Ame ni mo makezu (Be not Defeated by the Rain) by Kenji Miyazawa (b. 1896 – d.1933)

not losing to the rain
not losing to the wind
not losing to the snow nor to summer’s heat
with a strong body
not fettered by desire
by no means offending anyone
always quietly smiling
every day four bowls of brown rice
miso and some vegetables to eat
in everything
count yourself last and put others before you
watching and listening, and understanding
and never forgetting
in the shade of the woods of the pines of the fields
being in a little thatched hut
if there is a sick child to the east
going and nursing over them
if there is a tired mother to the west
going and shouldering her sheaf of rice
if there is someone near death to the south
going and saying there’s no need to be afraid
if there is a quarrel or a lawsuit to the north
telling them to leave off with such waste
when there’s drought, shedding tears of sympathy
when the summer’s cold, wandering upset
called a nobody by everyone
without being praised
without being blamed
such a person
I want to become

At least 31 great reasons to like the existential thought of Albert Camus

1. “For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.”
2. “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
3. “Peace is the only battle worth waging.”
4. “There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for.”
5. “I know that man is capable of great deeds. But if he isn’t capable of great emotion, well, he leaves me cold.”
6. “The need to be right — the sign of a vulgar mind.”
7. “Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable.”
8. “People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves.”
9. “I would rather live my life as if there is a god and die to find out there isn’t, than live my life as if there isn’t and die to find out there is.”
10. “Life can be magnificent and overwhelming — that is the whole tragedy. Without beauty, love, or danger it would almost be easy to live. ”
11. “At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman.”
12. “The evil that is in the world almost always comes from ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”
13. “Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.”
14. “There are crimes of passion and crimes of logic. The boundary between them is not clearly defined.”
15. “Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.”
16. “I rebel; therefore I exist.”
17. “Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.”
18. “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.”
19. “Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.”
20. “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.”
21. “There is scarcely any passion without struggle.”
22. “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”
23. “But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.”
24. “Always go too far, because that’s where you’ll find the truth.”
25. “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”
26. “The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits.”
27. “He who despairs of the human condition is a coward, but he who has hope for it is a fool.”
28. “The habit of despair is worse than despair itself.”
29. “But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?”
30. “My chief occupation, despite appearances, has always been love.”
31. “If absolute truth belongs to anyone in this world, it certainly does not belong to the man or party that claims to possess it.”

Phenomenological Approaches to Self-Consciousness (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

(First published Sat Feb 19, 2005; substantive revision Wed Dec 24, 2014)

On the phenomenological view, a minimal form of self-consciousness is a constant structural feature of conscious experience. Experience happens for the experiencing subject in an immediate way and as part of this immediacy, it is implicitly marked as my experience. For phenomenologists, this immediate and first-personal givenness of experiential phenomena is accounted for in terms of a pre-reflective self-consciousness. In the most basic sense of the term, self-consciousness is not something that comes about the moment one attentively inspects or reflectively introspects one’s experiences, or recognizes one’s specular image in the mirror, or refers to oneself with the use of the first-person pronoun, or constructs a self-narrative. Rather, these different kinds of self-consciousness are to be distinguished from the pre-reflective self-consciousness which is present whenever I am living through or undergoing an experience, i.e., whenever I am consciously perceiving the world, whenever I am thinking an occurrent thought, whenever I am feeling sad or happy, thirsty or in pain, and so forth.

1. Pre-reflective self-consciousness

One can get a bearing on the notion of pre-reflective self-consciousness by contrasting it with reflective self-consciousness. If you ask me to give you a description of the pain I feel in my right foot, or of what I was just thinking about, I would reflect on it and thereby take up a certain perspective that was one order removed from the pain or the thought. Thus, reflective self-consciousness is at least a second-order cognition. It may be the basis for a report on one’s experience, although not all reports involve a significant amount of reflection.

In contrast, pre-reflective self-consciousness is pre-reflective in the sense that (1) it is an awareness we have before we do any reflecting on our experience; (2) it is an implicit and first-order awareness rather than an explicit or higher-order form of self-consciousness. Indeed, an explicit reflective self-consciousness is possible only because there is a pre-reflective self-awareness that is an on-going and more primary self-consciousness. Although phenomenologists do not always agree on important questions about method, focus, or even whether there is an ego or self, they are in close to unanimous agreement about the idea that the experiential dimension always involves such an implicit pre-reflective self-awareness.[1] In line with Edmund Husserl (1959, 189, 412), who maintains that consciousness always involves a self-appearance (Für-sich-selbst-erscheinens), and in agreement with Michel Henry (1963, 1965), who notes that experience is always self-manifesting, and with Maurice Merleau-Ponty who states that consciousness is always given to itself and that the word ‘consciousness’ has no meaning independently of this self-givenness (Merleau-Ponty 1945, 488), Jean-Paul Sartre writes that pre-reflective self-consciousness is not simply a quality added to the experience, an accessory; rather, it constitutes the very mode of being of the experience:

This self-consciousness we ought to consider not as a new consciousness, but as the only mode of existence which is possible for a consciousness of something (Sartre 1943, 20 [1956, liv]).
The notion of pre-reflective self-awareness is related to the idea that experiences have a subjective ‘feel’ to them, a certain (phenomenal) quality of ‘what it is like’ or what it ‘feels’ like to have them. As it is usually expressed outside of phenomenological texts, to undergo a conscious experience necessarily means that there is something it is like for the subject to have that experience (Nagel 1974; Searle 1992). This is obviously true of bodily sensations like pain. But it is also the case for perceptual experiences, experiences of desiring, feeling, and thinking. There is something it is like to taste chocolate, and this is different from what it is like to remember what it is like to taste chocolate, or to smell vanilla, to run, to stand still, to feel envious, nervous, depressed or happy, or to entertain an abstract belief. Yet, at the same time, as I live through these differences, there is something experiential that is, in some sense, the same, namely, their distinct first-personal character. All the experiences are characterized by a quality of mineness or for-me-ness, the fact that it is I who am having these experiences. All the experiences are given (at least tacitly) as my experiences, as experiences I am undergoing or living through. All of this suggests that first-person experience presents me with an immediate and non-observational access to myself, and that (phenomenal) consciousness consequently entails a (minimal) form of self-consciousness. In short, unless a mental process is pre-reflectively self-conscious there will be nothing it is like to undergo the process, and it therefore cannot be a phenomenally conscious process (Zahavi 1999, 2005, 2014). An implication of this is obviously that the self-consciousness in question can be ascribed to all creatures that are phenomenally conscious, including various non-human animals.

The mineness in question is not a quality like being scarlet, sour or soft. It doesn’t refer to a specific experiential content, to a specific what; nor does it refer to the diachronic or synchronic sum of such content, or to some other relation that might obtain between the contents in question. Rather, it refers to the distinct givenness or the how it feels of experience. It refers to the first-personal presence or character of experience. It refers to the fact that the experiences I am living through are given differently (but not necessarily better) to me than to anybody else. It could consequently be claimed that anybody who denies the for-me-ness of experience simply fails to recognize an essential constitutive aspect of experience. Such a denial would be tantamount to a denial of the first-person perspective. It would entail the view that my own mind is either not given to me at all — I would be mind- or self-blind — or is presented to me in exactly the same way as the minds of others.

