Author Archives: Joe Langen

About Joe Langen

I am a retired psychologist after thirty-five years of professional practice. I am now retired and write full time. I have published five books, all available on Amazon. I also maintain two blogs on Wordpress, Chats with My Muse Calliope and Release Your Stress and Reclaim your Life. I also distribute a free biweekly newsletter on commonsense and mindfulness topics.

How Well Do Teens Like Themselves?

Maybe being anonymous helps. It’s hard to brag about yourself. How many teens feel really good about themselves? One teen I talked with said she feels as good as possible for her. It is hard for most people to imagine feeling that good. She feels she has no room for improvement. Many people feel great, or GRRRReat like Tony the Tiger, at least some of the time. When you accomplish something special, when someone acts particularly thoughtful of you, or when someone tells you how wonderful you are, it’s easy to feel on top of the world at least for a little while.

It’s surprising to me how many teens can separate who they are and what happens around them. Even if people blame them for everything, if they make quite a few mistakes, or if they face more than their share of problems, many are still able to see that it is not necessarily their fault.

At one time I worked with children and teens whose parents were in the process of divorce. I worried about whether kids would blame themselves. Most of the time I heard them say they realized it was their parents’ problem. Some who were honest thought things might have turned out different if they were able to help their parents somehow. Maybe they could have prevented it, at least in their mind.

Another teen is a good example. He likes himself quite well but still sees his life as “full of ups and downs.” He sees his family as helping him feel good about himself even though they are going through a lot themselves. They don’t blame him for their problems and are able to love him despite their own struggles. A teen girl doesn’t like herself quite as well as most of the others I talked with, but she can still think of positive things about herself.

Even when there are many things you would like to change, you still have good in you and around you. Do you know what Oprah has in common with Henry David Thoreau, the guy who wrote Walden Pond in the nineteenth century? They both believed in taking time out every day to write down things for which they were grateful. Sometimes you have to work to find the good things in your life, but it’s not a bad habit to get into, especially during rough times. When you feel overwhelmed, you can look back over what you wrote as the bright spots in your life.

I was a little surprised that teens who have a hard time in life can feel good inside. I thought that the rough spots would make it hard for them to like themselves. Blaming yourself for what goes wrong makes it even harder to feel at peace. If you don’t blame yourself, you might find someone else to blame and stay angry for a while, or just decide you have bad luck. Try accepting your life as it is, just for now.

There is something about adolescence which makes it easier to like yourself. Teens haven’t had as much time to practice getting down on themselves as adults have and may find it easier to bounce back from tough times. What do you think?

While it’s sometimes hard to imagine that times will ever get better, there are so many things changing during adolescence that it might be best not to take them too seriously. Maybe you can accept that change is inevitable for everyone and that there will most likely be better times ahead.

(Excerpt from my book, Make the Best of Your Teen Years: 105 Ways to Do It)

How To Spot Deception

“He who has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.” ~Sigmund Freud

In my profession it is important to know if someone is lying to me or more importantly to themselves. Whether it is a small lie or a malicious lie, everyone lies at some point. Research shows that on average, people lie 10 times per day. Many people lie to keep the peace or to inflate their ego. Others might lie because they are pathological liars or have a personality disorder.

 

(Excerpt from Eric C’s post on his website, MakeItUltra- Read more)

The Monacle

The New Yorker Magazine trademark caught my attention the other day. A man holds up his monocle, a strange looking little lens dangling from a cord, to better focus on the world’s details. The monocle, like other lenses, changes your view of things around you.

When I conducted play therapy some years ago, I kept a variety of lenses in my office including binoculars, microscopes, magnifying glasses and kaleidoscopes. My goal was to help children look at things in a way different from how they usually saw them and later to look at their lives in a new way as well.

You have learned to see things in a certain way and tend to limit yourself to your own point of view. The story of the blind men and the elephant demonstrates that we may have very different perceptions of the same situation if we experience only one aspect of it. What would you make of an elephant if you could not see it but only touched the tail, foot or trunk and not the rest of the animal?

Israelis and Palestinians as well as liberals and conservatives have very different perceptions of their ongoing animosity. Opposing political parties differ in what they think is best for their nations, states or communities. Neighbors sometimes become passionate about seemingly small issues such as where to string clotheslines. Strong opinions abound on all sides of these issues, usually with everyone convinced they are right and that the other side is bullheaded, stupid or just plain wrong.

