Imposter Syndrome
(not to be confused with Syndrome, the imposter superhero from Disney’s The Incredibles)

Imposter syndrome is that gnawing feeling of self-doubt and incompetence coupled with the dread of being exposed as a fraud. Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, or perceived fraudulence), involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite education, experience, and accomplishments.

Famous “Imposters”

Phoenix Performance Partners listed 18 famous people who suffer imposter syndrome. They discussed it openly, and I’ve quoted them here.

“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”
Albert Einstein: Nobel Prize-winning Physicist

“I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”
Maya Angelou: Nobel Laureate, poet, author

“I still have a little impostor syndrome… It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”
Michelle Obama: lawyer, author, former First Lady

“Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.” 
Howard Schultz: former CEO of Starbucks

“Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself — or even excelled — I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up.”
Sheryl Sandberg: Harvard graduate, Facebook COO, author of Lean In

“There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.”
Dr. Margaret Chan: former Director General of the World Health Organization

“Today, I feel much like I did when I came to Harvard Yard as a freshman in 1999. I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress.”
Natalie Portman: Harvard graduate, Academy Award winning actress

“No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’”
Tom Hanks: Academy Award winning actor and filmmaker

“I’d been obsessed with going to Cambridge even before I’d learned English, and my mother had somehow helped make it happen from our one-bedroom apartment in Athens. I felt like there I finally was, but the minute I opened my mouth, people would know I didn’t really belong. My mother taught me that fearlessness isn’t the absence of fear, but the mastery of it. I leaned into my fear by trying to get into the Cambridge Union (the debating society,) where I eventually became the first foreign president. What I learned was that what you have to say is more important than how you sound, which is to say that that feeling that we don’t belong is much more likely to come from us — from that obnoxious roommate inside our heads — than it is from someone else (who is likely dealing with their own forms of imposter syndrome).”
Arianna Huffington: author, columnist, founder of Huffington Post

“Yes, you’re an impostor. So am I and so is everyone else. Superman still lives on Krypton and the rest of us are just doing our best.”
Seth Godin: author, lecturer, teacher, business owner

“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania, and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh god, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.”
Tina Fey: comedian, author, and actor, winner of Emmy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, and the youngest ever recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

“I have spent my years since Princeton, while at law school and in my various professional jobs, not feeling completely a part of the worlds I inhabit. I am always looking over my shoulder wondering if I measure up.”
Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court justice

“I go through acute imposter syndrome with every role. I think winning an Oscar may in fact have made it worse. Now I’ve achieved this, what am I going to do next? What do I strive for? Then I remember that I didn’t get into acting for the accolades, I got into it for the joy of telling stories.”
Lupita Nyong’o: Academy Award winning actress

“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, ‘Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved.”
Emma Watson: actress, UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, founder of the United Nations HeForShe campaign

“On the first season of Top Chef, I suffered from impostor syndrome.”
Padma Lakshmi: author, model, host of Top Chef, UN Goodwill Ambassador, founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America

“I think even being an actress for over a decade now, I still have imposter syndrome. Where you’re asking yourself, ‘Oh, is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?’”
Maisie Williams: award winning actress and producer

“Who doesn’t suffer from imposter syndrome? Even when I sold my business for $66 Million, I felt like an absolute fraud!”
Barbara Corcoran‍:‍‍ real estate mogul and long-time judge on Shark Tank

“There were two Venus Williamses in our family. It was crazy… my parents would make me order first, but once she ordered, I’d change my mind. It was tough for me to stop being Venus and become the person I am.”
Serena Williams: considered the grestest women’s tennis player of all time, winner of 23 Grand Slam singles titles


Conclusion: how one sees oneself may defy all sorts of external validation.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

According to a 2020 review featured in Medical News Today, 9%–82% of people experience impostor syndrome— a range so broad as to be almost meaningless! But whatever.  The numbers vary depending on who participates in a study. 

Imposter syndrome is prevalent within the tech industry, with about 58% of tech employees stating that they currently experience some form of the condition within their careers. It’s especially common in software engineers, developers, and designers.

Many people experience symptoms for a limited time, such as in the first few weeks of a new job.  For others, the experience can be lifelong.

Imposter syndrome is likely the result of multiple factors, including personality traits (such as perfectionism) and family background. One theory is that imposter syndrome is rooted in families that value achievement above all else.

Women Beware!

In their Women’s Leadership Summit Report (2022), international financial auditing firm network KPMG announced some interesting findings

  • 75% of executive women report having personally experienced imposter syndrome at certain points in their career 
  • 85% believe imposter syndrome is commonly experienced by women in corporate America 
  • 74% percent of executive women believe that their male counterparts do not experience feelings of self-doubt as much as female leaders do 
  • 81% believe they put more pressure on themselves not to fail than men do

What might explain these gender differences? In studies of how women and men explain their successes and failures, women tend to attribute their successes to luck or other external factors while blaming themselves for failures. Men are the opposite: they attribute their successes to talent and hard work and blame failures on luck or other external factors.

Some women are genuinely imposters!

However, a report published in Harvard Business Review suggests that women experiencing self-doubt in the workplace may be facing systemic discrimination and exclusion rather than imposter syndrome. When accomplished, capable, intelligent women are consistently reminded, both subtly and overtly, that they do not belong in the upper echelons of power, it is inevitable that some of them will begin to internalize this message.

Recognizing Imposter Syndrome

Symptoms of impostor syndrome can look different for different people, though there are some consistent and tell-tale red flags. Symptoms might include

Holy stunt doubles, Bat Man! …er, Spider Man!
  • Extreme lack of self confidence
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Constant comparison to other people
  • Anxiety
  • Self doubt
  • Distrust in one’s own intuition and capabilities
  • Negative self-talk
  • Irrational fears of the future

In professional settings, efforts to counter these feelings might include taking on extra work to make sure you’re “doing it all”; shrugging off accolades; not responding to job postings unless you meet every single requirement; working harder and holding yourself to ever higher standards.

Though the impostor phenomenon isn’t an official diagnosis listed in the DSM, psychologists and others acknowledge that it is a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt. Besides anxiety, impostor feelings are often accompanied by depression. FYI, women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression. 

The Flip Side of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome
Coach and NASM trainer Ben Meer

On the opposite side of imposter syndrome sits overconfidence, otherwise known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It derives its name from a study published in 1999 by David Dunning and Justin Kruger in the Journal of Economic Psychology. While imposter syndrome develops when one underestimates their own values, skills, and accomplishments, those experiencing the Dunning-Kruger effect do the reverse. Some say this syndrome is much more harmful because people without competence are extremely confident.

Bottom line: Note your own tendencies toward imposter syndrome and stay in touch with reality.

Something tells me these Disney heroines may be imposters.


My Fanny Farmer Collection
Fanny Famer
Fanny Merritt Farmer

Because this is Women’s History Month, every day I’ve been spotlighting a woman on my Facebook page. But Fannie Merritt Farmer (1857-1915) deserves more than a paragraph!

(Note: Though she sometimes spelled her first name “Fanny,” Fannie Merritt Farmer was not affiliated with the Fanny Farmer candy company. Frank O’Connor named his candy company after the chef and food scientist in part to ride the wave of her fame in 1919.)

Early Culinary Training

Fannie Farmer was born on March 23, 1857, in Boston, Massachusetts. The oldest of four daughters in a family that highly valued education, she was expected to go to college, but suffered a paralytic stroke at the age of 16. Some say she contracted polio that permanently affected her left leg. In any case, for the next several years she was unable to walk and was cared for in her parents’ home.

Once she was able to walk again, she did so with a pronounced limp. At the end of her life, she was again confined to a wheelchair. And none of this kept her from achieving much and influencing virtually every household in the United States even today.

During the time she was homebound, Fannie took up cooking for guests in her mother’s boarding house. Not until the age of 30 did she enroll in the Boston Cooking School. The Women’s Education Association of Boston founded the Boston Cooking School in 1879 “to offer instruction in cooking to those who wished to earn their livelihood as cooks, or who would make practical use of such information in their families.”

Fannie enrolled during the height of the domestic science movement. The curriculum covered all the basics, including nutrition and diet for the well, convalescent cookery, techniques of cleaning and sanitation, chemical analysis of food, techniques of cooking and baking, and household management.

Fannie was one of the school’s top students. She graduated in 1889 and stayed on as assistant to the director, and in 1891, she became school principal. The school became famous after the publication of The Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fannie Merritt Farmer in 1896.

Fannie Farmer Cookbook

The publisher, (Little, Brown & Company) did not expect good sales and printed a first edition of only 3,000 copies—at Fannie Farmer’s expense! Thus she became an early “self-published” authors who made good. Subsequent editions were published as The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (or The Fanny Farmer Cookbook).

The cookbook was titled The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book through the eighth edition, published in 1946. The ninth edition, published in 1951, was titled The New Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Not until the eleventh edition, 1965, did it become The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

You can now read the entire 1918 edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook online!

