People with a disability often experience discrimination. For example with finding a job, living independently, the accessibility of public buildings, or in college. But also in daily life, where they have to face prejudice from other people. To understand why a phenomenon like discrimination exists, we have to look beyond just the expression of it. The core of discrimination is retractable to the brain of the human species, or more specifically: the memory.

Heuristics

To be able to manage the complexity of the world, your brain searches for efficient ways to do this. Through our experiences, we form heuristics. These are methods to quickly make information available in the brain. Your brain stores this information categorically in your memory. This functions as an important basis of how you perceive things, how you think and how you behave. As a result, this process leads to minimal differences within 1 category. Let’s say you think of a table; it might be brown and rectangular, while there are truly a lot of different types of tables. Differences between categories are exaggerated and enlarged so that it’s easier to make distinctions between them. Let’s say if you think about a woman, she might look very feminine in your head, while a man might look very stereotypical masculine. Within social categories, similarities and differences will become characteristic for the entire group. You will unconsciously give an individual the same characteristics as the group it belongs to (stereotype). You retrieve information using a heuristic, hoping you can make a better or faster estimation of someone.

How does this work for people with a disability?

From a sociobiological perspective, people with a disability are judged on the things they might not be able to do as well as others. The heuristic in the brain unfairly provides information that people with a disability can be less productive or useful. Research has shown that people with a disability can also evoke heuristic signals that are related to fear-triggering themes, such as vulnerable health. This causes avoidance of people with a disability, in the same way, that people don’t like to talk about death. There are also heuristic signals that are related to childish characteristics, possibly causing people with a disability to be taken less seriously. Luckily there are also some positive signals. Research shows that there’s an increasing sense of sympathy and a more positive attitude towards people with a disability.

How do you fight this?

Looking at this form of discrimination, there’s 1 core element: a lack of conscious information. These heuristics occur unconsciously and create a form of uncertainty on how to behave. With uncertainty, there’s a need for clarity. So how do you combat this?

  • Mention your strengths: people think based on a stereotypical view and only see shortcomings. By mentioning your value and strength, and by providing it as new information, you force someone to let go of their old heuristics.
  • Be assertive: tell someone when they treat you unequally. This way you are clear about your preference and boundaries. You’ll give the other person a contradicting experience, making their stereotypical image change.
  • Give clarity: a lot of people are insecure about how to behave. By taking away their insecurity and giving clarity on what they should or shouldn’t do, they will feel more comfortable, are keener to approach you, and won’t respond to you in a derogatory way.

It’s probably pretty tiring to realize this form of discrimination has a biological basis in humankind, and therefore only slowly changes. Remember that there are also a lot of people that are aware of this phenomenon and do see people with a disability as equal. A beautiful quote I’ve read somewhere is characterizing for that:

What distinguishes man from animal? An animal will leave the wounded behind, a man will help everyone to come along in society.

“Forgive and forget” is an age-old saying, but in practice, it is often a lot more difficult to apply than you think. Yet it is an important skill. Why this is so important and how you can learn to forgive, I will tell you below.

How does it benefit you?

The ability to forgive yourself or someone else for their mistakes not only relieves a situation but is also linked to several other things. For example, it is positively related to cognitive flexibility (the ability to look at different perspectives and to adapt where necessary) and positive emotions. In addition, it reduces worrying thoughts and feelings of revenge and hostility. Being forgiving also contributes to many important elements of your well-being: you feel less angry, suffer less from anxiety and depression, and feel happier about your life. This also affects your relationships; you have longer relationships and are happier in your relationship. So it is worth learning to forgive!

Emotional forgiveness

Within forgiveness, there is an important distinction. You can forgive someone rationally or emotionally. To rationally forgive someone, means putting your feelings aside and not letting them affect how you behave towards that person. To emotionally forgive someone, means letting new positive feelings take over, allowing you to think of that person with empathy. What makes this distinction so important is that emotional forgiving allows you to take more psychological distance from a situation and look at it more objectively. This makes it easier to forget detailed information, making it less emotional for you. You forgive and forget!

