I recently adjusted my blog so that only those who register can leave a comment. Many of you have chosen to register and I thank you for your support.
Your Email Address:
I want you to know what happens to the email address you provide when you register.
The short answer is nothing.
I do not like spam and I assume that you do not either. While I could be wrong, it is entirely possible that you gave your email address because it is required in order to register and be able to leave a comment and NOT because you wanted another source of email notifications in your inbox.
Based on this assumption, you will not be receiving emails from me.
Communicating with me:
I DO, HOWEVER, WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU ABOUT HOW I CAN MAKE THIS BLOG BETTER FOR YOU!
So, as a registered reader, please leave a comment on the blog or feel free to contact me via email. My email address is TheEmotionsDoctor (at) gmail.com.
Note ==> Put “TED” in the subject line.
I, personally, read all comments and TED related emails.
I post a new article every other Wednesday because I want to educate my readers about emotions and about relationships.
So, visit the site (at least) every other Wednesday for a new post and leave a comment if you choose. (Liked the article because…Didn’t like the article because… Want more information about…)
Finally-A Reminder about the “Index Tab” to help you access earlier posts:
Remember to click on the “Index Tab” in the upper right hand corner of the home page. I have upgraded the index to list posts by Topic, Title and Date to help you more easily access any article that interests you.
Again, thanks for your support and continued involvement with my blog.
Both self-control and effectively interacting with others require you to master your emotions as strategic tools.
This is a bold statement that you might find odd for at least two reasons:
While everyone talks about managing emotions, few authors talk about mastering emotions. (Mastering one’s emotions includes and goes beyond managing one’s emotions.)
Emotions are critical components in successfully dealing with issues that primarily involve you (self-control) and with issues that involve others (relationships).
Anger as an example
Many articles have been written about managing the emotion of anger. In these articles, the authors tend to view anger as a “negative” emotion which must be controlled so that it doesn’t explode in unwanted, often destructive, behavior. Managing anger involves calming down (lowering your level of arousal), forcefully controlling your anger, or preventing it from being expressed by distracting yourself in some fashion.
There are at least three problems with this approach to anger.
The first that anger is labelled as a “negative” feeling. There is no such thing as a negative emotion as all emotions are adaptive and have evolved to provide you with actionable information about the world around you.
Secondly, in spite of the questionable practice of misrepresenting inappropriate behavior as an “anger problem”, anger is never the main issue. Anger is just a feeling. How one chooses to deal with his anger is always the “problem”. This choice places responsibility on the person not the emotion.
Thirdly, managing one’s anger is implied as the only (or best) way to deal with this often very strong emotion. From an anger mastery perspective, managing one’s anger is only the beginning of the process of adaptively dealing with anger.
Teaching someone who has an “anger problem” to manage his (or her) anger is one goal of treatment. It is not the ultimate measure of success.
Few articles talk about managing or mastering all emotions (including anger). It seems a bit ridiculous to think about managing your excitement or mastering your guilt or your anxiety.
But, this is exactly what I am suggesting!
Mastering your emotions involves five steps.
manage your own arousal
understand the message of each emotion
assess the match between your emotion and the situation in which you find yourself
choose an adaptive response
Step 1: Self-awareness
In order to master your emotions, it is important for you to be aware of how that emotion physically presents itself in your body. In other words, where and how do you experience each emotion. What part of your body tenses, feels warm, or begins to churn when you feel angry, anxious, upset, guilty, ashamed, and so forth?
You may not be aware at this point of how your body reacts to each emotion but you can become familiar with your body by observing what you feel the next time you experience the emotion you want to learn to master.
In Chapter 4 of my Amazon best selling book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings, I have included checklists to help you identify how your body specifically reacts. Choose an emotion and use the tables to monitor your body.
Step 2: Managing Your Own Arousal
Once you become aware of your initial emotional reaction, it is important to lower your physical arousal so that you don’t immediately take an action (react) following the emotion.
Ultimately, you want to respond to your situation.
Lowering your arousal level does not “come naturally” and must be learned. You do this by teaching yourself to take a step back from the situation and taking a deep breath. The step-back gives you some physical distance and the deep breath gives you some psychological distance from the situation.
Think about the last time you got excited and “caught up in the moment”. You might have purchased something you later realized you didn’t need or said (or did) something you later regretted.
