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When Criticism Feels Like Love

Are you picking toxic partners because of childhood emotional abuse?

I distinctly remember being told, “There’s something really wrong with you.”

I remember being taught my multiplication tables and my father screaming curse words loud enough that the neighbors got concerned when I got one wrong.

I remember hearing “worthless”, “lazy”, and “you never change” hissed at me several times a week.

I remember my father and my grandfather grabbing my arms and squeezing them, calling me fat as a sensitive 16-year-old, and howling with laughter about it.

I never saw my parents hug or kiss each other once in my entire life.

If you were emotionally or verbally abused as a child, the likelihood that you repeat that pattern with romantic partners is higher than you may think. According to Medical News Today, the following qualify as emotional abuse of children by parents:

· yelling, bullying, or threatening a child
· shaming, belittling, or humiliating a child
· telling a child that they are worthless, a mistake, or bad
· giving a child “the silent treatment” as punishment
· limiting signs of affection
· exposing a child to violence against others
· calling a child names
· negatively comparing a child with others

And if you have been emotionally abused, odds are, you aren’t aware of it, and probably don’t care to entertain the notion.

Years ago, I took a test for abused children given to me by one of the most highly regarded therapists in the country.

I passed with flying colors. I couldn’t understand it.

My parents gave me, and still give me, everything I ever wanted. They generally never spanked me and failed to punish me when other people’s parents would have. I was grateful for all the material things they had provided.

It felt disloyal to them to even consider it.

The results of the test made no sense until my therapist and I stopped talking about what I got in my childhood and started talking about what I didn’t get.

Material goods and money were forthcoming, while kind words, encouragement, instilling self-esteem and confidence, or respect for me as a person were almost entirely absent.

It took me two years in therapy to admit I was emotionally and verbally abused.

But it still took many more years for me to realize that for me, love always featured devastating criticism. I’d never known any other kind.

Delusional Dating

I remember distinctly dating my first real boyfriend, and him calling me “stupid” until I cried. He was arrested for cocaine possession and sales the day after I lost my virginity to him.

I remember dating a much older producer for years who called me “fat” every single time we met up. Every sentence he uttered started with, “If you lost weight…” It was finally after a conversation in a restaurant in which he accused me of eating potatoes “only to make him angry” that I couldn’t take it anymore.

I remember dating an actor in L.A. who would tell me how hot the other women were, who he was bedding.

Next, was a relationship with a man with such frighteningly low self-esteem, he called me a bitch if I failed to speak to him on the phone for at least three hours a day, reassuring him.

I didn’t see what was happening for an EMBARRASSINGLY long period of time. I thought those men just happened to turn out to be assholes, or that I was just bad at picking them.

I believed I had no better choices.

It hadn’t occurred to me that when criticism feels like love, kindness seems deviant.

When yelling, cursing, and accusations are a daily occurrence, manners seem laughable.

How to stop the cycle

You CAN prevent yourself from pursuing partners who want to prey on you.

But you have to keep your eyes open and plan ahead of time. I use these rules myself because I still need them.

Set boundaries. BEFORE a first date, write down the behavior you will and will not accept, and what are deal-breakers. You’re much clearer-headed before you meet someone than once hormones start rushing around doing their thing.

Insist on a certain level of respect. If a potential partner crosses the line or doesn’t show you respect, especially if it’s more than once in a short period of time, send them packing. But the truth is, you probably won’t have to. Like abusers of any kind, if you’re not a willing victim, they’ll go look for someone who is.

Speaking of which, build your self-esteem and self-confidence. The best ways to do that are to make and complete goals on a daily basis and keep making them harder to achieve. You’re not viable prey if you believe in yourself. Interestingly enough, several emotional abusers I know had less and less to say to me after I completed my master’s degree. Eventually, they all fell silent, and most disappeared entirely.