How do you forgive someone?

To “forgive and forget” is a choice you can make. Forgiving requires attention and looking at perspectives. These are conscious processes and are therefore executive functions. It just takes some more effort than others. With the following tips you can take up the challenge to forgive someone else (or yourself):

  • Acknowledge your feeling

You feel this way for a reason. Something happened that made you feel this way, so allow the feeling to be there and investigate it! Is it anger, sadness, envy, jealousy, or maybe even resentment? What makes you feel this way? Are there things you are doing now that lessen or worsen the feeling?

  • View different perspectives

You’ve probably thought out your side of the story down to the last detail. But is there another side you haven’t looked at? Could there be other reasons why the situation turned out this way? What were one’s intentions? What would the other person’s experience be like? What does it gain you to forgive someone?

  • Examine your reaction

When we’re emotional we often react harshly and direct, but that does not always work out well. How did you react? Was it proportionate to the situation? Did you do or say something hurtful? How much room for forgiveness have you given?

  • Be empathetic

Injustice can hurt, but is the one who hurt you instantly evil? What are the good qualities of that person? What did someone mean to you? Can you empathize with someone else’s feelings?

  • Learn the right lesson

No matter what happens, you can learn from any situation. Even if you eventually decide not to forgive someone. What would you do differently to avoid a similar situation in the future? And if it happened again, what would you do?

  • Be clear about your needs

Your needs are always important. So clearly indicate what you feel, what you think of a situation, and what you need. For example, you might need to take some time to look at it from a distance, ask for time to think about it, or indicate that you want to slowly rebuild the relationship.

NiceDay app

Are you gonna accept the challenge to forgive someone? Try describing the situation in your diary and answer the above questions as an aid! Download the NiceDay app here!

You know you should have been asleep by now, but you can’t help but watch another episode of that show. You couldn’t say no to your boss, even though your agenda is already too full. You go for another drink, whilst knowing you have to get up early tomorrow. Everyone probably recognizes this, but why do we do things that we secretly know aren’t good for us? All behaviour has a function and I would like to explain that to you! 

Benefit

No matter how crazy something may sound, there’s always a reason someone does it. Whether consciously or unconsciously; you are always driven by a potential advantage. You run away from a dog, so there’s no chance that you might get bitten. You stay on the couch and avoid responsibilities, so you can maintain your energy or mood. You go beyond your limits for your boss, to maintain a good reputation. You stay awake when your kids are out at night, so you can respond more quickly to a potential emergency. You drink alcohol before going to bed so that you don’t spend so much time in bed worrying. And so on.

Stress

The benefit you gain from such behaviour is always linked to stress. Your behaviour has two functions: preventing stress or reducing stress. That stress can be, for example, the fear of a dog, possible energy loss, the reputation with your boss, your functioning as a parent or your (in)tolerance to worry. Whenever you can interpret anything as a particular threat, it will grab your attention and excite your stress response. And because stress feels unpleasant,  your body demands a reaction.

Reaction

Although you neutralize the threat with your reaction, for example by running away from a dog or going over your limits for your boss, you increase the impact the threat can have on you. You teach yourself that it is ‘rewarding’ to exhibit this type of behaviour. It feels good at that moment because you reduce your stress. But the pitfall lies in the attractiveness of the “rewarding” behaviour; the more often you engage in that behaviour, the less attractive the opposite becomes. In other words, the more often you run away from a dog, the scarier it gets to be around dogs. This means that your behaviour can strengthen or weaken the unpleasant feelings in the long run.

Action

Now that you know behaviour determines how you feel, you can take action yourself! Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to towards all scary dogs like a maniac; your original behaviour was indeed helpful. However, your judgment might have become somewhat clouded. You have to experience when it is and when isn’t useful to perform special behaviour. For example, you will have to experience what happens if you say no to your boss, or go to bed without having a glass of wine. It may be really scary, but act on it anyway! Such a behaviour change isn’t permanent, but you do learn more about your behaviour and feelings. And if you don’t like the outcome, you always have the choice to go back to your old habits. You can only become better from this!

