How to Negotiate Boundaries

Sometimes I would rather bend myself into a different species completely, like a rubbery balloon dog, than have to confront anyone. There’s a belief floating in the ether: the more we put up with, the better, nicer, and stronger we are.

But watching our boundaries crumble around us, while others put out metaphorical cigarette butts on everything we hold dear, is a path that can only lead to illness. In When the Body Says No, Dr. Gabor Maté proposes that when we repeatedly suppress our experiences and our emotions to placate or protect others, our bodies find ways to express what we’ve buried. This can manifest as physical illness such as fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and even cancer. It can also present as mental health issues such as anxiety and major depression.

Asserting our needs is an essential and healthy part of self-care, just like brushing our teeth, listening to good music, and eating peanut butter straight from the jar. (Okay, maybe that last one’s not for everyone.) The trouble is, establishing and maintaining boundaries requires a good deal of communication, and much of that can seem overwhelmingly difficult. The following are some strategies I’ve found helpful when I need to make my needs known.

1. Give Yourself the Space to Feel Emotions Prior to Speaking 
It is challenging to feel assertive when we’re smoothing away a snot-bubble with a damp sleeve. It is also difficult to keep a conversation on track when we feel like smashing every hideous decorative plate we might see. Therefore, having a gulf of time to breathe, reflect, and really feel the emotions brought about by our conversational partner’s transgressions is essential. Whether it’s acknowledging the hurt caused by a partner repeatedly talking over us, feeling the flush of anger when a relative passive-aggressively judges our appearance, or experiencing the hot shame in the aftermath of a friend admonishing our parenting style, sitting with the discomfort of our emotions now will prepare us for a more productive conversation later. We should always aim to validate our own experiences. By doing this, we will be calmer and more confident when the  talking time comes, and we will experience less confusion about our feelings.

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The space you choose doesn’t need to be your therapist’s couch, but it can be. 

2. Create a Specific Goal
While we can’t predict the outcome of the conversation (we can’t stop anyone from rage-joining the military to spite us), we can prioritize what we want to say. If there is an issue because our partner isn’t spending enough time with us as we’d like, it would be unproductive to bring up that time they said they’d vacuum and then didn’t. In general, we should aim to keep our conversations related to one issue at a time, and we should avoid speaking just to make a point. The other reason to keep our goals clear and narrow, is that it will give the other person less leeway to bring in their own unrelated grievances (“Yeah, but in high school you—”).

Having a specific goal in mind will also save us if our conversational partner happens to have dramatic tendencies. Sometimes, when people get defensive, they throw any kind of soap operatic plot twist to derail the conversation and manipulate us.

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“You can’t call me out! I’ve got knots in my legs! Also, I’m a literal chew toy! From space!

3. Frame Issues from Your Perspective
We can try to guess what our friend was thinking when they showed up at our house at three in the morning, half-cut and with a fever of one-hundred-and-four, but it is best if we simply presume not to know. Trying to label our conversational partner’s feelings for them is futile. Instead, we should frame things by explaining how their actions affect us. Granted, these kinds of statements are squarely in Dr. Phil’s neighbourhood, but he’s not wrong. We can only know ourselves, (and even then, the waters can get fairly murky). Therefore, it is more useful to say, “I feel hurt and embarrassed when you mock my laughter in front of your friends,” than “look, I know you want to seem funny by putting me down, but fuck you sincerely.” (Although that last one can feel damn good to fantasize about.)

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How I frame everything. 

4. Be Clear
That being said, it is important to avoid sugarcoating the issue. If we’re not used to confronting someone about their behaviour, we might be tempted to use diminutive words  to qualify our experiences and make ourselves seem smaller and unimportant. These include words such as “maybe”, “a little bit”, “kind of”, and “a tad”. For instance, saying, “Hey, uh, it sort of bothers me a little when you wipe some of your boogers on some of my furniture sometimes,” sends an ambiguous message, like maybe it’s okay if this person continues to wipe their smallest boogers under your table, as long as you aren’t looking. It’s normal to want to be seen as a nice person, but there will be people out there who will paint any assertion we have as a villainous and evil affront to their way of life. It is therefore better to take the plunge and say what we mean, even if we have to be Senator Palpatine in their mucus-glazed eyes.

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This plant is the only thing as prickly and villainous as I am.

5. Know When to Listen and When to Walk Away
In a healthy exchange, our conversational partner will likely have some valuable feedback. They might explain their reasoning, ask questions, and becoming active in understanding our boundaries. They might negotiate, and this too can be productive, as long as it is done respectfully and with our mutual wellbeing in mind. Conversations like these are challenging and require us to remain calm and open, but they are ultimately conducive to the goal we’ve established. As long as the person is not derailing our experiences by being deflective or defensive, or downright mean, it can be beneficial to us to listen to their side.

However, if our conversational partner makes excuses for their behaviour, speaks aggressively, tries to intimidate us with threats or by breaking stuff, or calls us names, it is time to pack up our little hopes and dreams and get precisely the hell out of their line of fire. Depending on the severity of their reaction, we may choose not to interact with this person again. Sometimes a boundary might mean not interacting with a toxic person at all. This is often easier said than done. For instance, if this person happens to be the joint parent of our children, or our boss, it may be difficult to ignore them. But wherever possible, we should aim to cut toxic people from our lives, because this will enable us to be better friends, partners, parents, and employees in the long run.

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This is precisely where some relationships belong.

6. Know When to Exchange Apologies
By now, we should have had time to reflect upon and understand the situation leading to our difficult conversation. It is important to be honest with ourselves: did we mess up? If so, giving an apology will show good will and demonstrate our willingness to work things out with our conversational partner. But if not? Unnecessary apologies can be every bit as damaging as withholding a warranted “sorry”. In the same way using words like “maybe”, and “just a bit”, can make our statements fall flat, unnecessary apologies will obscure our message. We shouldn’t apologize for someone else’s behaviour, nor should we apologize about having feelings or healthy boundaries. “I’m sorry you think I’m ugly, Grandma, but I wish you wouldn’t make rude comments about me”, is not helpful because it removes Grandma’s responsibility to cop to her shitty behaviour.

We should also note that some apologies are not worth accepting. If our conversational partner says, “I’m sorry, but here’s a string of excuses and also you’re not perfect either, you know”, then we can politely tell them to swallow that sorry because it has less meaning than a bile-filled bubble of a burp. (More politely than that, probably.)

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This isn’t so constructive.

7. Make a Plan
We’ve made it through our main talking points, listened to our conversational partner’s feedback, and exchanged sincere apologies if they were warranted. Now we can ask questions such as, “can we agree not to talk politics at work?” or, “will you keep comments about my parenting to yourself from now on?” This gets closure on the issue, and ensures we have a mutual understanding of our expectations going forward. These closing statements are the last big cringey thing we need to say before we can stop feeling like hack lawyers and get back to the business of maintaining our refurbished boundaries.

