Is There Any Advantage to Having Feelings (Emotions)?

The short answer is…. Yes, there are several advantages!

Think about this for a moment…

Have you ever:

  • wished that you could eliminate a particular feeling (or emotion)?
  • felt controlled by your feelings (and wanted that feeling to go away)?
  • wondered if,  perhaps, it wouldn’t be better if all feelings (at least the ones that “feel” uncomfortable) would disappear.

The answer is most likely yes (to at least one).

By the way, while scientists distinguish between emotions and feelings, for the rest of us, they are basically the same.

In each of the above cases, there is an implied underlying assumption.

Wanting to “eliminate” some feelings assumes that there is no advantage to having those specific (or most) feelings.

This assumption that it would be best to eliminate some emotions is not at all uncommon and stems from the disadvantages of emotions..

Several (This isn’t a comprehensive list.) disadvantages of feelings include:

  • some feelings “hurt” (or are experienced as painful)
  • sometimes, based on a misperception, feelings can lead to inappropriate behavior
  • feelings happen very quickly so they are experienced as controlling us (This is a myth.).
  • there is a learning curve to mastering them

As all of the disadvantages can be overcome,  let’s focus on the advantages of feelings.

While this is also not a complete list, 5 advantages that come to mind are:

  1. Your emotions are your “window” on the world.
  2. Your emotions “protect” you.
  3. Your emotions allow you to gain control over your life
  4. Your emotions facilitate your interacting with others.
  5. Your emotions make life interesting and engaging..

Some important facts:

  • You can’t eliminate your feelings because they are “hard-wired” into your genetics.
  • While you can try to deny your feelings, ignore them, or project them onto others, they don’t go away.
  • There are some psychological disorders where the emotional circuits seem to be disconnected and severe trauma might impair some of these circuits but these disorders can lead to some very undesirable behaviors and I wouldn’t wish severe trauma on anyone.

So, you can’t eliminate feelings and the costs of disconnecting your emotional circuits far outweigh the benefits, so you might strongly consider learning how to master your emotions and make the most of the advantages they offer you.

Let’s discuss the advantages of feelings.

1.Your emotions are your “window” on the world.

The Emotions Cycle describes how your feelings “work”. This is the cliff-notes version.  I have discussed the emotions cycle in greater detail in other posts…

  • You unconsciously scan your surroundings for “threats”
  • when you perceive a threat, your brain automatically puts you on alert and prepares you to take action to eliminate or escape from the threat.
  • You become aware of the perceived threat and are given the opportunity to assess and evaluate the nature of the threat and to decide how you want to respond to the threat.

This is a link to a PDF of the Anger Mastery Cycle.  The “cycle” for other emotions is very similar.

When you take the time to assess the emotion, you become aware of how you are perceiving your world and your interactions with others.  This is the message of the emotion.

This message is your “window” into your world.

Or, to put it another way, your emotions give you access to the lens through which you are interpreting what you are experiencing.

For the more familiar emotions, the messages are..

Anger-you perceive a threat that you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it. Anger prepares you for war.

Anxiety– you perceive a future based threat that might, or might not, hurt you. Anxiety prepares you to either give up and freeze (distress), or buckle up and take the actions to prepare yourself for the threat should it occur (eustress).

Fear – you perceive a threat that will kill you. Fear prepares you to get the hell out of that situation. Fear is not the same as anxiety.

Sadness – you are aware that you have experienced a significant loss. Sadness prepares you to back off and heal.

2.Your emotions “protect” you.

You are driving in your car and you notice a “sign” (street sign, electronic bill board) that alerts you to take some action which protects you from an unwanted outcome.

Your emotions, as threat detectors, serve the same function as these warning signs and provide you with important information.

When we lived in caves, all the “threats” we faced were survival-based in that they would kill us if we did not detect them.  So, we evolved emotions to alert us to these threats.  While, today, we face psychological threats (not survival threats), the emotional early alert system hasn’t changed.

We subconsciously detect a threat, go on “red alert” and we are ready for action.

This is the protection  that emotions provide.

Our emotions also subconsciously prepare us to take action against the threat.

This action is linked to the perceived nature of the threat.

When we lived in caves, this subconscious process of detection, alert, and  preparation for action could mean the difference between life and death.

Today, the preparation for defensive (or aggressive offensive) action happens very quickly and, if not countered, is the basis for the “disadvantage” of believing your emotions control you noted above.

Fortunately, we have evolved a thinking brain which gives us an opportunity to counter the “red alert”.

3. Your emotions allow you to gain control over your life.

Once you become aware of an emotion and the message it communicates to you about how you are perceiving your surroundings, you can actively assess the nature of your situation and choose how you want to respond (rather than react) to what is going on.

The “control” you gain is in the choice you have regarding how you will mitigate the situation your emotions have alerted you to.

4. Your emotions facilitate your interacting with others.

In an episode of Star Trek, Mr. Spock, a Vulcan with suppressed emotions, becomes acting Captain of a crew stranded on an alien planet.  He makes all the logically correct decisions to protect his crew and gets all the wrong results because he “fails” to consider the feelings his crew were experiencing.

The emotions other people express toward you give you important information about them which you can use to adjust how you interact with them.

To put it another way, when you understand what feelings are and the messages they communicate, you now have an insider look at how the other people in your situation are perceiving what is happening between you and them and you can choose how you want to adaptively respond to them.

5. Your emotions make life interesting and engaging.

I have mentioned that many of our emotions are threat detectors which prepare you to engage for self-protection or “flee” for self-preservation.

The message of other emotions is that we need to proactively engage because it is “beneficial” to us in some way.

