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

Understanding Others and Ourselves to Build (or improve) our relationships. A 4-part series. Part 1: Overview

This is the first of a 4 part series of posts dealing with the topic of relationships.

We all have relationships with others.  Some are healthy, others not so much.

The reality, however, is that we don’t think much about or really understand what relationships are.

My goal in this post is to offer some perspective on relationships.  This information should be useful if you are trying to build a relationship with someone, improve a relationship that isn’t working, or, perhaps, survive a relationship that exists and impacts you but which you can’t really change.

The four parts in this series are:

  • Part 1:  Overview
  • Part 2: Assume “Doing the best they can”
  • Part 3: Understand their Model
  • Part 4: Look at their skill sets and summary

Part 1:  Overview

Your view of relationships.

If I ask you to tell me about your “relationships”, what comes to mind?

Do you think about specific people:

  • spouse,
  • a co-worker,
  • friends,
  • teammates on your sports teams,
  • a teacher,
  • your in-laws

Are there specific individuals you don’t think about:

  • the “clerk” behind the counter at the store, the airport, the office, or on the tech support call
  • the cop who might pull you over
  • your doctor, mechanic, or gardener
  • the neighbor with the noisy dogs
  • the in-law you don’t particularly like
  • your boss or subordinate at work

I’m suggesting that all of the above are “relationships”.  And, it is in your best interest to adjust your thinking to this point of view.

A Working Definition:

An interpersonal relationship can be understood as a “significant” connection or association which exists between you and another person.

What does this mean?

The term significant refers to any connection which:

  • has some value or importance to you or influences you (as you define it) in some ways
  •  could have a negative impact on your “life” because you failed to recognize the connection as “significant”

Examples of “significant” others include:

  • your spouse
  • your girl/boy friend
  • your parents or siblings
  • your boss
  • your co-workers
  • your landlord
  • the policeman who pulls you over
  • the clerk who is processing your “materials” at the airport, the store, the courthouse, the DMV, the Social Security Office, on the phone (tech person)
  • professionals (doctors, nurses, accountants)

The term excludes any interaction in which you and the other person are mere “placeholders” and have no meaningful “value” to each other in the situation.

Examples of “place holders” could include:

  • standing in line with other people at the grocery store
  • saying “good morning” or “How are you?” as a passing greeting

The term relationship only refers to a connection between you and the other person.

The term does not:

  • imply any positive or negative qualities inherent in the relationship
  • tell you anything about the individuals in the relationship
  • include any reference to other elements which may define a specific connection

Relationship Rules:

There are many different so-called Rules about relationships.

The one you may be most familiar with is the Golden Rule which states:

Do unto others as you would like them to do unto others.

Or, Stephen Covey’s “rule”:

Seek first to be understand and then to be understood.

Or, maybe, what I call the Platinum Rule which states:

Do unto others as they would like to be done unto.

While each of these rules has both advantages and disadvantages, I am suggesting that there is a Basic Relationship Rule (BRR) which has several important advantages over these other rules and which can be applied to all of your relationships.

The Basic Relationship Rule (BRR)

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

  • Everyone: Every participant in the relationship including you and the other person.
  • Always: The assumption is that, if the action is personally meaningful, each person will default to an action that will be maximally productive in the situation.
  • Best: The best they can do in the moment. Not the best possible.
  • Psychological State: any obvious indicator of strong emotions such as sadness, anxiety or anger
  • Model: Their personal perception of the current event.
  • Skill sets: The behaviors they can use to deal with the situation.

The advantages of the BRR are that it:

  • 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 equally to both the other person and you

Judging, validating, and/or condoning…

The basic relationship rule is intended to help you avoid judging the actions of another participant in the relationship so that you can validate and understand the behavior you are observing.

It does not require that you condone or accept the other person’s behavior as appropriate.

  • judging: labeling the behavior in such a way that eliminates further understanding and can exacerbate any problems which might exist in the relationship. Judging the behavior of another person in a relationship can effectively end any further constructive interactions.
  • validate: accept as their best, at the moment, NOT the best possible.
  • understand: gain some insight into the behavior you are observing.
  • condone, accept and appropriate: imply a set of standards that can, if necessary, be applied later to the behavior

Validating  helps you maintain the relationship, if this is your choice, while you devise a plan to intervene and facilitate any changes which might improve the relationship.

