Science of the Spirit

Heart - Black

The lack of gentle platonic touch in men's lives is a killer

In preparing to write about the lack of gentle touch in men's lives, I right away thought, "I feel confident I can do platonic touch, but I don't necessarily trust other men to do it. Some guy will do something creepy. They always do." Quickly on the heels of that thought, I wondered "Wait a minute, why do I distrust men in particular?" The little voice in my head didn't say, "I don't necessarily trust people to not be creepy", it said, "I don't trust men."

In American culture, we believe that men can never be entirely trusted in the realm of the physical. We collectively suspect that, given the opportunity, men will collapse into the sexual at a moment's notice. That men don't know how to physically connect otherwise. That men can't control themselves. That men are dogs.

There is no corresponding narrative about women.

Comment: Hugging as form of social support protects people from getting sick
The physiological benefits of hugging


Why do we murder the beautiful friendships of boys?

An epidemic of loneliness is killing millions of American men. Here's why.

On a cold February night a few weeks ago, Professor and researcher Niobe Way presented findings from her book Deep Secrets here in New York. (Her book is available on Amazon.) She was hosted by Partnership With Children, a groundbreaking organization doing powerful interventions with at risk children in the New York's Public Schools. Both Way and Partnership With Children's work have produced reams of hard statistical data proving that emotional support directly impacts every metric of academic performance. And, as it turns out, every other part of our lives as well.

That night, as my wife Saliha and I made our way down the snow-blown streets towards Fifth Avenue, I was feeling the somber weight of the third month of dark Northeast winter, wondering how many days remained until Spring would come. "It's February. Don't kid yourself," the answer came back. My charming and lovely wife was to take me to dinner after Way's presentation. It was my birthday.

Comment: Researchers shed new light on connection between brain and loneliness
Social isolation affects DNA


Breaking the chain of shame and quieting the voice that says you suck


Shame is the most powerful master emotion. It's the fear that we're not good enough." Brene Brown.

When Jake began therapy, he came to his sessions on time and immaculately dressed. As he spoke, he would whisk away imaginary lint while sitting ramrod straight. He described his friends as somehow beneath him and was frequently angry toward his co-workers for being incompetent. But as we teased out his thoughts, it emerged that he was even more intensely critical of himself.

After some time we were able to define his psychological state as shame, because his sense of himself was that he was to blame and it was because he was deficient. This feeling of inadequacy caused him to compensate for his deficiency by trying to be perfect, and when that failed (as it always did), it led to self-criticism, which triggered anxiety and depression.

Comment: The Key to Overcoming Shame is Making Connections


Tail-waggers and their people share hormonal bond through mutual gazing

A cross country skier watches as the sun rises with a dog, on a snow covered lake in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario in this March 10, 2015 file photo.
Dogs are called "man's best friend" - women's, too - and scientists say the bond between people and their pooches may be deeper than you might think.

Researchers in Japan said on Thursday oxytocin, a hormone that among other things helps reinforce bonds between parents and their babies, increases in humans and their dogs when they interact, particularly when looking into one another's eyes.

They described a series of experiments that suggest that people and their canine companions have mutually developed this instinctual bonding mechanism in the thousands of years since dogs were first domesticated.

Sometimes called the "love hormone," oxytocin is made in a brain structure called the hypothalamus and secreted from the pituitary gland. It is involved in emotional bonding, maternal behavior, child birth, breast-feeding, sexual arousal and other functions.

"Oxytocin has many positive impacts on human physiology and psychology," said Takefumi Kikusui, a veterinary medicine professor at Japan's Azabu University, whose research was published in the journal Science.

In one experiment, dogs were put in a room with their owners. The researchers tracked their interaction and measured oxytocin levels through urine samples. People whose dogs had the most eye contact with them - a mutual gaze - registered the largest increases in oxytocin levels. The dogs also had an oxytocin spike correlating with that of their owner.

Comment: "The dog's agenda is simple, fathomable, overt: I want. "I want to go out, come in, eat something, lie here, play with that, kiss you. There are no ulterior motives with a dog, no mind games, no second-guessing, no complicated negotiations or bargains, and no guilt trips or grudges if a request is denied." - Caroline Knapp


You can never win in a relationship with a narcissist

We've all met one at some point. A man or woman who seems to believe they are the center of the universe. Arrogant, callous and manipulative, they force the world around them to accommodate this belief.

Self-important and conceited, the narcissist exaggerates accomplishments, requires endless praise, and has an uncanny ability to quash the achievements of others. They lack empathy and don't seem aware that you are a whole person with your own needs. In fact, you're only a useful tool, something to extract admiration from. The narcissist believes they're entitled to everything, including your time, your emotions and your self-esteem.

The dramatic attempts to hold your attention make your life seem tragic and fraught with anxiety. Being perpetually cut down so that the narcissist can be "better than," destroys self-confidence and eventually leads you down a spiral of gloom.

Comment: The best way to protect yourself from the depredations of narcissists is to learn how to spot them before you become entangled in their web. Learning how to set healthy boundaries and being able to say No to their outrageous demands will make you unpopular with them and help you escape from a toxic relationship.

2 + 2 = 4

Anxiety in the classroom

Sometimes anxiety is easy to identify—like when a child is feeling nervous before a test. Other times anxiety in the classroom can look like something else entirely—an upset stomach, disruptive or angry behavior, ADHD, or even a learning disorder.

There are many different kinds of anxiety, which is one of the reasons it can be hard to detect in the classroom. What they all have in common, says neurologist and former teacher Ken Schuster, PsyD, is that anxiety "tends to lock up the brain," making school hard for anxious kids.

