Photo by Mart Production

Do you have any phobias?

Phobias aren’t just fears. They are irrational (unrealistic) and persistent fears of a specific situation, object, or activity. 

Most people have some fear of things like snakes or insects or heights. But if your fear of snakes, for example, is so intense that you couldn’t look at pictures of them or enter a room where they were in cages and couldn’t even touch a stuffed one, then you have a phobia.

A simple phobia does not usually interfere with daily functioning, but if a person starts to avoid situations in a less rational way (such as avoiding the beach because of fear of a shark attack or avoiding going outside because of fear of bees) the fear may be diagnosed as a phobia.

Look at all the phobias just in the “C” section of a list:

• Cacophobia- Fear of ugliness.
• Caligynephobia- Fear of beautiful women.
• Carcinophobia- Fear of cancer.
• Cardiophobia- Fear of the heart.
• Carnophobia- Fear of meat.
• Catoptrophobia- Fear of mirrors.
• Chaetophobia- Fear of hair.
• Chemophobia- Fear of chemicals or working with chemicals
• Chionophobia- Fear of snow.
• Chorophobia- Fear of dancing.
• Chrometophobia- Fear of money.
• Chromophobia- Fear of colors.
• Chronophobia- Fear of time.
• Cibophobia – Fear of food.
• Claustrophobia- Fear of confined spaces.
• Cleptophobia- Fear of stealing.
• Cnidophobia- Fear of strings.
• Coimetrophobia- Fear of cemeteries.
• Coitophobia- Fear of coitus.
• Coprastasophobia- Fear of constipation.
• Coprophobia- Fear of feces.
• Coulrophobia- Fear of clowns.
• Crystallophobia- Fear of crystals or glass.
• Cypridophobia – Fear of prostitutes or venereal disease.

Photo by Mart Production

I definitely don’t have claustrophobia. In fact, I have always loved being in small spaces. As a child, I liked crawling behind the couch, playing in closets, and making little forts from blankets, boxes, and sticks out in the woods. I had a very small bedroom, and I loved it. Of course, there is a name for this too. I am a claustrophile – a person who has the “condition” (that makes it sound bad) of claustrophilia, a love of closed-in spaces. I went spelunking (cave exploring) and crawled on my belly through tight passages in total darkness. I felt good.

For a full phobias list, go to

Talking to Myself

Image by Gerd Altmann

When you’re talking to yourself silently or arguing in your head, there are actual muscular movements in your larynx. It seems like it’s all in your mind but it is also a little bit in your body. Any time you’re mentally talking to yourself, your body is also physically talking a little bit.

As I am writing this post, I am silently sounding out the words and sometimes the thought for the next line. As my memory worsens, I find myself heading down the stairs to the basement and silently (or maybe even aloud!) saying to myself “socket wrench” over and over so that I don’t get down there and forget what it was I went there to get.

Psychologists call this phenomenon “inner speech.” It has been studied for at least a hundred years. The theory has been that we developed this through the internalization of our external/out-loud speech. If that’s true, then wouldn’t inner speech use the same mechanisms in the brain as when we speak out loud?

It was known in the early 20th century that inner speech is accompanied by tiny muscular movements in the larynx which could be detected using electromyography. Since the 1990s, neuroscientists using more sophisticated functional neuroimaging to show that the “Broca’s area” of the brain is active when we speak out loud and also during inner speech. Experiments that “disrupt” (Ouch!) the activity of this region interrupts both outer and inner speech.

What is the value of studying this phenomenon? The thought is that it may help us to understand more inner experiences, such as “hearing voices.”  That particular oddity (technically called “auditory verbal hallucinations”) which you might associate with mystical or religious experiences or madness might turn out to be a form of inner speech. Maybe we just don’t know that these hallucinations are self-produced.

I have been hearing some inner voices lately. But that’s something for another article.

Further reading by Peter Moseley, working with the Hearing the Voice project

Saving Some Extra Daylight

from pillow studies by Albrecht Dürer

Last night I set some clocks forward by two hours. I know you are supposed to spring forward one hour for spring but that way when I woke up today I was able to turn the clock back one hour. It is just a psychological effect but then again the whole daylight savings thing is psychological in many ways.

I see articles twice a year about “Reasons Why Daylight Saving Time Is Bad for You.” (That particular one actually says five deadly reasons, but I think that’s going a bit sensationalist.) You know that other things, like “jet lag,” can mess with your natural circadian rhythm. “Circadian” is from the Latin circa dies, meaning “approximately one day” because our natural rest–wake period rhythm is 25.5 hours. Exposure to sunlight resets the brain’s circadian clock every day.

