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Thank you for visiting my blog ==> two important points:

I. ACCESS the INFORMATION you seek:

INDEX to ALL my POSTS….

There is a TON of useful information in the 100 + posts available to you.

But, finding what you want can be challenging. 

So, in order to help you to find what interests you, I have posted an INDEX to all of my posts. This is like a Table of Contents in a book.

Here is the link to the Index:

This will take you to an updated PDF which lists all posts. When you know the date, you can go over to the “Archives” (right side of home page), click on the month you want and scroll down to the post you are seeking.

LINKS to my BOOKS (on Amazon)….

Should you want to take a look at my books, here are the links for you.

Emotions as Tools: A Self-Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings

 

Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool

Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool

II.  THE DISCLAIMER:

My focus in this blog is two fold. First of all, I want to educate people about their emotion, relationships and other topics and, secondly, I want to publish information that you can use to improve your life and your relationships.

But, this blog is INFORMATIONAL only!

  • It is not intended to, and CANNOT, diagnose or treat any specific mental illness or psychological condition.
  • So, if you hurt, psychologically, please get professional help.
  •  If you get sick or your car gets “sick”, you see a doctor or a mechanic.  Hurting psychologically is no different, does not mean you are weak, and is telling you that you need some professional help or advice.   PLEASE… GET IT!
  • Therapy works!

And now… Here is my most recent post.

 

Becoming aware of (so that you can master) Your Emotions: Three options.

The key to mastering your emotions as strategic tools is being aware of what emotion you are experiencing.

In several earlier posts and in my book Emotions as Tools A Self-Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings,  I’ve discussed in detail what emotions are and how to use them as strategic tools.  I’ve noted that each emotion informs us about how we are perceiving the situation in which we find ourselves and prepares us to take action.

The information that the emotion conveys is the message of the emotion.

Thus, if you are experiencing anger, the message is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you go to war with and overpower the perceived threat.

If you are experiencing anxiety, the message is that you perceive a threat that might, or might not,  exist.  Anxiety is a future based emotion.

You strategically deploy your emotion when you assess the message based on the situation in which you find yourself and choose an appropriate response.

The emotional mastery process involves:

  • recognizing the emotion,
  • managing your arousal so you can be objective,
  • assessing the message of the emotion and
  • choosing an adaptive response

A major assumption is that you are aware of what emotion you are experiencing.

There are 3 main options available to you to become aware of your feelings.

Option #1: Your body

The process of emotional mastery, as discussed in my Amazon best selling books Emotions as Tools and Beyond Anger Management and as illustrated in the Anger Mastery Cycle (PDF) which you can download here suggests that you determine what you are feeling by becoming aware of your body and how that particular emotion manifests itself physically.  Examples include muscle tension, headaches or an increased heart rate.

In other words, which specific muscle groups tense when you are angry (tightened muscles, a warming sensation) verses when you are anxious or stressed (hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy)?

If you experience a sensation of warmth or coldness with a specific feeling, what is that specific connection?

Each emotion usually manifests itself a bit differently in your body and you can learn to read these physical correlates.

The assumption is that you can learn to connect specific emotions with their physical correlates if you are tuned in to your body and how it changes with what you are feeling.

Option #2: Your actions (Self-perception theory)

If, however, you are one of those people who not seem to know where in their bodies they experience emotions, there is another option.

Indeed, you can learn to become aware of your own behavior. Examples include yelling, arguing, cursing and sarcasm or withdrawing.

And, this gives you another way to become aware of what you are feeling.

Let me give you an example of how this process works.

Have you ever finished eating a meal in which you consumed more than you thought you would and said to yourself: “I didn’t realize that I was so hungry.”

This is an example of self-perception theory in action.

What you have done is to view your external behavior (eating a lot) and inferred an internal state (being very hungry) based on that observation.

By the way, we all do this with other people when we observe their external actions and infer (or guess)  what might be going on inside them based on what they’ve done. So, you might observe your child or a co-worker and comment, “You look really angry to me.”.  Their response, which is less significant here, might acknowledge your observation “Yeh, I am upset.” or deny it, “NO, I’m not angry!”

Option #3: Your thoughts

But, if you are one of those who is more sensitive to your thoughts than to your body, monitoring those thoughts and the desire implied by those thoughts might be a more effective way to becoming aware of the presence of an emotion.

The Latin root of the word emotion (emovre) means to move.  Emotions motivate (move us toward) a specific action.

You can think of this as a desire as in “I want (desire) to attack you.”  Just like in the above example of eating too much, you can observe your desire (before you act on it) and say “I really want to go after this person. I didn’t realize I was so angry.

Once you do this, the next steps in the emotional process (after recognizing the emotion) is to create some physical and psychological distance between you and the “threat” (take a step back and a deep breath).  You can then assess the nature of the threat and choose a response.

Some examples include:

You experience anger and think about lashing out. You take a deep breath, take a step back from the situation, and choose how you want to respond (direct or indirect attack, do nothing because you might have misunderstood what was done, etc.)

You get anxious and think about escaping. You take a deep breath, take a step back from the situation, and choose how you want to respond (use the anxiety as eustress to prepare for the upcoming event, temporarily withdraw to further assess what is going on and how to deal with it)

You get excited during a sales presentation and think about signing up. You take a deep breath, take a step back from the situation, and choose how you want to respond (decide to do nothing and get more information through research, decide that the information you have is solid and sign the dotted line).

Ideally, you have access to all three options.

For now, take some time to reflect on how you relate to, experience, label and master your emotions.

Mastering “sensitivity” to criticism?

I don’t know of anyone who likes being criticized.  I certainly didn’t (and don’t). Indeed, I am still sensitive to criticism.