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I’ve got my planner ready, now all I need is your continued respect. 

8. Treat Yourself
That was a difficult experience, and if we’re still shaking from the adrenaline of asking for basic respect, we should definitely do something nice for ourselves. This can take the form of a night out with friends, a trip to the movies, or a solid chunk of brown sugar. The important thing is that we feel relaxed and comforted — we stuck up for ourselves and didn’t take anyone’s crap today.

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I often treat myself by looking deep into this silly creature’s eyes. 

When our guts twist and we feel the hot emotions of hurt, it is important that we become aware of our feelings. By acknowledging this, we can become our own best advocates and share our concerns with others in a clear and personal way. This ultimately ensures that we are building relationships with people who genuinely care about our wellbeing.

 

How to be Alone

For many of us, the difference between isolation and solitude is more than a simple matter of semantics. Solitude is often a choice — the peaceful walk in the woods, or the quiet morning meditation. It’s Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in which he builds a cabin near a lake and proceeds to live there for two years and two months. Solitude is that treasured time we take alone to reflect and learn about ourselves.

Isolation, meanwhile, is often thrust upon us, and research shows that it can actually be physically painful to experience. (This explains why “not fitting in” in high school was such a wretched experience.) Human beings are social creatures who depend on connection. We need to understand and to feel understood. Due to different circumstances, however, we may not always have the amount of human interaction we need. While living like this is not ideal (in fact, social isolation can lead to mental illness and premature death), there are ways to minimize the suffering we feel, should we find ourselves in an isolating situation.

1. Reach out However you can
It is somewhat fashionable to bemoan the advent of social media and online video games as the End of Real Human Interaction™. Political cartoons and satirical websites are rife with images depicting couples at dinner glued to their phones, or children swiping away their childhoods on the touch-screen du jour. While the debate on whether and when to unplug certainly has merit, we should be cautious not to glorify too much the “good old days” where we had to show up at a friend’s doorstep in order to share the latest gossip. (Some things never change.)

For those of us in difficult geographical circumstances (all of us astronauts, for instance), and those of us with physical or mental disabilities, being able to plug into online communities brings about some relief. For example, because of my ongoing battle with depression, it’s not always possible for me to get dressed and zip over to my much-beloved friends’ houses. When simply getting out of bed presents a challenge, I’m grateful to be able to chat and even laugh with a friend on social media.

In large, anonymous cities in which we hitch a ride on a subway with strangers, sit at a desk for eight hours, and come home to an empty apartment, we may also find some respite in our Twitter feeds.

Ideally, we would all hang out and hug and talk about Star Wars in person, but sometimes we are presented with less-than-ideal circumstances. My point is, don’t let purists talk you out of opportunities to connect. If it’s all you can do right now, pick up that phone and ‘like’ your friend’s picture. You’ll feel better.

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Like this plastic tree limb, branch out. 

2. Keep Busy
When we think of survival movies, we’re often presented with characters who use their time in isolating situations to make and reach goals. A recent example of this can be seen in the book-turned-movie, The Martian, in which an astronaut left behind on Mars gets really busy doing math and planting potatoes.

In real life, CBC News journalist Melissa Fung was abducted in Afghanistan in 2008. She was kept in a hole underground and watched by her captors, whom, obviously, could not have been the best company. To survive this ordeal, Fung made plans about her future. She planned a dinner party, she planned what she would do when she got back to Canada.

Moments of isolation require us to make plans and keep busy as much as we can. With mental illness, this can be a real challenge: how do you make goals when you have no motivation? It’s hard, but everyones’ goals will be different. If all we can do is shower and make breakfast, then we can start there. Circumstances are always changing; what is challenging today might not be as difficult tomorrow.

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The busiest guy in my house.

3. Watch Movies, Read Books, Listen to Music
Speaking of keeping busy, getting a start on that “books-to-read” list is a great way of going about this. While some might argue that books, movies, and music simply present ways of numbing the pain of isolation by offering distractions, there’s likely more to it than that.

When a movie makes us cheer for the protagonists, a book presents us with characters so real they feel like friends, or a song makes us shaky-shoulder sob (I’m looking at you, Adele), we’re experiencing the emotions we feel when we have a human interaction. The magic of art, is that we get to find those kindred spirits and as a result, we feel less alone. As a teenager, during my most painfully lonely time (and, I suspect, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way), I found solace in songs about misfits and books and movies, like Ghost World, about strange girls who skip town. So find the art that speaks to your soul, and hit repeat.

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What better reason to read comics?

4. Make Non-Human Friends
A few weeks ago, I was waiting for the bus in my hometown (trivia: I don’t drive), and a woman in a hot pink toque with a shopping cart full of Walmart bags sat beside me and started up a conversation, as friendly people waiting for buses in smallish towns sometimes do. The conversation was standard post-holiday small talk, until we somehow veered onto the subject of her guinea pigs. She informed me on the multi-generational commune of guinea pigs she took care of. Their cage, apparently, took over half of her living room. She was able to train them — one of them earned a certificate because he could literally jump through hoops. Lady, if you’re out there, I would love to see a video.

Peoples’ eyes light up when they talk about their pets. This isn’t surprising, when we consider that the chemicals we release when we hug a loved one or, in fact, give birth, the same ones we release when cuddling up to our pets. That dose of fuzzy-wuzzy feel-good cocktail can be therapeutic when we feel alone.

And when buying and caring for a traditional pet isn’t an option, we can always get creative. Plants, apart from decorating a room and purifying the air we breathe, can also give us the feeling we crave in a symbiotic relationship. Caring for a plant and watching it grow just feels good.

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Seen here: my humiliated Spaniel and my smirking sister.

5. Enjoy your own Company
Let’s cut to the core of it: this won’t be easy if we’re constantly berating ourselves about not being _____ enough. Who wants to spend time with an asshole who won’t shut up about our weight, our lack of productivity, our undesirability, and our giggle-snorts?

Self-acceptance takes time and practice. We have to gently retrain our minds, like so many cute puppies peeing on the carpet, to speak to ourselves the way we would speak to a loved one. But it’s a practice that’s well worth the effort. When we’re able to hang out in our own heads without criticism and instead with encouraging thoughts and rational suggestions for improvement, we edge closer from the pain of isolation to the peace of solitude. We can’t always control our circumstances, but we can decide to cut ourselves a break and say something nice for a change.

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Fear not the gratuitous selfies. 

If you’re feeling isolated right now, take heed: you’re not alone, and this situation won’t last forever. If you can, reach out to someone— however you can muster it. Make plans for your future. Find friends in books, movies, music, and meet some friendly plants and animals. Above all, treat yourself like the worthy and worthwhile person that you are.