Farmer’s book eventually contained 1,850 recipes. As was the custom for cookbooks of the day, she included essays on housekeeping, cleaning, canning and drying fruits and vegetables, and nutritional information. Farmer also provided scientific explanations of the chemical processes that occur in food during cooking,

The Mother of Level Measurements
Photo: Bettmann/Getty

And (in my opinion) the most important contribution for cooks today: she standardized measurements used in cooking throughout the US. I’m not alone in this; food historians have called her the “mother of level measurements.” Prior to Fannie Farmer, recipe authors listed ingredients as a lump of butter, a teacup of milk, a goodly amount of honey, … Level cups and teaspoons (or fractions thereof) as we know them today are thanks to Fannie Farmer.

Fannie Farmer’s Impact

What to Have for Dinner by Fanny Famer

Her cookbook was so popular in the United States—so thorough, and so comprehensive—that The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, went through twelve editions. By 1979, the Fannie Farmer Cookbook Corporation copyrighted and published The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, and Marion Cunningham updated the thirteenth edition.

Farmer left the School in 1902 and created Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery. She began by teaching women plain and fancy cooking, but her interests eventually led her to develop a complete work of diet and nutrition for the ill, titled Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent which contained thirty pages on diabetes.

Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent by Fannie Farmer

Farmer gave lectures at Harvard Medical School, teaching convalescent diet and nutrition to doctors and nurses, and taught a course on dietary preparation at Harvard Medical School. She felt so strongly about the significance of proper food for the sick that she believed she would be remembered chiefly for her work in that field.

During the last seven years of her life, Farmer always used a wheelchair. Even so, she continued to write, invent recipes, and lecture, until ten days before her death. The Boston Evening Transcript published her lectures, which were picked up by newspapers nationwide. Farmer died in 1915 at age 57 of complications related to her stroke/polio.

She is interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Mount Auburn is my favorite cemetery and was the prototype for Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA.)

Fannie Farmer’s Works

As far as I can tell, this is a complete list of her books:

  • Farmer, Fannie Merritt (1896). Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company. A complete list of editions may be found at Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.
  • Farmer, Fannie Merritt (1898). Chafing Dish Possibilities. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company.
  • Farmer, Fannie Merritt (1904). Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co.
  • Farmer, Fannie Merritt (1905). What to Have for Dinner: Containing Menus with Recipes for their Preparation. New York, NY: Dodge Publishing Company.
  • Farmer, Fannie Merritt (1911). Catering for Special Occasions, with Menus and Recipes. Philadelphia, PA: D. McKay.
  • Farmer, Fannie Merritt (1912). A New Book of Cookery: Eight-hundred and Sixty Recipes Covering the Whole Range of Cookery. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company.
  • Farmer, Fannie Merritt, ed. (1913). The Priscilla Cook Book for Everyday Housekeepers. Boston, MA: The Priscilla Publishing Company.
  • Farmer, Fannie Merritt (1914). A Book of Good Dinners for My Friend; or “What to Have for Dinner”. New York, NY: Dodge Publishing Company.
    • [Republication of What to Have for Dinner: Containing Menus with Recipes for their Preparation (1905).]
Fannie in the Kitchen 
Fannie Farmer biography

One hundred and three years after her death The New York Times published a belated obituary for Fannie Merritt Farmer. This obituary and Wikipedia are the primary sources used for this blog. I finally found a biography for her, but I don’t have it and don’t know how comprehensive it is.

Bottom line: People should know that Fannie Merritt Farmer was more than a compiler—or even a creator—of recipes.

from the 1920 Edition

For other extraordinary women I’ve highlighted on my blog, check out


Olympic Gold Medals are Pretty Good Signals of External Validation

Short answer = everybody needs external validation.

We all begin life in a state of complete reliance on external validation. From cues we receive from others around us, we form opinions about whether our behaviors/opinions/attitudes/beliefs/values are good and praiseworthy — or not. For example:

  • Is it okay to take food off another person’s plate?
  • Is there a god? And if so, which one?
  • Is going to a place of worship necessary?
  • Is walking naked down the street acceptable?
  • Is the world a safe place?
  • When is it okay to lie?
  • What sort of beauty, hygiene, or grooming standards are most desirable?
  • Is sex before marriage okay?
  • Is it okay to be LGBTQ?
  • What obligations are owed to family members?
  • Are handwritten thank you notes necessary?

When we are validated by others it feels good, and this tends to make us want to behave in a similar fashion in the future, in order to experience the same good feelings. Seeking validation from others means seeking their approval for your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, choices, values, and actions.

Social psychologist C. H. Cooley called this reliance on external validation “The Looking Glass Self.” In his book On Self and Social Organization, he summed up humans’ tendency to rely on others’ perceptions to form their own sense of identity as “I am not what I think I am and I am not what you think I am; I am what I think that you think I am.”

A Necessary Thing

Seeking external validation in unfamiliar situations is normal, healthy, and valuable.

Pat on the Back

You need to be able to take instructions and constructive criticism from others in order to collaborate with peers or even simply to function in society. Thus, as adults, external validation is a necessary part of being human, even if the American ideal of individualism tells us otherwise.

The desire to seek validation stems from the basic human need to be liked and accepted by others. If all our behaviors, opinions, attitudes, and beliefs are ignored or wrong (based on cues from others), low self-esteem is a likely result. If one has a fragile sense of self-worth, it can be hard to validate one’s own experiences, resulting in a need to seek approval from others.

social media external validation

Seeking validation from others has become a common way of living. Often we do things hoping to be praised by others so that we can feel good about ourselves. Or we avoid doing or saying something because we worry that we will be criticized by someone for our opinion, idea, action, or choice.

The need for external validation is at an all-time high. More than ever, people want to feel seen and heard and to know their life matters. Indeed, perhaps the extensive use of social media is evidence of that. When you turn down the volume of everything going on in the world around you, these questions are probably on repeat in the back of your mind, too.

A Good Thing

You don’t need to seek external validation for it to feel good! Whether someone compliments you at work, comments on a picture you posted, or expresses gratitude for you, this is external validation.

In some cases, external validation is more concrete than in others. For example:

  • Pay raises
  • Promotions
  • Scholarships or fellowships
  • Medals
  • Awards
  • Winning elections
  • Making the NYT bestsellers list

Good news: If you are in a relationship that makes you feel heard, valued, and understood, the positive effects spread. Having someone who understands and validates your feelings can be nothing short of fulfilling. Such validation builds one’s self-esteem and one’s confidence in a broader sense.

As Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel said, “Self-love is about letting others love us even when we feel unlovable because their version of us is kinder than our own.”

Too Much of a Good Thing

Everyone Gets a Trophy!

Some people need constant validation because they’re not confident in their own abilities. Some say that the root cause of most approval-seeking behavior is low self-esteem. This feeling of inferiority stems from factors like inherent personality, upbringing, peer pressure, education, culture, and work-life. As negative feedback accumulates over time, the need to seek approval for anything and everything grows.

Besides low self-esteem, attention-seeking behavior may stem from jealousy, loneliness, or as a result of a personality disorder.

While desiring external validation is normal and healthy, it can go too far when desiring praise and attention from others becomes an addiction, and/or when it is not balanced by healthy levels of self-esteem. Why do you need constant validation? Dr Preeti Kocchar, says that people crave attention for a variety of reasons, including—in some extreme cases—the presence of personality disorders.

Perhaps Not the Sort of Recognition One Wants

For example:

  • Narcissists constantly need attention and validation. They constantly try to elicit praise and approval from others to shore up their fragile egos, but no matter how much they’re given, they always want more.
  • Histrionic personality disorder is a type of psychiatric disorder that features attention-seeking behaviors, seductive behavior, and emotional over-reaction.
  • Perfectionism also leads us to constantly seek positive approval from others, impeding our ability to accept constructive feedback from others or internal validation from ourselves.

What does an unhealthy reliance on external validation look like? Not being able to confront people or disagree, changing your thoughts and beliefs because someone else either approves or disapproves, and ascribing your self-worth to the approval of others — all are examples of a reliance on external validation.

People always looking for external validation to feel good about themselves can be extremely irritating, leading to negative feedback, resulting in a greater need for external validation … a vicious circle.

Do You Rely Too Much on External Validation?

You may be searching for too much external validation if you find yourself doing the following:

  • Feeling guilty about setting boundaries with others.
  • Overachieving in an attempt to garner praise from others.
  • Pretending to be unable to do something so someone will teach, help, or watch the attempt to do it.
  • Expressing controversial opinions or behaviors primarily to provoke a reaction in others.
  • Pointing out acgievements or “humble bragging” to elicit compliments.
  • Embellishing stories to gain praise or sympathy.
  • Jumping from relationship to relationship without taking the time to heal because you feel you can’t be alone.
Not Every High Five is Good for You!

Want to seek external validation less? Try these five ways:

  1. Trust yourself.
  2. Stop comparing yourself with others.
  3. Be aware of your actions.
  4. Practice self-love.
  5. Don’t measure yourself on the basis of social media likes.

Bottom Line: Everyone seeks external validation sometimes, in some situations—which is not only natural and healthy, but also necessary. However, in this case, too much of a good thing is NOT still a good thing.


I’m not talking people. One of my distant, distant ancestors, George Soule, was part of the first wave of immigrants arriving on the Mayflower. (Personal aside: I find it ironic that my descent from George Soule is through my half-Native American great-grandmother.)