Spot red flags. The biggest red flag of narcissism is extreme differences in personality between public and private life. My first boyfriend was a gregarious social butterfly who worked the room; it was how he got me in the first place. In private, he was depressed, sullen, and always angry. My producer ex used to grab me, push me against walls, and jam his hand between my legs at a popular Hollywood movie theater. At home, he would push me away and tell me to leave without laying a finger on me.

If you feel like you’re dating Jekyll and Hyde, he or she may be a narcissist.

Avoid anyone who tries to control your behavior. The number one sign of an abuser is someone who tries to limit or stop your interaction with family, friends, and even your work. They want total control. No, he doesn’t “love you that much”, he wants anyone who might help you out of the picture.

Watch how they treat people “beneath” them in society. Does this person yell at waiters? Throw fits in public over nothing? Cuss people out? Or physically harm ANY living creature for enjoyment? Run.

This is an extraordinarily painful thing to talk or write about, and I debated whether to post it or not for over a week. My own journey with it is far from over. But I hope to help others see a pattern that was extremely difficult for me to spot. You CAN learn to identify abusers long before they become part of your life.

“Toxic Femininity” and Other Fairy Tales of the #MeToo Backlash

Why There Is No Such Thing and There Never Will Be

Months ago, I wrote an article about my dismay at finding so many articles on the men’s perspective of #MeToo that use very specific misogynistic language. These tearful and frustrated essays varied by topic, often about whether they think #MeToo is fair, how it’s affected their lives and dating habits, if they’re scared “it’s all gone too far.”

All of them sought to remind readers that women are mysterious, terrifying creatures who need to be controlled, as we will never be understood.

These articles seem to have finally started to disappear only to be replaced with a fresh delusion — a plethora of articles on “toxic femininity.” I haven’t been able to go online to my usual haunts these days without being force-fed this concept.

What I’m most afraid of is that women readers are going to start internalizing it

Let’s get something out of the way. First of all, there’s no such thing as toxic femininity. Toxic femininity is Santa Claus, it’s the Easter Bunny, it’s “proof” that one person’s god is right and others are wrong. It does not exist. Period.

Why is there no such thing as toxic femininity? Because we live in a patriarchy. It’s as simple as that.

It’s the same for any oppressed group. A black person can be a bigot, can be mean, can be an asshole (Steve Harvey’s recent tirade against Asian men comes to mind). But they can’t be racist. Why? Because we live in a white supremacist society. Can one black person oppress one white person? Yes. Can “black people” as a group oppress “white people” as a group? No.

A woman can be a misanthropist, can despise men, can be mean and rotten. There are women who are terrible partners, friends, and parents. There are women who are racists, women who victimize others, women who take sick pleasure in hurting people. There are men who have been unfairly victimized by women. There are women who have been worse than any man you’ve ever met. No argument.

Can one woman oppress one man? Yes. Can “women” as a societal group oppress “men” as a societal group? No. Why? Because we live in a patriarchy. Those who can’t perceive the divide are either unable or unwilling to understand the difference between a personal character flaw and a form of societal organization.

So, what is the patriarchy and what is toxic masculinity?

What the Patriarchy Is and What Toxic Masculinity Is

A patriarchy is a specific way to organize society. It is defined as a family, community, or society based on government by men, and the cultural ideas relating to this specific social organization. Western culture has been run exclusively by white men for hundreds of years, supporting each other whatever their deeds in order to maintain the societal organization at all costs.

Toxic masculinity refers to stereotypically masculine personality traits and actions, run amok. Toxic masculinity seeks to control the range of emotions, personalities, and actions, that are allowable for a subject, based on the subject’s birth gender. The idea that men are tough and strong, women are weak and sweet, and that only men should hold difficult, important, or complex jobs (or any at all) is toxic masculinity. As is the concept that boys shouldn’t cry.

There are far too many individual concepts that are part of toxic masculinity and the patriarchy to possibly name them all, but valuing power, wealth, genetics, and ferocity, while devaluing compassion, kindness, compromise, and even intelligence and common sense, are hallmarks of patriarchies. Winning is the goal — at all costs. Toxic masculinity is the guy across the street right this very moment screaming at a woman and slamming his car doors because he knows everyone is afraid of him and he can get away with it.

