The Glorification of Bad Behavior

“You do you.”

“Be true to yourself.”

“I’m just a shy person.”

“I’m just an angry person.”

I’ve noticed a trend. At some point, being true to oneself became about accepting one’s flaws as innate and unchangeable. Flaws and faults became something that should be celebrated and supported. Pettiness is met with calls of “YAS GIRL YASSSS” instead of what it really is: a lack of self-control and the willingness to be cruel to others. Outbreaks of anger and verbal beatdowns are shared on social media, meant elicit a chuckle over my morning coffee. Drunken misdeeds are high-fived, people are publicly ripped to shreds on social media, and perpetual adolescence is lauded as living your life. Our glamorization of harm prioritizes instant gratification over the well-being of self and others, all under the guise of self-acceptance and being true to oneself.

Maybe it has always been this way–I really can’t say–and social media has just made it easily-documentable. Maybe social media encourages this type of behavior because it allows people to indulge in their darkest urges in a virtual setting, and it has trickled into the way one acts when the screen goes black. Punching a wall does not expunge you of anger; being cruel online does not expunge you of cruelty. And, besides–as technology progresses, the difference between life online and offline is blurring. Regardless of whether or not it happened through a screen, actions have consequences. It doesn’t matter if you are online or offline: if you’re being shitty, you’re being shitty. Hurting oneself or others no longer requires human contact.

Dark impulses–the urge to laugh at others’ pain, the urge to be self-destructive, the urge to hurt others–are a part of the collective experience of being human. It is natural to experience these emotions. Everyone experiences these emotions. Just because we all experience them, however, does not mean it should be applauded when we act upon them. It shouldn’t be celebrated when someone takes down another person publicly. It shouldn’t be celebrated when someone engages in self-destructive behavior. It shouldn’t be celebrated when adults act like children who don’t know better. We do know better. It might be easier and more fun to act as if we do not, but we do have self-control. We do have foresight.

There are some things about ourselves that we should never accept or applaud. Being true to myself does not make it okay for me to be true to the harmful aspects of my personality. I want to be the type of person who does no harm to others. I want to be the person who is productive, kind, and happy. Claiming that my negative traits are just the way I was born to behave is a cop-out. We were all “born” to kill any person that threatens us, to go for the jugular if it meant protecting our food source. We are “born” to judge anything that is different from us, to hate anything that might challenge us, to run from anything that scares us. Choosing to turn around and face our predilections is what separates man from beast.

This can take a turn down a really dicey and political road when faced with mental illness. With enough effort, any trait is changeable. In the very least, all urges do not have to be acted upon (even if the desire is still felt). Some people may never be able to eradicate their detrimental behavioral patterns, but every person can make progress if the desire is present. I cannot pretend to understand every person’s mind. But I will say this: while exercise, proper nutrition, deep introspection, and the willingness to force yourself to do unpleasant things will not “cure” anything, it will damn well help. It can mediate that which is truly unchangeable.

By saying that someone with depression (or anxiety, or schizophrenia, or OCD, or bipolar disorder) will always be that way no matter what is a bleak and inaccurate statement. That person may always carry the diagnosis, that person may always need to take medication, that person may lead a more trying life than someone unafflicted, but they still have the ability to enact change. While I understand the societal push to accept one’s flaws within the context of mental illness–some people cannot empathize with a struggle they do not understand unless it is put is such cemented terminology–I personally believes it takes away from one’s autonomy, even if the ability to be autonomous is incredibly slight.

Accepting that we all have flaws is not the same thing as relinquishing responsibility for fixing those faults disguised as self-acceptance.  At some point, I feel as though it became uncommon for people to stop and ask themselves if the urge on which they are about to act will harm themselves or others in the future, only on whether or not it will make themselves feel satisfied. Snitty comments go viral. Petulance gets views. Treating people like shit is monetized. Self-destructiveness is humorous.

Every person has a seed of darkness within them, but we do not need to water it. And we certainly should not celebrate its growth.

