Notes from and Armchair Psychologist: Strategic Santa Part One – Gifting Styles

*We interrupt our scheduled questions to bring you an obligatory SEASONAL LISTICLE and will return to our scheduled therapy sessions in 2019!*

Gift-giving! A selfless expression of affection or an inconvenient obligation? Either way, thinking about what motivates us to give presents can help us choose what kinds of gifts to buy. So in this very special, holiday armchair psychology session we’re going think about different gifting styles and strategies to help you to find the perfect gift – whether you’re giving to put a smile on someone’s face, or to save face.

Punny Ghosts

SO let’s JUMP right INTO it.

In order to consider why we give gifts, we’re going to do what armchair psychologists do best and simplify everything into digestible categories (I’m looking at you Psychologies Magazine). The list below is OBVIOUSLY exhaustive so don’t even bother trying to challenge my authority and don’t even THINK about leaving an angry comment ranting about how I’ve left something out. THAT IS NOT A CHALLENGE. Just trust me, ok? I’m not a doctor.

Christmas Present

Gift giving style 1: Gifting to get back

What’s better than giving? GETTING OF COURSE. We all have those people we swap gifts with for no other reason than the fact that someone else’s money is always more appealing than our own.

Rugrats Angelica

Gifting strategy: Any old gift set will do. Spend as LITTLE as possible or buy something that’s cheap and then dress it up in pretentious hipster wrapping to make it LOOK expensive. Even that might be too much effort tbh. Just get a voucher and stick it in a card: the more generic the shop, the better – department stores are usually a safe bet. It’s always a gamble though… WHAT IF THEY GIVE YOU LESS THAN YOU GAVE THEM AND YOU DON’T BREAK EVEN?!

The Grinch hating

Gift giving style 2: Obligation

Was your sibling inconsiderate enough to have a child? WELL CONGRATULATIONS. Now you’re stuck with a little wallet-drain you never asked for. WOOP-DE-FRICKIN-DO. You know you’ll look like a cold hearted demon-person if you don’t get the little brat something – even though their bank account is bigger than yours AND THEY CAN’T EVEN WALK YET.

Scrooge and bunny

Gifting strategy: For child money-magnets get something loud and annoying to piss off their parents, but cute enough for the kid to get emotionally attached; that way their parents will feel too guilty to throw it away which will prolong the torture. If you really cba, then get any old toy for whatever age range. Maybe something with lots of teeney-tiny, swallow-sized parts… That’ll teach them for daring to inconvenience you with their birth. Isn’t the world already miserable enough without more fricking people in it?

Jack Skellington

*Disclaimer – please buy children safe and suitable gifts. KIDZ R AWESUM B KIND 2 DEM*

Flossing

Gift giving style 3: The flex

Because people need to be reminded that you are better than they are.

The Pauls

Gifting strategy: Do what you’re good at you bourgeois prick and buy something expensive – the more useless and trashy the better. Bonus points for ‘accidentally’ leaving the tags on. Go for something large and distinctive, that way its absence will be too noticeable for the recipients to swap it for something they could *actually* use.

poor muppets

Gift giving style 4: Love and appreciation

I’m not saying that it’s the only reason you should be giving gifts, but it’s the only reason you should be giving gifts. FUCK the obligation. We all might feel like we have to do things a certain way because that’s what our family does, or because media, or because WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY, but maybe we should chill for a moment and think about what our actions are really achieving.

The Office

We should take some time to remember the point of giving gifts in the first place. We could do so much more for the people we value if we adjusted our priorities.

In our next armchair therapy session, we will be exploring ACTUAL gifting strategies which can help us buy thoughtful gifts to give to those in our lives who *really* deserve it.

Kind regards and Happy Holidays,

The armchair psychologist

Note from the editor: Thanks for reading! Did you find yourself identifying with any of the gifting styles above, or do you have any more to add to the list? How long is your Christmas present list this year? Let me know in the comments below and if you enjoyed this post please consider helping me keep warm this winter by giving the bestest gift of all!

