Grits shouldn’t have sugar in them

Nor should cornbread. And not everything needs cheese. Examples of two things that do not need cheese: cornbread and grits. Cornbread and grits do not need sugar and/or cheese. Blasphemy.

Food is tied in with identity, as is the case of my insistence that grits and cornbread needn’t have sugar in them. My husband begs to differ on the grits and made me try grits with sugar in them the other day. He made the argument that was how it was done when he was stationed in Georgia many years ago, which was to counter the argument that I spent my summers with family in Tennessee when I was growing up and was not taught to add sugar to grits. We have had this disagreement for several years. I finally agreed to try them. They tasted like a five year old crushed up stale kettle corn in a bowl of water and squished it all together with tiny fingers. To each their own, I guess.

A lot of rules about food come from broader culture, faith traditions, and family norms. Food keeps us alive, food keeps us connected. Food is ritualistic and communal – wedding cakes, barbecues, Thanksgiving dinners, and potlucks. Rules for a particular food can vary by region, like sugar and grits (Which admittedly is no less Southern as grits without sugar, it just happens to be gross). Food has a funny way of bringing people together.

Except people who more or less don’t feel togetherness don’t often bond over food. Food-prominent events are at best awkward and at worst prompting events for self-destructive behavior. There is no quick advice for these people that hasn’t already been heard a million times over. Cope ahead, positive/rational self-talk, just eat anyway and don’t hate yourself for it, stay in the moment, etc. etc. Not bad advice, just won’t fix anything in the long-term.

Advertisements

Ritual and Blood, Honor and Death

Today I decided to add a theme to my Firefox browser, and I choose one based on Japanese tattoos. I then decided to put “Japanese tattoos” into Google, which led me to reading the Wikipedia article on the Yakuza and then reading about the presence of women in Western mafias on a Canadian website. I noticed two things: one, my Internet habits are a reflection of my thought patterns and two, organized crime groups require members to adhere to various traditions and rituals that apply to more than criminal behavior.

I also remembered a brief article I read on anorexia mirabilis (full text here), which led me to think further on how rituals are things humans seem to do regardless of who they are, what they believe, and where they live. Ritual is a framework and brings comfort, it can make things otherwise nonsensical legitimate. Once learned it is difficult and rattling and possible to unlearn. Ritual can be bedded into sense of self, or be viewed as a hassle, or viewed as menacing, or all of the above.

Ritualistic does not morality make. Mob codes of conduct do not negate murder. Extreme food restriction isn’t about spirituality. Structure does not make things moral. Intention matters in the case of morality – if one’s intention is entirely self-serving, there is a chance it isn’t entirely moral.

 

 

 

Do Your Best, Just Don’t Hurt Yourself

On a semi-regular…er, once a week or so… basis, one of many clients will refer to me as a hypocrite. Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. I’ve had weeks when I’ve worked six days straight. I have been known to drink too much coffee in order to offset lack of sleep. And I can be very focused on removing those little fringes from torn sheets of notebook paper.

Here’s the thing. I am a happy person, I have self-esteem, I love my family, I love my little spot in suburbia, and I love my job. People who end up in my office have some combination of unhappy, worthless core beliefs, self-injury, have difficulty forming valued relationships, feel disconnected, hate others, cling to others, restrict their eating, are anxious, and yes I could continue.

Perfectionism is almost like a cute beauty mark with a biopsy indicating it’s a malignant tumor in need of treatment. Fine on the surface while it festers, but eventually it’s going to become blatantly obvious to everyone it’s a problem. The plus to perfectionism is that treatment is more about hanging on to what works – such as achievement – and learning to let go of what doesn’t work – harsh self-appraisal, self-punishment, etc.

So when is perfectionism helpful?

When it’s adaptive perfectionism (some researchers refer to it as conscientiousness). Adaptive perfectionism is all of that great perfectionism you know and love – grades, promotions, goals, beauty, “doing the right thing,” competitive spirit, sense of accomplishment, and more – without all of the self-loathing, insecurity, and at times life-threatening behavior. We call that stuff maladaptive perfectionism.

How does you know when you’re engaging in adaptive vs maladaptive perfectionism?

One being able to accept disappointment if things do not go as planned, and not viewing these events as some sort of confirmation of inferiority. Maybe the Easter ham was overcooked. Maybe you failed an exam. Maybe you bought the wrong socks for your partner. It happens.

Another is something I’ve seen in my practice is how perfectionists motivate themselves. It often has a moral tone to it. Recurrent themes include a sense of responsibility to others (and objects in those with Hoarding Disorder) and being worthwhile to friends, family, or peers. People may criticize themselves or ritualistically engage in self-injury in order to punish themselves when they do not meet their very high standards. Those engaging in adaptive perfectionism do not do this or are at least in the process of challenging these thoughts and behaviors when they occur. They use more positive reinforcement with themselves, such as tangible rewards for a job well done or use of cheerleading statements.

Ultimately, adaptive perfectionism meets the goals of perfectionism: being the best possible and feeling good about it. Perfectionism can be broken down into subcategories, which is for another blog post.

I’m sold on the idea of adaptive perfectionism, but I’m skeptical about my ability to change.

Which is normal. The plus is that Cognitive Behavior Therapy, CBT for short (That therapy the dusting, straightening yours truly uses), is helpful for maladaptive perfectionism. CBT teaches perfectionists to challenge their thinking, practice self-kindness, and improve efficiency.

Another promising treatment is Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or RO-DBT for short. It isn’t widespread, though that will likely change when more clinicians are trained.

Alright, I will give it a shot.

Contact Cortney Modelewski at 269-389-0402 or cortney@cortneymodelewski.com

Autism, Empathy, and Something About Accountants

I finally watched The Accountant. To summarize, it’s a thriller movie with a bunch of the usual thriller tropes, except the anti-hero is an attempt at portraying diversity but instead ends up an amalgamation of clichés about people on the spectrum. Pro Tip: If you’re making a film with an autistic character, consider spending more time consulting with autistic people than time with neurotypical people.

Anyway, the film got me thinking about empathy. Especially the way in which people who do not appear to have much empathy are filed in with abusive spouses, serial killers, and those who maim kittens. While abusive spouses, serial killers, and those who maim kittens are often low on empathy, it does not mean that all who are low on empathy are any of those things nor does it mean that abusing, killing, and maiming requires low empathy. Empathy is not the same thing as compassion or sympathy or pity or loving-kindness or being moral or whatever other nice-sounding quality you think is associated with empathy.

Empathy is, per Merriam-Webster, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :  the capacity for this”

Empathy can be broken down into cognitive (being able to take the perspective of real and fictional people), affective (being able to respond to someone else’s emotional state), and somatic (having a physical reaction). Deficits in these types of empathy are found in yes, autism, as well as anorexia, all personality disorders, psychotic disorders, OCD and a few of the related disorders – a significant number of people, the majority caring and welcome in society.

Deficits in empathy makes violence and cruelty easier, no doubt. What often happens, though, is that people with a lower ability to be empathic feel disconnected from others, lonely, and depressed. It is harder to communicate effectively with empathy is lower. People are punished for being being different, and those punished withdraw from others.