No one usually wins arguments about differences, and often everyone remains entrenched in his or her views, convinced he or she is right. You accomplish little in heated controversy other than releasing hot air and sometimes venom. What if you had a mental lens which allowed you to see and understand the point of view of others?

The lens would allow you to set aside your convictions for the moment and listen dispassionately to what others have to say. What is important to them? What do they want? What if their wishes were not so different from yours? What if others also had a magic lens and could understand your convictions. Both sides could then give each other a fair hearing.

Giving others a chance for expression may lead to seeing the similarities of seemingly conflicting views. What may initially look like very different positions may turn out just to be different ways of saying the same thing.

While listening with an open mind, you may also discover that the other person has a legitimate point of view. What you hold dear may not be in anyone’s best interest, including your own. You might find the best course is somewhere in the middle. Revising your thinking would require a level of humility and openness most people do not usually feel when it comes to their cherished beliefs. But what if you tried it and found it worked?

Action steps

  • What do you see when you turn your monocle on yourself?
  • What do you see in others’ minds when you turn your monocle on them?
  • If you can’t see what they are thinking, ask them?
  • Look for areas of agreement.
  • Be respectful of differences.

(Excerpt from Commonsense Wisdom for Everyday Life- 2nd edition)

Emotions, Violence and Mindfulness

Emotions, Violence and Mindfulness

Even today we raise our hand against our brother… We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.

~Pope Francis~

Based on my experience and reading, it seems clear that everyone has a breaking point when  they feel forced to act in ways not typical of them. Perhaps some people turn to violence as a way to be taken seriously for once. Some commit suicide when they feel their life challenges are more than they can bear.

The result can also be a lashing out toward other individuals or society in general if you see others as responsible for your predicament. If you could understand the workings of others’ minds, much of the violence in the world might not seem quite so senseless. Violence often makes sense to people feeling overwhelmed by life burdens. Most people tend to react emotionally to such situations without giving their response much thought.

If you could step back from your emotions, you might see more constructive possibilities and be able to choose one of them. Once you are overwhelmed, it might be too late to step back. You could make a practice of learning to take a break from your daily routine even when you are not under pressure. Then you will have a better idea how to handle stressful life events when they arise.

But what can you do about that pressured feeling? Perhaps the best place to start is to realize that technology has resulted in amazing inventions allowing you to contact others around the world in a matter of seconds. Yet the overload of immediate communication has resulted in separating people rather than bringing them closer together. Here is what General Omar Bradley had to say, “The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we do about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”

In the process of becoming immediately connected, we seem to have forgotten the purpose of communication. It is to help us understand each other and learn to work together to find harmonious ways for us to exist together. Instead, we use our channels of communication to persuade others to think as we do. We use them for entertainment, validating ourselves and for advertising.

Although our technology to some extent helps us understand each other, we need to do much more to appreciate each other in our search for meaningful lives. People who tend toward violence may have goals not much different from our own. Yet they might have had their dreams crushed along the way. They no longer see any path toward a fulfilling life and look for a way to express their frustration.

Violence is seen as aggressive behavior with the intent to cause physical or psychological harm. Hostile aggression also fits our definition of violence for the purposes of this book. It is performed in anger for the purpose of harming another person. By constant exposure to it, we have come to be more accustomed to violence in our society, regardless of the presence or absence of a relationship between perpetrator and victim.

Mindfulness is a way you can come to understand yourself and your inner workings. It involves reflecting on your thoughts and emotions rather than acting on them impulsively. It is a form of meditation and involves making your body and mind still.

You do this by being in a place of serenity free of distractions. You pay attention to your inner state as well as the sounds, sights and smells around you while making no judgments about anything in your awareness. This is a practice where you can exist in just this moment without any concern for the past or future. You can practice mindfulness in order to take your mind and your body down a more constructive path than it might have otherwise taken. Rather than letting your emotions direct your whole day, you could step back from them and put them in context. We will look at this in greater detail later.

Do you usually react with immediate anger when something upsets your routine and then let it consume you for the rest of the day? Do you look for someone to blame for everything that happens to you, when you might be at least partially responsible? Do you let your mood take over your decisions and actions rather than trying to look at situations more rationally? Are you always on alert to find someone at fault? These are a few things to explore in a calmer mood once you find one, but it takes practice to set this mood.

Excerpt from my new book From Violence to Peace.

Managing Aggression and Anger

Anger is a normal emotion and can be helpful in some situations, such as those related to survival and self-protection. We have also seen that resorting to aggression is often a strong temptation when you feel angry. Aggression might be appropriate to ensure your safety but in most situations is not necessary and just inflames the situation.

