Archives for posts with tag: Experimental Psychology

One of the most interesting uses of astrology is the delineation of family relationships. When people ask for compatibility charts, they rarely pertain to parents or siblings. Yet, such charts can be instructive, in part for the realization that family members are, on some level, simply other people.  By saying that, I’m not diminishing the ties of family but simply pointing out that there can be essential and painful differences between people who share the same blood. “Is it wrong not to like my sister?” a client once asked.  “If it helps,” I told her, “she probably doesn’t like you either. There’s simply no compatibility between your charts. Stop worrying about it.”

In some astrological circles, it’s believed that people choose their families on some mystical/psychic/soul level. I’m not much a believer in that idea and certainly over the years my clients seem to absolutely hate it. “Trust me, of all the parents on earth, I wouldn’t have chosen those two,” is how a woman put it to me once.

That said, family dynamics are interesting even on a wider basis than comparing the charts of two family members. Without a doubt, astrological themes seem to run through some families. This often centers around particular signs that appear regularly over generations. By saying this I don’t mean that the individual charts are similar; what I mean is that a certain sign or placement gets emphasised. Where it becomes interesting is when you see the chart of an individual who does not share any of the family themes. For instance, in a family full of Cancer themes, suddenly a child with no Cancer but a powerful Aries shows up. In conversation, this usually comes out as “I’m the black sheep in my family” and they are.

In astrological practice, here’s what it looks like. The first chart is the daughter, followed by the chart of the mother and then the two charts together. What jumps out pretty quickly in the daughter’s chart is Aries, with Sun and Moon both in Aries, close to the ascendant. This is a powerful placement, a me-first position. To her credit, the daughter has admitted “I was a tigress as a kid”. In contrast, her mother has a lot of water in her chart. Moon in Pisces, Mercury and Venus in Scorpio.

When you look at the two charts together, there are oppositions and squares (conflict) everywhere


Daughter’s Sun & Moon opposite Mother’s Sun

Daughter’s Sun & Moon square Mother’s Mars & Saturn

There is relief between the two charts, with the Daughter’s Moon in Pisces conjunct the Mother’s Venus in Pisces, but that’s about as good as it gets. The temperamental mismatch was and continues to be hard on both.

So, what can we take away from this. There’s an inherent temperamental difference between the client and her mother. This DOES NOT MEAN THEY DON’T LOVE EACH OTHER. What it does mean is that their tendencies and patterns of behavior are at odds. They’re not TRYING to cause friction, but they do because they are who they are. In this case, for this client, that realization was liberating to a certain extent. For her, seeing their differences made the conflict less personal. On a certain level, she saw them as distinct, separate individuals from herself. Not an easy thing to do nor to remember. Relationships – whether they’re parents, siblings, spouse, business partners, friends or the guy behind the counter at the coffee shop – are complicated. And they cannot be otherwise.



With thousands of charts and consultations to look back on, there are certain key issues that many, many people seem to struggle with. If I had to identify one of the top three it would be the difficulty people have with saying the word “NO”.

Why is that? I think there are lots of reasons. One is that NO feels prohibitive and we live in a culture where denial of any kind feels akin to an infringement of personal rights. Consider all the messages around consensus, such as “Getting to Yes,” or it’s “It’s a Win/Win situation” or “Don’t take NO for an answer”. In other words, there appears to be a rather powerful subconscious message that saying NO is somehow wrong. But common sense would suggest otherwise, which leads to quote that I particularly like:

“A NO that is constructive is a thousand times better than a YES that is not.”

So how do we know the difference and what does it have to do with astrology? The fact is that you can’t know what is constructive or destructive if you don’t know yourself, if you don’t know what your interests are, if you don’t know what you want. In general, clarity of Self tends to reduce confusion about when and why to say NO. But it’s important to understand the social constructions around the topic: because NO is perceived as prohibitive and negative, many of us are uncomfortable saying it (as well as uncomfortable hearing it) and start avoiding the word. And this confusion cuts across every relationship and circumstance: partners, friends, families, co-workers, etc.

In regards to a natal chart, there are lots of ways this difficulty with NO can develop. For example, it can be a temperament issue, like an excess of water in the chart making you too flexible, unable to take a stand. You may be willing, or simply unable to stop yourself, from giving up too much power. Here’s another scenario: you may be deeply divided about what you want. If your Sun is in Aries and your Moon is in Pisces, the internal dialog may alternate between “It’s all about me. No, wait, it’s all about you.” That’s a lot of tension to carry and potentially leads to behavior that is self-defeating, or that sends mixed messages.

So the need to know yourself is the prerequisite to knowing when and where to say NO. But it doesn’t address the issue of learning how to say NO.

To begin, let me propose a handy rule:

Start with a small NO.