Do you know the saying: “You are the sum total of your experiences?. You could say that someone with an abundance of negative experiences will have a lot of scars, and they will probably agree if you ask them. However, research has shown that people with, for example, paraplegia aren’t substantially less happy than people that can walk. Just like lottery winners aren’t always happier than people that didn’t win, and that’s interesting.

Baseline

The question of what makes one happy is something I’ve answered in some previous blogs (here & here). What’s special in this blog, is that researchers found it difficult to link specific factors to happiness. Income is only slightly related, physical attractiveness doesn’t contribute much to well-being and even good health has little relation to happiness. What they did find, is that people generally have some sort of happiness baseline. And this even seems to be slightly positive! Of course this is dependent on objective circumstances: for example someone who’s human rights are being suppressed will experience happiness in different ways than someone with more freedom in the same country.

Recovery

Research on impactful life events supports the idea of a happiness baseline. It seems that changes in well-being recover over time. So, life events like a loss of a loved one, a divorce or loss of a job cause a dip in your affective or cognitive well-being, but in the long term they actually have a slightly positive effect. Within a year, the dip has already returned to a neutral point. Positive life events such as marriage and childbirth also have an influence. Inconsistently, they have a negative effect on your baseline. The explanation for the first is also called the honeymoon effect; before the wedding, the level of happiness is so high that it can only go down from there. The influence of children can be explained on the basis of multiple domains. Even though the satisfaction about the relationship decreases because you’re spending more time on your child, your global happiness increases because you have a child.

What can we learn from this?

Whatever we will experience, we will always be able to recover to our happiness baseline. All the bad things you experience, can eventually have a positive effect on your life. The negative emotions you experience, the problems and challenges you face, the losses you suffer; eventually they will benefit you! You learn and develop yourself after each experience. Emotions can hurt, but there’s also something valuable in it; by feeling, you discover what you find important in life. If something hits you hard, it holds a certain value to you!

NiceDay

Think about the obstacles you’ve conquered in your life and what they have taught you. In what ways did they eventually benefit you? Did the loss of a loved one strengthen the bond with your other loved ones? Has a divorce triggered your personal growth? In what areas did you become happier? You can use the NiceDay app to write it down!

Everyone crosses their boundaries from time to time. You allow others to take more from you emotionally or you give more energy than you intended, and that’s fine! You have a buffer that allows you to do that every now and then. If you ensure that you can recharge it sufficiently, you will be able to go beyond your boundaries responsibly. But when this starts to become an unhealthy pattern, something else may be going on.

What are the benefits?

If you overstep your boundaries often, it’s too easy to just say you shouldn’t do that anymore. There’s a reason this behaviour is repeating itself; it has its advantages. You could think of receiving more appreciation at work or maybe it fits your flexible attitude. Maybe it feels good to be helpful or you have a strong urge to prove and improve yourself. Or maybe it’s just a lot more practical and it leaves you with more time on the weekends if you walk the extra mile during the week. In short, overstepping your boundaries can have all sorts of benefits.

What does it cost you?

Because people instinctively tend to be more focused on the short term benefits, we often lose sight of the bigger. Besides that occasionally overstepping your boundaries has its benefits, it also costs you something. That is something we usually don’t realise, until it starts to affect us. Overstepping your boundaries can often lead to feeling like you’re selling yourself short if you don’t do as much. You can experience more pressure, because you’ve created the expectation that you’re always the one that will take that extra step. People can eagerly take advantage of that. But eventually it will cost you your resources and the ongoing effort will lead to both physical and mental fatigue.

