone through IVF but it’s not for the public or the media to speculate. If she’s not choosing to share it, then there must be a reason behind that. We can’t dictate our own lives based on what celebrities may or may not have done.
Be practical about life’s biggest decisions
Janet’s lucky enough to be experiencing young motherhood in her fifties; most women are not going to be as fortunate as her. Some might strike lightning but many are going to fail and will have to look through alternative options. Such is this thing we call life.
But what’s important to remember is that we cannot sensationalize celebrities and their life stories. We can try to emulate their courage, their determination, and passion, but when it comes to life’s biggest decisions, you’re going to have to be cautious and practical. Just because something’s worked for someone else doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you, and vice versa: just because something hasn’t worked for someone else doesn’t mean it’s not going work for you. You’re your own person, and your most significant moments cannot be boiled down to a tabloid article. So the next time you hear opinions about Janet’s pregnancy, just be happy for the woman and carry on.
Most of us consider fairy tales to be stories for children, innocent and without real evil or harm. The reality is that, while there are many empowering and positive messages in fairy tales, they don’t always depict relationships between men and women in the best light.
When we delve back into the fairy tales of our childhood as adults, we rediscover our heroes and princesses from a different perspective. The endeavor is not useless, far from it! Fairy tales still yield useful lessons about life for us grown folks when we learn to take a deeper look at the stories.
“Beauty and the Beast,” a tale of abuse and inner strength
Originally written in 1740 by French writer Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve, “Beauty and the Beast” is a tale that is still relevant to us. In today’s online dating, most people would swipe right for Gaston, the arrogant narcissist who wants Belle as an arm piece to validate his ego, and swipe left for the Beast, who has a heart of gold underneath his rough exterior.
“The tale’s message is a good reminder that we should not judge a book by it’s cover. We should take the time to get to know somebody on a deeper level to see if there is a meaningful love connection,” said Joyce Marter, a licensed psychotherapist and national speaker.
It’s a reminder that inner beauty, not outer beauty, is what leads to lasting love. With a heroine who owns her strength and intelligence, and refused to let the snarky townspeople stop her from being herself, “The Beauty and the Beast” has a strong protagonist.
This is a positive message for all of us to own our strengths and detach from negative messages from others. It’s also positive that Belle didn’t “dumb down” to make herself less threatening and more attractive to men.
However, “Beauty and the Beast” is not without problems, the first one being its portrayal of abuse as romantic. Belle is held captive against her will by the Beast. Yet, she falls in love with him over time, almost as if she was afforded no choice in the situation.
“This is a negative message, as sometimes victims of abuse misconstrue controlling and domineering behavior as signs of love and care,” says Dr. Marter. Indeed, the Beast’s unpredictable behavior, from angry outbursts to kindness, is destabilizing and manipulative.
We see Belle’s resilience and ability to love such an unloveable creature as noble–which it is, to an extent–but it can also normalize these red flags to younger readers.
“Beauty and the Beast” is also a tale of self-sacrifice, which, while noble, can also be taken too far. When Belle sacrificed her freedom to take her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner, we all believed her decision to be powerful, a reflection of her strength as a heroine.
However, as Dr. Marter argues, it is “a negative message” about “detrimental care-taking at the expense of one’s own health, safety and overall wellness.”
Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and the question of consent and female friendships
Both “Snow White” published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 and Sleeping Beauty, a folktale originating from the Medieval era, feature a famous kiss that brings the princess back to life.
Both heroines, Snow White and Briar Rose, are unconscious when the prince kisses them, which raises up a lot of issues about consent. This is especially relevant now, as conversations surrounding sexual assault and abuse have become more mainstream, thanks to the #MeToo movement.
In the #MeToo era of educating people about the importance of sexual consent, romanticizing non-consensual sexual actions with an unconscious person is a negative message.
These two stories also feature an evil older woman who is jealous of the younger woman’s beauty. This is a harmful stereotype, as it not only reduces the value of women to their appearance only but also perpetuates harmful and ageist stereotypes about older women.
“We need to show more examples of women lifting other women up and the value of women being placed on far more than beauty,” says Dr. Marter.
Indeed, the princesses have dwarfs and animals as friends, but are missing the enormous support that can come from close female friendships.
Many fairy tales have the message that a woman needs to be saved by a prince to live happily ever after and don’t show empowered women making their way on their own.
However, these two stories still have a good ending, where true love conquers all and goodness prevails.
