Returning Yourself to Health – An Introduction to Self-construction


self-construct (self • kon • strukt'), v.i.

to take responsibility for engendering

your unique gifts by completing the job

left unfinished by your parents.

Life is too short

to devote too much of it

to activities that are not at the heart of

what it is to be human.

- Martha Nussbaum

very therapist worth their salt believes utterly that under the pain and confusion that clients bring with them into therapy, there are healthy individuals capable of running their own lives. After ensuring the safety of the client and acquainting him or her with the ethical aspects of entering therapy, a wise and skilled clinician starts the process of clearing away the dross that has accumulated in the client’s life rendering that person less able to access their inborn resilience. Oftentimes the clearing away process reveals pockets of naïveté about a basic life skill, at which time the clinician either stops to instruct the client or sends the client to explore the issue using a sound psycho-educational resource. Work then resumes with the clinician encouraging the client to depend more and more on her or his own restored savvy and verve.

At therapy’s end we have a human being who is once again their natural, adaptable self and very likely capable of rebounding on their own from the next crappy conundrum that Fate drops into their life.

The overarching goal of this website is to simulate that therapeutic process for people who would like to give self-directed healing a try or for people who are relatively free from distress but would like to develop an even stronger relationship with themselves.

Using the process of self-construction you will be able to take those two steps yourself – first identifying and removing the dross you inherited from your elders, and then filling in any learning gaps in your childhood curriculum.

What, exactly, is psychological dross? Not to put too fine a point on it, it is the life-damaging garbage we pick up unknowingly as we work our way toward full adulthood. Because everything we think we know about ourselves has been created by our interactions with our environment and because our environment always contains fun-house mirrors, we all exit childhood with some degree of distortion in our sense of self. That is dross. It can be fairly mild and benign such as underappreciating your sense of humor, underestimating your writing skills or thinking you are moody by nature. It can also, however, be soul crushing such as thinking you’re lazy or stupid or just not lovable.

All the articles herein will guide you through a kind, careful and thorough evaluation of how life has been treating you, how you have been coping to this point and what distorting mirrors may still be in place reflecting back to you unhelpful myths about who you are. The material on the website will also provide an exploration of what you don’t know that you don’t know about the human change process. These psychological skills range from the most basic (how to have empathy, fight cleanly or bolster your willpower) to the most advanced (how to differentiate, stabilize your self-esteem or review and assess your career satisfaction).


Each article will contain a FAWOT box where I include both books of nonfiction and fiction that I believe can deepen your understanding of the topic at hand. If you have read something you think can contribute to an article, please let me know and I'll check it out.



If you send me questions at, I'll answer them!


But no matter the degree of difficulty of the psychological ability described in an article, each subject covered on this site is guided by the theory of self-construction. You do not need to study the theory in order to benefit from the material. I present a brief outline of the model below because I want you to have some sense of where it comes from so you can judge for yourself how worthy it is of your time. asks a lot of you. I want you to feel good about making the investment.

Starting with you

Once upon a time, one man and one woman conceived a child who turned out to be you. How your world received you, respected you and trained you has underwritten your particular biography to date. Now, here are two towering truths that follow directly from that last sentence: Every single child is damaged to some extent by their upbringing; and your life story is not supposed to be a novel written by your parents. If we try to ignore these two existential truths, we will remain trapped in struggles that can come to define us as we try to move through our one and only life. These truths are addressed to some extent in every article on this website because, until we can understand specifically how our upbringing has affected us to date, our attempts to self-construct will be continuously sabotaged by our inability to clear the decks on what went wrong in our childhoods. And until we can intellectually backfill those distinct lacunae into which we continue to fall, they will remain in place trying to teach us what we don’t know that we don’t know.

Section I of the website covers these two truths from every psychological angle I could think of, but I want to introduce you to them here – again in service of gaining your commitment to the process of self-construction.

Every single child is damaged to some extent by their upbringing. There is no need to imagine villainous parents in order to make the point that no childhood is perfectly designed. (Although it needs to be said here explicitly that too many childhoods are absolute horrors, sending children into the world deeply, deeply wounded.) Normal upbringings are primarily focused on making us socially acceptable – well educated in all the right subjects and capable of flourishing in the world of our birth. But, as unique individuals, none of us are completely compatible with either our particular set of parents or our immediate cultures. Nor are our parents and cultures perfect examples of how to live a wonderful life. Plus, as humanity slogs ever so slowly toward greater enlightenment, the older generation that raises us will probably lag behind to a degree in terms of cutting edge collective wisdom.