Armchair Psychologist in session: a prescription for waifus

Mystic Messenger, Visual Novel, Android

Dear armchair psychologist,

I’m struggling to move on from my ex, not because i don’t recognise that the relationship was dreadful for my mental health, but because I don’t find myself physically attracted to people very often and i am still very attracted to this ex. It is upsetting and frustrating because I can see that they are not right for me, but I haven’t been attracted to anyone since so I am finding myself thinking about them a lot. It isn’t healthy, I know. I am nervous that I will never be physically attracted to anyone ever again. Long shot but do you have anything that might ease my concerns?

*****

Dear anon,

Thank you for your question.

First of all:

YOU CUPCAKE, HONEYBUNCH, SUGAR PLUM, PUMPY-UMPY-UMPKIN

AWESOME HUMAN YOU

This was me trying to tell you (in the most patronising way possible – sorry) that I am so happy for you. I’m so pleased that you’re not in this toxic relationship any more. One way, or another, you are out of it. The situation may be painful, but being free of this relationship, and recognising how shitty it was for you, may be one of the best things that has ever happened to you.

So again, my congratulations! 

Boku no Hero Academia

…I realise however, that knowing this doesn’t make things any easier.

‘not because i don’t recognise that the relationship was dreadful for my mental health… It is upsetting and frustrating … It isn’t healthy…’

It sounds like you consider your feelings irrational, and you’re giving yourself a hard time about that. Thing is, emotions aren’t rational and you can’t logic them away.

WE CAN TRY THO.

Let’s ACTIVATE armchair psychology mode and start making some assumptions…

armchair-psychologist

‘I don’t find myself physically attracted to people very often…’

If you don’t find yourself attracted to others very often, let’s assume that you might not have felt emotions like the ones you’re experiencing much before. We won’t assume that you haven’t had relationships, because romantic relationships ≠ attraction, but you might not have experienced this particular type of relationship before.

Like anything, feeling things and processing emotion takes practise. Your unconscious mind may not be used to handling things like this, so what you’re feeling could be a result of its imperfect way of dealing with things. You might want to consider engaging in some kind of therapy, or getting a therapy workbook to complete as this will help these emotions become conscious and perhaps enable you to practise processing them more efficiently. However, I’m NOT a therapist and this is a pretty boring answer, so it’s not something we’ll go into in detail about – it’s just something benign you might want to check out. If you’re not into therapy, at least forgive yourself for having feelings. Emotions are shitty and it’s not your fault that you feel them. Hopefully, in time, you’ll get used to it – or when the singularity comes we’ll all shed our human meat-cases and become flawless virtual presences living immortal lives w/o having to deal will this bullshit. Until then, we’ll always have emo.

‘I’m struggling to move on from my ex… i am still very attracted to this ex… I am finding myself thinking about them a lot’

This again, is very normal. Even Freud wrote about it. We may not agree with all of Freud’s shit, but I find that his work functions nicely as a metaphorical framework that makes emotions easier to understand. So, let’s cherry-pick some of his theories, take them out of context and use them in the most simplistic way possible BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT US ARMCHAIR PSYCHOLOGISTS LIVE FOR.

Freud, Sigmund

First, let’s talk about cathexis, a term created by Freud’s translators from the German  ‘besetzung’ which means investment (Rycroft 1995: 19). This is basically a representation of the process of putting energy into a relationship, and has become synonymous with the modern term ’emotional investment’. By having relationships with people, you are effectively giving them a part of yourself – I’m not talking about spitting in their food or secretly feeding them your fingernails, but sharing things like your time, your energy, your body and perhaps even your love. Gifts such as these are more impactful than anything material, yet they are much harder to quantify. If you bought someone an expensive box of doughnuts you’d see the effect on your bank balance, but when you give your emotional energy to someone else, the effect is intangible. Yet, it’s something you can feel – especially if you don’t receive an equal of amount of doughnuts emotional investment in return.

Undertale Heart, Toby Fox

When you break-up with someone, you may feel like you have given them your dignity. It can feel like you made a poor decision – you invested in stock which crashed. Instead of dealing with material consequences (though, that’s a possibility too) you have to deal with the social and emotional consequences of this decision and find a way to recoup your losses. It may not be your fault that this happened – all relationships are a gamble – but the losses are real and so are the feelings that come with them. The process of withdrawing your emotional energy (decathexis) is bound to vary depending on both the intensity of your emotions and how efficient your unconscious is at processing them.

