Criticism as gotten a bad rap. Learn to strategically deploy it using Emotions as Tools Model and the Basic Relationship Rule.


We live in a world today when words such as criticism, understanding, accommodation, and compromise are “dirty” words.

Because we are so siloed in our own belief systems, the world becomes very binary.  I am right and you are wrong. Criticism is seen as an attack.

While I can’t address all of the above issues, I will attempt to shed some light on the topic of criticism. 

When you think about the idea of criticism, you probably think of a situation in which..

  • you were told you had messed up
  • you were presented with negative issues about yourself
  • you were demeaned or marginalized or felt attacked
  • the person delivering the critical comments to you wasn’t very nice

All of the above examples imply an undesirable situation in which you are the target of hurtful comments directed at you by someone who may, or may not, have your best interests in mind.

This is the typical way we tend to view criticism and it is the reason that criticism has gotten a bad rap and is viewed as something we want to avoid.

In this post, I will suggest that you change your approach to criticism, utilize the concepts from the Emotions as Tools Model and strategically deploy criticism by view it as a potential source of useful information and not getting emotionally trapped by the way in which the criticism was delivered.

I am assuming that there is a relationship between you and the other person and that you are not being irrationally (or unsafely) attacked.

Let me give you an example.

I am a college professor. My students tell me that I am good at what I do and I enjoy the teaching experience.

But, it didn’t start out this way.  In fact, I started teaching because I was very anxious about speaking in public.

When I first started teaching, I was terrible.  I read my notes, probably bored my students half to death and avoided any feedback (or criticism) because I was not confident enough to receive it.

At one point, however, I made a crucial decision.

I decided to seek out comments from my students and viewed it as a source of information that might make me a better teacher.

From the comments of my students (favorable and unfavorable), I was able to grow as a professor.

Now, I need to say that it didn’t matter whether the student liked me or not.  The reason for this is that even if a student was just being critical out of a desire to be hurtful, there might be something of value in what he, or she, said.

Put another way, wrong motivation… right information.

I also had to learn to master my own emotional response to the criticism.

Anxiety to anticipation

I received.  I had to change my approach to the information I received from viewing it as a possible threat (anxiety) to viewing it as a possible source of useful information (anticipation).

Anger to acceptance

I had to change my view of the information and the source of that inforrmation not as an attack (anger) but as an opinion to be considered on its face value (acceptance).

These are some of the emotions you might need to master as you lead to deal with criticism…

Anger so that you do not get offended and Attack

Anxiety so that you do not get nervous and Avoid

Guilt so that you do not go into self-blame

Anticipation so that you remain open and receptive

Resentment is that someone has wronged or hurt you by taking advantage of you.  They have an asset (power, gender, position) that you do not and they have exploited that asset to gain an advantage over you.

The Emotions as Tools Model

The Emotions as Tools Model notes that all emotions are just tools that we need to learn to master.

Each emotion conveys a message about how we perceive our surroundings. Emotional mastery happens when we accept our perception, assess the validity of the message for us in that situation, and choose an adaptive response

This approach to emotions is adaptive whether we are seeking to master our own emotions or the emotions directed at us by another person.

The Emotions as Tools Model applied to Criticism

Criticism is just a tool which conveys a message about how the individual delivering the criticism perceives the situation.

Our job in mastering criticism  is two-fold.

  1. We need to master our own emotional response so that we avoid unnecessarily escalating the interaction and cut off communication
  2. We need to master our own emotional response so that we remain open to the possible message of the criticism.

The Basic Relationship Rule (BRR) and Criticism

The BRR states that “Everyone in every situation does the best they can (not the best possible) given their Model of the World (the information they have about the situaiton) and their Skill Sets (the tools they have to engage in the situation they are facing).

Remembering the BRR will help you remain open to the message by attempting, when needed, to understand and avoid judging the individual delivering the criticism (the message).

Understanding the Process of Criticism

There are two aspects of criticism:

How the criticism is delivered (Giving) and how it is received (Taking)

In our discussion so far, I have only addressed the taking aspect of criticism and I would like to explore the important characteristics involved in taking (or receiving criticism).

Regardless of how criticism is delivered (We’ll get to this below.), you always have a choice regarding what you do with the information directed at you.

In the above example of my teaching, I started out with a maladaptive approach to criticism. I avoided it.