Steven Laurent presents a series of tips on reducing anger and therefore limiting the possibility of reacting to anger with unneeded aggression. I will list a few of his suggestions and my comments about them:

  • Understand that anger is a problem. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that anger is sometimes a problem. We have seen that anger is a normal human emotion. As long as it is limited to a brief emotional response, does not take over your life and does not remain for a long time, it is nothing to worry about. If your anger quickly escalates into rage, it is a problem. If you continue to brood about what angers you, it can affect your body systems as we have seen and create lack of emotional equilibrium in your life.
  • Monitor your anger. It is useful to be mindful of many things in your life including your emotions. The more aware you are, the better chance you have of changing patterns which make life more difficult for you and for those around you. You might have a feeling that your anger is a problem, or you might hear it from others who are affected by your anger. Laurent suggests keeping a log of upsetting events, the anger they cause and how you react. It sounds a bit tedious but might be a good way to track how well you manage your anger. It is easier to see patterns when you write them down in an anger journal. Writing also gives you a chance to think about what you are doing rather than reacting automatically.
  • Feel the anger and don’t do it anyway. Laurent suggests here that you be aware of your anger but don’t rush into a response. He prefers thinking about how you feel and why that feeling arose. Waiting to react until after you have had a chance to consider the situation helps you see what alternatives you have available. Writing down what you think in your anger journal would also help keep you aware of the process of your thinking.
  • Look after yourself. Several things can make it more difficult for you to manage your anger constructively. One is your health. When you feel run down physically, you will have less ability to think clearly about how to react. The same is true if you are in a bad emotional state or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
  • Understand the ultimate source of your anger: “shoulding.” Here you tell yourself how things should be, especially other people and how they interact with you. Most people have fairly clear expectations of how they would like others to treat them, which is fine. When you set yourself up as the judge of how people should react, you are more prone to react with anger and see it as your job to correct or even punish them. Along with that goes the suggestion to be less judgmental of others.
  • Empathize. You most likely have a good idea of how you would like to react in any given situation, at least one you have faced before. Yet surprises wait along the way to throw you off balance. If someone asked you why you reacted a certain way, you could probably tell them why. Instead of judging people who act in a different way, consider that they might view things differently from you. You would find it easier to be less judgmental if you took the time to understand why others feel and act the way they do.
  • Get your facts straight. One of the main contributors to anger at others is faulty assumptions you make about them. You might assume that have hostile intentions toward you, are aware of what your needs and desires are or know what is likely to arouse your anger. In reality, none of these assumptions may be true.

The better you are able to use suggestions such as these, the less likely you are to let your anger get the best of you. In addition, your chances of moving toward aggressive behavior are also lessened.

Excerpt from my recent book, How to Transform Your Anger and Find Peace.

Book Release: Transform Your Anger and Find Peace

 


How did we get so angry?

Anger surrounds us these days. It shows up on the nightly news, on talk shows and the newspapers as well as on the Internet, not to mention in interactions on the street. Unplanned events in our daily lives invite us to summon and express our anger. It is as if we have become an angry culture. How can we make sense of anger, cope with it and find alternative ways of dealing with our own and others’ misfortunes besides giving vent to our anger in destructive ways? That question is the challenge I pose for you and invite you to explore with me in this book.
As a psychologist, I worked with angry people for thirty­five years on anger management. They have been in my life longer than that. Our country seems angrier now than I can remember it being in the past. Not everyone barks at other people, attacks them or shoots them. Yet the national mood seems to be one of anger coming from a national divide on both sides of every issue.

What to do about anger

I have thought about how this happened and have consulted a variety of publications and also drew on my own professional and personal experience. I came up with a few findings and thought you might find them useful as well. Here are the questions I posed:

  • What is anger and what causes it?
  • How does it affect your life?
  • What kinds of anger problems are there?
  • Who is the target of your anger?
  • How do you manage anger directed toward you?
  • How can you transform your anger?

Have you wondered about any of these? Are you still looking for answers? Join me in an adventure to move away from anger and toward peace.
This book is available through Amazon. Take a look at the free sample (Look Inside) on the Amazon page for Transform Your Anger and Find Peace.

Reasons for Violence

 

Have you ever seen a violent newborn baby? I haven’t. No one is born violent in the sense of trying to harm others. So how does someone become violent? Psychologists and sociologists have conducted many studies over the years to try predicting violence without much success.

