Serotonin Seems to Skew View of Others’ Intimacy


A new finding suggests our view of the intimacy of other couples’ relationships is influenced by the brain chemical serotonin.

University of Oxford scientists studied healthy adult volunteers and discovered that when the activity of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood, is low then the adult rated couples in photos as being less “intimate” and less “romantic’” than those with normal serotonin activity.

The results raise the possibility that lower serotonin activity in people with depression and other psychiatric conditions could contribute to changes in the way they perceive personal relationships.

The Medical Research Council-funded study is published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

“Serotonin is important in social behavior, and also plays a significant role in psychological disorders such as depression,” said Professor Robert Rogers of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University, who led the research.

“We wanted to see whether serotonin activity influences the judgments we make about peoples’ close personal relationships.”

Problems with social relationships, and a feeling of social isolation, are a feature of depression in some people. It is possible that alterations in brain systems — such as serotonin — contribute to these difficulties by changing the way people think about relationships with partners.

Such understanding is important as supportive close relationships are known to protect against the development of mental illnesses and to promote recovery in those affected by psychiatric conditions.

The opposite is also true: dysfunctional relationships can be triggers for those at risk of these conditions.

The team from Oxford University, along with colleagues from the University of Liverpool and King’s College London, manipulated the serotonin activity in healthy adult volunteers, and then asked them to make judgments about sets of photographs of couples.

The approach involved giving amino acid drinks to two groups of volunteers. One group received drinks that contained tryptophan, the amino acid from which serotonin is made in the brain.

The other group received drinks that did not contain tryptophan. Differences in the judgments made by the two groups reflected changes in serotonin activity.

The 22 volunteers who received the drink without tryptophan consistently rated the couples in the photos as being less “intimate” and “romantic” than the 19 participants who received the control drink.

“Although this is only a small study, the same patterns may well extend to the way we perceive our own relationships,” Rogers said. “Serotonin activity may affect people’s ability in depression to maintain positive or intimate personal relationships.”

Source Psych Central

Facebook: Three Minutes To Improving Your Self-Esteem?

By Tamara Hicks, Psy.D., and Brett P. Kennedy, Psy.D.

Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has become a household word.  It has over 500 million active users who have an average of 130 friends. People spend over 700 billion minutes per month on it and and it is the subject of an Oscar winning movie, The Social Network. Clearly Facebook is a part of us, but what impact is it having on our lives?

In a study, published in the journal Cyber psychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, In their study, Mirror, Mirror on my Facebook Wall: Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem, two Cornell researchers, Amy Gonzalez and Jeffery Hancock, posit that Facebook boosts self-esteem. The study separated sixty-three students into three groups to examine “people’s attitudes about themselves after exploring different internet sites.” Two groups were “offline” and either sat in front of a mirror or just remained in the room looking at a blank computer screen.  The “online” group was permitted to engage their Facebook profile pages for three minutes.

A survey completed after the test showed that those who were on Facebook scored higher on the Rosenburg Self-Esteem scale than the “offline” participants.  The researches also noted that the Facebook users who spent the three minutes exclusively viewing their own profiles vs. viewing the profiles of others scored higher as well and those who changed their profile (updated) vs. those who did not,  also scored higher.   The researchers suggest that the process of “selective self presentation”  was responsible for influencing their self-esteem.  In other words,  the process of  engaging your own profile and making changes to it that makes you feel better about your self.

My colleague Guy Winch, who writes the popular Psychology Today blog, The Squeaky Wheel and author of the book, The Squeaky WheelComplaining the Right Way To–Get Results, Improve Relationships, Enhance Self-Esteem,  has a bit of a complaint of his own about this study. “The study did not prove that viewing Facebook enhances self-esteem but rather that viewing Facebook makes us feel slightly better about ourselves while we’re viewing our profiles. Subjects completed the questionnaires as soon as they finished viewing Facebook, not hours or days afterward. Therefore, the study did not demonstrate that Facebook has any lasting impact on self-esteem whatsoever. I imagine the same impact could be gained by looking at our family photo albums. In addition, self-esteem is still a poorly understood construct and certainly one too complex to be captured in any accuracy by a simple ten-item questionnaire.”

Dr. Winch makes a great point–just as self-esteem is complex, so is the Facebook experience. Typically, this experience is about interaction.  Focused,  “selective self-presentation” is only a small part of that process.  Facebook is about checking out profiles, engaging others, playing games and processing a lot of data.   Participants who participated in those behaviors scored lower on the self-esteem scale.

