Making Some New Paths In Our Minds

One of the more helpful (for me, at least) analogies that my counselor has used as we work on my anxiety is that we can think of our minds as a big open field. As we live and grow, our thoughts travel over this field and we start to wear-down paths as we think along the same lines over and over.

For example, little Marissa grew up in a safe, cozy home with parents who told her she was loved. So the “I am loved” thought-path got a lot of travel. It became an easy path to go down. But at some point, a conflicting message came in and it shifted the path. No longer “I am loved” without qualifiers, but now “I am loved by my family and God” because those are the ones who haven’t let me down or rejected me. And even though there’s evidence to the contrary coming from many friends, anxiety adds the idea “and no one else” to that thought-path.

Your Brain Can Lie

Your brain can be a dirty, rotten liar (to quote my counselor again). And while anxiety doesn’t look the same for everyone who deals with it, one of the common things it does is push your brain toward overestimating worst-case scenarios. You wear deep paths in your mental field that reinforce all the negative things and push positive ones off somewhere in the tall grass.

And so my mind likes to wander down the “no one will accept you as your full, authentic self” path even though I have plenty of evidence to the contrary. For example, all the comments on the post where I told you about my breakup and anxiety are evidence that my brain is lying when it wants to head down that road. But that’s still what the brain wants to do. And this is also how you can end up thinking things like, “no one appreciates my contributions” when there are dozens of people who love what you’re doing but those one or two people who criticize you become the only voices you can hear. Read more

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Lessons From My Nervous Cat

Meet Flynn. He’s 2 years old, weighs 15 pounds, and lost his previous home (not sure of the exact circumstances). I brought him home from a local humane society a couple weeks ago. I’d asked them if they had a sweet, cuddly cat that would do well in a single-cat home. They recommended Dorito (I’d originally planned to keep his name, but he doesn’t respond to it at all and it just didn’t “feel right” to me. Hence the name change, after Flynn Carsen from The Librarians).

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flynn Carsen and Flynn the Cat

My new kitty cried for the entire car ride home. Once I released him from the cat carrier he promptly hid under the couch for the next six hours. Poor little thing’s been through a lot. But we’re starting to settle in and get used to each other. And after two weeks together I’ve learned that

  • He loves meat and will beg in the kitchen for beef, poultry, and fish
  • Catnip mice are his favorite thing. He just lays on the floor while hugging and chewing on them
  • My fleece mermaid blanket must have a texture he likes, since he danced around with a look of wonder on his face the first time he touched it. It’s our favorite blanket
  • His purr is furniture-rattling in volume and intensity
  • He likes sleeping with people. Usually he picks my bed and spends the night curled up near my feet or legs

But I’ve also learned some other things:

  • He’s terrified of people in motion. If you stand up or walk into a room his eyes get big and he runs away
  • If you reach out toward him he flinches, like he expects you to hit him. But he’s sweet and affectionate if you’re sitting down and he comes up to you
  • He doesn’t like being picked up
  • The slightest noise is enough to make him startle awake, leap in the air, and/or flee the room
  • He spends most of the day hiding, only coming out to spend time with us in the morning and evenings
Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
hiding under the bed

I don’t know what happened in Flynn’s past as Dorito. Being a storyteller, I have a completely theoretical narrative that goes like this: Dorito’s owner was a sweet, elderly person who was confined to a wheelchair. They fed Dorito in the kitchen, invited him to sleep in the bed, and showered him with love. But this person had a caretaker that came in during the days and wasn’t kind to the cat. So Dorito learned that people walking toward him meant he’d be kicked or grabbed or chased out of the room. And then when their elderly person passed away, Dorito was dumped off at the Humane Society.

Of course I have no idea if that’s anywhere near the truth. What I do know is that I’ve adopted a very nervous cat. He startles at the slightest noise. He flinches if you touch him. He doesn’t do “normal cat” things like lay around all day and nap (at least not out in the open). And he’s taking a very long time to relax around us, especially my 6′ 3″ younger brother.

