In the 1950s and ‘60s, a sadistic social psychologist named Harry Harlow conducted a series of experiments on the role of love and nurturing on attachment and social belonging, using rhesus monkeys as his subjects.
Harlow took baby monkeys from their mothers shortly after birth and placed one monkey in a cage with a wire "monkey" and another in a cage with a wire "monkey" covered in terrycloth. Harlow’s theory was that infants did not develop attachments solely because they were provided food from their mothers (a theory common among behavioral psychologists), but because of the tactile comfort mothers provided their babies. After about 90 days, Harlow then placed the baby monkeys into the general monkey population, and watched their behavior.
I have a problem with with weight, and if statistics are correct, many of you do as well. Have you ever heard of body dysmorphia? The most common manifestation of this disorder is when people perceive themselves as fatter than they really are. Well, I have the opposite of that. I have consistently perceived myself as thinner than I really am, which has led to me (unjustly) rail against cameras and angles and unannounced photo snaps and unauthorized photo-postings on social media .
"There is NO WAY I am that fat! Am I that fat? Really! Am I? Okay! Thank you! I didn’t think so!” was the typical response to any photo I saw of myself that didn’t match the mental image I had in my head (captured about 30+ years ago).
I have anxiety. I have rarely spoken about my anxiety problems though because most of my anxious thoughts are so irrational. And to be honest, I found them a bit of a nuisance and pretty embarrassing because admitting to feeling unchecked anxiety conflicted with my persona of being a glass-half-full, carefree soul in pursuit of an optimistic life filled with Oprah-inspired gratitude.
My belief that I needed to be always-optimistic (lest I anger the gratitude gods) meant that I needed to hide my anxious parts, and instead present the image I thought was expected of me. An optimistic, wisdom-filled, gratitude-espousing, never fearful, never anxious, mask-wearing beacon of hope for others. I also thought my feelings were normal. Yes, I believed that everyone experienced heart-racing, fear-gripping, body-freezing angst randomly throughout the day and night for no apparent reason.
This is the third blog post in my series “A Year Without Fear.” The theme of this blog series has generated a lot of talk, and a little bit of controversy. The comments went something like this:
“Can we really live completely without fear?” …“Should we even try to live without fear?” …“Can’t fear be a good thing, even though we don’t like it?” …“Isn’t it the fear that reminds us we’re all human?”
I suppose what I mean when I reference irrational fear is really the feeling of anxiety about things over which we have little control. When we’re anxious, we’re afraid—we may be afraid of being rejected, afraid of losing a loved one, afraid of losing our job, afraid of being found out in some way that makes us feel unlovable. We may feel afraid and anxious and have no idea of the cause.
I have a cove I go to when I need some Zen time or a quiet place to write. It’s a beautiful part of Laguna Beach, my home for the past two years. It’s generally unknown to tourists, hidden away down a long path and a steep flight of stairs. There are shallow caves along the back of the cove that provide some protection from the sun in the summer, and in the winter make for some great little writing spots.
That’s where I am right now—tucked away in a shallow beach cave, writing, listening to the crashing waves inch closer to me as the tide creeps in. I have other favorite writing spots too, but I come here when I’m having an off day, which for me means a day dealing with unchecked fear and anxiety.
by Michelle Martin, PhD, MSW
It may come as a surprise to some of you that I struggle with fear, but I do. Let me clarify that—I struggle with irrational fear. Some fear is good. Fear keeps me from taking a shortcut down a dark alley at night, from going into basements when I hear creepy noises, and from jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Rational fear is not what I’m talking about. No, I’m talking about the what if fears.
The what if I never get tenure and lose my job fear. The what if I run out of money and become homeless fear. The what if I get cancer fear. The what if something bad happens to my son fear. The what if I make another bad decision in a relationship fear (which is closely related to the what if I die alone fear). And my most frequent fear visitor, the what if I take a huge risk in my quest for a meaningful and relevant life and fall squarely on my face fear.
These are the types of fears that I have far too often awakened to , with a rapidly beating heart and quick breath, mind racing, before my logical brain steps in to rationalize them away.
By Michelle Martin, PhD, MSW
What the heck is going on in our world?! Correction: What the heck is going on in our country?! In my ongoing attempt to keep up with current events, maintain my full-time job, keep a reasonable social calendar, and not neglect my family too much, it's a miracle I'm getting any sleep at all. Forget yoga, forget meditation, and absolutely forget any sort of regular grocery shopping.
I have shared this meme before, but it popped up again today on my Instagram feed (and if you aren't following @ThugUnicorn, do yourself a favor and follow them now), which got me thinking about what makes some people turn their past trauma and healing journey into advocacy for the oppressed while other people turn theirs into the perpetration of abuse. Why when two people have gone through similarly difficult times—an abusive childhood with a parent who humiliates and destroys or various other types of trauma, does one person go on to become a champion of the hurting and another go on to spread fear and hatred through dominance and control?
Images are copyrighted and purchased from Shutterstock
I read a book years ago about Chinese culture in the mid-seventeenth century. The way the story went, young girls got their feet bound so they would be desirable to a future suitor. There really were no other options available for women back then, and parents who rejected this custom were all but ensuring their daughters lived solitary lives of dependence, with no independent means of support.
The process was quite gruesome. Girls would have their feet bound with ribbons so tightly that their bones would break. Every few days the ribbons would be removed, and their feet would be rebound, until more bones would break, and eventually turn dust.
I'm reviving my Aging Naked blog after an almost-two year hiatus. Why did I stop? I'm not really sure...I moved and got really busy. Also, the election happened and suddenly the plight of middle-aged women, living an authentic life, the travails of online dating and my heartbreak over empty nesting, seemed a bit trivial. But lately, I've been feeling to urge to write again and to share my various epiphanies, even if some of them seem rather mundane compared to the fate of our dying democracy. I had to be reminded though of why I started this blog in the first place—why I felt it was important to bare my soul to strangers—my middle-aged, empty-nesting, very single soul. So I reflected, and this is what I came up with:
When I hit middle-age and looked around me, and I sensed something was up. I'd been told for years that these would be the best years of my life, but I wasn't getting that feeling. I knew some middle-aged women who seemed to be doing okay, but most of the women I knew appeared to be going through the motions only, telling themselves they should be happier than they actually were. The truth was though, that they weren't, happy that is. But why? Many of these women, including myself, had relatively good lives, so what was all the angst about?
For me personally, I dreaded empty nesting and despite having a good career, and many interests and hobbies, I sensed my identity leave right along with my son. There was wide open space out there, and I could finally have a bit more freedom and flexibility in my life, more opportunities, perhaps even an overnight guest! But I didn’t feel happy about the increased space in my life. Actually, it terrified me.
Welcome to my Blog!
This is a blog for middle-aged women, like me, who want to live a life of increased authenticity, and greater well-being, with fewer masks and a lot more fun.