Psychological 'walls' harm us over time — instead of protect us
Appraising a ubiquitous feature among modern folk.
- In uncertain social situations, we tend to defend ourselves by putting a psychological "wall" up.
- For those who are very cautious, people who engage with them may feel an outright "dismissal."
- Cultivating trust is more important than ever in overcoming many peoples' walls to build relationships with them.
What is the wall? No, not the colossal fortification that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the wildlings — or the grand partition that President Trump foresees along the Southern Border — I mean, the wall. The seemingly impenetrable one that we summon up, within the twinkling of an eye, when interacting with others.
Indeed, unlike its counterpart in the series Game of Thrones, this internal stronghold could — no doubt — withstand the blue flames of dragon's breath. Despite bellicose attempts to knock it down, it stalwartly looms over the hazy silhouettes of many suspicious figures. But, again, what is it? Where does it come from? Why do we raise it up to heights so high that no assassin could scale it?
To help us better understand this ubiquitous psychological structure, we've contacted one of New York's top relationship coaches, Susan Winter, who specializes in "higher thinking." As it turns out, there's good reason why many people might have their guard up in uncertain social situations.
So what is it?
"'The wall' you speak of is the self-protective barrier the ego puts in place for our defense," says Winter. "Our natural defense system will automatically come into play whenever meeting someone new. We're assessing their potential merit, or harm: 'Is this someone I want to know? If so, how far do I let them into my life?'"
As far as defensive strategies go, there are some perks here. For instance, Winter believes this fortification gives us a chance to mentally assess incoming information that we receive about an unfamiliar person. "The wall allows us time to review our gut feelings about their words, actions, and comportment," she says. "This is an essential step to take before jumping headlong into a friendship, business alliance, or romance."
How these walls manifest in everyday conversations varies — they may be subtle or quite recognizable. After all, no two people are entirely alike. We each have different experiences, not to mention different interpretations of those experiences — some of which include traumas. "If a person is extremely cautious, they will be defensive," Winter says. "Anyone interacting with them will feel a distance; from a harsh coolness to outright dismissal. If subtle, the observer will sense a private person who's reserved."
The cold shoulder
Though it may seem obvious to some, this defensive strategy among "extremely cautious" individuals is often linked to painful past experiences. Much like walls in the real world, this psychological barrier exists to protect. Although there are defensive perks — i.e., checking ourselves from giving sensitive information to insensitive people — there are unforeseen adverse effects, as well. Especially if this defensive tactic is unceasingly in play.
"The negative side of constantly having one's wall up is that no one can get in," says Winter. "What appears as 'good news' to protect us, is actually 'bad news' that isolates us: The wall disallows anyone to truly befriend, support, aid, or love us."
The inability for people to tap into our authentic selves — that is, that part we are trying to vehemently guard — is caustic to our everyday connections with others, contributing to loneliness, which is currently at epidemic levels in the U.S. It also makes modern dating even more difficult — in case you haven't noticed, we live in a time when even those who front as confident individuals are, interiorly, riddled and careworn by low self-esteem.
"The wall is especially noticeable when it comes to dating and romance," says Winter, describing the unusual tactics of "cautious" individuals when they feel on the brink of being exposed. "This level of involvement creates a natural vulnerability that causes some individuals to posture as someone they're not, deflect direct questioning, or evade all attempts at connection."
Take a risk, but use your gut.
So, what is to be done? Can anything be done? Are we to disbelieve everyone? Are we to trust with reckless abandon? As with many things, a "golden mean" approach, between both extremes, is probably best. That is, just as we check ourselves from letting our guards down too expediently with people we don't know — whose patterns we haven't yet made sense of — it's also important to check ourselves when we realize we're not giving others a proper chance.
"The question is one of trust," says Winter, about developing meaningful relationships. "Will this person hurt us? Can we trust this person with information about us? If they know certain facts or feelings we share, will they use that information to harm us or to help us? . . . Until we know conclusively that a person is a friend, not foe, we'll keep the wall up."
It's also important to keep tabs on the fact that not everyone is out to intentionally hurt us — Thupten Jinpa, the chief English translator of the Dalai Lama, even avers kindness is a fundamental human trait. Yes, even among constantly warring, ruddy-faced humankind. We would, indeed, cease to exist, as a eusocial species, if we didn't, at endless points of our evolution, take care of one another. On top of this, even in the face of attacks from others, we're capable of remarkable degrees of resiliency.
All of this said, yes, be aware of when your walls are up, but also be vigilant to assess when the glimmering gates can be opened. It's a risk — many things are — but it's one worth taking. Our perpetuity depends on it.
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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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