Think of the feelings of surprise, happy, excitement,  and gratitude.

These feelings add spice and color to your life and elicit your willing involvement in whatever is going on.

So, in summary, while there are some disadvantages to feelings, I believe the advantages far outweigh them.

And, by doing your research (check out the Index tab above) by reading some of the 150+ posts covering all aspects of emotions, you can acquire the information you need to overcome the disadvantages and begin mastering your emotions as adaptive tools.

 

 

Let’s take a look at the emotion of “hate” and why you might want to avoid it.

Note:  In my last post, I discussed the concepts of “emotional self-defense” and “mindfulness”.  Both of these are especially critical when it comes to the emotion of hate.

America, today, is portrayed as a divided society. In the news, we read about “hate” groups and “hate” crimes on a regular basis.

So, let’s look at the emotion of hate.

The Emotions as Tools Model notes that each emotion informs you about how you perceive your surroundings. This is the message of the emotion.

The message of hate is that you perceive a situation or person as extremely negative, or even demonic (emphasis added),

Hate is a very strong emotion that is usually reserved for people whose actions you view as totally unacceptable, evil, or reprehensible. Presumably, you would want nothing to do with this person because he, she, or it is extremely toxic, negative or hurtful.

Logically, you’d think that your emotional reaction to hate would be to cut ties with or avoid the person or situation you view with such disdain.

This is not, however, what frequently happens.

 How the  word “hate” is commonly used.

Brussels sprouts, anyone?

(Full disclosure.. I really like Brussels sprouts.)

When you say “I hate Brussels sprouts.”, the word “hate” is the same as used in the word “hate crime” but the intent expressed is VERY different.

To be accurate here, while you might say that you “hate” Brussels sprouts…. in reality, you just dislike them. And, you may really dislike them a lot!

But (and these are the critical differences here)…..

  • When you “hate” (or dislike)  Brussels sprouts, you just do not order them in a restaurant.
  • And, while you might dislike them a whole lot, Brussels sprouts remain emotionally insignificant to you as you do not become attached to them.
  • With hate (the emotion), however, what you do emotionally is exactly the opposite of what you would expect.

Hate can consume you.

Instead of emotionally moving away from the object of your hate, you bind yourself to the person or situation just as powerfully as if you were in love with them.

To put it another way,  you are just as securely connected to the object of your hate as you are with the object of your love. Where they go, you go. And, they are with you all the time.

If you truly hate someone, you can be consumed by your hate. Just as you can be consumed by your love.

This may be okay with love. It isn’t okay with hate.

When you truly hate someone, you might find yourself engaging more deeply with them perhaps to get revenge on or to hurt them in some way.

When this happens, you are most likely also experiencing anger.

The emotion of anger.

The message of anger is that you perceive a threat to your values or sense of right and wrong and you believe you can “eliminate” the threat by throwing enough force at it. Hence, you are motivated to take forceful action against the person (or people) you perceive as a threat.

Anger and hate together: A bad combination.

To mix anger and hate together can be very dangerous.

  • The hate emotionally binds you to the person (or object of your hate).
  • The anger emotionally energizes you to take destructive action.
  • Under these circumstances, logic and thinking about consequences often get eliminated. Think about hate groups, hate crimes, extreme discrimination, and so forth.

This is why you might want to avoid hating another person.

A visual example:  love and hate

Let me show you what I mean.

Imagine that you are facing a person and you are firmly holding both of their hands in yours. Everywhere they go, you go. And vice versa.

Think of this as love. You are emotionally connected to the person you love and they are with you all the time.

Now, let’s look at hate. You can visualize the emotion of hate by standing back to back with your partner and then firmly taking both of their hands in yours. As you can see, you are now opposite them in the sense that many people consider hate to be the opposite of love.

“Huh”, you say, “what does that mean?”

Well, as I said above, hate is a very strong emotion. When you are under the influence of hate, you tend to react rather than respond to your situation and you do not  take the next step in mastering an emotion which is to assess the validity of the message the emotion is communicating to you.

Thus, with hate, you should assess both whether the object of your hate is, indeed, demonic AND whether the actions you are about to engage in (moving toward rather than away from that which you hate) will, improve the situation in which you find yourself.

So, what are your options?

If someone or something is, indeed, terrible, reprehensible, or demonic, you can decide to feel disgust toward them.

The message of disgust is that you need to avoid or dispel the disgusting object.

Think of Brussels sprouts as disgusting.

If you find the actions of this despicable person as reprehensible and as a threat to your values or safety, you can use the energy of your valid anger to develop and execute a plan to neutralize this individual.

You are now engaged with, but not necessarily irrevocably emotionally bound to, the person or situation.

And, you have many different choices of how you want to RESPOND rather than REACT to the situation in which you find yourself.

 

Emotional Self-Defense

When I was younger my fantasy was that, if I could sufficiently master some self-defense style, I would never have to worry about getting into a fight because I would be able to block any punch that was thrown at me.  

I could always punch back if I had to but I wouldn’t have to.

If I successfully blocked all incoming attacks, my  opponent would give up in frustration and walk away.  My “victory” would be assured.

I say this was my fantasy because, while I did get into an occasional fight when I was younger, I didn’t hang around situations which would evolve into physical combat.

I have, however, been involved in some verbal altercations.  But, that is another issue.

As The Emotions Doctor, I started thinking about how emotions are viewed as contagious.  

  • An emotion gets “started” in a crowd and it escalates through the group.
  • Someone approaches you from a particular emotional “orientation” such as anger and you tend to react with anger.  The situation can easily escalate and get out of hand.
  • Have you ever become emotional in a movie?  There is no “real” situation but your emotions are very “real”.
  • The notion of an Amygdala hijack is quite real.

