Archive for March, 2012

I’m An Individual, Just Like Everyone Else

“Oh my God, did you see what the Smith kid was wearing today?” How many times have you been out in your community and saw a teen wearing clothing that just doesn’t fit, whether it be physically or socially? Have you ever wondered what kind of parent would allow their son to go out with a dog collar and pink highlights, or their daughter with a T-shirt that is 3 sizes to small? Before you go and call the Department of Children and Families for parental negligence, think about what is actually going on. When a child dresses drastically there are a few possible causes, but the most common is the need to set themselves apart. When a child starts the change into a teen and eventually into an adult, there are emotional and social changes to go with the voice cracking and growth spurts. Teens develop a need to become an individual, usually by dressing just like their friends. The pattern within their dress is a balance between dressing like their friends and different from their parents. These two avenues provide a scope for kids to create a wardrobe. The checklist goes as follows, “Jerry” is wearing non matching neon socks, Check. My dad would never wear non matching neon socks, check. I need non matching neon socks. This mentality is common among teens but why?

How does one go about attaining individuality? What makes a person an individual? For many it’s a journey that takes years if not a lifetime, but in the beginning it often starts as a superficial experiment of trying new things out. In its most basic understanding, individuality is the separation from others on some scale. At age 13, who do you really know well enough to effectively create separation other than your parents? So that is often your starting point. As it is a superficial study in human behavior, most of the differences are on the surface, such as dress, music, and even food. These are choices that can be easily changed and are not necessarily deep reflections of an individual. For a lot of parents it can become extremely frustrating and the root for many arguments. It is a hard aspect of parenting to deal with an oppositional child who does everything they can to separate themselves from you. It is even harder to watch and listen as other judge your child for their outward appearance when they don’t know them. So here are a few tips for a parent dealing with a teen seeking individuality:

1)      Be supportive – Just because your son is dressed up like a gangster rapper, or your daughter is in all black doesn’t mean they are not your child anymore. Acknowledge the changes they are trying to make and support them. Don’t ignore them, or overemphasize them, but acknowledge the change. This helps to keep the line of communication open, and also exhibits the parent as a resource despite it all and will strengthen the relationship.

2)      Have thick Skin – Some parents will get upset when their kids act out and do everything in their power to separate themselves. Don’t take this as a personal affront. They are pushing you away because they know you will stick by them. It’s that trust in their parents that allow them to take the chances to become the independent individuals every parent wants to raise.

3)      Understand the root – Try to understand that your child is doing this to establish their own roots. Having the knowledge that your child is doing this to further themselves will help ease the pain of seeing your son newly vegan son on the couch in his new wizard cape watching “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

4)      Don’t Freak out – Remember that this is most likely a stage and as long as your kid is safe then it is beneficial to their growth. If your child is dressing funny and listening to bad music, but not doing drugs or partaking in other risky actions, things are going well.

We all go through stages, but they help us develop into functional well rounded adults. It allows us to really understand what we like and what we don’t. It can be extremely hard to deal with a teen, who is defining themselves, but just remember what that Monty Python phase has taught all of us and “always look on the bright side of life.”

Categories: Uncategorized

A Great Way to Define Who You Are

March 2, 2012 2 comments

Our Second Psych Nerd: Dr. Kenneth Texeira Ph.D.

Kenneth Texeira Ph.D. Is a coordinator and Psychology Professor at Quincy College in Plymouth.  His PhD is from Fordham University in Applied Developmental Psychology.  He has worked with research teams from Johns Hopkins University, Duke University and he has published academic articles in the areas of end of life care, spiritual needs, and bioethics. His primary focus is on personality and spirituality and how they are associated with mood.


I am a researcher and a professor of psychology.   When people find out what I do I am often asked if I am reading their minds or analyzing them.  In the past I used to say no, however I have  never found a way to make people feel at ease by explaining that I really can’t do that unless they tell me a great deal of personal information.  So, after many a skeptical reception to why I cannot read minds, I have given up, and now I just tell people I can read minds and  am doing it to them at that very moment.  I usually make a very intense face and do a Freud impression which looks something like a mad scientist (evil genius hand gestures are helpful), and I listen very carefully and shake my head at some imaginary information I sucked telepathically from their unconsciousness.  After a few seconds, people usually see how awkward and impossible it is and we have a good laugh.

