Hope versus Optimism

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, Senator Warnock, implied that they were different.

And, maybe, they are.  But, how?

Here is my take……

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

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

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

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

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

Hope is a feeling that can be uplifting and motivating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, hope is often sufficient to motivate action.

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

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

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

 

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

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

The actual question was:

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

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

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

The more involved answer is……

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This reflects the message of resentment.

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

Aside:  Is this a reasonable expectation?  Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are three possibilities here:

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

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

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

These are the questions:

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

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

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

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

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

She has options:

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

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

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

 

How to master the emotion of Resentment

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

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

This is the message of the emotion of resentment.

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

I will address anger specifically below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you master resentment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember the message of resentment.

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

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

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

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

Mastering an emotion involves…

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

Let’s apply this to the emotion of resentment…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reminder..

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Enjoy.

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

Steps  4-6 involve you dealing with your guilt.

Step 1: Assess the situation. 

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

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

Step 2: Accept responsibility for your actions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 4: Understand your actions.

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

This is where the BRR comes in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 5: Forgive yourself.

I have written several articles on forgiveness.

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

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

Step 6: Let the guilt dissolve.

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

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

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

You can do it.

 

Understanding and Dealing with Guilt. Part 1: A Comprehensive Overview

This is my first post of 2021 and, in the spirit of getting off to a new start and moving beyond your past, I want to talk about one of the feelings that you might experience after you’ve done something that turns out bad and yields an unwanted result.

This is part 1 of a 2 part series of posts.

Part 1 will give you an overview of the emotions which might be elicited (NOT caused!)  by some action you took in the past and will introduce you to the Basic Relationship Rule.

Part 2 will discuss the actual steps you need to take to deal with, dissolve your guilt and move on.

Part 1

Actions taken and the feelings these actions might elicit.

If you feel guilty, you are focusing on the “bad” thing that you did.

If you shame, you are focusing on yourself as a horrible person for having done it.

If you feel regret, you are wishing that you had not done it.

If you are angry, you view the results as representing some sort of threat to your expectations, your goals, your values, and so forth.

You can feel any, all, or none of these feelings following what you did.

Past articles

The last article in which I discussed guilt and shame was posted in September 2017. I discussed regret in July 2016. You can view these posts by going to the Archives to the right of this page and clicking on the specific month of the post you want to read.

The Index Tab: A reminder.

By the way, you can access all of my posts by clicking on the Index tab in the upper right hand corner of this page and opening up the PDF.  To make your access easier, I have listed all of my posts by category, title and date.

The Emotion of Guilt

In this post, I will revisit the emotion of guilt and the message it conveys, discuss how to strategically deploy this emotion, and talk about how you can get rid of the feeling by applying the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR) to yourself and deploying I.W.B.N.I’s once you have validated and strategically deployed the emotion.

Guilt is a powerful emotion the message of which is “I did something wrong.”

Guilt is a backward oriented feeling.  Its focus is on the past.

In other words, you do not feel guilty when you are engaged in the action, you later feel guilty about.

Rather, you feel guilty when you reflect back on what you did in light of the consequences that resulted from the action you took.

The downside of guilt is that, if not handled appropriately, it can weigh on you, negatively impact your effectiveness in life by eliciting feelings of worthlessness (shame or depression), and impact your relationships with others.

It is this downside that probably leads some writers to advocate that you get rid of, or eliminate, guilt.

Unless you are talking about guilt that is persistent, intrusive and not connected to a specific set of actions, I do not agree that you should eliminate the feeling.  This approach to guilt implies that there may be something wrong with the emotion, per se.

I maintain that ALL emotions are adaptive and need to be viewed as tools that inform us about situations which require our attention.  This is the upside of an emotion.

Using this emotion as a tool, the upside of guilt is that it alerts you to an action you took which needs to be examined, perhaps corrected and learned from. This alert is the message of guilt.

Put another way, you strategically deploy your guilt as  a tool when you validate it, use its  power as a motivator to critically revisit your actions and examine the circumstances that existed at the time, the decisions you made, and the actions you took from the perspective of what you did, the results you experienced and what you intended to happen.  Once you do this, you can use the power of the emotion as a motivator to “make it right” and resolve to learn from your mistakes and move forward.

So, how do you resolve and dissolve  guilt once you have strategically deployed it as discussed above?