Now, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with “catching” an emotion.

What I am saying is that you, as a strategic deployer of emotions, should be prepared to master your emotions so that you are not blind-sided by the situation.

Every year at Christmas, I watch “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  And, every year, I cry when the community comes to Jimmy Stewart’s rescue.  

Do I want to prevent this from happening?

No.

  •  I know the cause of the emotion and I am a willing participant in it.
  •  The emotion is part of the experience of the movie.
  • I don’t catch anything. And, I am not blindsided.
  • In short, there is nothing I need to manage, control, or master.

Emotional Self-defense.

So, let’s explore what is involved in emotional self-defense.

Emotional Awareness (Mindfulness)

You will need to be consciously mindful of the situation you are in. 

Mindfulness means you are in the moment.  You are focusing your attention on yourself and the other person, or people, in the situation.

In other words, you will need to be aware of BOTH the emotional state of the other person and your own emotional state.

You

In other posts, I’ve written about how you need to be aware of your body and the physical signs it gives you that inform you that you are experiencing a particular emotion.

For you, this might involve muscles tightening, changes in body temperature, thoughts “speeding up” or “slowing down” and so forth.

Sometimes, you may experience an emotion in a specific situation and not really know what is eliciting that feeling.  In this case, consider the idea that you are reacting to another person.

Them

For another person, you might have to infer, or “guess” what they are feeling from their actions.

  • Do they appear to be angry or sad or anxious in how they stand, gesture, distance from you or look to you?
  • Do they sound like they are experiencing a particular emotion in their words, volume, inflection, pauses and so forth?

Emotional Self-Mastery and a Mastery Mindset

As soon as you become aware of an emotion, either in yourself or in another person, you want to go into a mastery mindset.

A mastery mindset involves..

  • taking a deep breath (psychological safety)
  • taking a step back from the situation (physical safety)
  • assessing the emotion and
  • deciding how you want to respond to it.

Note: You might recognize this from the Anger Mastery Cycle       

As long as you are in response mode, and not reaction mode, you are engaging in emotional self-defense.

Your own emotions.

If you become aware of your own emotions first, you can assess the situation and determine the extent to which you are either responding to what is going on or reacting.

A response is a choice.

If I am angry with you and can identify what it is about you that I perceive as a threat, I am responding to the situation.

If I experience myself crying, getting sad, becoming angry and have not chosen this response, I am reacting. 

When this happens, I need to go into response mode.

Response mode gives me the opportunity to decide what I want to do.  It does not mean I have to do anything.

The key to emotional self-defense is choice.  The particular emotion is not the issue, per se.

Going back to my original fantasy,  I didn’t think about what kind of punch or physical aggression I might face. 

In my fantasy, it didn’t matter. 

I would block whatever you threw at me whether it was a punch or a round-house kick.

If I am mastering my emotions and yours as they impact me, the emotion is irrelevant. 

I will do whatever I have to do, in the situation, to control the situation by strategically deploying my emotions in the context of that situation.

All of the above are “blocking” strategies.  Sometimes, you want to take a more active approach to mastering the emotions of others.  This involves asking questions. 

I have addressed this approach and other relevant issues in previous posts.

Click on the title and you will be redirected to the post.

 

How do you resolve shame?

There are two parts to this question.

First of all, I will address what shame, as an emotion, is.

Secondly, I will talk about how to deal with shame when you experience it.

So, let’s jump in.

The Emotions as Tools Model maintains that all emotions have a message.

The message of the emotion informs you about the lens through which you are viewing the situation in which you find yourself.

In other words, your emotions…

  • arise within a given situation,
  • are “caused” by and reflect your interpretation of your situation and
  • inform (or call your attention to) how you are interpreting what is going on

The message of shame is that there is something wrong with you as a person.

Your shame tells you that you perceive the actions you have taken or the situation you are in as caused by the “fact” that you are, in some way, FLAWED, BAD, INADEQUATE, DAMAGED or INCOMPLETE.

Notice that I put the word “fact” in quotes and the characteristics in CAPS. I did this because there is no “proof” that you are FLAWED.

There are four facts here:

  1. You, as a human, are definitely not perfect.
  2. You define your weaknesses as FLAWS.
  3. You can improve, grow and change.
  4. There is no “proof” that you are flawed or damaged.

Let me use the manufacturing process of a product as a metaphor here.

When  a product such as a computer component or a brake-pad is made, it is examined by quality control people before it is released.  If it is “flawed” or damaged, it is discarded.  The company does not want to ship flawed or damaged goods.  If the product is not perfect and can be repaired, it may be fixed and sold at a reduced price.

You are not perfect and may need to be upgraded (self-change through therapy or a personal decision) but you are not flawed. 

Shame can develop in a child when parents too often communicate that what a child does (his or her behavior) comes about because the child is a “BAD” boy not because he or she DID something wrong.

Now, I need to stop here for a moment…

I am not saying that you are forever damaging your child if you tell them “You’re a bad boy (or girl).”  Every parent probably does this on occasion.  I know I have.  But, if this is the message that you overwhelmingly communicate to your kid (AS OPPOSED TO “WHAT YOU DID WAS WRONG!”) then you may be setting up your kid for future problems.

A similar problematic situation is one in which a parent denies their own responsibility in an interaction and blames the kid.  This can happen when a parent says, “If you hadn’t done (x,y or z), I wouldn’t have gotten mad and beat you.”

Shame is a powerful emotion that can be used to subjugate or control another person.

This is often the scenario in abusive relationships.