How to Stop Procrastinating

It’s not even that we don’t want to do it. Sometimes the things we procrastinate are actually kind of enjoyable—once we get going, that is. Regardless, we’re all faced with tasks that feel like a chore, and they’re somehow able to make us incredibly productive in other areas. Isn’t it strange how past-due paperwork can spur a deep clean of the kitchen? And the reverse can also happen, where the stack of dishes becomes the harbinger of brilliant creative projects. The following is a list of tips to try to clear the clutter and get to the task at hand.

1. Make Yourself  a List
To-do lists are a particularly wonderful tool for those of us prone to anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed and overloaded. They provide us with a way to compartmentalize our tasks, so that we can stop swimming in a great soup of stuff, and start seeing a nice, linear outline. They work for pretty much any sort of task.
For instance, household chores are easy to scribble down and stick on the fridge. But even our long-term, more complex goals can be broken down into a series of steps. Those big where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years questions can be tracked in a journal of neat lists. The key is to break them down into palatable portions. (Sort of like tearing up bits of lettuce to prevent a leafy green overdose.) Recently, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and the experience was rife with the opportunity to procrastinate. The idea of writing a novel of at least 50 000 words, complete with plot, characters, and of course, legible sentences, was so daunting that I questioned my ability to get it done.However, as soon as I had a list complete with daily quotas and targets, I found it much easier to get to work.

How can you break your tasks up? To which tasks do you give priority? It can also be helpful to include rewards at this point. Likely, crossing items from a to-do list will provide a little dopamine rush from your brain’s pleasure centre, but if you’re really struggling with something, make sure you treat yourself afterwards.

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How will I manage to get through all six tasks?

2. Clear up your Environment
Even the most prolific among us would struggle to get stuff done in a place with too much stimuli, but that doesn’t mean we all have the same ideal work environment. Some of us crave the minimalist room with a simple desk and chair, and some of us need the espresso-and-Michael-Bubblé background sounds of coffee shops to get in our zone. It’s good to be flexible: we can’t always work in our ideal spaces, and we can’t allow that to inhibit our work flow. (But wouldn’t we love to use that as an excuse sometimes?)

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of putting on the right soundtrack. Personally, I’m a fan of ambient music and instrumental tracks when I need to focus. That way, I don’t get sidetracked by provocative lyrics. (And I’m less prone to chair-dancing.)

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Meet me on the dance floor!

3. Do your Creativity Ritual
If it feels wrong to get to work without a hot cup of coffee or a protein shake, then by all means, bottoms up! Being productive is not about deprivation, after all—no need to flagellate oneself when the task at hand already feels like torture.

If anxiety is the issue (and with procrastination, it often is), then get some air. It’s perfectly fine to get a stroll in, as long as the stroll doesn’t become a cross-country attempt to escape the impending deadline. More tips on getting a creativity ritual can be found here.

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My ritual is to play every single game my boyfriend owns before I can work.

4. Try Some Different Methods
I have a friend who uses a wonderful strategy to get her work done. She sets a timer and works hard for 25 minutes, and then takes a 5 minute break to check her emails and give her brain a rest. This technique is one among many others, all of which suggest different ratios of work and rest. (Some call for 90 minutes of work with a 15 minute break, and of course, there is the classic schedule that retail workers are familiar with in which two 15 minute breaks and one half-hour break pepper their 8 hour work day.) The idea is that we may be less prone to burning out, particularly on tasks which we’re not passionate about, if we give our brains and bodies time to rest.

On the other hand, it’s nice to give ourselves the opportunity to get into that strange feeling of “flow” — that feeling where time ceases to exist because we’re so enveloped in the task at hand. There could be a garden-gnome rebellion in full swing, and we wouldn’t even lift our heads.

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Oh, I know you aren’t so innocent.

5. Don’t Make Excuses
I apologize sincerely for making this point, because as a fellow procrastinator, I know it’s not something we like to hear. After all, these are the words that every nagging person has ever uttered in our presence, and they’re almost always the words we tell ourselves deep in the recesses of our critical minds.

But alas, sometimes we just need to get ‘er done. Start small or start big, but start somewhere.

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Take a deep breath and get it done. I believe in you.

How To Survive Depression

(I would like to start with two quick disclaimers. The first: if you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts and you’re reading this, take a moment and reach out for help. Call 1-800-SUICIDE, visit suicide.org for a list of International hotlines, or call 911. You are worth it, they do have time for you, and I will be waiting here when you get back. Second disclaimer: the advice in this guide is based upon my own knowledge and experiences, and I am not a certified health professional. Okay, here we go.)

What is the image that comes to mind when one thinks of the word ‘Depression’? It is often characterized as a void, as darkness, the downward spiral, a veil, and a black cloud. Winston Churchill described his own depression as a black dog. Personally, when my depression is milder, I picture it as shapeless body sitting heavy on my shoulders. When I’m falling into a deeper depression, the image of tumbling down a rabbit hole à la Alice in Wonderland comes to mind, in which I am clawing at clods of dirt to stop the seemingly inevitable plunge towards an unknown bottom. Finally, in the deepest recesses of my experienced depression, I am in another dimension, separate from those I love. Though we may sit together in the same living room, I am trapped neck-down in a swamp of tar, elsewhere.

All this is to say that ‘depression’ is actually quite a broad term that encompasses a variety of different states. One may experience depression as part of the grieving process following the death of a loved one, or in the aftermath of a life-altering event. Just as often, others experience depression for no apparent “reason”, which is why the question “why are you depressed?” so often cannot yield a satisfactory answer. The following tips are applicable to all levels and types of depression, however, the effectiveness may vary by person, state of mind, and circumstance. Also note that surviving depression is an ongoing effort for many people, myself included, but that’s not to say there won’t be those transcendental moments replete with meaning that gives life its lovely sheen. We’re never permanently condemned to a single state of mind, or, phrased in another way: This too shall pass.

1. Get your Basics Covered 
Unless we’re living in circumstances in which we have little or no control over resources, it’s crucial to eat, drink, and sleep. Sounds obvious, right? But with depression, these basic human needs can me sometimes hard to acknowledge, let alone act upon. Eating often requires cooking meals, which sometimes requires more effort than we can muster. When possible, we can call on friends and family to help in this task. If we’re living alone, it’s okay to resort to simple meals. While the adequate intake of food groups and vitamins can go a long ways towards feeling better, sometimes we go through phases in which pasta and tomato sauce is all we can come up with. That’s okay. This state of mind is not a permanent one; they never are. For fluids, water is of course, important. I often forget to consume an adequate amount, so I’ve taken to bringing a cup or bottle with me wherever I go. Finally, sleep can be tricky in that with depression, it’s easy to get too much or too little, and sometimes, paradoxically, both. Personally, I am prone to ruminating throughout the night, and if I’m not careful, I can sleep away the day. To quell the brain-chatter that keeps me awake, I’ve found it useful to listen to audiobooks as I fall asleep. You can access free audiobooks of classic literature in the public domain. And if you need that midday nap, go ahead and take it. You aren’t hurting anybody.