After a few days of this, someone in my family described Flynn as a “useless cat” because he won’t cuddle. And then someone asked if I could return a defective cat. I was behind the couch at this point trying to convince Flynn to come out and raised my voice just enough to say, “He’s scared and he needs our love and understanding!” After that the (mostly) joking suggestions that Flynn wasn’t the cat we were looking for stopped. He also started becoming more friendly, which helped with that.

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flynn’s favorite blanket

I don’t know what in Flynn’s past made him so scared. But I know that right now he’s easily startled, worried, and only wants touched on his terms. So I decided to love him where he’s at and work with him. It’s not going to help if I lecture him, saying he’s got it so good now that he should just suck it up and move forward with his life. He needs patience. He needs someone not to push his boundaries because that will only prove we can’t be trusted not to go too far. He needs someone there for him when he does want held and petted.

And then I started thinking, isn’t that what hurting people need too? Love, understanding, acceptance, and someone to be there for them on their terms. But how many times do we meet someone who’s going through something we don’t understand and yet we treat them as if they’re “lesser than” because they’re still showing signs of their past trauma? Why are we so much more willing to extend grace and compassion to a nervous cat than to an anxious, depressed, or hurting human?

Then I had another realization. The way I’m treating my cat is the way I want to be treated when I’m anxious, nervous, or on the edge of panic. I want patience, understanding, and someone who will ask what I need instead of pushing me to just get over it. And it’s also the way I should treat myself (I’ve recently started seeing a counselor to get help working through my anxiety and she was delighted with this realization). We must give ourselves the same compassion, love, and permission to be ourselves that we long for from other people and should extend to others who are going through similar things.

So that’s what I’ve been learning from my nervous cat. I think he’s turning out to be a pretty good teacher.

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Fictional MBTI – T’Challa (ISFP)

I saw Black Panther yesterday. So naturally today’s post is a new installment in the superhero Myers-Briggs types series. I know I get pretty excited about most of the MCU films, but this one is seriously good. I love the hero characters and the principles they stand for like loyalty and peace. The acting is great, the plot’s tight, I love the music (I’m listening to the score as I type), and while it still has a superhero-movie feel it doesn’t shy away from digging into some really deep and difficult subjects.

Basically, you should go see the movie. And if spoilers bother you, see it before reading any further in this post. We are going to talk about key plot points and character moments. You’ve been warned.Fictional MBTI - T'Challa (ISFP) | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Okay, let’s start typing. T’Challa’s judging functions are pretty easy to pin-point: Fi/Te. But the fact that he uses Introverted Feeling and Extroverted Thinking when making decisions only tells us he’s either a TJ or FP type. We’re going to need a little more to go on than that.

After Captain America: Civil War came out, most people typed T’Challa as an ISFP. A couple of the discussions I found online also pointed out that he’s an ENTJ in the comics (which I haven’t read, so this typing is only going to focus on his film portrayal). I ended up going with ISFP. And here’s why: Read more

Watership Down’s HSP Rabbit

I just started rereading Watership Down by Richard Adams last night. Normally I wait to write about the books on my Classics Club list until after I’ve finished them, but I’m also rereading Elain Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person In Love and I was struck by a connection between the two books.

In her research on high sensitivity (also known as Sensory Processing Sensitivity), Aron discovered that it’s found in 15 to 20% of the population. And it’s not just humans. The trait “can be observed in all higher animals — mice, cats, dogs, horses, [and] monkeys” at about the same percentage. I’m going to add rabbits to the list as well.

Research on HSPs had barely started by the 1970s, so I doubt Richard Adams would have been familiar with it as a scientifically validated trait when he published Watership Down in 1972. I think he was writing about it anyway, though, with his character Fiver.Watership Down's HSP Rabbit | marissabaker.wordpress.com

When publisher Rex Collins acquired the book, he wrote to a friend saying, “I’ve just taken on a novel about rabbits, one of them with extra-sensory perception. Do you think I’m mad?” Fiver’s insights do go beyond simply being a highly sensitive rabbit, but it’s also true that Fiver would pass the HSP test. Easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input? Check. Aware of subtleties in the environment? Double check. Made uncomfortable by loud noises, startles easily, has a nervous system that feels frazzled, and so on down the list.