But, I welcome criticism now.

In other words, I have mastered my sensitivity.

Let me start with a story.

I am a Senior Adjunct Professor at an accredited University.  I have been for over 25 years.

While the feedback I get from my students now is that I am fairly good at what  I do, this wasn’t always the case.

Indeed, I started teaching because I was highly anxious about public speaking. And, as you might guess, I was terrible at it.

NOTE:  I did not say that I was “afraid” of public speaking as the correct emotion here is anxiety and not fear!

For several years, I did not seek out feedback from my students because I was both aware of my short-comings and I was “sensitive” to any comments (criticism) which brought attention to my lack of skill.

Any criticism only highlighted my sense of inadequacy.

My feeling inadequate led to my wanting to avoid being judged.

I was also fairly naive at the time about how emotions worked as tools.

Once I became a little more self-assured, I began to seek feedback from my students.

Seeking feedback is an effective way to deal with criticism and I’ll discuss this in more detail below.

When you talk about being sensitive to criticism, there are two issues.

  1. The first involves the nature of criticism.
  2. The second involves the nature of “sensitivity”.

Criticism

First, let me address the issue of criticism.

The root of the word criticism and critical is the same and involves passing judgment.

By its very nature, criticism involves a judgement or evaluation of your actions by another person.

When you are being criticized, someone else is telling you their opinion about what you have done. (Or, you are sharing with them your  opinion.)

Now, when you look at criticism from a psychological perspective, there are two categories and four possible actions involving criticism.

I. Giving Criticism:  (1) Constructive Giving  and  (2) Destructive Giving

II. Taking Criticism: (3) Constructive Taking and (4) Destructive Taking

Because I am addressing the idea of being sensitive to criticism, I will focus on the category of “taking” criticism.

Regardless of the focus of the criticism,  there are two elements to the message.

  1. One is the manner in which critical comments are delivered 
  2. The other is the validity (or truthfulness) of the critical comments.

However, when it comes to sensitivity, neither of these elements are critical.

Let me repeat that with emphasis added because it could be seen as a bit controversial…

Neither the way a critical message is delivered nor the degree to which the message is true have any connection to how you receive the criticism.

This is the reason that the message, per se, is of secondary importance to sensitivity.  (It is important for other reasons as I will discuss below.)

In addition, there are two ways to receive the critical message regardless of the focus of the message.

  1. One approach to receiving a critical message is constructive.
  2. The other approach to receiving the message is destructive.

How you receive a message, or your sensitivity, is totally under your control!

Sensitivity

As the person to whom the criticism is directed (the taker), if you wish to gain some mastery over your sensitivity, it is critical that you separate the content and the manner of delivery of the criticism from your response to the message.

Indeed, this is the key to mastering your sensitivity.

Typically, when one says that they are “sensitive” to criticism, it usually means that they are hypersensitive and their emotional reaction to the criticism involves anxiety, anger, or feelings of inadequacy.

And, hypersensitivity usually involves destructive taking of criticism.

“Sensitivity” might involve a desire to lash out at the person delivering the criticism.

There was a story in the news recently in which a customer of a well known consumer website published a critique of the website in an online blog.  Senior officers of the website were incensed, engaged in very offensive actions of revenge including sending live bugs to the authors of the blog, and ended up being fired by the website which was the focus of the criticism.

Clearly a case of “hypersensitivity” and destructive taking of criticism!

A prominent, and often overlooked aspect of destructive taking of criticism is that the message, or content, of the criticism is given too little consideration.

What do I mean by this?

Well, I mentioned above, that I now seek out feedback from my students. A few years ago, I had a student who did not like my class. Based on this information, I could have justifiably ignored any feedback from the student and assumed that he was biased. (Which, by the way, he was.)

However, when the quarter was over, I specifically reached out to this student for his feedback. 

While most of what he said involved his own issues and was not really relevant to me, he made one comment about how I approached the subject matter which was right on.  Attempting to adaptively deal with the criticism, I considered his whole message.  Had I not done this, I would have missed some useful information.  In other words, I would have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Put another way, I would have been guilty of giving too little consideration to the message.

So, in seeking to master your sensitivity to criticism, there are six issues:

  1. Do not attempt to eliminate your sensitivity.  While possible, this can be a difficult task and isn’t really necessary.
  2. Understand that the criticism is ONLY the opinion (judgement) of the individual directing the message at you. While the qualifications of this person might be a relevant question to consider in rating the value of the criticism, there could still be some value in what is said even if the person is less than qualified to deliver it.
  3. The message may contain some truth, little truth, or no truth.  Truth, here is the extent to which the information is applicable to you. The question to ask is: “What is the relevance of the criticism to me.”
  4. How you receive the message is ALWAYS a choice.  Attempt to constructively receive the message by considering and assessing all of the message.
  5. You can gain some insight into your sensitivity by looking at the emotions you feel when someone criticizes you and the message of those emotions. If,  for example, you get angry, then you are perceiving the criticism as a threat and you will want to identify the nature of the threat. A feeling of inadequacy indicates that you may have some doubt about your own abilities. And so forth. 
  6. Remember to take the time to respond and avoid reacting to the criticism.

For me, now, sensitivity means that I attempt to remain open to any important information that a critical message may have for me. While it also may mean that I still have a tendency to overreact to criticism, I am aware of this and master my emotions as tools to inform me of both how I view the criticism and how I choose a constructive response.

In your opinion, which emotion is worse, fear or shame? (From my Quora.com post.)

NOTE: This is an edited reprint from a post I made on Quora.com in response to a question.  I  am reprinting it here because I believe it enhances my last post on emotions.