No, this blog isn’t about people who’ve come here, or who might come here in the future.  But beware the plant and animal come heres!

The National Park Service defines an invasive species as a non-native species that causes harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health (Executive Order 13751, Dec 3, 2020). Invasive species are one of the leading causes of global biodiversity loss. They can damage native habitats, spread diseases, cause extinctions, and leave massive cleanup bills in their wake.

The Best of Intentions

A Murmuration of Starlings

I recently wrote a blog about starlings, introduced to Central Park, NYC. One story is that Shakespeare lovers brought them to North America to benefit homesick European immigrants. Another is that an avid gardener imported starlings to eat a particular caterpillar invading his garden. Regardless of intentions, estimates of the devastation caused by starlings to crops and livestock range from $800 million and $1.6 billion per year.

Starlings are one example of a species brought to a new area on purpose.  People and businesses that import these species often do not anticipate the consequences. 


Buffelgrass, a hearty, drought-tolerant grass, originally comes from eastern Asia, southern Europe, and most of Africa. Ranchers introduced buffelgrass in Arizona in the 1930’s as livestock forage. Later, soil conservationists planted it for erosion control and soil stabilization. It has spread rapidly across the desert Southwest since the 1980s. Today, however, its rapid spread has converted fire-resistant desert into flammable grassland, threatening saguaro cacti and other indigenous species. Buffelgrass fires can reach 1600F and spread between 3 and 9 mph, depending on wind speeds.

Cheatgrass / Downy Brome

 A similar example is cheatgrass, or downy brome, a Eurasian native that now infests vast reaches of sagebrush steppe in the Intermountain West (including wilderness acreage). Cheatgrass ignites at a lower temperature, promoting hotter and more frequent fires that can reduce or eliminate native sagebrush and negatively impact shrub-steppe species, such as the greater sage grouse.

Faya Bush / Fire Tree

The Portuguese introduced the faya tree (also called the faya bush or fire tree), native to the Azores and the Canary Islands, to Hawaii for both practical and ornamental reason. This aggressively invasive exotic now displaces native forest trees in the Hawaii Volcanoes Wilderness and elsewhere on the Big Island.  In addition to competing with native species for habitat, faya trees add significant amounts of nitrogen to soil, which has the double impact of making it impossible for native species to grow and encouraging other invasive species in the area.

Arctic Fox

Although Arctic foxes are native to Alaska’s mainland, fur farmers introduced Arctic foxes on more than 450 Alaskan islands between 1750 and 1950. There, they threaten native seabirds by stealing eggs. (Ironically, human misbehavior may now be having the opposite effect in Norway, where littering motorists are attracting red foxes, which displace the formerly invasive Arctic foxes!)


Kudzu, or Japanese or Chinese arrowroot, has grown so ubiquitous that it has become a symbol of Southern American cultural identity.

Kudzu in Atlanta, GA

The US Soil Conservation Service introduced kudzu, a climbing perennial vine native to Japan and south-east China, during the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official World’s Fair in the U.S. Farmers and soil biologists first considered kudzu a great forage and ornamental plant because of its high-protein, starchy roots, sweet blooms, medicinal value, and impressive leaves. At first, people kept kudzu corralled to small pastures and in decorative pots.

Kudzu Overgrowing a Railroad Bridge in Arkansas

However, between the 1930s and 1950s, the Civilian Conservation Core promoted kudzu as a tool to prevent soil erosion. Botanists and nurseries distributed kudzu seedlings, and kudzu planting societies paid bounties to schools, farmers, highway maintenance, and even whole towns to plant kudzu all over the American South.

Highway and railroad developers planted kudzu seedlings to cover landscape gashes left bare by driving rail beds and road beds through formerly undeveloped land. Without grazing to keep growth in check, kudzu grows over anything in its way, killing other flora and foliage. An invasion of kudzu means leaf litter changes and decomposition processes alter, with a 28 per cent reduction in stocks of soil carbon, so the spread of the vine could contribute to climate change.

Kudzu Bug (Megacopta cribraria)

Kudzu may not be as serious a problem as it appears today. For one thing, kudzu often seems more ubiquitous than it really is because it grows most unchecked in areas where it is also most visible – along highways and railway embankments where passersby frequently encounter it. Some highway maintenance groups have brought small flocks of pigs and goats to graze in these areas, bringing some measure of control to the spread of the vines. For another, the kudzu bug, another recent “come-here” species, has been happily devouring kudzu vines all along the Atlantic seaboard, also eating many other legume plants they encounter. Perhaps we’ll soon be facing an infestation of wild pigs and kudzu bugs instead of kuduzu!

Control a Pest with Another Pest

Often, a species is introduced as a form of pest control. (See the above paragraph on starlings.) 

Harlequin Ladybird

One of the most invasive insect species is the harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), which tends to out-compete and eat native ladybirds. Agriculturalists introduced harlequin ladybirds, originally from central Asia, to Europe and North America in 1916 to control scale insects and aphids.  Not until 1988 did these ladybirds manage to establish themselves in the wild, after which their populations exploded. They still provide valuable pest-control services to farmers, but they also breed prolifically, displace and consume native insect species, potentially spread parasites, and invade homes.


Unlike the other invasive species on this list, the mosquitofish is native to North America, inhabiting shallow water away from larger fish in southern parts of Illinois and Indiana, throughout the Mississippi River. It has become an invasive species in other parts of the world, where scientists have intentionallly introduced the little creature to areas with large populations of mosquitoes to decrease the number of bugs by eating their larvae. In areas of South America and along the Black Sea, environmentalists estimate that the introduction of the mosquitofish has effectively eliminated malaria. However, native fish were already good at supplying ‘maximal control’ – introducing the mosquitofish has turned out to be more damaging to aquatic life.  Mosquitofish are aggressive and injure or kill other small fish. They are also very good at breeding, taking over natural habitats.

Asian mongoose

Sugar cane farmers introduced the small Asian mongoose to Hawaii in 1883 after hearing about Jamaican plantations unleashing the predator to control rat populations.  It was a mistake of epic proportions. Unfortunately, the targeted rats are nocturnal and the exotic mongooses are diurnal, so they never crossed paths. Rather than rats, the mongoose began eating the native birds instead. Mongoose threaten several sea turtle species and at least eight endangered bird species, including the Hawaiian state bird, the nēnē. They breed prolifically and reach sexual maturity early

The Ones That Got Away

Several invasive species descended from pets that escaped or were released into the wild. 

Burmese Python Fighting an Alligator

Many people have released pet Burmese pythons into the Everglades in Florida. These snakes can grow to 20 feet (6 meters) long.  Pythons, native to the jungles of southeast Asia, have few natural predators in the Everglades. They feast on many local species, including rabbits, possum, raccoons, deer, foxes, and even alligators. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission now hosts an annual Python Challenge, offering bounties and sometimes employing professional bounty hunters to encourage hunters to help control this invasive predators.


Lionfish are popular for aquariums, so it’s plausible that repeated escapes via aquarium releases  are responsible. Native to the Indo-Pacific ocean region, first detected along the Florida coast in the 1980s, lionfish are now quickly spreading throughout the coasts and coral reefs of the East Coast. Lionfish are voracious eaters and their venomous dorsal spines have helped to protect them, and they have very few natural predators in the Atlantic.

Silver Carp

Bighead carp and silver carp (native to China, also called Asian carps) are two large species of fish that escaped from fish farms in the 1990s and are now common in the Missouri River. They feed on plankton, floating in the water. They have become invasive by out-competing local species for food. For example, the feeding cycle of paddlefish is slower than that of the carp. There are now so many invasive carp in the lower Missouri River that paddlefish do not have enough food.

Many invasive species destroy habitat, the places where other plants and animals naturally live. 


Ranchers brought Nutria (large rodents native to South America) to North America in the 1900s, hoping to raise them for their fur. Some ranchers released the stock of Nutria into the wild when they failed to bring in the expected revenue. Today, they are a major pest in the Gulf Coast and Chesapeake Bay.  Nutria eat tall grasses and rushes, vital to the regions’ marshy wetlands. They provide food, nesting sites, and shelter for many organisms. They also help secure sediment and soil, preventing the erosion of land. Nutria destroy the area’s food web and habitat by consuming the wetland grasses.

Paper Mulberry Tree

A silkworm’s favorite food is the leaves of the paper mulberry tree. US entrepreneurs thought that if they introduced the foliage, they could start their own silk industry. Unfortunately, the climate was not appropriate for the silkworm and the mulberry is a highly invasive species. Rather than feeding silkworms, paper mulberry trees began disrupting the natural ecosystem.  The mulberry tree consumes an extremely high amount of water, which chokes the native foliage. Its root systems are also very strong and fast-growing – they tend to cause problems with drainage pipes.

Let’s Not Overlook Ornamentals

Kudzu was not the only plant originally introduced as an ornament.

The introduction of English ivy dates back to the early 1700s when European colonists imported the plant as an easy-to-grow evergreen groundcover.  Today, people continue to sell and plant English ivy in the United States even though it is one of the worst spread-invasive plants because it can handle a wide range of conditions, particularly on the east and west coasts. English ivy is an aggressive-spreading vine which can slowly kill trees by restricting light. It spreads by vegetative reproduction and when its seeds hitch a ride in the digestive systems of birds.

