When My Blog Went Bump in the Night

One night a couple of weeks ago the blogging gremlins crept into this blog’s database and stomped around, trashing the place. I first noticed the results of their fun when a new post didn’t show up on the blog, even though the WordPress dashboard assured me that it had been published. I then saw other signs as well: the feature photos on individual posts were not properly centered, and the row of sharing icons underneath the body of each post did not display correctly.

I tried deleting and republishing the latest post, but it still didn’t show up. I contacted tech support at my hosting company, Dreamhost. They tried a number of things that tech support guys do but couldn’t get anything new to publish, either. Finally, they notified me that the situation was not a server problem and suggested that I try to restore the database to a time when the blog was working properly.

By then it was time me to leave for my Thanksgiving retreat on the coast of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where I would have neither cell service nor internet access. By the time I got back home, it was too late to do a database restoration because backups are only saved on the server for five days.

My knowledge of blogging is like my knowledge of driving: I know how to start the car, put gas in it, and watch for flashing alerts, but beyond that I know nothing about how or why the car does or doesn’t work. WordPress allows me to blog the same way: I’m fine as long as it works well (which it almost always does), but I know nothing about how it integrates all the individual parts and where it puts them together and saves them. When it comes to doing anything to the files stored on a server, I’m in way over my head.

When Dreamhost’s tech support couldn’t fix the problem for me, I knew that I had only two options: (1) give up this blog altogether, or (2) scrap the current setup and start over.

Since giving up wasn’t really an option, I looked with dread at the prospect of starting over. The first post on the old version of Change of Perspective went up on August 14, 2007, so I’d be losing eight years—eight years!—of work. I took a deep breath and told myself to look at this as an opportunity to improve the blog rather than as a disaster.

Even though the blog no longer displayed beyond a single page, I was able to look at the earliest posts through the WordPress dashboard. And do you know what I found? I had posted a lot of the early material before I decided what the focus and purpose of the blog should be. And much of that material was now either insignificant or outdated, or, most often, both. I started using Scrivener to manage blog content back in mid 2014, so I had a year and a half of good material that I could repost. Suddenly starting over became an exciting challenge.

Because I still had access to my work through the WordPress dashboard, I was able to download the blog’s media library, although I had to do it one item at a time, a time-consuming project. And I was able to copy other information, such as my “about” page content and post categories, and save them to a text file for use in re-creating the blog.

The next step, though, was more difficult. I combed through Dreamhost’s copious support documents to find out how to perform the steps I thought I’d need to go through to set up the new blog:

  1. Remove the old installation of WordPress
  2. Remove the old database
  3. Install a new, shiny clean edition of WordPress that would create its own new database

I even emailed this list, along with what I had found out about how to do each step, to tech support to ask them if this process would work. They replied that it looked good.

Tomorrow is the big day when I (try to) launch a reboot of Change of Perspective. Wish me luck! I’ll let you know how it goes.

When the Empath Met the Narcissist

5 Signs Someone Is Manipulating You

About 10 years ago I had to break off a friendship when I finally realized how badly A. was manipulating me. I wish I had then known about these five signs to watch for:

(1) Knowing they’ve manipulated others.

This wouldn’t have helped me, at least not initially, with A. because I didn’t know about her past relationships with other people. But I did begin to wonder when I found out that she had been divorced three times.

(2) They’re the fast moving fast talking types.

A. did seem eager to pull me into a close relationship. I met her not long after my two closest friends had died, when I was looking to cultivate new friendships.

(3) They get impatient fast.

This is the one that should have set my alarm bells ringing. Whenever A. and I were together, we talked about her issues and did what she wanted to do. As long as I commiserated with her, everything was fine. But if I broached some other subject or started to talk about something that was happening my life, she’d quickly dismiss me with a cutting remark or her need to depart.

(4) They make you into the bad guy.

And if #3 didn’t alert me, this one certainly should have. Once I realized how self-centered A. was, I began trying to tell her how her actions hurt me. Her response: “Anything I do is neutral. It’s up to you to decide how you want to interpret it. So if you’re hurt, that’s your problem, not mine.”

(5) They play to your feelings.

This was the one that finally made me realize nothing was ever going to change with A. Once she learned the things that hurt, she routinely did them over and over again. And at times when one of her adult children had pushed her buttons, she’d turn on me viciously. She seemed to think that making me feel bad would make her feel better.

It took me a long time to figure out that my relationship with A. had to end because I first needed to come to two realizations:

  1. I am an empath.
  2. A. is a narcissist.

Although I usually try not to label people, in this case understanding and applying these two labels was exactly what I needed to do.