There are also lines of argumentation in contemporary analytical philosophy of mind that are close to and consistent with the phenomenological conception of pre-reflective self-awareness. Alvin Goldman provides an example:

[Consider] the case of thinking about x or attending to x. In the process of thinking about x there is already an implicit awareness that one is thinking about x. There is no need for reflection here, for taking a step back from thinking about x in order to examine it…When we are thinking about x, the mind is focused on x, not on our thinking of x. Nevertheless, the process of thinking about x carries with it a non-reflective self-awareness (Goldman 1970, 96).
A similar view has been defended by Owen Flanagan, who not only argues that consciousness involves self-consciousness in the weak sense that there is something it is like for the subject to have the experience, but also speaks of the low-level self-consciousness involved in experiencing my experiences as mine (Flanagan 1992, 194). As Flanagan quite correctly points out, this primary type of self-consciousness should not be confused with the much stronger notion of self-consciousness that is in play when we are thinking about our own narrative self. The latter form of reflective self-consciousness presupposes both conceptual knowledge and narrative competence. It requires maturation and socialization, and the ability to access and issue reports about the states, traits, dispositions that make one the person one is. Bermúdez (1998), to mention one further philosopher in the analytic tradition, argues that there are a variety of nonconceptual forms of self-consciousness that are “logically and ontogenetically more primitive than the higher forms of self-consciousness that are usually the focus of philosophical debate” (1998, 274; also see Poellner 2003). This growing consensus across philosophical studies supports the phenomenological view of pre-reflective self-consciousness.

That pre-reflective self-awareness is implicit, then, means that I am not confronted with a thematic or explicit awareness of the experience as belonging to myself. Rather we are dealing with a non-observational self-acquaintance. Here is how Heidegger and Sartre put the point:


The body provides not only the egocentric spatial framework for orientation towards the world, but also the constitutive contribution of its mobility. Perception does not involve a passive reception, but an active exploration of the environment. Husserl calls attention to the importance of bodily movements (the movements of the eye, manipulations by the hand, the locomotion of the body, etc.) for the experience of space and spatial objects. He further claims that perception is correlated to and accompanied by proprioceptive-kinaesthetic self-sensation or self-affection (Husserl 1973c). Every visual or tactile appearance is given in correlation to a kinaesthetic experience. When I touch a shaped surface, it is given in conjunction with a sensation of finger movements. When I watch the flight of a bird, the moving bird is given in conjunction with the kinaesthetic sensations of eye movement and perhaps neck movement. Such kinaesthetic activation during perception produces an implicit and pervasive reference to one’s own body. The implicit self-awareness of the actual and possible movements of my body helps shape the experience that I have of the world. To be clear, however, bodily self-awareness is not an awareness of the body in isolation from the world; it is embedded in action and perception. We do not first become aware of the body and subsequently use it to engage with the world. We experience the world bodily, and the body is revealed to us in our exploration of the world. Primarily, the body attains self-awareness in action (or in our dispositions to action, or in our action possibilities) when it relates to something, uses something, or moves through the world.[4]

Bodily self-awareness, like self-consciousness more generally, has limitations. I am never fully aware of everything that is going on with my body. Indeed, my body tends to efface itself as I perceive and act in the world. When I jump to catch a ball that is thrown over my head, I certainly have a sense of what I can do, but I am not aware of my precise movements or postures—for example, that my right leg bends at a certain angle as I reach with my left hand. I can execute movements without being explicitly conscious of them, and even what I am tacitly aware of is somewhat limited—for example, I am not aware of the shape of my grasp as I reach to grab the ball. Although I may not be aware of certain details about my bodily performance, this does not mean however that I am unconscious of my body. Rather it means that the way that I am aware of my body is fully integrated with the intentional action that I am performing. I know that I am jumping to catch the ball, and implicit in that, as an immediate sense rather than an inference, is the experience of my body jumping to catch the ball. Furthermore, experiential aspects of my embodiment permeate my pre-reflective self-consciousness. There is something it is like to jump to catch a ball, and part of what it is like is that I am in fact jumping. There is something different to what it is like to sit and imagine (or remember) myself jumping to catch the ball, and at least part of that difference has to do with the fact that I am sitting rather than jumping, although none of this may be explicit in my experience.

Another way to think of this is to consider the sense of agency that is normally an aspect of pre-reflective self-awareness in action. If, as I am walking down the street, I am pushed from behind, I am instantly aware of my body moving in a way that I did not intend. The fact that I feel a loss of control over my actions suggests that there had been an implicit sense of agency or control in my walking prior to being pushed. In voluntary action, I experience the movements of my body as my own actions, and this is replaced by a feeling of loss of bodily control in the case of involuntary movement. Voluntary actions feel different from involuntary actions, and this difference depends respectively, on the experience of agency or the experience of a lack of agency—as the case may be if my body is being moved by someone else.

5. Social forms of self-consciousness
A focus on embodied self-experience inevitably leads to a decisive widening of the discussion. The externality of embodiment puts me, and my actions, in the public sphere. Self-consciousness involves not only an ability to make reflective judgments about our own beliefs and desires but also includes a sense of embodied agency. I am, as Paul Ricoeur (1950, 56–57) points out, conscious of being the author of my actions, and this kind of awareness often comes about as my actions are reflected in the presence of others. I can become aware of myself through the eyes of other people, and this can happen in a number of different ways. Thus, embodiment brings intersubjectivity and sociality into the picture, and draws attention to the question of how certain forms of self-consciousness are intersubjectively mediated, and may depend on one’s social relations to others. My awareness of myself as one person among others, an awareness that I may frame from the perspective of others, attempting to see myself as they see me, involves a change in the attitude of self-consciousness. Within this attitude, judgments that I make about myself are constrained by social expectations and cultural values. This kind of social self-consciousness is always contextualized, as I try to understand how I appear to others, both in the way I look, and in the meaning of my actions. I find myself in specific contexts, with specific capabilities and dispositions, habits and convictions, and I express myself in a way that is reflected off of others, in relevant (socially defined) roles through my language and my actions.

The role of the other in this mode of self-consciousness is not unessential. According to Husserl, I become aware of myself specifically as a human person only in such intersubjective relations (Husserl 1973b, 175; 1952, 204–05; see Hart 1992, 71; Zahavi 1999, 157ff. Also see Taylor 1989, 34–36 for a similar idea). Thus Husserl distinguishes the subject taken in its bare formality from the personalized subject and claims that the origin and status of being a person must be located in the social dimension. I am not simply a pure and formal subject of experience, but also a person, with abilities, dispositions, habits, interests, character traits, and convictions, and to focus exclusively on the first is to engage in an abstraction (Husserl 1968, 210). Given the right conditions and circumstances, the self acquires a personalizing self-apprehension, i.e., it develops into a person and as a person (cf. Husserl 1952, 265). And this development depends heavily upon social interaction (Husserl 1973b, 170–171).

This kind of self-consciousness is also the occasion for a self-alienation, famously explicated by Sartre in terms of the other’s gaze. For Sartre, because “our being, along with its being-for-itself, is also for-others; the being which is revealed to the reflective consciousness is for-itself-for-others” (1956, 282). On this view, the primary experience of the other is not that I perceive her as some kind of object in which I must find a person, but I perceive the other as a subject who perceives me as an object. My experience of the other is at the same time an experience that involves my own self-consciousness, a self-consciousness in which I am pre-reflectively aware that I am an object for another. This experience can further motivate a reflective self-consciousness, as I consider how I must appear to the other.

Merleau-Ponty (1945, 415) suggests that the other’s gaze can motivate this kind of self-consciousness only if I already have a sense of my own visibility to the other. This sense of my own visibility, however, is immediately linked with the pre-reflective, proprioceptive-kinaesthetic sense of my body, an insight that goes back to Husserl’s analysis (mentioned above), through Merleau-Ponty, who sees its connection to the infant’s capability for imitation, and forward to more recent advances in developmental psychology (see Merleau-Ponty, 1945, 165, 404-405; 2010; Gallagher and Zahavi 2008; Zahavi 1999, 171–72). In effect, we find ourselves related to others through self-conscious experience that is motivated by the other’s gaze.