‘i am still very attracted to this ex. It is upsetting and frustrating’

It seems like you have contradictory emotions which can make it difficult to understand them. It’s even more challenging because a lot of what you feel is probably unconscious – the feelings have been repressed because they’re difficult and confusing. Unconscious emotions are a little like mice living in your wall: you probably don’t know they’re there until they start making weird noises, and you might not even realise where the noises are coming from until the mice start leaving enough little shit pellets for you to notice them. These manifestations of your unconscious shit pellets can come in various forms: they could be neurotic symptoms, or obsessive thoughts.

In your case, it looks like the shit pellets you’re finding are evidence of ambivalence, a term coined by psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1911 (OH YES LOOK HOW UP TO DATE MY RESEARCH IS *SO NOW* AND NOT OUTDATED AT ALL).  Basically, ambivalence is different to having mixed feelings for a person – which is normal because people  can be wonderful, shitty, sexy and horrific all at once (Rycroft 1995: 6) – it’s about having contradictory emotions which are so extreme that they’re confusing.

Perhaps when you became attracted to this person, you put them up on a pedestal to bask in their sexiness because you weren’t used to experiencing the kinds of thing they made you feel.

Surely a person who could make you FEEL things like that must be GREAT – right?

But, they’re just a person after all. They’re not David Hasselhoff.

David Hasslehoff, pants, underwear

When you realised that they are imperfect, it hurt even more because you let yourself be attracted to them, and maybe they weren’t worthy in the first place. Maybe it made you hate them just a little bit. Maybe they deserved it, maybe they didn’t. Who knows?

‘I am finding myself thinking about them a lot’

Anyway, the shit pellets can take the form of obsessive thoughts which may be the result of your unconscious trying to balance out the extremes of what you’re feeling (Rycroft 1995: 6). It’s such hard work that you don’t have enough energy left to repress your emotions, so they keep surfacing. Maybe you feel guilty because your unconscious is doing a shitty job and it knows it. So it’s time to stop trying to repress things. Stop ignoring the shit pellets. You need to clean them up and give the mice in your wall some cheese and some goddamn attention. Maybe then they’ll stop squeaking so fjucking loudly.

Be kind to the mice to be kind to yourself.

mouse instrument.gif

There’s a lot more that we can’t go into here, but I’d recommend checking out Mourning and Melancholia  – reading the terms in context situates them within a more sophisticated framework of meaning than I can provide here.

Rick and Morty

Now we have a slightly better understanding of your feelings (well, the flimsy construction of your feelings we’ve made up)

cards falling.gif

and we should think about a possible solution to what you consider to be your current problem.

‘I haven’t been attracted to anyone since… I am nervous that I will never be physically attracted to anyone ever again.’

Before we get into this, I want to mention that when it comes to attraction, everyone is different – not being attracted to people isn’t a problem unless you consider it a problem. I’m making suggestions in the hope they will alleviate some of your discomfort, rather than change who you essentially are.

OK SO.

The stereotypical advice would be to TAKE SOME TIME FOR YOURSELF. FIND YOURSELF BEFORE YOU FIND A PARTNER. LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF. DO SOME YOGA. RUB SOME COCONUT OIL ON IT.

yoga fail.gif

Of course, as an armchair psychologist I’m going to give you this shitty advice.

BUT BEAR WITH

bear with.gif

We’re going to mix things up a bit.

My advice is essentially to take some time for yourself and to date yourself  (candles, chocolates and all) but

BY FINDING A HUSBANDO/WAIFU !!! ❤

Translation: have a romance with a fictional heart-throb.

Mystic Messenger, Visual Novel, Android

For some people (especially late bloomers), letting oneself feel attraction can take practise. One of the ways we can practise is by engaging in fantasy. Perhaps crushing on a fictional character might help reignite the spark you felt when you met your ex, or at least get you back in ‘the mood’…

FOR LOVE

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE YOU PERVERT

Jeeeze

this is a WHOLESOME blog, I’ll have you know

blushing

(until someone asks me cosmo-style question – I’d be fine with that)

Anyway, having a fictional romance can help you feel emotions again without all of the bother of dealing with someone’s imperfections. Some activities you could try include:

  • Playing visual novels (find one with pretty people and a good story – I won’t recommend any because idk what you like)
  • Playing a dating sim (Mystic Messenger is GREAT because it’s on your phone and is designed to feel like a real relationship – it also lasts a long time and has a lot of different paths to choose from which make it great distraction – sadly it’s just husbandos though).
  • Write a story/fanfic for the sole purpose of creating someone you can ‘fall in love’ with.
  • You could even read a book  (IKR – CRAZY) but it might not give you the same feeling of agency.