He was small, with side, staring eyes and a way of raising and turning his head which suggested not so much caution as a kind of ceaseless, nervous tension. His nose moved continually, and when a bumblebee flew humming to a thistle boom behind him he jumped and spun round with a start that sent two nearby rabbits scurrying for holes (Fiver’s introduction, Watership Down)

As a Highly Sensitive Person myself, I know that feeling all too well. The heightened awareness of the smallest noise. The tension so familiar you barely notice it until an unexpected sound startles you out of your chair (in fact, right after writing this sentence I jumped at a Facebook notification on my phone). And it’s kind of nice to see a character like that in a book, especially one with friends who don’t tell him he needs to change. They accept him for who he is, work with his weaknesses, and appreciate his unique strengths.

Can you think of any other HSP characters in fiction?


Click here to get a copy of Watership Down. Please note that this is an affiliate link. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase.

This Whole “Otherworldly INFJ” Thing Is Getting Out of Hand

It’s nearly impossible to study Myers-Briggs types on the Internet without coming across several articles about the incredibly rare and nearly magical INFJ type. They’re described as the world’s prophets and shamans with deep spiritual insights. They’re called natural empaths with unfailingly accurate telepathy. They appear so deep you’ll never plumb the depths of their souls. They’re seen as the ideal type — the one everyone mis-types as because they wish they were this special.This Whole "Otherworldly INFJ" Thing Is Getting Out of Hand | marissabaker.wordpress.com

If you’re vomiting a little in your mouth after reading that description (or laughing out loud at the crazy claims in the image up there), you’re not alone. The tendency to portray INFJs as something akin to a demigod or goddess doesn’t sit well with most healthy INFJs. Aspects of it even scare me. And yet it’s still around.

On the one hand, you have certain INFJs (and wanna-be INFJs) embracing the label and using it to look down on other types. That’s not the purpose of personality types and it’s damaging to us as well as to others. And on the other hand, you have people buying-in to the otherworldly INFJ stereotype and reacting in ways that aren’t good for the INFJs. Some even “hunt” INFJs for a relationship, which is pretty creepy.

How Did This Happen?

The simple fact that INFJs are the rarest personality type is going to make us feel and appear different than other people. That’s where this whole thing started — with acknowledging and explaining why INFJs aren’t like the other 98-99% of the population. So far so good. But soon, it started turning into a “different=better” idea. Read more

Ficitonal MBTI – The Librarians

The Librarians is one of my favorite TV shows. What could be better than a team of bookworms saving the world from runaway magic? Sure it’s campy and can’t be taken too seriously, but isn’t that part of the appeal?

Typing fictional characters is one of my favorite things to do in blog posts. I’d started writing this one for last week, but when I realized how many of the Librarians characters are Sensing types I thought it’d be a great follow-up to my “Myths About Sensing Types” post. One of the more pervasive myths about Sensors is that they’re neither intelligent nor imaginative. Since all the main characters in this show except Flynn are Sensors, The Librarians provides a perfect example to the contrary.

Please note: I type using cognitive functions, which are the basis of Myers-Briggs theory. If you’re not familiar with this concept or want a refresher, check out this articles: The Simplest Guide To Myers-Briggs Functions Ever

Eve Baird: ESTJ

Ficitonal MBTI – The Librarians | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Eve is the easiest character to type, partly because she’s such a stereotypical example of the type nicknamed “Supervisor” or “Guardian.” ESTJs are known for their blunt demeanor, no-nonsense attitudes, and ability to keep things moving forward. They also care about keeping the world running as it should be, a trait Eve devotes to keeping the Library safe and magical artifacts out of the wrong hands.

ESTJs lead with a judging function called Extroverted Thinking/Effectiveness. That means Eve’s preferred mental process involves measuring and managing impersonal criteria when making decisions. There are examples of this in literally every episode. Read more