Validating also allows you to continue to accept the other person while you might not accept their behavior.

Understanding can provide some direction in choosing an intervention.

I will explain this in more detail below.

The Role of Emotions in Relationships

As I have written in other posts and in my two Amazon best-selling books, I view emotions as tools which provide you with important information about how you perceive your surroundings and which can be both mastered and strategically deployed.

Emotions are important in the context of relationships because they are:

  • a source of information about how you perceive what is going on between you
  • the filter through which you are interpreting the other person’s actions
  • a window into how they perceive what is going on.  tells you where you need to focus your attention to improve the relationship

So, you now have an overview of both how I will define relationships going forward and a familiarity with relationship rules including the Basic Relationship Rule which I will discuss in detail.

Part 2 will be published in two weeks and will cover the idea that we need to assume that others are doing their best.

 

 

ANNOUNCEMENT: Updated Website Gives You Easier Access to ALL of My Informative Posts

As I am writing this, there are over 150 posts dealing with emotions on my blog.

But,to be honest, it hasn’t been easy to access all of this information.

So, I decided to do something about that.

In this post, I am announcing that I have updated my website to make it easier for you to directly access the specific information about emotions that you want.

How you choose to access my site is now completely up to you.

I have made two main changes.

I. CURRENT POSTS

The first is the inclusion of a Blog tab which takes you to the CURRENT posts.

II. ALL PAST POSTS

The second is the inclusion of the Index to All Posts tab.  This is for PAST posts and gives you a drop-down menu which lists the five topic categories into which my posts can be divided.

The categories are:

  • Anger,
  • Mastering Emotions as Tools,
  • Other Emotions,
  • Relationships and Emotions,
  • Words and Emotions and
  • Uncategorized. (These are posts that do not address a topic specifically related to any content category.  This post is an example.)

When you click on the category you want, you gain access to any post in that category. You may have  to scroll down a bit as there are lots of posts in each category. Clicking on the title you want takes you directly to the post.

Enjoy.

Oh, and I should add that I have included a Contact Me tab if you have a question or want to suggest a topic you would like me to cover.

Please note:

  • I do not collect, sell, or monetize email addresses.
  • You will never receive an “offer” from me in your email.

In two weeks, I will begin a 4-part series of posts entitled:

Understanding Others and Ourselves to Build (or improve) our relationships. 

All the best,

Ed

Ed Daube, Ph.D., The Emotions Doctor

5 Steps to Master Any Emotion as a Strategic Tool

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:

  1. While everyone talks about managing emotions, few authors talk about mastering emotions. (Mastering one’s emotions includes and goes beyond managing one’s emotions.)
  2. Emotions are critical components in successfully dealing with issues that primarily involve you (self-control) and with issues that involve others (relationships).

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.

Widening the concept of a tool:

While you may not think of diverse objects in this way, you are surrounded by “tools” in your life.

  • Your car is a tool to get you where you want to go.
  • Your cell phone is a tool to complete a variety of tasks including, but not limited to, having a conversation with someone.
  • Your TV remote is a tool you use to control how you consume content.
  • Your computer is a tool.
  • Your sewing machine is a tool.
  • Your emotions are tools, the function of which is to alert you to and prepare you to deal with your surroundings

Each tool has a purpose.  To get the most out of the tool, you need to learn to master it.

Definition of “strategic”:

  • carefully designed or planned to serve a particular purpose or advantage. (Oxford Languages)

To use a tool strategically involves both using the right tool for the job and using that tool in the right way.

Hence, you can use a hammer to pound a screw into a wall to hang a picture but a screwdriver is the right tool for the job.

I used to use my smartphone primarily as a phone.  This is the right use of the tool.

It is not strategically using the tool in the right way…I am now learning to use it as a camera, an internet portal, a storage unit which provides access to important articles and books, a stopwatch, a personal assistant (Siri), etc.

I think you get the idea.

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.

Mastering Emotions

Few articles talk about managing or mastering ALL emotions.

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.

  1. self-awareness
  2. manage your own arousal
  3. understand the message of each emotion
  4. assess the match between your emotion and the situation in which you find yourself
  5. 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.

Taking a step back does three things…

  1. It provides you with some physical safety if you need it given the situation.
  2. It “removes” you somewhat from the situation so you can be more objective.
  3. It reminds you to lower your arousal.

Taking a deep breath (or 2) does three things..