“Little Red Riding Hood”, a timeless cautionary tale
“Little Red Riding Hood” is a good example of a cautionary tale. Like “Snow White,” the story was compiled by the Grimm Brothers and Charles Perrault, but its origins can be traced as far back as the 10th century.
The main character is warned by her mom to stay on the path and bring food to her sick grandmother. But she does not listen and ends up meeting with the wolf instead, who pretends to be her grandmother and ends up eating her in the end.
“This fairy tale is a warning to women that there are bad men out there,” says Dr Renee Solomon, a clinical psychologist with Forward Recovery. It is helpful in terms of trusting your judgment that someone is dangerous.
“Little Red comments on his features being big as compared to how she remembered her grandmother. She is showing us that she senses that something is off, which is important for children to trust their instincts when people appear dangerous,” says Dr. Solomon.
The unfortunate truth behind “Little Red Riding Hood,” is that it is relevant in today’s world, where the most vulnerable of all, children, are still the victims of predators.
Cinderella’s struggle with identity and bullying
“Cinderella” treats abuse and trauma in interesting ways. Its main character endures unjust bullying from her stepmother and stepsisters, but she refuses to let their actions break her.
“I think it’s beneficial to show that when people are jealous, they can be mean as demonstrated by Cinderella’s stepsisters who are not nice to her,” Dr Solomon says. It sheds light on the motivations behind a bully’s actions and reassures us that it has actually nothing to do with who we are.
However, the only form of escape avoided to Cinderella comes in the form of a prince whisking her away from her house. This perpetuates the idea that women have to rely on men in order to be saved.
I think it’s not a great message to tell little girls if they put on a slipper they instantly turn into a beautiful woman and then a man wants to be with them. The prince wants to marry the woman that fits in the shoe.
Dr. Renee Solomon
This sends a message that we have to appear a certain way to be valued and loved, that we have to fit a certain mold in order to deserve a better fate.
Understanding and helping teenagers develop
However, Cinderella is an example of a modern day teenager’s ‘coming of age’ story and can help parents to conceptualize bullying, its effects and solutions. “As a young person, Cinderella struggles with identity issues, much like our teens do today,” says Bri McCarroll, MSW, LICSW.
Cinderella is not liked for who she is and where she comes from. Throughout the story, “she is ridiculed by her peer group (stepsisters), not supported by authority (her stepmother), and is stuck in an apparently hopeless situation.”
This story symbolically conveys the experience teenagers go through as they navigate relationships towards developing their own identity. They have to manage critiques by their siblings and peers and often don’t feel understood by parents and other figures of authority.
Like Cinderella, who is isolated in her own home, “teens often feel ‘alone’ in the family unit, as they strive to find their own identity and be liberated from the ‘confines’ of the family.”
The fairy godmother represents, for a teenager, the adult who is outside of the family unit, like a teacher or mentor.
Through the coaching and support of this non-family adult person (this Godmother), the teen is able to be seen for who he/she truly is. Through the reflection of self in this adult’s eyes, the teenager is able to come into their own identity and see his/her own worth and value.
Much like Cinderella, who shocked her stepfamily by revealing her true self, teenagers can finally achieve recognition as capable young adults through the relationships with non-parental adults in their lives. And we know what happens then: they live happily ever after…or at least, so the fairy tale says.
Destructive parenthood in “Hansel and Gretel”
“I see it as a story of personal resourcefulness,” says Dr. Alleman. Abandoned by their father, who cannot feed them, in an alien and alienating world–a classic childhood anxiety–the children are able to defeat the witch (who can be seen as symbolic of the suffocating and devouring parent), thereby achieving independence.
The story illustrates the importance of mutually nurturing relationships. Without parents, the children are forced to ‘parent’ each other, and their relationship is essential to their survival.
Either of them alone would have been easily devoured by the witch, but together, they bring about her demise. Its ending is a positive one, but it also reflects much about the importance of ensuring a safe family environment for children to grow up in. When parents are either too absent or too suffocating, they can significantly inhibit the development of their children.
Self-improvement through self-awareness in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”
Most fairy tales are about self-improvement through lessons on morals and ethics. Some of the most powerful ones come from the 19th century Danish writer, Hans Christian Andersen.
The story revolves around an emperor who is obsessed with his clothes and appearance; he wants to be the best-dressed monarch in the land. When approached by two swindlers who promised to weave him a marvelous fabric for his clothes, the emperor cannot resist.
“Not only do the swindlers tell him the fabric they are making his clothes out of will be beautiful, but it will also be invisible to those who were stupid or unfit for their positions in the kingdom,” says Gladding.
