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The Emotion of Gratitude, “Giving Thanks”, and Happy Thanksgiving.

In this post, I will address the emotion of gratitude.

There are two reasons for this..

  1. Next week, in the US, we will be celebrating the Holiday of Thanksgiving.
  2. While there are articles out there which address gratitude, you may not be all that familiar with this emotion.

For me growing up, Thanksgiving was a holiday marked by eating too much good food. We knew of the Pilgrims and the origin story of the Holiday.

And, maybe, we even gave some verbal homage to what we might be thankful for.

We didn’t spend any time thinking about the emotion of gratitude.

But, then, in my family of origin, we didn’t spend much time talking about any emotions. That is another story.

With my kids, I would always ask them, during Thanksgiving, to mention something they were thankful for, which they did.

Probably just to humor me.

As I write this, the US is beginning to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Because we have safe and effective vaccines, hospitalizations and deaths from Covid are down and people are beginning to return to “normal” (however that is defined).

Yes, we are still dealing with folks who are avoiding the vaccines but that is another issue.

I am grateful that the vaccine is available.

I am grateful for a daughter-in-law who loves to FaceTime me so I can enjoy my two young grandchildren as they grow and develop and that I am healthy enough to interact with them when we get together.

Maybe you have reasons to be grateful this Thanksgiving.  I hope so.

With that in mind, here is an updated and expanded reprint of a 11/19 post.

Thanksgiving, as a Holiday, is supposed to commemorate a feast that took place between  native Americans and the Pilgrims who landed in America.

Today, however, It is basically an enjoyable time off from work during which we get together with family, eat too much, and watch parades or football on TV.

In my house, as I’ve said, we attempted to emphasize the “giving thanks” part of the Holiday.

Most of us think of being “thankful” and being “grateful” as the same thing.

Well, while they are very similar, they are not the same.

Indeed, being “grateful” goes beyond being “thankful” and the emotion of “grateful”(gratitude) is both misunderstood and underutilized.

“What”, you say. “misunderstood and underutilized?”

Yes. On both counts.

First, let’s take a closer look at “thankful” vs “grateful”.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online), “thankful”and “grateful”are the same with the exception of two significant words.

Thankful is defined as “conscious (emphasis added) of benefits received” while grateful is defined as “appreciative (emphasis added) of benefits received.”

Being “conscious” implies only an awareness while being “appreciative” implies an involvement with whatever it is that you are choosing to acknowledge and highlight.

Here is an example of the difference between these two.

You go into work and your colleague says to you, “Hey, there, how are you doing?”  In most instances, you say (often automatically) “Fine.” or “Good, and you?”

This interaction reflects ONLY an acknowledgement, or awareness, of the other person.

Now, in contrast, you meet up with an old buddy from your past and he asks you, “How are you doing?”  You most likely would begin to fill him in on what has happened to you since you last met.

This is involvement.

Imagine the surprised response you would get at work if you responded to “How are with you?” with an indepth explanation of your whole weekend, the argument you had with your spouse, and so forth.  This would be an example of confusing involvement with acknowledgement.

Misunderstood

Sure, you are very familiar with saying “Thank you” whenever appropriate and maybe even being “grateful” when someone does a favor for you.  But, in most cases, the emotion just sort of happens and you don’t really think about it.

Someone holds a door open for you and you say “Thanks.”  Sure, you appreciate the gesture but you aren’t really involved in the interaction.

And, in fact, why should you be involved?

This is a casual interaction in which someone has done something nice for you and you have acknowledged their actions.

That’s it. You go about your business and they about theirs.

But, think for a minute about being caught in a  downpour and having someone specifically notice you and the packages you are trying to keep dry, run toward the door, and hold it open so that you can run to get out of the storm.  In this case, you might be both thankful and grateful.

Holding the door is the same in both cases. Going out of one’s way to help you out, as in the second example, is a step beyond.