Purple Loosestrife

Horticulturists introduced purple loosestrife to the United States in the early 1800s for ornamental and medicinal uses.  Now growing invasively in most states, purple loosestrife can become the dominant plant species in wetlands. One plant can produce as many as 2 million wind-dispersed seeds per year and underground stems grow at a rate of 1 foot per year. Beginning in the 1980s, biologists encouraged several species of leaf beetles and moths to build habitats in areas overrun with purple loosestrife, creating what scientists are hailing as a model of biological pest control.

Japanese Honeysuckle

One of many invasive varieties of honeysuckle in the United States, Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) first came to Long Island, NY, in 1806 for ornamental use and erosion control. The Japanese honeysuckle has can grow in deep shade and is particularly detrimental to forest lands in the Northeast. The heavily fruiting plant forms a dense thicket, crowding out native plants, and birds spread the seeds far and wide. The plant has become prolific throughout much of the East Coast as it adapts to a wide range of conditions. Japanese honeysuckle is an aggressive vine that smothers, shades and girdles other competing vegetation. Many birds eat the fruit of this plant, thereby spreading the honeysuckle’s seeds.

Japanese Barberry

Japanese barberry was introduced to the United States in the 1800s as an ornamental. Growers shipped seeds of Japanese barberry from Russia to the Arnold Arboretum in 1875 as an alternative to European barberry (Berberis vulgaris), which had fallen out of favor as it was a host to Black Rust Stem—a serious fungus effecting cereal crops. In addition to forming such dense growth thickets that they crowd out other plant species, Japanese barberry plants provide ideal shelters for the black-legged ticks carrying lyme disease.

Norway Maple

The plant explorer John Bartram introduced the Norway maple to the United States from England in 1756. Its widely adaptable growth pattern led to a rapid rise in popularity, particularly in towns and in rural communities.  The Norway maple displaces native trees and has the potential to dominate a landscape in both the Northeast and Northwest. It displaces native maples like the sugar maple and its dense canopy shades out wildflowers.

Golden Bamboo

Bamboo native to Asia is highly invasive and damaging in the United States thanks to its aggressive spreading abilities. There are two species that are especially problematic in Virginia: Phyllostachys aurea (Golden Bamboo) and Phyllostachys aureosulcata (Yellow Groove Bamboo). Once this plant is established, it is difficult to remove. It can grow up to a foot a day and crowd out other plants. Underground runners choke the root systems of native plants, sending up new shoots beyond the original planting area. If you really want to grow ornamental bamboo, consider one of the three bamboo species native to the U.S.: hill cane (Arundinaria appalachiana), river cane (Arundinaria gigantea), and switch cane (Arundinaria tecta).

International Hitchhikers

Brown Norway Rat

Invasive species are primarily spread by human activities, often unintentionally. People, and the goods we use, travel around the world very quickly, and they often carry uninvited species with them.  One of the most famous historical hitchikers may be the fleas that spread the Black Death in the 14th Century.

Modern international shipping still unwittlingly spreads invasive species. Rats from Norway have escaped from ships and endanger Alaska’s island-nesting seabird populations.  Many ships carry aquatic organisms in their ballast water, while smaller boats may carry them on their propellers.

Zebra Mussels

“Many invasive species are introduced into a new region accidentally.  Zebra mussels are native to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea in Central Asia.  Zebra mussels arrived in the Great Lakes of North America accidentally, stuck to large ships that traveled between the two regions. There are now so many zebra mussels in the Great Lakes that they have threatened native species.”

National Geographic

In addition, small zebra mussels clog the cooling systems in boat engines, while larger ones have damaged water pipes at power plants throughout the Great Lakes.  This isn’t the only invasive species that causes property damage.

Insects can get into wood, shipping palettes, and crates that are shipped around the world.

Spotted Lanternfly
  • Borwn marmorated stink bugs feed on crops and ornamental plants. They stowed away, probably in shipping containers, coming to North American at some point in the 1990s.
  • Spotted wing drosophila, rather than feeding on overripe fruit like most flies, targets and damages unripe or barely ripe fruit, making it extra destructive. They likely hitched a ride on fruit imported to Hawaii from their native Asia in the 1980s and into the continental US in 2008.
  • The khapra beetle attacks stored grain and can cause it to lose 70 percent of its weight or value. The Invasive Species Specialist Group ranks it among the 100 worst invasive species of all time.
  • The spotted lanterfly hitched a ride to Pennsylvania in 2014, most likely by attaching its eggs to something imported from southern China or Vietnam. It is not quite invasive yet, but it looks inevitable that it will be soon.

Beware climate change

In addition, higher average temperatures and changes in rain and snow patterns caused by climate change will enable some invasive plant species—such as garlic mustard, kudzu, and purple loosestrife—to move into new areas.  Insect pest infestations will be more severe as pests such as mountain pine beetle are able to take advantage of drought-weakened plants.

Rising Temperatures Thawing Arctic Sea Ice Bring New Invasive Species to the Area

Note: Not all non-native species are invasive. For example, most of the food crops grown in the United States, including popular varieties of wheat, tomatoes, and rice, are not native to the region. Personally, I’m delighted by the availability of hellebores.  

In conclusion: Only a small percent of introduced species become invasive. However, it is nearly impossible—even for scientists—to predict which species will become invasive. Some species are present for many years before they exhibit invasive characteristics. And new species are being introduced every day. 

Bottom Line: Invasive species are among the leading threats to native wildlife. Approximately 42 percent of threatened or endangered species are at risk due to invasive species. Be aware!


Who comes to mind? Chances are it’s such Pulitzer Prize winners as fiction writers Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Colson Whitehead.

“From the first African-American Pulitzer winner — Gwendolyn Brooks in 1950 — to more recent winners such as Tyehimba Jess, Lynn Nottage and Colson Whitehead, these writers’ creative interpretations of black life are rooted in research and history.” (pulitzer.org)

Since that 1950 first, there have been six African American Pulitzer Prize winners in poetry (including Tracy K. Smith, the Poet Laureate of the U.S. from 2017 to 2019), four in drama, and a special citation for Alex Haley, author of Roots.

So far, the only Black American to win a Nobel Prize in literature is Toni Morrison, in 1993.

These recent accolades have grown from deep historical roots.

Early Examples of Poetry and Fiction

Lucy Terry Prince, often credited as simply Lucy Terry (1733–1821), was an American settler and poet. As an infant, she was kidnapped in Africa and sold into slavery in the colony of Rhode Island. Obijah Prince, her future husband purchased her freedom before their marriage in 1756. She composed a ballad poem, “Bars Fight”, about a 1746 altercation between white settlers and the native Pocomtuc. This poem was preserved orally until being published in 1855. It is considered the oldest known work of literature by an African American.

Another early African-American author was Jupiter Hammon (1711–c1806), enslaved as a domestic servant in Queens, New York. Hammon, considered the first published Black writer in America, printed his poem “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries” as a broadside in early 1761. His speech An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York” (1787) may be the first oration by an African American speaker that was later published. In 1778 he wrote an ode to Phillis Wheatley, in which he discussed their shared humanity and common bonds.

The poet Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753–1784) published her book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral in 1773.  This first book aimed to prove that “Negros, Black as Cain,” were not inherently inferior to whites in matters of the spirit and thus could “join th’ angelic train” as spiritual equals to whites. Her mastery of a wide range of classical poetic genres, Greek and Latin classics, history, British literature, and theology proved that claims that only Europeans were capable of intelligence and artistic creation were patently false. Members of the Abolitionist movement embraced Wheatley’s literary prowess, which combined elements from many genres of poetry with Gambian elegiac forms and religious themes to create work that was read and shared by people on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to being the the first African American to publish a book, Wheatley was the first to achieve an international reputation as a writer. Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntington, was so impressed by Phillis Wheatley’s skill that she gave the financial support to publish Wheatley’s book in London.

Victor Séjour (1817–74) wrote “The Mulatto” (1837), the first published work of fiction known to have an African American author.  Juan Victor Séjour Marcou et Ferrand was an American Creole of color and expatriate writer. Born free in New Orleans, he spent most of his career in Paris and published his fiction and plays in French. “The Mulatto” did not appear in English until the Norton Anthology of African American Literature was published in 1997.

In 1853 William Wells Brown, an internationally known fugitive slave narrator, authored the first Black American novel, Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter (1853). The story centers around two mixed-race women fathered by Thomas Jefferson and held in slavery in Monticello. Like Phillis Wheatley’s poetry, Brown’s book was first published in London. Inspired by the success of Frederick Douglass’s work, Brown published Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself in 1845, detailing his early life in Missouri and his escape from slavery. In 1858, he wrote The Escape, the first play written by an African American author to be published in America.

Frank J. Webb’s 1857 novel The Garies and Their Friends, was also published in England, with prefaces by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry, Lord Brougham (Lord High Chancellor of England). It was the first work of fiction by an African-American author to portray passing, a mixed-race person deciding to identify as white rather than black. It also explored northern racism, in the context of a brutally realistic race riot closely resembling the Philadelphia race riots of 1834 and 1835. Webb published his novel in London, where he and his wife lived between 1856 and 1857.