Comment: What may also be helpful is gradual immersion into social situations that are supportive of children as well as creating environments that foster self acceptance and provide tools that help with emotional regulation.
The effects of anxiety on your brain and what you can do to help yourself

Trickle-Down Anxiety: Study Examines Parental Behaviors that Create Anxious Children
Daytime Nap Has Benefits Beyond Rest for Kids
Children need more meditation and less stimulation


Learning to step-back from intense emotional experiences helps youth deal with negative emotions

Adolescence is a time of frequent and intense emotional experiences, but some youth handle their emotions better than others. Why do some young people react adaptively while others ruminate? A new study of adolescents shows that youth who mentally take a step back from their own point of view when thinking about something troubling can deal with negative emotions more effectively and become less upset by them.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan, appears in the journal Child Development.

The researchers looked at 226 African American 11- to 20-year-olds from an urban public school in Washington, D.C., asking them about a recent event that made them extremely angry (such as a fight). The youth then reflected on their experiences and why they felt angry, then told researchers about how they felt and thought about the experiences. For example, the researchers assessed self-distancing by asking the youth: "When you saw the fight again in your imagination a few minutes ago, how much did you feel like you were seeing it through your own eyes versus watching the fight happen from a distance (like watching yourself in a movie)?" and "When you saw the fight again in your imagination a few moments ago, how far away from the fight did you feel?"

Comment: People who are able to use their emotions constructively are much more competent at solving problems and completing other cognitive tasks. Fortunately, these skills can be learned and practiced on a daily basis so that when major emotional upheavals occur, you will be much more able to cope. One excellent way to control emotions is through breathing exercises utilizing the Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program.


New study shows painkiller acetominophen (Tylenol) kills both positive and negative emotions

© Shutterstock
Painkilling drugs taken every week by almost a quarter of Americans also kill positive emotions.

Acetaminophen — also known as Tylenol (or paracetamol outside the US) — kills positive emotions, a new study finds.

Studies have already shown that the painkiller blunts both physical and psychological pain.

But this is the first time anyone has thought to test the popular painkiller's effect on both negative and positive emotions.

Acetaminophen is such a popular drug that it is found in over 600 different medicines.

Geoffrey Durso, the study's lead author, said:
"This means that using Tylenol or similar products might have broader consequences than previously thought.

Rather than just being a pain reliever, acetaminophen can be seen as an all-purpose emotion reliever."
The study had half the participants take a dose of 1000 mg of acetaminophen, which is a regular amount (often taken as two 500 mg pills).

The remainder were given an inactive placebo.

Comment: Studies have also shown that social support and contact is a most effective pain reliever:
"For some, social exclusion is an inescapable and frequent experience," the authors conclude in a 2010 issue ofPsychological Science. "Our findings suggest that an over-the-counter painkiller normally used to relieve physical aches and pains can also at least temporarily mitigate social-pain-related distress."

The effect breaks both ways. In another report from Psychological Science, published in 2009, a research group led by Sarah Master of University of California, Los Angeles, found that social support could relieve the intensity of physical pain - and that the supportive person didn't even have to be present for the soothing to occur.

Master and colleagues recruited 25 women who'd been in relationships for at least six months and brought them into the lab with their romantic partner. They determined each woman's pain threshold, then subjected her to a series of six-second heat stimulations. Half of the stimulations were given at the threshold pain level, half were given one degree (Celsius) higher.

Meanwhile the woman took part in a series of tasks to measure which had a mitigating effect on the pain. Some involved direct contact (holding the partner's hand, a stranger's hand, or an object) while others involved visual contact (viewing the partner's photo, a stranger's photo, or an object). In the end, contact involving a romantic partner - both direct and visual alike - led to significantly lower pain ratings compared to the other tasks. In fact, looking at a partner's picture led to slightly lower pain ratings than actually holding his hand.

At least for all the hurt love causes, it has an equally powerful ability to heal."

Why love literally hurts

Snakes in Suits

No strings on me: Is there a psychopath in your life?

© Nestor Galina
"Psychopaths feel few if any emotional ties to anyone"

I've got no strings
So I have fun
I'm not tied up to anyone
They've got strings
But you can see
There are no strings on me!

Lyrics from Pinocchio: 'I've got no strings'

What is a psychopath? Do you know one? Ever been the victim of one? The chances are that the answer is yes, even if you may not realize it. The scientific consensus is that one in a hundred people is psychopathic and this breaks down evenly between men and women. (1) Scary thought, huh? What is your idea of a 'psychopath'? A serial killer? A crazy person foaming at the mouth? Think again.

Comment: Surviving the office psychopath
How psychopaths see sex and why
What is a psychopath?
Psychopaths Among Us
How to tell if there is a psychopath in your life and what to do about it

People 2

Be careful who you sleep with: Study shows women carry the DNA of sexual partners

Scientists have discovered that a sizeable minority of women have Y-chromosome gene sequences in their blood. This is interesting because as you may know, Y-chromosomes are the chromosomes that belong to men, so ladies, what are they doing there, and where did they come from?

An obvious answer would be from pregnancy with a male son, every woman who has been pregnant still carries cells from her fetus within her bloodstream. Cells from the pregnancy will reside within the mother's bloodstream and organs for the rest of her life. Even if the pregnancy was terminated or if there was a miscarriage these said genes would remain with the Mother. There is a name for this so-called condition, it is called microchimerism (1), which is named after the Greek chimera, a mythical, monstrous fire-breathing animal that is composed of the parts of three animals a lion, a snake and a goat. Okay so that explains it, well at least it does for the women who have given birth to sons. But what about the women without sons that still had male cells in their bloodstream?