No way of understanding violence has been able to predict whether any given individual is about to become violent. Once a person displays violent behavior, it is clear that he or she is capable of violence and likely to be violent in the future.

But the question remains: Where does violence come from? Let’s look at some contributors to violence. One is the path your life takes. Your pattern of life experience can incline you toward acting violently, peacefully or somewhere in between. Dramatic events in your life can also steer you toward a peaceful life pattern or a violent one.

I refer here to violence done by an individual or group of individuals. A person may be influenced by what happens in his or her culture or peer group. Violence may be a group effort in which more than one person is responsible for the violence. Your being part of a group acting in a violent way can give you a reputation for violence whether or not you actually participate in the group’s actions. This is known as guilt by association.

Researchers have debated for years about whether violence or a tendency toward violence can be inherited. This debate continues and has yet to be settled despite years of research. Hormones appear to play a role. Testosterone is seen as a contributor to aggression, which may well account for the much greater number of male than female aggressors. Aggression is generally viewed as quite similar if not identical to violence.

Aggression might look similar but is not always intended to harm anyone. Remember that intent of harm is one of the parts of the definition of violence we discussed in the last chapter. Men tend to engage in more physical forms of aggression while women tend more toward verbal aggression although neither form is unique to one or the other gender.

Life circumstances and experiences while growing up appear to play a significant role in the violent tendencies and violent behavior of individuals. Here are a few developmental circumstances which can make a difference:

  • Your treatment in your family
  • Your family’s stability
  • The safety of your neighborhood
  • The adequacy of housing and food as you grew up
  • How others react to your racial or ethnic background
  • How you learn to react to threats

Other contributors beyond you developmental years and into adulthood include the following:

  • Your feelings in response to physical danger
  • How you think about yourself
  • How you view other people
  • How you see your life situation
  • Your prospects for a satisfying life
  • The adequacy of resources for managing your life

Action Steps

  • Do you ever feel on the verge of violence?
  • Do any of the above sound familiar?
  • Can you understand how they led to violence?
  • Can you do something to change it?
  • Who could help you?

Excerpt from my new book, From Violence to Peace.

Watch Your Ripples

I was busy revising my first book today, when I came across this article. I wrote it in 2004, but it seems especially relevant today. So here it is again

With all the trouble and bad news in the world, people may wonder what the point is of being nice to each other. It often seems that over time, society is becoming more callous and people are spending more of their energy meeting their own needs rather than looking out for each other.

While you may be able to get more money or things by always putting yourself first, there is a price to pay. The price is that money and things become your only companions. You let others know you care only for yourself or are at best irrelevant to them. By thinking only of your own needs, you teach others to avoid you as a threat to their well being, since you are only interested in yourself and not them.

I have heard many sermons over the years. One of the few which has stayed with me has helped set the course of my life. One Sunday morning many years ago, Father Brendan Breen talked about our actions as being similar to a stone thrown in a pond. The stone creates ripples that travel far out from where it lands and changes the surface of the water for quite a distance. I have heard of waves which travel all the way across the Pacific Ocean.

In a similar way, how you treat your neighbors carries on down the line. Sometimes you discourage idealists who want to change the world. Even though you can’t recast the world to suit you, you can have a rippling effect on many people. Who knows how far the influence of your actions will carry?
Thought of in this way, everything that happens between you and others has some effect on the welfare of the human race. If you do something negative, the world is a little worse off. If you do something positive, the world is a little better place to live.

It is easy to see your life as insignificant among the billions of people inhabiting the planet. Your life is quite brief in the context of the thousands of years of civilization. You most likely are aware of the momentous contributions some people have made during the course of history. Your small contributions may not make the history books, but may brighten the lives of those you meet and maybe countless others you have not met.

How often do you think about the effect careless criticisms may have on others? Likewise, you may not be aware of the positive effect you have through your kindness toward others, and how far the effect may travel.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, can be to leave the world and its inhabitants a little better off than you found them. Rather than selfishly seeking to meet only your own needs, or being critical of others, you can care for others in little ways. The ripples of your actions can travel far and wide, eventually returning to enhance your own life.

Action Steps

  • Do you feel a need to put yourself first?
  • Do you feel you will lose out if you don’t?
  • How often do you consider others’ needs?
  • Try putting others’ needs first just for today.
  • See if they treat you differently as a result.

(Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Commonsense Wisdom for Everyday Life, 2nd. edition)

Book Release- From Violence to Peace

I just released my latest book, From Violence to Peace.on Amazon.
Here is a little information about it:

Why there is so much violence in the world and what you can do about it.

Violent incidents appear in the news on a daily basis. Different kinds of violence surround us in our communities and throughout the world. It has likely touched you or someone you know in one way or another. It’s easy to fret about violence or become angry at those you see as responsible for it. Can you do more than look on as the world unravels? Yes you can. This book will help you understand violence, see where it comes from and what you can do to reduce it. Here is what you will discover:

    • The many faces of violence–Find out what violence is and explore theories which explain it. See how violence fits in with human emotions. Put violence in perspective.
    • How we got to this point–Learn about the process of becoming angry. Consider a short history of human violence. See the various kinds of violence. See how violence can arise within you. See why people resort to violence. Learn how your family, community and government can encourage violence.
    • How religion fits in–Consider religion across the ages, some of the main religious traditions and how violence and terrorism relate to religion.
    • How you can find peace–Learn how you can find peace within yourself. Find out how to have more peaceful relationships with others. Explore how you can find peace with God and the Universe.
    • A closer look at the worst problems– Consider the problems of domestic violence, sexual violence, school violence, criminal justice contributions, terrorism, random violence and contributions of the media.
    • Some tools to use in doing your part–Consider earth’s needs, what legacy you will leave your children, and the various levels on which you can contribute to the process of peace.

None of these challenges are easy to engage in. But playing your part is not just for your benefit. Everyone you know or care about has a stake in the conflict between violence and peace. So does the future of your children and of Earth. Would you like to know more about the path which lies ahead?

Go to the Amazon page for From Violence to Peace. Click on Look Inside to read the first part of the book (free) and start your journey.

Rage and its alternatives

Anger is a killing thing: it kills the man who angers,
for each rage leaves him less than he had been before –
 it takes something from him.
~Louis L’Amour~

Have you tried passing a car on an expressway only to find another car five feet from your back bumper? Have you tried to do something for a friend only to hear you are stupid for not doing it his way? For some people, annoyance can quickly escalate into rage.

Babies cry when they are uncomfortable but they are not in a rage. It seems clear that expressing rage is something that must be learned. Sometimes family patterns date back several generations. While there may be a few people affected in each generation, fortunately not all family members are tainted by a tendency to rage.

What is rage? The dictionary defines it as uncontrollable anger. Sometimes anger is justified. Being angry is appropriate when someone deliberately wrongs you. Other ways to handle anger besides rage exist. You can express your anger directly to the one who had wronged you. You can explain how you feel in case the other person was unaware of how their behavior affected you. You can stop to consider your reaction to see if your anger is justified.

Rage means allowing your anger to consume you to the extent that you lose control. You might talk louder, carry on incoherently, dump venom on your aggressor, or perhaps lash out in a physical fury. Rage is generally an overreaction to a situation, out of proportion to the circumstances.

How does rage develop? On the surface, it seems that someone does something you don’t like and you react with rage. There is another step, an inner one. You tell yourself that the other person had no right to do what he did. He is only doing it to upset you. If he had any sense, he would not do such a thing. You don’t deserve what he did. You should not have to put up with him acting in such a stupid way. He is so dense the only thing he could possibly understand is your blasting him. Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?

You can work yourself into a rage quickly. If you frequently entertain thoughts such as the above, it does not take long to end up in a rage. Once you are in a rage, you have little control of your emotions. Rage is, by definition, uncontrollable anger. It is easier to interrupt the process of becoming angry than it is to stop it once it explodes.

You have two other choices. One is to avoid situations where you know you are likely to go off the deep end. Unfortunately, you can’t always predict when this will happen.You can also think about what you tell yourself when something upsetting happens. Is this person deliberately trying to upset you? Does she know you are likely to be upset? Could you explain how you feel in a milder way than rage? You can also think about your ability to share other emotions besides rage. If you don’t know how to show embarrassment, fear, sorrow or loneliness, you may end up expressing all your negative emotions as rage. You can learn to change this pattern by talking with a friend, working with a counselor or taking an anger management course.

Action steps:

  1. How do you deal with angry feelings?
  2. Stop to think about why you are angry?
  3. Think of how you upset yourself.
  4. How do you progress from anger to rage?
  5. How can you express your anger so it will be better understood?

(Excerpt from Commonsense Wisdom for Everyday Life, 2nd edition, forthcoming).