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Not my finest culinary moment.

2. Never be Afraid to Get Help
This is such a crucial step, and it is also one of the hardest to take. Why? Perhaps we live in a society that still values certain stoicism, especially in the workplace. We still equate the need for help as a weakness, especially those of us wrestling with concepts of strength and masculinity. Furthermore, depression has a sneaky way of sapping our self esteem. Why should a therapist or doctor care about my problems when someone else may have it far worse? We may ask ourselves these types of questions, convincing ourselves that our problems, and our lives are not worth seeking help for. These are false beliefs. I know this for a few reasons: the first is that if someone came to me and confided their feelings of depression, I would absolutely be inclined to help in whatever way I could, regardless if this person was a stranger or a friend. I believe most people want to help others. The other reason, is that I’ve called suicide hotlines several times, and each time I have been greeted with kindness and support. I’ve talked with doctors and therapists who have also been helpful. And it’s not because my problems are more worthy than anyone else’s, that’s just what the professionals are there for.
If a doctor prescribes a medication to alleviate symptoms of depression, listen to their expertise. Medications can be a valuable asset in getting better. The only thing to watch out for is self-medication, or medications recommended by people who are not professionals, or who have no scientific merit. By this I mean not following the dosages correctly, using street drugs and excess alcohol, and also buying into “snake oils” that haven’t been tested or proven.

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Before you make any calls, it might be necessary to google how these suckers work.

3. Acknowledge What is Co-Occuring
When depression throws itself a party, complete with black balloons and a sludgy cake, it makes sure the guest list is a long one. So it’s actually quite common to have depression and something else. For instance, one could have depression with another mental illness, such as anxiety disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Bipolar Disorder, to name a few. Likewise, depression can manifest itself as a buddy to all sorts of physical disabilities as well. Having awareness about some of these issues will help in the process of healing and of establishing ones’ needs. This will also help family and friends, because when we are able to understand what we need, we are in a better position to ask for it. As an example, my depression is best friends with my anxiety, and this sometimes manifests in a panic attack. Because I know about the underlying anxiety, I can ask my family to tell me exactly what I need to hear. Sometimes it’s just getting a different perspective that can alleviate anxiety, which in turn slightly lessens the burden of depression.

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Pictured: me in full panic mode.

4. Exercise if Possible
I say “if possible”, because sometimes due to physical or emotional conditions, it isn’t. There’s no denying the wealth of information supporting exercise as an effective therapy in dealing with depression, even if it’s light stretching and a walk around the block. Whenever possible, physical activity should be considered, but if it can’t be managed for whatever reason, don’t beat yourself up. The last thing a person with depression needs is another reason to feel bad and/or guilty. Again, this state of mind is not forever. If one can’t do yoga today, one can try to do it tomorrow.

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I’m fairly certain that gardening plastic plants isn’t exercise.

5. Be Gentle
While there is usually little harm in pushing oneself to make that soup or take that walk, it’s important to acknowledge that our condition does affect us in certain ways. For instance, we may not be able to complete activities or assignments at the same pace as classmates or coworkers. We may not go to as many social gatherings, or we may not stay out as long. This is okay, there is no rule that says one must function at 110% capacity in spite of depression. Taking longer than others to complete a task does not make us less talented or less capable. (Also, I suspect that everyone kind of goes at their own pace, whether they’re willing to admit it or not.) Use kind words and encourage yourself, rather than resorting to verbal beatings. Your health and wellbeing is what matters most.

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Treat yourself as you would treat this little guy.

6. Find Meaning in Whatever Ways you can
Viennese psychiatrist Viktor Frankl pioneered a movement in psychology which underlines the importance of finding purpose in our lives. This incredible man survived German concentration camps during WWII by plotting and planning his future, and thinking about his love for his wife. We humans can survive the most arduous times, and Frankl suggests that we do this by finding the concrete meaning of our lives.
This is no easy task when one is depressed however. We tend to lose all sense of perspective. We ruminate on the past, we dread the future (what if it’s more of the same?), we ache in the present. And yet, it’s possible, even in our darkest moments of suffering, to cling to our purpose. It doesn’t have to be grandiose; we may not have the energy to imagine a glittering future full of accomplishments and accolades. But maybe there’s the person we love deeply and want to spare of the suffering they would undergo if we left them. Maybe we have an animal friend in our care who relies on us. Maybe there’s that story we need to tell, or a person we need to help. Maybe it’s a pervasive curiosity to find out what happens next. All reasons to survive are good reasons. We can adapt and change them as we go, because our conditions and circumstances will change as well. For more tips and ideas, visit the post on How to Create Meaning. 

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Your purpose could be to solve this damn thing for me. 

These tips are the things that have helped me survive my depression. It’s not been easy, and I have wanted more than once to give everything up, but I’ve also had many spectacular moments in the midst of everything. My hope is that, if you feel depressed and are struggling with suicidal thoughts, you will find that acorn of courage and strength we all possess inside and reach out. You are and always will be worthy of survival.

 

 

 

How To Deal with Bigoted Family Members

It’s strange, isn’t it? A relative can be the picture of kindness: they may volunteer for meaningful causes and donate money to charity, provide us with hugs and encouragement, and give us heartfelt birthday gifts, only to turn around and spew hatred against groups that aren’t “like them.” This may come in the form of jokes or mistaken beliefs, the use of language (such as mentioning what ethnicity a driver appears to be when it has no bearing to their story), or a more upfront, sweeping statement about a group of people. It can be difficult to reconcile the love we feel for our family while becoming increasingly aware of their un-lovable prejudices. The following is a list of ways to troubleshoot dealing with family members who have bigoted opinions. If number 1 doesn’t work, we may proceed to number 2, and so on. But one word of advice: know your own values. There is no single right way to go about doing this, and much of it will depends on what you find important in your life. Good luck!

1. Consider Yourself and Consider Them
The most crucial step when evaluating anyone’s behaviour is this old nugget: put yourself in their shoes. After all, not all bigoted opinions are created equal. One person may simply be unaware that they are using a slur when they speak with enthusiasm about their “G*psy lifestyle.” This is very different than say, the great-uncle who’s convinced there is such a thing as the “homosexual agenda” and consistently spits venom about it. It’s also important to realize that we may have our own bigoted beliefs; even though we may have the most open of minds, it’s hard not to internalize certain opinions. We are, after all, partly products of our society. To give you an example, in high school I was actually quite anti-feminist: I considered other girls and women to be my competition, I believed that I wasn’t like “other girls”, and I thought that traditionally “feminine” behaviours or hobbies were beneath me. Luckily, I eventually learned the error of my ways. The same can be possible for family members with bigoted opinions. Are they affected by internalized misogyny, racism, and homophobia? Are they unaware of their prejudices? Are they acting out of fear, because the world is quickly changing around them, and they just can’t seem to keep up? The answers will help you determine whether they are willing to change or not. Remember your own humble beginnings as well: no one is perfect.