Thus, everywhere we mismatch and everywhere our parents and cultures are themselves inept in the gnarly aspects of living, a hole will be created in our childhood curriculum that will leave us unprepared, misdirected or misinformed – or all three.

Troopers that we are, we humans naïvely try to live our life as if these holes didn’t exist – and then we fall into one. What happens next reflects gaslighting on an epic scale and is what motivated me to write this website – when we stumble in life we are encouraged to believe that this proves that we are inept rather than poorly taught. I’m sure you can see that if we believe the lie that we have weak characters rather than weak training, there is nothing to be done when we stumble but resign ourselves to trying to recover using, ironically, that puny character we've been told we have. Rather like attempting to walk off a broken leg.

Your life story is not supposed to be a novel written by your parents. It is supposed to be written by you. No surprise here. We are all aware on some level that with our every decision we are laying down another sentence describing who we are. The larger the decision, the longer the text. Soon we have another chapter of our autobiography written in the blood of life. If that sounds serious, it’s because it is. We are what we choose to do. Simple as that. And if we write our autobiography well enough then, as Nietzsche suggested, we shouldn’t mind living our life again.

But who among us has actually been taught how to write the story of our life?

Remember, our training was primarily focused on preparing us to be upright and compliant citizens in a technological world rather than existentially intelligent individuals awake to the idea that cultures are ill fitting at best. If you don’t know what you don’t know but you’re supposed to be in position to write your own story, how can you preemptively fill in the blanks left by your prior curriculum?



What gives the self-construct paradigm a distinct perspective on self-directed healing?

There is copious research that has found that the most effective psychologists by far are those whose work is theory driven – who move beyond template-based treatment and instead study each client as a unique person to be observed through the keen prism of the therapist’s understanding of how humans grow, change and flourish. I believe this is true for self-directed healing as well. In other words, if self-help material evolves from a complete theory of human mental health, it will present that material much more comprehensively.

This website is supported by a psychological theory that is both broad and thorough. Let me describe it very briefly here. If you are interested in a deeper understanding of the theory of self-construction there are two long articles describing it at the end of the site. If you aren’t that interested, please don’t worry. You can skip this next section. You don’t need to understand the theory in order to utilize the self-construct material.

Let me start with my second favorite self-construct metaphor: If you had an old fashioned set of encyclopedias on your bookshelf and both the “G” and “R” books were missing, you would notice the gaps in the sequence because you know the alphabet. If you didn’t know the alphabet, however, you might think the 24 books you did have constituted the complete set. Something very similar happens with respect to our reference material of necessary life knowledge. When we don’t know that we don’t know something, we absolutely cannot set out to learn it. We have to wait until we are tripped up by our lack of knowledge and then, knowing that we have something to learn, we seek out helpful training resources.

I have designed the self-construct website to provide as complete a set of psychological encyclopedias as possible in order to provide for you a corrective educative experience. As I’ll explain in detail in a minute, you can use the material on this website to scan through your psyche looking for those places where you don’t know what you don’t know. Once found, these psychological gaps in your early training can be easily filled using the information provided by each article or by doing the suggested further reading. But know this – much of the reading will be easy because you absolutely already know a great deal of the material gathered here for you.

If you were lucky enough to have had a good enough childhood, your self-construction efforts will involve just a little whisk-broom tidying to clean out that dross accumulated in your early years. If, however, you had a significant degree of mismatch between yourself and the adults tasked with raising you, your self-construction efforts will require a more thorough deep-cleaning to eliminate the mess your adults made in your past. If so, please gather a solid and supportive social support network for yourself and seek out professional help as needed.

Now, how was I able to build such an encyclopedic resource?

I had help. Lots and lots of help.

I have built the model of self-construction standing on the shoulders of thinkers who spent their lives both studying and living their deepest sense of what it means to be fully human. That is to say, I have gathered here for you the foundational thinking of the existential writers and the attachment expertise of the feminist scholars as well as the most powerful tools from the field of psychology, and I have braided these three elements to create as complete a curriculum as possible for self-directed healing.

What follows is a quick overview of the three ideological components.