Taking part in imaginative exercises could help you feel accustomed to the idea of being attracted to someone again. You were hurt the last time you felt physical attraction, so it’s natural that you might feel reluctant (even unconsciously) to feel that way again. Getting a waifu is a much safer way of accessing your romantic side until you’re ready to share it.  Just remember that the deep backstories of fictional husbandos/waifus you spend time with are likely more glamorous than a real person’s baggage: try and be aware of that when you begin to make the transition to feeling something for a real person again.

HAPPY HUSBANDO HUNTING

Kind regards,

The armchair psychologist

*****

Aftercare: Would you ever engage in a fictional romance or do you think the idea is kinda creepy?

Let me know in the comments!

*****

If you’d like to leave the armchair psychologist a question then please do after reading the health warning, and if you enjoyed this content then please consider leaving a donation.

Armchair Psychologist in session: Why the fault is not in our fucking stars

Dear armchair psychologist,

When I find myself in times of trouble I dive headfirst into astrology, tarot, and other forms of cheap affordable divination because the idea of predestination makes me feel calmer and more focused. Why am I so against my own freedom as an individual? How can I outgrow this crutch?

Yours,
Astral Confusion

*****

Dear Astral Confusion,

Thank you for sending in your question.

Let’s begin by engaging with one of the most important traditions of the school of armchair psychology – making some broad, and possibly offensive, assumptions about you by deconstructing your question.

Kati Morton, Shane Dawson, Psychology

Your question shows a divide between your fatalistic attitude and your empowerment as an individual. We’ll look at your fatalistic tendencies first.

‘When I find myself in times of trouble… dive headfirst… the idea of predestination makes me feel calmer and more focused…

The explicit message here is that you find the idea of destiny comforting. You ‘dive headfirst’ into the murky waters of divination as if you’re trying to escape from something. Have you thought about what is it that you’re escaping from?

What kind of sinking ship are you abandoning?

Is the ship just doomed?  Even though you did the health and safety checks and cracked open a bottle of champagne on its hull, somehow, the fucker still caught fire and sank?

Saying that you ‘find yourself in times of trouble’ suggests a lack of control. Indeed, sometimes accidents and bad situations happen and there’s nothing we can do about it. Depending on your belief system it could be that the fault IS in your stars, or the world is just a shitty place full of shitty people who like to set fire to your motherfucking ship. (Or maybe someone just left their straighteners on.) There’s no denying that there’s just some things we can’t control, and need to escape from.  If we can’t physically escape, perhaps we can at least emotionally escape by engaging in a pastime we feel may offer answers.

But let’s go back to my first question: what is it you’re escaping from?

Proceed with caution: this T is hot.

Addams Family, Spooky, Spoopy, Halloween

Maybe it was your fault the ship started sinking. Maybe you didn’t put enough lifeboats on the ship, then you steered it into a motherfucking iceberg.

Sometimes we fuck ourselves over. We might like to think that we just happen to ‘find’ ourselves in trouble when we, in fact, have been human and imperfect and have actually contributed to the shitty situations we find ourselves in. Denying our part in the hardships we experience can be a defence mechanism – a way of preserving our fragile egos. The idea of predestination may appeal to you because it helps you minimise your part in the trouble you ‘find’ yourself in. It’s tempting to repress that imperfection allllllllllllll the way down into our unconscious – where it belongs (jk). However, repressing something doesn’t make it go away – and I don’t think you need me to tell you this, because babes, it looks like you already know.

Let’s remember that diving isn’t falling. Maybe you’re ‘diving headfirst’ into the oceans of divination, because that’s where the treasure is.

‘Why am I so against my own freedom as an individual? How can I outgrow this crutch?’ 