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I’ll gladly put myself in these particular shoes…

2. Ask a lot of Questions
Suppose you aren’t sure how deep the bigotedness goes? A good way to test the waters is by asking a lot of questions. And this has an added bonus: asking questions will give the person the opportunity to examine their own beliefs (though whether or not they actually do this is up to them). For instance, suppose a relative makes a joke at the expense of an ethnic group. Not cute, right? Depending on how they are, they may either expect to elicit a laugh or get a rise. But what if you don’t play into their game? Instead, ask them: “I don’t get it — why is that funny?” They will either dole out an awkward explanation, a sheepish “never mind”, or, if they’re feeling bold, they may delve into a disturbing diatribe about why it is, in fact, funny. Either way, you now have a better idea about what you’re dealing with, without being complicit in their prejudice. Asking people to explain why they hold certain beliefs is another good option: “Why do you think that?” Playing the ingenue will let the person’s bigoted opinions stand out for what they really are: nonsensical and unfounded.

bigotblog2
Families can be tough…

3. Model Appropriate Behaviour
This step is always important, and hopefully it can become one’s default mode of being. Especially during family reunions, when there may be impressionable children or youth that may actually have a well-defined sense of right versus wrong, but, because of their deference to authority, may feel voiceless in expressing their opinions. It becomes important to be the person who speaks fairly. We can model appropriate behaviour by catching those mis-spoken stories and re-framing them: “Then the lady doctor did x”,  becomes “And what did the doctor do next?” We can also gently report facts: “Actually, that’s a common misconception, the majority of Indigenous people in Canada do pay taxes.” Note that indisputable facts are most effective here; there is often little point in offering a different opinion, as the person will be an expert in giving their own opinions. If, after giving the person a few facts to mull over and a period of time to do so, they still resort to parading their bigoted beliefs, realize that it is not merely ignorance that you are facing, now. This person does not want to modify their beliefs because it serves them somehow. Likely, their beliefs give them a false sense of superiority, security, morality, or intelligence. Furthermore, it may be the unfortunate case that if the person happens to be older, they may use this as “evidence” that you are simply naive and uneducated about the ways in which the world really works. Older people often do have wisdom, but this does not preclude them from mistaken beliefs and feelings of hatred towards others.

bigotblog3e
This robot is the ideal model for positive behaviour, but his cuddly side does leave something to be desired. 

4. Set Boundaries
Suppose we have tried all of the preceding steps to no avail. We’re still assaulted with a barrage of homophobic monologues during our visits. The next step is to set boundaries, for ourselves and our sanity, for the aforementioned children exposed to these toxic viewpoints, and for, in this particular example, our LGBTQ friends who may not be present but who would be saddened or hurt by these remarks. We must not allow hatred to fester, and we can do this by telling our relatives statements such as: “I love coming over and visiting you, but these remarks are really starting to make me feel sad/hurt/frustrated/, and I would appreciate if we could talk about something else.” Or, “let’s not spoil this dinner by talking politics!” Or, “In our house, we’ve decided to love and accept everybody equally, and we would appreciate if you would respect this while you’re here.” Doing this takes courage: despite your best intentions and your most gentle demeanour, you may anger or offend your relative (sometimes people are offended because they feel ashamed), but if this is the case, recognize that their reaction is more about themselves than about you. Weigh it out and decide what’s more important to you.

bigotblog4e
Please leave your racist monologues on the other side of this line. 

5. Give an Ultimatum
Generally, I am not a proponent of ultimatums, especially when we are not sincere or serious about them. Often they are used to heighten the drama of a situation without providing a real solution. But supposing we’ve tried all of the other steps here and our relative still decides to be disrespectful, it may be time to pull this out. You can put it in writing; sometimes it’s easier to say something difficult without being interrupted or being at the mercy of our possible lack of verbal proficiency. But there is no one right way to do this. It may look something like this: “I have asked you several times not to do X while we are visiting, because it makes me feel like Y. I feel like if this were to continue, we might have to shorten/call off/eliminate our visits.”

bigotblog6e
Don’t use this as a template. 

6. Distance Yourself
Oh boy, still nothing? We may have to ask ourselves how much our relative really cares about our feelings at this point. Are they saying things to aggravate us because it’s somehow funny to them? Are they showing us any goodwill or respect for our feelings? Even after we’ve explained to them the damage this inflicts on our relationships? If it seems more important to them to have their racist spiels, sexist jokes, homophobic rants, and hateful diatribes, it may be worth asking ourselves a very difficult question: is this the kind of person we want in our lives? This may be painful, but perhaps it is necessary. For example, the lesbian woman who has the aunt that continuously denigrates what she call her “lifestyle choices”, may be making a healthy choice by distancing herself from a person who is consistently hurting her. Again, there is no rules about when and how to do this. What one person tolerates may be different for someone else. But sometimes it can be better to handpick our families and fill them with people who love and support us for who we are.

bigotblog5
Ah, peace at last. 

While we will almost always have disagreements and arguments with family members, some of them are more serious than others. We must know ourselves and our own values, and take the appropriate steps to act upon them. Wherever possible, we should seek to promote education and tolerance among those closest to us. We can do this by first considering where they come from, model appropriate behaviour, and correct their mistaken assumptions with facts. When all else fails, we must resort to what is healthiest for ourselves.

How to Create Meaning

Sometimes we feel like we’re the object in our lives, rather than the subject. We feel as though the forces in life act upon us, leaving us with little or no agency. My friend has an interesting way of putting this; he said he sometimes feels as though he’s a plinking about in a pinball machine. Combine this with the common phrases “life is short”, “time flies”, and “where did the years go?” and we are left with the impression that we’re rapidly falling through time, trying to clutch at anything that might give us meaning. Of course, another way of going about this is to create meaning for ourselves. It might not slow down the ride, but it will give us the agency to clear our own path. And when we look back, we’ll see a series of accomplishments (and setbacks) rather than the arbitrary, blinding momentum of a pinball. So how do we do this?