Victims of abuse often feel shame when they are physically, emotionally and/or sexually beat down, treated as if they are worthless and blame themselves.

Now that you know the message of shame, you can use this knowledge to work through, resolve, or reconcile your shame.

You do this by challenging the “message” with questions.

  • What proof do I have that I am flawed (beyond the fact that no human is perfect)?

I can tell you that there is no “proof” other than what you may have been told by others.

  • In this situation, what might I have done that was dumb, inappropriate, or inadequate?

This question shifts your focus from yourself to your actions.

Note that when you feel bad about something you have done, the emotion that you experience could be guilt, embarassment, ridicule, disappointment, or humiliation.

While all of these feelings clearly inform you that you have done something wrong, inappropriate or even stupid, none of these feelings imply that you, as a person, are damaged, unredeemable, or bad.

What you are doing is allowing the feeling of shame to correctly change into guilt, embarassment, ridicule, disappointment, or humiliation.

This enables you to better and more objectively view your situation.

You can then use these behavior focused emotions strategically to guide you in making amends, better decisions, and more adaptive behavior?

This is the basis of strategically using your emotions as tools.

The next question you need to ask is…

  • Have I, indeed, done something wrong or have I misinterpreted what is going on?

If you have “screwed-up”, you need to acknowledge what you have done.

If you have misunderstood what is going on, you can engage others and change your perception of the event.

On my blog, TheEmotionsDoctor.com, I have over 150 posts on topics dealing with all aspects of emotions. To help you access this all this information, I have included an “index to all posts” tab which allows you to access any specific post you want with a click. Let me suggest that, when you are done reading this answer, you click on over to my blog and browse through the index categories.

Dealing with Uncertainty: Anxiety, Depression, Distress verses Eustress

The Event

Recently, an event happened which got my attention and got me thinking.

A good friend of mine had difficulty concentrating, lost her appetite, and had significant problems sleeping (symptoms). She didn’t feel motivated to do the things she usually does.

It sounded to me like she was mildly depressed.

The family related issues with which my friend was struggling were not new to her and had, in fact, existed for quite some time.

The “symptoms”, however, were both new and troubling to her.

Now, I should add that she had mentioned that she was angry about the way she was being treated by her family and was anxious about what might take place within her family if she challenged the status quo.

She definitely seemed “stressed-out” to me.

But not mildly depressed!

She decided to get professional help.

Using the Emotions as Tools lens.

 Some basic “definitions”..

Depression is an “in the moment” emotion. The message of depression is that one perceives themselves in their situation as helpless, hopeless or worthless.

Mild depression can be disruptive and draining.  Clinical depression can be debilitating.

Anger is an “in the moment” emotion.  The message of anger is that you perceive an injustice that you can eliminate by throwing enough force at it.  Anger prepares you for war.

Adaptive anger can facilitate impactful action.  Maladaptive anger can get you in severe trouble.

Anxiety is a future based emotion.  The message of anxiety is that there MAY be a situation which may have unwanted consequences for you. Another word for anxiety is worry.  Worrying can require a lot of energy.

Stress can be another word for anxiety.

Stress has at least two faces.

The most common is distress which leaves you feeling overwhelmed, sometimes unable to take action, or wanting to escape the situation.

Examples of distress include:

  • Choosing not to apply for a position because you think you might do poorly in an interview.
  • Choosing not to take constructive action because you are worried about a negative outcome.
  • Difficulty maintaining focus and disrupted sleep brought on by worrying.

Less well known is eustress which uses the energy generated by anxiety as a motivator to take whatever action necessary to prevent the unwanted future from happening.

An example of eustress is:

  • Preparing for an exam or interview is an example of eustress.
  • Developing and implementing a “plan” including setting priorities to resolve whatever concerns, problems, or issues you believe exist.

Chronic stress can, over time, damage you physically.

Another way to look at psychological stress.

Stress ==> Expectations ≠ Reality

Stress happens when what  you expect to be  taking place(your expectations) is not the same as what is actually going on (your perception of reality).

In many situations in which you find yourself, you will have an expectation regarding the way things should be.

You have expectations:

  • about work,
  • about your relationships,
  • about how your computer should work,
  • about your kids
  • and so forth

While you may, or may not, be aware that you have expectations and they won’t become an issue unless they don’t pan out, you do have them.

It is only when the reality of your situation violates your expectation that you feel stressed and you become very aware of how you think things should be (your expectations).

Handling psychological stress.

There are two possibilities here, both of which are designed to reduce stress by aligning your expectations with your perception of reality.

1.You can reassess your expectations and adjust them to match reality.

In the first strategy, your assessment may tell you that your expectations were unrealistic.

You believed the other person would do more or act differently than they did but you either did not do your due diligence, did not carefully read the contract, or misunderstood what was supposed to happen.

When you realize that you have erred with unreasonable expectations, you make an adjustment, your expectations match reality, and your stress is gone.

2. You can reassess and adjust your perception of reality to match your expectations.

In the second strategy, your assessment might tell you that you have misperceived reality.

The other person is doing exactly what you expected and you incorrectly judged them, reacted inappropriately, or just misunderstood.

In this case, you adjust your perception of their actions, the match between expectations and reality is reestablished and your stress is gone.

You now have a more adaptive view of stress and some suggestions for mastering it.

My “interpretation” of what my friend experienced.

