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Your Brain and Love


Your Brain and Love

Valentine's Day may be over, but I hope you're still feeling loved and connected. 

Oxytocin is the hormone that is also known as the "love" hormone. Levels in your bloodstream go up when you hug or kiss someone. It increases bonding between mother and child during and after childbirth, and oxytocin receptors are distributed throughout various regions of your brain. 

Experiments show that people who receive oxytocin e.g. via a nasal spray are more likely to empathize and collaborate with relative strangers (1).

More recently, oxytocin may also find application in children with autism, as it seems to stimulate those brain regions that encourage social behavior. (2)

Other studies suggest that children also respond to invitations to play. They may be experiencing more stress than their peers, as measured by increased levels of cortisol in their saliva, but they more easily interact when invited. (3) 

Before you grab that spray, be warned of the consequences: You may find yourself more focused on facial expression, and able to identify e.g. fear more easily. Unfortunately, one side effect of too much oxytocin can be over-sensitivity and misreading of such social cues, meaning you might completely  misinterpret what's really going on. (4)

What about the different stages of love?

Mentalfloss published an article last month going into some detail. For example, when you first fall in love, there's a mixture of dopamine and nerve growth factor coursing through your veins. It's effects have been likened to OCD. 

The longer the relationship lasts, the more a mixture of serotonin and oxytocin help balance things out into a less obsessive and more stable and trusting kind of love. 

Since harmony and connection are integral pieces to the extraverted Feeling function, I can't help but wonder if ExFJ and IxFJ personality types show more oxytocin receptors or better connections between the involved brain regions. If you know of any studies, please share them!

If you'd like to explore your romantic connection with your partner, or get clearer on what you're looking for in a partner, contact me to learn how knowing your personality type preferences can improve your relationships. 






Valentine's Across Cultures


Valentine's Across Cultures

A popular origin story for this day of friends and lovers is that Valentinus went to prison for marrying soldiers and tending to persecuted Christians in Rome.

It became the romantic feast of chocolates, flowers, and jewels not through Hallmark, but with the help of poets like Chaucer in the 14th century. 

If you're a teacher with a diverse class, make sure providing hearts or cards for all other children is optional, as parents with a Muslim faith may have objections.

I hope you take this day to appreciate and love yourself, as well as your friends or partners.  

It's true, American schmalz has largely taken over and most of your stores will have at least one pink and red aisle right now. 

Paper Valentines became so popular in England in the early 19th century that they were assembled in factories. (Wikipedia)

The British Empire included Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Sudan, and other African countries at the time, so it's no wonder it's widespread and celebrated. 

Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy, and mainland Spain celebrate Valentine's same as most Anglo-Western cultures, with the exception of Cataluña - here it's on Sant Jordi (April 23rd) where boys give girls a rose, and girls give boys a book.

In India, different states and different religions have different customs. Many celebrate Spring Goddesses around early February, and traditionalists see Western Valentine's as yet another commercialized event.

Estonia and Finland call it "Friend's Day", so getting a rose doesn't mean he loves you.

The Greek have another Saint to protect lovers, Hyacinth of Caesarea, and she's celebrated on July 3rd. 

In Spanish-speaking South America it's a hybrid día del amor y de la amistad (day of love and friendship), so nobody has to feel lonely. 

Guatemala calls it día del cariño (affection day).

In Brazil and Portugal, it's dia dos namorados (day for lovers / those who are in love).

The Philippines and Sweden call it heart's day or all heart's day. It's the busiest day for florists. 

South Korea and Japan have joined the feast in the 20th century. Japanese boys give dark chocolate to the girls they like on February 14th, and the girls reciprocate with white chocolate on March 14th. Days and chocolates are reversed in South Korea. 

How are you going to celebrate this year?



Image by terren in Virginia, flickr, Creative Commons License


Love and Belonging Needs - Friendship, Family, Sexual Intimacy


Love and Belonging Needs - Friendship, Family, Sexual Intimacy

Before you move, make sure you have a good-bye ceremony to take your official leave from friends and family. Of course you’ll stay in touch and God bless Facebook, but everyone will benefit from a moment of closure before moving on to the new home. It’s helps to mourn what you leave behind to fully appreciate what you’re moving toward.

