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.

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).

Dealing with Narcissistic Rage

Dealing with Narcissistic Rage

Hate is the complement of fear and narcissists like being feared.
It imbues them with an intoxicating sensation of omnipotence.

~Sam Vaknin, Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited~

Psychiatrist Mark Goulston tells us that engaging people in the midst of narcissistic rage is not likely to be productive. If it is safe, you might just listen until they are finished ranting. You can later request that they talk with you in a calm and respectful manner. If that does not happen the next time, it might be best to just walk away if you can or avoid such people altogether.

Susan Whitbourne, Ph.D. suggests specific ways to handle narcissists:

  • Determine which type you’re dealing with. A grandiose narcissist might be a good ally if your goals exactly match theirs. Vulnerable narcissists are harder to deal with because they are constantly on the lookout for people who might further diminish their already poor concept of themselves.
  • Acknowledge your annoyance. Learn to recognize where your annoyance lies, usually related to the person who constantly interrupts you when you are trying to accomplish something.
  • Appreciate where the behavior comes from. Understand that vulnerable narcissists need to make themselves feel better. A modicum of reassurance for them is necessary to focus them on a group task. Just don’t get carried away with praising them or they will take over a project.
  • Evaluate the context. Some situations will worsen tendencies toward being defensive, vindictive and spiteful. One example is a narcissist who is passed over for a promotion  but still needs to work with the team who they are not leading.
  • Maintain a positive outlook. Some narcissists enjoy seeing others suffer. Letting them see your annoyance is likely to just increase their efforts to make your life more miserable.
  • Don’t let yourself get derailed. Stay focused on your own goals despite a narcissist’s efforts to take center stage and monopolize the direction of your group.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Try using humor to react to a narcissist’s attempt to monopolize group goals rather than direct confrontation.
  • Recognize that the person may need help.  Narcissists whose low self esteem leads them to their disruptive behavior may be in need of help to find better ways to improve how they see themselves.

These suggestions appear to be good ones when you are the one in charge. If the narcissist is the one in charge, your chances of using any of them successfully will be quite diminished. Using any of these approaches when you are in a vulnerable or one-down position is likely to be seen as undermining the power of the narcissist in charge. In such a situation, your options for improving the situation do not look good. Your best bet may be to find a way to remove yourself from the situation or group.

Maybe you are not ready to flee or are in a position of not being able to afford doing so. Now what? Susan Price has some ideas. Here is one possible scenario: “Your boss is a complete narcissist: he expects you to be at his whim all day, he blames everyone for mistakes except himself, argues and contradicts employees with every small detail even things he said himself!” If this sounds familiar, read on. Here are her suggestions for handling the situation:

  • Forget being friends. You will have to sell your soul to be considered a friend by such a person. Remember that narcissists are not capable of making friends in the sense of having mutual respect and caring for each other. Your interests are never a priority.
  • Don’t criticize. Your criticism will never be taken at face value. Anger or rage is to be expected when you criticize a narcissist.
  • Focus on analyzing problems. Sharing your feelings is not likely to get you anywhere. Narcissists are interested only in their own feelings. Instead, concentrate on problems and potential solutions. Then, don’t count on receiving credit for a good idea.
  • Let him or her make decisions.  Presenting options works better than suggesting the best option. Then allow him or her to take credit for the plan.
  • Make him or her look and feel good. His or her importance and having it recognized are uppermost in such a person’s mind. Don’t be stingy with praise.
  • Absorb the blame. Narcissists never see themselves at fault. Someone else is always the blame for whatever goes wrong.
  • Set boundaries and keep them. Try to focus on solutions and temper criticism with praise.
  • Don’t compete. Don’t expect praise for yourself or thanks for doing a good job. A narcissist will always take credit for teaching you to do a good job.

To survive, you need to set aside your own needs and become a cog in the machine operated by a narcissistic boss. Staying afloat is a tricky business and has few rewards. You might be better off finding a more rational and rewarding position. If you decide to stay, don’t expect much for yourself.

You might be wondering whether dealing with a narcissist with power is a lost cause. It is difficult but not impossible. In a social group, you can work with others to reconstitute the group without the offending narcissist. In a corporation, the board of directors, informed by shareholders and workers, has power over any given boss. In government, citizens have power to elect representatives who have the power to contain if not remove narcissists not in touch with public needs.  In all these cases, your job is to start working with others and find a mutual path toward resolving the impasse.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Dealing with a narcissist is an uphill battle at best.
  • Don’t expect to do the impossible.
  • Don’t expect too much of yourself.
  • Get support from others in your venture.
  • Try to avoid situations where narcissists have power over you.

(Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Anger in America)

Understanding Narcissistic Rage

No reason, no principle, just the pure exercise of power.