  1. The deep breath “relaxes” you somewhat.
  2. This lowers your physical arousal level just enough.
  3. The deep breath gives you provides some psychological distance and gives you additional time to think about what is going on.

The important point about your arousal level is this.  According to the Yrkes-Dodson law, you don’t have to completely relax to be effective, you only need to relax enough so that you are not overly energized.

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.

  • anger: You perceive a threat you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.  Anger prepares you for war.
  • fear: you perceive a threat that can kill you.  Fear prepares you for escape.
  • sadness: you perceive a situation in which you have lost something or someone that is important to you. Sadness prepares you for withdrawal.
  • happy: you perceive a situation in which you are engaged with an activity that is enjoyable.  Happy prepares you to engage and involve yourself.
  • guilt: you perceive a situation in which you have done something wrong.  Guilt prepares you to make things right.
  • anxiety: you perceive a situation in which some future event might occur which could have unwanted consequences.  Anxiety prepares you to either retreat (distress) or prepare (eustress) yourself for that event.

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.

Your initial perception is accurate…

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.

Your initial perception is not accurate…

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.

Emotional mastery can also help you improve your own life by helping you become more effective in meeting the goals you set.

Mastering your emotions also opens up opportunities to be more effective in your relationships with others because you can apply the same principles of emotion mastery to dealing with others who direct their emotions at you.

 

Hope versus Optimism

I was watching the Rachel Maddow Show the other day and she was interviewing Senator Warnock from Georgia about the restrictive legislation just passed in his home State seriously restricting voting “rights”.

Rachel commented to the Senator that it must be difficult not to give up hope with all of the restrictive legislation being presented in Republican states.

Senator Warnock replied, “I didn’t say I was optimistic.”

This got me thinking as I really did not consider the difference between being hopeful and being optimistic.

In fact, I always thought that “hopeful” and “optimistic” were basically the same.

And, when I googled the two, that is what I found.  Optimism and hopeful are listed as synonyms.

But, Senator Warnock, implied that they were different.

And, maybe, they are.  But, how?

Here is my take……

Perhaps, being hopeful is looking toward a specific future outcome with the idea that it may or may not happen.

I choose to play the California Lottery each week because it is fun, involves a negligible expense, and, if I win, as I hope I will, there are lots of things I would like to do with the income.

Because of the incredible odds against my winning, however, I am not at all optimistic that my ticket will have all the winning numbers.

So, perhaps the distinction that Senator Warnock was alluding to was that while he was hopeful that he, and others, would be successful in combating the slew of laws restricting voting rights and that this hope would continue to fuel those collective efforts, he was not optimistic that success, at the State level, would be successful (at least in the short run).

“Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it.” —Barack Obama.

Hope is a feeling that can be uplifting and motivating.

Hope says that what you hope for is feasible, desirable and worth working (fighting) for.

At some point, as you get closer to that which you desire, you become optimistic that it is, indeed, in reach.  And, you double your efforts to obtain it.

To the extent that this is true, you don’t want to give up hope because what you hope for seems to be very much out of reach.

The lack of hope (hopelessness) leads to resignation and, possibly, depression.

This is why you hold on to your hope and work and fight for what you want.

Hopefully (pun intended), your efforts bear fruit and your hope morphs into optimism.

So, you don’t need optimism to maintain hope.

And, hope is often sufficient to motivate action.

The difference between hope and optimism is basically the time frame in which the possibility of something happening becomes a likely probability.

Hope and optimism are emotions that can, and frequently are, strategically deployed as tools to motivate actions taken to produce impactful change.

You just need to know, appreciate and not be confused by the difference between the two.

 

Using Your Emotions as Tools-A Suggested Guide for Women (A 51 minute video)

This is a link to a video (and audio) of a podcast I did with Bernadette Boas.  Her Podcast is entitled “Shedding the Bitch Radio”

For readers of this blog, the “bitch” referred to above is any emotion that might be problematic for women.

When I learned of the podcast, I emailed Bernadette and suggested that the notion that women might want to eliminate or “shed” their emotions might disempower women and that I would welcome the opportunity to offer a different way for women to  view and strategically deploy their emotions as powerful tools.

While I do not present myself as a spokesperson for women, I do know about emotions.  Bernadette asked me to appear on her podcast.

I highly recommend this video both to you as my readers and to anyone you believe might benefit from it.