Other maladaptive approaches to taking criticism include:

  • demeaning the message and defending oneself before assessing the message for any useful content,
  • demeaning or attacking the messenger,
  • stonewalling,
  • superficial acceptance (yes-but)

Approaching criticism from an Emotions as Tools perspective represents as adaptive receiving of criticism and involves:

  • maintaining a neutral or inquisitive emotional attitude toward the message
  • accepting the message as representative of the perspective of the giver and involves both his Model (how he sees you and the actions you have taken) and his skill sets (the communication tools he can use to get his message across).  This is the BRR.
  • assessing the message (regardless of how it is communicated) for any useful content which might help you grow
  • choosing how you want to respond to the criticism including taking the person for sharing their thoughts or implementing their suggestions.

Note: You can always come back later, if necessary, and revisit the way the criticism was delivered to you, the impact of the delivery on your relationship with the person criticizing you and other interpersonal issues.

In doing the above, you have mastered the criticism and strategically deployed it as a tool to help you grow.

In case you are interested, there are adaptive and malaptive ways of giving criticism as well.

Adaptive giving of criticism involves:

  • being clear that your criticism will be helpful
  • using a non-judgmental communication style to deliver the criticism
  • avoid blaming or assuming you know their reasons for their actions
  • remaining sensitive to both their emotions and your own as you deliver your message
  • clearly stating the behavior you are criticizing and what new behavior you wish to see and that they are capable of doing what you are suggesting
  • making sure that your message is understood
  • successfully “closing” the interaction

Maladaptive giving is

  • judgmental,
  • accusatory,
  • often  non-specific and
  • insensitive.

So, the next time someone criticizes you…

  • Take a deep breath (or two)
  • Take a physical step back from the situation.
  • Assess what is going on.

As a long-time reader of this blog, this should sound very familiar to you.


July 4, 2023— Celebrate TWO “Independences” and the 7 Steps to Emotional Independence.

This is an update of a post from 2021.  At the time, we were in the midst of Covid-19.  Well, Covid is basically “handled” but clearly we, in the US, are still dealing with some significant emotional issues including hate crimes against Asians and Jews and shooting of innocent people going to the wrong address.  Consequently, I believe the message is as appropriate now as it was then.In

In  two weeks  on 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 BOTH our country’s independence (#1), AND your independence from your emotions (#2) if you find yourself making decisions and doing stuff, based on your emotions, that you later regret.

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. 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 mastering 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.

The truth…..

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 Left hand corner of this homepage, click on a category, 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 master (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!

Blaming Your Emotions (Person or Situation) for Your Behavior is Always Inappropriate.

The Statements:

  1. You make me so MAD!”
  2. I wouldn’t have said (or done) THAT if I hadn’t been so MAD!

Sound familiar?

The Facts:

#1 is completely false.

#2 has an element of truth to it but is basically misleading and incorrect and is, essentially the same as #1.

The Explanation:

In my last post, I talked about the Emotions Cycle,  the perception of threat (in the context of heroic behavior, and the two processes of Assuming and Acting As-if

In this post, I am going to expand on my earlier discussion and take in a different direction and talk about the impact of believing that our anger or the actions of another person control us.

Here is the short form of the Emotions Cycle in 4 steps..

  1. starting from the unconscious scanning  for threat,
  2. proceeding through the  unconscious perception of that threat (based on whatever “definition” you have currently “loaded” into your scanning process regarding the situation you are in),and,
  3. moving  from the subconscious to the conscious by taking a deep breath and a step back and assessing the nature of the threat and
  4. choosing an adaptive response.

Steps #1 and #2 happen very fast.

Based on your subconscious “definition” of threat, your brain constantly scans your situation and when what it perceives matches that definition the Brain (via the amygdala and the thalamus) puts your body on “red alert”.

(anger) If the threat is perceived as one you can eliminate, your brain prepares you for war. You become hyper aware of your surroundings, blood is rerooted to “essential” body parts and so forth.

(anxiety) If the threat is a future possibility, you may begin to catastrophise about everything that could go wrong and act as if it is an inevitability that it will go wrong.

(sadness) If an important element in your life has been lost (spouse, opportunity), your red alert involves wanting to shut down, cry, give up and so forth.

(fear) If the threat is going to “kill” you, your red alert leads you to either freeze or flee.

So, the situation (or your perception of the situation) does elicit the initial emotional response.

The red alert is an evolutionary process that evolved to insure your survival. Thus, if the threat is indeed critical to your survival, you want your brain to act fast and elicit or, indeed, cause the correct response.

For our cave dwelling ancestors, this process worked perfectly.  All threats were real (not based solely on perception) and they had to be dealt with quickly or death would result (survival based).  So, having a brain which would act quickly and (seemingly) autonomously was exactly what was needed.