Recently, though, it dawned on me that I do read people and the idea is not that farfetched at all.  Everyone does this.  When you meet someone for the first time you automatically process a ton of information about them.  You probably know fairly quickly whether if you like the person or not and if you ever want to deal with that person again.  What we are doing is forming impressions about personality.  The purpose of this article is to provide the reader with a theoretical framework to help provide insight into ourselves and to learn to categorize other people in a deeper and more meaningful way.  I hope that this will give the reader a perspective into how to better predict behavior and sharpen the skills that you use all of the time.

The internet is awash with many personality tests.  Every so often I have observed  waves of tests through social media that tell you what type of superhero you are, what celebrity you are and even which type of snack food you represent.  There are other tests that are more serious sounding, but just about as accurate.  I get asked what sign I am pretty often.  I usually say a “yield sign,” but in all seriousness astrology is another way people try to gain insight about themselves.  There is a even a personality test on my placemat every time I go to my favorite Chinese restaurant.   I recall that I am a snake so I should beware the monkey.  From my decade of research in the area I have concluded that there are better ways to understand personality.  The tests described above are flawed and inaccurate, but they provide some entertainment.

If everyone that was born on the same day or on the same year was similar maybe there would be some truth to these tests, but I don’t think there is any foundation to the prediction of behavior in astrology or on the Chinese zodiac.  So what is a good and useful psychology test of personality?  First, lets define personality.  Personality refers to an unobservable quality present within the individual that is thought to be responsible for that individual’s observable behavior (Whitbourne, 2005).  Prediction of behavior is the goal of psychology so it is no wonder that most of the famous psychologists were also personality researchers.  Freud, Erikson, and others were all interested in personality.

Perhaps the most dominant theory in personality today is trait theory.  McCrae and Costa (1988) define personality traits as a set of characteristic dispositions.  There has been a great deal of research over the last 60 years on how many factors (or pieces) there should be in personality, but the following five factors tend to work pretty well.

The five factors include extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, conscientiousness and agreeableness (Costa & McCrae, 1992).  An easy way to remember these is to think of the word OCEAN.  Each of the five factors begins with one of these letters.  Now let me explain what these factors are and what they represent.

Openness to experience refers to an active imagination and preferences in variety in the environment.  In an earlier version of personality a researcher named Eyesnick wrote of this trait in a very fond and interesting way.  He believed that openness to experience was an important part of the personality in order to learn new things, and even to have religious and spiritual experiences.  Each trait is on a continuum. For example, my father is very low in openness.  My dad loves routine; if he goes to a restaurant he always orders the same thing.  He would not want to try an exotic food and when asked if he will eat squid he always says, “no I won’t eat anything that won’t let go of my plate first.”

The next personality trait is conscientiousness.  Whether you realize it or not, when you show up to a job interview you are trying to look as neat and organized as possible.  We want to be on time, dress nicely, bring a nice mistake free resume, and even take notes.  Conscientiousness is a quality you would want in an executive assistant, the person preparing your taxes, and hopefully the auditor that files them at the IRS.  Attention to detail is a big part of this but so is achievement motivation.  People who want to do a good job on something because they have to,  will have a high dose of this.  If you are struggling with a teenager (or spouse) who doesn’t want to find a job you may wish that this trait could be given in pill form.

Extraversion is one of my favorite personality traits because there is no other psychological theory that is more associated with positive mood or happiness than this one.  People who are high in extraversion have emotional stability.  They tend to be warm, outgoing, and like positive engagement with people.  On the other hand people who are low in this trait tend to have more difficulty in themselves and with other people.  I happen to be really extraverted and teaching classes for me is fun and exhilarating.  If you don’t like meeting new people, or simply really need a large amount of alone time you may not be high on this trait.

Agreeableness reflects a tendency toward being open and straightforward.  Those who are high on this trait tend to nurture others and are sensitive to interpersonal conflict.  If you like to debate points and find yourself disagreeing and in interpersonal conflict you may be on the low side of this continuum.

The last personality trait is neuroticism.  Every character in the show Seinfeld was very high in this trait.   People who are high in this trait have an increased sensitivity to negative stimulus in the environment.  If you think about it, most of the information that you receive on a daily basis is neither good or bad.  We have to decide whether or not we see the information as good or bad.  If you order coffee and they are out of your favorite sweetener you will lose your mind if you are high in neuroticism.  Grey (1991) theorized that extraversion and neuroticism may reflect a part of your brain responsible for approach or avoidance.  Someone high in neuroticism has extra sensitivity to this avoidance system so they process information as negative and withdraw from situations more frequently.     Being very low on any of these traits including neuroticism is not necessarily a good thing.   Adolescents who get into trouble with the law tend to be very low in neuroticism.  It’s ok to have a healthy fear of consequences but if fear cripples us then we may want to get some help in this area.