What the Patriarchy is Not and Toxic Masculinity is Not

Holding individual men responsible for everything that has ever happened. Toxic masculinity is a societal problem; it does not mean every man is toxic.

We know there are nearly as many male victims of toxic masculinity as there are female victims. When the smartest guy in the room gets passed over for a promotion in favor of the wealthy, good-looking, tall, ex-football player because he comes from a powerful family, that is toxic masculinity at work. Any geek who’s ever gotten a swirly because he made the tough guy look bad by having the right answer in class knows as much about toxic masculinity as any Rhodes scholar.

A balance is necessary in both society and in the individual. Action and decisiveness are positive stereotypically “male” attributes, though they appear in both genders, just as negative “male” attributes appear in both genders. The same with stereotypically female attributes.

Toxic masculinity is not an individual attribute, it’s what happens when male attributes are allowed to run amok in society, to the exclusion feminine attributes. It is the natural result of imbalance. We live in a “yang” society that dismisses “yin” as silly and unimportant. That society is destined for trouble and if the trouble is not corrected, it’s destined to fall apart. Trying to achieve balance or “right the ship” so to speak can feel like discrimination to those who have come to count on toxic masculinity for everything from their livelihood to their sense of self. When one has had a centuries-long unfair advantage, equality feels like discrimination, and we’re dealing with that as a society right now.

What About All Those Chicks Who Treat Other Women Badly, That’s Not Toxic Femininity?

Many of the negative female attributes that are often cited as being parts of “toxic femininity” are actually part of toxic masculinity. Women who use their looks to get ahead? “Sleep their way to the top”? Stab each other in the back for money, jobs, men, etc? All of that is part of the mythos that women are not as smart, capable, or tough as men, and cannot compete unless they cheat. Many women sadly believe this. That is pure, 100%, toxic masculinity, as is the concept that women are only worth what they look like. In truth, there is nothing weak or false about femininity. We are allowing a corrupted, incorrect definition to define who we are.

In Defense of Telling the Truth

In a world that becomes more dishonest by the day, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

“Why would you admit that?!”, my mother boomed at me, “She didn’t know until you told her. Now one of us has to take off work to pick you up. You have to smarten up.” The thing the teacher didn’t know was that I hadn’t done my homework, a fact she likely would have overlooked if I hadn’t brought it up, and so I was destined for detention, when I could have simply kept my trap shut and saved everyone a lot of trouble.

It wasn’t the first time my honestly had become a detriment, and it wouldn’t be the last. Growing up, I was brutally honest, foolishly generous, and heartrendingly sensitive. And like many other chronically honest children, at some point, I found myself faced with a decision — adapt to the jungle or get eaten by the lions.

By adapting, and learning to lie well, we gain many things: the ability to fit into society better, to get out of trouble, to shift the blame, to make ourselves feel better, and even to make others feel better. In some ways, it really can feel like “smartening up.” As we get older, we also realize we have the ability to persuade, to sell, to confuse, and to manipulate. We gain much.

What we lose is far more precious.

Why We Lie

Most sociologists agree that lying is part of a child’s personality by age four, and many are mixed on the effect of learning to lie well as a child. Many mental health practitioners consider it a positive survival instinct, and it’s easy to understand why. Why would anyone go to detention if they had another option?

According to the Psychology Today article, “The Truth About Lying”, we receive mixed messages about lying almost from birth. Our families usually tell us as children to be honest, and that lying never pays, but society teaches us a different lesson from a very early age. According to the article, Leonard Saxe, Ph.D., a polygraph expert and professor of psychology at Brandeis University, says, “Lying has long been a part of everyday life. We couldn’t get through the day without being deceptive.”

And as adults the stakes get higher. Why do we lie as adults? According to the National Geographic article “Why We Lie: the Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways”, 22% -the single largest percentage-of lies are told to cover up a misdeed, and 16% of lies are for economic advantage. We may tell ourselves that we’re lying to spare others’ feelings, but according to the study, those lies account for less than 2% of lies told.