An empath is someone who feels other peoples’ emotions along with them. The empath doesn’t merely understand another person’s emotions but actually shares in experiencing them. We’re the ones who cry at sad movies and experience our friends’ grief, sadness, and joy.

A narcissist is in many ways the opposite of an empath. As psychiatry professor Thomas G. Plante explains:

You know you are around a narcissistic when someone brings all conversations back to them and their stories and interests. They really can’t listen for more than a mere moment to others (unless the topic is about them). Sure, they’ll ask about you or listen to your story or needs for just a minute but then they’ll get that glazed over or distracted look pretty fast or change the topic to something about them. They can’t put themselves in the shoes of others and can’t experience empathy in a sincere manner.

The following article explains why meetings between these two types can be so explosive.

The Toxic Attraction Between an Empath & a Narcissist.

Like me, Alex Myles realized she was an empath after she got involved in a “highly destructive relationship with a narcissist”:

The narcissist’s agenda is one of manipulation, it is imperative they are in a position whereby they can rise above others and be in control. The empath’s agenda is to love, heal and care. There is no balance and it is extremely unlikely there ever will be one. The more love and care an empath offers, the more powerful and in control a narcissist will become.

In my case, I kept trying to explain to A. how certain of her actions hurt me. The first few times she apologized, but the apology was always qualified: “I’m sorry if I hurt you” rather than “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” But before long she would treat me the same way and I’d be deeply hurt all over again.

I kept wondering why A. didn’t learn from what I explained to her. This is one of the characteristics of narcissists: They can’t learn from their mistakes because they don’t believe they make mistakes. Everything is always all the other person’s fault.

I finally realized that A.’s behavior would never change and that I had two choices: (1) to remain in the friendship and continue to be hurt frequently or (2) to exert my own right to be respected. In the end, I decided that I had to either change this relationship or break free of it. After one particularly hurtful episode, I told her that we had to talk about how she had treated me. Her reply was that she didn’t want to do that.

For a while she continued to email me, acting as if nothing had happened. I told her a couple of times that she should let me know when she was ready to talk about how she had treated me. She tried for a while longer to act as if nothing had happened, and eventually I stopped responding to those overtures. It has now been almost 10 years since our last communication.

Yes, A. treated me badly, but I continued to allow myself to be treated badly for much longer than I should have. I have since realized that empaths must learn to exert themselves by setting their own boundaries. A. was never going to stop abusing me as long as I let myself be abused. In the end, I had to require respect from her in order to maintain my own self-respect.

At first I thought I’d miss our friendship. However, I soon realized that I didn’t miss the emotional roller-coaster ride of interacting with someone whose approach to self-esteem was to demolish my self-esteem. In the end, this empath had to give herself permission to pursue self-protection.

New Look, New Focus

Finally, I had to make a decision.

Now that I’ve gone back to school and earned my doctorate (2011), now that we’ve retired and relocated (2013), I finally have to decide what I want to be when I grow up.

I’ve been thinking about all this inchoately for some time, but, in a marvelous example of synchronicity, a recent writing prompt in the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge made everything fall into place.

I had already decided that I was spreading myself too thin and needed to make changes to spend more time on my own writing. But when the journaling prompt asked me to have a talk with my inner critic, I was surprised at where the conversation went. All writers grapple with the inner critic, that internal voice that constantly tells us we have no right to write, no talent, nothing worth saying. I had barely started asking my inner critic to go easy on me when she interrupted and starting talking back.

And here’s what she had to say: You and I are not adversaries. In fact, I’m your writing best friend. I’m that alternate state of consciousness that takes over and does just about everything right when you’re in the zone, writing in flow. You know that we do your best work together. But you haven’t invited me to come visit you for quite a while.

And I had to admit that she was right. I haven’t written in flow since I finished my dissertation in the spring of 2011. I had forgotten how exhilarating that writing state feels and how good is the work that comes out of it. I’ll explain writing in flow in more detail in another post, but its most pertinent characteristic for this discussion is that it can be nurtured and cultivated. To court flow, the writer—or at least this writer—has to provide conditions conducive to that mental shift of gears that happens when flow kicks in.

So in my journal entry I agreed to once again offer her—let’s call her Flow and get her a big tricked-out name tag—what she needs to operate:

Flow nametag

  • meaningful writing projects
  • real deadlines
  • specific target audiences
  • extended periods of uninterrupted writing time

For me, that final one has always been the most important. I’m sure some people can slip in and out of flow at short notice and for small bursts of time, but my Flow doesn’t work that way. She likes to move in and stay a while.