Note: Because this threat detection process and the resultant physical/ emotional protective reaction happens both automatically and very fast, we tend to make the incorrect assumption that our emotions control us.   Our emotions do control the initial emotional reaction but not (as I will discuss below) our emotional response.

 And, this response is both critical and within our control.

As our cave dwelling ancestors and the  environments in which they lived continued to evolve, the thinking part of their brains (the cerebral cortex) became more prominent and gave them the ability to evaluate those environments and make decisions about what actions they wanted to take.

This is where it gets a bit dicey for us today.

The emotional process is initially the same for us as it was for our cave dwelling ancestors….   perceived threat—red alert.

The problem is that..   most of the threats we face are psychological and not survival based.

Hence, while our perception of threat is critical to the process, our perception of threat (today) could be inaccurate or wrong.

Fortunately, we have a mechanism for making critical decisions about the perceived threat: the cerebral cortex.

Yes, it is true that your brain subconsciously puts your body on red alert. And, in that sense, causes the initial emotional (anger, etc) reaction.

But, it is not correct that your brain makes you angry or sad etc (your emotional response).

And this takes us to step #3 and #4 (the modern upgrade).

In steps #3 and #4, the emotional process moves from subconscious to conscious.

The reason for this move is that your cerebral cortex evolved to allow you to assess and decide whether that original definition of threat even applies to your situation.

And, to choose how you want to respond.

So, whether or not you are initially aware of your (underlying) definition of threat is irrelevant.

In addition, the original source of that definition is also largely irrelevant.

What is important is that..

  • the definition of threat elicits the red alert reaction.  The brain just carries it out.
  • it is you who decides the extent to which the definition of threat is even relevant to your present situation.
  • you, ultimately, have control over and can adjust that definition.
  • you always have control over the actions you take regarding your initial emotional reaction.  This is your emotional response.

Statement #1

So, the claim that “You made me mad.” is always false, is often an excuse to justify one’s actions, and usually is an attempt shift responsibility away from the angerer to another person. It is your definition of threat which set-up the emotional reaction and your decision about your situation which kept the reaction going.

Statement #2

Secondly, the statement that “I wouldn’t have said (or done) THAT if I hadn’t been so MAD!”is partially true in that if there were no anger, there probably would not be  inappropriate or stupid behavior.

But, this statement has a rather insidious  implication.  In many respects, this statement is the same as #1 in that it implies that it is the anger that has caused the behavior not the decision of the one who is angry.

So, yes, you got angry and in your heightened state of emotional arousal, you made a dumb decision and did something you later regret. But, you assumed that your initial perception was both inclusive (the only way to explain everything that was happening) and exclusive (the ONLY way to make sense of your situation), neglected to assess your situation and acted as-if your only option was to lash out.

Failing to assess and choose an adaptive response is always on you.

Your brain informed you of a possible threat (elicited anger) and gave you the option of assessing the validity of your definition of threat  and choosing an adaptive effective response.

If you opted out of that choice, the actions you took (and later regretted) were the result.

or, to put it another way…

It is always your perception (based on your definition) of threat that elicits and leads to your initial emotional reaction and it is always your decision (or lack thereof) that causes your emotional response (inappropriate behavior)!

The same logic, by the way, is expressed by the person who says “If I hadn’t been drunk (high or exhausted), I wouldn’t have (you fill in the action).”

Yes, the alcohol (drugs) blurred your logic but it was you who chose to get drunk so the responsibility for what you did rests, solely, on you.

I think you get the point!

Final thoughts!

I am not saying that your anger (or other emotion) is always inappropriate.  Indeed, if the threat is valid (someone violates your boundaries, a future threat needs to be dealt with, etc), then taking adaptive action is what you should be doing.

Appropriately assigning accountability may be required. Blaming never is.

Taking personal responsibility for both your assessment of the situation and the response you choose to make is the critical issue here.  If you are correct, your actions will be effective in dealing with the threat. If you are incorrect in your assessment, you can apologize and make it right.

The choice is always yours.



What are your “emotional” prejudices?

In my last post, I discussed the connection between being emotionally authentic and the emotions cycle.

I also mentioned the concept of “display rules” (cultural/work) which impact which emotions are “appropriate” for women or men to express in a given situation.

In this post, I am digging a bit deeper into this topic albeit from a slightly different perspective— predjudice.

To be prejudiced is to pre-judge a person or situation based on a bias, world view, or preconceived set of assumptions which act as filters through which you view, judge, draw conclusions about, and modify your actions regarding the person or situation you are facing.

While you might not be, and probably are not, aware of your prejudices or may not view what you do as based on a prejudice, these beliefs still powerfully impact how you interact with others.