A tiny tour of the theory

To understand human growth and change, one must first, I would think, understand what it is to be a human. When taken all together, these three groups of people – existential philosophers, feminist scholars and clinical researchers – cover all the bases.

We can characterize the existential philosophers as mental swashbucklers who – with little to no concern for the sweeter things of life – went gallivanting out to the edges of human experience to explore “mankind” in all its gutsy glory. While how they lived their individual lives may not have been to my liking (I’ll admit I think of most of these men as barely emotionally housebroken), they did push the limits of our understanding of existence itself. As a result, we can anchor our ontological thinking using the givens of existence that these philosophers believed establish the perimeter of what it means to be a human being.

In sum, existentialists believe that there are five basic elements delineating the foundational truth of each human life.

• Every single human being is unique, living in a time that has never previously existed.

• We are each responsible for designing our minute-by-minute lives.

• We are all left to our own devices when it comes to deciding what’s meaningful to us and what is not.

• All of us are forced to accept that Fate is going to decide much of what happens to us – including the manner and the timing of our death.

• We are each trapped within the physical boundaries of the human body, meaning we face all those challenges alone within our minds.

In five words: uniqueness, responsibility, meaninglessness, Fate and isolation. Our job as humans, according to these philosophers, is to endure the dread and anxiety that these givens precipitate in us rather than ignore them and pretend that life is easy.

(A little gift for you: Lest you think that existentialism is a bleak and unapproachable philosophy, I would invite you to give this clever and fetching website a visit from time to time as you work your way through the self-construct material – existential comics.)

Now, unfortunately these crusty grandfathers of profundity believed that, while humans are definitely designed to handle these difficult truths, the way to do so was through true grit. There’s no doubt that many of our successes in life follow stoic and plucky behavior, but anyone who has lived more than 25 years can tell you that one-trick ponies rarely live impressive lives. Humans need to be able to do more than John Wayne their way through life.

Luckily for us, feminist scholars just as bravely explored the chaotic interpersonal world of humanity, seeking to uncover how emotional intelligence fosters attachment – that something that makes human life worth living. It doesn’t even take 25 years for most of us to figure out that our bonds to persons, places and things – as imperfect and difficult as they may be – are what support us as we stoically face our life’s challenges.

(Note: Before we continue, however, I need to take a moment to clarify crucial word usage. I realize that there is currently much flux regarding the vocabulary of gender, but I need to discuss the feminine perspective on the givens of existence because that perspective forms half of the self-construct model. So let me ask you to understand that, while I may use the old words, I believe that they can be understood in a new way. In other words, we now understand that when we are describing gender perspectives we are not seeking to lock anyone into a mold not to their liking. This issue is further clarified in the article on feminism.)

Back to the theory of self-construction.

If the existential thinkers, predominantly men, are the surveyors of the range of human existence in terms of the intrapsychic world, the feminist thinkers, predominantly women, are the voices we should listen to if we want to understand how to flourish within the messiness of the relational world.

What we can learn from the feminist scholars is that all mental health is determined by stipulation. Absent or distorted stipulation creates neuroses. Attentive and caring stipulation creates a well-adjusted human.

Stipulation is a specific type of communication. It tells you that someone thinks that how you are navigating life – ipso facto the givens of existence – is impressive. It is only possible to give rich and accurate stipulation if you are personally high in emotional intelligence. Therefore, you will only receive an adequate supply of this most vital of mental vitamins if you are surrounded by emotionally healthy people capable of providing it. What we learn from women’s ways of knowing is that the surest route to growth is through connection. Specifically, the people close to us need to be able to stipulate us with respect to all five of the givens. More often than not, our people need to talk to us like this:

• Unique: I see you in the context of your life and I think you are cleverly navigating through your particular set of circumstances.

• Responsibility: I trust your ongoing efforts to be conscientious because I have witnessed your integrity to date.

• Meaning: I’m interested in what you are designing for your specific life moving forward.

• Fate: I’m connected to you so you will not have to face difficulties without someone by your side.

• Isolation: I value you because I’ve learned a lot about you, and I see that you matter to the people who matter to you.

In brief form: I know you, I respect you, I like you, I am here with you and I need you.