 1. Know Thyself
All of those visionaries, like Charles Darwin, Michelangelo, and J.K. Rowling (let’s be honest) seem to have one thing in common: passion. But how does one know what one’s passionate about? For some, it’s an obvious inclination towards a particular subject, but for others, it may be harder to know. What if one likes a little bit of everything? The best way to go about knowing for sure might be to interview oneself, like a journalist would. It is important to note that we are never too old to try this exercise, as it is never to late to discover our passion. To interview oneself, one requires a little bit of time alone, and a notebook or a sound or video recorder. Simply jot down the questions or answers, or record them to listen to later on. The following are some of the questions I asked myself to figure out: just what does this meat-bag want out of life?

  • What activities bring me the most joy?
  • What do I value most?
  • What are my feelings about family and money?
  • What’s possible for me to accomplish in my life?
  • What will my legacy be, and what do I want it to be?
  • Do I trust myself? Why or why not?

These questions help bring some of our deeper assumptions about life to the forefront. Hopefully, by thinking about the things that bring us joy — those things we do even when we don’t always feel like it — we can pinpoint the thing we want to focus on. And this can be anything. It could be a creative endeavour, but it can just as well be to start or take care of a family, to learn about a certain subject, to be a business mogul. There are no wrong answers during this activity.

createmeaning4
Only you know the answers.

2. Don’t Judge
After asking these questions, one might be skeptical about the answers. Suppose you find out that you’re the most passionate and happiest while making dog sweaters (that’s adorable). This may not be what you wanted to find out. We’re often cornered by societal pressures and told to aspire to amass money and, if possible, power. Society tends to reward certain ambitions and disregard others. Combine this with the pressure one often feels from family “we just want the best for you, really,” and we’ve got a recipe ripe for ignoring our passion and striving for something that ultimately doesn’t suit us. The end result is that we may satisfy our most basic needs, but we will remain strangely empty, or unfulfilled. The solution is filter out this influence, and we do this by starting with ourselves. No matter what our passion might be, if it makes us happy then we should trust it. Of course, we will still have restraints and responsibilities that may require us to do a little bit of juggling, and in some scenarios we may feel like we’re taking a bit of a risk. But, as they say, “life is short.”

browniespider
In another life, my foremost passion is dressing my dog as a superhero.

3. Let go of Excuses
Those pesky things that stand in our way are more often than not excuses of our own creation. We can be very good at limiting our potential by posing barriers. This happens for a variety of reasons; chief among them is usually fear of failure. What if you give it your all and you’re actually terrible at it? The thing is, following one’s passion is not a one shot deal. It’s a practice; something you get to come back to and explore and perfect. Other common excuses are lack of time and lack of resources. In most cases, some clever brainstorming will solve these issues. The truth is, we will never have time unless we juggle and shift our lives around to create it. There are, of course, some legitimate reasons that could stand in our way, and these may include illness and unforeseen tragedies. Usually, we can determine whether a reason is legitimate or an self-made excuse by demanding an honest answer from ourselves.

createmeaning1
Sorry, I can’t today, my couch has something really important to tell me. 

4. Embrace Setbacks
Speed bumps are inevitable. Some of our setbacks will be devastating, and others will simply leave a bad taste. The only sure thing is that they will happen. It is tempting to put a positive spin on this, to try desperately to claw for a silver lining, somewhere. It’s often said, after all, that one door closes and another opens. But this often leaves us wondering where that damn other door could possible be. Sometimes these things just suck. Where there’s a lesson, we can try to learn it, and if not, the trick is to get up and move on. There may not be another open door, but we can kick down a wall.

createmeaning3edit
Charge against those speed bumps! (Not literally when you’re driving, though. Slow down.)

5. Stay the course
Once we’ve bulldozed our way through a setback, we need to adopt an attitude that will ensure that we get up and do it again. And again. Some may be tempted to call this motivation, and inspiration, but those twins are fickle, fair-weather friends that will only show up on certain special occasions (such as upcoming deadlines, for instance). We need tenacity and determination. These are vague concepts, but they can come in the shape of reminders such as repeating the question “what do I want my legacy to be?” They could be brief glances in a rearview mirror: look how far we’ve already come. Or, it may be a case of just gritting our teeth and getting through the day. Usually, once we start the task, we feel a sense of fulfilment and relief, which encourages us to get through the next day, and the day after that.

createmeaning2edit
Brave those seas!

6. Create Accountability
This is an optional step, but it can be very helpful to create a venue for oneself in which we can showcase our efforts and our progress. For many people, myself included, blogs can be a useful tool. Not only do they give us the opportunity to display a multitude of different talents, from cooking and art, to business advice, they also allow us to create deadlines that help keep us on track. Furthermore, it gives people an opportunity to give us feedback, which can be useful when we hone our skills.

blogception
It’s blog-ception, or, my way of staying accountable. 

Hopefully these steps will provide a bit of guidance and a boost of courage. Following ones’ passion takes a bit of guts, but that bit of apprehension might be well worth it once you look back and see the path you’ve forged for yourself.

How To Cope with Rejection

The missing breath, the blood pounding in one’s temples, the terrible feelings of inadequacy—these are all common in the aftermath of a rejection. And there are many kinds of rejection: from not landing the job, to break-ups, to those letters stating thanks, but no thanks. Rejections are inevitable, and they seem to tell us we’re not good enough. For instance, in high school I was palpably awkward, and I decided the best course of action to woo an older boy I was interested in would be to ask him on a lunch date, point blank. In front of all of his friends. I didn’t speak loudly enough for him to hear me the first time, so I was forced to repeat myself, which caused more of his friends to perk up and listen. And the he laughed. He said: uh no, I don’t think so. And I stood there, under the glow of his friends’ grins, unsure of what to say. I wanted to disappear, or at the very least, move to a different country. Since then, I’ve worked tremendously on my social graces, and although I still consider myself to be an awkward person, I can cope with rejection a little more easily. The following are a few pointers on how to do just that.

1. Don’t Take it Personally
This is easier said than done. But sometimes we can get so caught up that initial feeling of failure and inadequacy that we forget that it’s not us as a person being rejected. Rather, in the case of a job, perhaps it’s our resume that wasn’t on point, or perhaps we have been passed over for more nepotistic reasons. In the case of rejection letters following queries for creative projects, it may simply be the whimsical preference of a publication. Even if our work is at fault, this still does not mean we are bad people. In the case of break-ups, so many things can be at play, including the thoughts and feelings of the other person. Often, it is more about them than it is about us. But even if it was our bad habits that drove someone away, it’s still a matter of something we do, and not who we are. For those of us with low self-esteem, myself included, this can be a hard thing to understand. We might have a tendency to measure our worth with our accomplishments and our lack of rejections. But rejections happen to even the most brilliant among us. J.K. Rowling, for instance, had the first volume in the Harry Potter series rejected twelve times before it was finally published. So repeat the mantra: it’s not about me.

rejection1
These kinds of rejections are not helpful in the least.