The tricksters, who have not done any work, praise the invisible threads they present to the emperor and convince him that they have made an exclusive, fashionable outfit.
“The emperor, not willing to admit he does not see the invisible and nonexistent clothes wears them to a great procession. Everyone in the kingdom at first pretends to see the emperor’s clothes, except a child who vocalizes the truth – the monarch is naked.”
A lesson in being honest with oneself
This story provides powerful learnings about pride, vanity, and image. As Gladding says: “When we are over concerned about trivial matters, such as our clothing, we become gullible and often act foolishly.”
Self-improvement comes through acknowledging reality, listening to truth, and genuinely interacting with others.
Seeing matters clearly helps us avoid pretentiousness and improve our lives and those of others in our environment.
We do not know what happened to the king in Andersen’s story after he received a harsh, but much needed lesson on self-awareness. “The fact that he did not march in another parade in invisible clothes probably means he made a needed change,” Gladding suggests.
But, “self-improvement, as Andersen subtly points out, has to do with what we do as well as what we avoid.” The child helped him face the truth of his actions and motivations, so that his future decisions will be much more grounded and thought out.
What we can take away from our favorite tales
As Dr. Marter points out, most fairy tales “do not include LGBTQ+ friendly and inclusive storylines,” which is an ongoing issue as film and animated adaptations have done little to remedy that issue. However, there seems to be a slow, but promising evolution in the way relationships, female characters and friendships are portrayed.
For example, Disney‘s Frozen boasts a strong, endearing relationship between two sisters, which significantly overshadows the romantic plot, and indirectly speaks about living with mental illness.
Similary, Maleficient challenges our perspective of a very well-known villain by humanizing the character and adding depth to the otherwise tired and stereotypical jealous older woman in “Sleeping Beauty.” Merida is also the first princess to have a whole story that does not revolve around marriage or finding a prince, which is a great narrative for children to enjoy.
Fairy tales are an important and almost inevitable part of childhood, which is all the more reason why we must pay attention to them as adults. They contain both positive learnings and problematic ideas on issues like female agency, consent and self-sacrifice.
It is important to reflect on these issues and how they may have directly or indirectly influenced our development and understanding of relationships. In doing so, we are more prepared to address these topics with children, so that they can have a better grasp of what these stories say about the world.
Charlize Theron is a strong woman on and off the cameras. In 2004, after winning an Academy Award for Best Actress for her turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, she proved to the world that she is also an excellent actress.
Now she is making waves for her latest movie, Bombshell, which tells a moving story about sexual harassment that happened at Fox News. Along with fellow actresses Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie, Charlize portrays yet another a fearless character.
The 44-year-old unapologetic beauty now lives a life that is envied by many, but she recalls things not always being this way.
During an interview with National Public Radio, Theron openly speaks about her struggles as a child and young actress, living in an unhealthy family environment.
Charlize and had a difficult childhood
As a child, she suffered from jaundice so she had no teeth until she turned 11. She had to take so many antibiotics that her teeth had rotten and had to be cut out. But as horrible as it might sound, this wasn’t the hardest test to overcome.
Theron remembers her father, Charles Jacobus Theron, who was an alcoholic and verbally abusive. She grew up with an unpredictable figure in the house, not knowing how her day was going to be. It all depended on whether her father would drink or not. It seemed like a hopeless situation and everyone was just stuck in it.
One night, the Theron household had turned into a horror movie set. In June 1991, after a night of heavy drinking, Charlize’s father set off to his house, particularly agitated by something.
Charlize knew that something bad was going to happen, as her aunt called to warn them that Charles was acting strange. When he got to the house, he shot the locked gate and began banging at his daughter’s locked bedroom door, shouting that he was going to kill her and her mother.
My father was so drunk that he shouldn’t have been able to walk when he came into the house with a gun. My mom and I were in my bedroom leaning against the door, because he was trying to push through the door. So both of us were leaning against the door from the inside to have him not be able to push through. He took a step back and just shot through the door three times.
After this reckless gesture, Charlize’s mother, Gerda, pulled out her own gun and shot Charles dead in an act of self-defense. “None of those bullets ever hit us, which is just a miracle,” she says. “But in self-defense, she ended the threat.”
Fortunately, Gerda wasn’t charged with a crime, and after recovering from the shocking event, Charlize admits that she would have done the same thing if her daughter had been in that situation.
Her closest relatives turned against her
While she had to live with the consequences of the tragic event, for which she underwent therapy, Charlize had to confront the situation again. The author, Chris Karsten, released a book Killer Women- Fatal South African Females, in which one of the cases depicted was that of her mother’s.