If good stipulation makes for good mental health and good stipulation is created when our attachments are well-chosen and well-tended, it follows that no one can truly live well without surrounding themselves with persons, places and things that matter. But it’s not enough to curate a nurturing environment for yourself. You also need to participate in the maintenance of those attachments. Self-construct harvests the insights of the wise, nurturing grandmothers of feminism who lay out for us how a culture of caring only works when there is a bilateral willingness to share emotional resources through reciprocal effort. In a nutshell, humans flourish when everyone practices well-intentioned and well-crafted stipulation.

Now, we need to include the contribution that psychologists have made to the self-construct model. (This section will be longer than the existential and feminist sections because there’s no separate article addressing the material in greater depth on the website, and I wanted to provide you with a fairly complete understanding of the psychological model I’ve used for the theory.)

Sprinkled throughout the research in the field of psychology are many clues about how people manage to rebound from adversity. Taken as a whole, these clues suggest three aspects of human resilience that should have been thoroughly described in an owner’s manual delivered right alongside every newborn. First, it appears that there are five specified personality traits that combine to support the rebounding process. Second, although they are stable elements of our inborn temperaments, these traits are somewhat fragile, meaning they can be disturbed and diminished by a poor upbringing. And third, good news here, all five of these traits can be strengthened. Indeed, the primary route of healing for all types of psychotherapy is the buttressing of the resiliency traits.

The five resiliency traits

The research on these five traits goes back almost one hundred years. Starting with Gordon Allport in the 1930s and continuing through to today, psychologists have had an on-again-off-again relationship with the idea that people are born with a relatively stable personality. Starting in the 1970s the research guided by psychologists Paul Costa, Jr. and Robert McCrae started to coalesce around five distinct domains that seemed to statistically incorporate all the other recognized personality traits. What is germane to us here is that the following five traits, while they have not been shown to be able to predict behavior, have been shown to be innate and to underlie resilience. And, as I mentioned, these traits respond to strengthening through excellent parenting and/or therapeutic intervention. So, here they are:

1. Openness to experience. Synonymous with curiosity, this trait allows a person to engage in the healthy questing behavior necessary for self-actualization. Folks who are high in this characteristic will be experienced as creative, adventuresome, enthusiastic, and intense. And while there is nothing wrong with opposing traits such as caution and deliberateness, you can see how they would be less likely to aid in rebounding from a setback.

2. Conscientiousness. Synonymous with responsibility, a fellow with notable levels of this trait is one who reliably thinks about what he is doing and whether or not that is a wise use of his time. Folks like him tend to be industrious and very well prepared. Oddly, opposing tendencies such as spontaneity and a willingness to fly by the seat of one’s pants have been shown to inhibit resilience. It appears that, when problems arise, thoughtful, well-planned, efficient and structured behaviors more often aid in getting your life back on track – especially when combined with the openness-to-experience trait.

3. Extraversion. Synonymous with surgency, this trait describes people who seek fierce emotional states through bold and audacious moves. Euphoria is often their drug of choice. Because this trait describes people who are extremely comfortable having a high level of intense interaction with their environment, they get the majority of their energy from being out in the world trying new and daring things. Again, there is definitely nothing wrong with being on the other end of the scale and being more introverted. But when it comes to resilience, it appears that folks who see the world as an easily accessed resource will simply have more options for institutional assistance and more ideas about how to bounce back.

4. Stability. Synonymous with maturity, a woman who demonstrates this trait is self-sufficient, calm and optimistic. Her high tolerance for stress helps her sidestep the emotional reactivity that often precipitates moodiness or hopelessness. Her confidence serves her well as she networks with others to build a capable pit crew that can contribute to her ability to get back on track quickly. Again, while the sensitivity of people who are more excitable can be fine in most cases, it may cause them trouble when trying to think their way through upsetting times.

5. Agreeableness. Synonymous with compassion these folks eagerly attach to their world – people, places and things. They are kind, generous and interested in the well-being of the people in their social world. Because they have been empathically connected to significant others, they can easily access both corrective and supportive emotional experiences when under duress. And because they are committed to their job, their hobbies, their pets, their teams, their hometown, their planet and so on, they are terrifically energized by life. If, on the other hand, you are a competitive and highly independent person by nature, you may be quite successful day-to-day but less able to access social support when trying to recover from a negative event in your life.

I hope I’ve made it quite clear in this section that there is nothing wrong with you if you were born with higher levels of the opposing traits to resilience. A personality like yours can lead to a remarkable life, but it will likely require you to be more intentionally resourceful when you are set back by Fate. If you can remember to rely on others for support and perhaps guidance when the going gets rough, you should be able to regain your natural equilibrium in fairly short order. And don’t forget, those with enviable levels of resilience will rely on you to balance them out a bit using the traits that you have in such abundance!