The issue for me is that emotions are highly misunderstood.

My 3-cents on the question.

To start, your question reflects the misconception that you can compare one emotion (or feeling) to another along a given dimension. This dimension might be better/worse, good/bad, or positive/negative.

I say misconception because all of these dimensions are false dichotomies.

All emotions are tools which provide us with information about how we perceive our surroundings. In addition to providing us with this information, our emotions also prepare our bodies to deal with the situation our attention has been directed to by those emotions.

To ask whether fear is worse than shame or vice versa would be like asking “Which is worse, a sewing machine or a TV remote?” Both are just tools which serve a specific function and which have a specific learning curve for mastering that function. To put it another way, each tool serves a specific purpose in a specific sphere of influence. This specificity makes the question of comparing them irrelevant.

If we wish to master the tool and get the most out of the function it provides, we need to understand the tool and apply it. This is called “mastery”.

So, while both of these emotions are just tools, they apply to different situations and, therefore, are unique. And, given this uniqueness, they cannot be rated along the dichotomous scales listed above.

Now, you can compare different intensities and manifestations of a given emotion. Examples include being upset verses appropriate anger and rage. This might be like comparing a home appliance with other brands or with an industrial appliance.

Bringing you up to speed.

In my first Amazon bestselling book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings,

I discuss the emotional cycle, the primary emotions, and several other topics.

The emotional cycle describes how the emotions “work”.

The quick version is that you are hardwired to scan your surroundings for “threats” and other meaningful situations which have significance to you. When a significant event is perceived, an unconscious message goes to your Amygdala which puts your body on alert. In other words, you REACT. A second message goes to the thinking part of your brain which gives you an opportunity to assess your situation and choose a RESPONSE.

The initial reaction to the situation as reflected in the emotion you experience is called the message of the emotion.

There are 6 primary emotions. These emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise) appear sometimes at birth and are found in many subhuman species. The primary emotions have survival value. One writer incorrectly referred to these emotions as the only real emotions and attempted to exclude shame which, as another writer correctly noted, is a self-conscious emotion which develops later as the cognitive ability of the growing child increases.

Shame and Fear.

I am not sure what led you to compare these two feelings as they are very different. Perhaps, both of these feelings are problematic for you and you were wondering if you could eliminate one and keep the other.

Shame, as one respondent pointed out is a self-conscious emotion, the focus of which is yourself and the message of which is that there is something wrong with you. Shame implies that you are forever tainted because of something you have done (or not done). The sister emotion of Guilt tells you that DID something wrong. Shame says that you ARE something wrong.

Shame is a very powerful emotion that parents sometimes misuse as a means to control or correct their child’s behavior. Instead of saying “You did (something) wrong.” and creating a teaching moment, they say “You’re a bad boy.” Now, as parents, this sometimes slips out in all of us and no harm is done. But, if overused, it sends a very destructive message to the child.

The message of fear is that there is a threat that will “kill” you if you don’t escape. Fear is the sensation in the pit of the stomach and the hair standing up on the back of the neck which says “Get away, now!”.

Shame is not a type of fear.

Fear is a here-and-now emotion that is often substituted for anxiety as in “I’m afraid I screwed up.” Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there MAY be a threat and that threat MAY “kill” me.

While different from each other, anxiety and fear are feelings which need to be mastered.

The bottom line is that you need to understand and master all your feelings. If you can get past shame (through therapy if needed) and thereby eliminate it, great. Do so.

If there is a threat which elicits real fear, get away from it.

If what you are experiencing is anxiety, use it as a motivator to deal with the threat and neutralize it. I discuss how to do this on my blog.

Note: You can access all of my 100+ posts directly by going to my site and clicking on the Index tab in the upper right hand corner of the home. This will take you to a PDF which will list all my posts by title and month. Go to the Archives you need, click on it, and scroll down to the post you seek.

If you misuse anger as a primary motivator, there are better alternatives.

Some people use their anger to motivate them to take action.

If you are in a situation where someone or something is theatening you, then using the power of your anger is very appropriate.

In fact, this is reason that you have your anger.

Let me explain.

There are five basic emotions that all human beings and some nonhuman species have.

The five basic emotions are mad (anger), sad, glad (happy), fear, and disgust.

Without going into a lot of detail (as I have talked about the basis of emotions in other posts on this blog), each emotion communicates to us how we see our environment and give us the opportunity to react, or respond, to our environment.

NOTE: If you have not done so already, I encourage you to click on the Index Tab above and access the PDF which lists all of my posts by category, title and date.  You can then access any post you want in the Archives.

Anger, as an emotion, communicates to us that we perceive a “threat” that we believe we can eliminate if we throw enough power at it. When angry, adrenaline flows through our body and motivates us to take action against the threat. This is the power that you feel when angry.

Anger prepares you to go to war.  In other words, you are energized and ready to attack the perceived threat and eliminate it.

The challenge in using anger as a primary motivator is that you may overreact and do something inappropriate.

The issue here is two-fold..

  1. What if you have misperceived the nature of the the threat and your attack is inappropriate?
  2. What if the “threat” is a  person (like a boss) who has more power than you and your “attack” would end up “hurting” you?

Issue number 1 involves anyone who uses anger as a “shield” (or secondary emotion) to protect them from other feelings such as inadequacy, shame, anxiety, hurt, and so forth.

The most conspicuous example of this is when a man abuses his wife and later attempts to blame his anger for his actions.

The issue here is  there the perceived threat is psychological. The reaction implies that the threat is survival based, which it is not. In other words, there is an ego threat and emotions, other than anger need to be addressed.