In 1859—still pre-Civil War—Harriet E. Adams Wilson wrote the first novel by a Black person that was published in the United States, in Boston. She claimed to have written the book with the sole purpose of earning enough money to survive. Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, In a Two-Story White House North, Showing that Slavery’s Shadow Falls Even Therewas largely autobiographical, and most of what scholars know about “Hattie” Wilson is derived from her novel. The story of Our Nig centers around a mixed-race woman in New England, discussing the racism and abuse that went on even in the nominally free states of the North. The publishing world largely assumed her novel to have been written by a white author until scholarship by Henry Louis Gates, Jr proved the author to have been an African American woman.

Original Manuscript of The Bondswoman’s Narrative

A recently discovered work of early African-American literature is The Bondwoman’s Narrative, which was written by Hannah Crafts between 1853 and 1860. Crafts was born into slavery in Murfreesboro, North Carolina in the 1830s but escaped to New York around 1857. Her book has elements of both the slave narrative and a sentimental novel.  If her work was written in 1853, it would be the first African-American novel written in the United States. The Bondwoman’s Narrative also has the distinction of being the only novel entirely untouched by white editors, presenting the author’s thoughts without being filtered to be palatable to a white audience. The novel was published in 2002.


Sojourner Truth

Early African-American spiritual autobiographies were published in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, preceding the slave narratives. I won’t delve into those here, except to say that authors of such narratives include James Albert Ukawsaw GronniosawJohn Marrant, George WhiteZilpha Law, Maria W. Stewart, Jarena Lee, Nancy Gardner Prince, and Sojourner Truth.

According to Wikipedia, “The slave narratives were integral to African-American literature. Some 6,000 former slaves from North America and the Caribbean wrote accounts of their lives, with about 150 of these published as separate books or pamphlets. Slave narratives can be broadly categorized into three distinct forms: tales of religious redemption, tales to inspire the abolitionist struggle, and tales of progress. The tales written to inspire the abolitionist struggle are the most famous because they tend to have a strong autobiographical motif. Many of them are now recognized as the most literary of all 19th-century writings by African Americans.”

Frances W. Harper

Frances E. W. Harper (1825–1911), born free in Baltimore, Maryland, wrote four novels, several volumes of poetry, and numerous stories, poems, essays and letters.  She was an abolitionist, suffragist, co-founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and the first African American woman to publish a short story. She was also the first woman instructor at Union Seminary in Ohio. Her book Poems on Miscellaneous Subjectsselfpublished in Philadelphia in1854sold more than 10,000 copies within three years. 

Harriet Jacobs (1813 or 1815 – March 7, 1897), born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina, was the only woman known to have left writing that documents that enslavement. Her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, written by Herself, published in 1861 under the pseudonym Linda Brent, is now considered an “American classic”. For most of the twentieth century, critics thought her autobiography was a fictional novel written by a white author. Jacobs’ autobiography is one of the only works of that time to discuss the sexual oppression of slavery, which led many publishing companies to refuse her manuscript; she finally purchased the plates and had the book printed “for the author” by a printing firm in Boston.

Other African-American writers also rose to prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  

After the Civil War

Booker T. Washington

One of the most influential authors of this period is Booker T. Washington (1856–1915).  Among his published essays, lectures, and memoirs are Up From Slavery (1901), The Future of the American Negro (1899), Tuskegee and Its People (1905), and My Larger Education (1911). Booker Taliaferrro (he adopted the surname Washington later in life) was born into slavery in Virginia and attended school while working in a coal mine, eventually graduating from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. He was the founder and first president of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University). Advisor to may presidents, he is the first African American to appear on a U.S. postage stamp, or to be invited to dine at the White House.

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), in addition to being one of the most prominent post-slavery writers, was also a sociologist, socialist, lecturer, historian, and civil rights activist.  In 1903 he published an influential collection of essays entitled The Souls of Black Folk in which he wrote, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” He drew from his personal experience growing up in rural Georgia to describe how African Americans lived within American society. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois completed graduate work at the Friedrich Wilhelm University (Berlin, Germany) and earned a doctorate in philosophy from Harvard University. Du Bois was one of the original founders of the NAACP in 1910.

The Norton Anthology of American Literature (Fourth Edition, Volume 1) spanning the colonial period to the Civil War, includes biographical information and samples of the works by Phillis Wheatley, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass. Volume 2, which surveys the years since the Civil War  includes biographical information and writing samples from Washington and Du Bois, as well as more than a dozen other Black U. S. writers.

Bottom line: There’s much more to writing by Black Americans than the big name fiction writers (great as they are)!

“Just Friends”?

Today’s blog post was written by Kathleen Corcoran

The term “just friends” makes me grit my teeth every time I hear it. It implies that romantic and sexual relationships are somehow worth more than platonic friends. Friendship is relegated to a consolation prize or afterthought.

An Irish Gaelic word, anamchara, captures the importance of intimate friends in our lives. It means both friend and soul mate. In the Martyrology of Oengus, Brigid of Kildare said, “Anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head.”

The ancient Greeks agreed. Aristotle defined friends as “A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”

So if friends are the other parts of our souls, why does society (and the media) refer to intimate companions as “just friends”?

Humans are a Friendly Species

The Friendship Cure
The Friendship Cure by Kate Leaver

Since the days of wandering tribes of hunter/ gatherers, homo sapiens have needed to rely on the strength of the community for individual survival.

  • The benefits start in childhood. People who spent more time with friends as a child are likely to have a lower body mass index and blood pressure as adults.
  • Being around friends causes humans’ brains to release dopamine, norepinephrin, vassopresin, oxytocin, and serotonin, making people happier, calmer, less stressed, and more likely to survive and recover from difficult situations.
  • Having intimate friends decreases your chances of developing dementia.
  • When in proximity to friends or other loved ones, a person’s brain releases fewer stress hormones in response to threats.
  • People with close friends have lower rates of cardiac disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and excessive abdominal fat. If they have a heart attack, people who report not feeling lonely are much more likely to survive.
  • Even the perception of having the emotional and practical support of friends improves the likelihood of a good outcome when a person goes through hard times.
  • Having friends is even good for your career! According to a Harvard Business Review study, women with strong friendship circles, particularly when those friendship circles are primarily other women, advance more in their careers and earn 2.5 times higher pay.

“Just friends” keep us alive and healthy!

We Need Friends More Than Family or Romance

As Dr. Marisa Franco wrote in Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make-and Keep- Friends, intimate friendships provide people with unique benefits that other relationships cannot. Friends provide emotional support without getting bogged down in decisions about retirement and childcare. Platonic friends have all the intimacy of romantic relationships without the obligation to provide sexual gratification.

  • Katherine Wu divides love into lust, attraction, and attachment. Intimate friends combine the attraction (dopamine, norepinephrin, and serotonin) of romantic relationships with the attachment (oxytocin and vasopressin) of family relationships without the libido involvement (estrogen and testosterone) of lustful relationships.
Friends provide all sorts of support!
  • A study by William J. Chopik found that people with strong relationships with friends and with family experience better health and happiness overall. However, at advanced ages, people with intimate friendships have better health even than those with strong family ties. This might be because friendships that last into old age have already withstood the test of time.
  • Many women experience more intimacy with same-sex friends than they do with romantic partners.
  • Close friends (and family and romantic partners) develop similar brain-wave patterns when they are together. However, when they part, friends keep those similar patterns longer than they do with familial or romantic intimates.

That’s a lot of brain chemistry and health benefits from people who are “just friends.”

Things Weren’t Always This Way

Gilgamesh and Enkidu shared what might now be called a “romantic friendship.”

Until recently, most people married for reasons of politics, progeny, or property. According to Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, the understanding of marriage as an emotional institution did not arise until the 19th century.

Before then, people much more commonly turned to friends for emotional intimacy and affection. Friends kissed and cuddled each other, slept together, and provided the kind of support that, today, society only condones in romantic relationships.

  • When his friend Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh mourns him, saying, “My friend Enkidu, whom I loved so dear, who with me went through every danger, the doom of mortals overtook him.”
  • In the Bible, King David said of his friend Jonathon, “Your love was wonderful to me, passing the love of women.”
  • When he lived in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln had a very close friend named Joshua Fry Speed, with whom he shared a bed and had pillow fights in his pyjamas.

With the rise of women’s suffrage came more female-only spaces, such as women’s colleges, where intimate friendships developed into new traditions and forms of expression.

When a Vassar girl takes a shine to another, she straightway enters upon a regular course of bouquet sendings, interspersed with tinted notes, mysterious packages of “Ridley’s Mixed Candies,” locks of hair perhaps, and many other tender tokens, until at last the object of her attentions is captured, the two women become inseparable, and the aggressor is considered by her circle of acquaintances as — smashed.

Yale student newspaper, 1873

The Lord of Montaigne, a Renaissance-era French philosopher even claimed that friendship was so intense and intimate that women could not understand it.

Seeing (to speake truly) that the ordinary sufficiency of women cannot answer this conference and communication, the nurse of this sacred bond: nor seem their minds strong enough to endure the pulling of a knot so hard, so fast, and durable.