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This Is Why You Procrastinate–(Maybe)

While most people are fairly familiar with the fight or flight response in animals, there exists a third response to stress: colloquially, the “freeze response” (also known as tonic immobility).

Humans are known to exhibit fight or flight responses on a daily basis. Explained broadly, the fight response is initiated when we instinctively feel we can battle our way out of a situation. The flight response, on the other hand, is initiated when we feel overwhelmed by a situation and spot an escape. Keep in mind: since it is a subconscious response to stimuli, our reaction might not make much logical sense. Maybe, when pressured by your boss and given a strict deadline with dire consequences, you amp up your workload and lose sleep for the next week trying to achieve the impossible. Another person, in the same situation, might become aggressive towards their boss and snippy to their loved ones until the deadline has passed. Both situations involve high levels of adrenaline and norepinephrine for extended periods of time, as well as elevated heart rate and blood pressure.

But what about the freeze response? In animals, it is triggered most commonly when trapped or captured. Tonic immobility (also known as thanatosis or “apparent death”) is displayed by animals under intense duress; think a possum playing dead or a deer in headlights. When placed in extreme situations–in particular, after being captured by a predator–many animals feign death. They appear paralyzed and are unresponsive to stimuli, yet are still fully conscious. Some animals, such as the hog nosed snake, even release a toxic-smelling odor. This fully cements the illusion that the snake is dead and rotting, and certainly not tasty. While references to tonic immobility in humans are splashed across our lexicon in the form of idioms and turns-of-phrases (see the aforementioned “deer in headlights”), there have been very few laboratory studies exploring its existence.

Biologically, animals exhibiting the freeze response display decreased heart rate, periods of eye closure, increases in body temperature and respiration, and frequently experience tremors (this was documented in a 1976 paper by G. G. Gallup and S. D. Suarez). It is commonly theorized that rape victims commonly experience this response during the assault, and in 2011 Eliane Volchan discovered that victims of traumatic stress in general–not just rape–also display these biological changes. Given that humans experience fight-or-flight responses on a daily basis, it can then plausibly be assumed that some humans also experience tonic immobility when feeling trapped or helpless (even if the stressor is not traumatic or life-threatening). If we do not believe in our own self-efficacy–or, in other words, our ability to escape or fight our way out of a stressful situation–we will “freeze.”

Oddly-enough, self-efficacy plays a major role in most theories of motivation (that is, what motivates humans to do things and why) in that, should we not believe we have the ability to accomplish a goal or goals, we won’t even make the attempt. In 1964, Victor H. Vroom developed the Expectancy Theory of Motivation that aimed to explain why individuals chose one behavioral path over others in the workplace. He wrote an equation designed to mathematically calculate the motivational force an individual would exert in order to accomplish a goal. When E = expectancy [or self-efficacy], I = instrumentality, and V = valance, the effort one is willing to put forth is equal to EI × V). Valence is defined as the value the employee places on accomplishing the goal, instrumentality as the belief that accomplishing the goal will result in some sort of benefit to the employee (even if it’s just pleasure at accomplishing a task), and expectancy as the belief that the goal itself can be accomplished. This means that, within Vroom’s equation, if we do not believe in our own self-efficacy we will not exert much–or any–effort.

Vroom’s Expectancy Theory deals with upper-level cognitive processes–but what about the subconscious? If you logically know yourself to be capable of accomplishing a task, you will eventually exert the necessary effort in order to complete it. But what about the rapidity with which those tasks are executed? Add in adrenaline (or trauma, or any number of other unpleasantries) and you’re dealing with stress responses on top of motivational effort. Looking back at the example given to illustrate possible fight-or-flight responses in humans–a strict deadline with dire consequences–a third possible story line emerges should you also consider the freeze response. Those who most commonly exhibit a fight-or-flight response will presumably appear as the typical overstressed worker: too little sleep, always buzzing, never sitting still, perpetually on-edge. But what if that same stressor coupled with a lack of intrinsic self-efficacy actually triggers a biological response–a freeze response? If you do not believe you can accomplish the project delegated to you (even if all logical markers suggest otherwise), you might sleep more every night. Even if you logically know the project can be completed, you might push it off until you are forced to confront it. You might, in other words, procrastinate. Procrastination could then be the freeze response rearing its head because of a subconscious but firmly-held belief that you are not capable. 