Whether the emotion is excitement about a new adventure or “shiny object” or anger regarding the violation of an important value, stepping back from the situation and taking a breath will give you an opportunity to adaptively deal with what comes next.
Step 3: Understanding the message of each emotion
Each emotion communicates a different message to you based on how you initially perceive your situation. Understanding this message enables you to assess your initial evaluation of what is happening. Your emotions are always valid as they represent your initial (often unconscious) evaluation of your situation. However, the emotion may not be accurate as you might have misinterpreted another person’s actions or intent. Or, you might have reacted to what is going on based on your own past experiences, current levels of stress, wishful thinking, and so forth.
Step 4: Assessing the match between your emotion and the situation in which you find yourself.
Once you have tuned into the emotion you are experiencing and understand what that emotion communicates to you about how you are viewing your situation, you can take a physical and psychological step back from the situation and attempt to assess the degree to which your reality matches your perception.
You do this by asking yourself questions such as:
*Have I misunderstood what is going on here?
*Is there another point of view that I am missing?
*What evidence is there to support my perceptions?
Based on your assessment, you are ready to move on to the next step.
Step 5: Choose an adaptive response.
The fifth step is to choose an adaptive response to the situation. An adaptive response is an intervention which helps you improve your situation.
If you believe your emotion matches the situation than you will choose a response that utilizes the energy of the emotion as motivation to manage the situation.
This is mastering your emotion.
If you believe that your emotion does not match the situation, than you might choose to change your perception by asking for clarification or additional input from others with whom you are interacting. When you change your perception, you change your emotion.
This response is also mastering your emotion.
Mastering your emotions opens up opportunities to be more effective in your relationships with others. Emotional mastery can also help you improve your own life by helping you become more effective in meeting the goals you set.
In addition, you can apply the same principles of emotion mastery to dealing with the emotions of others.
This is a reprint of an article I published on Vigyaa.com When you have finished reading the article, I recommend you click on over to Vigyaa and look at some of the interesting article published over there.
Most people have it backwards. They think they need to control their emotions to master their lives. The truth is that when you master your emotions, you gain control of your life. Here are some “facts” to help you master your emotions.
Two Important questions:
1. Do you, or someone you know, get angry and do things you later regret?
2. Do you, or someone you know, get anxious and avoid doing something you later wish you had done?
For many people, the answer to both of these questions is YES.
Because of how emotions work, it often feels like emotions such as anger and anxiety control us and cause us to act, or not to act, in ways we might later regret.
This can leave us with a sense that we are not in control of our lives.
The reality, however, is that we are in control of our lives and emotions help us maintain this control.
Here are 5 facts about emotions which will help you take back control of your life.
Fact #1: Emotions are Tools you can learn to master.
If you have ever purchased a new “smart” tool such as a computer, cell phone, TV, car, or sewing machine, you know that these “tools” often involve a learning curve. For example, if you want to get the most out of your new phone, you will need to acquire some new skills.
Mastering your new tools greatly enhance their usefulness.
Mastering your emotions as tools could make your life more meaningful, improve your relationships, and give you back control over situations in which you find yourself.
By the way, the words emotions and feelings are basically the same (unless you are a scientist doing a study or writing technical books) and the words can be used interchangeably.
Fact#2:Your emotions alert you to and prepare you to effectively interact with your surroundings.
Most people believe that their feelings both control and happen to them. While this is partially true, it is also misleading.
Indeed, there is a subconscious element of emotions which you do not control. However, there is also a conscious element which gives you a great deal of control.
Here is how the emotional process works.
The subconscious element:
All of us constantly scan our surroundings for threat. This process is hard-wired in us and helped us survive as a species when our early ancestors lived in caves.
This subconscious element functions the same today as it did millennia ago.
When you perceive a threat (physical or psychological), your brain sends a message to the Thalamus which puts your body on alert. This is called fight or flight. It is your initial reaction to an emotional situation.
The conscious element:
At the same time, the thinking part of your brain gets a wake-up call to begin the process of thinking about the threat you have subconsciously noticed. This element of emotions allows you to assess your situation and empowers you to decide how you will react. This choice helps you improve both your own life and your relationships with others.
The process of assessing your situation and choosing a response is called emotional mastery.
You don’t control your initial reaction but you can learn to master your response to the perceived threat.