2. Get Some Perspective
So we now know that our rejections wasn’t about us being terrible people, but that still doesn’t help that awful feeling that we might as well hang it up and walk away: from our career, from having a love life, or from fulfilling our creative ambitions. After going on several bad dates, it may be tempting to get just a few cats and call it quits. And it’s okay to sulk, for a time. But it’s also important to get perspective. Is a rejection letter from a college going to completely determine one’s quality of life? Is a failed essay going to get one expelled? Is another bad date really going to signify that one deserves to be alone forever? It may be tempting to think so in the moment, but really, all it means is that one particular person said “no” in one particular circumstance. This is not nearly enough to define the course of our lives. We don’t need to be happy about our rejections, but we also have to give them their realistic magnitude, and usually it’s actually next-to-nothing.

rejection2
Don’t burn all of your artwork because of one critic.

3. Do Something Nice for Yourself
We often pop the champagne to celebrate our successes, but it’s also important to celebrate our rejections. When that silver lining loses its lustre and looks grey, it’s time to do something nice for ourselves. It’s the same principle as seeing a loved one fail: we feel compassion towards them, so we might treat them with their favourite food, a small gift, a friendly pep-talk, or anything that might bring them cheer. We can do this for ourselves. Of course, there is a disclaimer to use some caution, to make sure that our self-care does not result in indulging damaging behaviours: overspending, binge-eating or drinking, or drug use. Treating ourselves should make us feel better afterwards, not worse. (Feeling guilty is usually a sure sign that we may not have our long-term health in mind.)

rejection3
My favourite thing to do is pay a bubbly visit to Ducky.

4. Do Something Productive with the Rejections
The negative feelings after a rejection have more power if we keep them secret. We can remove some of the hold it has on us by telling others about it. We could swap rejection stories and have a laugh about them (as long as we make sure it’s not at our expense.) We could write about them in a journal. We can also make our rejections tangible, by writing them down and printing them, or using rejection letters sent to us. We can transform these into projects requiring paper maché or origami. Some people even frame their rejections for everyone to see. Stephen King said he kept his rejection letters impaled on a nail in his bedroom. This takes away their power: they become something mundane — a part of our experience rather than an enormous obstacle.

rejection4
Make yourself a nice cootie-catcher with that expertly worded letter. 

5. Re-Evaluate but Don’t Abandon 
Now that the rejection has lost some of its sting, we can look at it unflinchingly and evaluate its merit. Did the person breaking up with us offer anything that may be conducive to our growth or to further relationships? Did the potential boss offer us any feedback? This is a stage where we can objectively examine the claims made by our rejectors to see if we can use them to our advantage. (Of course, if someone tells us “You are bad, and you should feel bad,” we should probably just disregard them.) We  can tweak our approach but we don’t need to give up. It may just be a few things that we can correct that will make all the difference in the future. But this remains our decision. All feedback we may receive is not equally constructive, and it is up to us to decide whether we want to implement it or not.

rejection5
I’ll jot down some good ideas in my notebooks, but ultimately I decide if I’m making any changes.

Next time you receive a rejection, make sure to remind yourself that you’re still a good person. Often, the rejection isn’t even about you, anyways. Make sure you stay the course, do something kind for yourself, and take the power out of the rejection by opening up about it. Whatever you do, don’t give up. If you need some tips on tenacity, see how to foster resilience.

How to Foster Resilience

Sometimes life can have us feeling pretty punch-drunk. There’s an old superstition that claims that all bad news comes in threes, but occasionally it feels as though it comes in dozens. That kind of hardship would have anyone cowering in fetal position, on the precipice of a panic attack. So what can be done, when we’re at the mercy of events outside of our control? One answer is to foster resilience, or grit. This is the quality that allows us to get back up, to face a difficult circumstance, and to do it with humility. It takes a lot of practice to add this quality to our arsenal, but luckily, life gives us no shortages of opportunities to try it out. Here are some ways to flex this skill.

1. Step out of your Comfort Zone
Those safe, cushy places have their use for us, but the interesting thing about comfort zones is that they have this near magical ability to shrink. If we’re apt to stay within them, we may soon find that a clamouring club scene we’ve avoided steadily morphs into a night out with friends at a lounge. That old chestnut “do one thing a day that scares you”, often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, is not entirely wrong. (Though perhaps we’re not to go skydiving every single day.) The easiest way to go about doing this is by saying “yes” more often. Yes to invitations, yes to meeting new people, yes to trying something new at work. This will allow us to experience being a little bit afraid or overwhelmed, and give us the opportunity to develop our resilience.

blankies
Today I resisted the urge to blog from within those blankets. 

2. Cut out the Negatives
While it isn’t always possible to sever ties with a rude coworker, or with an overly critical family member, we should, when possible, eliminate these circumstances from our lives. Enduring a negative situation is different from stepping out of our comfort zone, and we can tell the difference with a simple test: “how do I feel afterwards?” If the answer is “empty” or “emotionally drained”, chances are it has not been an enriching experience. If we boldly step out of our comfort zone by visiting a new friend, and we feel as though they’ve only talked about the dramatic circumstances in their life, we may feel as if we’ve been captured by an emotional vampire. Likewise for the pointless online arguments, the job that fills us with dread, the nights out that make feel empty afterwards. Wherever possible, we should cut these needlessly negative experiences out of our lives in favour of experiences that fill us with a range of emotion, but ultimately leave us feeling somehow empowered.

drain
Flush them right down the drain, like so many metaphorical spiders. 

3. Observe your Feelings
Anyone who has experience with meditation will recognize this statement. The act of observing one’s feelings was a practice I’d first encountered while reading about Buddhism. In basic terms, it asks us to separate ourselves from our emotions by watching them. We can sit back and see that we feel frustration or sadness. Yes, we may feel slighted about something, but this doesn’t make us less competent, valuable, or worthy. What we feel is not who we are. (And as someone who deals with major depressive episodes, this was an important discovery.) The next time we feel hurt, we can acknowledge the weight of that feeling while simultaneously realizing that it does not affect the wonderful friend, lover, son, mother, or caregiver that we are.

nocs
You don’t need binoculars for this kind of observation.

4. Don’t Give into Self-Pity
We’ve just seen that we can observe our feelings, and nurture compassion for ourselves by realizing that we are not our feelings. Sometimes there is a feeling that masquerades as compassion: self-pity. Self-pity is usually propped up by fatalistic, false beliefs: nobody loves me, I’m worthless, I’m stupid, I’m the ugliest person here, etc..  But beliefs are not the same things as feelings. We can observe feeling hurt, but when we see the belief “I’m a bad person”, we should stop and unravel it. If we think about our favourite literary heroes and the terrible circumstances they need to face, the thing they most have in common is a lack of self-pity. They may feel doubt, apprehension, or fear, but rarely do bemoan, chapter after chapter, “why me? I’m the worst!” (For the reader, this might become one of those emotionally draining experiences and we would be better served tossing the book.) We can challenge the false beliefs that build up self-pity by examining them: “Am I really the worst daughter ever?” And then we can replace them with something true: “I’m not a bad person. Sometimes I overreact and say harmful things I don’t mean. Next time I feel angry, I’ll take a moment to reflect before I speak.” This statement includes a solution, a way to change the behaviour, and this has the effect of giving us our power back. We now have an accurate statement and a way to get up and improve.

soldier
This knight is ready to fight self-pity.