The process of resolving guilt involves applying the principles of the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR) to yourself.

The BRR states: Everyone, in every situation, does the best they can given their Model of the World (as it applies to the situation in which they find themselves) and their Skill Sets.

Usually applied to others..

Typically, the BRR is used to understand the behavior of another person with the goal of developing, maintaining, or correcting the relationship you have with that person.

Equally as valid when applied to you…

As it applies to you and the behavior about which you are feeling guilty, the BRR tells you that the “offensive” behavior was the BEST you could do, in the situation, given how you viewed that situation (your MODEL) and the SKILL SETS (your interpersonal abilities) you had, at the time, for dealing with what was happening between you and those you interacted with.

Here are the steps to deal with guilt.

  1. Assess the situation.
  2. Accept responsibility for your actions.
  3. Make it right with the other person (if possible and appropriate).
  4. Understand your actions.
  5. Forgive yourself.
  6. Let the guilt dissolve.

I’ll discuss the specific steps in detail in the next post.

 

 

 

A Gift to Others and You: Strategically Deploy the emotions of anticipation and surprise this holiday season.

In my 11/4 post, I discussed the emotion of surprise.

In my 11/18 post, I addressed the emotion of gratitude.

As I write this, it is the beginning of December.  We have just finished with Thanksgiving and are about to enter the “Holiday Season”.  While covid-19 may change the way we experience this Holiday Season, I’d like to suggest that you thoroughly engage and experience two emotions you probably don’t think too much about.  Specifically: Anticipation and Surprise.

Some basic concepts:

The emotion of Anticipation

Anticipation is the flip side of the emotion of anxiety.

Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there may be a threat in the future that may “kill” me.  When we get anxious, we often act as if the possible threat is an actual threat and react by being unable to take any effective action.  This is anxiety as distress.  Anxiety as eustress takes the energy of the emotion and uses it to prepare for the possibility that the threat may occur.

Note: The Index Tab above will take you to a PDF which lists all of my previous posts, including those on Anxiety, by category, title and date.  Click on the tab and look for the specific post which interests you.

The emotion of anticipation is also a future based emotion.  For anticipation, however, the message is that there is a possible event in the future that I want to experience.

Anticipation both sets up an expectation regarding and prepares you for something good.

The emotion of surprise.

Surprise, as an emotion, grabs your attention and focuses it on an event. The message of Surprise is that an unexpected event has occurred and you need to assess it to see if it is beneficial or detrimental.

The issue of perceptual sets.

Did it ever occur to you that you might not see your surroundings as they actually are?

Huh, you say, what does that mean?

Well, the psychological fact is that, while you may see something, like a fast food restaurant, you may not notice it because it has little value to you unless you are hungry.

The concept of perceptual set says that your emotions and your expectations will impact how you interpret what you see.  In other words, you will “see” what you expect to see.

We see what we look for…..

A rather interesting experience was conducted several years ago in which groups of subjects were asked to watch a video of two teams playing basketball. One group was asked to count the number of times the red team dribbled the ball and the other group was asked to do the same thing with the blue team.

Each group did as they were instructed to do.

However, in the middle of the video, an actor dressed as a gorilla was shown dancing on the screen.

Each group was asked if they noticed the gorilla and a significant number of subjects indicated that no gorilla appeared on screen.

The subjects were so focussed on counting, they failed to notice the gorilla.

In previous posts, I’ve written about driving down a  street and not really seeing any of the fast food restaurants and driving down the same street when hungry and “seeing” all of the restaurants.

How does all this fit together and what does it have to do with the Holiday Season?.

Typically, the Holiday Season is upbeat and a time when we engage with others in a feel good way.  Yes, I know that there is downside to the Holidays as well including the stress we may experience having too much to do and too little time to do it, thinking about past Holidays and so forth.

Surprise

But, this Holiday Season, try setting yourself up to look for, and find, things that surprise you. This is strategically deploying the emotion of surprise so that it works for you.

You want to be surprised!

When surprised, you will be motivated to engage with the object/issue of your surprise.

You will see things about others and yourself you haven’t noticed before.

Here is what you are going for…

A gift to others...

The “gift” you give others will involve seeing them in a new light and, perhaps, improving your relationship with them.

Look for something new in a friend that you can compliment them about or something interesting that you haven’t really paid attention to before that you can engage with them about.