Issue number 2 involves an interaction where someone who has more power or status takes advantage of you because they believe they are immune to anything you might choose to do.

This could be a boss or a supervisor.

It could involve a situation where a male superior takes advantage of a  female subordinate.  There are numerous examples in the news highlighting this situation.

But, it could also involve a superior taking advantage of a subordinate (same gender) by undercutting them  or stealing their work without giving the necessary credit.

In this case, a direct “attack” may not be possible.

You can, however, still use the energy anger of your anger as a motivator.  You just have to develop and implement an indirect “attack”.

But, what if you misuse your anger as a motivator and “manufacture” some sort of threat so you can use the anger energy.  Let’s say that you get angry at a project so you can complete it.

Well, there may be a better way.

Barbara Fredrickson looks at “positive” emotions.

While I do not believe that emotions should be labeled as “positive” or “negative” for reasons I’ve written about elsewhere, I will talk about positive emotions here for the sake of discussion.

Fredrickson writes that the purpose of positive emotions is to keep us engaged or motivated with our environment.

The emotion of glad, or happy, motivates us to become involved in whatever we find “pleasurable”.

I suggest that you use the emotion of “glad” to motivate you to engage yourself in tasks at work or in relationships which will help you achieve your goals or improve your relationships.

To be more specific, think of how achieving a specific task, improving a relationship, reaching your goals, or becoming a better person will be advantageous to you and experience “pleasure” at the gains you will experience.

When you do this, you experience the motivation you are looking for without having to worry about overreacting. In other words, you can still “attack” the situation with adaptive energy and feel good about what you’re doing.

This is what we all do when we are preparing to go on vacation and we zip through projects, clear our desk, and clean our e-mail boxes before leaving.

If you are skeptical about finding tasks at work “pleasurable”, then you can access a different emotion. While Fredrickson doesn’t discuss it, other writers do. The emotion is “pride”. This is a self-conscious emotion that can become maladaptive if it becomes narcissistic. If used as a motivator to complete a task that is “important” to you and reflects your “sense of competence”, self-worth, and desire to “do put your best foot forward”, pride will function as a “positive” emotion and give you the energy/motivation you seek.

This is adaptively and appropriately using your emotions as tools. It is matching the emotion to the situation.

Emotions – The Meaning of Life

If the reason you are reading this is that the title of the blog caught your attention or raised your curiosity, keep reading and I will fully explain it.

What do you do when you don’t know what a new word means?

You consult a dictionary.

What do you do if you don’t know what an article or a news story  is trying to convey?

You seek out the opinion of experts to help you make sense of an information source that appears to be ambiguous.

What do you do if you aren’t clear what a situation you find yourself in means?

“Is this a trick question?”, you ask.

Well, not exactly.  In fact, many of the interactions you experience may actually start out being ambiguous in that they can have a different meaning based on how you have chosen to view what is going on.

Let me give you an example.  The phrase “How are you?” is very common.

In most cases, the response you get is “Fine.” or “Good”.  The meaning to the other person of what you have said is that you have acknowledged their presence. Another way to do this is to just say, “Hi.”.

But, suppose, the other person responds with something like, “Let me tell you..yesterday was terrible…”  In this case, he or she heard you ask for a detailed retelling of all the bad things that they experienced.

Same phrase, vastly different interpretations.

So, how can you get some information about how you are interpreting the interactions you have with your surroundings?

The answer is that you become aware of your emotions.

Your emotions are your first window into how you are interpreting what is happening to you.

So, it a very real sense, it is your emotions that inform you about the meaning you have given to the event that you are experiencing.

In other words, your emotions are, at least initially for you, the meaning of life.

Let’s dive into this a bit deeper.

Here is the process you (and everyone else) use to interact with your world.

You are hardwired to scan your surroundings for any threats.  This scanning is a hold-over from when we lived in caves and the threats we faced would, indeed, kill us. Our emotions were survival mechanisms whose function was to keep us alive. These survival mechanisms are reflected in the primary emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, surprise and disgust).

When you subconsciously perceive a threat, a fast-track message goes to your Amygdala which puts you on alert.  This is the fight/flight/freeze response you are familiar with.  Note: it is actually a reaction in that you don’t really think about it.

This is  you assigning meaning to your life as you have, subconsciously, defined whatever is happening as a threat and your brain has issued an alert.

So, when you become aware of an emotion, you also become alert to the meaning or significance of this event to you.

Or, in a very real sense as I noted above, emotions are the meaning of life.

At the same time, a slower message goes to your cerebral cortex.  This is the thinking part of your brain.

It is here that you have an opportunity to change your perception based on your assessment of what it going on.

You are now moving beyond your initial subconscious emotional reaction to a rational emotional response.

When you change how you view the situation, the meaning of the situation changes to conform to your adjusted perception and the emotion you experience changes to match that perception.

Once again, your emotions reflect the meaning you give to your life.

So, while emotions are not exactly the meaning of life.  They are both a reflection of and a window into the meaning you give to the life experiences you have.

Or, to put it another way, the meaning of life.

 

A Self-Help “Secret” You Can Use to Make Your Life Better

Have you ever offered some excellent advice to a friend which helped them deal with a difficult situation?

Of course you have.

And, maybe, in a moment of self-reflection, you realized how good the advice was and felt a little rush of well-deserved pride. I hope so.

Good for you!

But, and this is the kicker, have you ever found yourself in a situation similar to the one you helped your friend navigate through and you didn’t use your own advice?

The answer for most of us, including me, is “yes”.

And, yes, when it happens to me (a qualified expert in these matters), I feel kind of silly, have to laugh at myself,  forgive myself, and reevaluate the choices I have made.