The author suspected that Gerda wasn’t entirely truthful while telling the story, and Charlize was absolutely furious when she saw that the book contained interviews with family members who had promised to remain quiet on the matter. Furthermore, her aunt denied that Charles was an alcoholic.
However, while Gerda’s situation was being decided, she encouraged her daughter to leave and chase her dreams. And so, she did.
Fighting for a dream and watching it collapse
At 16, Charlize won a modeling contest and went to Milan to pursue a career in the same field. She loved dancing more than anything and modeling proved to be just a means to pay for her real dream.
After spending a year broke, in a friend’s windowless basement apartment, her knees gave out and her dream came crushing down. She realized that she couldn’t dance anymore and that thought devastated her – Theron went into a major depression.
Again, Gerda encouraged her daughter not to give up and came up with a new idea. Charlize also liked acting. So what if she tried that instead?
Success did not come easy
Before she landed her first gig in 1995 in the movie Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest, she was invited by a famous director to an audition at his home. When she arrived, the man was in his silk pajamas and drinking.
Clearly, he wanted more than to see Charlize’s acting talent. As soon as she realized his real intentions, she apologized and left in a hurry.
For years, she blamed herself for not telling him exactly what was on her mind, but the experience toughened her nonetheless and she went on to have a hugely successful career in Hollywood.
While taking on different roles, Charlize had to gain and lose weight several times. She was almost paralyzed when a stunt she performed for the film Aeon Flux went wrong and left a disc close to her spinal cord damaged. While filming the birth scene in The Road, she ruptured her vocal cords.
Her fight is not over yet
This Atomic Blonde is a fearless woman ready to take on whatever life has in store for her. She feels blessed to have two adopted children and as a single-parent, she hopes to live in a world where there’s less stigma about it. Her children are the main reason she’ll keep fighting.
Despite all the setbacks and tragedies in her life, Charlize Theron is one of Hollywood’s best actresses and, one role at a time, she proves that she has so much more talent left to show onscreen.
So tell your story. Be proud of it. Don’t worry about everyone liking you. It’s impossible. Wash your face, even when you’re really tired at night. Take risks. Radiate empathy like you’ve got a tap of it.
She did not let trauma define her
While Charlize’s childhood was traumatic, she has not been defined by it. Instead, the world knows her for the consistent and dedicated work she put in her acting career and in living the life she has chosen for herself.
Sometimes, the traumatic events from our past may seem impossible to escape but the truth is, the only way forward is by focusing on what we want to achieve. Charlize put in the work to rebuild her life, from a past of extreme trauma to the beautiful place she is at right now.
We all have that capacity to take the necessary steps towards a better place. Conscious effort and work are an undeniable, effective part of the process, as Charlize’s story
The 2010s have been nothing short of monumental. From technological advancements, changes in societal dynamics to the state of the planet, the years have been challenging and shifting our ideals about who we are and who we want to be.
On a global scale, the impact of the last 10 years has been massive but it affected people on a personal level too. Every single one of us has been swayed by the multitude of events in the past years. As we head into a the next decade, we get to ask ourselves what we want the next years to look like.
Before making a New Year’s Resolution, take some time to reflect
Trying to project the future can definitely seem like a daunting task but it doesn’t have to be. So often, at the end of the year, we get stuck in the whole New Year’s Resolution cycle.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to say that making a New Year’s resolution is a bad thing. Its great! But the cycle is that we don’t truly acknowledge who we are when we make them and who we want to be by following them through.
Instead, we make our resolutions based on what we want and then can’t see them through. This is because we never truly reflect on how having that accomplished that resolution thing will change us or make us feel in the long run.
Because we don’t take the time to look at who we are in the present moment with gratitude, acceptance, and appreciation for just how far we have come, we fail to create the change that we want. Before we make a resolution, we need to reflect on the reason why we need to add a certain change or thing to our lives.
In order to make your New Year’s resolution, but also your New Decade’s resolution, effective, you want to get very clear on who you are right now. But you also want to make sure that you are reflecting and looking at yourself with the utmost gratitude.
Who were you at the start of the decade?
For my part, I was pregnant and married to a narcissist with no idea what my future was going to look like or who I even was anymore. I had lost touch with my magic, the parts of myself that were intuitively me.
Take stock of who you were back in 2010. Some easy ways to do this is to listen to the music you liked then or watch your favorite movie that came out that year.
Acknowledging things that spoke to your soul, like film and music, helps you to reconnect with the person you were. Even if that person isn’t someone you are proud of, it doesn’t mean that you should avoid looking at them.