In a recent episode of “911”, a female firefighter valiantly saves a young victim who was underwater from a traffic accident.  The female firefighter puts herself at risk, stays totally focused, does what she was trained to do and administers CPR.  The “emotions” she expresses while doing her job involve focus, concern, courage and commitment. It is a highly stressful situation in which the survival of the victim is very uncertain.

Once the victim begins to breathe and is out of danger, the firefighter expresses her relief by crying.  She is happy, relieved and decompressing.

While the tears are obvious, the EMT is always in control of herself, is situationally appropriate and it is clear that the tears are an emotional tension release.

Her male partner responds to her by saying ” Is this going to be a regular thing?”

She responds, “Probably”.

From an Emotions as Tools and emotional prejudice  perspective, let’s dive a little deeper into this (fictional) exchange,

I thought the writers hit the nail on the head and very dramatically illustrated several cultural biases against emotional displays.

The male’s comments, while not necessarily demeaning, are clearly derogatory and judgmental and imply that his colleague’s actions might not be “appropriate”. It is clear that he respects his colleague and knows that she did an exceptional job saving the victim. But, he is saying that it isn’t professional (or perhaps too feminine  or “like a woman”) to express this emotion on the job as a first responder.

Interestingly, he responds to the release of tension by also tearing up and says, “Now, you got me doing it. Please don’t tell the guys.”

Or, to put it another way, he did not want to be labelled as weak, overly emotional, unmanly, or out of control by his male peers.

The male labelled his female partner’s emotional display (tears) as “inappropriate”.

Or, to put it another way, women should not cry on the job.

He failed to see that her tears were in the service of relieving tension.  They were not an emotional display of, for example, sadness or frustration which, one could argue, might, or might not be “appropriate”.  He only saw a woman crying and made a snap judgement.

He also, by implication, labelled his own emotional display as “inappropriate”. In his mind, men should not cry.

Again, he failed to see that his tears were both a response to the reduction in stress and an empathic connection with his partner.

Males emotionally judging of females and males emotionally judging themselves or feeling judged by other males are  examples of emotional prejudices and can be problematic.

Emotional Validation

The clear implication in the “scene”  was that the male firefighter was reacting to both the ending of a tense situation and to his female colleague’s tears with his own tears.  This was both a release and an expression of empathy.

And, yet, because of his own prejudices, he chose to invalidate his emotions.

Was his emotional display valid? Yes.

Was it appropriate?

Well, the situation was over and the tension had passed. Both he and his female co-worker were recovering from the emergency. So, psychologically, yes, it was appropriate. And, maybe even according to work display rules (outside of the public’s view), the display may very we’ll have been appropriate.

From the perspective of cultural display rules, however, … no it wasn’t (according to his prejudices) appropriate.

There is a bit of a disconnect here in that typical cultural display rules deem it okay for woman to express tearful emotions as long as the display doesn’t get extreme. Sadness and emotional release are considered a feminine characteristics.

But, he questioned her actions in a professional context which is interesting because it was after the incident, in the firehouse, and did not interfere with anything.

She validated her own emotions when she noted that in the future, under similar circumstances, she would respond in a similar manner.

What are your emotional prejudices”?

  • How do you view female emotions?
  • Can a woman be sad, anxious, hurt, or vulnerable? When and under what circumstances (home, work)?
  • Can a women be angry? When and under what circumstances (home, work)?
  • Can a man be sad, anxious, hurt, or vulnerable? When and under what circumstances (home, work)?
  • Can a man be angry? When and under what circumstances (home, work)?
  • Do you have an emotional double standard in which the display rules for men are different from those that apply to men?

Society does seem to have an emotional double standard.

The best way to determine if you have emotional prejudices is to examine your own thoughts/actions when you implicitly or explicitly judge or criticize the emotional actions of yourself or another person.

If you seem to be judging another person based on an emotion, take a breath, take a step back from the situation, and attempt to make an objective assessment of the situation before you choose an adaptive response to that situation.

If you are a follower of this blog, you will immediately recognize that the recommendations to take a deep breath and a step back and then objectively assess the situation before you decide on a response are the steps involved in mastering emotions as strategic tools.







This is a head’s up on an interesting podcast that drops tomorrow 5/16/23.

A podcast Create the Courage to be Fearless on which I was a guest will drop tomorrow on Apple Podcasts.

Here is the link

As a reader of this blog, you know that I don’t think we should be “fearless”.

Rather, we should learn to master fear and use it strategically.

We do talk about this during the episode.


Here is a brief video giving an insight into the podcast.

The potential bind of situational authenticity – A follow-up comment.