Look for something new in your kids or your spouse that is surprising to you because you haven’t really paid attention to it before.

A “gift” to yourself...

Look for something new about yourself that’s either always been there or that is something you’d like to do, build upon, or engage in as in “Wow, I never realized that about me!”

Anticipation

I don’t know about you but I suspect that you, like me, remember Christmas morning waking up experiencing the emotion of Anticipation of what might be under the tree when I went downstairs. I was all excited.  I didn’t know what I would find but I was anticipating that it would be good.

This is the emotion I want you to experience but I want you to expect that you will be pleasantly surprised by what you observe in and  learn about those who are close to you and yourself.

Putting It All Together

If you set out to do this as I’ve suggested, you will be looking for new “positive” ways to view yourself and others which will surprise you and you will anticipate or expect to find what you are looking for.

The Emotion of Gratitude

In my last post, I addressed the emotion of surprise both because I was surprised (pun intended) that not a whole lot is written about it and because I wanted to bring it to your attention.

I will address the emotion of surprise again in my next post when I talk about applying this feeling this year.

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.

You may have experienced something similar in your family.

So, I went searching for some information on the emotion of gratitude and I found an article which covers just about everything I was going to put in my post.

Here is the link to the Harvard Mental Health Letter from June 5, 2019.

Enjoy.

And, Happy Thanksgiving.

In Praise of Gtatitude

 

 

The Emotion of Surprise: Positive or Negative? Neither…and much more!

This post originated with a question I received on Quora.com which asked if surprise was a positive or negative emotion.

The question intrigued me because surprise isn’t often a topic of interest.

This post covers my answer to this question and more.

The Answer:

Surprise is neither positive nor negative.  It is just a tool.

  • But, how you experience the emotion, whether you are comfortable or uncomfortable with the emotion (it’s hedonic quality), may, however, be either p0sitive or negative.
  • And, whether it “works” for you (is adaptive or maladaptive), may also be important.

The Answer Explained:

There are, in fact, three parts to this question.

The first part addresses the emotion of surprise, the second addresses a myth that there are positive and negative emotions and the third part discusses an alternative way to label an emotion.

I. Surprise: the emotion

Surprise is one of the universal emotions and arises when we encounter sudden and unexpected sounds or movements. As the briefest of the universal emotions, its function is to focus our attention on determining what is happening and whether or not it is dangerous.  Paul Ekman.com

Surprise is one of 6 primary emotions that humans and some other species are born with. The other 5 are mad, sad, glad, fear and disgust.

Each emotion has a specific function of, as I noted above, alerting us to our surroundings and preparing us to engage with those surroundings.

 Surprise signals something unexpected that we need to give more attention to, engage productively with, or avoid.

Other words for “surprise” include:

  • startled (shocked and dismayed),
  • confused (disillusioned and perplexed),
  • amazed (astonished and awe) and
  • excited (eager and energetic).

These words are from an article Embracing Emotions in the Workplace by the Industrial Relations Centre of Queens University (irc.queensu.ca)

NOTE: I have written about these emotions and others in previous posts.  You can access all of my posts by category, title and date by clicking on the INDEX tab in the upper right hand corner of the home page.  This will take you to a PDF which, when opened, will tell where you need to go in the archives to access the post you want.

II. The Myth:

It is widely believed and often repeated that there are positive and negative emotions.

The Facts:

As I have discussed in my Amazon bestselling book: Emotions as Tools Control your Life not your Feelings, and and other posts on this Blog, there is no such thing as positive or negative emotions.

  • There are emotions that feel good and emotions that feel bad.  This is the hedonic quality of the emotion and is not a descriptor of the emotion.

In other words, good vs bad refers to how you experience the emotion and does not reflect the value of the emotion.

  • All emotions are just tools that you can learn to strategically deploy to improve your life and your relationships.

Emotions inform you about how you perceive your surroundings and prepare you to engage with what is happening to you.

You are familiar with many tools in your life including your TV remote, your cell phone, your car and maybe the cordless drill in your garage.

You do not think of these tools as positive or negative. They are just tools you need to learn how to use.

It is the same with emotions.

Four reasons why the myth persists:

1: How some emotions feel.

There are some emotions which are experienced as pleasant such as happy and others that are experienced as unpleasant such as sadness. This is their hedonic quality. This hedonic quality is frequently inappropriately applied to the emotion giving rise to the misconception that there are positive and negative emotions.