Daylight Saving Time (DST) throws that off while Standard time is close to the sun’s natural time. When we switch into or out of DST the effects on sleep, wakefulness, mood, and general health last about 5 to 7 days. If you were not getting optimal sleep in the days before the switch, the effect are greater. One thing you can do help is get outside this morning and for the next few days and get some sunlight to help your internal clock. It will eventually reset itself, but not as quickly or easily as your smartphone.

Back in 1895, New Zealand entomologist and astronomer George Hudson proposed the idea of changing clocks by two hours every spring so that he would have more daylight hours to devote to collecting and examining insects. In 1907, British resident William Willett presented the idea as a way to save energy. But neither proposal was implemented.

setting the clock ahead 1918
Ohio Clock in the U.S. Capitol being turned forward for the country’s first daylight saving time on March 31, 1918 by the Senate sergeant at arms Charles Higgins. via Wikimedia

Germany was the first to adopt daylight saving time on May 1, 1916, during World War I as a way to conserve fuel. The rest of Europe followed soon after. The United States didn’t adopt daylight saving time until March 19, 1918. Though we have a Uniform Time Act, there are different local DST policies across the country. For example, Hawaii has never observed daylight saving time under the Uniform Time Act, having opted out of the act’s provisions in 1967

Tiger Moms and Tigger Dads


I saw a reference on this windy March day to the “blustery day” from A.A. Milne’s Pooh books and it had an illustration of Winnie-the-Pooh, and Tigger getting blown into the air in a clearly delightful way.

That got me thinking back to a book I “reviewed” back in 2011 called  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother back in 2011 when it was getting a lot of attention lately. I picked up the book at the library because I had seen it on the cover of Time magazine. I never did finish reading it.

The author, Amy Chua, is a professor at Yale Law School. Her two earlier books wouldn’t lead you to think she might write about parenting. Look at two of her book titles: World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability and Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance–and Why They Fall.

But perhaps the titles do tell us something of the way she raised her children and the way she was raised. The book and author are rather proudly “politically incorrect” (by American standards) about the “Chinese way” of raising children.

It had gotten a lot of criticism, especially from the Western parents that it criticizes. A Wall Street Journal piece titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” got more than a million reads and thousands of comments and when the author was on the usually lightweight Today show, host Meredith Vieira was clearly on the critical side.

You can find excerpts from the book online if you’re curious. One example that rubs many parents the wrong way is that she turned a simple piano piece into forced practice for her 7-year-old daughter that ran “right through dinner into the night,” with no bathroom or breaks for food or drinks until she learned it. Does it bother you that she would call her daughter Sophia “garbage” for being disrespectful? (Chua’s father did it to her all the time.) She threw back a handmade birthday card at her daughter saying, “I deserve better than this.”

Chua has said that “To be perfectly honest, I know that a lot of Asian parents are secretly shocked and horrified by many aspects of Western parenting.”  She is baffled by our willingness to let our kids waste hours on games, television, Facebook, and other things. And she can point to research that supports some of her ideas, such as that American parents do too much insulating of their children from the discomfort and distress of everyday life.

I taught in the K-12 world for 25 years in a wealthy school district that had a large Asian population. About a third of my students were Chinese and Korean and I certainly came face to face with their parents. Chua writes that these parents “assume strength, not fragility, and as a result, they behave very differently.” That was true of the parents I met in conferences that were always about grades.

One father told me that he believed that all children could be “A” students – it was just a question of how much time and work was needed. “My daughter might only need to study two hours for an A. My son might need 10 hours.”

I believed that not everyone could be a top student or a great musician or athlete. I think realizing that is also a part of growing up. Despite my childhood dreams, I was not to be the shortstop on the NY Yankees no matter how many hours I practiced. I don’t think even a Chinese mother could have made me an NBA forward or a Nobel prize-winning mathematician or even have gotten me to score an “A” in calculus.

If protected kids don’t have to deal with difficult tasks on their own, will they be unable to develop what psychologists call “mastery experiences?”

Does the dreaded “drill and kill” repetition style of learning also kill creativity?

A cognitive psychologist quoted in that Time article says:

“… if you repeat the same task again and again, it will eventually become automatic. Your brain will literally change so that you can complete the task without thinking about it. Once this happens, the brain has made mental space for higher-order operations: for interpreting literary works, say, and not simply decoding their words; for exploring the emotional content of a piece of music, and not just playing the notes. Brain scans of experimental subjects who are asked to execute a sequence of movements, for example, show that as the sequence is repeated, the parts of the brain associated with motor skills become less active, allowing brain activity to shift to the areas associated with higher-level thinking and reflection.”