In fact, by accepting the parts of us we are ashamed of and the times in our lives when we weren’t the greatest, we help to heal ourselves and move towards the next stage of our lives.
Make sure to think about your progression
What happened between 10 to 5 years ago to make you the person you are today? Take a bit of time and acknowledge the pieces of you that fell into place and forgive yourself for anything you did that you weren’t proud of.
But also, be sure to note all the achievements you are proud of. They have set the building blocks for who you are now.
Five years ago, I was reconnecting with my inner magic and starting to help other people do the same. I was healing from trauma and clearing blocks in the thick of PTSD. It is a far cry from who I am now, even though it still feels like just yesterday.
Think of who you are right now
And, that brings us to now. Who were you at the start of this year? What did you believe in? What did you value? How has this past year changed you or helped you grow? What have you learned? What have you achieved?
The Holiday Season isn’t just good for cookies and Christmas trees. It’s a time for reflection and introspection. So before you decide who you want to be in the coming years, make the end of the year a time to honor who you are right now.
At the start of this year, I was struggling with my notion of what is next. I had been trying to get a publishing deal for nearly three years, battling with my mindset and playing too small.
However, I end this year being a bestselling author with a publishing deal and I am the host of a metaphysical comedy podcast. I am now the person that I have always dreamed I would be, even if in the last ten years I did none of the things that I had been hoping to achieve.
And that is almost better. It is an incredibly freeing feeling to finally be the person your soul has always called you to be.
Start by choosing your word
So, how do you decide on who you want to be and how do you build a resolution to fit that? Well, I have come up with an exercise that I call choosing your word.
Now, before I even get into how to do this, I want to be sure to state that this is not meant to be complicated or confusing. In fact, if you notice you start to make things complicated while doing the exercise, be sure to pause and explore why you are doing so. It will help you further into your journey towards healing.
The goal of this exercise is to choose one, and only one word, that you want to strive for in the next year. By doing a resolution this way, it allows you to constantly connect with the person you are becoming and striving to be in five seconds or less.
It eliminates all the shame that can come up if you don’t hit you resolution goal, like losing 50 pounds by June. In fact, by narrowing the process down to one word, you gain more clarity and the ability to renew your drive whenever you want just by repeating that word.
Figure out your word and simplify your resolutions
So who do you want to be this time next year? And what is one trait that that person will have? There is your word. That trait is the thing you should dedicate this year to.
For example, if you want to lose weight your word could be “healthy.” If you want to cure your anxiety, your word might be “brave.”
My word for the next year, and most likely the rest of the decade, is authenticity. I know that, in order for me to truly keep following the path that is meant for me, I must get comfortable showing my authentic self at all times.
Once you have your word, write it down, put it on your wall, or just have your phone remind you of it every now and then. Remember, whoever you are becoming is a result of who you have been, so acknowledge your power and take the leap into the next version of you.
New Year’s resolutions have never been my thing. While I’m very aware that, for many, they can be powerful, life-altering promises to the self, it does seem that the vast majority of people fail at keeping their resolutions.
I’m actually convinced that speaking these promises out loud to others at holiday parties actually lessens one’s chances of success. Let’s face it: New Year’s resolutions are gimmicky.
The fact is, if you’re going to make meaningful changes in your life, the time is now, not later.
Studies on the holding power of New Year’s resolutions are inconclusive at best. One survey finds that 4 out of 5 people will eventually break their resolutions, while another reports a higher success rate. Yet, both agree that approximately a third of resolutions don’t make it past the first month.
Another study found that less than 10% of New Year’s resolutions are actually achieved. While there’s a lot of advice floating around out there, I believe that in order to do your personal goals justice, you need to understand a few key truths about failed resolutions.
Here is a helpful guide for implementing change in the New Year:
1. Significant change is not instant (nothing worthwhile is)
It’s hardly news that people often centre their resolutions around kicking bad habits. Whether it’s smoking, drinking, or not eating right, I’d say stopping unhealthy behaviors makes up the bulk of New Year’s resolutions.
But we often underestimate how long it takes to kick a bad habit. Common knowledge says about 3 weeks. We also often forget that when you stop doing something ‘bad,’ you need to replace it with something ‘good.’ But it can take 66 days on average before a new habit becomes, well, habitual.
My point? Many people become discouraged and give up long before putting the necessary time in.
2. It’s better to do one thing wholeheartedly than 10 things halfway
Resolution enthusiasts often make long lists of rather all-encompassing behaviors they want to change, like losing weight rather than gaining it or saving money rather than spending it.