5. Practice Self-Talk
Correcting our false beliefs is part of self-talk. Self-talk is sort of like being our own cheerleaders from inside our minds. We can offer encouragement, validation, and, with practice, our own inside jokes. (The most inside of all inside jokes.) These are things we often desire from outside sources, and while it is nice to be told we did a good job (great blog post, for instance), we will strengthen our esteem by providing it for ourselves. (Not to mention dash the heartbreak that comes with unmet expectations.)

buddha
With practice, hopefully we can all look as happy as this guy. 

Practicing positive self-talk will help foster resilience, because when someone tells us something we now know is patently false, we can raise our heads and think “I know I did a good job, and that person is acting like a wiener.” Afterwards, if we realize that this person is constantly telling us false things with the purpose of making us feel bad, we can cut them right out of our lives.

How to Talk to Strangers

We’ve all been in a situation which we’re minding our own business, engulfed in our own thoughts (or worries), when someone really intriguing comes along. This person might be wearing an interesting outfit, they might be carrying an amazing book, or they might be hanging out with a really cute dog. How do we make a connection with them without being painfully awkward? Even the most outgoing of us can end up with a foot lodged firmly inside of our mouths. The following is some tips to avoid that unfortunate acrobatic feat.

1. Frequent Areas Conducive to Friendly Chatter
Most of us live far away in both space and time from the great communal bonfires of our ancestors. In fact, many of us journey from lonely one-bedroom apartments, to lonely one-person cubicles with only the human voices on our music playlists to keep us company (and even those are increasingly robotic). The interactions we have in shops are courteous, but usually devoid of any real substance (speaking of robots.) It is therefore a good idea to frequent public spaces, or spaces with an atmosphere conducive to chatter. For students, these places are widely found across campuses in common rooms, foyers, and even hallways. For those of us who don’t attend school (or are too cool for school, perhaps), we might have some luck in coffee houses, hobby stores, parks, or communal areas in libraries. Places where we wait around can also work, such as line-ups and waiting rooms. It is, however, important to respect a person’s space. It would be unkind to follow someone into an alleyway for a conversation (especially while shouting, “But wait, I like your t-shirt!”), likewise to subject a person to soliloquies while they’re using public transportation. They key is not to hold a person captive. There must be an escape route for them, should they want it. Conversations are best when they are mutual.

garage
 
Parking garages are highly unrecommended places to greet someone.

2. Know Body Language
This tip goes along the same lines as not holding a person captive. We must be aware of our stranger’s body language as well as our own. For instance, we can seem approachable and non-aggressive by keeping our arms and legs uncrossed, by smiling amicably (read: not like Jack Nicholson in The Shining), and by tilting our head slightly to indicate interest. We don’t want to stand too close, touch them, or lick our lips while rapidly raising and lowering our eyebrows (save that sort of behaviour for close friends). Signs to be aware of from our stranger: their arms are crossed, their eyes are darting to the ground or to their phones, they are not smiling or their smile seems forced, they are looking at others around them (possibly for help), or they are giving us a firm and unshakeable middle finger. These are all signs to disengage at once, no matter how neat the person seems.

headphones
 And if someone is wearing these, it’s best to leave them be.

3. Offer Compliments
Living in a city, a suburb, or even certain rural areas can lead to a sense of anonymity: everyone is a stranger. We come to feel that it’s advantageous to have our guards up, because there is no way of knowing if someone is friend or foe. It can therefore be beneficial to offer a compliment by way of introduction, in order to disarm someone. The caveat, however, is that the compliment should be genuine. Most people can tell if you don’t really like their purple hair, especially if you immediately follow the compliment with “But why would you do something like that?” Even if the remark is out of genuine curiousity, it usually comes off as an affront to their tastes, rendering them more on their guard than ever. The other caveat is that it is best not to compliment a stranger on their body. People have hang-ups about their bodies. Of course, freckles, scars, and birth marks can be interesting and beautiful, but they may also be something the person is sensitive about. (And while it is nice to compliment friends and family about these things, my be-freckled sister will attest that this can also be annoying.) Furthermore, telling a stranger “you have super nice boobies,” is a tough opener, because where do you possibly go from there?  Basically, we want to find the thing about them that makes us want to reach out, without making them uncomfortable.

sky
 Giving compliments will also avoid resorting to gripping topics like the weather.

4. Ask Questions
We’ve all been in the unfortunate one-sided conversations where a person will yammer on about their current big project, and how successful they already are, and how they own a yacht, and how they are actually seen as a prince in some countries. (No? It must be my unfortunate luck to meet these characters.) The point is, engaging people in conversation is simple, because people love to talk about themselves. If they are carrying something that interests you, such as a specific phone model, a book, a bag from a favourite shop, or sports equipment, then we can ask questions related to these things. If we notice something about their behaviour, (perhaps they are looking for something,) then we can ask them about this. If we see the same person at the same time and place we can allude to this as well (though only if they show recognition as well, since knowing someone’s schedule without their knowing us is apt to seem suspicious.) Getting a person to open up is like most things: we can improve our skills the more we practice. Eventually we develop an intuition as to which topics to pursue and which topics to avoid.

erotica
Like maybe not all books are appropriate to open dialogue with.

5. Know When to Stop
Every conversation comes to an end. And if that conversation is with a stranger, it should err on the side of short and sweet. When our stranger begins to shift, then they are likely needed elsewhere, and it’s time for us to gracefully bow out. We can do this by saying “Well, I should be getting back to work now,” or a genuine “It was really nice talking with you.” We can thank them for the chat. We can introduce ourselves if we haven’t had a chance yet, and let them know that we’ll see them around. What we want to avoid, unless the stranger volunteers, is to jump into the promise of being best friends. This means that asking for personal information, unless there is a clear business objective to the exchange, is likely to make the person uncomfortable. We can try this if we see the person on more than one occasion, but it’s important to make them feel in control. Therefore, we should leave our contact information with them, rather than demanding theirs.

goodtime
 Do not leave your information as such. 

And there we have it: easy ways we can strike up a conversation with just about anybody. If we make a person feel comfortable by approaching them with relevant questions and in an open space, they are likely to respond positively and we may just score a new friend out of the deal. If nothing else, we’ll have had face-to-face contact with another human being and perhaps learned something about ourselves in the process.