In my last post, I addressed the idea of emotional authenticity and noted the diference between situational authenticity in which you true to what is going on and you express the emotion you are experiencing and emotional authenticity in which you are true to the emotion you are experiencing but you choose not to directly express that emotion because of display rules which would elicit unwanted  consequences should you  outwardly display the emotion you are experiencing in your situation.

Situational authenticity

The potential bind is this…

  • You view yourself as an honest person.
  • You validate and honor your emotions.
  • Your default position is to directly state and act upon the message of the emotion you are experiencing.
  • You realize that expressing your emotion directly would put you at risk of experiencing negative consequences you would rather avoid.
  • Do you express your emotions, take the risk and pride yourself on being honest and later berate yourself for taking such a risk?
  • Do you choose to hold the emotion in and berate yourself for being weak or gutless?

There are at least two major problems with this scenario.

First of all, it is, for you, a lose-lose proposition because no matter what you do, you end up feeling inadequate or having gotten “the short end of the stick”.

Secondly, as set up, the choices are a false dichotomy  in that while it appears to be a binary decision in which there are only two choices, there is a third choice which allows you to be honest and authentic and avoid unwanted negative consequences.

Emotional Authenticity

Your third option involves  being true to your emotion.

When your focus is on experiencing and validating the emotion, you are being honest, authentic and true to your emotions.

In addition, you are being aware of your situation and the display rules which exist in that situation.

Your plan of action involves using the energy of the emotion as motivation to seek out and plan your actions around dealing with the threat in such a way that you eliminate or minimize the threat using indirect, possibly more passive (as opposed to assertive), means.

By taking a more indirect approach, you avoid being marginalized, demeaned or attacked while taking pride in the knowledge that you are dealing with the problem your emotions have alerted you to and prepared you to take action to resolve.

Hence, you are honoring the emotion AND staying safe.

The above discussion applies to emotionally intelligent women who view the message of and the emotion of  anger  as valid and men who view the messages of anxiety and vulnerability and the accompanying emotions as valid.  The approach these individuals take to their emotions basically states that their emotions are always valid but the message of the emotion needs to be assessed and the choice of one’s resp0nse will vary with and be sensitive to the context in which the emotion is experienced.


Emotional Authenticity

I was listening to a podcast recently (The Anxious Achiever) and the topic of being authentic came up in the context of women expressing their emotions.  In all of my writings, I must admit, I never considered the subject of authenticity.

During the podcast, authenticity was discussed as directly expressing the emotion in the given situation.  While it was acknowledged by the host and the guest that it was not always “possible” to directly express an emotion such as anger, the connection between being authentic and emotional expression was never really established.

As I began to think about authenticity, I realized that I had a different point of view.

To me, being authentic was baked into the emotional cycle and the concept of mastering your emotions as tools.

I alluded to it but never used the label authenticity.

Recall the emotional cycle which involves the following steps:

  1. unconscious scanning of your surroundings for “threat”
  2. unconscious physical reaction to perceived threat
  3. conscious awareness of the emotion via the body’s physical reaction
  4. take a step back and a deep breath
  5. acknowledge the emotion
  6. assess the validity of the emotion by comparing what you perceive with what is actually taking place
  7. choose an adaptive response
  8. respond

The above is, of course, an overview as there are many elements involved in each of the above steps.

The idea of being authentic applies to step 5 acknowledging the emotion and steps 7 and 8  choosing an adaptive response and responding.

The common misconception is that in order to be authentic (and its sister..being honest), you need to be true to your emotions and take direct action by directly expressing that emotion in your immediate situation.

To put it another way, you are being authentic to the situation.

While this is certainly desirable and, yes, authentic/honest, it isn’t always adaptive.

And, to me, being adaptive, in the situation may be more appropriate to both short and longer term goals as well as safer and more expedient.

I’ll address this in more detail below.

As there are situations in which the direct display of an emotion is problematic, I am suggesting that authenticity be reframed as being open to the message of the emotion (and, therefore to the emotion, per se) and acting in such a way that the message of the emotion is acknowledged and validated by the individual regardless of whether it is directly expressed in and acknowledged by others in the given situation.

If the display rules in any given situation are going to expose you to consequences that it is in your best interest, in that situation, to avoid, then you might need to take an indirect approach to expressing your emotion.

This is what I suggested in Chapter 10 of my book Beyond Anger Management for Professional Women and in several subsequent blog posts (checkout the Anger category under the Index tab above).

Anger can be problematic for women.