If you’re having difficulty with NO, begin by becoming comfortable using NO in situations where the stakes are not high. Why is that? Because you’re basically building a muscle. If you didn’t work out for a long time, you wouldn’t being with a hundred pound weight, you’d start with a weight that was within the range of your strength and work your way up. The same with NO. Use it in situations that are fairly easy. Like, NO, I don’t want to go there to eat. Or NO, that’s not how I want to spend the afternoon. Basically, you’re looking for any situation where the pushback is not likely to be significant or forceful. Which brings us to the second rule of learning to say NO:

You don’t need a reason.

The fact is, a lot of people become stuck or defensive when their NO is challenged. But in reality, you don’t actually need a reason not want to do something. You don’t need a reason that the other party likes, understands, agrees with or any other reaction they might give. Keep in mind, if you’re having difficulty saying NO, then you’re likely to lose force by explaining your NO. This is again, by the way, the reason you start small. You want to become comfortable saying the word and you want it to mean something. To go back to last week’s quotation:

“A NO that is constructive is a thousand times better than a YES that is not.”

If you know what you want, if you know where you’re going, if you know what is in your best interests, then saying NO is not destructive. But the critical issue is knowing yourself. 

The simple act of putting on the white coat of a physician sharply improves your ability to pay attention. So claims a study in the Feb 21, 2012 edition of the “The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology”. The study is an attempt to answer the question of how and whether wearing certain kinds of clothes affects your mental processes. This idea builds on the already well-established field of “embodied cognition” in which, for example, holding a hot drink in your hand will make you more likely to perceive another person as being warm, and vice-versa.

But “enclothed cognition” takes this idea to another level. In one version of the study, students were divided into three groups: group one wore a doctor’s lab coat, group two wore a painter’s coat and group three only saw a doctor’s lab coat. When tested, the group that wore the doctor’s lab coat displayed significantly and statistically greater attention and focus. “Clothes appear to invade the mind and body,” said Adam D. Galinsky, lead researcher of the study.

I can only imagine all the fashionistas out there who read that statement and think: “We’ve known this for years.”

I have not seen “A Dangerous Method” the David Cronenberg film that depicts the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Maybe the problem is that I’ve been exposed to the trailer so relentlessly over the past few months that it feels like I’ve already watched the movie at least two or three times.

From the preview, it’s clear that the men’s friendship gets tested when Jung succumbs to temptation and begins sleeping with a patient, played by Keira Knightley, who is both mad and gorgeous, which is always a deadly concotion. This leads to scenes of Freud expressing strong disapproval while Jung alternates between guilt – “I can’t believe I’m having sex with a patient!” – and bliss – “I can’t believe I’m having sex with Keira Knightley!” While I doubt that it happens, I thought there should be a point in the film where Jung defends himself to Freud by using the line from an old country-western tune: “If loving her is wrong, I don’t want to be right …”

Anyway, here’s one thing you probably won’t learn in the movie: Jung was a big believer in astrology; so big that he actually examined the birth charts of some of his patients to gain insight into their issues. In fact, Jung dedicates an entire
chapter to astrological research in his book “Synchronicity”. About astrology, Jung has written:

“Since you want to know my opinion about astrology I can tell you that I’ve been interested in this particular activity of the human mind since more than 30 years. As I am a psychologist, I am chiefly interested in the particular light the horoscope
sheds on certain complications in the character. In cases of difficult psychological diagnosis I usually get a horoscope in order to have a further point of view from an entirely different angle. I must say that I very often found that the astrological data elucidated certain points which I otherwise would have been unable to understand.”

One of Jung’s best known works is “Psychological Types”, published in 1921. In it Jung set forth his theory of types, delineating two basic attitudes – extroversion and introversion – and four essential functions: sensing, intuition, feeling and thinking. Anyone familiar with traditional astrology will recognize the underlying structure of temperament theory at work in his formulation, a source that Jung both confirms and then brushes aside, saying that “temperament hardly rates as a psychological typology since the temperaments are scarely more than psychophysical colorings”.

That statement seems a little disingenuous when you consider that temperament theory has about a 2000 year old history. Now, I’ve written about temperament before, but it was a while ago, so here’s a quick recap:

The universe, and everything in it including human beings, is comprised of four basic qualities: hot, cold, wet & dry. If that seems like an odd or abstract concept, consider the following statements:

She has a dry wit.
He needs to cool off.
His brother needs to dry out.
I’m all fired up.
He can be cold-hearted.
She’s hot in those red high-heels.
She got cold feet and didn’t show up.
He’s a little wet behind the ears.
She gave me the cold shoulder.

We can see the four qualities at work in all kinds of places. Take music: Salsa music would be hot & wet, rap music would be hot & dry while the music of someone like Philip Glass is cool and dry. The same ideas can be applied to food or fashion.

And here’s one final thought: introversion and extraversion are already built into the elements. Hot & wet are extraverted qualities because they connect things – think of Spring and Summer with their warmth and rain. In contrast, cold and dry tend
to be introverted – think of Fall & Winter, when life becomes more internal and restive.

The combination of the qualities – hot, cold, wet & dry – lead to the temperaments. About which we’ll talk in the next edition of the newsletter and on this blog.