This is not the place to enter into a detailed discussion of these rich and complex issues, issues that extend to analyses of phenomena such as empathy, shame, guilt, and so on (see Zahavi 2010, 2014). But it is important to realize that self-consciousness is a multifaceted concept. It is not something that can be exhaustively analyzed simply by examining the inner workings of the mind.

6. Conclusion

The notion of self-consciousness has been the subject of a rich and complex analysis in the phenomenological tradition. Aspects of the phenomenological analysis also show up in other areas of research, including feminism (Stawarska 2006; Young 2005; Heinämaa 2003), ecological psychology (Gibson 1966), and recent analyses of enactive perception (Noë 2004; Thompson 2008). The recognition of the existence of a primitive form of pre-reflective self-consciousness is an important starting point for an understanding of more elaborate forms of self-consciousness that are concept- and language-dependent. Phenomenological analyses show these processes to be more than purely mental or cognitive events since they integrally involve embodiment and intersubjective dimensions.

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Gallagher, S. and Watson, S. (eds.), 2004. Ipseity and Alterity: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Intersubjectivity, Rouen: Publications de l’Université de Rouen.
Gennaro, R. J., 2002. “Jean-Paul Sartre and the hot theory of consciousness,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 32 (3): 293–330.
Henrich, D., 1970. “Selbstbewusstsein: Kritische Einleitung in einer Theorie,” in R. Bubner (ed.) Hermeneutik und Dialektik I Tubingen, pp. 257–284; English translation: Self-consciousness: A critical introduction to a theory. Man and World, 4: 3–28.
Kapitan, T., 1999. “The Ubiquity of self-awareness,” Grazer Philosophische Studien, 57: 17–43.
Kenevan, P. B., 1981. “Self-consciousness and the ego in the philosophy of Sartre,” in P. A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Sartre, LaSalle IL: Open Court.
Kern, I., 1989. “Selbstbewusstein und Ich bei Husserl,” in Husserl-Symposion Mainz 1988, Stuttgart: Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, pp. 51–63.
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Pothast, U., 1971. Über einige Fragen der Selbstbeziehung, Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann.
Prado, C.-G., 1978. “Reflexive Consciousness,” Dialogue, 17: 134–37.
Priest, S., 2000. “Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the body-subject,” Nursing Philosophy, 1(2): 173-174.
Rosenberg, J., 1981. “Apperception and Sartre’s pre-reflective cogito,” American Philosophical Quarterly, 18: 255–60.
Sartre, J.-P., 1948. “Conscience de soi et connaissance de soi,” Bulletin de la Société Française de Philosophie, 42: 49–91; English translation: “Consciousness of self and knowledge of self,” in N. Lawrence and D. O’Connor (eds.), Readings in Existential Phenomenology, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, pp. 113–42.
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Your Children are not Your Children


They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

Kahlil Gibran, 1923, 1973.

On Death and What Comes Next by Terry Pratchett

When Death met the philosopher, the philosopher said, rather excitedly: “At this point, you realise, I’m both dead and not dead.”

There was a sigh from Death. Oh dear, one of those, he thought. This is going to be about quantum again. He hated dealing with philosophers. They always tried to wriggle out of it.

“You see,” said the philosopher, while Death, motionless, watched the sands of his life drain through the hourglass, “everything is made of tiny particles, which have the strange property of being in many places at one time. But things made of tiny particles tend to stay in one place at one time, which does not seem right according to quantum theory. May I continue?”

YES, BUT NOT INDEFINITELY, said Death, EVERYTHING IS TRANSIENT. He did not take his gaze away from the tumbling sand.

“Well, then, if we agreed that there are an infinite number of universes, then the problem is solved! If there are an unlimited number of universes, this bed can be in millions of them, all at the same time!”



Death nodded at the bed. CAN YOU FEEL IT MOVING? he said.

“No, because there are a million versions of me, too, And…here is the good bit …in some of them I am not about to pass away! Anything is possible!”

Death tapped the handle of his scythe as he considered this.


“Well, I’m not exactly dying, correct? You are no longer such a certainty.”

There was a sigh from Death. Space he thought. That was the trouble. It was never like this on worlds with everlastingly cloudy skies. But once humans saw all that space, their brains expanded to try and fill it up.

“No answer, eh?” said the dying philosopher. “Feel a bit old-fashioned, do we?”

THIS IS A CONUNDRUM CERTAINLY, said Death. Once they prayed, he thought. Mind you, he’d never been sure that prayer worked, either. He thought for a while. AND I SHALL ANSWER IT IN THIS MANNER, he added. YOU LOVE YOUR WIFE?



“Yes. Of course.”


“Certainly not!”


“But of course we can make choices between-“


“Was that sarcasm?”


“Oh, come on! I know what you’re implying, and I’ve never believed in any of that Heaven and Hell nonsense!”

The room was growing darker. The blue gleam along the edge of the reaper’s scythe was becoming more obvious.


Fighting for breath, the philosopher managed to say: “Don’t be silly.”


“We’ve certainly escaped from outmoded superstitions!”


He leaned forward.


“Oh, yes,” said the philosopher.

GOOD, said Death. He got to his feet as the last of the light died, and smiled.



On Foolishness: Or, Dumb is not the new black (Or, quotes about foolishness as we approach the portico of 2017 c.e., or about 3 million years old, or whichever appeals more)


Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
Douglas Adams

There is no such thing as an underestimate of average intelligence.
Henry Adams

Scientists will eventually stop flailing around with solar power and focus their efforts on harnessing the only truly unlimited source of energy on the planet: stupidity.
Scott Adams

The culture industry not so much adapts to the reactions of its customers as it counterfeits them.
Theodor Adorno

The wise man doubts often, and changes his mind. The fool is obstinate, and doubts not; he knows all things but his own ignorance.

I happen to feel that the degree of a person’s intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting attitudes she can bring to bear on the same topic.
Lisa Alther

If we cannot define stupidity, at least we can trace most human misfortunes and weaknesses to it. Its manifestations are legion, its symptoms are endless.
Richard Armour

When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.
Isaac Asimov

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubt, but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.
Francis Bacon

You grow up the day you have your first real laugh at yourself.
Ethel Barrymore

I read the newspaper avidly. It is my one form of continuous fiction.
Aneurin Bevan

The world turns and the candle burns and the blind lead the blind.
A Bim song

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.
Niels Bohr

However big the fool, there is always a bigger fool to admire him.
Nicolas Boileau

In politics stupidity is not a handicap.
Napoleon Bonaparte

Every time you think television has hit its lowest ebb, a new program comes along to make you wonder where you thought the ebb was.
Art Buchwald

Freedom of the press is perhaps the one that has suffered the most from the decline of the idea of liberty.
Albert Camus

A large section of the intelligentsia seems wholly devoid of intelligence.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton

There is no opinion so stupid that it can’t be expressed by some philosopher.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
Carlo Cipolla

Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.