What is self-esteem anyway?  it is such a common buzzword,  but how is it understood and defined?   The Merriam Webster dictionary defines it as a “confidence and satisfaction in oneself.” Experts in the field of self-esteem conceptualize it as:

  • Confidence in our ability to think, to cope with the basic challenges of life and confidence in our right to be successful and happy. —Nathaniel Branden
  • Having a positive image of self. — Don Simmermacher 
  • An evaluation of the emotional, intellectual, and behavioral aspects of the self-concept. — Diane Frey & Jesse Carlock
  • A state of mind. It is the way you feel and think about yourself and others, and is measured by the way you act. —- Connie Paladino

Abraham Maslow who founded humanistic psychology and developed Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs addresses  as a  the normal human need to be accepted and valued by others.  George Boeree, Ph.D. wrote,  “Maslow noted two versions of esteem needs, a lower one and a higher one.  The lower one is the need for the respect of others, the need for status, fame, glory, recognition, attention, reputation, appreciation, dignity, even dominance.  The higher form involves the need for self-respect, including such feelings as confidence, competence, achievement, mastery, independence, and freedom.” Maslow’s theory on the need of esteem highlights how self-esteem is nurtured and impacted by our relationships with others.    

Since Facebook is fast becoming a vital necessity of modern-day socializing. The average person spends over seven hours a month on the site, a number that has nearly doubled in just a year’s time. It is clear that Facebook is an experience that embodies much more than three minutes of pure “me” time.   In therapy, where people tend to spend fifty minutes focusing on themselves, Facebook frequently makes an appearance in the narratives clients share in session.  Clients discuss Facebook as an inevitable part of life that they have  a love /hate relationship with. The latter seems to come up more in sessions and the adjectives people use to describe themselves or their behaviors do not always convey confidence and satisfaction with oneself.  

I frequently hear clients label their voyeuristic behaviors on Facebook, as “time wasting”.  They describe “stalking” and “obsessing” about past, present, and future lovers.   People say they feel “overwhelmed” by the number of posts and updates from their Facebook friends and “pressured” to post on their own experiences and observations.   They can describe the Facebook experience as  “competitive”  and admit to being “envious” when comparing themselves to others.  Many label themselves as “lonely” and  “pathetic” and  feeling “left out” as they observe the lives and activities of others.   Many  regularly report being “angry” about something they have seen or discovered while Facebooking.   In fairness, clients tend to bring their conflicts and struggle to therapy, so it is probably not a surprise that they tend to share the hate more than the love, but these negative experiences are likely to be a hit on esteem according to Maslow.   Conversely, all of the joy, successes, connection, sharing, and validation that Facebook facilitates presumably would counter those hits. 

It would seem then, the bigger question about Facebook is not whether it is good or bad for our self-esteem but how can we best manage the positive and the negative contributions that undoubtedly will accumulate over countless Facebook moments that shape who we are.  Our self-esteem can become  fixed at times and is clearly  impacted by circumstances but it seems to be an ever evolving relationship we experience within ourselves and how we project that to the world, our   “social network”.  A home base for our Digital Self where  past, present, and potentially future relationships converge in many degrees of depth or context, exponentially and ten-fold.   We now observe, ingest, and share  so much more than humanly possible before Facebook and we are only in the infancy of becoming acquainted with socializing in this way.   We can now passively take an active interest in so many lives and must determine how actively we  want to share ourselves with others.    All this information, sharing, and interacting all, according to Maslow, contributes to our overall sense of self.  Perhaps because so much of it is spent engaging with others, three minutes of “me” time does carry some weight.

Facebook will likely have an  impact on our self-esteem because it is the conduit for our Digital Self to express itself and connect online.   But will that prove to be exclusively a positive or negative one?   Probably not.   While  Gonzalez’s and Hancock’s study tries to isolate a particular Facebook activity, it is  limited in the information it provides us with respect to self-esteem as a whole, but may prove valuable in determining what kinds of activities contribute to that complex equation.  Facebook is an experience made up of many parts, as is our self-esteem, and only time will tell how Facebook shapes that and how we shape ourselves on Facebook.

Source Psychology Today

Mid-Life Crisis-Myth or Reality? Turning Crisis into Wisdom

By Ilene Serlin, Ph.D

Mid-Life Crisis-Myth or Reality?