I don’t think you are against the idea of your personal freedom, I think you’re trying to find your empowerment, but you’re afraid of it. By saying you want to ‘outgrow’ your divination habit and that it’s a ‘crutch’, you’re suggesting that it’s something that you shouldn’t be doing. But, crutches are useful things! Crutches help you get around, but, they might not be a permanent solution. Maybe don’t be so quick to discard something that helps you (especially something relatively benign, such as divination) and instead look at it as a prosthetic extension of self – understand why you need it and how it became part of your experience. Don’t see it as limiting your freedom, but an expression of it.

Now, let’s get mystical!

Sybil Trelawney, Harry Potter, Divination, Magic, Tarot

Divination, in general, is interesting because its origins aren’t quite as mysterious as you might think. The Ouija board was marketed as a toy, and tarot cards began as playing cards (Farley 2009: 3). They became tied to ‘divinatory interpretation’ in the 19th century when the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn adapted them (Farley 2009: 2). This isn’t to say that it’s all bullshit. Although they weren’t intended for divination, this doesn’t mean they can’t be used as such (Farley 2009: 6). Just because something isn’t meant to do a thing, doesn’t mean it can’t do a thing. The importance is the context in which they are being used – The New Age movement even used Jungian psychology in an attempt to understand the cards’ symbolism (Farley 2009: 2).

And WE ALL KNOW JUNGIAN PSYCHOLOGY IS LEGIT SHIT. LOBSTER DAD SAYS SO.

ContraPoints Jordan Peterson LobsterALL HAIL LOBSTER DAD.

Jordan Peterson Meme Marxism Father Daddy

One way of engaging with divination is by taking a structuralist approach. You might want to consider that you’re engaging in a tradition of people who are attempting to find meaning, to find order in the chaos of the world. You’re trying to find where you fit in as a part of something bigger than yourself and by the very act of divining you are participating in a collective act and putting your individual spin on it. It can be nice to have structure, nice to have rules, and if they help you live your best life then that’s cool.  Just don’t get obsessed with it. To avoid becoming insular, you can share this interest with others. Assuming you’re giving and receiving tarot readings for free – let’s not get into critiques of the way that such artefacts have been commodified and used to exploit people –

Marx Communism Meme

then you can use the tarot cards as a way to displace your emotions and talk about your feelings more easily and figure out where you stand in relation to the society you’re participating in.

If you’re getting annoyed at this post, you might be less of a structuralist and more of a postmodernist.Foucault postmodernism

Since the rise of post-structuralism, divination has taken on new significance. The emphasis has shifted from interpreting symbols as static archetypes, and has become more about what they mean to the individual. A tarot card, for example, need not even have a fixed meaning.

SO EVERYTHING IS MEANINGLESS? What’s the point of living? We need to return to simpler times, to grand narratives, to binary gender, to rescue our fathers, to-

Bucko Jordan Peterson Toronto

NOT NOW DAD. I’M BUSY

Actually, if nothing has a *fixed* meaning, then its meaning depends on perception and is therefore more meaningful to each person.

If we consider tarot cards in this manner, then their origins are less significant, as is their association with ‘ shoddy soothsayers and confidence tricksters’ (Farley 2009: 1) and their connection to a divine power. As the context of tarot shifts, so do the meanings of the cards. Since 1971, tarot readings have been more about coming to one’s own conclusions rather than being interpreted by someone else.

Considering the significance of divination as a means of self-expression and exploration, perhaps your fear of your ‘freedom as an individual’ isn’t being expressed by your use of divination itself, but your desire to outgrow using it. What you’re escaping from, or what you’re repressing won’t just disappear.

It’s calling to you.

Using divination is a way of understanding yourself. You might think you’re chatting with a spirit, but perhaps you’re communicating with someone closer to home. Maybe you’re really having a conversation with the parts of yourself, or your experience, that you’ve repressed. Perhaps the ‘higher power’ you’re in conversation with is your unconscious mind.

And if you ask me, that’s much more terrifying than any ghost.

Kind regards,

The armchair psychologist.

*****

Aftercare: I hope you enjoyed this post! I find divination fascinating and I have my own pack of tarot cards. Let me know how you engage with (or avoid) divination in the comments!

If you liked this post and would like the armchair psychologist to solve all of your problems, please post a question anonymously or,  if you feel more comfortable contact me some other way.

But, don’t forget to read the health warning!

*****