It is not enough to have a good mind, the main thing is to use it well.
René Descartes

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
Walt Disney

Man is stupid, phenomenally stupid.
Fyodor Dostoievsky

The number of fools is infinite.
The Ecclesiastes

Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity. I’m not sure about the universe.
Albert Einstein

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
Attributed to George Eliot, Samuel Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain and several others

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
Thomas Eliot

The stupidity of men always invites the insolence of power.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Stupidity has made enormous progress. It’s a sun so shining that we can no longer look at it directly. Thanks to communication media, it’s no longer the same, it’s nourished by other myths, it sells extremely well, it has ridiculed good sense and it’s spreading its terrifying power.
Ennio Flaiano

To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.
Gustave Flaubert

Put your trust in simple sentences and simple arithmetic. Mistrust four syllable words and continuous reports of tranquillity.
Paul Foley

The dumbest people I know are those who know it all.
Malcolm Forbes

If a million people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.
Anatole France

Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.
Robert Frost

Doubt is the father of invention.
Galileo Galilei

The greatest intelligence is the one that suffers most from its own limitations.
André Gide

Maybe violent wickedness can be decapitated, but stupidity has too many heads.
André Glucksmann

There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.
Johann Goethe

Stupid is as stupid does.
Forrest Gump (by Winston Groom)

What experience and history teach is this – that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles.
Friedrich Hegel

There are more fools in the world than there are people.
Heinrich Heine

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.
Robert Heinlein

Rush, that most exciting perversion of life, the necessity of accomplishing something in less time than should be truly allowed for its doing.
Ernest Hemingway

We believe only what we see. So, with television, we believe everything.
Dieter Hildebrandt

Television has done much for psychiatry, by spreading information about it as well as contributing to the need for it.
Alfred Hitchcock

Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.
Elbert Hubbard

When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken.
David Hume

At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols.
Aldous Huxley

Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intelligence.
Samuel Johnson

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
Martin Luther King

Everything you read in newspapers is absolutely true, except for that rare story of which you happen to have first-hand knowledge.
Erwin Knoll

Stupidity comes from having an answer to everything. Wisdom comes from having a question for everything.
Milan Kundera

All the brains in the world are powerless against the sort of stupidity that is in fashion.
Jean de La Fontaine

Creativity is the sudden cessation of stupidity.
Edwin Land

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Leonardo da Vinci

It’s so simple to be wise. Just think of something stupid to say and say the opposite.
Sam Levenson

Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.
Lazarus Long (a character in novels by Robert Heinlein)

The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.
Niccolò Machiavelli

Nobody is exempt from saying stupid things, the harm is to do it presumptuously.
Michel de Montaigne

Stupidity is active in every direction, and can dress up in all the clothes of truth. Truth, on the other hand, has for every occasion only one dress and one path, and is always at a disadvantage.
Robert Musil

We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.
John Naisbitt

The love of power is the demon of mankind.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.
William Ockham (“Occam’s Razor”)

Simplicity, very rare in our age.
Publius Ovidius Naso (“Ovid”)

I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.
Blaise Pascal

Stupidity can easily be proved the supreme social evil.
Walter Pitkin

Science has not yet taught us if madness is or is not the sublimity of intelligence.
Edgar Allan Poe

The intelligence of the creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.
Terry Pratchett

Like many intellectuals, he was incapable of saying a simple thing in a simple way.
Marcel Proust

If you want to avoid seeing an idiot, break the mirror.
François Rabelais

Neither a pathology nor an index as such of moral default, stupidity is nonetheless linked to the most dangerous failures of human endeavor.
Avital Ronell

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.
Bertrand Russell

The fool doth think himself wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
William Shakespeare

A fashion is nothing but an induced epidemic.
George Bernard Shaw

A sort of melancholy, and regret, seizes us every time we meet a sophisticated, adulterated idiot. Oh the nice fools of yestertime! Genuine, natural. Like homemade bread.
Leonardo Sciascia

The more I know, the more I know that I don’t know.

The world supports a multi-million dollar industry of intelligence and ability research, but it devotes virtually nothing to determine why this intelligence is squandered by engaging in amazing, breathtaking acts of stupidity.
Robert Sternberg

There is no greatness where there is not simplicity.
Leo Tolstoy

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
Mark Twain

Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous.

Stupidity is an incongruity inherent in life. Humans have developed, expanded and promoted it.
James Welles

There is no sin except stupidity.
Oscar Wilde

A philosopher always finds more grass to feed upon in the valleys of stupidity than on the arid heights of intelligence.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.
Frank Zappa

On a Prescription for Burnout

According to New York psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger, PhD., who coined the term, burned is a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by a devotion to a cause, a way of life, or a relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.
Burnout is a problem born of good intentions because it happens when people try to reach unrealistic goals and end up depleting their energy and losing touch with themselves and others.
The onset is slow. The early symptoms include a feeling of emotional and physical exhaustion; a sense of alienation, cynicism, impatience, negativism and feelings of detachment to the point that the individual begins to resent work involved and the people who are a part of that work. In extreme cases, the individual who once cared very deeply about a project or a group will insulate himself to the point that he no longer cares at all. The irony of burnout is that it happens to the same person who previously was enthusiastic and brimming over with energy and new ideas when first involved in a job or a new situation.

This type of person generally has a very high expectation of what can be accomplished. As time goes by and all of the goals aren’t achieved, the enthusiasm dies and a sort of listlessness sets in. Instead of lowering objectives or accepting reality, frustration is bottled up and the individual tries even harder. The result is burnout.

Three things are associated with burnout:

role conflict: A person who has conflicting responsibilities will begin to feel pulled in many directions and will try to do everything equally well without setting priorities. The result will be the feelings of fatigue or exhaustion associated with burnout.

role ambiguity: The individual does not know what is expected of her. She knows she is expected to be a good career person but is not quite sure how to accomplish this because she has no role model or guidelines to follow. The result is that she never feels that she has accomplished anything worthwhile.

role overload: The individual can’t say no and keeps on taking on more responsibility than he can handle until he finally burns out.

What to do if you’re burned out

Most experts agree that when you recognise burnout, you have to ask yourself some questions. Try to remember when it was that you began feeling so tired and unable to relax. Were you always under such pressure to succeed? When did this one area of your life become disproportionately important? At what point did you lose your sense of humour and the personal side of your relationships with friends and co-workers? Are you identifying so closely with your responsibilities that you’ve come to believe that if this project falls apart you have failed? The answers to these questions will help you re-establish your values and priorities. The next step ist to make some changes in your life. When your work begins to lose its appeal, it’s time for a change or to have your duties changed, or maybe it’s time to take a break.

Other Solutions to the Problem of Burnout

Establish some long and short term goals that are realistic. Write them down. If you have been neglecting your health, change your eating habits and begin to exercise more. Set aside some time each day for relaxation exercises and allow yourself time to “just let it happen”. Renew your friendships with other people. Talk to them about your feelings. Don’t keep your frustrations and anger bottled up. Analyze how you spend your time. Try to incorporate some time management techniques into your life. Learn to say no when you’re asked to do more than you can handle. Learn to delegate responsibility to others. You are not indispensable. Find the sense of humour you’ve probably lost. Learn to laugh at yourself and at the situation. Most of all, get in touch with yourself, your values and what you want out of life. Learn to recognise when you are driving yourself too hard and when you are depleting your inner resources.

Bibliography: see Andreas Gehmeyr, 15.08.93

Determining factors in the pursuit of happiness

Happiness is, by nature, a subjective quality with a definition like a moving target. There is scant evidence — qualitative or quantitative — to lend convincing support to those life variables most critical in determining individual happiness, which is likely why past researchers committed to the scientific method rarely tried to tackle the subject.

Nevertheless, this situation may be changing. Take, for example, the World Database of Happiness in Rotterdam, self-described as a “continuous register of scientific research on subjective appreciation of life.” Also, take the positive psychologists, a movement whose “members” perform scientific research into the nature of happiness and who published Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, an 800-page behemoth that outlines all the characteristics, behaviours and conditions that lead to happiness.

While we’re not entirely convinced of this marriage between science and subjectivity, we can still offer up a top 10 of things that determine human happiness, as supported by this growing body of research.

No.10 – Having a short memory

Are you one to hold grudges? Do you need the jaws of life to pry forgiveness out of you? Well, don’t expect these attributes to contribute to your happiness or to your overall health for that matter. This ability to forgive and forget, to go with the flow, is frequently cited by researchers of centenarians as being a key factor in their ability to live to see their 100th birthday.

No.9 – Exacting fairness

According to a recently published study in the prestigious journal Nature, people derive more happiness from scenarios and situations that result in a perceived fairness for everyone involved, even when this fairness goes against self-interest or comes at some personal cost. In short, researchers at Rutgers found that the reward centres in the brain light up in situations in which people are treated equally.