How these traits get derailed

While some folks are rather lucky to have a naturally resilient personality, everyone, obviously, has some of each of the characteristics listed above. We give these attributes next to no thought, however, until life has dealt us a blow and we need to gather our resources in order to heal. As a result, when we go to the cupboards of our minds to take out our resiliency traits we may find some of the jars mostly empty, some mislabeled and some completely dried up. What would cause our supplies of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, stability and agreeableness to dwindle? Two things. First, a harsh upbringing will crush a child’s resilient temperament to the extent that it appears to be at cross-purposes with the stern adults. And, second, a lack of training in how to provision our resiliency pantry with well-cured and stable supplies will leave us strapped when we need these supplies most. Let’s look at each trait again to start understanding how poorly some children are raised relative to developing resiliency resources. The enhancement of every aspect of resilience will be covered in great detail in its own section of the website (Sections I-V). What follows is simply a thumbnail introduction to the derailing process.

1. Openness to experience. If you were to ask young parents if they would like to have children who were likely to self-actualize, I would imagine only the most bitter would say “No, not really.” In truth, who wouldn’t work to launch successful and happy adult children? I’ll tell you who – young parents who fail to realize that the necessary traits for seeking self-realization show up early and in extremely annoying (dare I say infuriating?) forms. The most benign manifestation of this first trait might be that relentless perseveration of the word: “Why?” But these madcap behaviors run the gamut from running away from home to blowing up the house with science experiments. Clearly, a lively openness to experience can be extremely dangerous both physically and socially for children. Due to fear, fatigue or ineptness, parents very often stifle any form of this first resiliency trait and push the child toward safer, conforming behaviors. And these sabotaging parental behaviors run the gamut from failing to listen to the needs of their children to outright lying to them. And, of course, many a parent will invoke that awful authoritarian brutality of shaming that drives healthy questing behavior clear out of the souls of most kids. Only people who take their parenting job very, very seriously will be able to routinely and sufficiently differentiate themselves emotionally as they watch their little darlings scrabble to find the trailhead to their life’s journey.

2. Conscientiousness. The childhood damage inflicted on this characteristic tends to be caused by both a lack of knowledge and a lack of integrity on the part of the child’s adult world. The ability to hold ourself accountable develops slowly over our long childhood as we watch how our elders act. Effective parents can say, “Do as I say and as I do.” In the absence of mature role models, even children with naturally high levels of this trait will struggle to learn the skills they need. The self-discipline that underlies conscientiousness is created when many psychological skills are fully in place and psychological sloppiness is minimized. Since few adults received a thorough education in the components of self-discipline, few can offer their offspring a rigorous curriculum on this most critical of subjects. Most people become more conscientious over time, but it sure seems more efficacious to me to help children operationalize then practice this trait early in life.

3. Extraversion. Whereas surgency is a fabulous word, it is a difficult trait to enjoy in your child(ren). It appears as a relentless hunger for ever more novel and intense experiences. Very often it also appears in fantasy form that can send many a reasonable adult into rebuttal mode. “No, honey, we aren’t going to let you join a band and go on tour. You’re only eleven.” And you can imagine how well this trait goes over with adults who are trying to herd children into compliant and quiet behaviors. Further, this characteristic very often gets squished when the plans a young adult has for her or his life doesn’t match with the plans of the parent. Few parents can maintain their delight in the face of offspring who want to fling themselves toward a future that makes absolutely no sense to the adults. Finally, grownups who themselves prefer a low-stimulation lifestyle will likely struggle to endure the energy and stimulation created by a child high in surgency.

4. Stability. Similar to conscientiousness, this trait needs to be well fostered through patient teaching and modeling by the adult world. High levels of self-esteem are required to undergird this trait, and a thorough curriculum for developing solid self-esteem involves beaucoup mini-lessons. Few adults understand that fact. As a result, they fail to both embody and teach the components of this complex psychological construct, meaning their child will continue to be plagued by a lack of self-confidence. Also, while it can be obvious early in a child’s life that she is an optimistic and relaxed kind of kid, if too much stress happens too soon and without clear adult support and debriefing, even a cheerful kid can develop chronically high levels of unhelpful anxiety. It takes grownups who have put much serious thought into how authentically they are managing their lives to serve as the models necessary to inspire kids to do likewise.