Extrapolating on this idea, if chronic anxiety is technically a prolonged fight-or-flight arousal, perhaps depression (with its lack of motivation and increased sleep) is the prolongation of tonic immobility. It becomes plausible to imagine that the freeze response manifests itself as the physical symptoms of depression, and that depression itself is triggered by stressors coupled with the deeply-held belief that you are not capable of dealing with (or living) life for whatever reason. This could have far-reaching ramifications in the ways that PTSD and depression are treated pharmacologically and therapeutically.

Now, who wants to give me a lab so I can see if this idea has any bearing?

The Ties That Bind

We, by design, live our lives in our minds. If we do not know ourselves, we are blind to everything outside of our bodies; we live with our eyes closed. The world as it stands is filtered, darkened, and warped if not viewed with the sort of clarity that comes with  deep and daily introspection. If there are parts of ourselves that we fear–parts that we hate, parts that bring us pain, or parts we simply do not know and have not examined–we try to escape that blackness. We run from ourselves, we skitter and hide from our pain, we do anything in our power to avoid turning around and looking at what lurks in the recesses of consciousness.

Everyone runs. Some just have to run faster than others to escape that broiling mess.

Those who struggle with substance abuse have that aforementioned mess perfectly, wonderfully, beautifully soothed when they take drugs. Drugs work. Drugs are the most effective coping mechanism known to man–their effectiveness is precisely why they are so addictive. To be perfectly blunt, some people don’t need coping mechanisms that potent. Some people get by with low-key self-destructiveness, or pathological lying, or passive-aggressiveness, or any other number of negative behavioral patterns that have an immediate and satisfying effect but are detrimental in the long run. Taking seven lines of cocaine because you woke up feeling kind of crappy is probably overkill, but taking seven shots might really hit the spot. Banging heroin because you felt a little self-conscious earlier is presumably a wee bit over the top, but being snarky to the grocery clerk might make you feel just peachy.

Addiction is a behavioral pattern that negatively impacts one’s life and yet is never altered (or is unsuccessfully altered)–and everyone is an addict.

Humanity fears a loss of control. Anyone who outwardly displays what people inwardly fear is hated by the fearful. We outright despise those who brazenly flaunt the flaws we hide away in the back of our closets. Those who swim in the murk of substance abuse shine a light on the darkest parts of what it means to be human. They show how deep the thread of addiction can run, how quickly one’s life can be destroyed, and how low one is really willing to stoop to do what must be done to silence the inner demons. The same way that those who struggle with obesity draw the ire of those who fear losing their slim stature, addicts are outright hated by those who themselves fear losing control.

But at the end of the day, there is no such thing as a non-addict. The only reason you might not have a needle in your arm is because your life never required that particular tool. Everyone–literally everyone–is addicted to something. It’s far easier to imagine that addiction is a strange and otherworldly beast that only strikes down the weak. It’s comfortable to believe that addicts lack willpower but we, the non-addict, are strong. It’s comfortable to believe that addicts are subhuman, or psychopathic, or alien, or evil to the core. But you are an addict.

In reality, addiction isn’t just something that could happen to you–it is something that is within you at this very moment. It is something that rears its head whenever the urge to run or hide or fight surfaces within ourselves. Addiction is not just a stony-eyed woman peering out from a poster beneath the words “Not Even Once.” Addiction is also that extra-long run in the morning, or the extra drink, or the procrastination, or the constant tardiness, or the penchant for drama. Addiction is the bank balance that constantly reads lower than it should, or the relationships that always seem to fall to pieces, or the anger that constantly rises unbidden. Addiction is the pot of lukewarm water on a lit stove, and (like it or not, believe it or not) we’re all slowly boiling.