When a woman directly expresses anger, she tends to be marginalized and demeaned by men and (sometimes) women who feel threatened by her anger.  Cultural display rules dictate that women are “supposed”to be nice, caring and supportive and anger isn’t appropriate to this view of women.  So, an angry women is viewed as bitchy, hormonal, etc.

So, for a woman to be authentic, she may have to acknowledge that her anger is correctly both infoming her that a threat exists in that a boundary has been violated and preparing her for battle to right the violation

But, how she chooses to manifest (be authentic to) that anger as a motivator to take action may involve a more indirect approach.  In addition, if she is being authentic, she should avoid deploying other emotions such as sadness or hurt as a secondary emotions or being nice.  She doesn’t have to get excessively angry, but she can be irritated, annoyed, upset or even highly concerned and question what is going on but not nice, sad or supportive.

In doing the above, she is still just as angry and is moving to deal with the threat, but is not exposing herself to unwanted negative consequences  in her given situation

She is being true to emotion while acquiescing to the reality of her situation.

A man in that same situation might just get pissed off and be “rewarded” for his assertiveness.

Men, however, have other issues.

Anxiety, uncertainty or even sadness can be problematic for men…

For a man, expressing anxiety or uncertainty might be considered as weakness.  And emotions such as sadness, empathy, support, or love might be experienced as overly emotional or unmanly.

When a man feels inadequate or unmanly, he may express anger as a secondary emotion.  This, by the way, is the basis for the myth that anger is a secondary emotion

The truth is that anger is a primary emotion that humans and subhumans are born with.  Anger can, however, be and is expressed as a secondary emotion to cover over other, often uncomfortable for men, emotions.

So for an man to be authentic, he needs to learn to acknowledge and accept all of his emotions and then assess the degree to which he can, or cannot, directly express that emotion in a given situation.

If he is anxious about a situation, he can acknowledge the perceived possible threat to himself and go into problem solving mode (publicly) to assess his options. Similarly, if he feels inadequate, he may not state this but he can evaluate his own skill sets, what may be missing, and work to get some help to shore up his weak areas.

Or, he can, in a safer setting, reevaluate the real risk of being vulnerable, discover that he can survive that risk, and choose to express his emotion and be vulnerable.

This is the approach that Arum Weiss, Ph.D. takes in his podcasts and books.

So, to bring it all together, cultural, social, or work display rules may render the direct expression of an emotion problematic, non-adaptive, or even dangerous.  Because of this, viewing authenticity as being emotionally true to the situation can be maladaptive or disempowering.

Defining authenticity as being true to the emotion and choosing the most adaptive way to express, honor and utilize the motivating energy of the emotion is adaptive and empowering and consistent with the emotional cycle.

If you google authenticity, you will find a variety of articles on the subject that go into much more detail than is possible here.

Rationalize vs Rational Lies

In my last post, I talked about how I justified stealing pocket patches as a Boy Scout by rationalizing that my actions were okay because my patches had been stolen by another Scout.

Let’s explore this idea…

A physical example:

Have you ever taken a rusty item such as a lawn chair and put a coat of paint on it without having properly prepared the chair by sanding and applying a primer?

I have.

The veneer I applied looked great but did nothing to deal with the underlying “issue” (the rust).  The unresolved “issue” worked its way through the veneer and came back.

The chair looked great until the rust came back!

This is the physical equivalent of psychological rationalizing.

What happens when you rationalize your behavior?

Psychological rationalizing:

Merriam Wester defines rationalizing as:

a way of describing, interpreting, or explaining something (such as bad behavior) that makes it seem proper, more attractive, etc.

Let’s say that you are thinking of engaging in an action that you know is “wrong” in some way because..

  • It violates an external “code of conduct”
  • It is violates an internal “code of conduct” such as your values by being dishonest, or “wrong” for a variety of reasons
  • It utilizes a “short-cut” by cutting corners, disregarding accepted practices,   ignoring important information etc.

The emotion you experience as you contemplate engaging in a “wrong” act is discomfort or guilt.

You know what you are doing is “wrong” and you initially feel uncomfortable about what you are doing.

Rather than utlize the message of your discomfort/guilt as a motivator to stop what you are  (or contemplating) doing, you  minimize the “wrongness” by applying a “logical veneer” which appears to justify or explain your actions.

Rationalizing allows you to continue what you are doing and quiet the guilt which comes up as a reaction to your knowing what you are doing is indeed “wrong”.

It works for a while.

Until, it doesn’t!

The knowledge of the “wrongness” is like the rust on the chair.  It most likely comes back and results in unwanted consequences.

In my last post, I discussed how I felt guilty about stealing pocket patches as  a Boy Scout and “nullified” my guilt by noting that my patches had been stolen previously so I was justified in stealing someone else’s patches.