Who Lies

Nearly everyone.

It’s no wonder we learn early in our lives that those who tell us lying doesn’t pay may be the biggest fibbers of all. In fact, most of us learn to lie from authority figures, such as parents, bosses, teachers, celebrities, religious leaders, health care providers, and politicians, and from them we learn that lying often pays handsomely.

Famous Fibbers

Some are of course bigger offenders than others, and their lies have national and international ramifications. Charles Ponzi, a 1920s swindler who promised investors a 100% profit in 90 days on postal reply coupons, is so famous for his lies, his scheme is named after him. The 1919 World Series White Sox team, better known as the Black Sox, conspired with gangsters to purposely lose games, then lied about it. The guilty players were banned from baseball for life.

More recently, Andrew Wakefield, the former anti-vaccine advocate, admitted he falsified a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, but not before his lies led to a decrease in vaccinations and an increase in mumps and rubella outbreaks worldwide. Some lies are so well known, they will forever be associated with the fibber in question. History won’t soon forget Nixon’s vow “I am not a crook”, or Bill Clinton’s phrase, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

For most of us, our lies don’t affect the lives of millions of people, but we shouldn’t start patting ourselves on the back for our honesty just yet. According to the Mentalfloss article “60% of People Can’t Go 10 Minutes Without Lying” from 2012, 40% of Americans lie on resumes, while a startling 90% lie on online dating profiles. That’s quite a high percentage for a time before anyone used the term “post-factual America.” Lying seems to become more widespread every day. At all levels of society, lies are often seen as the price of doing business.

Thinking Twice About the “Benefits” of Lying

Given how popular lying is, perhaps the most remarkable part of the National Geographic study is researcher Tim Levine’s quote, “We lie if honesty won’t work.” If lying is so popular, so widespread, and so effective, why do we even bother to try to tell the truth? Why turn to lying only when honesty doesn’t work? And why do we feel guilt and shame when we lie if lying is nothing but a positive survival instinct? While there has been plenty of research on who lies and why, there has been little on why we tell the truth.

As lying becomes more of a staple of our society, and an encouraged practice from the top down, it may seem silly or disadvantageous to practice honesty. But is the concept that lying is necessary the biggest falsehood of all? It may be worth taking the time to examine what lies do to us- spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

Enter a book written in 1997, a staple on the shelves of psychologists, therapists, and spiritual teachers everywhere — Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. There have been many books, and a lot of discussion in the past twenty years, about the concept of creating one’s own reality — the idea that through word and deed you draw certain people to you, certain opportunities, and create a good or bad life for yourself depending on your own actions, and even thoughts.

This book was a groundbreaking treatise on the topic. The first of the four agreements is: “Be impeccable with your word.” It sounds archaic, silly even in this modern age. But Don Miguel Ruiz believes so strongly in this tenant, he said, making that one change alone could make a heaven of hell. This can have many different facets to it from telling the truth to refusing to gossip to stopping negative self-talk. It takes courage to speak into truth and love, instead of playing the blame game and spreading negativity.

As Ruiz points out, words have been used to cure and have been used to cause disease, racism, misogyny, hatred, even kill millions and lead countries to war. Before readers dismiss these ideas as new age claptrap, this isn’t first time a spiritual teacher has stressed the importance of “the word.”

In Taoism, the Tao itself is defined as the word, the way, or the path. In Judaism, according to Pslam 33:9, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made.” In Buddhism, the words and teachings of Buddha are known as “dharma” and are central to Buddhist life.

In Christianity, the Bible is considered the word of God, and understanding Scripture is central to Christian life. If heaven and earth were made by “the Word”, words seem to be pretty darn important. All of these sources would seem to vindicate Ruiz’s suggestion that our reality is built from our words. Words have been very important for very long time, as has the concept of being as good as your word.

