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Why Some Musicians Have to Be Told to Smile
October 6, 2023

Ever wonder why the accordion player sometimes seems to stare into space or look so solemn? It could be that they're bored, but the more likely reason is that they're concentrating.

Every musician possesses a finite amount of musical brainpower. How much they possess is determined by how talented they are, and how much of it they allocate to performing varies on several factors.

Below is a graphic showing how an experienced, accordion-playing bandleader may allocate their brainpower during a typical performance. They don't use all their brainpower for performing because they don't need to. Through years of practice and performing, a lot of what they do has become second nature. They don't have to think about every note they're playing or singing because muscle memory is doing a lot of the heavy lifting. So while they are performing, a percentage of their mind is free for other tasks... like smiling:

But stressors can affect with bandleader's concentration, forcing him to allocate more of it to performing. Stressors can include being unable to hear well due to poor acoustics or inept sound technicians, having to play ahead or behind the drummer to prevent him from dragging or rushing the tempo, performing new material, and adapting their repertoire and arrangements to gel with new musicians. These kinds of stressors leave the bandleader significantly less brainpower for other tasks:

Like a typical polka bandleader, I have good days and bad days. On a good day, the drummer will lock onto my tempo, allowing me to relax and enjoy playing instead of continually having to hold him back or push him forward. On a good day, I'll hear myself clearly instead of having to allocate brainpower to deciphering what notes I'm playing or singing. Good days are fun, and they're what make being a polka bandleader worth all the hard work.

But sometimes gigs can be stressful, and when they are, it leads to mental exhaustion. Notice how crowded that second graphic is. After a four-hour gig under such conditions, I am completely spent. When I get home, I can't do anything that requires thinking because my brain is toast. I need a good night's sleep to recharge.

Some bandleaders have committed smiling to muscle memory so that they automatically do it without thinking. This is a good skill to have because smiling and concentrating don't go hand-in-hand.

So the next time you see a bandleader looking so serious and solemn, it's OK to say, "Hey! Smile!" Bandleaders actually enjoy the lighthearted banter. But to put yourself in their shoes, try maintaining an authentic smile while you're running multiplication tables in your head as you're weaving your way through heavy traffic on the freeway while trying to follow a football game on the radio. It's not as easy as it sounds.

A Sneak Peek Into That One Person's Odd Social Media Behavior
August 31, 2023

Have you noticed that people who continually post messages of love, empathy, and tolerance on social media are often the most judgmental, intolerant, and bitter people in real life? Ever wonder why that is?

Last year when I wrote an article explaining why I don't use social media, I touched on a connection between social media and mental health. It generated some feedback, and since the topic of social media and narcissistic personality disorder came up in recent conversation in a discussion forum to which I belong, I decided to use my blog to shed more light on why we notice some social media users failing to live by the mantras they preach.

Below is a graphic showing how emotionally healthy people see the world around them. They generally see people as reflections of themselves — mostly good-natured and harmless. Friendships and relationships come naturally.

People with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), however, have a very different view of the world around them:

People with NPD have very fragile self-esteem, and their Kryptonite is criticism. Narcissists cannot handle the feeling of being judged or deemed wrong. It doesn't take much for a narcissist's mind to perceive a benign, harmless comment as a hostile, personal attack. To shield themselves from this perceived hostility, narcissists tend to keep people at a distance and are very slow to trust anyone. In extreme cases they may even choose to live in relative isolation.

Since a narcissist lives in constant fear of being judged, their threshold of tolerance for other people's behavior toward them is unrealistically low, as shown by the extremely thin friend zone in the graphic above. Very few people in a narcissist's life will ever make it into their friend zone, and if they do, it's usually just for a short period of time. As long a person is in agreement with how the narcissist thinks, the narcissist will keep that person in their friend zone. But when the person says anything that challenges or critiques the narcissist's way of thinking, which is guaranteed to happen at some point, the narcissist will perceive it as an attack, snap, and cast that person into their foe zone. This is why narcissists' friendships and relationships are often short-lived.

The irony about NPD is that narcissists believe they possess a superior sense of tolerance and empathy which makes them a perfect, lovable friend — it's everyone else who's narcissistic, judgmental, apathetic, shallow, and untrustworthy. The narcissist believes the size of their friend zone is normal and their perception of what's required to be their friend is also normal. They're unhappy because it seems like everyone in the world is apparently too shallow, intolerant, and judgmental to be their friend.

But the disorder is the cause of the narcissist's unhappiness because it warps their perception of people. There's nothing wrong with 99% of the people in the narcissist's foe zone – they're adequately kind and compassionate. The narcissist's fear of criticism, however, causes them to vet everyone around them with prejudice and be quick to cast them off as foes for impractical, inconsequential reasons. This is what gives the narcissist their judgemental, apathetic, intolerant nature, which they project onto everyone around them.

The key to a narcissist finding happiness and contentment is rebuilding their self-esteem to where criticism no longer affects them. Then they'll be able to see and accept people as most of them truly are: well-intentioned and harmless. Their victim mindset of "people have hurt me" will change to "I now understand why I felt hurt by people." Their friend zone will widen to a normal state, and the reformed narcissist will then be able to function normally and happily in the world.

So where does social media come into play?

In the real world, narcissists can't hide their intolerant, judgmental nature. Everyone in their life eventually sees who they're dealing with. This leads to discord which the narcissist internalizes as criticism. All this discord/criticism makes the real world seem like a hostile place to a narcissist. Social media, however, gives the narcissist a place to go where they can do something they can't do in real life: control what everyone sees and says. They can create a facade to mask their undesirable traits, and they can delete anyone or anything that poses a threat to their self-esteem. In lieu of seeking professional help for their disorder, a narcissist may choose to continue living with their disorder by using social media as a crutch.

An emotionally-healthy person (above) does not feel threatened by people, so they are accepting of them. Their social media world mirrors their real world.

A narcissist (below) sees people as potential threats. Narcissists, due to their belief they possess superior tolerance and empathy, believe their friend zone is the behavioral standard by which everyone ought to conform. Those who do not conform are considered inferior and are summarily deleted and blocked.

As we've all noticed, narcissists are known for filling up their social media pages with positive affirmations, wishes of love and self-empowerment, and inspirational quotes. They do this for two reasons: Portraying the strong, confident, lovable person they wish they were makes them feel better about themselves, and it reduces the likelihood that any feedback they receive will negatively impact their self-esteem. By generating positive-only, nonjudgmental feedback and deleting anyone and anything that makes them feel uneasy, the narcissist makes their online world a much safer-feeling place to be than the real world.

Needless to say, people who post daily messages of love, inspiration, and wisdom are not all narcissists. [I hardly think the Dalai Lama is a narcissist.] But everyone knows at least one person who incessantly posts about the importance of being strong, tolerant, and understanding, yet, when someone challenges one little thing they say or do, they fly off the handle with a volatile, emotional tirade, completely contradicting all the uplifting messages they've been posting. They may even shut down and disappear from social media for a while to piece their emotions back together.

And then they go right back to posting how important it is for people to be strong, tolerant, and understanding.

While it may seem fun to push a narcissist's buttons and watch them flip their lid, I recommend you don't do that. NPD is a serious mental health condition. People with NPD are more prone to substance abuse, and one of the symptoms of NPD can be depression. Substance abuse and depression can be a life-threatening concoction. You can't gauge the seriousness of one's depression by what they post on the internet.

One last word of advice: If you find yourself debating a narcissist in an internet discussion forum, stop. There's no point. Just like a bad driver never misses their exit, a narcissist never loses a debate.

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