Yes, the focus is on women but men would also benefit from learning both how women perceive us (I am a man after all.) and how to more adaptively interact with women.

Throughout the podcast, Bernadette led the discussion and I responded to her questions with suggestions that she, as a woman, found useful.

She and I talked about a wide ranging variety of topics including:

  • what emotions are
  • the emotions cycle
  • the “non-difference” between men’s and women’s anger
  • how different “display rules” dictate what is emotionally “appropriate” for men verses women
  • the emotion myths
  • the power of anger
  • how and why men demean or devalue women’s anger
  • how women can strategically deploy their anger to effectively impact their interactions with men
  • the Basic Relationship Rule as a key to understanding others and dealing with anger that is directed by men toward women
  • a suggested strategy for dealing with others who are yelling at you and the reason this strategy is effective (it isn’t what you might think)

Here are the links to the audio and videos.  Feel free to pass them on.

How do I get rid of the feeling of resentment towards a friend? A follow-up to my last post.

A question was posted on Quora.com which caught my attention.  The question addressed the emotion of resentment and since my last post also discussed resentment, addressing this question gave me  an opportunity to expand on my last post.

The actual question was:

How do I get rid of the feeling of resentment towards a friend? Throughout my whole life, I’ve been everyone’s therapist/babysitter/agony aunt, but no one has been there for me, so it makes me feel angry and alone.

What I liked about  the question was that it touched upon many of the issues I discussed in my last post.

The short, and inadequate, answer to the question is that you don’t “get rid of the feeling”.  Rather, you master it as a tool to improve your life and your relationships.

The more involved answer is……

The questioner clearly addresses the emotions of resentment, anger and “being alone” (more accurately, the feelings here might be lonely or abandoned).

Recall that all emotions convey a message to you about how you perceive what is going on between you and those with whom you are interacting.

The Emotions as Tools Model advises that once you recognize the emotional reaction of resentment, you need to determine whether the perception which led to the emotional reaction is accurate or not and then choose how you want to respond to  what is going on.

The “head’s-up” here is that you should not take action on your emotional reaction.  Rather, you need to assess the situation so that you can choose a response.

As I discussed in my last post, the message of the emotion of resentment is that you perceive the other person as hurting or wronging you by utilizing some advantage that they have over you.

So, in the above question, this person is  saying she resents her “friends” who have relied on her to be their therapist/babysitter/agony aunt, but (have) not been there for (her).

The feeling of resentment appears to be elicited by the perception that she has been wronged by her friends who have taken advantage of (abused) that friendship in that they have not reciprocated and supported her when she needed it.

This reflects the message of resentment.

She believes that she provided these services to her friends because (emphasis added) they were friends and expected that they, again because of the friendship, would be there for her.

Aside:  Is this a reasonable expectation?  Yes.

The resentment reflects her perception that they used (or took advantage of) her based on the value of their friendship with her.

The message of anger is that she perceives a threat that she believes she can eliminate if she throws enough force at it.  Anger prepares her for battle.

Again, an aside… I’m guessing here but her question about how to get rid of the emotion she is experiencing suggests to me that she does not want to take the action she is thinking about taking toward her “friends”.  This could include telling them off, ending the friendship, etc.

In her case, the questioner seems to be saying that her friends are a “threat” to her beliefs about friendship and reciprocity.  It could also be that she perceives a threat to her feelings of endearment.  She may care deeply about her friends and her view of them as virtuous individuals and this “view” is now being challenged by their actions. While she was always available to them when they needed her, they abandoned her when she needed them.

That she feels “alone” is consistent with and related to her feeling of anger in that it expresses her perception that her friends (as I noted above) have “abandoned” her when she needed them.

Please note that I am not saying that her perceptions are correct.  They may be.  Mastering an emotion involves accepting the emotions as “valid” and then assessing the situation to confirm, or deny, one’s initial perception.

In my last post, I provided a list of several questions that should be asked in order to determine the validity of the perceptions which elicit the emotion of resentment.

There are three possibilities here:

  1. Her friends actually did “wrong” her and knew what they were doing.
  2. Her friends actually did “wrong” her but it was a misunderstanding.
  3. Her friends did not “wrong” her. She misinterpreted what they did.

The point is that she needs to determine what actually happened and whether her friends actually did “wrong” (and abandon) her.