5. Agreeableness. This trait tends to be nurtured in young females and ignored or ridiculed in young males. And because behaviors typically associated with males – in this case competition, independence and confrontation – are more greatly valued by American culture, the characteristics that underlie agreeableness are not in themselves greatly respected. If you want to be taken seriously, in other words, you won’t want to lead with helpfulness, kindness or concern for others. Thus even female children can start to distance themselves from compassionate behaviors. Parents may give lip service to the position that one should be considerate of others, but the conscious construction energy of much of parenting goes into teaching kids how to compete successfully out in the world. If, on the other hand, children are able to observe their folks putting energy into gaining and maintaining friendships, they will likely do so also.

Picture parents faced with a fearless, bossy, rambunctious, vain and chatty three-year-old for twenty-four hours a day. Can’t you just imagine that many, many of these beleaguered folks would gladly trade that child in on one who is cautious, easygoing, restrained, modest and hardworking? Even the best parents will frequently stifle the difficult-to-tolerate resiliency traits and reinforce their opposite. Again, it’s not that the opposing traits are problematic. It’s that, when combined with other stifling behaviors perpetrated by parents, reinforcing the less resilient traits will also reinforce the child’s belief that their resiliency traits are undesirable. When you add to that unfortunate truth the fact that most cultures systematically punish those adventurous, bossy, rambunctious, vain and chatty three-year-olds (especially if they are female), you can see how so many of us end up entering adulthood with our resiliency cupboard bare.

All together now

I’ll bet you’ve noticed that each of our three groups of theorists – the existentialists, the feminists and the psychologists – all delineated five core aspects of human mental health. What the self-construct model did was recognize that those three sets of input can be merged to form five vectors pointing us toward improved mental health. Those vectors are:

• Uniqueness handled well through wholehearted parental attachment enhances openness to experience.

• Responsibility carefully taught and modeled by caring adults instills conscientiousness.

• Meaning-seeking is more likely to be successful when supported by folks delighted by our particular interests.

• Facing Fate in the company of empathic people teaches us how to be calm and brave.

• Even though we cannot read minds, close attachments and tender stipulation by people who matter to us reassure us that we are ok.

Now, I don’t know about you, but this is the point where my mind starts to lose track of where it is or where it’s going. Although all the five sentences above ring true to me and feel psychologically beguiling, I don’t actually know what to do with them. I need a label for each of the five concepts that I can use to orient myself within the model. Words that are easily accessible to me so I can grab one when I feel lost.

I use the five-pointed compass of time.

If we understand that the most elemental aspect of being a human being is that we understand the concept of time, we can use that reality to serve as our guide. To wit: if we realize that there are five aspects of time that we must all learn to navigate, we can use each of these five aspects to benchmark a matching mental health vector.

The five components of time are: past, present, future, death and energy. I would imagine the first three dimensions are obvious to you. We are all comfortable with moving our perspective among our past, our present and our future. The other two dimensions will take a little explaining.

Death, if you think about it, is a quintessentially human dimension of time in that only humans understand these two critical truths about death: it is coming for each and every one of us, and it could, truthfully, be here later this afternoon. To the extent we can tolerate the fact that death is an ever-present, unpredictable threat to our time allotment, we can make the best use of that time by turning the resulting uncertainty into urgency rather than panic.

And energy, as you can imagine, is that component of time that allows us to, in fact, make use of our time. If we arrive at a day with insufficient physical and emotional resources to enact our choices, can it be said we actually have a day? What often happens when this happens is we either have to take a “sick day” to refuel or we limp through the time period at less than half speed meaning we’ve lost at least half our productivity. We power our lives through our attachment behaviors – connections to ourselves as well as people, places and things. Put another way, our vitality is a function of our engagement with what is meaningful to us specifically. Our attachments to our world establish why our lives matter to us and why our lives matter to our world. If nothing about our situation matters, our lives will have no energy for maintaining our physical and psychological health and we will fail to thrive.