Setting boundaries

Setting boundaries is not something you do for the short term; it’s not just taking a step back because you’re tired today. You’re also doing it for the long term. By setting boundaries you give clarity about what you can expect from yourself, but also what others can expect from you. You make realistic and dynamic demands. This means you can expect yourself to do your best every day, while always taking the circumstances into account. For example, if you didn’t sleep well or you’re experiencing some personal difficulties, it’s realistic that you will get less done during the day. But if you’re suddenly highly energetic and you feel great, then of course it’s good to use your energy to walk the extra mile every once in a while! You’re optimizing your achievements, because you balance your efforts and divide them realistically. In the short term it may seem less productive when you sometimes say no to certain tasks or requests, but in the long term the sum of all your activities will be higher. You’re not making anyone feel shortchanged, you’re doing them a favour!

NiceDay

Try examining what it gives you to overstep your bounds. And what does it cost you? What do you need to sufficiently recharge yourself so you can overstep your bounds responsibly? You can track this in the NiceDay app, download it here!

Everyone has probably been guilty of it at one point or another; using or ingesting substances for a purpose other than what it is actually intended for. A nightcap because you can’t sleep? Or that one drug that helps you to better study for your exam? Below I explain why we do that and what the differences are per substance.

Self-medication

Whether it’s pain relief, stress reduction or out of boredom; we tend to use substances for a quick and easy result. Edward J. Khantzian has researched this phenomena for years and calls this the Self-Medication Hypothesis. It involves two core elements: usage of a substance reliefs psychological suffering and there’s some sort of preference for a certain substance. Basically he says that people consciously choose a substance to decrease specific mental complaints. This can either be tension or feeling down, but also boredom or low self confidence.

Which substance for what?

Because every substance has a different effect, people have different preferences to reach their required result. Here you can read about the differences between substances:

  • Opioids (e.a. morphine) have a calming and inhibitory effect. It decreases intense angerful and aggressive feelings and inhibits the internal chaotic effect of rage. This will cause you to lash out less to your surroundings, protecting for example social relations from any unintended harm.
  • Depressants (e.a. alcohol or GHB) have an effect on feelings of isolation, emptiness and tension. They mask fears and that’s why they’re basically some sort of ‘ego-boosters’. While they’re definitely not suitable to serve as antidepressants in the long term, they will give a sense of relief in the short term.
  • Stimulants (e.a. cocaine) function as reinforcers. They increase already existing energy or help people that feel tired or bored. For people that have ADHD(-traits) it works the other way around; it combats hyperactivity, emotional instability and attention problems. It basically works the same as Ritalin.
  • Marijuana is a difficult to classify drug, because of the variety of effects. It can serve as a depressant to enhance relaxation or promote sleep, but it can also work as a stimulant to combat boredom or increase your mood.

Responsible usage

In the end it doesn’t matter whether self-medication is good or bad, but when it’s good or bad. Whenever you’re capable of using substances in a responsible manner, it’s perfectly fine to sometimes smoke a joint to relax a bit or drink alcohol to loosen up. But when you have the tendency to automatically use a substance or use it so frequent it can cause physical and/or mental complaints, you will have to ask yourself if it’s become some form of addiction. Remember: when a substance has become a permanent replacement of something else, it’s never healthy!

The relationship with parents is an interesting one. They are the first people you bond with after your birth. This relationship will be affected heavily throughout your childhood years. Think about a safe and trusting attachment during your childhood, but also puberty plays a big role in creating the fundamentals of a strong bond. Having a bad relationship with your parents can be very upsetting, and can greatly impact your life. Why does your relationship with your parents change, why can it turn into a bad one and how do you deal with that? I’ll explain it in this blog!

Change during puberty

Puberty is a special period with big life changes. You’re experiencing feelings you didn’t experience before, you’re becoming more in charge of your own life and you’re being prepared for the big world. Pocket money, social and even romantic relationships, responsibilities: everything is new. You’re still very impulsive and explorative and you’re experiencing new needs, such as independence, autonomy and freedom. As a consequence from these new needs, come changes in the relationship with your parents. They’re not the only important thing in your life anymore and this can create more distance.