Prepare some social circles to move into. Activate your networks ahead of time to introduce you to their connections. Go hit the online forums to announce your move and see who invites you to their meetings. Don’t be pressured into joining any group in your first week or even your first month; it’ll take some time for you to set up shop and acclimatize. But doing the legwork while you’re still at home will ensure a softer landing once you get there.

The assignees have their social group automatically built-in. When they go to work, they have someone to go to lunch or work out with. They also have a routine from day 1. The accompanying partners have to make their own, especially if they’re not working.

The cool part is you can reinvent yourself. You can edit out the embarrassing bits; nobody has to know your kindergarten nickname. You’ll get better at telling your story the more often you go over it. By the third time you’ll know when you’ve gone into too much detail because people’s eyes glaze over. It’s fun.

Re-activating your professional network upon your return follows the same lines. The secret is to keep in loose touch throughout, and get more involved at least six months before you move back, or to your next destination. Unfortunately, many expats experience the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon. Keeping yourself on your managers’ radar might help secure you a position to move back into.

If you’ve always had your family close, living more than a plane-ride away will take some getting used to. If your parents are getting up there in age, or if they always used to babysit, your involvement in each other’s lives is going to change. For many expats, their family is still the first line of defense, and certainly the first source of support.

Schedule dates and times for contact on a regular basis. When you live abroad, you may not always be able to call them at a moment’s notice. Maybe because there’s a power outage, maybe because the cell tower and internet connection are down, or maybe because of your time-zone differences.

Not every expat family relocates together. Depending on where you are in life, it may make more sense not to. I have worked with many empty-nesters who negotiated longer home-leaves and frequent visits when the spouse chose to stay behind. Maybe your children would benefit from a boarding school, or your company allows for elderly parents to accompany you - it all depends on your personal situation.

Every couple’s sex routines are different, but when you notice an interruption in yours, don’t wait too long before you address it. Multiple factors influence a change in sexual appetite.

Try and develop an understanding for your partner’s experience. Everyone is adapting to cultures differently, and while you’re working on higher goals, they may still be struggling with the basic survival needs.

Keeping a relationship alive and strong is difficult under the best of circumstances. International relocation takes stress and tension to a whole new level, so you have to communicate and discuss your needs and fears even more openly and pro-actively.

The two of you are a team, now more than ever. You’re in this together, and a fulfilling sex life will go a long way in affirming your commitment and improving resilience to tackle all the obstacles this assignment will throw at you. Make time for intimacy, schedule it if you have to, and spend quality time together, in and out of the bedroom.

Image by Lori Branham, Flickr, Creative Commons License.


Stabilizer™ Temperament and Belonging


Stabilizer™ Temperament and Belonging

As I'm working through Dr. Brené Brown's "The Power of Vulnerability" workshop I am reminded how Dr. Brown's research shows that all humans are wired for connection. We all have a deep-seated need to feel love and belonging. Except perhaps psychopaths who feel neither shame nor vulnerability.

The word 'belonging' in Type language is associated with the Stabilizer™ Temperament. In 450 BC, Hippocrates called it "Melancholic", later on Spränger called it "Economic", Keirsey called it "Guardian", and if you're familiar with your MBTI® result, it maps onto Sensing and Judging preferences (SJ). Temperament theory has been around for millennia, before Jung's Type theory, and it's a holistic view of a person's behavior and motivators.

Membership or Belonging, as well as Responsibility or duty, are deep psychological needs for Stabilizers. They try to meet these needs by respecting and upholding traditions and rituals. They tend to first look to the past to learn how things used to be done, or if they have personal experience of something, before making up their minds. They often value rules and may strive to uphold societal structures by keeping their families or larger systems secure. I have a friend who loves planning and making lists, doing plenty of research before a new endeavor, and she's happy to observe and ask trusted experts about their experiences when she's trying something for the first time.

Although I'm quite prepared to believe every human being (except those who lack the ability) wants to be connected - emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually - I wonder if the majority of Dr. Brown's research subjects had Stabilizer temperaments. Or perhaps women in our generations were still raised with a focus on duty and responsibility to the family. Or maybe the need to belong is a sign of extraverted Feeling. Making yourself smaller, perhaps, so as to not offend anyone. Which of course takes us back to the difference between belonging and fitting in. Maintaining harmony may be too big a price to pay if your self-worth is on the line.