Many of these goals require serious heavy lifting and sustained effort. So start by picking only one thing and then dedicating all your efforts to achieve it, starting from scratch.
There is no need to multitask when it comes to self-improvement.
There’s a resolution for you: stop glorifying people who multitask and hone in on your individual goals.
3. Cold turkey is not necessarily hardcore, succeeding is
If your goal is to cut back on caffeine, promising yourself you will “never drink coffee or energy drinks ever again” is an extreme statement. This method is called ‘cold turkey,’ and it involves abruptly ceasing a habit without preamble.
While it can be the most effective tactic for some, scaling back slowly and gradually sticks much better for many. So rid yourself of the notion that it should be all or nothing.
4. You can’t skip the process (the journey is the destination)
It’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by focusing on the destination (substantial changes down the road) as opposed to the journey, which contains small changes in the here and now. But unfortunately, the journey cannot be skipped over.
Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy says that for years her resolution was to ‘become a runner.’ To her, this meant becoming a hyper self-disciplined person capable of tackling marathons.
Each January, she’d start running, only to quit weeks later, feeling like a failure. But one day she decided to just go for a run—without thinking of all those future runs. She didn’t worry about time or judge herself for needing a process. This was what ultimately helped her focus on starting to run rather than feeling like a failure for not being a runner.
5. Motivation has a shelf life and it’s best to acknowledge that
No one stays motivated for all 365 days of the year. First of all (particularly for those of us who live through winter seasons), coming down from the holidays can feel particularly harsh.
With the entire year still ahead of you and summer a million miles away, big life changes involving massive self-discipline can represent a serious challenge. Not to mention, when you have a whole year to achieve something, it’s easy to procrastinate—possibly forever.
Short-term daily or weekly goals tend to be more successful because you feel rewarded regularly and motivated to keep moving toward that next achievement. And then one day, you’ve accomplished something big, without even noticing how you got there.
What to do instead?
If something in your life’s got to give and you’re determined to make New Year’s resolutions, I do hope I’ve convinced you in a more general sense that one need not wait until January to implement change. That being said, I offer you these additional tips as well:
Put less pressure on yourself by setting well-integrated, forgiving intentions rather than die-hard, goal-oriented resolutions. The difference? An intention lacks the inherent succeed-or-fail opposition. It also values effort, experience, and process rather than only results, and is rooted in the present instead of the future.
Base your intentions on what you want to be doing rather than what you think you should be doing, and it’ll make all the difference in the world.
Frame it positively. Instead of telling yourself you will watch less TV, or drop that extra weight, or be more social, why not enroll in a dance class and commit to going?
Ultimately, as the American poet Carl Sandburg said, “beware of advice, even this.” No two people are wired the same way, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to self-improvement. One thing’s for sure, though: if you have the will, you got this.
Breakups are incredibly complex and necessitate many layers of healing to fully, completely move on. When relationships matter– truly, deeply matter– there’s no off switch when you agree to call it quits. Love and memories still remain.
Throw intense emotions, a restructuring of your schedule, a loss of physical intimacy, possibly the loss of your ex’s friends and family into the mix and a one-size-fits-all answer to how soon is too soon to move on becomes almost impossible to figure out.
Moving on takes time
When you’re in the eye of the storm, feeling all the feelings, it’s understandable to seek a fixed and certain time limit on the grieving process.
I get it. I know the feeling. Being with your sadness is an act of courage. It’s natural to question how long the process might take. However, my intention is not to provide solid answers or a timeframe.
Instead, I wish to share a few tips that, in my personal and professional experience, have yielded a healthy approach to moving on.
What is “moving on” after a breakup?
I’m a lucky guy. I’ve fallen in love numerous times. Yet, break-ups never get easier. However, I’ve learned that regardless of what led to the end, if I valued and cared enough to establish a consistent, intimate relationship with someone, those feelings of love wouldn’t simply go away.
Perhaps this sounds obvious. But as years have gone by, I’d attempt to sanitize my feelings, as if moving on meant feeling completely indifferent towards my ex. Naturally, framing it this way led to lots of frustration because the love still remains.
My first full relationship ended 10 years ago. I still love her. Another relationship ended four years ago. I still love her. Another ended three years ago. I still love her. Another ended just under a year ago. I still love her too. See the recurring theme?
It’s a non-linear, illogical process
The difference is although I love my exes and want the best for them, I no longer crave to be close to them or wish to rekindle a romance.
Would I like them to be involved in my life to some degree? Perhaps. But I accept that this isn’t always practical. And I accept and have gratitude for the times we shared.