Turning Crisis into Wisdom

Growing up in the 60s and as a student of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, I was sure that I-and each human being-was unique. I resisted theories of developmental psychology or any suggestion that my issues were “age-related.”

Many years later, I look back upon my 30s, my 50s, and even now my 60s, and cannot escape the patterns. Yes, I’m unique-but my issues also live in the context of their times and across others of my age. At this point in time, the rich complexity of uniqueness/commonality is comforting and feels like a doorway into wisdom. At each decade I ask myself-and those with whom I work-“How am I unique, and how do I correspond to the developmental issues of others my own age?”

The following excerpt is from a client, Jeff Weinberger, who had just confronted turning 50. His reflection below is a good example of one man’s understanding of his uniqueness and of his commonality with all others. Jeff has given permission to include his identity in this blog so that his story may serve as a model to help others begin their own journeys toward midlife self-acceptance:

I am not 30.

No matter what my friends (or your friends) say, 50 is not the new 30 (or 40, or even 49). 50 is 50. Period. It’s not like 30 or 40. Those decades had their own unique challenges and opportunities, as does this one.

I turned 50 a few weeks ago, and as I relaxed at home after a weekend of celebration, I realized I had suddenly arrived on something like a new plateau.

This is not a mid-life crisis. In fact I don’t think (at least I hope) that I ever will have one of those:]). It’s turning out to be a new perspective on my life and the world that surrounds me.

It is a new so-called life-stage. And I’m just starting the journey of learning a few things about being a 50-something (besides that I’m now eligible for AARP membership).

  • I know more about how to get where I want to go. I don’t know everything – I hope not! – but I do know more than I did, and more than at any prior age (obviously!), about how the proverbial game is played, and how I can tilt the outcome more in my favor. I may not win (as one of my favorite t-shirts ever read: “He who dies with the most toys, wins”), but I can certainly do a better job with the tools now available to me of ending up where I want to be.
  • I am turning into Popeye (“I am what I am”). Or at least I’m becoming more secure in who I am, who I’ve become in the past 50 years and how I want to become a better me (notice, not become something else) for the next 10-20-30-more years. This has also led to far less conflict in my life – I’m so much more comfortable ceding ground to others that I never wanted anyway. I just needed to learn that I never wanted it.
  • There are more younger people in my life. Of course, but it may not seem obvious that the overall average age of the people in the room (business, social, whatever room you’re in) hasn’t changed – you’ve just gotten older. I’ve noticed that more of my new friends and associates are younger than I, where there used to be a more even division of age. I’m now the older, more-experienced guy. That’s nice in and of itself, but the other benefit is that all these new young associates and friends challenge me, teach me and keep me on my toes.
  • I’m learning to live with new realities. I am – thankfully – suffering no serious physical challenges, but I do find that I don’t have some of the physical capacity I once did. I can’t always improve every statistic of my workout. I can’t always be faster or stronger than anyone else I choose to compare myself to. It’s starting to give me a longer-term, more balanced perspective on my own capability. I have started to think in terms of what performing well means, and how to keep challenging myself through variety rather than through linear progress. I think it’s going to keep the physical condition aspects of my life quite interesting.
  • I’ve given myself permission to be honest. In my teens, 20s and 30s, I was always trying to prove that I had it all under control and built a facade to help make others believe that and be impressed. But it was a fraud. I knew I had hard, deep, challenging questions. When I started opening up and telling people about my challenges and questions, I found out not only was I not alone, but that I gained more respect for honesty than I ever did for the facade. Plus I’ve developed deeper, better relationships as a result, and the people around me value me for the real, not perceived, me. Living and loving life comes with hard questions; being honest about it makes it easier – whether I deal with them or not.

I’m new to this. I’ve only been 50 for a few weeks, but it’s crystal clear to me that there’s a new life-stage starting, with a set of new perspectives, better tools and knowledge and, I hope, a lot more fun, growth and learning ahead.

I don’t know where it will take me (maybe I should write down now what I plan to say when I turn 60?), but it promises to be the best decade I’ve had yet – and I don’t think I could ask for more than that.

Source Psychology Today

For the Love of a Dog Called Chester

By Libby Webber


People who have never loved and lost a family pet may have little idea of the emotional distress that can erupt when a beloved pet dies. As my family and I have experienced the last few days, the emotional pain is very difficult to come to terms with.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my dog Chester who, in his old age, had found a new set of friends and admirers among the therapists and clients at our counselling centre (“Animal Magnetism: Pets as Therapy”). I am more sad than I ever thought possible to write that Chester died a few days ago; he was just a few weeks away from his 14th birthday.