Sounds like the drill work is a good thing, right?

As a teacher and as a parent, I can see some valid points in her approach. There are definitely some children who need very strict boundaries, rules, and consequences, at least at some times.

Tigger via

Still, I am glad that I didn’t have a Tiger Mom. I’m glad that I was encouraged to explore things and go out and play for hours and hours and try new things and give up on them so that I could try other things. I’m happy with the way I turned out.

In Milne’s Pooh books, you have models of different ways of approaching life. Tigger is on the crazy, anything for fun extreme, but there is also wise Owl

I raised my sons the same basic way, though probably with more psychology and ambition included than my own parents. But I was definitely more of a Tigger Dad. I wanted to bounce around, watch movies, try, fail and then try again and try new things as much as they did. And I am very happy with the men they became.

The original Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed toys playing. Clockwise from bottom left: Tigger, Kanga, Edward Bear (aka Winnie-the-Pooh), Eeyore, and Piglet.

It intrigued me in my adult life to discover that A.A. Milne was a pretty lousy father. His son Christopher, who owned Edward Bear and is the model for the fictional Christopher Robin, came to hate his father. He found his father’s fame a kind of torture. There was a bitter rift between the two men that never healed and has been documented in books and films. take a look at Christopher Robin and Goodbye Christopher Robin. Ann Thwaite’s A. A. Milne biography was the inspiration for the 2017 film Goodbye Christopher Robin.

Readers and critics have gone much deeper than just viewing the Pooh books as children’s literature. Too deep, perhaps.

I do like the philosophical takes on the gang from the Hundred-Acree Wood. (see The Tao of Pooh & The Te of Piglet) I’m not a fan of the psychological analysis of them. A tiger mom might agree with the psychology though. I do think that all of us “have some issues” and are at least “a little bit crazy.”

But is Christopher Robin a schizophrenic, and his “friends” are simply manifestations of his moods?

Tigger does seem to suffer from ADHD and a case of “risk-taking behaviors” causing him to be very impulsive and willing to try just about anything.

Piglet has an acute case of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and self-esteem issues.

Kanga is British but like many American moms is perpetually over-protective of her little Roo.

The voice of reason and intelligence, Owl, seems unable to spell out words, and his misspelled words hint of dyslexia.

I always liked Eeyore but he is the most obviously in need of therapy for his depressive disorder and “chronic dysthymia.”

Poor Rabbit has some OCD and an odd sense of his importance that doesn’t often match that of his friends.

Just before he died, the real Christopher reported that he had at least come to terms with his love-hate relationship with Winnie-the-Pooh, if not his father. He said that “Believe it or not, I can look at those four books without flinching. I’m quite fond of them really.”

Doing Some Dreamwork

giraffe dream

If you hear that someone is doing “dreamwork” it can mean they are working on interpreting their dreams. Today, this differs from the classical dream interpretation that we associate with people like Sigmund Freud.

Freud and others explored the images and emotions that a dream presents and also evokes in order to come up with a meaning for this kind of dream or dream symbols that could apply to other people too.

When I wrote earlier about a dream I had and the symbolism that is associated with it, I relied on some “classical” interpretations, but modern dreamwork is more individualized.

A book on dream interpretation may tell you that dream of a pregnancy (yours or someone else’s) usually has nothing to do with pregnancy and is a symbol of something new being “birthed” in your life. It certainly could be about a new project but it could be literally about someone being pregnant. Dreamwork now is more about discovering each person’s own dream language. That pregnancy could be about an inner transformation or connecting to your inner child.

A book of dream symbols might suggest some interpretations and they might seem relevant but you need to write your own dream dictionary. A child dreaming of feeding a giant giraffe is not the same dream if I dream about a child giving some food to a giant giraffe. Maybe the child is feeling different from everyone. Maybe I am dreaming about exaggerated, oversized desires.

I have been keeping dream journals for many years and I now know that certain things reappear. After decades of teaching, classrooms are often the setting for my dreams. If you read common interpretations of classrooms in dreams, you won’t find what they mean to me.

A friend once compared dreamwork to doing horoscopes. She said that you can read horoscope websites or books about your sign and sometimes what’s there will make sense for you. But to those who believe in astrology, only a horoscope done specifically for you will make sense.