How Health Is Impacted by Lying

We know there are negative emotional and spiritual consequences to lying, but are there negative physical consequences? According to the U.S. News and World Report article “How Lying Affects Your Health”, when one group of people was instructed to tell fewer lies over the course of a week, their health benefited. The study found that “In fact, telling three fewer minor lies a week translated to four fewer mental health complaints, and three fewer physical complaints.”

The health complaints may have been related to all the stress and energy required to keep lies going. A Psychology Today article “Want a Longer Healthier Life? Stop Lying”, suggests lying causes chronic stress, which is responsible for long-term memory loss, depleted fertility, loss of bone density, and can cause Type 2 diabetes, clinical depression, and premature aging. Yikes. (If you want to know what stress does to the body, just look at pictures of presidents before and after they served.) We also lose perhaps our most valuable possession to stress — innocence and love of life, which once lost, can feel impossible to regain.

Catching a Liar

Many may say they only need to lie a few times for a financial benefit or to get out of trouble, and will break the habit, but that’s rarely the case. One lie has to become many to maintain the sense of believability.

This builds a lifelong habit that can not only damage physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, but may also backfire. The majority of liars get caught, even in small lies. According to Career Builder.com, 75% of HR managers easily spot lies on resumes.

There is also a plethora of articles online about how to spot liars, and symptoms of lying include inability to meet another person’s eyes, restlessness, and defensiveness. Guilt over lying often emerges as anger, a tell-tale sign you may be speaking with someone playing loose with the facts, and the louder and more vehemently a person defends themselves, the more likely they’re lying. In fact, over half of liars start their lie with “To be honest…” The ramifications of getting caught in a lie can include everything from being fired to loss of a relationship to ending up in jail.

So Why Do We REALLY Lie?

Science has pinpointed many definitive reasons why we lie, such as to get out of trouble and for financial gain. But if we dig deeper, since we know lying actually rarely pays in the long run, why do we REALLY lie if we know better? We probably lie for the same reason we have that drink or that cheeseburger, even though we know we shouldn’t —

because it seems easier, faster, and more efficient, because we often choose short-term pleasure over long-term evolution and growth. Few people are immune to taking the easy way out occasionally, and lying seems to simply be part of the human condition.

Why Bother Quitting?

If everyone lies, why bother trying to stop? In addition to the mental, physical, and emotional health-related drawbacks to lying, we may want to pause to consider what kind of world we’re creating. If Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, as well as nearly every single spiritual practice on the planet, is to be believed, we create our daily reality or our “heaven or hell” through our own actions, through our own words. If we take a look around us, we see the world we have created. If what we see outside our windows and on our news channels is not the world we want to live in, it may be time to consider a change. What if every person made one small personal change? What rewards might we reap for our efforts? What might the world look like in a month, a year, a decade, or a century?

Breaking the Habit

No habit is broken overnight. When trying to break the lying habit, many tend to become angry at themselves for not instantly being able to kick the inclination. After all, it’s not like smoking where there is an addiction to be broken, right? Actually, there may be. Studies have shown lying can be just addictive as a substance. Lying is the same as any other habit, and just like any other habit, one of the worst choices anyone can make is to expect perfection overnight — it leads to giving up and deciding it was foolish to try in the first place. Just like any other habit, it will take some time to break a habit to lie.

Begin by eliminating three lies per week. Three times in one week, when you are about to speak an untruth, choose to tell the truth instead. Later, write each instance down (no one needs to see this but you). At the end of a month, grant yourself a reward for your hard work. It might be anything from a nice dinner out to a new pair of jeans.

After a month, eliminate three more lies per week. At this point in kicking the habit, you will probably be far more honest than most people around you. Write down how you feel about yourself. Proud? Hopeful? Then write down how your life has changed, what new people have come into your life, and what opportunities have come your way. Documenting your new life is important, and so is giving yourself a pat on the back for making a change many cannot.

While lying may provide some temporary advantages, long-term growth comes from choosing to be honest and compassionate with our words. In a world that becomes more dishonest by the day, practicing honesty is both an act of rebellion and a force for good.

What is Fetishization and What Is Not?