Without knowing what it is from which we run, we cannot identify how exactly we escape it and how to face it properly in the future. Introspection is the antithesis to addiction, and it’s time to look behind you.

Am I a Feminist?

Up until the age of about eighteen, I considered myself a feminist without hesitation. Were you to ask me if I was a feminist, I would have responded the same way had you asked me if I considered myself a human: “Well, yeah, duh . . . what else would I be?” Now, I’m not so sure–and that’s terribly sad.

I grew up attending all-girls schools for most of my life. I grew up with the unchallenged ideological belief that men and women were equally capable, intelligent, and badass.  In kindergarten, we watched a cartoon about Genesis (I went to a catholic elementary school). I remember one of the boys in my class snottily remarking about how men came first in the bible and were therefore better than women. I looked at him like he was the stupidest creature alive, retaliated with “first is the worst, second is the best,” and proceeded to ask my teacher approximately twenty thousand questions about where the dinosaurs were in the bible and why god never mentioned them. I’m pretty sure I felt bad for the lack of recognition for the brontosaurs of the world. Plus, I’d been really looking forward to seeing cartoon dinosaurs in a story about the beginning of the earth, and was sorely disappointed when no prehistoric roars emanated from the small boxy 90s television. In my mind, they had skipped the good bits and went right to naked humans.

But anyways, I digress. I grew up surrounded by strong, intimidating, enviable women. I was an upstart girl with ratty hair, a love of dresses, and the insurmountable belief that I was completely capable of whatever I set my mind to. I am the woman I am because of those who came before me, those who paved the way for the women of my generation, and those who died in the struggle. I’ve noticed a lot of people–some who can be excused due youthful ignorance, some who should know better by now–who are warping the message of equality that decades of women fought to convey.

Whenever this subject is raised, it always inspires a chorus of “But that’s not real feminism!” and I agree. Feminism is about the equality of the sexes. It’s about dismantling the patriarchy by filling the world with women who are not afraid to fight for what they deserve. But there appears to be a wave of girls who believe that feminism means the ability to be shitty while not having to smell the stench of fecal matter. These are the women who become uproarious about female body shaming, but fully believe that they deserve a man with a six pack. These are the women who think it’s okay to say all men are dicks but would go ballistic if a man said all women are cunts. 

Here’s the thing: hate begets hate. Justifying sexism against men by pointing out that women had it worse for centuries doesn’t make it okay for you to be an asshole. If you don’t like being objectified and seen as a sexual object, you can’t turn around and comment on a man’s abs or bulge. Or, one of my favorite real-life examples: if you wouldn’t want a man to pass around your nude photos and make snarky comments with his friends about the size of your fake tits and the sagginess of your vagina, you can’t have a secret facebook group commenting on photos of local men’s penises. Objectifying women is wrong. Objectifying men is wrong. If you don’t want to be seen as a tool used solely as a nice warm moist penis-cozy, you can’t justify talking about men as if they were just a joystick to take out on a ride.

Lowering yourself to the level of sexism displayed by men for centuries does nothing to further equality–it just makes sexism acceptable. And that would be relatively fine if the goal was to just universally objectify people (because, hey, some humans are really nice to look at). But these same people writing articles for a living about which male celebrity should be fucked, married, or killed is the same person commenting angrily under a similar article about female celebrities. The woman marching in the Women’s March while, that next day, intentionally using her sexuality to intimidate or subdue a man for shits and giggles–that’s hypocritical bullshit.

This really isn’t rocket science. If a sentence is indubitably sexist when it’s filled with female pronouns, changing “she” to “he” doesn’t make it okay. For example, take this article posted today on Thought Catalog. Or this one, from today as well. As-is, they are sappy short little reads. However, read the articles as if they were written by a man about a woman. I don’t know about you, but I got an instant image of the much-maligned fedora-wearing NiceGuy (whose archetype is widely regarded as women-hating sexist).