When I taught a Personal Growth class at the University where I teach, I would often answer questions from the students noting that I was much better at helping them solve their issues that I was solving my own.  The reason for this is that I was objective and unburdened  by emotions when I responded to their issues so I could easily and quickly access my experiences and knowledge to formulate an answer to their question.

In my own case, however, I was often very subjective  and emotional.

This subjectivity clouded my judgement and left me less effective as a problem solver.

I had the necessary knowledge but I was too close to the situation and the knowledge I had didn’t kick in.

From this perspective, here is my self-help secret…

When you are facing an issue that is problematic, troublesome, and emotional for you, follow these six steps:

  1. take a piece of paper and write out the issue as you understand it to be.  Note: the “facts” of the situation are not critical here as it is your interpretation that is critical.
  2. imagine that a friend of yours has approached you with this exact issue and requested your help
  3. write out your suggestions to your friend’s request.
  4. put the suggestions you’ve written away for a day or two
  5. pull out the suggestions  you wrote down
  6. commit to follow the advice that is written down in front of you.

While this “secret” may not work in every situation and you may have to seek some outside input, it will be effective in many situations because:

  • you are a good “advice giver” when you are objective
  • this process helps you be objective
  • the 1-2 day cooling off period gives you some distance from the issue
  • you’ve committed to following your own advice.

I hope this helps.

Be Inspired by Emotions

I have written extensively about emotions.

I have discussed the emotions  of mad, sad, fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, jealousy and disgust as:

  • primitive threat detectors
  • tools
  • a source of information about the situation in which you find yourself
  • a source of information about how others view you
  • and so forth

I have noted that what Fredrickson calls the “positive” emotions such as happiness communicate the message that the situation in which you find yourself is a pleasurable one and motivate you to continue to engage in what you are doing.

Recently, I thought about emotions in the context of being inspirational and  connecting emotions with being inspired was entirely new to me.

Dictionary.com defines inspired as: to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence.

I am well aware of great speakers who excited their audiences and inspired them to take action to fight an enemy, pursue a worthy cause, make some important personal changes, and so forth.

However, to approach an emotion such as anger, anxiety, sadness and even guilt through the lens of being inspired by the emotion while incorporating the idea of being motivated, as by a great speech or piece of literature, was different.

Using your own emotions as a source of inspiration gives you an enormous source of both personal insight, energy and self-control.

Let me explain.

When you strategically deploy your emotions as tools, you experience the emotion and validate it as evidence of how you initially perceive the situation in which you find yourself.

Once you have accepted your initial emotion, you go into management mode which involves controlling the level of your emotion so that you don’t overreact.  Management also involves creating psychological safety (if needed) by taking a breath and physical safety (if needed) by taking a step back from the situation.

Emotional mastery suggests that you assess your situation to determine whether your initial perception is accurate or if, for some reason, you have misunderstood what took place.

Based on this assessment, you can choose how you want to respond to the situation.

If your initial perception was accurate, you can use the energy of the emotion to effectively deal with what is going on.  This is using your emotion as a motivator and is what emotions have done for humans since we lived in caves.

If your initial perception was inaccurate, you can choose to change your perception which will then elicit a different emotion and plan of action.

This is a one-and-done approach.  You deal with the situation and move on.

It is also where most of the self-help literature (including mine) end.

To be inspired by the emotion:

  • is a step beyond strategic mastery and
  • occurs after you have used the emotion to help you deal with a specific situation.

To be inspired by an emotion involves:

  •  viewing that feeling as having a degree of importance and influence beyond just being  a tool or a source of information leading you to take a particular action.
  • being curious about what that emotion tells you about you and how you interact with your environment
  • letting that feeling motivate or inspire you to learn about yourself, what it was about that situation and any experiences you brought to the situation that elicited the specific feeling you experienced, what can you learn which might be beneficial the next time you experience this feeling and so forth.

Does this mean you have to deep dive into you and do a self-analysis?  Well, if you can, great.  Or, if you decide to get into therapy to get some of these answers, again, great.

But, you can start the process of self-understanding (not analysis) by some simple questions such as:

  • What about that situation pushed my (anger, envy, jealousy, guilt, etc) button?
  • What was I so sensitive to in that situation?
  • Is this how I typically react to these situations?
  • Was this the most adaptive way to view this situation or could I have seen it in a different light?

Being inspired by your emotions is difficult but it is doable.  It just isn’t for everybody.

 

Being Rational is good. But…Emotion (pain, anger and others) informs intellect.

We see it in movies and people express this belief as if it is a proven fact of life….

You(or the character in the movie) are attempting to deal with a difficult situation and

  • you believe you need to “get your  head in the game” so
  • you want to get rid of your emotions because you experience them as messy  and distracting.

In other words, you want to be totally rational and not emotional so that you can use your head to develop solutions to the problems you are facing.

While there is some truth to this widely held belief, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

While you may not be a StarTrek fan, you probably are familiar with the character of Mr. Spock.

Mr. Spock is a Vulcan and the Vulcans pride themselves on their ability to eliminate emotions and only use their rational intellects to solve problems and interact with others. Emotions and intellect are mutually exclusive because emotions are imprecise and distracting, and can elicit actions which can worsen the issues that need to be resolved.

In one episode, Mr. Spock is in command of a small team that is stranded on a  hostile planet.  In order to save his crew, he makes all the right decisions but gets all the wrong responses from his team who are dealing with emotional issues.

While you could argue about what transpires between Mr. Spock and his crew, the point of the episode is that many situations require an interaction between emotions and intellect.

I will explore this interaction in this post.

The statement that you must think about a situation and remain unemotional implies that being rational and being emotional are mutually exclusive and that one may be better than the other.