2: How some people behave when feeling a specific emotion.

Some people behave inappropriately when they experience some emotions.  One example is the abuser who beats up his significant other and blames his anger. “If you hadn’t done XYZ, I wouldn’t have gotten angry. And, if I weren’t so angry, I wouldn’t have (abused you).” While it may be true that he wouldn’t have gotten angry had she not done XYZ and it may also be true that he wouldn’t have abused her if he weren’t  angry, it definitely is FALSE that his anger made him do what he did.  His behavior was his choice and his responsibility.

Anger got the blame and the bad reputation.

3: Barbara Fredrickson wrote about positive and negative emotions.  She clearly noted, however, that positive emotions were those feelings which motivated people to engage with their surroundings in a satisfying way.  When you are happy, you want to do more of whatever it is that elicits happiness.  As I noted above, happy is a feel good emotion.

4. Many people still do not understand what emotions are, why they evolved over time and the functions they serve.

The “problem” with the myth:

The problem with labelling  an emotion as “negative” or “bad” is the message these words imply when applied to an emotion.

Think about anything you have labelled as as “negative” or “bad”..

  • The milk has gone “bad”.
  • You received a “negative” evaluation at work.
  • You got a “bad” deal.
  • You have a “negative” balance” in your checkbook.
  • The market is in “negative” territory.

The defining characteristic that all of these examples have in common is that they are undesirable and to be avoided if at all possible.

When we label some emotions as “negative” and others as “positive”, the  implication is that there are some emotions we should keep and others that should be eliminated or avoided.

Yes, I know that this is not how the words are used in the literature.  But, what we say and what others hear are often not the same thing.  You, as a reader of my blog, probably would not misinterpret what emotions are.

But..

  • The author of the question on Quora lacks this sophistication.

And, because the myth is so widespread…

  • I do not think it is beneficial to refer to emotions as “positive” or “negative” without providing a context.

III. Adaptive vs Maladaptive.

  • This is an alternative way to label an emotion.
  • The main focus here is on whether the emotion benefits you in some way or is problematic?

Have you ever heard someone say: “I hate surprises.”?

While all emotions are valid in that they are real for you in the moment and reflect how you interpret what is happening to you, some emotions may not be working for you to improve your life or your relationships because how you react to them elicits results you do not want.

Maladaptive

  • Mal:  “not” or in a faulty manner
  • Adaptive: helps you deal with or adjust to (the situation)

Labelling an emotion as maladaptive for you tells you that you need to examine:

  • how you react to, experience and relate to the emotion when you experience it
  • are the issues with the emotion, per se,
  • are there issues related to a specific context in which you experience the emotion and
  • what it is about the emotion that isn’t working for you.

The bottom line: until you learn how to master these emotions, they may be, for you, maladaptive.

Preview of coming attractions:

On 12/2/2020, my annual Holiday Post will revisit the emotion of surprise. 

Keeping with the Holiday theme, I will suggest that you give a gift to yourself and others by deploying the emotions of surprise and anticipation this Holiday season. 

Yes, I realize that this is a months out and, in today’s environment, it is often difficult to plan for tomorrow.

But, if this sounds interesting to you, I can guarantee that you can anticipate being pleasantly surprised by what you will read.

So, mark your calendar and check it out.

 

 

 

Mastering “sensitivity” to criticism?

I don’t know of anyone who likes being criticized.  I certainly didn’t (and don’t). Indeed, I am still sensitive to criticism.

But, I welcome criticism now.

In other words, I have mastered my sensitivity.

Let me start with a story.

I am a Senior Adjunct Professor at an accredited University.  I have been for over 25 years.

While the feedback I get from my students now is that I am fairly good at what  I do, this wasn’t always the case.

Indeed, I started teaching because I was highly anxious about public speaking. And, as you might guess, I was terrible at it.

NOTE:  I did not say that I was “afraid” of public speaking as the correct emotion here is anxiety and not fear!

For several years, I did not seek out feedback from my students because I was both aware of my short-comings and I was “sensitive” to any comments (criticism) which brought attention to my lack of skill.

Any criticism only highlighted my sense of inadequacy.

My feeling inadequate led to my wanting to avoid being judged.

I was also fairly naive at the time about how emotions worked as tools.