Let’s unpack this (rationalize vs rational lies)

A word about “rationalizing”..

While the correct spelling of the word rationalize is, indeed,…

r a t I o n a l I z e

the psychological spelling of the word is…

r a t I o n a l    l I e s.

When we rationalize, we tell ourselves plausible lies to justify whatever the issue is that is eliciting discomfort. The “reasons” you give yourself are plausible because they sound logical but are actually lies because they do not really fit or justify your actions!

In my earlier example,

I noted that some of my patches had been stolen.  This was true.

The lie was that I was justified in victimizing another person because I was a victim. This was not true but it sounded plausible.

And, it worked for a while to keep my discomfort/guilt away.

No “wrong doing”…No guilt.

In my last post, I laid out the emotional process.

In summary..

  • step back
  • take a breath
  • assess (this is where rationalizing may come in)
  • choose a response

The Take-away…

When you notice yourself feeling uncomfortable (guilty) about something you are about to do and you begin to justify (or rationalize) your actions, stop and reframe (redefine) the (plausible) reasons you are giving yourself to justify your actions as rational (or logical) lies.

However reasonable they may sound, or even if they are true by themselves, they are lies because they are not appropriate in your situation.

When you accept that you are lying to yourself about (rather than giving plausible reasons for) what you are thinking of doing, you validate your discomfort/guilt as a strategic tool and, possibly, avoid any future unwanted complications which will come about from the “wrong” actions you are about to engage in.

In my next post, I will address two processes which, like rationalizing, contribute to your misperceiving what is going on and the actions you take in an emotional situation: assuming and acting as-if.


A quick note on guilt

You are standing, as a defendant, in a court room and the judge asks you “How do you plead?”

Your answer is “Not guilty Your Honor.”

At the end of the trial, you are either “guilty” or “not guilty”.

In this context, the meaning of the word “guilty” is directly connected to the event in question (the crime) and whether you did, or did not participate in that event.

The word guilty also applies to the emotion of guilt and the belief that you have done something “wrong”.

Let’s briefly explore the emotion of guilt.

The emotion of guilt communicates to you the message that you believe that your actions  have in some way violated..

  • your values,
  • your ethics,
  • your sense of right vs wrong or
  • some stated set of rules of conduct

Two examples…

Example #1:  Rationalized Theft

Many years ago, when I (as a young Boy Scout) attended a Boy Scout Jamboree, I was trading pocket patches with another Scout.  I did not realize until later that this Scout had stolen some of my prized patches.

I was incensed.

Later, when I had the opportunity to steal from another Scout, I did so and justified my actions by rationalizing that it was “okay” because it had happened to me.

(As a head’s up, in my next post, I will discuss the concept of rationalize vs rational lies.)

  • Did I know that what I did was “wrong”? Yes.
  • Did it bother me that I did it? Not at first.
  • Did I feel guilty as I thought about what I had done?  Yes

The emotion of guilt that I experienced was doing its job….

  1. by informing me that I had violated my own value that stealing was wrong
  2. by motivating me to take action to make right the wrong I had committed.

This is what guilt (as an emotion) is designed to do.

When you strategically deploy guilt as an emotion, your task is to go through the steps of the emotional process which includes:

  • correctly labelling the emotion as guilt
  • taking a deep breath to decrease your emotional arousal
  • taking a “step” back from the situation to increase your objectivity
  • assessing the validity of the actions you have taken by attempting to determine whether it was right or wrong according to your values not the context
  • choosing an appropriate response to rectify what has been done (if needed)

When it comes to dealing with the emotion of guilt, there are four options..

  1. assess the situation and realize that you did not do anything wrong, based on the situation, context, and objective reality of what you did that  and let the guilt dissipate
  2. stop the behavior, make the situation right and eliminate your guilt
  3. continue the behavior and attempt to deny your guilt
  4. continue the behavior, rationalize your actions, and move past your guilt.

Options #1 and #2 involve mastering the emotion of guilt and are the most appropriate responses.

Option #3 doesn’t work because the emotion will always come back

Option #4 is just masochistic  in that it rationalizes an unwanted behavior and makes you vulnerable to negative consequences  at some future date.

In this space, I have attempted to give you the tools to understand your emotions, utilize the message of your emotions as motivation to engage the emotional process and strategically deploy your emotions as motivators to improve your life and your relationships.

From this perspective, the best option for you to take when you experience the emotion of guilt is (depending on your assessment) either #1 or #2.

Closure for example #1..