This gives a false impression.

Yes, there are situations where emotions are not productive and a purely rational decision is both necessary and appropriate.

War and just about any crisis situation including emergencies which require immediate and decisive action are examples.

However, in most of the situations in which you find yourself (especially those which involve other people) emotionality and rationality are complimentary.

Think about the concept of pain as a metaphor for emotions.

Noone likes to hurt but pain informs you that you need to take action.  It doesn’t tell you what action to take.

This depends on circumstances and involve:

  • The meaning you assign to your pain
  • What actions you decide to take regarding your pain.
  • The role your pain plays in your life.

Pain as a Variable

As an exampe:  The phrase “no pain no gain” informs you that if you don’t feel the burn when exercising, your muscles are not growing.  However, too much pain should tell you that you may have damaged yourself in some way and you need to stop and recover.

The Inability to Feel Pain

I know of someone who has Spina Bifida.  He has no nerves below his waist.  On one occasion, when he was younger, he got too close to a campfire and his pants caught fire.  He only became aware that he was in danger when he smelled the burning pants.

He has no sensation of pain in his legs to warn him that he is in danger and that he needs to take evasive action.

Pain as a “threat detector”

In many ways, your pain receptors are threat detectors that alert you to the possibility that future damage may negatively impact your body. In other words, they are threat detectors which give you an opportunity to take effective preventative action.

The experience  of pain tells you very emphatically..

  • that something is wrong
  • what you are doing has the capacity to damage you in some way
  • that you need to stop what you are doing and evaluate your situation.

As I described in my book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings, the US is protected by a system which electronically sets up a perimeter around our country.  The purpose of this electronic perimeter is to alert us to any incoming threat such as a missile early enough to allow us to take protective action and eliminate the threat. This electronic perimeter is a technological threat detector.

Many of your emotions are primitive threat detectors.

Your emotions are also an early warning system that alerts you to a situation that may warrant your attention.

Your emotions also prepare your body to take some action.

Emotions alert you to possible threat.  Your intellect will tell you what actions to take.

Here is how the emotional system works:

You are hard wired to subconsciously scan your surroundings for threat.

When the emotional center in your brain (the Amygdala) detects a threat, it sends a fast track message to an alert center in your brain (the Thalamus) which prepares your body for a quick reaction. This is the Fight/Flight/Freeze  behavior you’ve heard about.

This is the emotion that you experience.

The specific reaction you are primed to take is related to the nature of the threat you perceive and is reflected in the emotion that you experience.  This is the “message” of the emotion.

Anger: The threat is both eminent and is such that I can eliminate it by throwing enough force at it.  Anger prepares you for war.

Anxiety: There is uncertainty regarding the threat which may or may not exist in the future.  Anxiety either motivates you to take some action to prepare for the threat or it leaves you powerless and feeling overwhelmed.

Disgust: The threat is something that turns your stomach and that must be avoided. Disgust motivates you to remove yourself from the threat or to remove the threat from you.

Sad: The threat is that you have lost someone or something that was very important to you.  Sadness motivates you to withdraw, mourn, and recover from the loss.

Happy: The situation you are facing is interesting, exciting, and engaging.  Happiness motivates you to engage with and want more of whatever is going on.

Fear: The threat you are facing is both eminent and dangerous.  Fear prepares you to move away from and get out of the situation.  Sometimes, fear can immobilize you. The nature of the threat is the same.

I think you get the idea.

Emotions and logic as complimentary.

While always reflective of how you perceive the situation and, therefore, valid and worthy of consideration, the emotion you experience is not always accurate or indicative of what is actually taking place.

Huh, you say, what does this mean?

Well, if your understanding, interpretation or perception of the event is inaccurate, the emotion you feel will not be accurate.

Have you ever worried about what someone is thinking about you only to find out later that they were not thinking about you at all?

There was a study that was done many years ago in which volunteers were asked to go into a bar wearing T-shirts with slogans which were designed to be provacative to the people who normally frequented the bar. (For example derogative country music slogans in a country music bar).  When they left the bar, all the subjects thought that they had been the center of attention.  Most of the patrons in the bar, when questioned, indicated that they didn’t even notice.  This is called the spotlight effect.

Or, perhaps, you were really worried about some future situation only to find out that, when it did occur or if it didn’t take place at all, that your worry was excessive or even unnecessary?

So, your emotion gives you the heads-up that something needs your attention.

Your logical analysis then assesses the nature of the threat and chooses a response that is commensurate with and that will help you effectively deal with the actual threat that you are facing.

The Covid 19 virus.

As I am writing this, the US and the World are facing a viral pandemic.

People are getting sick and dying.

If you listen to the news, you can easily get overwhelmed.  This is both fear because the threat is real and anxiety because the threat you are actually facing is uncertain.

The way to effectively deal with the cover-19 pandemic is to acknowledge that a threat does exist (validate the anxiety) and then to rationally decide to take effective action including social distancing, wearing a mask, not touching your face, sanitizing anything that you touch or bring into your home and being cautious.  If you take these actions, you dramatically reduce the possibility that you will get the virus.

And, you will be able to maintain your relationships with others (via technology) and sleep at night.

Your emotions have informed you and your intellect (logic) has helped you create an effective response.

Looking at The Corona Virus through the lens of relationships with others.

The other day, I was in a Target Store and the sign on the door noted that facial masks were recommended.

I wondered why they were not mandatory.  But that is another issue.

As I walked around the store wearing a mask, I noticed that, while most people were masked, several people, usually young adults, had no masks.

While I did not say anything, I was a bit annoyed by their, to me, careless behavior.

Let me explain.