Conflict

Changes in your personal life also lead to new household rules, so that you and your family will still be able to live in harmony. Think of later bedtimes, a curfew and other important rules. These rules make puberty a period typical of conflict. These conflicts are very normal and are healthy when they’re being talked about. However, they can have a negative effect when parents for example have bad communication skills. Plus, big life-changing events, like a divorce, can greatly impact the relationship with your parents. It often affects the relationship with your father.

A better relationship?

Not having a solid foundation, repeatingly escalating conflict, a shortage or abundance of attention: these all can be a reason for you not being satisfied with the relationship with your parents. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t change anything about it! Listed below, you can find some tips that might change your mind:

  • Try to think about what bothers you the most about the relationship. Is it certain behaviour or a personality trait? Is it something from the past? Why does that bother you specifically? Are you able to view this from a different perspective? For example, is someone overly caring, because that he or she thinks that you’re incapable of doing it yourself? Or because you’re not seeing as often anymore, and that person just wants to keep being of meaning to you? Did someone give you insufficient attention in the past, because he or she thinks you’re not worth it? Or did that person have personal difficulties at that time and still tried his or her best?
  • Often, the other person is also aware that the relationship isn’t perfect. You’re sharing the same feelings. As you know, it can be quite difficult to work on a bad relationship. The same goes for your parents. Try looking at someone’s response whenever you try something to fix the relationship. It might stimulate the other to take more initiative as well!
  • Try doing something spontaneous. It doesn’t need to be something that takes a lot of time. Having a coffee together for half an hour or calling for 5 minutes can already be very meaningful within a bad relationship. A relationship takes work, but you don’t always have to make a huge gesture.
  • Don’t know what to talk about on birthdays or during Christmas? Bring some board games for a change! Besides that it’s a fun and active way to spend time together, you can also bond in a playful way.
  • It takes time to build a bond, also a damaged one. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself when it’s not good right now. You might think differently about it next year.

Happiness is a subject that probably everyone has thought about once. Can you be happy every single day? I always immediately have to think about a comic that I will share at the end of this blog. I get a lot of clarity out of this comic. It states that happiness isn’t actually a feeling, it’s even a greatly misused term. Happiness is actually about being able to embrace yourself and the things you do.

Life goal

Probably everyone has the life goal to be happy. It seems to be the ultimate destination. Now things will take a little bit of a philosophical turn, but happiness is actually a relative concept. Everyone is happy in different ways. Some might find having a career is very important, while others find happiness in having a big family with a lot of children. That’s why being happy isn’t really about having a good feeling. Working hard for your career also comes with frustration, fatigue and other negative feelings. And everyone that has kids will argue that raising them isn’t always an easy task. So if you would ask me “Can you feel happy every single day?”, my answer is no. There will be plenty of days in which you will feel miserable and unhappy.

Then what?

If you scrape off the unfairly sprayed-on silver lining, you will discover a completely different perspective. Within this perspective, happiness is more about the things that you do, and these differ for everyone. You can find happiness in accepting painful challenges and pouring your heart and soul  in exhausting activities. It can be found in the blood, sweat and tears you give to do something meaningful. Or, in the passion you get out of all the endless things you do. It kind of sounds horrible if you look at it like this, doesn’t it? And yet, these things give everybody the strength to keep on going. So, can you be happy every single day? Yes! As long as you can tolerate the unhappiness that comes with it.

Tips

To prevent you from losing all faith in finding happiness right now, I’ve listed some tips to help you get started to determine your own happiness:

  • Define your own happiness. What gives you joy? What hard work do you like to do? Where can you be yourself? Are your needs fulfilled?
  • Be realistic. What do you expect to feel when you realise you’re happy? What negative feelings can you tolerate? Does every day have to be a fairy tale or is it okay to have bad days?
  • Check your balance. Are you satisfied with your current happy and unhappy days balance? What doesn’t satisfy you yet? Is it realistic to change something about that? Or are your expectations too high?
  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Does the idea of being happy give you anxiety? Are you working even harder just to feel happy? Why do you have to feel happy right now? What would happen if you don’t?

O, still curious about that comic I was talking about? Read it here to end the blog with a smile!