No.8 – Having lots of friendships

Extroverts are happier than introverts and they live longer lives, in part because they can spend time in the company of friends and family or they can spend time alone, according to happiness researcher Ed Diener. Like letting go of grudges and going with the flow, being extroverted and having a wide social circle is a major factor in whether someone considers themselves happy or not, as well as an often-cited reason to explain how some people live to be 100 or older. At any rate, it’s a reason to justify spending a little time at work on social networking sites.

No.7 – Being spiritual

The results of a collaborative, multinational study that involved over 166,000 people showed a clear correlation between a person’s “strength of religious affiliation and frequency of attendance at worship services” and their self-reported levels of happiness and satisfaction with their lives. How is this correlation explained? Researchers postulate that this increased involvement in a spiritual circle means more friends, a wider support network and a higher degree of hopefulness.

No.6 – Thinking ahead

In his book Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert argues that happiness is derived from the ability to accurately project what will in the future make us happy — not those things that actually do. He notes that we are the only species that truly considers the future, and this ability to think ahead and to imagine the future is “the defining aspect of our humanity.”

According to Gilbert, studies support the idea that we enjoy thinking into the future because more often than not, it’s something of a daydream, and in daydreams, we are at our most successful. Furthermore, because imagining the future and what actually happens in that future are often at odds, many people derive far more happiness from the anticipation of a future event than the actual event.

No.5 – Developing a skill

According to psychology professor Dr Timothy A. Pychyl, the route to happiness is simple enough, “Live it, don’t buy it.” This is especially relevant in the modern world, where instant gratification can be purchased — but only to a point, before it hits a wall.

He quotes a professional base jumper, who says, “You’ve got to have the passion for doing your time. If you haven’t done the time, you just can’t get there.” He goes on to argue that only by paying one’s dues through time, effort, devotion, and experience can we, “develop the rich experiences that make life meaningful.”

No.4 – Having personal control over one’s life

Where might you find unhappy people with low morale? Those places where people no longer feel in personal control of their lives, whether it’s a nursing home or a prison, because control equates to happiness. In his book Satisfaction, Emory University psychiatrist Gregory Berns makes the point by distinguishing between pleasure and satisfaction, “While you might find pleasure by happenstance, satisfaction can arise only by the conscious decision to do something. And this makes all the difference in the world because it is only your own actions for which you may take responsibility and credit.”

No.3 – Defining success

There’s a saying that no matter how talented or successful you think you are, there’s always someone who’s got a leg up on you. People who compare themselves against those people will always come out the loser, even when the comparison is neither appropriate nor consequential. A skilled dentist with a thriving practice can’t reasonably compare his level of success to Robert De Niro and expect to feel good. If he made comparisons within his own peer group or against his own expectations, however, he’ll not only come out more favourably, but he’ll be happier too.

As Gallup psychologist, Shane Lopez explained to Psychology Today writer Abby Ellin, “Self-referential people see themselves as the marker. They care about their own performance, not how they measure up compared to that guy over there…. The only competitor is the self.”

No.2 – Genes vs. Environment

According to “The Science of Lasting Happiness,” an article by Marina Krakovsky published by Scientific American in 2007, “studies of twins and adoptees have shown that about 50% of each person’s happiness is determined from birth”, what’s loosely termed as a “genetic set point.” The weight of this variable on determining our happiness is supported by hedonic adaptation; according to this theory, even if we win the lottery, within a year or so of coming into this kind of material good fortune, we adapt to it and revert back to whatever level of happiness we were at before. However, there’s a crucial caveat to the genetic thesis for happiness; the environment in which you develop as a young person is a far more reliable predictor of the types of beliefs and behaviours you will come to hold about yourself and the world.

No.1 – Liking yourself

Liking oneself is arguably the principal characteristic of ‘happy’ people. It’s been revealed in study after study after study: happy people like themselves. They think they’re good people. They have a healthy self-esteem, meaning they think in a balanced and reasonable manner (i.e. healthily) about their own skills, knowledge and weaknesses. These people consider themselves to have ethical standards and to have fewer prejudices than others.

On Carrots, Eggs & Coffee: Experiences and perceptions and how they can connect, or disconnect, us from ourselves.

There is an old parable about a boy who was so discouraged by his experiences in school he told his grandfather he wanted to leave. His grandfather filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, he placed carrots, in the second he placed eggs and the last he placed ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then he ladled the coffee out into a cup. Turning to the boy, he asked, “Tell me, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the boy replied.

Then he asked the boy to feel the carrots, which he did and noted that they were soft and mushy. His grandfather then asked him to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, the boy observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked the boy to sip the coffee. He smiled as he tasted the coffee with its rich aroma. The boy asked, “I don’t understand. What does this mean, if anything?”

His grandfather laughed and explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity — boiling water — but each had reacted differently. “Which are you?” the grandfather asked. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, becomes soft and loses strength? Are you the egg that appears not to change but whose heart is hardened? Or are you the coffee bean that changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavour. If you are like the coffee bean, when things are at their worst, your very attitude will change your environment for the better, making it sweet and palatable.”

The moral of the parable is that it is not the experience that matters. What matters is how you interpret and react to the experience. We are each given a set of experiences in life. The experiences are neutral. They have no meaning. It is how we interpret the experiences that give them meaning. Your interpretations of your experiences shape your beliefs and theories about the world which, in turn, influence the way you live your life. The grandfather’s lesson is that when you can’t change your circumstances, you change yourself.

We automatically interpret all of our experiences without realising it. Are they good experiences, bad ones, what do they mean and so on? We do this without much thought, if any, to what the interpretations (and associated assuptions, perhaps) mean.

For instance, if someone bumps into you, you wonder why. The event of her bumping into you is neutral in itself. It has no meaning. It’s your interpretation of the bumping that gives it meaning, and this meaning shapes your perception of the experience. You may interpret the bump as an accident or you may feel you are of such little consequence that you’re deliberately unnoticed and bumped around by others. You may fault the architect for the design of the sidewalks or you may feel you are at fault for not being more attentive to others. You may interpret the bump as a deliberate example of feminist aggressiveness, or you may even interpret the bump as (her) way of flirting with you.

The crucial point here is that your interpretation of an experience determines your perception and hence effects your choice of belief/behaviour, and hence, those beliefs or behaviours impact directly upon the consequences of holding those interpretations.

Hence, experiences-in-the-world (A) -> lead to Beliefs or Behaviours (B) -> lead to consequences (C).

Thus, if we want different consequences (C) we cannot change the experiences-in-the-world (A), but WE CAN choose different beliefs or behaviours (B).

Some commonly encountered ‘toxic’ (read pathological) behaviours

Some people can display toxic behaviours. Narcissists, psychopaths, sociopaths, and those with antisocial traits engage in maladaptive behaviours in relationships that ultimately exploit, demean and hurt their intimate partners, family members and friends. They use a plethora of diversionary tactics that distort the reality of their victims and deflect responsibility. Although those who are not narcissistic can employ these tactics as well, abusive narcissists use these to an excessive extent in an effort to escape accountability for their actions. Here are some crude, basic and toxic behaviours terms people can use to silence and degrade others, described using common-sense (mostly non-technical) language.

1. Gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic that can be described in different variations of three words: “That didn’t happen,” “You imagined it,” and “Are you crazy?” Gaslighting is perhaps one of the most insidious manipulative tactics out there because it works to distort and erode your sense of reality; it eats away at your ability to trust yourself and inevitably disables you from feeling justified in calling out abuse and mistreatment.

When a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath gaslights you, you may be prone to gaslighting yourself as a way to reconcile the cognitive dissonance that might arise. Two conflicting beliefs battle it out: is this person right or can I trust what I experienced? A manipulative person will convince you that the former is an inevitable truth while the latter is a sign of dysfunction on your end.