Fact #3: Each emotion informs you about how you perceive your surroundings. You can use this information to choose how you will respond to what happens to you.
Two examples of “information” and choice:
1) your gas gauge informs you about the fuel in your tank so you can decide whether you need to stop and fill up
2) a thermometer tells you how your body is reacting to an internal “disease” process so you can decide whether you need to consult a doctor. Your emotions tell you how you perceive what is happening to you and allow you to decide what you might need to do about it.
Each emotion communicates to you a different message based on your initial reaction to an event.
Here are the messages of the some basic emotions.
Anger: You perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.
Anger (or mad) prepares you for battle.
Sad: You are facing a loss which may require you to step back, wind down and come to grips with an altered future.
Sadness prepares you for reflection.
Glad: You are facing a situation which looks encouraging and which you want more of.
Glad (or happy) prepares you to engage and increase your level of involvement.
Fear: You are facing a situation which will kill you.
Fear prepares you to escape.
Disgust: You are facing a situation which “leaves a bad taste” in your mouth.
You are prepared to get away from this bad situation, person, or object.
Surprise: You are facing a situation which is different from what you expected. If the surprise is pleasant as in winning the office pool, you may want more of what is going on. If the surprise is unpleasant as in your car not starting, you might wish the incident had never taken place.
Anxiety: You are facing an uncertain future. Another word for anxiety is worry. Anxiety is not the same as fear although people use the words interchangeably.
Anxiety can lead to action or inaction.
The issue with anxiety is that the future MAY or MAY Not take place. If you act as if the future will definitely occur and will result in negative consequences, you may do nothing or avoid that about which you are worried. This is anxiety as distress. On the other hand, if you, like my students, use the energy of your anxiety to prepare yourself for your future, then you will take effective action to prevent the future about which you are worried. This is anxiety as eustress. These are the two sides of anxiety: same emotion, different interpretations and different responses.
Fact#4: Mastering your emotions gives you more control over your own life as well as increased influence in your interactions with others.
Definition of emotional mastery: You master an emotion when you understand its message, take a moment to assess the validity of the message as it reflects upon what is actually happening, and choose a response that adaptively deals with the situation you are facing
Mastery and self-control: When you use your emotions as tools, you are now in a position to effectively respond to your surroundings. You are in control of you and you can choose responses which improve your life by effectively moving you forward toward and motivating you regarding goals that you set.
Mastery and interpersonal influence: You can master the emotions of others and deescalate an interaction by observing emotions in others, understanding how they perceive what is going on (the message of the emotion) and choosing a response which validates (does not approve) their perception and helps them to reevaluate their interactions with you.
Fact#5: There are a ton of free resources to help you learn about and master your emotions.
This blog covers all aspects of emotions. To help you access over 100 posts by topic, I have included a tab in the top right hand corner of my homepage which will take you to a PDF of my posts by 5 topic areas: Using Emotions as Tools, Anger, Other Emotions, Relationships and Emotions, and Words and Emotion. You can also download the first two chapters of both of my Amazon Best Selling Books by scrolling up to the “welcome” post above.
About the author:
Ed Daube, Ph.D. is an Amazon best-selling author of two books:
I would like to wish you all a happy and prosperous 2019.
In submitting my posts on his blog, My intent is that your life and your relationships have been improved by the knowledge that you can master your emotions as tools.
I hope that you will continue to use the suggestions I make rather than just consume them (as most people do).
With this in mind, let me reemphasize that I welcome all of your comments and questions.
If you would like me to address an issue related to understanding what emotions are or how to use them as tools, please take a moment to leave me a comment on the blog. I read every comment because I want to eliminate spam (there is a lot of it) and respond to all legitimate comments.
So, for 2019, help me help you by leaving your comments.
My only disclaimer is that I can only respond in general terms and, while I will make every effort to answer your questions as completely as I can, I don’t do therapy over the internet so my comment may not completely address your issue.
But, I will do my best.
With that said, I look forward to 2019 and I hope you do to.
We are trying to put together a shelf, a bicycle or a complex something or other and the instructions for taking the next step are mysteriously absent or lacking the information we need. We are ready to go to war with the company.
A celebrity gets angry and beats up his girlfriend or does something equally as dumb and says “I got angry” but implies that his anger made him become aggressive.