Michel Eyquem, Sieur de Montaigne
John Laurens and Alexander Hamilton
detail from The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trunbull

Letters to friends frequently included language that modern writers would reserve for romantic or sexual partners.

  • In 1779, Alexander Hamilton wrote to his friend John Laurens, “Cold in my professions, warm in [my] friendships, I wish, my Dear Laurens, it m[ight] be in my power, by action rather than words, [to] convince you that I love you.”
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson said of his friends, “What is so delicious as a just and firm encounter of two, in a thought, in a feeling?”

So how did people move from intimate companions, romantic friendship, and soul mates to … “just friends”?

Blame Technology

Well, sort of. For most of our history as a species, humans have lived in small communities with strong social networks. During the Industrial Revolution, people moved to cities in droves, where those strong social networks were more difficult to maintain. Instead, people turned for intimacy (as well as child-rearing and basic survival) to romantic partners and connections within the nuclear family.

Friends work together to pull heavy loads.

Until the 1800s, the word “loneliness” did not exist. The closest word in English, “oneliness,” simply meant being without other people, without any negative connotations. A growing consumer economy, research in psychiatry, and a spreading understanding of evolutionary biology emphasized the importance of the individual alone rather than as a member of the community.

The closed doors and relative anonymity of living in a crowd also changed people’s understanding of sexual orientation and intimacy. Victorian ideals of male and female behavior as being opposite and complementary meant that people restricted their opposite-sex friendships for fear of signalling romantic attraction.

At the same time, people restricted their friendships with those of the same sex due to new fears of perceived homosexuality. As Dr. Marisa Franco wrote in Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make-and Keep- Friends, “Our discomfort with affection in friendships coincides with the rise of homophobia as it is expressed today.”

Psychiatrists like Sigmund Freud and Richard von Kraft-Ebbing characterized romance among people of the same gender as a sexual disorder, creating the concept of sexual identity. As historian Lilian Faderman writes in Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, the turn of the 20th century “was also the beginning of a lengthy period of general closing off of most affectional possibilities between women. The precious intimacies that adult females had been allowed to enjoy with each other earlier — sleeping in the same bed, holding hands, exchanging vows of eternal love, writing letters in the language of romance — became increasingly self-conscious and then rare.”

Homohysteria, the fear of being perceived as being homosexual, drastically curtailed people’s demonstrations of affection and intimacy among their friends. Before the 19th century, society stigmatized people for non-cormforming sexual acts but not for attraction or for non-sexual behaviors. Freud and Kraft-Ebbing, among others, created the modern definitions of sexual identity, which included homophobia.

Today, people are lonelier than ever. People shy away from expressions of intimacy and love with friends lest they be perceived as declarations of romantic or sexual attraction.

Social media technology, despite filling our screens with the activities of friends, can actually make us lonelier. When people use social media platforms to facilitate face-to-face interactions, they report less loneliness and stronger relationships. However, when they replace face-to-face interactions with activity on social media platforms, they report weaker relationships and stronger feelings of isolation. Research tells us that there is no replacement for communicating with or spending time with intimate friends.

Today, on St. Valentine’s Day, I’d like to celebrate all the friendly people reading this. Friends make us happier and less stressed. Friends help us in our careers. Friends keep us healthy and sometimes even keep us alive. Friends make our lives better in innumerable ways. Friends are so much more than “just friends.”


Collective nouns fascinate me, as I’ve mentioned before. I’ve heard a group of starlings called a “murmuration” most often, but I’ve also seen

Murmuration of starlings
Murmuration of Starlings in France
  • A chattering of starlings
  • A cloud of starlings
  • A clutter of starlings
  • A congregation of starlings
  • A flock of starlings
  • A scintillation of starlings

In mid-January, a starling showed up at our bird feeder. A week or so later, we saw two. A few days ago, we had a whole clutter of them! 

Starlings are boisterous, loud, and they travel in large groups (often with blackbirds and grackles).

Attractive Starlings

Juvenile European starling
Adult European starling feeding a juvenile

Their appearance changes with age and seasons. Young ones are more brown than black.

Summer starling plumage
Starling plumage in summer

In fresh winter plumage they are brown, covered in brilliant white spots.  In summer they are purplish-green iridescent—but not as blue-black iridescent as grackles.

Their legs are officially pink, though I’ve  always thought they look more yellow. The bill is black in winter and yellow in summer.

Bigger than chickadees, smaller than blue jays, starlings seem to me to be about the size of cardinals.

Winter starling plumage
Starling plumage in winter

Starlings have diverse and complex vocalizations and have been known to embed sounds from their surroundings into their own calls, including car alarms and human speech patterns. The birds can recognize particular individuals by their calls and are the subject of research into the evolution of human language.

Starlings are active, social birds. Pet starlings notoriously bond closely with their caretakers and seek them out for companionship. Although wild birds, they are easy to tame and keep as pets. Their normal lifespan is about 15 years, possibly longer in captivity.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart kept a pet starling for several years. He may have written his Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, (K. 453) as an adaptation of the bird’s song. When it died, Mozart held an elaborate funeral for it, calling on all the mourners to sing the bird a requiem in procession.

Mozart starling song
Mozart’s notation of his starling’s song, written in his expense book in 1784, to which he added the note “Vogel Stahrl 34 Kr. … Das war schön!” (Starling’s song, 34 Kreuzer… That was beautiful!)

“Come Here” Starlings

Starling foraging
Starling foraging

As the story goes, Eugene Schieffelin—an eccentric pharmacist in the Bronx—was an Anglophile and a Shakespeare aficionado. As deputy of a group whose goals included introducing European species that would be “interesting and useful” and benefit homesick immigrants.  Schieffelin, it is believed, latched onto the goal of bringing every bird mentioned in the works of Shakespeare to Central Park, and he zeroed in on the Bard’s single reference to a starling in Henry IV.

HOTSPUR: He said he would not ransom Mortimer,
Forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer.
But I will find him when he lies asleep,
And in his ear I’ll hollo “Mortimer.”
Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but “Mortimer,” and give it him
To keep his anger still in motion.

Henry IV, Part 1 (Act I, Scene 3, Line 228)
Winter starling

However, according to Eugene Schieffelin’s obituary in 1906, he imported starlings for an entirely different reason — to wage war on a particular type of caterpillar that was invading his garden. In fact, researchers at Alleghany College published an article in 2021 arguing that the story of Schieffelin’s obsession with Shakespeare grew out of social and political anti-immigrant sentiments common at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In any case, starlings are an introduced species to America and have adapted well to urban life, which offers abundant nesting and food sites.  It took them just 80 years to populate the continent.  They are a ubiquitous, nonnative, invasive species. There are so many that no one can count them—estimates run to about 200 million. Genetic research shows that all of these millions of birds descended from the original 80 or so birds Eugene Schieffelin released in Central Park. They’ve behaved atrociously in their New World. 

Despised Starlings

Starlings can damage grass turf as they search for food.  While looking for worms, the extremely strong beaks of these birds often damage the root systems of the grasses they pull up. Large flocks can destroy crops in your garden and disturb your newly seeded lawn when the birds feed on seeds and berries.

The US Department of Agriculture officially classifies European starlings as an invasive species. Many biologists despise starlings  for their reputed ability to outcompete native birds for food and a limited number of nest sites.  

Nesting starlings
Starling chicks in their crevice nest

They nest in cavities, and each spring they seek crevices in buildings, homes, and birdhouses, as well as holes that have been carved into trees and poles by woodpeckers. They compete for these sites with other cavity nesters, including chickadees, bluebirds and swallows. Because starlings do not have to migrate south for the winter, they are able to claim the best nesting sites before breeding season begins.

Common starling

This is my major concern: that a clutter of starlings will drive out native Virginia birds currently in our backyard (goldfinch, cardinal, blue jay, tufted titmouse, house finch, blue birds, woodpeckers, chickadee, flicker, wren, brown thrush, even the occasional sharp-shinned hawk and (a few) mockingbirds. 

One hopeful possibility: “The evidence that this competition has led to significant population declines is pretty slim, at best,” says Walter Koenig, ornithologist and researcher.

Also, one significant point to remember: starlings thrive in areas that are disturbed by human presence, including dense urban environments, places where more sensitive species cannot survive in the long term.  Maybe native birds are simply finding more hospitable locations.

Disastrous Starlings

However, starlings can cause actual public disasters.  In 1960, Eastern Airlines Flight 375 took off from Boston’s Logan Airport for Philadelphia and other points south. Seconds after takeoff, it collided with a flock of 20,000 starlings. Two of the four engines lost power, the plane plunged into the sea, and 62 people died.  This remains the worst airline crash—in terms of human fatality—that was ever caused by a collision with birds. See the 2017 article Even If We Don’t Love Starlings, We Should Learn to Live With Them by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

From the same article: “After that crash, officials tested seasoned pilots on flight simulators to see if any could have saved the plane in such a scenario. All failed.  In subsequent tests, live starlings were thrown into running engines. It was found that just three or four birds could cause a dangerous power drop.”  

Starling flock livestock

Although starlings’ ecological sins might be overstated, their devastating effects on agriculture are beyond doubt. 