In order to resist gaslighting, it’s important to ground yourself in your own reality – sometimes writing things down as they happened, telling a friend or reiterating your experience to a support network can help to counteract the gaslighting effect. The power of having a validating community is that it can redirect you from the distorted reality of a malignant person and back to your own inner guidance.

2. Pathological projection.

One sure sign of toxicity is when a person is chronically unwilling to see his or her own shortcomings and uses everything in their power to avoid being held accountable for them. This is known as projection. Projection is a defence mechanism used to displace responsibility for one’s negative behaviour and traits by attributing them to someone else. It ultimately acts as a digression that avoids ownership and accountability.

While we all engage in projection to some extent, according to Narcissistic Personality clinical expert Dr Martinez-Lewi, the projections of a narcissist are often psychologically abusive. Rather than acknowledge their own flaws, imperfections and wrongdoings, malignant narcissists and sociopaths opt to dump their own traits on their unsuspecting suspects in a way that is painful and excessively cruel. Instead of admitting that self-improvement may be in order, they would prefer that their victims take responsibility for their behaviour and feel ashamed of themselves. This is a way for a narcissist to project any toxic shame they have about themselves onto another.

For example, a person who engages in pathological lying may accuse their partner of fibbing; a needy spouse may call their husband “clingy” in an attempt to depict them as the one who is dependent; a rude employee may call their boss ineffective in an effort to escape the truth about their own productivity.

Narcissistic abusers love to play the “blame shifting game.” Objectives of the game: they win, you lose, and you or the world at large is blamed for everything that’s wrong with them. This way, you get to babysit their fragile ego while you’re thrust into a sea of self-doubt. Fun, right?

Solution? Don’t “project” your own sense of compassion or empathy onto a toxic person and don’t own any of the toxic person’s projections either. As manipulation expert and author Dr George Simon (2010) notes in his book In Sheep’s Clothing, projecting our own conscience and value system onto others has the potential consequence of being met with further exploitation.

Narcissists on the extreme end of the spectrum usually have no interest in self-insight or change. It’s important to cut ties and end interactions with toxic people as soon as possible so you can get centred in your own reality and validate your own identity. You don’t have to live in someone else’s cesspool of dysfunction.

3. Nonsensical conversations.

If you think you’re going to have a thoughtful discussion with someone who is toxic, be prepared for epic levels of nonsensical tomfoolery rather than conversational mindfulness.

Malignant narcissists and sociopaths use word salad, circular conversations, ad hominem arguments, projection and gaslighting to disorient you and get you off track should you ever disagree with them or challenge them in any way. They do this in order to discredit, confuse and frustrate you, distract you from the main problem and make you feel guilty for being a human being with actual thoughts and feelings that might differ from their own. In their eyes, you are the problem if you happen to exist.

Spend even ten minutes arguing with a toxic narcissist and you’ll find yourself wondering how the argument even began at all. You simply disagreed with them about their absurd claim that the sky is red and now your entire childhood, family, friends, career and lifestyle choices have come under attack. That is because your disagreement picked at their false belief that they are omnipotent and omniscient, resulting in a narcissistic injury.

Remember: toxic people don’t argue with you, they essentially argue with themselves and you become privy to their long, draining monologues. They thrive on the drama and they live for it. Each and every time you attempt to provide a point that counters their ridiculous assertions, you are in a sense colluding with them. Thus, don’t collude with narcissists – rather, supply yourself with the confirmation that their abusive behaviour is the problem, not you. Cut the interaction short as soon as you anticipate it escalating and use your energy on some decadent self-care instead.

4. Blanket statements and generalisations.

Malignant narcissists aren’t always intellectual masterminds – many of them are intellectually lazy. Rather than taking the time to carefully consider a different perspective, they generalise anything and everything you say, making blanket statements that don’t acknowledge the nuances in your argument or take into account the multiple perspectives you’ve paid homage to. Better yet, why not put a label on you that dismisses your perspective altogether?

On a larger scale, generalisations and blanket statements invalidate experiences that don’t fit in the unsupported assumptions, schemas and stereotypes of society; they are also used to maintain the status quo. This form of digression exaggerates one perspective to the point where a social justice issue can become completely obscured. For example, rape accusations against well-liked figures are often met with the reminder that there are false reports of rape that occur. While those do occur, they are rare, and in this case, the actions of one become labelled the behaviour of the majority while the specific report itself remains unaddressed.

These everyday microaggressions also happen in toxic relationships. If you bring up to a narcissistic abuser that their behaviour is unacceptable for example, they will often make blanket generalisations about your hypersensitivity or make a generalisation such as, “You are never satisfied,” or “You’re always too sensitive” rather than addressing the real issues at hand. It’s possible that you are oversensitive at times, but it is also possible that the abuser is also insensitive and cruel the majority of the time.

Hold onto your truth and resist generalising statements by realising that they are in fact forms of black and white illogical thinking. Toxic people wielding blanket statements do not represent the full richness of experience – they represent the limited one of their singular experience and overinflated sense of self.

5. Deliberately misrepresenting your thoughts and feelings to the point of absurdity.

In the hands of a malignant narcissist or sociopath, your differing opinions, legitimate emotions and lived experiences get translated into character flaws and evidence of your irrationality.

Narcissists weave tall tales to reframe what you’re actually saying as a way to make your opinions look absurd or heinous. Let’s say you bring up the fact that you’re unhappy with the way a toxic friend is speaking to you. In response, he or she may put words in your mouth, saying, “Oh, so now you’re perfect?” or “So I am a bad person, huh?” when you’ve done nothing but express your feelings. This enables them to invalidate your right to have thoughts and emotions about their inappropriate behaviour and instils in you a sense of guilt when you attempt to establish boundaries.

This is also a popular form of diversion and cognitive distortion that is known as “mind reading.” Toxic people often presume they know what you’re thinking and feeling. They chronically jump to conclusions based on their own triggers rather than stepping back to evaluate the situation mindfully. They act accordingly based on their own delusions and fallacies and make no apologies for the harm they cause as a result. Notorious for putting words in your mouth, they depict you as having an intention or outlandish viewpoint you didn’t possess. They accuse you of thinking of them as toxic – even before you’ve gotten the chance to call them out on their behaviour – and this also serves as a form of preemptive defence.

Simply stating, “I never said that” and then walking away should the person continue to accuse you of doing or saying something you didn’t can help to set a firm boundary in this type of interaction. So long as the toxic person can blameshift and digress from their own behaviour, they have succeeded in convincing you that you should be “shamed” for giving them any sort of realistic feedback.

6. Nitpicking and moving the goal posts.

The difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism is the presence of a personal attack and impossible standards. These so-called “critics” often don’t want to help you improve, they just want to nitpick, pull you down and scapegoat you in any way they can. Abusive narcissists and sociopaths employ a logical fallacy known as “moving the goalposts” in order to ensure that they have every reason to be perpetually dissatisfied with you. This is when, even after you’ve provided all the evidence in the world to validate your argument or taken an action to meet their request, they set up another expectation of you or demand more proof.

Do you have a successful career? The narcissist will then start to pick on why you aren’t a multi-millionaire yet. Did you already fulfil their need to be excessively catered to? Now it’s time to prove that you can also remain “independent.” The goal posts will perpetually change and may not even be related to each other; they don’t have any other point besides making you vie for the narcissist’s approval and validation.

By raising the expectations higher and higher each time or switching them completely, highly manipulative and toxic people are able to instil in you a pervasive sense of unworthiness and of never feeling quite “enough.” By pointing out one irrelevant fact, or one thing you did wrong, and developing a hyperfocus on it, narcissists get to divert from your strengths and pull you into obsessing over any flaws or weaknesses instead. They get you thinking about the next improper expectation of theirs which you’re presumably going to have to meet – until eventually, you’ve bent over backwards trying to fulfil their every need – only to realise it didn’t change the horrific way they treated you.