  • My friend likes to be in control of her life.  She is intelligent and a “planner”.  She is not a “control freak”.
  • When the issues first arose, she had expectations for how she and her family should interact.
  • None of her expectations were met.
  • She perceived an injustice and got angry.
  • She didn’t show her anger because she did not want to make her situation worse.  But she was angry.
  • She tried to reason with and understand her family and facilitated some minor changes were made.
  • She felt better.
  • Overtime, the situation worsened and she began to feel anxious that her family might exclude her.
  • This was troubling.  Yet she tried to remain hopeful.
  • As her family situation worsened, she became mildly depressed because she sensed she might be excluded from her family and felt helpless to bring about change. Feeling both “excluded” and “helpless”, she felt somewhat “hopeless”.  There was little she felt she could do to correct her situation.
  • This is the message of depression.  However, mild the depression is.

What I suggested:

  • A reality check on her family
    • What is actually happening?
    • What have I done?
    • What are they doing?
    • What do I expect them to do? (or What should they be doing?)
    • What are they actually doing?
    • What can I do that might help me get what I want?
    • What are the risks?
    • How much risk am I willing to take?
  • Bring certainty to uncertainty.
    • What actions can you take which have a high probability of success. What is totally out of your control?
    • Very little in life is “certain”.  We can’t control the future.
    • The only certainty we have is that we can control what we do.
      • We can assess future events, make decisions about what actions we need to take to increase the probability of what we want happening, and work to minimize the risk to us if what we don’t want actually occurs.
  • One antidote to anxiety is to ask, “Can I survive the worst possible outcome if it occurs?”
    • The beauty of this question is that a “yes” answer tells you that the unwanted outcome, while still undesirable, is not catastrophic.  To the extent that this is true, if the benefit of the desired outcome outlays the risk of the unwanted outcome, then it is in your best interest to take action to intervene.
    • Your “survival”and your interventions are your certainties.
    • Your anticipated benefit is your motivator.
  • Accept that risk is real and there might be a negative outcome.
  • Prepare for the risk.
  • Take action.

Taking action alleviates the mild depression. Assessing the nature of the possible (unwanted) event alleviates the anxiety.

 

 

ALL of my posts dealing with Relationships and Emotions.

My last post completed a series of four posts which explored in some detail the Basic Relationship Rule.

These posts were an in-depth exploration of the idea that relationships and emotions are interconnected.

Over the years , I have written several posts on relationships and emotions as well as other topics.

Below, I have listed all of my relationship posts starting with the oldest so you can explore this topic in more detail if you choose.

Relationships and Emotions                                                                                                 (conflict resolution, empathy, living in an emotional world, and more.)

Click on the title and it will take you to the post.

 

Understanding Others and Ourselves to Build (or improve) our relationships. A 4-part series. Part 4: Skill Sets

This is part 4 of my 4 part series on understanding others and ourselves in the context of our relationships with them utilizing the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR).

The BRR states:

Everyone always does the best they can in any situation given their psychological state, their model of the world and their skill sets.

Applying the BRR:

  • facilitates your understanding others and yourself and
  • is  the key to building (or improving) your relationships

The three elements in the BRR which comprise the basis for understanding another’s behavior are:

  1. Their psychological state
  2. Their Model (or perception) of the situation
  3. Their skill sets.

In this post, I will discuss element #3 … skill sets.

Skill Sets

One’s skill sets are the abilities each individual in the relationship brings to the situation that they can access when they need to decide what they will do to “move the relationship forward”.

These skill sets include..

  • how they handle emotions (emotional intelligence skills)
  • their level of self-control (intrapersonal skills),
  • how they interact with others (interpersonal skills)
  • how they analyze a given situation (critical thinking skills)
  • how they approach solving problems (problem solving skills)
  • how they communicate with others (communication skills)
  • how they deal with perceived risk (risk management skills)

Your skill sets are the behaviors you have learned over your life span to deal with different types of situations.  Skill sets are influenced by different environments including family, work, school, the military and so forth and become habitual over time through practice.

You learn how to act by…

  • watching others in different situations
  • observing the reactions of people to what others do
  • making decisions about what to do based on how others respond to you.
  • being challenged to solve  a problem
  • having someone teach you a specific skill
  • etc.

When an individual behaves inappropriately in a given situation, you can usually attribute their actions to a skill set deficit when..

  • their Model of the World (perception of what is going on between you and them) is accurate  and
  • you can account for their psychological state

How do you identify “skill set” deficits?

You get the feeling that the behavior you are observing just doesn’t “fit”.

In other words the observed behavior may be too much or too little in terms of..

  • aggressivness,
  • verbalizations (what they say or don’t say),
  • dealing with the issue at hand,
  • listening skills,
  • empathy

Looking at a person’s behavior as the “best” they can do leaves you open to exploring whether the actions of another comes about because, if their model is accurate and their psychological state is not a factor, they don’t know any other more appropriate way to handle the situation.

If this is the situation in which you find yourself, you have to weigh your options.

  • Perhaps, they need to  acquire new skills.

If this is the case, then educating them about their actions and the consequence of the choices they have made and suggesting alternatives such as being assertive (or any of the other skill sets mentioned above) may be all that is needed.

  • Perhaps, you need to adjust how you deal with them.

A few years ago, I asked professional women what kind of responses they received when they appropriately expressed anger. I received over 2000 responses which clearly indicated that these women were demeaned, devalued, or discounted when they expressed their anger.  I suggested that they needed to use their anger to motivate their pursuing needed changes but that they needed to express their anger in a more indirect manner.

  • Perhaps, you need to get out of the relationship

An example might be a friend or family member who is addicted to drugs and who tends to be agitated and defensive in their interactions with you.  All your efforts to help them change have  been unsuccessful and the relationship is taking its toll on you. You might decide to continue “loving” them and to be “available” if they choose to change but to keep your distance from them.