Starlings damage apples, blueberries, cherries, figs, grapes, peaches, and strawberries. Besides causing direct losses from eating fruits, starlings peck and slash at fruits, reducing product quality and increasing the fruits’ susceptibility to diseases and crop pests. They also lurk around farmyards and lots where they binge on feed in the troughs of cattle and swine.

Starling feeding

The US Department of Agriculture counts the devastation as high as $800 million annually. Some researchers estimate that starling cause approximately $1.6 billion of damage to crops and livestock every year.

Dealing with Starlings

The good news is that for the last thirty years or so starling populations have been stable. Every species has a carrying capacity, the number of individuals that can thrive in a given place without exhausting resources, and perhaps starlings are there.

Ecologically, starlings’ presence lies somewhere between highly unfortunate and utterly disastrous.

Starlings are not protected in Virginia or by the federal government, which means that we can remove the starlings and their nests at any time of the year.  We might also fill the bird feeders with food they don’t like, block potential nesting sites, and prune trees to deny cover for flocks. If these starlings turn out to be particularly stubborn, we might even play recordings of hawks and predator calls or simply bang pots outside to drive them off.

Bottom Line: Whatever a bunch of starlings are called, they are definitely a nuisance—maybe even a disaster!


AKA Butterflies. When my grandson was two, I took him to a butterfly garden. I carried him for the entire visit hiding his eyes against my neck, whimpering. I guess the flashes of color were too surprising, too unfamiliar.

Butterfly garden in Union, NJ
Butterfly Garden in Union, New Jersey
Dirce Beauty Butterfly
Dirce Beauty Butterfly

Fortunately, he didn’t become lepidopterophobic.  However, there are people with an irrational fear of butterflies and moths.

For those of us who welcome butterflies, their season is coming. June is the main flight period for many butterfly beauties, including swallowtail, black hairstreak, large blue, marsh fritillary, and glanville fritillary.  There are almost 20,000 butterfly species.

Butterflies are Fascinating!

Butterfly anatomy
Butterfly Anatomy
Butterfly puddling
Dryas Lulias butterfly puddling in the tears of a turtle
  • Butterflies use chemoreceptors on their feet to taste. 
  • Adult butterflies of most species only live for a few weeks, although the caterpillar may take months to develop.
    • Exceptions include migratory species, which may live up to 10 months.
    • In warm climates there are continuous generations, producing adult butterflies year-round. 
  • Butterflies have a liquid diet using a flexible tongue called the proboscis, which resembles a tube.
  • In addition to nectar, butterflies seek out nutrients in moist environments, such as mud, tears, and puddles. Scientists call this behavior “puddling.”
Black hairstreak butterfly
Black Hairstreak Butterfly
  • Butterflies will happily drink blood if they come across it, though they do not seek it out.
  • Nectar-filled plants naturally attract butterflies:
    • Joe-Pye weed
    • Ironweed
    • Coneflowers
    • Goldenrod
    • Brightly-hued asters
  • Butterflies actually have four wings, not two.
  • Butterflies can perceive ultraviolet light.
  • Butterflies have three body sections- head, thorax and abdomen. Other than this, they have two antennae, complex eyes, and an exoskeleton just like all other insects.
Pink Cottontail Butterfly
Pink Cottontail Butterfly
  • Butterfly wings are transparent.
  • Scales called lamellar cover a butterfly’s wings, giving them the patterns and colors we see.
  • The dust you may see on your finger after touching a lepidopteran wing is actually made up of tiny wing scales (modified hairs). If too many scales are rubbed away, the wing is more likely to tear or fail.
  • At night, or when the day is cloudy, adult butterflies rest by hanging upside down from leaves or twigs, where they are hidden among the foliage.
    • They become quiescent but do not sleep like mammals do.
  • Butterflies are able to learn signs that nectar is present.
  • Adult butterflies communicate mostly through chemical cues—the males produce chemicals called pheromones to seduce the females.
Tiger swallowtail butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
  • Size varies greatly:
    • One of the smallest butterflies is the Eastern Pygmy Blue (Brephidium isophthalma), from the coastal southeastern United States, with a wingspan of about 5/8 of an inch.
    • Among the largest are the Queen Alexandra Birdwing butterflies (Ornithoptera alexandrae) from New Guinea, with wingspans of up to 12 inches.
  • Butterflies have the ability to go through a full metamorphosis; their life cycle includes four stages – egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
  • If you see two adult butterflies with their abdomens linked tail-to-tail, they are mating. The male grasps the female and deposits a sperm packet, which fertilizes the female’s eggs.
    • Butterflies can fly while mating, but they usually avoid moving unless they are disturbed.
Blue Spotted Butterfly
Blue Spotted Butterfly
  • Tiny sensory hairs called tactile setae cover a butterfly’s body.
  • Butterflies have huge compound eyes with numerous light-sensitive lenses, both of which have their own refractive systems and which together contribute to the formation of the image.
  • Butterflies have a long chambered heart that runs the length of its body on the upper side.
  • Butterflies must have a body temperature of 86F or above in order to fly.
  • Some species of butterflies can fly at speeds of up to 3, 4.9-12.4, 25,or 30 mph depending on the source cited.
  • According to entomologists, butterflies do not feel pain.
  • Butterflies (and moths) can remember what they learned as caterpillars.
  • Some butterflies protect themselves through camouflage—by folding up their wings, they reveal the undersides and blend in with their surroundings. 
  • If you want a butterfly to land on you, stand still and don’t wear perfume, aftershave, etc.

Facts About Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly
Monarch Butterfly
  • They’re bright orange and poisonous.
  • They weigh less than a paperclip.
  • Pilots have reported seeing monarch butterflies as high as two miles up.
  • Monarch larvae are picky eaters, thriving on a diet of milkweed, which is poisonous to most animals.
  • Males release pheromones from scent glands on their back wings to attract females.
  • They migrate from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of about 2,000 miles, and return to the north again in the spring. 
  • Overwintering monarchs live up to eight months, while other generations only live about two to six weeks.

Save the Flutterbies!

Aile Violette Butterfly
Aile Violette Butterfly

So why am I writing about butterflies in January? Because the Environmental Defense Fund sent a flyer, “Butterflies are disappearing,” that cites pretty alarming statistics. 

“Across the country, the entire monarch butterfly population has collapsed by nearly 1 billion since 1990.” It is now officially endangered.  Many species of butterflies have already gone extinct.

Of course the point was to solicit donations to help restore butterfly habitats. But besides being eye candy, why bother about butterflies

  • Like bees, they are plant pollinators for many veggies and herbs, such as carrots, legumes, and mint
  • About 1/3 of our food supply depends on butterflies as well as other pollinators 
  • They control the populations of insects like aphids
  • They are food for birds and small mammals
Rhetus Butterfly
Rhetus Butterfly

Butterfly personality is a thing! We all know the social butterfly! This personality is social and influencing. They need to interact with others and are friendly, charming, persuasive, talkative, impulsive, and optimistic. They are usually good leaders and can motivate others.

Butterflies represent new beginnings, giving us hope for what the future has to bring.  Their fluttering wings bring beauty to many! All across the globe, butterflies are viewed as symbols of rebirth, representing change, hope, endurance, and life!

“[Butterflies] represent strength, endurance, spirituality, trust, sustaining what they believe, transformation, and evolution.”

Cristina Panescu

BOTTOM LINE: What’s not to love about about butterflies?


Why eyelashes? Why not? They’re more interesting than you might think. For one thing, they are functional.  Eyelashes protect the eye from dust or other debris. They are very sensitive to touch, and may close reflexively if an insect or whatever is too close. In addition, they contain sebaceous glands at the base that lubricates and protect from dryness and irritation.  Babies are born with eyelashes. 

Eyelash Information

Eye and eyelash parts

The lifespan of an average eyelash is three to five months, compared to the rest of your hair, which lasts two to four years. 

Baby eyelashes
Photo by Carlos ZGZ

For all that they look fine, lashes are the thickest hair on the human body—which I find hard to believe, but whatever. 

Most people have 150-250 individual lashes on the top of the eyelid and between 50-100 on the lower lid. They grow in uneven rows, 5 to 6 on top and 3 to 5 on the bottom. Just like head hair, eyelashes naturally fall out and replace themselves in a natural cycle every six to 10 weeks, so it’s totally normal to lose between one and five lashes each day.  The older people are, the slower the growth process becomes. This is how/why lashes start to thin out.

You Jianxia
World's longest eyelashes
You Jianxia

In addition, aging and menopause are considered to be leading factors that cause shorter eyelashes due to certain hormonal imbalances that affect the growth cycle of hair follicles. Other factors include stress, lack of sleep, and allergic reactions to medications.

In high school, I knew a girl whose lashes were so long that they brushed the lenses of her glasses.  According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest eyelash measured 20.5 cm (8.0 in) long, grown on You Jianxia’s (China) left upper lid.

Feather eyelashes

The lashes on the top eyelid are usually between 7-13mm in length while the lashes on the bottom usually never grow longer than 7mm.  The average length of the normal lashes is 10mm-12mm  The researchers, led by Farid Pazhoohi of the University of British Columbia in Canada, estimate that the optimal eyelash length for women is about one-quarter to one-third of the width of one’s eye. The optimal eyelash length for men is a bit less, about one-fifth of the width of one’s eye.