How an Article On “Hot Asian Men” Broke the Comment Section

I’ve never been quick to villainize people over sexuality; it’s just not my style. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to kinks, I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to judge sexuality, sexual preferences, or fantasies, even ones that would make most of us cringe. Nor is it okay to tell other people what they’re allowed to be attracted to. Actions are a whole other matter, but fantasy is private. It may be un-PC of me, but I don’t think sexuality and desire will ever be things that will fit into a tiny, polite box. Desire is offensive by virtue of its own attributes.

That’s the mental place I was coming from when I saw a link on Facebook to an article on the Huffington Post called “21 Fine-As-Hell Asian Men Who Will Make You Swoon and Then Some.” Notably, the author is an Asian woman. As someone who finds Harry Shum Jr. and Daniel Dae Kim both errhrm… “fine as hell”, I was excited to read more, especially since the media has been flooded lately with articles written by Asian men saying they don’t feel attractive to white women. Let’s celebrate sexy Asian men, yay! But was my thinking correct?

The comment section on Facebook was a hot mess. There were many comments about how the article was fetishizing Asian men, how the author needed to be stripped of her credentials, etc, and then the other half of the comments were arguing with the people who said it was fetishization- split between those who genuinely didn’t think so and those who think ‘them fancy liberal words’ don’t really mean anything anyway. Ugh.

I jumped into the fray with my own opinion and tried to explain my perspective to the “fetishization” side of the argument. To me, it was easy:

“I want to be with an Asian woman because they’re all submissive and obedient” = fetishizing and stereotypical

“I want to be with an Asian woman because I think she is pretty and I’m particularly sexually attracted to her type” = perfectly fine

“I want to go on a date with an Asian man because they’re all good at math and I need help understanding it” = fetishizing and stereotypical

“I want to read this article because I think these men are hot” = perfectly fine

Not everyone agreed with my take.

Yet we know fetishization exists and it’s dangerous. Many believe it played a major role in the Atlanta murders of 6 Asian women. Tonya Mosley and Serena McMahon for wbur state that “a century of objectifying Asian women” influenced the shooter’s opinions about the women who worked at the massage parlors. He saw them as a temptation he needed to eliminate. And there’s no question plenty of European men wrongly see Asian women as submissive.

That, combined with ragged emotions over Covid-19 and 15 months of masks, arguments, and worry have contributed to multiple instances of Asian hate, including attacking Asian people on the street.

Back to the comments, I started to study them on both sides of the argument and most of all, who was saying what. If Asians thought I was wrong, then I would consider myself wrong. On the contrary, only one Asian person weighed in, a woman, who like me, had no problem with the article.

As I studied the comments, I noticed a few things. Over 90% of those saying it was fetishization were men, none of them Asian. One particular man fumed, “You can think someone is attractive without describing him like he’s the blue plate special at the local sushi restaurant!!” That got me thinking again. If this were “21 Hot Asian Women”, would they still be big mad or instead, would they be mocking any woman who was offended by it? Is this true concern about the fetishization of Asian men, or a bunch of butt hurt, jealous guys mad because they’re not the one currently being ogled? Hmmmm.

Then I noticed something else. This article was written by a woman, but it was written LIKE a man. She took a very alpha-stance on the topic. She said what she liked, and she showed us examples.

And then a lot of other men lost their minds, leading me to wonder if their problem was jealousy or fury that a woman dared to choose rather be chosen in the first place. Were they furious she didn’t choose them or because she dared to choose to begin with? Or was it genuine concern?

For me, the article was a “we see you” response to Asian men who feel unseen in America, but I accept it may have felt offensive to others. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re part of the problem or part of the solution.

Since I can’t read minds, I’m can’t say for certain how much of their concern was genuine and how much was something else. I’m sure some of it was genuine, but I tend to think that’s not what drove most men’s anger.

Let me know what you think! Do you think this was fetishization or male jealousy? Or something else entirely? How do you feel about the concept of “fetishization?”


The Shore of this Uncharted

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The Beat just Drum

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