You fill in your own experience.
it isn’t just that we get angry. Indeed, we experience the anger as instantaneous and interpret what is happening in this way:
A: Something happens.
B: We react with anger.
C: A seems to cause B.
Or, to put it another way, A made us angry.
While it is true that your initial emotional reaction to a perceived threat is quick, automatic and beyond your control, it isn’t true that your emotion chooses your response and coerces you to act out.
Let me explain.
Anger is one of 6 primary emotions for which we are hard-wired.
When we lived in caves, we did not have sharp teeth or claws like the predators who wanted to eat us and we had to be able to react quickly to both animal predators and other human predators who wished us harm.
Our emotions evolved to do this.
Basically, we did, and still do today, constantly scan our surroundings for any threat. When a threat is subconsciously perceived, a fast track message is sent to the Amygdala in the brain which communicates, via the Thalamus, with the body. We automatically go into fight or flight mode.
We are ready for battle or to run.
The threat response didn’t require a lot of thinking and always matched the threat (survival based).
The problem, today, is that our response often does not match the threat because the nature of the threats we face has changed (psychological based).
While this very quick reaction to threat was adaptive and helped us survive when we lived in caves, it hasn’t changed over the millennia and is the reason you perceive your anger to be automatic.
So, yes, your anger may be automatic.
And, if you react without much thinking, that’s your caveman coming out and it feels automatic and beyond your control.
Your behavioral response, however, is neither automatic nor beyond your control. And, here is why.
As our brains evolved, the cerebral cortex, or thinking part of the brain gave us the ability to choose how we wanted to respond to the automatic or, more primitive, parts of our brain.
So, at the same time that the fast track message goes to the Amygdala, a relatively slower message goes to the Cerebral Cortex whose task is to interpret the nature of the threat and the best way to respond to it.
You’ve experienced a similar reaction-response sequence if you’ve ever made a quick assessment of situation, reacted, said or did something, got more information and found out that your initial reaction was incorrect and did not match what was actually taking place.
The emotion you felt could have been anxiety if you were worried about something that was never going to happen in the first place such as when you wanted to ask your boss for a raise but avoided it because you knew he would say “no” and were surprised when you finally got up the courage to ask and he quickly said “yes”. Or, it could have been anger if you went “off” on your kid for being late, saw his/her face, got more information and felt very bad when you found out that your kid drove his inebriated friend home and forgot to grab his cell phone.
The slower track message to your cerebral cortex ALWAYS give you a choice about how you will respond to your anger.
The challenge is that the quick anger reaction is both automatic and more attention grabbing than the slower, we’ll call it thinking, message.
You have to learn how to respond rather than react to perceived threats.
Here is the process..
Accept that you make you angry.
Learn to pay attention to the “signals” your body gives you when you are reacting with anger (warmth, tightened muscles, focused attention).
As soon as you become aware of your anger, remind yourself to take a breath and take a step back from the perceived threat.
Use this “break” to assess the real nature of the threat.
Choose an effective response which matches the nature of the threat.
It is not easy to learn this process but it is doable.
The emotional mastery process involves scanning your surroundings, perceiving an event, experiencing an emotional reaction elicited by your perception, validating the emotion, “S.T.O.P.”ing the reaction, assessing the emotion and your perception, and choosing a response.
When you master your emotions, you are in touch with your feelings and you are using them as tools to improve your life and your relationships.
This is the way you want your life to go.
But, sometimes, it all goes south!
Catastrophising: you have either done it yourself or witnessed it taking place in others.
Something “bad” happens to you. I put the word “bad” in quotes because it is a relative term which hinges on how you see and define the situation in which you find yourself.
This bad thing happens and you go into a downward spiral and act “as-if” your very life is ending. Your friends look at you and say: “Whoa, it wasn’t that bad!”
What might be going on that could explain this process?
Example #1: A “D” in organic chemistry.
When I was in college, a guy went to the top of the chemistry building and jumped off.
He survived the fall.
When asked why he did it, he noted that he got a “D” in organic chemistry and his life was over.
Huh? You say. How could a bad grade lead to attempted suicide? What is the connection?
Well, here was his (very egocentric) line of reasoning…
To him, the D meant he would not get into medical school.
If he couldn’t get into med school, he would never be a doctor.
If he could not be a doctor, he would not be able to support a family.
If he could not support a family, he would be a complete failure.