As a result of the compromise I’ve reached with Flow, I’ll be narrowing the focus of this blog to the following topics:

  • journal writing
  • memoirs and memoir writing
  • therapeutic benefits of expressive writing
  • creative nonfiction writing, both general advice and my own writing process
  • psychology news as it pertains to these topics

Also, since one of my areas of study is the intersection of psychology and literature, I will try to create more interweaving between this blog, which emphasizes psychology and writing, and my literature blog, Notes in the Margin. To that end, I have changed to the same design theme for both blogs to create a sense of continuity for readers moving between them.

Unlike Peter Pan, I think I’m finally ready to grow up into who I want to be. Thanks for listening.

Flow and I would love for you to write something in the comment section below.

How I Learned to Trust My Intuition

I am a Virgo. The primary characteristic of Virgos is their love of logic, their reliance on reasoned, rational thought. Yet all my life I have had occasional flashes of insight or foreboding that come seemingly from nowhere. It took me a long time to learn to call these flashes intuition and to trust them for what they are—insight from outside the rational realm.

I have had several intuitive experiences during my lifetime, but by far the most salient one occurred during the summer when my daughter was 3½ years old. She was enrolled in a preschool day camp that summer that was going on a field trip to the city zoo. Several high school and college student volunteers, along with some parents, were going to accompany the children; the ratio of adults to children was 1:2. Since I was not required to go along to the zoo, I was looking forward to having a few free hours when I could go grocery shopping and run errands such as going to the bank and the post office unencumbered by a small child. The morning of the field trip, as I was packing my daughter’s lunch and getting ready to drive her to camp, I had a very strong feeling that I should forget about my errands and go to the zoo. The feeling even grew stronger as we drove toward camp. When we got there and I asked the teacher if she had enough adults going on the trip, she said that she did and that I did not have to go. So I acted against my intuition and went grocery shopping while my child went to the zoo. 

I should emphasize here that the feeling I had that morning was not guilt about shirking my maternal duty. It was definitely a warning, a persistent feeling of anxiety that I have come to know as “generalized dread,” the premonition of a premonition. I did not have any particular vision of something bad happening (i.e., this was not a specific foretelling of the future), but the feeling was very strong.

I arrived back to the camp just before the bus returned. As the bus pulled in and the door opened, I felt a sudden physical pain in my stomach. I watched everyone getting off the bus, but my daughter did not appear. When the bus was empty, I climbed on board and walked up the center aisle checking all the seats to see if she might have fallen asleep. When I still didn’t see her, I went to the front of the bus, got down on my hands and knees, and looked under the seats on both sides of the aisle. I had known, though, from the minute I climbed up the bus steps that I was not going to find her on or under the seats. With a sense of inevitability I acknowledged that my daughter had been left behind at the zoo.∗

The feeling that struck me the morning of the zoo field trip was intuition. When I was working on my doctorate in psychology I had the opportunity to study intuition in the context of critical thinking, part of the study of how we know what we know. Paul and Binker (1992, p. 8) define intuition as “[t]he direct knowing or learning of something without the conscious use of reasoning.” Levy (1997, p. 241) defines intuition as “1. Direct or immediate knowledge or insight, without intentional effort, rational thought, or conscious judgment. 2. Perception by means of the unconscious; a strong premonition or hunch in the absence of objective empirical evidence.” The distinguishing characteristic of intuition is that it arrives without conscious effort or thought on our part; it is non-rational.

Whatever the source of intuition, its non-rational nature means that some proponents of critical thinking disallow its validity. Halpern (1998, p. 450) implies this when she says, “when the results of a scientific study of day care are pitted against intuition or the observations of a single individual, the general public tends to find these two sources of information equally compelling.” With the phrase “observations of a single individual” Halpern is referring to the “person who” fallacy, an invalid form of argument that goes like this: “Who says smoking causes lung cancer? I knew a man who has smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years, and he doesn’t have lung cancer.” By linking intuition with this form of false reasoning, Halpern is dismissing intuition as equally false.

Other proponents of critical thinking are a bit less strident about the value of intuition. Paul and Binker (1992, p. 8), for example, caution that “[a] critical thinker does not blindly accept that what he or she thinks or believes but cannot account for is necessarily true…. Critical thinkers may follow their inner sense that something is so, but only with a healthy sense of intellectual humility.” Levy (1997, p. 110), in a footnote, offers a muddy distinction between intuition and critical thought: “When you have an intuitive hunch, remember that although the intuition is always real, it may or may not be right.” (His lack of clarity in defining the terms of this distinction may itself be seen as a flaw in critical thinking.)

These last two quotations point up the problem of considering intuition within the framework of critical thinking. Paul and Binker, and Levy all apparently want to allow intuition a place at the critical thinking table but cannot adequately overcome the obstacle posed by trying to incorporate a non-rational way of knowing into a concept defined by its adherence to reason. 