To conclude this not-so-tiny tour of the theory, we now have five labels that I have found to very effectively situate us relative to the five vectors:

Past: this dimension of time is where our uniqueness resides

Present: this dimension of time is where we are held accountable

Future: this dimension of time is the home of our dreams

Death: this dimension of time demands that we pay attention to the other dimensions of time

Energy: this dimension of time allows us to be – in actual fact – alive

Putting the entire model together with the dimension of time, the existential given, the attachment requirement and the resiliency characteristic:

Past Vector: uniqueness: I know you: openness to experience

Present Vector: responsibility: I respect you: conscientiousness

Future Vector: meaning-seeking: I like you: extraversion

Death Vector: Fate: I am here with you: emotional stability

Energy Vector: isolation: I need you: agreeableness

Returning to the English language, we can sum up self-construction by describing our five existential, feminist, psychological tasks this way:

Past Vector: If we wish to monitor who we are becoming in our day-to-day lives, we must commit to being open to discovering as much about our uniqueness as possible by digesting our past – including our near past – without shame. We can only do this accurately when we rely solely on trustworthy attachments to provide us with outside input about how we are doing so far.

Present Vector: Adulting demands that we develop an ability to behave conscientiously, an ability that rests on our understanding of the components of willpower. When, more often than not, we act responsibly, we earn both self-respect and the respect of significant others for our thoughtful implementation of integrity.

Future Vector: Our lives will never be boring if we are willing to surge out into our world in search of delightful and meaningful activities that bring out the most genuine parts of ourselves. When we can routinely do this, we are full of ourselves in the best possible way and other healthy folks will find us energizing.

Death Vector: The more emotionally stable we are, the more likely it will be that we can access the courage to relate to significant others authentically enough to forge bonds that can support us as we practice sorting the cards we are being dealt. Supportive relationships ease our sense of helplessness in the face of Fate which, happily, enhances our emotional stability.

Energy Vector: Humans are herd animals meaning we each need to create a pack to join us in the hunt for a meaningful life. We can only do this with the emotional and social intelligences to accommodate significant others in service of developing bilateral caring. With those attachments in place, we create more that enough emotional equity to provide both the energy and the support that people need from each other.

Back to you

So what we are trying to do here – you and I – is make accessible all that wonderful knowledge created by these admirable thinkers in order for you to use it to get better at being you. I will take care of inserting the existential grit and the feminist attachment elements into each article as well as the most current thinking from the fields of neurology and psychology. That will leave you free to focus on optimizing your resiliency by working through each dimension of time.

Here's what you need to remember:

• If we want to heal our openness to experience, we will want to improve our relationship with our past, for a discomfort with who we think we’ve been up until now will surely affect our willingness to trust our natural curiosity and verve.

• If we want to heal our ability to be conscientious, we will want to focus our attention on our relationship with our use of the present for if we believe we lack the self-discipline to make wise choices, we will be relentlessly whipsawed by behaviors such as impulsivity, procrastination and petulance.

• If we want to heal our natural level of surgency, we will want to ensure that our sense of the future is colored by delight not doom, for if we experience no pull from what lies ahead for us, it will be nearly impossible to engage our derring-do.

• If we want to heal our ability to be emotionally stable in our daily lives, we will want to strengthen our ability to handle difficult truths. One way to do that is to learn to make good use of the fact that death – indeed Fate itself – is out there somewhere urging us to take risks and step bravely into our next choice. If we shrink from understanding how difficult it is to be a human, we will find ourselves being a little less human.

• If we want to heal our ability to stay connected to the people, places and things that matter to us, we will want to learn to monitor our levels of energy and intervene as necessary to vivify our lives with ardent interdependence. For if we get sloppy in the maintenance of our relationships, the equity we need to have in them will not be there when needed.

The five vectors directing us toward sound mental health are not without significant overlap, but when made artificially distinct, they can serve as reliable points of reference to keep your healing work on track and efficient. Plus, it will be much easier to keep track of what you are working on by remembering the easier past, present, future, death and energy compass than the more cumbersome openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, stability and agreeableness. We’re used to navigating through time. We are not so nimble when it comes to resilience.

You can either read through the material in the order presented or start with the dimension of time that seems to give you the most trouble. If you are choosing the latter, take a minute to scroll through the five dimensions of time. Look for the bruised parts of your psyche and connect it to a point on our little existential map.

• If your childhood haunts you and you often feel stupid, start back in your past.

• If you feel like you are letting too many days go by without making wise choices and you wonder about this childish behavior, start with the present.

• If you feel that your life is just not meaningful and your days are boring, look first at the future dimension.