Once I became a little more self-assured, I began to seek feedback from my students.

Seeking feedback is an effective way to deal with criticism and I’ll discuss this in more detail below.

When you talk about being sensitive to criticism, there are two issues.

  1. The first involves the nature of criticism.
  2. The second involves the nature of “sensitivity”.

Criticism

First, let me address the issue of criticism.

The root of the word criticism and critical is the same and involves passing judgment.

By its very nature, criticism involves a judgement or evaluation of your actions by another person.

When you are being criticized, someone else is telling you their opinion about what you have done. (Or, you are sharing with them your  opinion.)

Now, when you look at criticism from a psychological perspective, there are two categories and four possible actions involving criticism.

I. Giving Criticism:  (1) Constructive Giving  and  (2) Destructive Giving

II. Taking Criticism: (3) Constructive Taking and (4) Destructive Taking

Because I am addressing the idea of being sensitive to criticism, I will focus on the category of “taking” criticism.

Regardless of the focus of the criticism,  there are two elements to the message.

  1. One is the manner in which critical comments are delivered 
  2. The other is the validity (or truthfulness) of the critical comments.

However, when it comes to sensitivity, neither of these elements are critical.

Let me repeat that with emphasis added because it could be seen as a bit controversial…

Neither the way a critical message is delivered nor the degree to which the message is true have any connection to how you receive the criticism.

This is the reason that the message, per se, is of secondary importance to sensitivity.  (It is important for other reasons as I will discuss below.)

In addition, there are two ways to receive the critical message regardless of the focus of the message.

  1. One approach to receiving a critical message is constructive.
  2. The other approach to receiving the message is destructive.

How you receive a message, or your sensitivity, is totally under your control!

Sensitivity

As the person to whom the criticism is directed (the taker), if you wish to gain some mastery over your sensitivity, it is critical that you separate the content and the manner of delivery of the criticism from your response to the message.

Indeed, this is the key to mastering your sensitivity.

Typically, when one says that they are “sensitive” to criticism, it usually means that they are hypersensitive and their emotional reaction to the criticism involves anxiety, anger, or feelings of inadequacy.

And, hypersensitivity usually involves destructive taking of criticism.

“Sensitivity” might involve a desire to lash out at the person delivering the criticism.

There was a story in the news recently in which a customer of a well known consumer website published a critique of the website in an online blog.  Senior officers of the website were incensed, engaged in very offensive actions of revenge including sending live bugs to the authors of the blog, and ended up being fired by the website which was the focus of the criticism.

Clearly a case of “hypersensitivity” and destructive taking of criticism!

A prominent, and often overlooked aspect of destructive taking of criticism is that the message, or content, of the criticism is given too little consideration.

What do I mean by this?

Well, I mentioned above, that I now seek out feedback from my students. A few years ago, I had a student who did not like my class. Based on this information, I could have justifiably ignored any feedback from the student and assumed that he was biased. (Which, by the way, he was.)

However, when the quarter was over, I specifically reached out to this student for his feedback. 

While most of what he said involved his own issues and was not really relevant to me, he made one comment about how I approached the subject matter which was right on.  Attempting to adaptively deal with the criticism, I considered his whole message.  Had I not done this, I would have missed some useful information.  In other words, I would have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Put another way, I would have been guilty of giving too little consideration to the message.

So, in seeking to master your sensitivity to criticism, there are six issues:

  1. Do not attempt to eliminate your sensitivity.  While possible, this can be a difficult task and isn’t really necessary.
  2. Understand that the criticism is ONLY the opinion (judgement) of the individual directing the message at you. While the qualifications of this person might be a relevant question to consider in rating the value of the criticism, there could still be some value in what is said even if the person is less than qualified to deliver it.
  3. The message may contain some truth, little truth, or no truth.  Truth, here is the extent to which the information is applicable to you. The question to ask is: “What is the relevance of the criticism to me.”
  4. How you receive the message is ALWAYS a choice.  Attempt to constructively receive the message by considering and assessing all of the message.
  5. You can gain some insight into your sensitivity by looking at the emotions you feel when someone criticizes you and the message of those emotions. If,  for example, you get angry, then you are perceiving the criticism as a threat and you will want to identify the nature of the threat. A feeling of inadequacy indicates that you may have some doubt about your own abilities. And so forth. 
  6. Remember to take the time to respond and avoid reacting to the criticism.