And, also, whether she is, indeed, alone.  Her friends may or may not be aware that she needs them for help, support, friendship, etc.

These are the questions:

  • What is actually happening in your situation?
  • What did the other person actually do?
  • To what extent was I wronged, slighted, insulted or denied my “fair share”?
  • To what extent did the other person take advantage of me? If they took advantage of me,  what was involved (position, power, gender, our friendship)?
  • Was I actually “wronged” or is there some other explanation for what they did including a possible misunderstanding (by you or the other person),  poor communication skills, inadequate social skills, etc.

Once these questions are addressed, it is possible for the questioner to choose how she wants to respond to her friends.

If she misunderstood her friend’s actions or intent, she can admit this, apologize, renew her feelings toward her friends and move on.

It is, however, important to note that she needs to be specific when she talks to her friends.

In other words, while she could say that her friends “were not there for me”, it is far better for her to say specifically that her friends did not step up to baby sit for me, were not there when I needed to talk to someone, etc..  Being specific helps to avoid any misunderstandings and enables her friends to directly address her concerns.

She has options:

  • She can express her disappointment  regarding her friend’s (specific behavior)
  • She can point out that she is hurt and does not understand the reason her friends did not (specific behavior)
  • She can ask her friends what was their reason for not (specific behavior)

To summarize, the questioner clearly experienced and acknowledged the emotions of resentment, anger and “being alone”. Her question implies that she did not particularly like either the feelings or the actions the feeling motivated her to take and decided she wanted to “get rid of” the emotion.

My response, from an emotions as tools perspective, suggested that she master the emotion, which involves acknowledging what you feel, taking a physical and psychological step back from the situation, assessing her initial perception and choosing an adaptive response.

 

How to master the emotion of Resentment

When you perceive  that you have been mistreated, slighted, wronged, or victimized and taken advantage of by someone and you were not in a position to do anything about it (emphasis added), the emotion you experience is resentment.

To put it another way, resentment involves the perception that someone has taken advantage of, or victimized, you because they have an “asset” such as power, position, or influence that you do not have.

This is the message of the emotion of resentment.

By contrast, if you were focusing only on the issue that someone has wronged or victimized you without the element of some unfair advantage, this action on their part would represent a threat and the emotion you would be feeling is anger.

I will address anger specifically below.

Resentment can be accompanied by other emotions including frustration, hostility, bitterness, other “hard feelings” and, of course, anger.

The downside of resentment is that your self-esteem, self-worth or value can be diminished if you put yourself down relative to the other person.

On the upside, however, short-term resentment can bolster self- esteem by allowing you to blame others for what may be your issues.

“Blaming others” is not, however, using your emotions either adaptively or strategically.

Adaptively and strategically deploying your emotions is the approach advocated by the Emotions as Tools Model which focuses on mastering one’s emotions in order to improve your life and your relationships.

Let’s unpack this approach from an Emotions as Tools perspective:

How do you master resentment?

In order to answer this question, I need to revisit the emotions cycle.

Remember that you constantly scan your surroundings for any “threat”.

When a threat is perceived, the amygdala in your brain reacts, generates an alert which triggers the sensation of an emotion and prepares your body to take action consistent with the emotion and the perceived threat.

This reaction happens unconsciously and is what you are referring to when you say “I resent (whatever is your target)”

At the same time as this reactive message goes out, a signal is sent to the cerebral cortex which is the thinking part of your brain.

Emotional mastery engages the cerebral cortex to assess the situation and choose how you want to respond to what is happening.

Remember the message of resentment.

When you resent another person, you have perceived them as hurting you by utilizing an advantage that they have over you.

Thus, there are two parts to this interaction.  One is the wrong that may have been done to you and the second is the use of an unfair advantage.

From this perspective, you need to question your perception which elicited the emotion.

And, so that you can do this as objectively as possible, you need to take a psychological step back from the situation to create some “space” between you and the other person. This is not easy and you may have to get some help to do it. But, it is doable.

Mastering an emotion involves…

  1.  Accepting that no-one causes you to feel anything.  You create what you feel by how you perceive what is happening to you.
  2. Questioning the message of the emotion in terms of the extent to which it informs you about…
  • what is actually happening in your situation
  • what actions, if any, are needed to bring about adaptive changes in your situation and
  • the energy you have access to in order to facilitate taking those actions.