If he was going to end up a complete failure, he might as well kill himself as life would not be worth living.
If he might as well kill himself, why wait?
Is this logical?
Is it true?
Is it plausible?
While it is one way to look at his situation, this line of reasoning is both exclusionary and maladaptive.
This individual was catastrophising.
Example #2: A teenage girl is harassed on social media (cyberbullying) and tries to take her own life.
Again, at first glance, this behavior seems both extreme and illogical.
It is extreme. It is not illogical.
Her reasoning goes something like this.
All the negative comments on Facebook (and other social media sites) are ruing my reputation.
With my reputation ruined, I won’t be able to make any friends.
If I can’t make any friends, my life will be ruined.
If my life is ruined, suicide makes sense.
While this is a general statement of the flow of thought and probably would not be exactly what a teenage girl would say, you get the idea.
There is a logical flow to her reasoning in that each statement follows from, and is based on, the previous thought.
She, however, is catastrophising in that her reasoning is exclusionary in that it rules out other, less extreme, ways of viewing her situation and it is maladaptive in that it only looks at the most extreme and negative outcomes possible.
There are many ways to view an event in which you find yourself.
Catastrophising involves focusing on the worst possible outcome, taking it as the only possible outcome, and repeating this process over and over.
The issue with castastrophising is that it eliminates all other possible outcomes.
While each of the above reasoning steps has some truth to it, and, if each point was absolutely true in that other alternatives did not exist, then suicide would make more sense.
This is not the case in the above two examples.
Let me give you a counter example which will provide some contrast.
While you may not agree with the idea of assisted suicide, it is legal in several states.
The assisted suicide laws allow an individual with a terminal illness to request that a medical doctor make available a lethal medication that the person can take and peacefully end their lives.there are alternatives.
The reasoning goes like this…
I have a terminal illness so my death is “imminent”.
If I live until I die naturally, I will suffer considerably.
I do not want to suffer.
I have considered all the alternatives, reasoned this process through, and have decided on the best course of action for me to take.
I am of sound mind and have been assessed as capable of making this decision on my own without any coercion.
I prefer to get my affairs in order, have my family with me, take control of my life and choose when my life will end.
While “suicide” is the end result, the reasoning here is very different from the two examples of catastrophising above.
Let’s assume that the D grade eliminates med school admission (It may not!) and that this person would not become an MD.
Not becoming an MD may be unfortunate but it is only one career possibility.
I should point out that while this story is true, it is NOT autobiographical.
In my own case, I originally intended to become an MD, got a D in biochemistry, was very disappointed, did not get into med school, did not attempt suicide, and, by accident, discovered psychology and went on to get a Ph.D..
That D in chemistry was the best thing that could have happened to me.
So, while the process of catastrophising is logical in that it involves reasoning and arrives at a logical conclusion, it is problematic because it involves a highly restricted tunnel vision which only “sees” the worst possible outcome eliminates any other possibilities, takes that outcome as “fact”, and arrives at the worst possible conclusion without questioning the validity of that conclusion.
The antidote to catastrophising is to get input from other people. If you find yourself spiraling down a psychological rabbit hole, reach out to another person who can give you an objective opinion about your situation.
That may be all you need.
If you are seriously considering suicide, then you need professional help immediately.
The number for the toll free 24-hour suicide crisis line is 1-800-273-8255. If you need to, make the call!
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the US. It is a Holiday where many of us get together with family, eat too much turkey and watch football on TV all day.
It used to be that Thanksgiving marked the transition to Christmas. When I was growing up, you didn’t see Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. Well, as you are reading this, I can guarantee you’ve been exposed to Christmas (and even Santa Claus) in all the shopping malls, in ads on TV and through numerous catalogs you’ve received in the mail.
Whether this is a positive phenomenon or not is certainly debatable. But, it isn’t my focus here.
I want to focus on Holiday feelings.
Hopefully, the feelings you experience are happy, joy, gratitude, and serenity as you reflect on being with family, getting and receiving good tidings (or gifts) and so forth.
But, it is entirely possible that the feelings you may experience are anxiety, guilt or anger. These feelings can ruin your holiday spirit. Anger, if directed at you by another or directed by you at someone else can possibly be dangerous.
Mastering your own and the emotions of others.
In my first Amazon book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings, I discuss the Emotions as Tools Model and address specific emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, guilt and shame.