But although critical thinking focuses on the use of logic and reason to construct a valid argument, there is another part to the definition of this construct: metacognition. That is, critical thinking also involves metathinking, or thinking about thinking (Halpern, 1998; Levy, 1997; Paul, 1990). One component of critical thinking is the ability to analyze an issue and determine which critical thinking elements are most appropriate for it. (Deciding which brand of toothpaste to buy does not require the same expenditure of critical thinking energy as does the decision about whether to have an abortion.) In this sense, then, we can incorporate intuition into the critical thinking process by recognizing that intuition may be appropriate in some situations but not in others.

We are still stuck, though, with trying to explain when intuition may be an appropriate critical thinking tool and when it may not be. This distinction is hard to make because of the nature of intuition: Although we may be able to define what intuition is, it is impossible to say where it comes from. One possible explanation for intuitive insight is that our unconscious mind picks up on and processes clues from the environment that we do not consciously register. A woman walking alone to her car in a deserted parking lot late at night will consciously look for potential danger. But even if she doesn’t notice anything specifically threatening, her senses may unconsciously pick up unnoticed stimuli and warn her to flee. This may also be what is happening when we come in contact with a person who “gives us the creeps,” though we cannot explicitly say why. But this explanation cannot account for my intuition on the morning of my daughter’s trip to the zoo, as there was no concrete person or situation present for my unconscious mind to react to.

Intuition itself often lets me know in which situations it is appropriate. I do not have intuitive insight about every decision—even every major decision—I must make on a daily basis. Moreover, I cannot summon intuition; it arrives on its own, unbidden (or at least not consciously bidden). Over the years I have noticed that my intuition only operates for very important matters, and because it appears only infrequently, I pay attention to it when it does arrive. In effect, then, I have learned not only to trust what my intuition tells me, but also to trust it to appear at appropriate times.

I have had a few other “gut feelings” in my life—though none as dramatic as the one related here. But every time I have let my head overrule my gut, I have regretted it. I have finally learned that I should trust my intuition—albeit with a healthy sense of intellectual humility. 


Halpern, D. F. (1998). Teaching critical thinking for transfer across domains: Dispositions, skills, structure training, and metacognitive monitoring. American Psychologist, 53, 449-455.

Levy, D. A. (1997). Tools of critical thinking: Metathoughts for psychology. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Paul, R. W. (1990). Critical thinking: What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world. Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique. Rohnert Park, CA: Sonoma State University, pp. 44-67.

Paul, R. W., & Binker, A. J. A. . (1992). Glossary: An educator’s guide to critical thinking terms and concepts. Critical thinking handbook series. Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique. Rohnert Park, CA: Sonoma State University, pp. 1-14.

*This story does have a happy ending. The zoo police had found my daughter wandering around the enclosed children’s zoo. They took her to their office and entertained her until I could drive there to pick her up.

© 2012 by Mary Daniels Brown


“People Don’t See Older Women”

In the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, the head of British intelligence, M (played by Judi Dench), comes under fire for losing the department’s list of undercover agents. But what is really on trial is the old-fashioned way of gathering intelligence—with human agents on the ground conducting surveillance. M and her methods have become obsolete, the investigating committee says. As a result, M herself has become irrelevant. She is too old to continue to run the department. She has to go.

About 20 years ago, our library book group had to negotiate its position with library staff after a change in the management hierarchy. We asked one of our older members, Mary C., if she would be our spokesperson and talk to the staff. She said she thought one of the younger members should do it instead. “People don’t take older women seriously,” she said. “They look right through us. They don’t even see us.”

I thought of Mary C. while M’s fate unfolded in Skyfall. It seems that M and Mary experienced the same fate: They are women, and they got old. Someone younger should take their place.

Over on my literature blog I’ve compiled a list of fiction and nonfiction books about older women.

© 2012 by Mary Daniels Brown

4:30 AM

I am not a morning person. But there seems to be something sacred about 4:30 AM. That’s when my best thoughts gently shake me awake.

This Thanksgiving morning greeted me with the realization of how much online existence has increased the quality of my life.  We talk and read a lot about how the electronic world invades our lives and erodes our privacy, and all of that is true. Yet Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with family members whom I haven’t seen for years and to develop relationships with people from the next generation and even with their children. I now keep up with the everyday lives of people with whom I used to communicate only once a year, with the annual holiday card and newsletter. I’ve even come to know some friends of friends, people whom I never would have known if not for Facebook. Blogs and Twitter have also introduced me to people who share my interests and increase my knowledge by adding their own. 

So on this holiday morning, I am thankful for all of you out there. You know who you are. Happy Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving

© 2012 by Mary Daniels Brown