Ethnicity does not have an impact on eyelash length. However, Asian people and those of Spanish and Eastern European descent commonly have straight lashes while others have curlier lashes.

Ideal Eyelashes

False eyelashes
Performers in Jakarta applying false eyelashes

Does eyelash length really matter? It depends on who you ask. According to ancient Chinese face reading tradition, long lashes are for the sensitive and imaginative. Long lashes indicate more fire chi presence and it means that people who have them are extra sensitive.

Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar born 79BCE, claimed that long eyelashes were a sign of purity and chastity. He claimed, “Eyelashes fell out from excessive sex, and so it was especially important for women to keep their eyelashes long to prove their chastity.”


People have been darkening their eyelashes with soot, kohl, berry juice, oil, ink, or lead for millennia. The Algerian town of Mascara produced great quantities of antimony, which the locals applied to their lashes for beautification as well as to provide protection from trachoma and eye diseases. Ancient Egyptians combined galena, malachite, soot, crocodile dung, and honey to create the kohl they used to darken their eyelids and lashes.

Lash Lure

In 1933, Lash Lure promised consumers that a “new and improved mascara will give you a radiating personality, with a before and after.” Unfortunately, the permanent eyelash and brow dye contained para-phenylenediamine, which caused dermatitis, conjunctival edema, keratitis, corneal ulceration, and necrosis. The damage permanently blinded fifteen women and killed one.

Eyelash extensions have been a fashion trend for more time than most people think. The desire to have luscious lashes has transformed dramatically since their beginning in 3500 B.C. While the reasons to have long eyelashes were more symbolic back then, today, they are an indication of beauty.

According to an article in the Dundee Courier in 1899, fashionable women in Paris could have hair from their own heads sewn “through the extreme edges of the eyelid between the epidermis and the lower border of the cartilage of the tragus.” Doctors would rub the patient’s eyelids with a solution of cocaine before taking a needle to them, so I’m sure it didn’t hurt a bit!

Early false eyelashes
Peggy Hyland applying false lashes, 1917

The darkness of eyelashes is related to (natural) hair color. 

For all that eyelashes are functional, we often associate them with beauty, the ideal being long, curved, and dark. There are actually eyelash salons! Who knew? (Not me, obviously.)

False eyelashes? One can get single lashes or strips. And fake lashes can be anything from mink to velour to real human hair.

A surprising number of people make and wear false eyelashes cut from paper. They design intricate patterns in strips of thick, waxy paper and attach them to their lids, just like false lashes made from hair or feathers.

Mink eyelashes

Gorgeous as they can be, fake eyelashes may cause temporary or even permanent loss of one’s natural eyelashes.  Taking the fakes off can break natural lashes, and possibly damage the hair follicle, causing lash regrowth to fail.

Problem Eyelashes

There are a number of diseases or disorders involving the eyelashes:

Ingrown Eyelashes
Demodex folliculorum
Demodex folliculorum

Eyelash and eyebrow transplant surgeries may help to reconstruct or thicken lashes or eyebrow hair.

On the stranger side, the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages linked the exposure of any hair (including eyelashes) to having an excessively erotic disposition. To demonstrate their modesty, Medieval women covered their hair and plucked their brows and lashes.

Animal Kingdom Eyelashes

People share eyelashes with other animals.  Lashes, being hair, are found in all mammals except the aquatic ones (dolphins and whales). 

Hornbill Eyelashes
  • Classically long and elegant, elephant lashes have been making history since the days of the woolly mammoth.
  • Camels‘ lashes are remarkably long and thick. 
  • Horses and cows feature lashes as well, as do dogs cats, and mice.
  • Lashes differ in length and density depending on where the animal lives 
  • Inherited eyelash problems are common in some breeds of dogs as well as horses. 
Eyelash viper
Eyelash Viper

Eyelashes are an uncommon but not unknown feature in birds.  Hornbills have prominent lashes (vestigial feathers with no barbs), as do ostriches. Among reptiles, only Eyelash vipers show a set of modified scales over the eyes which look much like eyelashes.

As best I can determine, the function of eyelashes for animals is the same as for humans: protection.  For animals that live in dusty areas, their lashes stop them getting specks of dust in their eyes. This is why camels, kangaroos, elephants, and giraffes have several rows of long eyelashes, not just one row.

Bottom line: There’s more to eyelashes than meets the eye!


Elephant Secrets

The word “secret” implies scandalous, illegal, or at least embarrassing. Actually, it could be anything that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others. Note: intention is essential; that’s what separates secrets from things merely unknown.

Of course there are “official” secrets: state secrets, corporate secrets, secret formulas/recipes, even secret ingredients. All can be important, even interesting.

But most of the secrets in our lives are personal, such as

Dog Secrets
  • The first erect penis I ever saw was my brother’s.
  • I overheard people at my sister’s concert talking about what a terrible musician she is.
  • My father in law helps me remember my wedding anniversary every year.
  • I put already dead batteries in obnoxiously loud kids’ toys.
  • I’ve had sex with 13 men.
  • I lose on purpose when playing video games with my spouse.
  • I’m afraid to see a therapist, because then I might have confirmation of what I suspect.
  • My dog is a better sleep partner than my spouse.
  • I never wear pants when on video calls for work.
  • I resent the cat for stealing my spouse’s affection.
  • If my dick wasn’t so small, I wouldn’t be such a great athlete.
  • I shave my face every day, and I’m a woman!
  • I haven’t washed my socks in three days.
  • I steal the kids’ Halloween candy.
  • I pretend to snore so my partner isn’t as embarrassed about her own snoring.
  • I shoplift at yard sales.
  • I fell for her when she said my sweaty body was sexy.
  • I’m the one who lost my sister’s Totally Hair Barbie when we were kids.
  • My mother is an alcoholic, and I pretend I don’t know.


Perhaps surprisingly, people are eager to share their secrets!

In November of 2004, Frank Warren printed 3,000 postcards like the one below and started dropping them in public places. 

Top: Sample PostSecret card
Bottom: Submitted PostSecret card

Thousands of postcards poured in, in several languages—and braille—from all over the world. The project exploded beyond its original intent. By early 2006, Frank Warren had compiled early postcards into PostSecret: Extraodordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives

The project spawned shows, exhibits, a website, and several more books: A Lifetime of Secrets (007), The Secret Lives of Men and Women (2007), My Secret (2006)and PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God (2014).  (Eventually the website was taken down because viewers started posting porn and attacking some of the secrets shared.)


Warren believed that sharing secrets, even anonymously, was liberating, and often therapeutic. I highly recommend any and all of these books as fascinating reading, and also as sources of insight and (for writers) inspiration.

Psychology of Secrets

Horse Secrets

The topic of secrets is so seductive that of course, psychologists got onto the topic. At Psychology Today, you’ll find a pretty comprehensive research overview in the article, Why We Keep So Many Secrets, 2022. The facts and statistics that follow are from that article.

There are 36 common types of secrets identified by researchers, and about 97% of people have a secret in at least one of those categories.  The average person is currently keeping secrets in 12 or 13 of them. Examples of the categories include:

  • Hurting another person (emotionally or physically)
  • Illegal drug use, or abuse of a legal drug (e.g., alcohol, painkillers)
  • Habit or addiction (but not involving drugs)
  • Theft (any kind of taking without asking)
  • Something illegal (other than drugs or theft)
  • Physical self-harm
  • Abortion

Among more than 50,000 research participants  surveyed, the most common secrets include a lie we’ve told (69 percent), romantic desire (61 percent), sex (58 percent), and finances (58 percent)

Monkey Secrets

It’s OK to have secrets, says psychotherapist Gillian Straker. “We are definitely entitled to have our own inner subjectivity and our own inner lives. “With social media we are having less and less private space — so to have some private space, even if it’s from your partner, feels to me a positive.”

On the other hand, the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual impact of secrets are well documented. In fact, research suggests keeping secrets can significantly boost stress hormones, impact blood pressure, inhibit sleep, contribute to mental health and substance use disorders and even increase chronic pain.  Every time you think about a deeply held secret, stress hormones such as cortisol can surge, impacting your memory, blood pressure, gastrointestinal tract and metabolism. “Those hormones also include norepinephrine,” Gopal Chopra, CEO of PingMD says, “which affects parts of the brain where attention and responses are controlled.

Bison Secrets

OF course, some people are more secretive than others. Some common synonyms of secretive are reserved, reticent, silent, and taciturn. While all these words mean “showing restraint in speaking,” secretive also carries a suggestion of deviousness and lack of frankness or of an ostentatious will to conceal.

Yes, there are differences between some of the secrets of women and men, at least with regard to sex. According to Justin J. Lehmiller Ph.D.:

  • Women are more likely to report keeping sex secrets because they don’t think their partner would understand.
  • Men are more likely to report keeping sex secrets because they don’t think their partner would approve of their behavior.

Bottom line: Secrets are common, numerous, wide-ranging, powerful, and personal. Consider your secrets and the pros and cons of keeping them.