In my second book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, I focus specifically on anger.
Both books are Amazon Best sellers.
To help you get the most out of your feelings this holiday, it is important to note that the function of all feelings is to both alert you to situations in your surroundings which require your attention and prepare you to take whatever action is necessary to deal with the situation facing you.
The “alert” you get from the feeling is the message of that emotion. The initial preparation is an automatic reaction your body does for (and to) you.
Mastering an emotion involves understanding the message of the feeling, assessing the nature of the situation in which you find yourself and the extent to which your reality matches the initial perception which elicited the emotion and choosing an effective response.
So, the message of feelings like happy and gratitude is that the surroundings you are experiencing are positive, maybe growth enhancing, and worthy of your attention and involvement. The response you will choose to these feelings in engagement.
The message of anxiety is that there MAY be a threat in the future that MAY hurt me in some way.
If you are worried about anything this holiday season, that’s anxiety.
Did you get the right gift?
Should you send a card to Aunt Suzie?
Will you spend the Holidays by yourself?
The way to master anxiety is to assess the perceived future threat and the potential of that possible future occurrence to do real damage to you.
If, as in most situations about which you are anxious, the event, should it actually take place, might be uncomfortable or mildly damaging, but it is most likely survivable. If it is survivable (doesn’t kill you or cause irreparable harm), then you have at least two choices about how you adaptively respond to the anxiety.
If you can do something to mitigate or impact the future about which you are worrying, then use your anxiety as eustress to make a plan and take action. In other words, do something about your situation.
If you can’t really impact the future but you know you can survive it, then you can choose to let the anxiety pass and take a wait and see approach.
The message of anger is that you are facing a threat that will do you harm and that you need take action to eliminate. You are prepared to go to war.
Anger during the holidays can come up in a variety of situations.
The instructions to the XYZ you are trying to assemble are inaccurate or hard to follow.
Pieces are missing from the box.
You got the wrong item delivered and time is running out.
You have lined up for a parking space in a crowded lot and some other car sneaks in and steals it.
You’ve been standing in line and someone cuts in front of you.
You get up to the register and the clerk is (inconsiderate, slow, inexperienced).
You go to grab the last XYZ from the shelf and someone else snatches it.
You get the idea.
The threat is to your view of how things “should”be, how people “should” act, how companies “should” do their job, and so forth. You are pissed and ready to take on, set right, or destroy, the offending person, company, or customer service rep.
The challenge is that your anger will usually be excessive, ineffective, or misdirected. At worse, your anger may elicit an accident, a fight in the parking lot, or security asking you to leave the store.
The way you master your own anger is to look at the situation in which you find yourself and ask whether it is worth going to war over or can you take some action to rectify the situation such as calling a manager, being patient, taking a break before going back to your construction project and so forth.
If someone is angry at you, you master their emotion by understanding that they both perceive a threat and are ready to go to war and attempting to show that you are not a threat. You do this by both apologizing, if appropriate or asking for clarification about what you might inadvertently done.
The goal here is to protect your own well being by not raising your blood pressure, getting the project completed, avoiding a fight, or getting escorted out of the store.
This is a quick overview of mastering emotions for the holidays and should give you enough information so that your emotions don’t control you. My suggestion is that you take a few moments and think about how these feelings might impact you and how you can choose to respond to them in a way that preserves and enhances your 2018 holiday season.
I know this because we have all done it at one point or another.
While there can be adaptive, or benefical, outcomes from social comparison, it is far more likely that comparing yourself to another person will prove to be an emotional trap.
First, the upside..
If you use your comparison as a guide to help you improve yourself, than the emotions you will feel are excitement and anticipation. You will be excited about developing a new dream or discovering a new skill or outlook that you can emulate to improve yourself in some way and you will be looking forward with anticipation to a future in which you have made the changes you have discovered.
In this process, knowing what you want to achieve, accomplish, or become serves as motivation to go out and get the information you need, acquire new skill sets, make new connections or develop a new outlook.
Now, the downside. Or, the trap…
You compare yourself unfavorably to another person and you feel inferior, inadequate, or worthless, you could become anxious or depressed.
The trap is that when you compare yourself to someone who is richer, more skillful, better looking (or whatever characteristic you choose), you will always come out feeling inadequate.
This is a false comparison.