Let’s apply this to the emotion of resentment…

An important element in the Emotions as Tools Model is the awareness that, while you may or may not have been victimized, wronged or taken advantage of, you are not “powerless” and may have options available to you to deal with the situation you are in.

Here are the questions you need to ask and get answers to:

  • What is actually happening in your situation?
  • What did the other person actually do?
  • To what extent was I wronged, slighted, insulted or denied my “fair share”?
  • To what extent did the other person take advantage of me? If they took advantage of me,  what was involved (position, power, gender, my situation)?
  • Was I actually “wronged” or is there some other explanation for what they did including a possible misunderstanding (by you or the other person),  poor communication skills, inadequate social skills, etc.

If there was no “wrong”, you may only need to clear up any misunderstanding.

If there was a “wrong”, then you need to ask and answer several additional questions:

  • Given that there was a “wrong” which led to my being “taken advantage of”, what are my options for “making the situation right” ?
  • What options do I have available to me which won’t put me at greater risk including office policy and power differentials between me and the other person? (This acknowledges the “advantage” the other person may have.)
  • Can I approach this situation directly or do I need to take a more indirect approach?

If there was, indeed, a “wrong” then you will need to engage the emotion of anger and you will need to “forgive” the other person.

WhileI have addressed both anger and forgiveness in other posts, let me give a quick overview…..

Anger is a primary emotion which serves as a primitive threat detector.  Anger subconsciously alerts you to and prepares your body to engage with and eliminate a perceived threat.

The message of Anger is that you perceive another as a threat and you are ready to go to war to eliminate the threat.

In the context of resentment, anger is important because it provides the energy to pursue your plan to “right the perceived wrong”.

The concept of forgiveness is NOT that it absolves anyone of any responsibility for their actions.  Forgiveness is for YOU and involves the process of stepping away from and disengaging from the other person so that you can focus on your options.

So, you experience resentment, assess that you have been both wronged and taken advantage of, and use your anger to develop and carry out a plan to make things right.

If you were only wronged but no unfair advantage was utilized, your resentment resolves into anger and you can pursue your plan.

A reminder..

When you experience yourself feeling resentful toward someone, keep in mind that resentment is often a compound emotion which includes anger.

Because anger is both a very powerful emotion and a very familiar emotion, you may identify your anger before you identify your resentment.

I am not saying that one feeling is more predominant over the others.  In fact, they are all mixed together.

Dealing with mixed feelings is often difficult because you may only be aware of one feeling and may not recognize that others are present.

So, you may have to ask yourself, when you are angry or resentful of another person, if there are other feelings present.  If so, label each one accordingly and attempt to “master” it as best you can.   As anger and resentment are the strongest emotions here, once you master them, the others may just resolve themselves.

And, I NEED TO EMPHASIZE, if you believe that the situation you are in represents a risk that you do not feel you can safely handle alone, seek help from a professional.  Dealing with emotions such as resentment in any context in which someone is taking advantage of you can be dangerous so proceed with caution if necessary.

 

 

Asking Questions: A Critical Tool You Can Use to Master Emotions

I have discussed the Emotions Cycle (EC) in numerous previous posts.

This cycle describes both how the emotions we experience are elicited and how we can strategically deploy those emotions as tools.

Recall that the EC involves our constantly scanning our surroundings.

This unconscious process is:

  •  protective in that we continuously  and automatically scan for any threats,
  • informative as it alerts us to any situation which requires that we quickly take action to insure our “survival” and
  • energizing as it automatically prepares our bodies to take the necessary action.

There are at least two basic categories of emotions: Survival based emotions and Engaging emotions.

  1. The “survival” focussed emotions are primitive threat detectors and include emotions such as anger, fear, disgust, anxiety.  These primitive threat detectors prepare us for “fight or flight”.
  2. The “engaging” emotions such as happy, anticipation, and excitement prepare us to enthusiastically interact  with what  is going on.

Once we experience an emotion, the conscious part of our brain kicks in and provides us with the opportunity to validate the emotion.

Validation involves:

  •  accepting that the emotion is giving us information about how we perceive what is going on
  • examining the extent to which our initial perception matches what is actually happening and
  • matching the emotional response to the “reality” of what is going on in the situation.

Once, we determine the degree to which what we think is happening matches what is actually happening, we can choose how we want to respond to the situation.

The process of validating our emotions involves asking questions.