If love remains then what does moving on mean?
Well, firstly, moving on is a gradual process. It isn’t linear. It doesn’t make sense. I can have days following the breakup where I feel completely fine but then, experience a rough day years after it happened.
Matters of the heart aren’t logical. They’re completely absurd. Don’t waste too much time trying to work it all out. The importance is to allow yourself to feel.
However, over time, there’s less emotional charge to the memory of an ex. The love — a calm, soothing unconditional love — remains. But there’s no giddiness, ferocious sadness or grief at the loss of what once was. Instead, I find happy memories cause positive reflection.
Consequently, I notice storylines around “what could’ve been” settle in my mind. In the aftermath of all breakups, I struggle to see the reasoning. Even when I know it’s the end, part of me wants to plead and bargain, to just find a way because surely love is enough, right?
After some time, this bargaining fades and I reach the final stage of grief, which is acceptance.
What about meeting someone new?
For many people, including myself, the process of moving on may appear to be concluded when we meet someone new. A word of caution on this topic: meeting a new person after a relationship is a tricky territory.
It isn’t always a bad decision. But when meeting someone soon after a break-up, it takes a little soul searching to uncover our motives. Does it come from a genuine, healthy place?
The most important aspect of moving on is healing.
In the past, I’ve moved into new relationships to avoid feelings of pain. I’ve tried to fill the void by meeting someone new. This is an approach that avoids processing and acknowledging pain, and will cause issues to resurface down the line.
It must be said though, that it is entirely possible to grow and heal with someone else, if your new partner is understanding and accepting, and awareness is brought into the healing process.
That’s a far cry from falling into a new relationship and denying any aspect of pain that remains from a fresh breakup, essentially using the love and attention of someone else as a mechanism to enhance self-worth.
Developing a strong sense of self
I’ve previously written about the importance of retaining independence in romance and avoiding Cupid’s Timeline. If the relationship you’re leaving was healthy, then it’s entirely possible you’ll leave with a fuller, whole sense of self. However, codependent traits can seep into any relationship, even with the best intentions.
For example, after I’d done a lot of work around codependency, I met someone whose chemistry seemed to ignite the shadow part of myself I naively assumed I had healed. But I’d done the work away from relationships.
I was aware of certain tendencies. But it was only after meeting this person that these behaviors and emotional patterns got triggered. Therefore, I needed to confront them in as they occurred in real-time and not in meditation or reflection.
Break up the pattern
I learned that if there’s conflict in a relationship, I have a tendency to project my emotions onto my partner. I expect them to take joint responsibility, as if I were entitled to it. Healthy relationships are supportive, but my emotions are my responsibility. And unless I build and strengthen my ability to process them, the pattern will repeat over and over.
For example, let’s say I feel really sad after a breakup. A reflex of mine is to project my sadness onto a partner, for them to make me feel better. After losing my partner, I struggle to process this sadness on my own. Then, I meet someone new, and all of a sudden I feel better and the sadness eases.
Without consciousness, I can move from one relationship to the next as a mechanism to handle sadness without ever confronting it. Again, mutual support is essential in loving relationships. But if I always require someone else to process my sadness, anxiety and feelings of insecurity, I will always fall into codependent relationships.
This can lead to addictive or poor decision-making when looking for future partners.
So how soon is too soon?
To conclude, there’s no definitive timeline for moving on. But it’s important to consider the key points of healing from a heartbreak. It is a process that involves forgiveness, processing grief, acceptance, and re-building independence.
Honesty with ourselves is required to really check in with how we feel about the loss of someone who, no doubt, has had a big impact on our lives.
I know how difficult it is to be with the pain. The impulse is to run, escape, find something to soothe. However, to really grow through a break-up, and move on in a healthy way, we have to sit with the pain, and learn from it.
I’ll leave you with these words from Pema Chödrön in When Things Fall Apart:
Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.
Breakups suck, there’s no doubt. But if you have the courage to confront your pain, the process of moving on will act as a huge catalyst for your personal growth.
Did you know: only 4 percent of the universe is visible? The other 96 percent is a mystery scientists call “dark matter” and “dark energy.” This is significant; humanity goes to great lengths to understand the nature of the physical universe, yet even with advanced technology, the majority remains unseen, unknown.
This obscure nature of the cosmos is a metaphor for our subjective universe. Most of us have an inherent desire to just know, to observe, to see what is there to see. But the vast majority of our lives are mysterious — as much as our egos would like to tell us they have all the answers.