• If you fear you are spending too much time looking for easy answers or short cuts, you might look first at the section on Fate to see if you can up your level of courage.

• Finally, if you are just too low on energy to put good things in motion for yourself or too lonely to even imagine moving out into your world, start with the energy dimension.

If it is still ambiguous to you in terms of where to start, you can also read the short introductory article for each of the first five sections to get a clearer sense of each time-trait relationship and see what lights your fire.

The payoff

This website was created solely to support you as you: eliminate ill-fitting, inherited bedrock assumptions about yourself and reality; strengthen your self-discipline; move more surely toward a meaningful set of goals; learn to bravely face a Fate-fraught life and build deeper relationships with the world around you.

First, you will get a new conceptual lens with which to review your childhood, a lens that will provide you with a much, much clearer sense of your upbringing. The shame-free, curiosity-based perspective that underlies Section I will allow you to review your past in ways that will surprise you. Why is this important and why is this the first and necessary step toward healing? Because I’ll bet you a thousand bucks, when you finish this first section, you’ll discover that you are a far better person than you thought you were. Specifically: smarter, more conscientious, more interesting, braver and more loveable. And everything in life is easier when you are good friends with yourself.

Section II is designed to teach you all the parts of all the little psychological skills that buttress your ability to make the moment-to-moment decisions that move your life steadily forward. You will breeze through this section because you will already know about 90% of the information provided in it. However, and this is a big however, it’s that missing 10% that trips us up every time. When you’re done with this section, you will be much less likely to face plant in the daily administration of your life.

Next, I believe these two things to be true: No one doesn’t not want to do what they were designed to do. And, anyone capable of reading this website is psychologically sure-footed enough to find their way to their unique passions once the misleading trail signs have been corrected. Section III is the part of the website that makes those corrections. The scope of this section is broad because the misdirections of our upbringings are broad. Reading and studying this material will give you the ability to both explain and pursue your next core human project. Those abilities put you on the road toward mastery of something you were absolutely meant to master. Can you imagine anything more delightful?

Fourth, to the extent that you have worrisome psychological symptoms, you will benefit from Section IV of the website. You could say that this portion is an advanced version of Section II in that it explores more deeply the strengths that wise folks demonstrate as they move cohesively through their lives. It guides you through the material you need to understand if you want your life to be demonstrably lucid yet wonderfully audacious. When you have completed this section, you will find that more and more of your behavior is integrity-driven and effective. The term for that is, of course, authenticity.

Fifth, nothing you can do in your life will matter, however, if you aren’t attached to your world. Section V is all about attachment. The articles in this section will address the good news/bad news aspect of attachment: Love does make the world go ’round, but it takes work (lots and lots and lots of work) to build and maintain the relationships in your life. This section will help you strengthen the bonds you have with the people, places and things that matter to you – even if, or especially if, they only matter to you. And then you’ll find that, as a highly attached person, you will always have a charging station handy when you need one.

Because it’s there

My favorite metaphor for self-construction is mountaineering. For whatever reason, we are each here on earth and we humans feel compelled to do something with our time allotment. Why not go up? Why not try to be a little more every day? Learn a little, strive a little, master a little?

Section I – clears the downed branches and duff of your upbringing away from the trailhead and restores the signage to the various trail options available.

Section II – trains you to have the strength and endurance to tackle the moment-by-moment challenges of mountaineering.

Section III – provides you with cartographer skills to draw a route you’d like to try next.

Section IV – teaches you the safety skills to ensure as injury free an ascent as possible.

Section V – shows you how to establish a basecamp for yourself that will be there to provide for you all the supplies and support you will need to get up every day and climb a little higher.

Now, restoring your resilience to its natural state won’t make you dog happy, but it will enable you to consistently accommodate what Fate throws at you in a way that allows you to maintain steady progress toward mastery of the domains that mean the most to you. Mastery will take you into the state of flow, which is as close to dog happy as humans get.

And, of course, the effort remains sublime. As Nietzsche put it:

In the mountains of truth you never climb in vain. Either you already reach a higher point to-day, or you exercise your strength in order to be able to climb higher to-morrow.

Welcome to Human School – the homeschooling model. Here we go. Time to take responsibility for engendering your unique gifts by completing the job left unfinished by your parents.

© Copyright 2024 Jan Iversen. All rights reserved.