The Process of Asking Questions

While it sounds easy to “just ask questions”, the process of asking the right question in order to elicit useful answers isn’t easy as it involves:

  • lowering your arousal level so that you can…
  • focus on the situation at hand and
  • remaining both mindful and somewhat objective, or detached, from that situation, so that you can…
  • understand the nature of the informative answers you are seeking.

Indeed,  if we don’t ask the “right” questions, the answers we get won’t be of much use to us in generating an adaptive response to our situation.

The “right” question is the one that focuses your attention on, and attempts to gain insight into, what is actually going on in your situation that elicited the emotion you are experiencing.

So, let’s take a closer look at both the process of asking questions in the context of gaining insight into your situation by validating your emotions and exploring some examples of questions you might ask.

Step 1: Create safety.

Before you can effectively deal with any emotional situation, you have to create some “safety” in that situation.

So, the first step, which prepares you to ask questions, is to take a step back from what is going on and the second step is to take a deep breath.

The first step creates physical safety and the second creates psychological safety.  If your situation only involves you, then taking a deep breath, or two, is all you need to do.  The deep breath has a calming effect on the body and provides an opportunity for you to  increase your objectivity.  The more intense the emotion, the more problematic it will be to remain objective or “detached”.  But, it is doable and the more you work at maintaining some detachment, the easier it gets.

(Note: Remember that emotions and feelings are, in this context, the same thing.)

Step 2: Identify your initial feeling.

You can gain some insight into your emotional reaction by asking:

What am I feeling here?

The emotion you initially experience is elicited by your subconscious perception of what is going on.  It is influenced by the present environment, the other person’s behavior, perceived differences in status between you and the other person, your own past and any emotional “baggage” you may bring with you into the present.  This baggage can involve previous situations which seem (but may not be) to be similar to the present, your insecurities or doubts, your interpersonal skill sets, etc.

The important issue here is to remember that your initial emotional reaction may, or may not, be accurate.

It’s nice if only one feeling comes up but sometimes you may experience several (or mixed) feelings.

You will need to accept whatever answer comes up and avoid judging (in any way) what you are feeling.

Accepting the feeling is the first step to validating it.  You do this by remembering that:

  • you are entitled to feel whatever you feel
  • you may not be entitled to act on the feeling
  • this is your initial reaction
  • you will be exploring this feeling to see how well it fits the situation
  • you can change the feeling.

Step 3: Clarify the situation.

You can gain some insight into the situation you are facing by asking:

What is actually happening here?

This is where you attempt to be as objective as you can.

This question encourages you to look at both what appears to be happening (your initial perception) and what might be happening (other ways to view your situation).

Other questions include:

  • Could I be missing something here?
  • What interpretations or judgements am I making about the other person and what he/she is doing?
  • What is the other person trying to accomplish here?
  • Could his/her actions be the result of a lack of ability to express his/her needs in a more appropriate way?

NOTE:

  1. It is important to note that you are not excluding the possibility that your initial perception is accurate and that the other person’s behavior is both inappropriate and represents the actual threat your feeling is telling you exists.
  2. By asking the above questions, you are either redirecting your thoughts so as to change how you perceive what is happening and your feelings about it or you are confirming your initial perception as a precursor to taking action.

Step 4: Bring your feelings in line with the situation.

This step involves aligning what you feel with what is going on.  Alignment will help you choose an adaptive response to your situation (Step 5).

Alignment asks:

To what extent does what I am feeling match what is going on?

Here, your intent is to bring what you are perceiving and feeling in line with what is actually happening.

Other questions you might ask include:

  • Does the intensity of my feelings match the situation?
  • Do I have several feelings I need to consider?

Now, that you have decided what is going on and how you feel about it, the next step choose an adaptive response.

Step 5: Choose an adaptive response.

The question you need to ask here is:

What is the best way for me to respond to what is going on?

What often happens when someone reacts to an emotional event is that they overreact, get a response from others they later regret, and blame the emotion for “causing” them to do what they did.

They might say, “If I wasn’t so angry, I would not have (done something stupid, acted out aggressively, hurt someone, etc.).  While it may be true that if the emotion were not present, the inappropriate action would not have occurred, it is NEVER true that the emotion CAUSED the inappropriate action.  What we do is ALWAYS our CHOICE!