In many states, citizens are emerging from a total lockdown due to the contagious nature of the virus.  We are now in “Phase 2” with more places opening up and people venturing out.

People have been advised to continue to engage in  social distancing by keeping at least 6 feet away from others and to avoid large gatherings and non-critical travel.

Specific impacted group such as the elderly or the immune system impaired are still being advised to self-isolate until we get a better grasp of where the virus is (mass testing) and how best to deal with it.

But, let’s get back to the source of my annoyance in the Target Store.

I was annoyed because these people who were not wearing masks were thinking only of themselves.  They could be contagious, without knowing it or having symptoms, and could unwittingly be spreading the virus.

To put it another way, they were being selfish.  They did not seem to understand that there were other people in their world who could be negatively impacted by their actions.  In other words, they are, whether they know it or not in an implied relationship with those around them.

The Relationship Issue

I would like to look at our interactions with others (in the context of the virus) as a relationship issue.

The message that you hear repeated over and over when it comes to the virus is that “We are all in this together.”

While this is true, what does it really mean?

Well, there are two interrelated aspects to this message: the facts and our responsibilities.

I. The facts: the virus is easily spread between people.

The first, and most obvious, aspect of being in this together, is that we need to think of others because, given  the nature of the virus and the way that it is transmitted, we can unwittingly infect another person.

Or, they can infect us.

And, given that you can be both symptom free and contagious, your lack of being careful can end up killing your grandma or someone else whose underlying conditions leave them vulnerable.

So, if the virus is a boat, we are all in the boat—together.

Which leads us to the second aspect of “We are all in this together.”

II. Specifically: interpersonal responsibility.

Secondly, we live in an interconnected world where we impact, need, and are impacted by other people.

In other words, because we are all in the boat together and what we do impacts others, we need to think about the responsibility that exits between us and others.

This is called interpersonal responsibility.

I’d like to unpack the issue of interpersonal responsibility as it is implied in the notion that we are all in this together but is not often addressed.

There are two ways to look at the issue of our responsibility toward others.

  • On the one hand, we are responsible TO others.

and

  • On the other hand, we may be responsible FOR others.

These two aspects of interpersonal responsibility are not mutually exclusive and both can be operative at the same time.

Responsible FOR (obligation):

I’ll start with being responsible for others as it is the most common and easiest concept to understand.

If we have elderly parents or kids we are taking care of or friends with underlying conditions which make them vulnerable, the lines of responsibility are clear.

They may not be able to totally take care of themselves and need our help, support, guidance, and involvement. We know what we need to do and we do it.

Responsibility here is almost an obligation.

We take the necessary precautions including hand washing to insure that we do not transmit the virus. We parent our kids to help them get through this pandemic.

In one sense, then, we have an obligation to others not to spread the virus.

Responsible TO (do the RIGHT thing):

Being responsible to others is both less clear and often unacknowledged.

Our collective response to the Corona Virus challenges us to be responsible to others.

We do what needs to be done because they are the right things to do.

There are two elements to the concept of responsibility to:

  1. The first is that, because you are doing the right thing,  you do what needs to be done whether or not, at least initially, the other person does what they need to do.
  2. Secondly, in order to help you do this, I am suggesting that you consider “everyone” you interact with (for at least as long as the pandemic exists) as being in a relationship with you.

Note: Treating others as if you have a relationship with them will be equally as important after the pandemic but to continue to do this is up to you.

Other people as “placeholders”

We often do not think of the actions we take with others who have no meaning to us.

They are “placeholders” in that they exist and may come into contact with us but we ignore them and move past them without acknowledging them because they are, at least to us, insignificant.

Significant, or meaningful, people

Those people with whom we have a relationship have some value or meaning to us and we take the time we need to acknowledge them and choose how we can best interact with them.

In this pandemic: Every interaction is a relationship..

Having a relationship with someone means…

  1. that they are more than just a placeholder to you and
  2. that they are a person who is serving a “meaningful” purpose in your life.

The definition of “meaningful” will vary from situation to situation.

When it comes to the virus, saving your own or another’s life should fit the definition of meaningful.

Indeed, the fact is that if we don’t all act together to “reduce the curve” of infections, people may die.

A very real scenario is that hospitals could get overwhelmed with too many cases and some person who did not follow social distancing and other recommended strategies, might infect you (or someone else) and the infected person dies because the hospital is too overwhelmed to provided treatment.

If we are indeed all in this together, then each of us is meaningful to the other.  By definition, this means that we are  in a relationship with each other.

An important element of being in a relationship is that you do the right thing whether or not the other person does what they need to do.

There are two elements here.

1. The first is that, in reality, the only behavior you have direct control over is yours.  You can always choose what actions you take.  You need to do the right thing both because it is the right thing to do and because you can’t decide what someone else will do.

So,I wear a mask and I maintain social distancing.

2. Secondly, it is also true that you can influence or indirectly impact what the other person does.

In the context of the virus, your doing the right thing  can indirectly serve as a Model for other people. They see you doing the right thing and may decide that also need to do the right thing.

The bottom line…

The point here is that you tend to do the right thing for you care about and those with whom you have a relationship regardless of what they do.

And, in these trying times, you have a relationship with everyone you come in contact with.

Or, to put it another way: WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

I hope this has been useful to you.

 

 

Four Part Series on Anger. Part 4: 4 Secret Tips for Unlocking Anger and Deploying it Strategically

In my last three posts…

I noted that anger was just a tool that could be strategically deployed and that anger did not control you, make you angry, or cause you to act in any particular way.

I discussed different manifestations and several faces of anger…

In this post, I discuss 4 tips regarding how you can unlock the power of your anger.  I call them secret tips because they are not obvious and tend not to be widely recognized or emphasized.