I think interpreting a dream is like interpreting a poem.  If you read a poem about a child exploring a basement, the basement of the poet may be quite different from any basement associations you have in mind. I looked up “basement” in several dream books and they say that it represents a deep level of your subconscious mind – your deepest darkest thoughts, emotions, and memories. But maybe your basement was where your recreation or play room was as a child. I had my workshop for building models and my little chemistry lab in the basement. There was nothing deep, dark or secretive about it.

Many years ago, I gave a poetry reading and afterward a woman came to me and said that she enjoyed the reading and particularly my poem “Weekend with Dad.”I really identified with it because I am a divorced parent too.” I thanked her, but I am not a divorced parent and the poem is not about a custody weekend with my son. Or is it? For her, it was definitely about that kind of weekend, and looking back at the poem I realized she was right. That interpretation is valid. For her.

Any place, person, or object can differ in its meaning for different dreamers. The meaning can even change throughout your life. The classroom in my dreams when I was 11 is not the same one I saw when I was in college or is it the classroom I occupied as a teacher. Dreamworkers consider a dream to be alive after it ends and that it can have a variety of meanings and that those meanings may change.

Can’t a dream “just be a dream?” I have many dreams I have recorded that I cannot interpret. They seem to be just brief stories that are unconnected to my life – at least at the time I had dreamt them.

Freud’s theories are frequently dismissed today by modern science and psychology, but what he wrote about dreams is still influential. He didn’t know anything about REM and the NREM sleep cycles. His theory that dreams are wish-fulfillment partially came from his time spent analyzing children’s dreams. Freud also believed that dreams are very much about sexual or aggressive nature and that is why we repress them in our waking life.

When I started my first dream journal t age 13, I bought Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. It was way beyond my comprehension but it got me thinking about what my dreams might be telling me about myself.

Freud’s student, Carl Jung, became a successful and famous psychiatrist too. Building on Freud’s ideas about the unconscious, he took different views about the meanings of dreams. He believed dreams express aspects of our personality that we haven’t developed in our waking life. Jung believed dreams were the way to see into our unconscious mind and provide us with guidance for our conscious life.

There are those now that dreams are not encrypted and don’t require interpretation because they have no other meaning. But they’re not useless because they are the way the brain attempts to convey information to its conscious self.

Freud called the dreamwork “the essence of dreaming.” They are “a particular form of thinking.” Dreams are very much about images created from abstract thoughts. In dreamwork, you reverse the process and turn the images into language.  Freud compared dreams to picture puzzles like rebuses.

One thing I have not found to be true in my dreams – though I wanted it to be true at times – is that they predict the future. They are all about the past. Oneiromancy (Greek oneiros = dream, manteia = prophecy) is the practice of using dreams to predict the future. I think it is a superstition, but it might only take one or a few coincidental dreams that accurately seem to predict the future to make you a believer. Dreams foretelling the future appear in the Bible, Homer’s Odyssey, and in Shakespeare’s plays.

journalBefore you go to sleep tonight, consider keeping a dream journal near your bedside and immediately recording any dream you recall upon awakening. Dreams dissolve quickly.

There are plenty of websites and books about interpreting dreams and even dream journals with suggestions about what you should try to record. But all you really need is a pen and notebook and to develop the practice of recording dreams and then considering the people, places, and objects that appear in them in the context of your own life experiences.

Don’t Acquire a Crab in a Bucket Mentality

If you catch one crab and put it in a bucket, it will keep trying to crawl out of the bucket. If there are several crabs in the bucket, their behavior changes. You can leave a bunch of crabs in a bucket unattended and they won’t escape. Any crab that tries to escape will be dragged back down by the others.

This sounds counterintuitive and certainly self-sabotaging. The behavior is known as crab mentality.

Shore crabs in a bucket

Why does this crabs in a bucket mentality exist? It is thought that since the bucket is not the crabs’ natural environment, they are responding as they would in shallow ocean pools and on slippery rocks where they cling to each other in order to survive waves and tides and not be washed out to sea.

So, while any one of the crabs could escape the bucket, the others will undermine its efforts as a survival response, but thereby ensure the group’s collective demise.

The reason this odd behavior has been studied and written about is often that it is compared to human behavior. It’s not that humans end up in buckets but there are instances when members of a group attempt to reduce the self-confidence of any member who achieves success beyond the others. In that case, it is not a survival instinct but envy, resentment, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings that makes the group keep the one down.

I find the crab behavior interesting. I find the human version annoying.