Other questions you might ask here include:

  • What are my options for expressing my feelings?
  • Are there “display” issues I need to consider?
  • What actions do I want to take?
  • What are the consequences of each option?
  • What result am I hoping for?
  • What if I do nothing?

This 5 step process uses questions to move you through the Emotions Cycle.

Final notes.

You have now  completed the Emotions Cycle starting with your initial unconscious perception and ending with your conscious choice of what actions you want to take.

You did this by asking relevant questions, paying attention to the answers to those questions, changing your perceptions as dictated by those answers, and choosing an adaptive response.

 

Dealing with the Emotion of Guilt. Part 2: The Steps

This is the second part of a 2-part series designed to both educate you about the emotion of guilt and provide you with the steps you need to take to deal with and resolve the emotion.

In part 1, I discussed several emotions which you might experience when you consider some action you took in the past that yielded results you did not anticipate or want.  The one emotion I wanted to specifically focus on was guilt.  I defined and explained this emotion.  I also introduced you the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR) and listed the 6 steps.

In this post, I will discuss each of the 6 steps and tell you what you need to do to implement them.

Enjoy.

Steps 1 -3 focus on you and the other person.

Steps  4-6 involve you dealing with your guilt.

Step 1: Assess the situation. 

The emotion of guilt tells you that you believe you have done something wrong.  Your first step is to review what you did, in light of what happened after you did, including any consequences, and determine whether or not you did anything wrong.

It is entirely possible that you did nothing wrong and that your guilt is not giving you accurate information.

Step 2: Accept responsibility for your actions.

 If you did something wrong, it is imperative that you accept responsibility  for your actions.  Your guilt is motivating you to make the situation right and accepting responsibility for what you did is critical.  If you don’t feel responsible, you won’t see any need to take corrective actions.

Step 3: Make it right with the other person (if possible and appropriate). 

Here you decide what needs to be done to correct whatever it is that you did. This might involve nothing more than sincerely apologizing.

(Incidentally, I wrote a blog entitled: Saying “I’m Sorry” in a Business Setting. My Take in March 2019)

Or, it could involve additional actions.  What you need to do will  vary with the situation, what you did, the context in which you did it, your relationship with the other person and so forth.

You may need to reestablish your credibility, your reliability, your reputation, your honesty and so forth.

Step 4: Understand your actions.

In order to resolve your guilt, you need to understand what led up to your doing what you did. Please note that understanding does not eliminate responsibility which is why you had to take responsibility for your actions in Step 2.

This is where the BRR comes in.

The BRR reminds you that you did the best you could given your Model of the World (how you perceived what was going on at the time) and your Skill Sets (what actions were available to you to deal with your situation).

Your best, in the situation, was not THE best possible action. It was just the best you could do.  Clearly, you need to figure out what you need to do so you have more options available to you going forward.

Your actions stemmed from your perception, understanding and instant analysis of what was happening at the time. Clearly, since you did not get the results you wanted (You’re feeling guilty about what you did!), you need to look at your Model and your interpersonal skills, at the time and ask some important questions.

  • Did you misinterpret what was going on?
  • Did you overreact?
  • Were you defensive when you didn’t need to be?
  • Were you feeling awkward, embarrassed, or inadequate and, therefore, over-compensated?

Perhaps, the actions you took came about because you did not know how to respond to what was happening.  You may have correctly understood what was going down but did not know what to do.

This happens with men who may feel anxious and inadequate in dealing with others and, because the emotion of anxiety leaves them feeling “weak”, go to their anger (as a secondary emotion), feel empowered, and make dumb decisions.

Once you understand and have learned from the actions you took, you are better prepared to make some changes in yourself about how you view and respond in your interactions with others.

Step 5: Forgive yourself.

I have written several articles on forgiveness.

The concept here is that you give yourself permission to move on. You did what you did, you accepted responsibility for your actions, you understand what precipitated those actions and you have made both amends and changes.

Now, it is time to remind yourself that you can let the past go of the past and move on.

Step 6: Let the guilt dissolve.

I’ve added this step as a reminder to you that, just because you have done all the other steps, the guilt you feel may not just go away.

So, when (or if) you experience guilt when you think about your past actions, this is normal.  Should this happen, remind yourself that you have done everything necessary involving the incident from your past and you are ready to move on.

Do this whenever it is needed and the guilt will, in time, dissolve and go away.

You can do it.