Asexuality is a sexual orientation that people see as part of your identity. Like homosexuality, asexuality it’s not a sexual preference, but a specific attraction. Or in this case, no attraction at all. Do you sometimes wonder: am I asexual? In this blog I will explain asexuality and provide a list of useful tips.

Misconceptions about asexuality

There are a lot of misconceptions about asexuality. For example, that it means having a low libido or being celibate (no sex before marriage). However, asexuality refers to the absence of lust or desire when being exposed to sexual stimuli. Someone that is asexual can become sexually aroused, but doesn’t necessarily feel the need to perform a sexual act because of it.

A relationship without sex

A life without sex doesn’t have to mean that someone will have a lonely existence. Like many of us, a part of asexual people do feel the need to form a deep emotional bond with someone. It’s certainly possible to have a long term relationship without sex! However, within the relationship it’s important to do what feels comfortable to you. If you are sexually aroused, but you don’t want to share this arousal with your partner, masturbation can be a good solution. You can also discuss the needs of your partner and make specific rules with each other. Being intimate doesn’t only mean having sex, but can also mean cuddling or kissing!

Talk about it

Talking about asexuality can be quite the challenge. Asexuality is not very common, which can make it difficult for people to understand how they can deal with it. Below I will share a few tips:

  • Try to determine what asexuality means to you. It may help to make a clear distinction between romantic and sexual attraction.
  • Give others some space. Just like it took you some time to discover you’re asexual, it will take others some time to understand it.
  • Try to be open about it. A closed book is difficult to read. Someone that’s not familiar with asexuality will have a lot of questions.
  • Communication is key. Try to express your needs clearly. What do you want? Under which circumstances? What don’t you want? What do you expect from the other? And what can the other expect from you?
  • Don’t do things you really don’t want to do. If your needs differ too much from the needs of your partner, you’re not forced to make concessions!
  • Do you still wish to play a role in the (sexual) needs of your partner? Try to make very clear agreements and keep on communicating, so it won’t be at the expense of your mental health.

Do you want to read more about the importance of talking about sex? Take a look at this blog!

A relationship can be something enjoyable and exciting, but it’s not always all rosy. If there are repeating conflicts, if someone doesn’t put enough energy in the relationship or if someone has been unfaithful, there can be intense negative emotions. Ultimately, if you’re unable to resolve these feelings, new problems in your relationship may arise. A possible solution? Mapping your relationship.

Examine your needs

If you’re experiencing problems in your relationship, it can help to map your relationship. You can do this by writing down both your and your partner’s needs and expectations into two circles. These circles are central to who you are as a person and who your partner is. The workability of the relationship can be examined by the amount of overlap between these two circles. This can look like the following:

When making these circles, you can ask yourself whether the amount of overlap is sufficient enough for you to be happy with your relationship. Are you looking for your soulmate and are you expecting a 100% overlap? Or are you fine with less than 100%, because to you the perfect match doesn’t exist? Also, ask yourself what things you find important. Which aspects do you require  overlap? Is it loyalty? Having a good conversation partner? Or maybe you find having a good sex life very important. Ask yourself what you expect of a relationship!

Potential

If you have the feeling the there isn’t enough overlap in you and your partner’s needs, don’t start panicking right away. This offers possibilities to examine if your relationship has the potential to grow. That can be done in two ways: you both have to search for the middle way or one of you needs to change something in order to meet the others expectations.

Meet each other halfway

For example, if you have a lower sex drive than your partner, it doesn’t mean you can solve this by having sex more frequently. You will have to discover how you will meet each other halfway. A solution that you both feel good about. When something is too far away from your circle, you can ask yourself how much you’re willing to change to increase the overlap. Another example is If your partner wants to have an open relationship and have sex with multiple people. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up your own need for a monogamous relationship. There will always be limits. When  you reach these limits, your relationship might have reached its maximum potential, unless the other is willing to meet your expectations. So, you should also ask yourself if the potential of your relationship is enough for you to be happy.

Would like to read more about relationships? Take a look at this blog.