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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.