To review:

The BRR:

  • aids you in building a relationship with another person
  • informs you where to look if the relationship isn’t working or is having problems.  The issue might be their behavior or yours.
  • helps you navigate through a relationship which could have important negative consequences for you if not handled well
  • sets a standard for how you view the actions of another individual within the context of your relationship with that person.

Summary

In the last four posts, I have introduced you to the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR).

I have also discussed each of the elements that comprise the BRR and given some examples of how to implement the Rule to improve your relationships.

While my focus has largely been on you attempting to understand and accommodate  the actions of those you have to relate to, it is important to note that sometimes the issue may be your behavior and their attempts to deal with and understand you.  The BRR is equally relevant and powerful as a tool for critically looking at and understanding the actions you take.

So, when you are attempting to build a relationship with others or a relationship you already have isn’t working, your first step should be to apply the BRR to yourself and then apply it to others.

As Steven Covey put it..seek first to understand and then be understood.

Or, as it applies to the BRR… Seek first to assure that you are not the problematic issue and then look at the other person’s behavior as an issue.

July 4, 2021— Celebrate Your THREE “Independences” and the 7 Steps to Emotional Independence.

We interrupt this 4-part series for a special Independence Day message.  The last post in this series will be published in two weeks.

This Sunday (July 4) we, in the US, will celebrate Independence Day. It is often a fun Holiday marked by fireworks and outdoor barbecues.

This year, I am suggesting you celebrate our country’s independence (#1), your independence from the covid-19 virus (#2) and your independence from your emotions (#3).

So, what does “independence” mean?

To the extent that you are “independent”, you are capable of making your own decisions, creating your own destiny, and taking control of your own life to impact the directions in which you want to go and the relationships you wish to create and nurture.

  1. Our country fought the war of independence to get out from under the onerous rule of the English Monarchy.  Independence meant being able to    determine our own destinies.
  2. Regarding the Covid-19 virus, your independence, if you have taken the vaccine shots, may mean that you are now free to hug your grandkids, meet in your home in small groups, go shopping, or have a meal in a restaurant. And, you may declare your independence from  the Covid-19 emotions of anxiety, anger, grief, helplessness, depression, etc. This will take us to #3.
  3. Now, you may wonder what I mean by celebrating your independence from your emotions.

Well, as a reader of this blog, you know that I write about strategically using your emotions as tools to improve your life and your relationships.

To the extent that you are doing this, you are independent of your emotions.

Many people, however, believe that their emotions control them.

This belief stems from their experience that emotions seem to just happen and to just happen to them.  As I have explained in the Emotional Mastery Cycle, the unconscious reaction to a perception of threat does happen very quickly and is beyond one’s control.  This is a survival mechanism and evolved to protect us.

But, and this is crucial, another part of the Emotional Mastery Cycle is the activation of the Cerebral Cortex or thinking part of the brain.  The Cerebral Cortex empowers you to decide how you want to utilize and strategically deploy the energy the emotion provides.

Hence…..

Your emotions do not control you.  

They alert you, inform you, and motivate you.  But, you always have a choice about how you will respond to the situation in which you find yourself.

So, if you believe that your emotions control you, then, maybe, this July 4, is your opportunity to declare your independence from your emotions.

I have written numerous blog posts talking about what emotions are and how to strategically deploy them as tools.

In this post I want to list, for you, the 7 steps to emotional independence.

Step 1: Declare, regardless of how you feel about them, that “Emotions are ONLY tools.”.

Step 2: Declare that you can learn how to use a tool.

Step 3: Pick a specific emotion you want to learn how to use and write down any questions you may have about that emotion and the control it feels, to you, that it exerts over you.

Step 4: Hit the Index tab in the upper right hand corner of this homepage, open up the Index PDF and pick a post which seems to address your major questions about that emotion.

Step 5: Using the information from the posts you have read regarding the specific emotion you want to learn to use (become independent of), decide what new decisions you need to make regarding how you relate to that emotion.

Step 6: Make a Plan and a Commitment to yourself to make these decisions  and apply them in your life.

Step 7: Execute your Plan.

But, remember that making changes in your life takes time.  Be kind and supportive of yourself and you begin to establish that your emotions are there for you to deploy, as tools, to improve your life and your relationships.

Happy July 4th Independence Day!

Understanding Others and Ourselves to Build (or improve) our relationships. A 4-part series. Part 3: Their Model

This is part 3 of my 4 part series on understanding others in the context of your relationship with them utilizing the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR).

To review:

The BRR:

  • aids you in building a relationship with another person
  • informs you where to look if the relationship isn’t working or is having problems
  • helps you navigate through a relationship which could have important negative consequences for you if not handled well
  • sets a standard for how you view the actions of another individual within the context of your relationship with that person.

The Basic Relationship Rule states:

Everyone always does the best they can in any situation given their psychological state, their model of the world and their skill sets.

Applying the BRR:

  • facilitates your understanding others and yourself and
  • is  the key to building (or improving) your relationships

In this post, I will discuss the part of the BRR which asserts that the behavior that is observed is based in part on one’s Model of the World.

Recall that in my last post, I noted that, in the context of a relationship, the job of both parties is to move the relationship forward.  This might involve improving the relationship or resolving conflict, completing some task at hand, etc.

Problems typically arise when one person in their attempt to complete the “job” doses something that is viewed, in the context of the relationship, as  inappropriate.

I am suggesting that the BRR gives you a starting point to begin to understand the basis for the other person’s actions.

In deciding how you want to respond to any situation, you first need to do an assessment which includes”

  • what is going on,
  • what is needed to accomplish your goal in that situation and
  • what tools are available.