By the way, I acted on my guilt by finding the Scout whose patches I had stolen, explained that I had found them in my backpack, realized that they were his, and returned them.  I still got in trouble but the “sentence” was reduced for “good behavior”.

Example #2:  Exaggerated Guilt

While working as a Psychologist for the California Youth Authority, I treated several young women who had killed their children.

While the “facts” of each case were not in question, treating the impact of the emotion of guilt was an issue.

Specifically, these young women not only felt guilty for what they had done but viewed themselves as “monsters” based on the seriousness of their crime.

My therapeutic approach was to “normalize” their guilt and help them realize that while their actions may have been monstrous, they were not monsters because the context of their actions (including their own abuse) made their actions “understandable”.

Now, I need to emphasize two points…

First. I never exonerated them for what they did.  They did it, their guilt was appropriate, and they were being “punished”.  What I did, therapeutically, was to put their guilt in perspective so that it could function as a learning tool and not as an impediment to their psychological growth.

Secondly, I need to point out that I was never rationalizing or justifying what they did.  The context, in each case, did make what they did understandable.

The context, however, never made what they did right!

The Power of Words 3: “Feeling Stuck”?

                                                                                    This is the third post of a three part                   series on the power of words.  My intent has been to highlight the psychological impact of words we commonly use but rarely think about in terms of what these words actually mean, how they  impact us, and how to choose more adaptive words to facilitate psychological progress.

The words you use to describe how you perceive the situation in which you find yourself are often highly significant for several reasons…

  • The words reflect your perception
  • Your perception reflects your assessment of your situation and elicit specific emotions.
  • Your emotions lead to and elicit behavior which may, or may not, contribute to your successfully dealing with your situation.
  • Like most people, you may use these words almost habitually and not think about what they mean (or what they do, or do not, communicate).

    A not-uncommon scenario…

You are “working” on a project and find yourself unable to make any progress.   

Someone asks you:

                                                                                                       “How’s it going? ”            

You say,

                                                                                            “I‘m stuck.”

What exactly does it mean to “be stuck”?

Let’s take a look at what stuck might involve.

“Being stuck.”

These words only communicate that forward progress on the project has stopped.

That’s it.

There is no information in this communication that you can use to restore the progress you were making before y0u “got stuck”.

Let’s dig deeper…

What is the underlying reason that you are “stuck”?

This information is crucial if you wish to get unstuck because you have to know the obstacle you are facing in order to do something about that obstacle.

Are you….

  •  facing a “wall”?
  •  in an emotional quagmire?
  • have misaligned priorities?

The wall —-

  • There is some obstruction preventing you from moving forward.
  • You need something you don’t have such as an approval, an idea, or a change in something  like a policy.
  • You are lacking resources/authority/understanding/courage.

An emotional quagmire

  • Your emotions are holding you back.
  • You are procrastinating.
  • You are seeking perfection.
  • You are anxious and focusing on what could go wrong.

Misplaced priorities

  • You are being “forced” to do something ( it is someoneelse’s priority)
  • There are burdensome time constraints.
  • You have other priorities.

Once you have identified the underlying obstacle that you are facing, you can use the correct words to describe that obstacle and you can make a plan to deal with, move through, and, thereby, eliminate the obstacle.

Examples include:

  • I cannot progress until I get the needed authorization, resources, data sets, etc.
  • I am not making progress because my approach to this project isn’t producing useful ideas.  Perhaps, I need to step back and take a different perspective.
  • I’m not making progress because I am so anxious about how the project will turn out.  The message of anxiety is that there MAY be a future threat.  I need to examine the validity of possible threats, move on if these threats are not credible or take action to nullify them.
  • I am not making progress because I am annoyed that I am being redirected from my priorities to work on this project. Oh well, suck it up. This is the job and, while I might not like it, it is what it is and I need to focus to get it done so I can get back to my priorities.
  • I’m procastinating because I want this project to be perfect.  Yet, when I think about it, perfection is impossible so I will do the best I can and go from there.  That is all I can legitimately expect.

In the last three posts, I have attempted to put a spotlight on the words you use to describe/define the situations you find yourself in.  These words are often not challenged or even given a whole lot of thought.  They just come out and are accepted as valid,. informative and accurate.

The challenge is that the words you use are often not accurate.

Whether accurate or not, the words you use impact your emotions and the actions you take.

Now that you know this, you will be better able to question the words you use in situations that are important to you.

By changing your language, you empower yourself to  take adaptive action. When the obstacle is nullified, you are no longer stuck and you can move forward.

These are links to posts which address other relevant topics to “being stuck”

other emotions

other words

mastering emots as tools