Unlike anger, anxiety, and sadness, gratitude, as an emotion, doesn’t get much attention. It is not problematic, is easily expressed, and often only becomes an issue when someone else, who we think should be grateful for something we’ve done for them, fails to express this emotion.

Hence, it is misunderstood.

Underutilized

Gratitude is most likely not expressed more because it just is not considered relevant.   People don’t usually avoid feeling gratitude.

The Benefits of “Gratitude….”

Did you know that, based on research, there are numerous benefits that come to the person who is grateful.

Keep reading…

According to an article posted on  positivepsychology.com, gratitude can:

  • help you make friends
  • improve your physical health
  • improve your psychological health
  • enhance empathy and reduce aggression
  • improve your sleep
  • enhance your self-esteem

Look, I have not verified these studies and I am not saying that they are all true or that you will experience any of these benefits.

I am, however, suggesting that  there is a real possibility that expressing gratitude or appreciation toward the good things that people do for you or the good things that either are bestowed upon you or that you have benefitted from could be in your best interest.  And, at the very least, will not harm you any way.

So, you have nothing to lose and lots to gain.

So, how do you begin to do this?

To me, something you can do right now is to begin to be more mindful of the good things that you have experienced and your interactions with others.

Mindfulness involves paying attention to and being aware of what is happening to you in the moment. Being mindless is to react to what is going on out of habit.

In other words, take yourself off of “auto-pilot” in how you view your world and your relationships with others. Then, attempt to consciously think these events (such as others, or you, surviving Covid), how others interact with you and how you want to respond to them.

Let me give you an example of being on “auto-pilot”.  And, I am not suggesting that you eliminate “auto-pilot” because, when appropriate, being on “auto-pilot” enables you to multitask.

Adaptive auto-pilot:

When you shower in the morning and go through your hair-washing routine, have you ever found yourself wondering if you used the conditioner?  You did, of course, but it is as if you weren’t even there.  And, the interesting part is that on the level of consciousness, you weren’t there because you were thinking of something else.

Maladaptive auto-pilot:

The same thing happens when you can’t “remember” where you put your car keys.  Memory isn’t the issue, you were thinking about something else (You weren’t mindful) when you tossed your keys down.  So, the location never made it into memory in the first place and wasn’t available to you when you tried to access it.

So, regarding gratitude, stay in the moment.

When someone does something nice for you, consciously thank them and think about appreciating their interactions with you.

When you experience a “grand moment”, express your gratitude (to yourself) that you are alive to enjoy the beautiful sunset, or that your loved ones have survived Covid, or that you were in the right place at the right time to see your grandchild walk for the first time.

It will take some time to begin expressing gratitude as an ongoing part of your life and your interactions with others.

But, stay with it and it will happen.

If you are in the US, Happy Thanksgiving.

If you are not in the US, Happy Thanks-giving.

 

How to master your anger when someone lies to you.

Someone on Quora.com asked me:

How do I control my anger when someone lies to me? (emphasis added).

While my original response to this question prompted this post, my response below is more updated, more detailed and more adequately addresses the important issues.

Anger Myths and  Controlling Your Emotions

There are two operative myths regarding one’s emotions (or feeling) and the  concept of control.  Both myths have some truth to them.  They are myths because they don’t tell the whole story.

The first myth is that emotions such as anger (and others) control you.

The second myth is that it is important (even beneficial) that you control your emotions.  While the idea of controlling your emotions is probably more frequently applied to anger because of the inappropriate actions take while angry (and blame the emotion for those actions), people believe they should control any emotion that doesn’t feel “good” to them like anxiety, guilt, hurt, sadness.

Let me address both these myths in the context of the Anger Mastery Cycle (AMC).

Note: By the way, you can download a free PDF of the anger mastery cycle by clicking here  or on the tab above.

Myth #1: This myth is partly true.  It is a myth because it doesn’t take into consideration the entire AMC.