The Assessment:

The lens through which we determine what is going on around us is the Model we have, in our minds, for understanding our situation.

Let me give you two examples.

1. For most of my career, I was a staff psychologist in an institution run by the Department of Corrections-Juvenile Division.  I had a collegial relationship with the other psychologists in the Institution.  We interacted well and, when I perceived that something irregular occurred, I pointed it out.

When I promoted to Senior Psychologist, however, they reacted to me differently.  I tried not to change who I was or how I interacted with my colleagues in terms of ethics, recognizing them as individuals and so forth but they clearly viewed me differently and their interactions with me changed.  My Model of them had not changed from colleague to “boss” but their Model of me as “boss” clearly was different then their view of me as “colleague”.

2. As I write this, there are numerous stories in the news of what is viewed as excessive use of force by police.  Whether or not the force used in each situation is excessive or not is not the issue here.  That people have lost their lives in the course of an arrest clearly indicates that the actions of the police officer, in each case, stemmed from their Model of the situation and the behavior that was appropriate, in that situation, to deal with what was going on (to resolve or move the situation forward).

The implication is that the police will view you as a “citizen” if you are white and a “threat” if you are black.

In order to begin to make some sense about what explains the other person’s actions, you need to gain some insight into their Model of their world in that moment.

This model includes the assumptions they are making about:

  • the context of the interaction
  • gender issues
  • race issues
  • power issues
  • safety issues
  • task issues
  • you, as an individual, within the context of the interaction

More specifically…

  • context: work, home, business/professional, relating to a “clerk” in person, by computer, or over the phone, dealing with a service person such as tech support
  • gender: beliefs about men and women and what is “appropriate” for each gender.
  • power:  work related including a boss to a subordinate, positional related such as a police officer to a citizen or a perpetrator or a doctor to a patient
  • safety: what is the risk within the situation
  • task: what is going on that may be related to accomplishing a specific task such as working on a project at work or at home with your kids
  • you: are there some assumptions about you specifically including what type of person you are, how assertive you are, how needy you are and so forth.

Looking into how others perceive their relationship with you gives you an opportunity to look at how they perceive you and the situation and how the actions they’ve chosen to exhibit make sense to them.

Perhaps, their actions reflect a misunderstanding of something you have done or said, how they perceive themselves relative to you, or how they understand what is “appropriate” within the context of the current relationship.  If this is the case, helping them change their perceptions may alleviate the challenge to the relationship.

One example might be a co-worker who violates a “personal boundary”. This boundary might be a physical boundary, an ethical boundary, a gender boundary, or a rule violation. The questions to ask yourself involving his model of the world include:

  • Is he being aggressive and ignoring the “rules”?
  • Has he misunderstood something you said or did?
  • Is he unfamiliar with the rules?
  • Is his model unjustified or is this a skill set issue where in he just does not know how to say what he wants?

A personal example:

When I promoted to Senior Psychologist, one of my staff was “clearly”, but not egregiously, violating the rules regarding time spent doing his job.  I knew it and he knew it, but I couldn’t “prove” it, given the tools available to me at the time.  So, calling it to his attention directly wouldn’t have been beneficial.  As I was a new supervisor, I asked for some help from “headquarters”.  It was suggested that I put out a general memo about the “rules” and include, at the bottom of the memo, some general “boiler plate” disclaimers that failure to follow the rules could result in “disciplinary actions”.

After the memo went out, one of my staff barged into my office and accused me of inappropriately “threatening” her with disciplinary action especially in light of her exemplary work history.

Now, I need to add that she was not the “target” of the memo and that I had never said anything negative about her.  In fact, early on I had told her that she was a valuable asset to the department.

At first  I was confused.

When I considered her actions from the point of view of her implied Model, I realized that her actions had very little to do with me, personally, and very much to do with her view of “supervisors” and her own sense of inadequacy.

Her Model reflected her view of “reality” as…

  •  “the Man” was unfair and “out to get her”.
  • I was “the Man”
  • her relationship with me was aggressive and self-protective

Once, I explained the “boiler plate” and reestablished that she was a competent and valued staff member, she was fine.

I do need to add that, after this incident, my Model of “headquarters” changed.

Another example might involve interacting with a police officer. Keeping in mind the implied Model of the World of someone whose job involves  a risk to his/her safety and the inability to really “know” what the next person they interact with might do, if I am pulled over, I won’t do anything to raise a red flag.  As an example, when I was younger, I used to think that it was a good idea to get out of the car when stopped so the officer could see me.  When I had police officers as students in a class I was teaching, they explained that a person getting out of a car was viewed as a possible threat and advised to stay in the car with my hands on the steering wheel.

This is using their Model to insure that their interactions with me, in the context of our current relationship works out well for the both of us.

In summary, if your goal is to make the most out of your relationships with others, understanding and accommodating their behavior (when appropriate) is critical.

The first part of this understanding (discussed in my last post) was that they are doing their best.

The second part provides a context in which to interpret what they’ve done and this context involves their Model of the “World”.

Their actions reflect how they view you (their Model) and how this view impacts how they will interact with or relate to you (your relationship with them).

In my next and last post in the series, I will discuss the concept of skill sets.

Understanding Others and Ourselves to Build (or improve) our relationships. A 4-part series. Part 2: Doing Their Best

This is Part 2 of my 4 part series on Relationships.

The four parts are:

  • Part 1:  Overview
  • Part 2: Assume Doing the best and psychological state
  • Part 3: Understand their Model
  • Part 4: Look at their skill sets and summary

In Part 1, I discussed what constitutes a relationship and introduced you to the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR).