I did not say that you were inadequate. You feel inadequate.
Now, suppose you choose to compare yourself to someone who is less skillful, financially successful, etc. You look great in comparison and may feel superior. However, this, too, is a false comparison as it says nothing about your own skills, financial situation, physical characteristics, etc.
Social comparison can be a trap because it appears to give you relevant information about yourself but only leads to a false feeling of inadequacy or superiority.
In fact, you are neither inferior or superior. You are only you.
Let me give you an example.
When I was a psychology intern, I compared myself both to other interns who seemed more adept at engaging the client and starting a healthy therapeutic alliance. This was not a skill I was good at. I also compared myself to one of the supervising psychologists who was very adept at reading the tone of a therapy group and who seemed to be able, with relative ease, to decide on the best intervention to move the group forward.
Neither of these comparisons were “fair” when I made them.
Based on my comparisons, I decided (wrongly, yes, but this was my interpretation at the time) that I was not very good at doing therapy.
It was only after I started my career and had to engage my clients in therapy that my confidence grew and my skill sets improved.
In fact, I was “surprised” one day when I intuitively orchestrated a very successful intervention. I say I was surprised because, when I thought about it, I realized that what I had done was as good or better than the Supervisor I had earlier compared myself to. It just took me some time to develop the necessary experience and skills.
The insidious nature of social comparison can lead to depression if the comparison involves a characteristic which is both very important to you and difficult to change.
The message of depression is that you see yourself as hopeless, helpless, worthless, or some combination of these three.
If the characteristic is sufficiently important and you do not measure up, you may perceive yourself as worthless. If change is sufficiently difficult than your perception of yourself as helpless and hopeless may grow in strength.
Social Media, today, has been widely criticized because of the tendency of others to use it as a model for making comparisons. Young people have attempted or commuted suicide because they do not see themselves as measuring up.
While they fail to see many issues, it never occurs to these adolescents that whether they measure up or not to the social media exemplar does not reflect on themselves and secondly, that the picture painted by the social media post may not even be accurate.
If you are feeling anxious, inadequate or that you do not measure up to your own, or society’s standards, you might try to alleviate these feelings by choosing to compare yourself to someone who is not as well off as you or who is not your “equal” in whatever category you are using to measure.
You may say something like, “Well, I’m not doing so bad, look at _____.?” or “Well, I’m a better (xyz) than _____.”
The issue here is that, while this comparison may bring you some temporary relief, it does nothing to motivate you to change. Over time, you will once again feel inadequate, inferior, or lacking.
The type of comparison is a trap because it creates a cycle of feeling inadequate, artificially pumping yourself up with a downward comparison, and feeling inadequate again.
A healthier approach would be to master your anxiety and objectively (either by yourself, if you can, or seeking input from others) look at the comparisons you are making and the standards you are implicitly accepting as your own.
Do these standards tell you something about yourself that both needs changing and that you can change?
Are the standards you are saying you need to live up to artificial, based on someone else’s distorted view of the world, or impossible to meet?
The answers to these questions will tell you whether your anxiety is informing you of actions you need to plan for and implement or whether their really is no impending threat about which you need to stress and you can choose to ignore the standards facing you as inappropriate, unrealistic, or unimportant.
About a year ago, a column (Ask the Doctors) appeared in my local newspaper written by two medical doctors in which these doctors discussed a study conducted by Naomi Eisenberger, Ph.D. at UCLA. Dr. Eisenberger discovered that the same parts of the brain which react to physical pain also react to emotional pain.
The two doctors concluded from a psycho-evolutionary perspective that “physical pain alerts us to injury (and) emotional pain warns us that we may be drifting too far from our fellow humans. Both types of pain put us at grave risk (and) we need to take emotional pain just as seriously as we do physical pain. (Emphasis added.)”
I found this article fascinating as it is highly consistent with the Emotions as Tools Model I have written about in this blog and my two Amazon bestselling books.
Pain is a messenger that alerts us to a situation that needs our attention and prepares us to take specific action.
Examples of physical pain include:
You touch the hot handle on a pan, you feel pain, and you remove your hand.
You pick up an object, your back says “ouch”, and you stay away from lifting anything for a while.