I don't know if the elephant is a good symbol to represent belonging, but from what I know, their survival is dependent on the group, they live for a long time, and they also keep up traditions. Plus I saw this picture and thought how marvelous to remember that these majestic creatures also start out small, and vulnerable.

*African elephants are now listed as Vulnerable. They wander in non-territorial herds that can reach 200 elephants, even one thousand during the rains. Their society is based on a social matriarchal community. The matriarch is the oldest female who leads a clan of 9 to 11 elephants. Only closely related females and their offspring are part of this herd because males wander alone once they reach maturity. The herd’s well being depends on the guidance of the matriarch. She determines when they eat, rest, bathe or drink. Females in the herd practice motherhood by being allomothers to the calves. These assistants play with and babysit babies and retrieve them if they stray too far. 


Image by Fred Ericsson, Flickr, Creative Commons License


Top 3 Challenges of Belonging

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Top 3 Challenges of Belonging

Human beings are wired for connection. Even a hermit needs a crowd to get away from. Why can it be so difficult then to find the place we belong? Especially expats may be struggling with this question on a regular basis.

We don't want to offend anyone. When we arrive in a new country, we learn about customs, the language, and where not to put our hands or feet. It's a miracle when we find a local we get on with, and who likes us, too.

Brené Brown says,

True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.

The first challenge is being yourself. When you have to contort who you are, you might fit in. Like when you learn a new language or remember not to grab food with your left hand or show the soles of your shoes in some countries. It's hard enough standing up for what you believe in in your native land. Outside of your own culture, when you're depending on other peoples' good will, there are more variables at play. Adapting to different practices may help you fit in, but fitting in isn't the same as belonging.

Sometimes, even fitting in isn't an option. As my 6-foot blonde German friend and I discovered when we joined about 20 Indians at a birthday party. We literally and figuratively stood out. If you look different, it's easy to expect differences. If you look like everyone else, it becomes more difficult to explain our cultural differences.

The second challenge is taking your self-worth off the table. Whether you learn that language or not, you are still a person worth of love and belonging. Just because you put your foot in your mouth (figuratively speaking) doesn't mean you have no right to be there. Everybody makes mistakes, and yes, as expats, some mistakes cost us dearly. You always have the choice to learn from the mistake and move on, try to do better next time. I'm willing to bet you're not the first nor the last one to make mistakes. You are still worthy of love and belonging.

The third challenge is knowing why we want to belong. Why are you wanting to fit in with this family, group, or organization? Are you maybe hoping to gain something other than the group is offering? Knowing why you want to belong can be helpful to understand what you're expecting to gain from the group, and what you are willing to contribute in return. If the best part of cooking class is getting to eat in the end, you don't need a group. Invite some friends, find recipes online, and try them at home.

Dr. Brown says that fitting in is the primary barrier to belonging, because generally, you have to change something about yourself to make yourself fit. I think in the case of expats, there's a lot to be said to appreciate and respect other cultures, and make an effort to learn. But as I hope these three challenges illustrate, your self-worth should never be on the line.

Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

If you're new around here, welcome. If you're an expat, know that you belong to the exquisite phenomenal outstandingly awesome club that is made up of millions of other expats, going through the same change process. You're not alone.

Image by Aussigall, Flickr, Creative Commons License.

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Dream Symbol Sunday: Hearts!

heart dream symbol doodleSeeing a heart in your dream signifies the center of your being, your emotional wisdom, or a close loving relationship. If you're seeing your own, there may be sickness and energy-loss waiting for you.

Eating one may mean you wish you consume or be consumed by a loved one.

If you feel one beating it can indicate nervousness and a warning, or perhaps you're fancying someone.

PS happy anniversary, babe!




Loving your Heart

Today's exercise is LAUGHING! Out loud and hard! I think babies are pretty funny, so here's one with babies:

Or maybe Billy? He swears, and talks about hearts in this one. :-)

The recipe for today is going to be a mixed salad. Any green leafy vegetables you like (kale, arugula, iceberg), add peppers, cucumbers, saladtomatos, carrots, hearts of palm. Avocado for healthy fats, perhaps some sunflower seeds sprinkled on top, some baked or boiled potatoes* for starch, and steamed edamame in its shell for good measure.


How can you love your heart?