Your emotions don’t control you.  The perception of control happens because of the unconscious part of the Anger Mastery Cycle.  You are hard wired to constantly scan your surroundings for threat.  Humans have done this since we lived in caves. Our ancestors depended on their emotions to both alert them to and prepare them to deal with threats that would kill them.  This unconscious process still operates today as it did back then.  Because the process is fast and unconscious, people believe that their emotions control them.  And, at this early stage of the EMC, that is true.

The issue of control and emotions is a myth because it fails to consider that evolved humans (you and me) have developed the ability to assess our emotions and choose how we want to respond to them.  This gives us control of our situation and allows us to utilize our emotions as tools.

We don’t control our cell phones (an important tool). We learn how to. master it and make it work for us.  It is the same with all emotions (including anger). The ultimate goal in dealing with any feeling is to use the information your emotions, including anger, give you to improve your life and your relationships.  I discuss this below.

Myth #2: This myth is also partially true and it also fails to consider the whole anger mastery cycle.

The first part of the anger mastery cycle is anger management. This is the “control” issue that most people refer to when they say you should “control your anger”.

Yes, you need to lower your arousal and control your behavior to prevent yourself from reacting to the other person and possibly doing something you later regret. But, this is only a step to mastering your anger. You control your anger at this point by taking a deep breath, “forcing” yourself not to react to the person, and taking a second or two to assess the situation as described below and choosing how you want to respond.

Please note that while it is easy for me to tell you what you need to do and it is doable, it will take some practice on your part to put it into action.

Anger, lies and you.

Anger as a primary emotion is a primitive threat detector. I discuss anger as a primary emotion and a threat detector in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool . You can also access all of my posts on Anger by clicking on the Index  tab above and the anger category.  Access to all of my posts on anger is then one click away.

The message of anger is that you perceive the lie and, possibly the individual who lied to you, as a threat. This is where anger mastery comes in.

Mastering anger in the context of being lied to.

As I have said, anger is a tool. To master anger as a tool involves assessing the validity of the threat you have perceived.

Your anger informs you that you perceive the act of being lied to as a threat.

Well, there are several possibilities here:

  • There is no lie.  You have misunderstood what was said to you.
  • You are being lied to and that act is a threat to something that is important to you such as your goals, your trust, your values, your expectations and so forth.
  • You are being lied to but there really is no threat to you.  The lie is the problem of the lier.

Given multiple possibilities, you have to assess the nature of the threat.

Your first choice should be to clarify what you believe to be a lie.

You start here, by the way, because if there is no lie, you avoid later complications and, if there is a lie, you still have all of your options available to you.

You do this by asking for clarification of the issue.  This involves stating your own understanding of the “facts” and giving them an opportunity to clarify as needed.

Secondly, if convinced that a lie has been told, you need to decide what is it about this particular lie from this particular person that you perceive as a threat?

This is a critical question in addressing your question for this reason. You can’t decide how you want to respond to this person (another step in the anger mastery cycle) until you decide the nature of the threat.

For example, if the “liar” is your kid, the threat you perceive might involve issues of trust, insuring that your kid understands certain values or develops a moral compass and so forth. If this is the first time he (or she) lied to you, you might choose to approach it as a teaching moment. Or, suppose that your kid lied to protect another kid from being beaten up? Again, you might have initially perceived a threat to your sense of right and wrong when you found out about the “lie” but, once you understand the reason for lie, your response to your kid could change.

If the liar is your spouse, or significant other, and this is reflective of a pattern, the threat might be not only to your sense of right and wrong but to the very foundation of your relationship.

If the liar is a co-worker, again, you would need to assess the nature of the threat.

I think you get the idea.

Thirdly, you might decide, for whatever reason, that there is no threat, you would move down one fork of the anger mastery cycle which involves:

  • choosing to do nothing
  • letting the anger dissipate, and
  • moving on.