Don’t get sucked into nitpicking and changing goal posts – if someone chooses to rehash an irrelevant point over and over again to the point where they aren’t acknowledging the work you’ve done to validate your point or satisfy them, their motive isn’t to better understand. It’s to further provoke you into feeling as if you have to constantly prove yourself. Validate and approve of yourself. Know that you are enough and you don’t have to be made to feel constantly deficient or unworthy in some way.

7. Changing the subject to evade accountability.

This type of tactic is what I like to call the “What about me?” syndrome. It is a literal digression from the actual topic that works to redirect attention to a different issue altogether. Narcissists don’t want you to be on the topic of holding them accountable for anything, so they will reroute discussions to benefit them. Complaining about their neglectful parenting? They’ll point out a mistake you committed seven years ago. This type of diversion has no limits in terms of time or subject content, and often begins with a sentence like “What about the time when…”

On a macro level, these diversions work to derail discussions that challenge the status quo. A discussion about gay rights, for example, may be derailed quickly by someone who brings in another social justice issue just to distract people from the main argument.

As Tara Moss, author of ‘Speaking Out: A 21st Century Handbook for Women and Girls’, notes, specificity is needed in order to resolve and address issues appropriately – that doesn’t mean that the issues that are being brought up don’t matter, it just means that the specific time and place may not be the best context to discuss them.

Don’t be derailed – if someone pulls a switcheroo on you, you can exercise what I call the “broken record” method and continue stating the facts without giving in to their distractions. Redirect their redirection by saying, “That’s not what I am talking about. Let’s stay focused on the real issue.” If they’re not interested, disengage and spend your energy on something more constructive – like not having a debate with someone who has the mental age of a toddler.

8. Covert and overt threats.

Narcissistic abusers and otherwise toxic people feel very threatened when their excessive sense of entitlement, a false sense of superiority and grandiose sense of self are challenged in any way. They are prone to making unreasonable demands on others – while punishing you for not living up to their impossible to reach expectations.

Rather than tackle disagreements or compromises maturely, they set out to divert you from your right to have your own identity and perspective by attempting to instil fear in you about the consequences of disagreeing or complying with their demands. To them, any challenge results in an ultimatum and “do this or I’ll do that” becomes their daily mantra.

If someone’s reaction to you setting boundaries or having a differing opinion from your own is to threaten you into submission, whether it’s a thinly veiled threat or an overt admission of what they plan to do, this is a red flag of someone who has a high degree of entitlement and has no plans of compromising. Take threats seriously and show the narcissist you mean business; document threats and report them whenever possible and legally feasible.

9. Name-calling.

Narcissists preemptively blow anything they perceive as a threat to their superiority out of proportion. In their world, only they can ever be right and anyone who dares to say otherwise creates a narcissistic injury that results in narcissistic rage. Narcissistic rage does not neccessarily result from low self-esteem but rather a high sense of entitlement and a false sense of superiority.

The lowest of the low resort to narcissistic rage in the form of name-calling when they can’t think of a better way to manipulate your opinion or micromanage your emotions. Name-calling is a quick and easy way to put you down, degrade you and insult your intelligence, appearance or behaviour while invalidating your right to be a separate person with a right to his or her perspective.

Name-calling can also be used to criticise your beliefs, opinions and insights. A well-researched perspective or informed opinion suddenly becomes “silly” or “idiotic” in the hands of a malignant narcissist or sociopath who feels threatened by it and cannot make a respectful, convincing rebuttal. Rather than target your argument, they target you as a person and seek to undermine your credibility and intelligence in any way they possibly can. It’s important to end any interaction that consists of name-calling and communicates that you won’t tolerate it. Don’t internalise it: realise that they are resorting to name-calling because they are deficient in higher level methods.

10. Destructive conditioning.

Toxic people condition you to associate your strengths, talents, and happy memories of abuse, frustration and disrespect. They do this by sneaking in covert and overt put-downs about the qualities and traits they once idealised as well as sabotaging your goals, ruining celebrations, vacations and holidays. They may even isolate you from your friends and family and make you financially dependent upon them. Like Pavlov’s dogs, you’re essentially “trained” over time to become afraid of doing the very things that once made your life fulfilling.

Narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths and otherwise toxic people do this because they wish to divert attention back to themselves and how you’re going to please them. If there is anything outside of them that may threaten their control over your life, they seek to destroy it. They need to be the centre of attention at all times. In the idealisation phase, you were once the centre of a narcissist’s world – now the narcissist becomes the centre of yours.

Narcissists are also naturally pathologically envious and don’t want anything to come in between them and their influence over you. Your happiness represents everything they feel they cannot have in their emotionally shallow lives. After all, if you learn that you can get validation, respect and love from other sources besides the toxic person, what’s to keep you from leaving them? To toxic people, a little conditioning can go a long way to keeping you walking on eggshells and falling just short of your big dreams.

11. Smear campaigns and stalking.

When toxic types can’t control the way you see yourself, they start to control how others see you; they play the martyr while you’re labelled the toxic one. A smear campaign is a preemptive strike to sabotage your reputation and slander your name so that you won’t have a support network to fall back on lest you decide to detach and cut ties with this toxic person. They may even stalk and harass you or the people you know as a way to supposedly “expose” the truth about you; this exposure acts as a way to hide their own abusive behaviour while projecting it onto you.

Some smear campaigns can even work to pit two people or two groups against each other. A victim in an abusive relationship with a narcissist often doesn’t know what’s being said about them during the relationship, but they eventually find out the falsehoods shortly after they’ve been discarded.

Toxic people will gossip behind your back (and in front of your face), slander you to your loved ones or their loved ones, create stories that depict you as the aggressor while they play the victim, and claim that you engaged in the same behaviors that they are afraid you will accuse them of engaging in. They will also methodically, covertly and deliberately abuse you so they can use your reactions as a way to prove that they are the so-called “victims” of your abuse.

The best way to handle a smear campaign is to stay mindful of your reactions and stick to the facts. This is especially pertinent for high-conflict divorces with narcissists who may use your reactions to their provocations against you. Document any form of harassment, cyber bullying or stalking incidents and always speak to your narcissist through a lawyer whenever possible. You may wish to take legal action if you feel the stalking and harassment are getting out of control; finding a lawyer who is well-versed in Narcissistic Personality Disorder is crucial if that’s the case. Your character and integrity will speak for itself when the narcissist’s false mask begins to slip.

12. Love-bombing and devaluation.

Toxic people put you through an idealisation phase until you’re sufficiently hooked and invested in beginning a friendship or relationship with you. Then, they begin to devalue you while insulting the very things they admired in the first place. Another variation of this is when a toxic individual puts you on a pedestal while aggressively devaluing and attacking someone else who threatens their sense of superiority.

Narcissistic abusers do this all the time – they devalue their exes to their new partners, and eventually the new partner starts to receive the same sort of mistreatment as the narcissist’s ex-partner. Ultimately what will happen is that you will also be on the receiving end of the same abuse. You will one day be the ex-partner they degrade to their new source of supply. You just don’t know it yet. That’s why it’s important to stay mindful of the love-bombing technique whenever you witness behaviour that doesn’t align with the saccharine sweetness a narcissist subjects you to.

As life coach Wendy Powell suggests, slowing things down with people you suspect may be toxic is an important way of combating the love-bombing technique. Be wary of the fact that how a person treats or speaks about someone else could potentially translate into the way they will treat you in the future.

13. Preemptive defence.

When someone stresses the fact that they are a “nice guy” or girl, that you should “trust them” right away or emphasises their credibility without any provocation from you whatsoever, be wary.