For a more aggressive example, I present this Buzzfeed article that I’ve had in my open tabs on Chrome for the past week because it infuriated me so much: 23 Things You’ll Get If You Hate Men But Are Also Attracted To Them. Or, this article about the different sorts of “fuckboys” you meet as a woman. Let’s get one thing straight here. Men do not owe women a relationship any more than women owe men a relationship. Calling someone who sleeps around a fuckboy is no better than calling a woman a cumdumpster. Going tit for tat just leaves everyone boob-less.

In conclusion: if you call yourself a feminist and are sexist towards men, you aren’t feminist.  You’re not helping women by putting down men. You’re not leveling the playing field. You’re not taking back the night. You’re not furthering women’s rights. You’re just a shitty person being shitty and trying to pass it off as chocolate.

The Awesomeness of Ptah

Ptah–pronounced fffff-TAHHH for anyone who is curious–was the demiurge of Memphis. He created himself, the world, and all of the other gods and goddesses. This wasn’t exactly an abnormal idea in ancient Egyptian theology, but Ptah is unique in the way that he creates. He didn’t birth the world from a giant god orgy (Hermopolis), nor did he jizz all over the earth and call it a day (Heliopolis). Ptah, the patron god of craftsmen and those who create with their hands, crafted the heavens and the earth with language.

In the beginning, there was . . . nothing. And from the singularity rose a thought. When the singularity gained sentience, consciousness was born. But at first, consciousness was all that existed.

Ptah then spoke his name.

The first bulge of those inexpressible emotions and urges and concepts solidified into language. And just like that, existence existed. Ptah, in effect, opened his eyes. He became alive, the first living thing to exist in this world-before-the-world. He named himself; he named the sun, the air, the moisture, and the other gods and goddesses. With sentience came life.

Ptah went through two distinct steps: amidst the ebb and flow of the primordial waters, animalistic and unthinking, swirled into the birth of consciousness. But without language, he was only a half-being. However, with a name, he became a God–the first god, the creator of everything. The Memphites believed that everything that exists was first thought and named by Ptah. A concept (or object, or emotion, or place) was born in his heart–where Egyptians believe consciousness resided–and was made real when spoken aloud. Nothing existed until it was given a word. Ptah thought himself, named himself, and then named everyone else.

There are just so many interesting things about this creation story. When I experience deep and sudden emotions, I feel them first directly under my sternum. I feel pressure–or a small amount of pain, or a heart flutter, or whatever you want to call it–directly where the Memphites believed consciousness was born. To me, this suggests that the Memphites believed that consciousness was defined as that lake of emotion that broils in each of us. It is, for the most part, unnamed and unexamined. One can see the splashes of the surf, but not the depths of the water.  This lake of emotion is filled with basal urges–the things we do without thinking, our unbidden desires, our semi-automatic reactions. But consciousness sans language is not enough to be considered alive. In order to make real what lies in our hearts, we must grasp the concept and shape it into something tangible. We must identify it, speak it, and with its name comes its reality.

This fascinates me, the idea that a thing is only half-real without a linguistic identifier. For Memphites, this concept applied to both the physical world (trees, land, rivers, palaces) and the internal. As such, every thought and emotion that sprung forth in the minds of believers was thought to be a result of Ptah’s words. Every time a word was uttered, no matter how trivial, it was laced with a tiny bit of divinity. Language was not just a figurative tool used to shape the world; language was as concrete as a hammer or chisel. Language was just as substantial as earth’s material tools. In fact, this idea was so ingrained that Ptah’s High Priest was called the “Master Builder.” One could build a house with a hammer; one could build worlds with language. What the Master Builder spoke became a reality, and he maintained the world around him through the will of his heart and the power of his speech–all backed by the power of Ptah.

Without language, we are animals. With it, we can create.

__________

{Small side-track, but I once agonized for two weeks straight over what to name a beanie baby. I then gave up, left it nameless, and let it live out its days in my dollhouse as a clifford-sized purple gorilla. Can you imagine naming literally everything?}