To review:

The BRR:

  • aids you in building a relationship with another person
  • informs you where to look if the relationship isn’t working or is having problems
  • helps you navigate through a relationship which could have important negative consequences for you if not handled well
  • sets a standard for how you view the actions of another individual within the context of your relationship with that person.
  • applies to both the actions of another person and you

The Basic Relationship Rule states:

Everyone always does the best they can in any situation given their psychological state, their model of the world and their skill sets.

Applying the BRR:

  • facilitates your understanding others and yourself and
  • is  the key to building (or improving) your relationships

In this post, I will discuss the second part of the BRR which asserts that everyone ALWAYS does THEIR BEST.

This is the part of the BRR that most people find problematic.

It is also, I would say, the most important part of the BRR.

The concept of Best is problematic.

I’m sure you can give numerous examples of things people have done which you viewed as:

  • inappropriate
  • wrong
  • misguided
  • outrageous
  • stupid
  • insulting
  • and so forth

Given the behavior you observed (or displayed), these descriptions were probably very fitting.  And, because the behavior was so egregious, it is very difficult to accept that the behavior in question is the Best the person could do in the moment.

Possible versus Available

The reason most people find it difficult to accept that what they or others have done is their best is that they fail to consider the difference between the best possible with the best available behavior.

Problems arise because people assume that what they observe should be the best possible.  And, since what you observe isn’t the best possible, the other person isn’t trying to do the right thing. 

Another way to look at this issue from the point of view of the individual is the difference between capabilities and abilities.

Capabilities vs abilities…

Your “capabilities” are the behaviors that you can exhibit under ideal conditions.  These are, indeed, your absolute best actions.

Your “abilities” are the best behaviors you can exhibit in any given situation.

Situational characteristics which can impact what one does include being stressed or anxious, feeling physically sick or impaired in some way, being distracted, and so forth.

In previous posts, I noted that what you do in a given interaction is the based on how you view what is going on (you Model) and the extent to which your psychological state impacts or impairs what you do.  Given these “constraints”, what you choose to do stems from what you are capable of doing (your skill sets) but reflects what you are able to do in the situation.

The individual’s actions are the best available to them in the moment.

There are at least three elements which impact how an individual responds in any situation…

  1. Their psychological state
  2. Their Model (or perception) of the situation
  3. Their skill sets.

Observed Behavior

When you try to understand the behavior of another person (or yourself), the BRR notes that we always do the Best given our Model of the World and our skill sets.

Let me dig a little deeper.

The situation in which you find yourself with another person whose behavior you view as inappropriate given their relationship with you involves an interaction between you and them.

The characteristics of that situation include their (and your) assessment of what is going on and what is needed to move the situation forward. Moving the situation forward is the task at hand (or, as noted above, the job).

The only assumption I am making here is that it is important to the other person to “move the situation forward” which might involve:

  • resolving an interpersonal conflict
  • upholding some rule
  • accomplishing the task at hand
  • etc.

Given their goal to move the situation forward, they will assess what is happening and choose the best available response that they believe will enable them to effectively handle the situation they are facing.

I noted above that the idea that this is their best behavior in the moment was the most important part of the BRR.  This is true because making this assumption is the the only way we can  begin to understand the behavior of the other person. Clearly what they have done  is not the best possible.

To put it another way, of all the options available to the person in that situation, the behavior you observed is what they chose to exhibit in order to deal with what was going on.  It was the best choice available to them at the time.

While it is possible that the other person would choose an “inferior” behavior, given the situation, this assumption won’t help you to understand the other person with the goal of improving your relationship with them.

And, think about it. Unless they, are engaging in some form of self-sabotage, they will default to doing whatever they can to  deal with the situation in which they find themselves.

This is the Best action available to them.  Not the best possible. So, if this is the best possible, in the moment, it is fair to consider what elements led up to the choice of the behavior that came out.

Or. to put in another way…

  • How they could act in such a manner?
  • What were they thinking?
  • What were they trying to accomplish?
  • and so forth

To be sure these are all excellent questions.

I mentioned three elements above. I will discuss element #1 psychological state below.  and I will address how they view the situation (their Model) in my next post (part 3) and what they are capable of doing (their skill sets) in part 4.

Element #1: Their psychological state.

The other day, I had to make a phone call in which I had to give some unwanted information to another person.

I clearly understood the situation (my Model was accurate) and I clearly had the interpersonal skills (my skill sets) were more than adequate.

The conversation did not go as planned!

I got nervous and my stress negatively impacted my actions.

Stress is a psychological state. Another word for stress is anxiety.

I have written about both stress, per se, and anxiety, specifically in other posts including:

  • Mastering Stress (December 2016)
  • A Three Part Series on Anxiety  (February and March 2020)

By the way, you can access ALL of my posts by category, title and date by clicking on the Index tab in the upper right hand corner of the home page.

When you are impacted by stress or anxiety, you are nervous and it is difficult to think straight.  Under these conditions, your decision making and your choices for how to act can be impaired.

This is what happened to me.

The point here is this:

In the process of understanding the behavior you observe (in others) or exhibit (in your own case) and moving the relationship along, it may benefit you to assess, as best you can, the psychological state of the person you are interacting with.

Do they appear to be stressed, sad, anxious, or angry?  If so, you might consider disengaging if you can or minimizing how you engage with them.

A prior post:

You Are The Target of Someone’s Anger A Three Part series. (February and March 2017)

Remember that nothing I say is designed to excuse the behavior you observe (or exhibit).  I am attempting in these posts to give you some guidelines for understanding the behavior in question.

Part 3 will appear in 2 weeks and will cover the concept of one’s Model