Finally, if you decide there is indeed a threat, you move down the other fork of the cycle, which involves:

  • deciding what action you need to take (noting that you are angry, disappointed, etc and assertively questioning the person, questioning what result the individual expected to achieve by lying, seeing a counselor or a lawyer, and so forth
  • making a plan, and
  • taking action on that plan.

In order to implement some of my suggestions you may need to assertively respond to the person who lied to you.  If you are not familiar with the concept of interpersonal assertion, I suggest you Google “interpersonal assertion” (or click on the link) for more information as this topic is beyond the scope of this post.

 

Can a person be intellectually strong, yet emotionally weak?

This is a question that I received via the website Quora.

I chose to reproduce the question here and add additional comments which were not included in my Quora response because I believe it addresses some important points.

It is an interesting question because it reflects a common misunderstanding about the relationship between one’s intellect, the thinking part of your brain (the cerebral cortex) and one’s emotions, the emotional part of a your brain (the Amygdala).

The misunderstanding is the belief that emotions are subordinate to, or controlled by, the intellect.

As readers of this blog, you know that the intellect and the emotions are both critical to the process of learning to master your emotions as tools.

The emotional cycle…

First, a quick review of the emotional cycle..

All of us constantly scan our surroundings for threat and when we perceive a threat, we automatically go into fight/flight/freeze mode.

The emotional process..

This is a primitive emotional process mediated through the Amygdala which humans have done since we lived on the Savannah. The process evolved to work quickly and without our having to think about it.  The purpose of this scanning and preparation process was to insure our survival as a species.

Note: The speed and automatic nature of this process is the basis for people to believe that their emotions control them.

This is a myth in that the automatic emotional process only prepares one for action. It does not determine what one does beyond fight/flight/freeze.

The intellectual process..

As our brains developed more capacity to think and analyze (mediated through the Cerebral Cortex), we developed the ability to analyze our situation and choose the best adaptive response to the situation.

Hense, the emotional cycle involves  an emotional reaction in which our emotions inform us through physical sensations in our bodies that a possible threat exists and prepare us for possible action and our intellect intervening to give us the opportunity to assess the situation and choose an adaptive reponse.

The intellect and the emotions are intimately  interrelated.

The original question…

So, let’s dig a little deeper into this question.

It contains at least 3 underlying assumptions..

  1. There is some level of cognitive ability that can be labelled as “intellectually strong”
  2. There is an implied dichotomy between one’s intellectual abilities (however these are defined) and one’s capacity to deal with emotions.  In other words, you are either emotional or you are intellectual.
  3. There is such a concept as “emotional weakness”.

Regarding the first assumption….

While we can measure a person’s intellect, and it is true that some people are more intelligent than others, the ability to master one’s emotions as tools does not require an exceptionally high intellectual ability. Consequently, as I see it, being “intellectually strong” is largely irrelevant in the context of dealing with one’s emotions.

Regarding the second assumption..

In the original Star Trek series, the character Mr. Spock, a Vulcan, prided himself on his ability to repress all of his emotions and make decisions solely on the basis of his intellectual ability to analyze the facts and make a decision.

Today, people still assume that they need to use their intellect to control their emotions.

Controlling one’s emotions both didn’t work out well for Spock when he had to deal with his human crew and doesn’t work today as emotions have a way of getting expressed unless we learn how to master the emotion by heeding its message and strategically using its energy to adaptively deal with the situation in which we find ourselves.

So, while you can force yourself not to outwardly express your emotions, the energy underlying your anger, sadness, or anxiety will express itself in some manner.  This could involve passive-aggressive acting-out, physical symptoms, or anything else in-between.

This is where emotional mastery comes in.  Mastery involves acknowledging the emotion and strategically deploying the energy of the emotion.

While you may choose not to outwardly express the emotion because you may expose yourself to too much risk, there is no control of or repressing the emotion.

Regarding the third assumption…

Unless one considers themself “weak” in their ability to get the most out of their cell phone, computer, table saw or TV remote (all of which are tools), I don’t believe there is such a “thing” as “emotional weakness”.