Toxic and abusive people overstate their ability to be kind and compassionate. They often tell you that you should “trust” them without first building a solid foundation of trust. They may “perform” a high level of sympathy and empathy at the beginning of your relationship to dupe you, only to unveil their false mask later on. When you see their false mask begins to slip periodically during the devaluing phase of the abuse cycle, the true self is revealed to be terrifyingly cold, callous and contemptuous.

Genuinely nice people rarely have to persistently show off their positive qualities – they exude their warmth more than they talk about it and they know that actions speak volumes more than mere words. They know that trust and respect is a two-way street that requires reciprocity, not repetition.

To counter a preemptive defence, reevaluate why a person may be emphasising their good qualities. Is it because they think you don’t trust them, or because they know you shouldn’t? Trust actions more than empty words and see how someone’s actions communicate who they are, not who they say they are.

14. Triangulation.

Bringing in the opinions, perspectives or suggested threats of another person into the dynamic of an unconnected interaction is known as “triangulation.” Often triangulation can be used to validate the toxic person’s abuse while invalidating the victim’s reactions to abuse, triangulation can also work to manufacture love triangles that leave you feeling unhinged and insecure.

Malignant narcissists love to triangulate their significant other with strangers, co-workers, ex-partners, friends and even family members in order to evoke jealousy and uncertainty in you. They also use the opinions of others to validate their point of view.

This is a diversionary tactic meant to pull your attention away from their abusive behaviour and into a false image of them as a desirable, sought after person. It also leaves you questioning yourself – if Mary did agree with Tom, doesn’t that mean that you must be wrong? The truth is, narcissists love to “report back” falsehoods about others say about you, when in fact, they are the ones smearing you.

To resist triangulation tactics, realise that whoever the narcissist is triangulating with is also being triangulated by your relationship with the narcissist as well. Everyone is essentially being played by this one person. Reverse “triangulate” the narcissist by gaining support from a third party that is not under the narcissist’s influence – and also by seeking your own validation.

15. Bait and feign innocence.

Toxic individuals lure you into a false sense of security simply to have a platform to showcase their cruelty. Baiting you into a mindless, chaotic argument can escalate into a showdown rather quickly with someone who doesn’t know the meaning of respect. A simple disagreement may bait you into responding politely – initially – until it becomes clear that the person has a malicious motive of tearing you down.

By “baiting” you with a seemingly innocuous comment disguised as a rational one, they can then begin to play with you. Remember: narcissistic abusers have learned about your insecurities, the unsettling catchphrases that interrupt your confidence, and the disturbing topics that reenact your wounds – and they use this knowledge maliciously to provoke you. After you’ve fallen for it, hook line and sinker, they’ll stand back and innocently ask whether you’re “okay” and talk about how they didn’t “mean” to agitate you. This faux innocence works to catch you off guard and make you believe that they truly didn’t intend to hurt you until it happens so often you can’t deny the reality of their malice any longer.

It helps to realise when you’re being baited so you can avoid engaging altogether. Provocative statements, name-calling, hurtful accusations or unsupported generalisations, for example, are common baiting tactics. Your gut instinct can also tell you when you’re being baited – if you feel “off” about a certain comment and continue to feel this way even after it has been expanded on, that’s a sign you may need to take some space to reevaluate the situation before choosing to respond.

16. Boundary testing and hoovering.

Narcissists, sociopaths and otherwise toxic people continually try and test your boundaries to see which ones they can trespass. The more violations they’re able to commit without consequences, the more they’ll push the envelope.
That’s why survivors of emotional as well as physical abuse often experience even more severe incidents of abuse each and every time they go back to their abusers.

Abusers tend to ‘seduce’ their victims back in with sweet promises, fake remorse and empty words of how they are going to change, only to abuse their victims even more horrifically. In the abuser’s sick mind, this boundary testing serves as a punishment for standing up to the abuse and also for being going back to it. When narcissists try to press the emotional reset button, reinforce your boundaries even more strongly rather than backtracking on them.

Remember – highly manipulative people don’t respond to empathy or compassion. They respond to consequences.

17. Aggressive jabs disguised as jokes.

Covert narcissists enjoy making malicious remarks at your expense. These are usually dressed up as “just jokes” so that they can get away with saying appalling things while still maintaining an innocent, cool demeanour. Yet any time you are outraged at an insensitive, harsh remark, you are accused of having no sense of humour. This is a tactic frequently used in verbal abuse.

The contemptuous smirk and sadistic gleam in their eyes give it away, however – like a predator that plays with its food, a toxic person gains pleasure from hurting you and being able to get away with it. After all, it’s just a joke, right? Wrong. It’s a way to gaslight you into thinking their abuse is a joke – a way to divert from their cruelty and onto your perceived sensitivity. It is important that when this happens, you stand up for yourself and make it clear that you won’t tolerate this type of behaviour.

Calling out manipulative people on their covert put-downs may result in further gaslighting from the abuser but maintain your stance that their behaviour is not okay and end the interaction immediately if you have to.

18. Condescending sarcasm and patronising tone.

Belittling and degrading a person is a toxic person’s forte and their tone of voice is only one tool in their toolbox. Sarcasm can be a fun mode of communication when both parties are engaged, but narcissists use it chronically as a way to manipulate you and degrade you. If you in any way react to it, you must be “too sensitive.”

Forget that the toxic person constantly has temper tantrums every time their big bad ego is faced with realistic feedback – the victim is the hypersensitive one, apparently. So long as you’re treated like a child and constantly challenged for expressing yourself, you’ll start to develop a sense of hypervigilance about voicing your thoughts and opinions without reprimand. This self-censorship enables the abuser to put in less work in silencing you because you begin to silence yourself.

Whenever you are met with a condescending demeanour or tone, call it out firmly and assertively. You don’t deserve to be spoken down to like a child – nor should you ever silence yourself to meet the expectation of someone else’s superiority complex.

19. Shaming.

“You should be ashamed of yourself” is a favourite saying of toxic people. Though it can be used by someone who is non-toxic, in the realm of the narcissist or sociopath, shaming is an effective method that targets any behaviour or belief that might challenge a toxic person’s power. It can also be used to destroy and whittle away at a victim’s self-esteem: if a victim dares to be proud of something, shaming the victim for that specific trait, quality or accomplishment can serve to diminish their sense of self and stifle any pride they may have.

Malignant narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths enjoy using your own wounds against you – so they will even shame you about any abuse or injustice you’ve suffered in your lifetime as a way to retraumatize you. Were you a childhood abuse survivor? A malignant narcissist or sociopath will claim that you must’ve done something to deserve it or brag about their own happy childhood as a way to make you feel deficient and unworthy. What better way to injure you, after all, than to pick at the original wound? As surgeons of madness, they seek to exacerbate wounds, not help heal them.

If you suspect you’re dealing with a toxic person, avoid revealing any of your vulnerabilities or past traumas. Until they’ve proven their character to you, there is no point disclosing information that could be potentially used against you.

20. Control.

Most importantly, toxic abusers love to maintain control in whatever way they can. They isolate you, maintain control over your finances and social networks, and micromanage every facet of your life. Yet the most powerful mechanism they have for control is toying with your emotions.

That’s why abusive narcissists and sociopaths manufacture situations of conflict out of thin air to keep you feeling off centre and off balance. That’s why they chronically engage in disagreements about irrelevant things and rage over perceived slights. That’s why they emotionally withdraw, only to re-idealize you once they start to lose control. That’s why they vacillate between their false self and their true self, so you never get a sense of psychological safety or certainty about who your partner truly is.

The more power they have over your emotions, the less likely you’ll trust your own reality and the truth about the abuse you’re enduring. Knowing the manipulative tactics and how they work to erode your sense of self can arm you with the knowledge of what you’re facing and at the very least, develop a plan to regain control over your own life and away from toxic people.