When utilized, however, these tips will both legitimize your anger and guide you to using your anger as a strategic tool to improve your life and your relationships.

The four secret tips:

#1 Practice “safety” first.    (create both psychological and physical space)

This tip is part of the anger mastery cycle and is absolutely critical to learn.

The goal is to create a habit that focuses your attention on creating safety for you and others  as soon as you become aware that you are angry.

This tip also sets you up for the other 3.

Two points are important here:

  • The first is that it will take practice to link the action of creating safety to the awareness that you are angry.
  • The second point is that the “safety” you are creating is both for you and for  the other person (or people) you are angry at.

Let’s unpack these points to make this tip more accessible.

When I use the word “link”, I am referring to the creation of a habit.

A “habit” is a sequence of behaviors that becomes automatic so that, when the sequence is triggered, one action follows the other without requiring a whole lot of thought.

As an example.. When I had hair, I would get in the shower and go through my hair care routine (shampoo, rinse, conditioner, rinse).  After doing it so many times, the hair care routine became an automatic sequence of behaviors. In other words, a habit.

Now, the evolutionary value of a habit is that you can actually multitask without losing any effectiveness.  Once a habit was formed, I would execute the sequence of behaviors while thinking about something else.  When I exited the shower, I often couldn’t remember (without some effort) whether I had used the conditioner or not.  I had, in fact, applied the conditioner but it was “automatically” done without much thought by the habit I had created.

Habits can work for us if the behavior we are automating is advantageous.  If, however, the behavior is destructive, the habit will still automate it but it won’t be good for us.

So, the habit I am suggesting you create for anger will increase your ability to practice safety first and involves this routine:

As soon as you  become aware (by knowing how your body signals to you that you are getting angry), you immediately take a deep breath and take a physical step backwards.

The breath creates psychological safety in that it lowers your arousal level and gives you the time you need to assess the situation. The “safety” here is the gap that you create between the initial angry reaction and the response you will make to the situation.

The physical step backward creates a physical safe zone both for you by separating you from the other person and for them by separating them from you.

With practice (and, like with any habit, you will have to practice it in order to make it automatic), the routine becomes:

  • unconsciously perceive a threat
  • experience anger physically in your body
  • create safety by taking a deep breath and stepping back from the situation

The logic behind thinking safety first is this…

The idea of safety is already a concept that is familiar to everyone.

When you link safety to anger, you are acknowledging that anger is a strong emotion that prepares you for war.  But, you want to plan for war from a position of safety so that you don’t make the wrong decision that could negatively impact you and the person you go to war with.

Keep in mind that creating safely first does not eliminate any of your options regarding the situation and does not invalidate your anger in any way (which is the next secret).

#2 Validate, do not  engage, your anger.

Validation means to accept that this is your anger and that it might be important.  By validating and accepting your anger, you are acknowledging it as a possible source of useful information.  This means that you do not fight your anger, try to deny your anger, or resist your anger in any way.

Validating your anger keeps all of your options on the table.

When you engage your anger rather than validate it, you give in to it.

This means that on some level you are assuming that it is legitimate anger and accurately reflects what is actually going on.  Engagement acts as-if  the threat is real and that it is what it appears to be.

Let’s look at the logical options here..

1.The threat is real.

If the threat is real, then engaging the anger would be appropriate, functional and effective if you make the right choice of how to overpower the threat

If, however, you act impulsively and your intervention is either too excessive or too weak, then you have made the situation worse.

2.The perceived threat is not real and you have made a mistake.

If there is no threat and you go to war when you engage your anger, you will most likely overreact and create significant problems for yourself interpersonally and, possibly, legally.

This is the mistake that those whose anger seems to be controlling them make.

Validating your anger serves two purposes.

On the one hand, it acknowledges your anger and helps to prevent resisting or denying your emotion. Resistance and/or denial only make the anger stronger.

Secondly, it prevents you from engaging your anger and acting impulsively.  This keeps open all of your options for responding to the situation in which you find yourself.

#3 Assess twice Act once (resist reacting)

This is very similar to what people who construct things advise which is to “Measure twice, cut once.” The idea in construction is that you should double check your measurement before you make a cut that you can’t undo.

When it comes to anger, the idea is that you assess the nature of the perceived threat, think about it and then take a second look before you do something that you can’t take back and might have to atone for with an apology or, perhaps, a trip to court.

Assessing twice does not necessarily take a lot of time.

If you decide to exit the situation, think it over, and then reengage with the person  you are mad at, then assessing twice will take some time.  And, it may be time that is very well spent.

But, in a tense situation, assessing twice can simply mean that you immediately guage the situation, take a second deep breath, make a second assessment and then respond.

#4 Choose an effective response

Let’s break this one down.

First,you need to be aware that your goal is always to respond and not react.

Secondly, you are always responsible for any action you take even if it is a spontaneous reaction to an event. As I’ve noted above and in other posts, you can never justify the excuse that “My anger made you do it.” because, ultimately, all your behavior stems from thoughts and decisions that you make.

Finally, your response should be effective in that you have determined that it will neutralize the threat with a minimum of collateral damage.

There are several elements involved in effectiveness…

  • your assessment of the threat,
  • the level of “force” needed to meet and deal specifically with the threat,
  • the skills you need to implement the action you will take and
  • the degree to which you can carry out your plan.

Finally, in choosing an effective response, there are 4 important considerations:

  • it is important to accept that you are making a choice as to what you will do.
  • You are not forced to do anything.
  • You are responsible for the choice you make.
  • You might make the wrong choice and can always make a different choice.

Thanks for reading..

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