For someone with extraverted Feeling preferences, it's sometimes easier to love someone else's heart. Making excuses for them, forgiving them, understanding them, trying to please and appease them. Putting your own needs aside to keep the peace. Well, your feelings matter. Your heart's desire matters. The world needs you happy, sending good vibes to the universe. If you don't know what your heart's desire is, take a moment to close your eyes, breathe deeply, and feel into it. With a little practice listening, the little voice inside you will speak to you.


*these are actually "papas arrugadas", a specialty from my hubby's native Canary Islands. Boil the potatoes in a little water, drain it out when they're cooked, sprinkle generously with salt and cover with a towel until they get all wrinkly. The accompanying dip is called "mojo", and there are green (cilantro/parsley/herbs) and red (paprika) versions, both with lots of garlic and olive oil. Did I say Yum? Yum.



Expat Marriage Characteristics

mars ship Dennis Tito, American multimillionnaire, holds the title of world's first space tourist. Where you and I might think twice about a $1,500 trip to Hawaii, he spent $20m to go up in a rocket ship. Call it eccentric, but the trip did produce an idea that's going to create lots of jobs and opportunities: he's now planning to send people on a privately-funded return-trip to Mars in 2018.

Not just any people, a married couple.

501 days in close quarters - with your spouse. Let's take a breath and imagine what that'd be like. Nowhere to go, no doors to slam, no idea how sex would work in zero gravity. Certainly not for everyone, right?

Of course, living in close quarters under strenuous situations with a limited group of people is nothing new. Submarine or oil-rig crews do it all the time, as well as soldiers on assignments. There were eight participants in a 2-year ecological experiment locked away in Arizona, and let's not forget monasteries or various the Big Brother houses.


Deborah Shapiro wrote an article on the subject. Her experience makes her an excellent source of reference: she and her husband spent 270 days alone in the Antarctic on a boat. Severe weather conditions, having to maintain and fix things all the time, lots of time for thoughts to swirl around your head, and only your husband to talk to. Well, and whoever's near enough for radio transmissions, I guess.

Here are her top tips for not killing your spouse, and who would make a good space couple (bolding is mine):

(...) because we relied on each other for survival, murder would be counter-productive.

We figure that a couple who ran a farm a few generations ago would be very likely to have a successful trip to Mars. Why? Because a couple on a farm lived in interdependence, with accepted roles. They lived frugally, entertaining themselves, producing what they needed and repairing their tools that broke. All those traits are necessary for a long space voyage.

Showing tangible signs of caring and of empathy ensures that cabin fever never takes hold.

(...) firstly, remaining sensitive to each other's moods and concerns, never belittling. (...) The second important rule, is that showing care benefits both.

I think all of those tips are valid for couples who go abroad on an expat assignment as well.

  • If it's not in actuality, it may feel like your survival is threatened, creating the same visceral responses in your nervous system.
  • If you're not clear about your changing roles, e.g. when one spouse loses a work permit, anger and resentment are sure to follow.
  • If you don't speak the language, trips to the cinema are out. Reading food labels going shopping are a challenge. Conversing with your kid's teacher or the plumber is frustrating.
  • If you're cooped up inside all day waiting for your spouse to return from work so you have someone to talk to while they just want to sit down and be quiet, it can spell disaster.

A marriage is hard work to maintain under any circumstances, and international assignments add various layers of new potential aggravation you wouldn't have experienced at home. If you don't have any couple-friends who've been abroad together, things like role expectations, daily routine, entertainment, and the sense of self-worth may not come up in the usual conversations.

In our normal daily lives, we have work, friends, family, and hobbies to attend to. When moving abroad, all of that gets disrupted and changed. We turn to the one person who's closest to us, and if we make them responsible for everything that's going wrong in our lives, it will break the relationship.

Here's where Shapiro sees a big difference between her own experience and that of the space couple:

In a space capsule, the couple will have to depend upon a vessel they have not built, and the people working at space control.

If you're not absolutely sure you want to go on the assignment, you'll feel out of control as well. Make sure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision. Because once you're abroad, coming back early is going to be a hassle. I'm not just talking about the cost and expenses, but also the feelings of failure to complete the project, to make your company look good, to disrupt project deadlines and customer relationships.

There are plenty of conversations and tools at your disposal. Know before you go.