One is either capable of utilizing their tools and making them work as desired or they are not. In the latter case, they need to either read a manual or get some instruction.

It is the same with emotions because emotions are just tools!

So, given the above, because my questioner asked the question, his intellectual “strength” vis-a-vis his emotions, is more than up to the task.

The issue, then, becomes the extent to which one is able to master their  emotions.

Based on the nature of this question, I assumed that the person who asked it has some doubts about his relationship to his emotions.

Note: The questioner is a male.

My recommendations…

My recommendation to the questioner was that he consult the manual.

The information on this blog is the manual for emotions.

I also noted that the best way to access the information in the Blog was to click on the INDEX tab.

The Index gives him access (with one click) to all my posts by category, date and title.

I then suggested going to the Mastering Emotions as Tools section first, clicking on any title that grabbed his attention so that he could get his basic education about what emotions are, why we have them, and what emotional mastery involves.

He could then go to specific emotions such as anger and explore further.

You can do the same thing if these are issues that relate to you.

Is There Any Advantage to Having Feelings (Emotions)?

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

Think about this for a moment…

Have you ever:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some important facts:

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

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

Let’s discuss the advantages of feelings.

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

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

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

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

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

This message is your “window” into your world.

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

For the more familiar emotions, the messages are..

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

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

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

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

2.Your emotions “protect” you.

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

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

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

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

This is the protection  that emotions provide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Your emotions facilitate your interacting with others.

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

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

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

5. Your emotions make life interesting and engaging.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not, however, what frequently happens.

 How the  word “hate” is commonly used.

Brussels sprouts, anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

Hate can consume you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The emotion of anger.

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

Anger and hate together: A bad combination.

To mix anger and hate together can be very dangerous.

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

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

A visual example:  love and hate

Let me show you what I mean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what are your options?

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

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

Think of Brussels sprouts as disgusting.

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

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

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

 

Emotional Self-Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I want to prevent this from happening?

No.

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

Emotional Self-defense.

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

Emotional Awareness (Mindfulness)

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

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

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

You

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

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

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

Them

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

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

Emotional Self-Mastery and a Mastery Mindset

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

A mastery mindset involves..

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

Note: You might recognize this from the Anger Mastery Cycle       

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

Your own emotions.

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

A response is a choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my fantasy, it didn’t matter. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How do you resolve shame?

There are two parts to this question.

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

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

So, let’s jump in.

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

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

In other words, your emotions…

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

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

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

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

There are four facts here:

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

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

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

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

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

Now, I need to stop here for a moment…

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

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

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

This is often the scenario in abusive relationships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This question shifts your focus from yourself to your actions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next question you need to ask is…

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

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

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

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

Dealing with Uncertainty: Anxiety, Depression, Distress verses Eustress

The Event

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

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

It sounded to me like she was mildly depressed.

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

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

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

She definitely seemed “stressed-out” to me.

But not mildly depressed!

She decided to get professional help.

Using the Emotions as Tools lens.

 Some basic “definitions”..

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

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

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

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

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

Stress can be another word for anxiety.

Stress has at least two faces.

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

Examples of distress include:

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

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

An example of eustress is:

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

Chronic stress can, over time, damage you physically.

Another way to look at psychological stress.

Stress ==> Expectations ≠ Reality

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

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

You have expectations:

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

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

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

Handling psychological stress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My “interpretation” of what my friend experienced.

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

What I suggested:

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

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

 

 

ALL of my posts dealing with Relationships and Emotions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The BRR states:

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

Applying the BRR:

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

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

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

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

Skill Sets

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

These skill sets include..

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

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

You learn how to act by…

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

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

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

How do you identify “skill set” deficits?

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

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

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

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

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

  • Perhaps, they need to  acquire new skills.

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

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

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

  • Perhaps, you need to get out of the relationship

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

To review:

The BRR:

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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