If you don’t have pain sensors which give you this kind of feedback, you can find yourself in serious trouble. I know of a person who was born with no nerves in his legs. While this is not usually an issue for him as he gets around in his wheel chair, is an athlete, and is “normal” in every way, when he was a young man, some hot grease fell on his legs, he did not know it, and he sustained some nasty burns.
Emotions, in this context, are the same as the pain sensors in your body. And, it is the reason that you want to welcome your emotions eventhough they may sometimes may be experienced as painful or seem to force you to do things you later regret.
By the way, your emotions never force you to do anything. All your behavior comes from the decisions you make.
The primary emotions (mad, sad, fear, and disgust) evolved as primitive threat detectors. (The other two primary emotions of glad and surprise have different functions.)
The primitive emotional threat detectors work just like the security detectors (smoke, carbon monoxide, glass break, motion, etc) in your house which constantly scan your surroundings and when they detect a specific threat, they send out an alarm and give you the opportunity to take corrective action.
Each emotion looks for a specific threat.
Mad (anger) reacts to a threat you believe you can eliminate by throwing enough force at it and prepares you for battle.
Sad reacts to loss and prepares you to retreat and heal.
Fear detects a threat that will kill you and motivates you to escape.
Disgust detects a distasteful or nauseating situation and leads you to avoid the noxious stimuli.
But, unlike your home detectors, whose only function is to alert you so that you can take action to avoid a potentially life threatening situation, your emotions both alert you to a possible threat and prepare your body to take action.
It is through your body that you become aware of your emotions and the information they are communicating to you about how you perceive your surroundings.
If you get to know your body, you learn to distinguish the pain you need to listen to and heed immediately and the pain you can ignore and work through.
One example those of you who work out in the gym will be able to relate to is the “pain” you feel when you exercise. Your muscles “hurt” but you know the difference between muscle burn and muscle strain.
Burn is good, strain is not.
Years ago, I did something to my back and I was out of work for about 6 months. I went to my physician, tried OTC pain meds, massage, acupuncture and chiropractic. I was “confined” to the couch, nothing seemed to work and nothing could be found that was wrong.
When I came across a book suggesting that back pain could be psychological, I decided the pain was “in my head”. I then chose to master my pain. This involved walking, mild exercise, and working through the pain. The pain eventually went away and has never returned.
Now, I am not a physician and I am not saying you should do as I did. This was my pain and my “intervention” worked for me. My point is that I learned that this particular pain, while it did hurt, could be ignored.
When it comes to your emotions, people do not know how to interpret, or adequately deal with their “pain”. They tend to assume that the emotion controls them, and to give in to the emotion by taking an action they later regret.
They do not understand that they can master their emotions and use them as tools to improve their lives.
The Anger Mastery Cycle (AMC), a copy of which you can download by scrolling up to the Welcome Post above and which is specific to anger , presents a model that clearly shows you how to deal with all emotions.
Notice that once you identify (label) the message of the emotion (anger in this case), you manage the emotion and S.T.O.P. the process. This involves stopping the reaction (taking a breath), taking a step back, observing, and practicing emotional intelligence. You then begin to master the emotion by assessing what is going on and choosing a response.
You begin to demystify and master your emotions when you think of them in the same way you think of physical pain. That your brain already does this is a bonus.
There is an electronic perimeter around the US which is constantly monitored. If a plane, a missile or a flock of geese cross that perimeter, we know about it because an “Alert” is sounded. This alert is a message that must then assessed so that any needed action can be taken.
Do we scramble the jets, arm the nukes, or decide it’s a false alarm?
Pain sensors as messengers…
The pain sensors in your body are tools which give you information you have to assess and evaluate. The pain message says “danger”. You have to decide how you want to respond.
Emotions as messengers…
It is the same with your emotions. They may signal danger or a misunderstanding.
In the case of anger, you have to decide if you will seek more information, go to battle, or just ignore the “false alarm”.
In the case of fear, you need to escape and later think about what you can learn.
In the case of sadness, you need to find some time to recluse, recover and rebound.
In the case of disgust, you need to avoid and protect.
When asked, some people might say that they would like to get rid of their emotions because they are messy, do not feel good, and seem to cause bad behavior. Yes, they can be messy and not feel good. No, they do not cause behavior.
If you were to ask someone with chronic pain if they wished there was no such thing as pain, they might, understandably, want to eliminate pain.
But, physical pain and emotional pain protect us. The goal is knowing how to interpret pain and how to master it.