I’ve had dogs before, but Chester was a very special boy. He was my constant companion through the ups and downs of 14 years — personal and professional triumphs and disasters, big challenges and periods of plain sailing. In his later years, after I met my husband, he settled into his new ‘pack’ and relaxed into retirement from his main duty of being my stout defender and guardian. After we opened the counselling centre, he enjoyed keeping an eye on comings and goings, and saying hello to all visitors — regardless even of whether or not they might have something tasty to eat. He was admired both for his friendliness and for his intelligence. To say nothing of being handsome too.

When loved ones die, and we’re distraught in our grief, people say to us: “It’s hard because you loved him or her so much”. But why put the verb ‘love’ in the past tense? The love hasn’t died; the object of that love has died. My love for Chester is still as strong as ever; the pain is from knowing that his living presence is gone from my life, even though he’ll always be alive in my heart and my memory.

I’m struggling with coming to terms with my loss; as a counsellor, I know that the death of a loved one has the potential to trigger all sorts of painful memories linked to other losses in one’s life. I’ve also written about endings and how important it is for therapists to offer ‘good endings’ to their clients’ therapy (“Beginnings and Endings in Therapy and in Life”), so that they can learn that endings need not be as difficult or destructive as they may have experienced in the past.

Chester and I had the best possible ending, given the circumstances. My husband and I were with him when he died, and we had the chance to say our goodbyes and for Chester to know that he was with his pack members, and safe to go to sleep. It was as peaceful as we could have wished for, but no less painful for us as his owners.

For those people who think “It’s only a dog!”, I agree — but this is what he meant to me. My emotional relationship with my dog was incredibly deep; he was always there for me, and I shall miss him terribly. One day, I’m sure there’ll be another dog in our lives, but there’ll never be another Chester.

Source Counselling Resource

Mind Your Body: Move Freely

By Virginia VanZanten

The Feldenkrais method may not have yoga’s ubiquity or Tai Chi’s foreign flair, but a loyal group of about 6,000 practitioners worldwide credit this system of somatic education with everything from increasing range of motion to easing stress.

Feldenkrais is a series of simple kinetic lessons and verbal directives that help students pay attention to their movements and, if necessary, modify them for maximum efficiency. Developed by Israeli physicist Moshe Feldenkrais in the 1950s, the approach has long been in the canon of mind-body medicine.

The goal of Feldenkrais is to retrain the muscles that slip into detrimental patterns, like tensing your shoulders when you’re frazzled, says Erin Ferguson, a practitioner in Boulder, Colorado. When you break the physical cycle, the theory goes, often the underlying emotional cycle—in this case, of stress—lessens, too.

Ferguson believes the method has remained relatively under-the-radar because of our society’s penchant for results rather than process. “People don’t want to slow down and become aware of what they’re doing,” she says. “They want quick fixes, which Feldenkrais is not.”

During a session, a practitioner asks patients to make a simple movement: walking, or raising an arm, while tuning in to the mechanics. The practitioner then suggests subtle shifts to make the motion easier on the body, calling attention to, say, the way the heel hits the ground or how the ribs flex. By recognizing how their muscles and skeletons interact, Feldenkrais students can choose the most comfortable way to move.

In an American Journal of Pain Management study, patients with chronic pain reported huge gains in mobility and decreased pain after a six-week Feldenkrais course, with continued benefits one year later. Other research suggests the method boosts mobility and improves function in patients with brain trauma, autism, stroke, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Athletes, dancers, and musicians often turn to Feldenkrais to hone their movement.

“People are hooked by how much change they can create via paying attention to their movement,” Ferguson says. “The intelligence is indisputably affecting.”

Gaze Anatomy

There are more than 1,000 lessons in the Feldenkrais portfolio. This short series alters the relationship between the eye muscles and the neck and back muscles, relieving tension and improving range of motion.

  1. While sitting, slowly turn your head and eyes together to the right, keeping your shoulders forward. Stop when you feel any strain and note that point. Return to center. Turn your head and eyes to the same spot and then, keeping your head still, let only the eyes move to the left and then back to the right again. Repeat ten times, gently sliding your gaze to the left and back.
  2. Move your head and eyes back to center, and repeat all steps on the left side.
  3. Now test how far you can move on either side.

Source Psychology Today