People are mysterious in their own way, too. We never know what other people really think. We never know why they do the things they do or why events unfold as they unfold.
And without active self-inquiry, we don’t even know ourselves as well as we might think.
The analytical mind’s ties to social anxiety
This is a potential problem. The analytical part of your psyche always seeks to know, to understand. If allowed to roam free, it will attempt to make meaning of empty space and fill gaps in knowledge with assumptions.
When applied to social anxiety, your overactive analytical mind will attempt to explain people’s behavior or “true” thoughts and feelings.
It’s a double-edged sword. Because life is 96 percent mystery, there’s a broad spectrum of assumption in our understanding of it.
Consequently, the standard of our tool for understanding — the mind — becomes essential to our quality of life.
Filling the gaps is irresistible for the ego, which always attempts to self-authenticate by exploring its environment to make sense of its identity.
This is a process which affects all of us to various degrees, but the task is to ensure the process is skillful, not unskillful.
How I eased my social anxiety
When I suffered from social anxiety, my mind assumed the worst. This affected my thoughts in any given moment.
They don’t like me, I’ve upset this person, that person is judging me.
I was also plagued by ruminations after social interactions.
I made a fool of myself
Most debilitating was the latter, ruminations triggered by assumptions. A short-circuit in my analytic brain attempted to find meaning based on little evidence. This fuelled my anxiety and made it worse. In turn, I then felt more anxious about future social events!
It’s not an exaggeration to say at times, my life was unbearable due to the assumptions I was making.
The mantra that changed my life
During therapy around that time, I came across a short-but-sweet, life-enhancing motto:
Always Assume Positive Intent
I discussed this with my therapist and we both agreed how beneficial this approach was.
The key to Always Assuming Positive Intent is to understand that, with so much unknown, there’s a huge, blank canvas to project assumptions.
And, with a little imagination we can drastically alter those assumptions, and get them working in our favor.
Don’t ignore the 4 percent
The key with this technique isn’t to delude ourselves or absolve responsibility from hard truths. When the observable 4 percent of the universe presents itself, we have to see it as it is.
That’s not to say we practice believing in these assumptions. It’s crucial to maintain a mindful approach, and acknowledge that assumptions are just thoughts, and not truth.
However, this mantra’s greatest utility is alleviating tension when the mind wonders and worries.
Always Assuming Positive Intent is a doorway to compassion
Compassion is a catalyst to seeking to understand from a place of love, not judging from a place of fear.
Always Assuming Positive Intent is a cognitive tool to counteract the moments when we assume the worst. It has its roots in Stoicism and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which challenges unhelpful thoughts, and rationalizes them.
This approach is best complemented with acceptance of the unknown. It’s to be held lightly; mini-narratives created consciously and loosely, a buffer to fill space skilfully, a moulding of clay.
How to Always Assume Positive Intent
Practically there are two ways to apply Assuming Positive Intent.
The first is an internal application; to change the thoughts we have.
When noticing we are assuming the worst in any given situation, we can play with the assumption and ask ourselves:
What would the best possible assumption be?
This can be as outrageous as we want it to be! After all, we’re moulding the conceptual clay, without mistaking it for truth.
That person who blanked you this morning? They caught your eye, thought you were attractive, and felt self-conscious.
Your partner’s angry at you for not replying? They’ve missed you lately and want to feel intimacy and connection.
A recent study by Queen’s University Belfast discovered that people with grandiose narcissistic traits are generally happier and less stressed. I can’t help but think this is because, with a heightened sense of self-importance, narcissistic people always assume positive intent in any given situation. After all, why wouldn’t they?
Inquiring to understand
The second application is in action.
As conscious beings, we have the gift of being able to inquire. Like the Hubble Telescope peering deep into space seeking to understand what’s out there, we can peer into the souls of others by seeking to understand what they think, feel, or believe.
It’s not easy, but it is a trait that greatly benefits all relationships.
If finding yourself in conflict, or even just questioning why someone is acting in a specific way, seek to understand by opening up a conversation from a place of sincerity. By assuming positive intent, you’re more likely to master emotions and remain balanced throughout the conversation.
Transforming your universe
What are the bigger benefits of Always Assuming Positive Intent? When it becomes second-nature, the benefit for our lives is significant.
Many of us are familiar with paranoia. But we’re less familiar with pronoia — the opposite perception; a feeling that the universe is conspiring to help you.
Assuming Positive Intent is a mini-step in the direction of pronoia, a technique to get the vast unknown working in your favor, to re-balance and re-align, to stare into space and see support in the sparkle of the stars.