Now that you have all of the five big factor traits in a understandable format let’s take this one step further.  I like to think of the late and wonderful Bob Ross when I explain this theory to my students.  Remember the guy who painted the happy little tree? That was Bob, if he is not a good example for you, think of a painter.  What if each one of these traits were like a color on a painters pallet?  We can paint a person’s personality.  We will have combinations of any of these traits and it makes us all unique.  These tend to be stable and not very changeable, so since we cannot do much to change our personalities, we can examine how our personality fits into the world we create for ourselves.

Categories: Uncategorized

Finding the Beauty in the Unexpected

March 2, 2012 Leave a comment

I recently met with a mother who is currently having trouble trying to understand her child and some of the reasons why he does what he does. During our session she expressed how difficult it can be to raise a child with a disability. We discussed some of the ways in which she categorizes disability and what the concept of “disability” means to her. She expressed a feeling of sadness, but also stated that she feels as though she has accepted some of the difficulties that her life may bring. She mentioned a poem by Emily Pearl Kingsley entitled, “Welcome to Holland.” The theme of the poem is how being the parent of a child with a disability is unexpected and challenging, yet special and rewarding. The poem compares raising a child with a disability to planning a trip to Italy. The family waits their whole life to take this one trip. A trip to a place they have planned and dreamed of. The family makes sure they plan every minute. Hours of research and time goes into planning for this trip. Then, they get on the plane, fly for hours, and once they touch down the stewardess greets them at the door and says, “Welcome to Holland!” The family then becomes upset and confused because they were supposed to be in Italy. They’ve waited their whole life to get there, only to have something different happen. The family, in the end, sees the beauty of Holland, and although it may not have been expected, they find value in their new destination.

Hearing this story makes me think of some of the struggles that families must go through when trying to make sense of how their lives have turned out. Sometimes we may feel as though we’ve been cheated in some way; that somehow our life hasn’t turned out the way it was supposed to.

Keeping this in mind, I wonder what it is that you value in your life? How are you able to show yourself that there is beauty in some of the things that may not seem so special? Do you ever take time to sit back and work on yourself?

As you read this, I want you to think about the very first post ever written on this blog. It discusses resolutions for the New Year and things to keep in mind when making a New Year’s Resolution. Take some time and reflect on how far you’ve come. Have you continued to make progress towards those goals? If no, then why not? What’s getting in the way of making that precious step towards a better you?

The idea behind Emily Pearl Kingsley’s poem is to help put into perspective what it is like for parents who raise kids with disabilities, but it can be expanded upon much further. It is really a metaphor for anyone who feels as though things just didn’t work out the way you wanted them to.  As a result, let us take a first step towards getting you there!

1.)    Identify what is bothering you or something you’d like to change about your life.

Sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to. SO WHAT! Make your own fate. If things don’t work out there is always a way around it! Stay positive and be innovative. Sitting down and accepting this is not going to get you anywhere closer to your goal. In some cases, it’s as simple as changing your attitude towards the situation.

2.)    Stop with the negative self talk!

We call this ruminating. Stop talking yourself out of things. Keep yourself positive and shut down that inner voice that tells you how bad or how hard something is. We already know it’s hard, but if it was easy it wouldn’t be worth it right?

3.)    Take that scary first step.

Nobody is going to do this for you. Move forward with confidence. In fact, it’s normal to feel scared – it would be weird if you didn’t. Accept the fact that the worst that can happen is you fail (use that as a learning experience), the best thing is that you will succeed and achieve your goals.

4.)    Take a moment after to praise yourself.

As adults, it is hard to find positive reinforcement. While we were growing up, our parents and teachers gave us gold stars when we did something nice. As adults, our bosses expect that a paycheck at the end of the week is good enough to say job well done. So, that being said, adults must put in effort to allow ourselves to be rewarded. If you don’t do it, then nobody will.

The poem may discuss the outlook of raising kids with disabilities, but it does much more in communicating the feelings associated with having your life turn out a bit different than what you had anticipated. So the next time you’re coming off that runway, upset that you won’t have the opportunity to visit the Coliseum, remember that if you take a moment to really look around, Holland’s a pretty beautiful place too.

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