For me, now, sensitivity means that I attempt to remain open to any important information that a critical message may have for me. While it also may mean that I still have a tendency to overreact to criticism, I am aware of this and master my emotions as tools to inform me of both how I view the criticism and how I choose a constructive response.

In your opinion, which emotion is worse, fear or shame? (From my Quora.com post.)

NOTE: This is an edited reprint from a post I made on Quora.com in response to a question.  I  am reprinting it here because I believe it enhances my last post on emotions.

The issue for me is that emotions are highly misunderstood.

My 3-cents on the question.

To start, your question reflects the misconception that you can compare one emotion (or feeling) to another along a given dimension. This dimension might be better/worse, good/bad, or positive/negative.

I say misconception because all of these dimensions are false dichotomies.

All emotions are tools which provide us with information about how we perceive our surroundings. In addition to providing us with this information, our emotions also prepare our bodies to deal with the situation our attention has been directed to by those emotions.

To ask whether fear is worse than shame or vice versa would be like asking “Which is worse, a sewing machine or a TV remote?” Both are just tools which serve a specific function and which have a specific learning curve for mastering that function. To put it another way, each tool serves a specific purpose in a specific sphere of influence. This specificity makes the question of comparing them irrelevant.

If we wish to master the tool and get the most out of the function it provides, we need to understand the tool and apply it. This is called “mastery”.

So, while both of these emotions are just tools, they apply to different situations and, therefore, are unique. And, given this uniqueness, they cannot be rated along the dichotomous scales listed above.

Now, you can compare different intensities and manifestations of a given emotion. Examples include being upset verses appropriate anger and rage. This might be like comparing a home appliance with other brands or with an industrial appliance.

Bringing you up to speed.

In my first Amazon bestselling book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings,

I discuss the emotional cycle, the primary emotions, and several other topics.

The emotional cycle describes how the emotions “work”.

The quick version is that you are hardwired to scan your surroundings for “threats” and other meaningful situations which have significance to you. When a significant event is perceived, an unconscious message goes to your Amygdala which puts your body on alert. In other words, you REACT. A second message goes to the thinking part of your brain which gives you an opportunity to assess your situation and choose a RESPONSE.

The initial reaction to the situation as reflected in the emotion you experience is called the message of the emotion.

There are 6 primary emotions. These emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise) appear sometimes at birth and are found in many subhuman species. The primary emotions have survival value. One writer incorrectly referred to these emotions as the only real emotions and attempted to exclude shame which, as another writer correctly noted, is a self-conscious emotion which develops later as the cognitive ability of the growing child increases.

Shame and Fear.

I am not sure what led you to compare these two feelings as they are very different. Perhaps, both of these feelings are problematic for you and you were wondering if you could eliminate one and keep the other.

Shame, as one respondent pointed out is a self-conscious emotion, the focus of which is yourself and the message of which is that there is something wrong with you. Shame implies that you are forever tainted because of something you have done (or not done). The sister emotion of Guilt tells you that DID something wrong. Shame says that you ARE something wrong.

Shame is a very powerful emotion that parents sometimes misuse as a means to control or correct their child’s behavior. Instead of saying “You did (something) wrong.” and creating a teaching moment, they say “You’re a bad boy.” Now, as parents, this sometimes slips out in all of us and no harm is done. But, if overused, it sends a very destructive message to the child.

The message of fear is that there is a threat that will “kill” you if you don’t escape. Fear is the sensation in the pit of the stomach and the hair standing up on the back of the neck which says “Get away, now!”.

Shame is not a type of fear.

Fear is a here-and-now emotion that is often substituted for anxiety as in “I’m afraid I screwed up.” Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there MAY be a threat and that threat MAY “kill” me.

While different from each other, anxiety and fear are feelings which need to be mastered.

The bottom line is that you need to understand and master all your feelings. If you can get past shame (through therapy if needed) and thereby eliminate it, great. Do so.

If there is a threat which elicits real fear, get away from it.

If what you are experiencing is anxiety, use it as a motivator to deal with the threat and neutralize it. I discuss how to do this on my blog.

Note: You can access all of my 100+ posts directly by going to my site and clicking on the Index tab in the upper right hand corner of the home. This will take you to a PDF which will list all my posts by title and month. Go to the Archives you need, click on it, and scroll down to the post you seek.