~John Paul Sartre~

The magazine, Psychology Today, refers to it as “a chilling rage.” From the point of view of a narcissist, the world “looks like it should approve, adore, agree and obey you. Anything less than that feels like an assault and because of that a narcissist feels justified in raging back at it.”
Psychology Today also lists characteristics of narcissists. These include:

  • Control freaks– They try to exercise tight control over everything that happens around them and freak out when things do not go their way.
  • Irritability– They are easily annoyed and anything unpleasant tends to grate on them.
  • Short fuses– You have heard the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” They don’t see this as applying to them. Everything they don’t like is of major importance.
  • Low frustration tolerance- Life around them is calm only when everything is as they want it and everyone agrees with them.
  • Argumentative– They don’t believe in allowing others to have their own opinion or that it is possible to coexist peacefully with those who don’t agree with them. All differences must be attacked.
  • Need to have the last word– The never let anything go unchallenged and fight to the bitter end to have their ways accepted as the right ones.
  • Unable to lose– Their goal is to win at all costs regardless of the magnitude of the situation.
  • Won’t take no for an answer– For them no is not a complete sentence. It is a challenge to keep arguing.

They have other unpleasant traits as well:

  • Quick to anger if you don’t accommodate them– They don’t discuss arrangements which displease them. Instead they are much more likely to attack you as being wrong or inconsiderate.
  • Quick to being aggressively defensive if you call them on any deficiency, fault or responsibility– Another way of saying this is that they have “thin skin.” Nothing is ever their fault and there is always something wrong with you for attacking them.
  • Can’t apologize or, if they do they can’t do it sincerely-Any apology of theirs tends to be hollow and not really meant. You will be left knowing they think any fault lies with you.
  • Rarely say thank you or congratulations– You are not important and anything you accomplish reduces their feeling of self importance.
  • Don’t feel or demonstrate remorse– They don’t generally feel they have ever done anything wrong. Therefore they feel no need to feel sorry for anything..
  • Feel entitled to enthusiastic and appreciative approval, adoration, agreement and obedience– They view themselves at the top of the heap in all matters and expect others to bow down to them constantly.
  • Gloat in victory, sullen in defeat– Don’t expect any gracious gestures whether they get their way or not. It’s all about them.
  • Quick to rage if you humiliate them– Humiliation can be as simple as viewing them on the same plane with ordinary mortals and is viewed as a direct attack.

Maybe you are wondering how some people get to be raging narcissists. One theory is that by nature they have trouble feeling good about themselves and need constant reassurance of their value. This may well result from a childhood in which such people are constantly told of their lack of worth as persons. As adults they try to compensate for their inferiority feelings by seeking constant adulation from others. When they don’t find what they are looking for they begin to show the characteristics we have just discussed.

Another theory is that they need to feel better than everyone else in order to remain stable. When they do not get the praise they crave, they turn to rage in an attempt to bully others into revering them.
However they get that way, narcissists are very difficult to deal with. But that’s another story which I will address in my next post.

(Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Anger in America)

World community sizes up a diminished Trump

 

For the world at large, the resignation by the US National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on Monday is not about an obscure 19th century law that defines a phone conversation between him and the Russian ambassador.

What it conveys are three things. First, the US is sliding into a vicious civil war. A Fox News poll released on February 14 shows that the American public is almost evenly divided over President Donald Trump’s job performance since his inauguration on January 20. When asked if the Trump administration is working on things that will help their family, 47% of voters say yes, while 48% say no.

(Excerpt from Barrakumar’s article in Asian Times- read more)

In a new video, Pope Francis urges compassion for refugees, people on the margins

Pope Francis holds a candle as he arrives to celebrate Mass marking the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 2.

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis called for greater compassion for refugees and marginalized people less than a week after President Trump ordered a temporary immigration ban from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

In a video of the pontiff’s prayer intentions for February, the Pope does not specifically refer to the president or his policies but emphasizes his concern about large numbers of people who he says are being marginalized and forgotten on the fringes of society.

(Excerpt from Religion News Service in the Catholic Post- read more.)

Build Bridges Rather Than Walls

 

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

~Plato~

I have been writing articles for fifteen years .My goal as been to encourage people to look at themselves, their inner workings and their relationships as a way to come closer to others as a world community. As such, I see it as our responsibility to understand each other, learn what is important to others and find ways we can work together in our common interest. I have heard from many people over the years who are working to find a productive and cooperative way to live in peace with others.

In the past few years, citizens of our planet have increasingly turned against each other. Finding ways to work together has faded and become tarnished as more of us are tempted to turn toward grabbing what we want, ignoring what is good for anyone else, and worshipping our own needs. In my opinion, President Trump has seized on this trend, especially latching on to the anger many people feel and express over not having what they want and feel they deserve.

Although he talks about his goal as sticking up for ordinary people, his decisions so far do not offer much to the common people. The benefits of his decisions are more geared to corporations and the wealthy, which includes him.

He has not mellowed any since his inauguration and appears as petulant as ever. In my study of anger for a book I am writing, I have come to see more clearly the connection between anger and fear. The more anger a person shows, the deeper his or her fear. As far as I can tell, his fear is of not being number one, not getting enough adulation and not being appreciated. With the smallest slight, he retaliates in anger.

Why do walls have a special place in his heart? My sense is that this is his way to protect himself from the ravages of the hordes who would decrease his fortunes. He clings to his fortune and exaggerated sense of himself to make himself feel worthwhile. The fear which underlies anger and rage are often rooted in early life experiences. I don’t know enough about his early life to speak with authority, but I would suspect that he suffers from emotional wounds at a young age.

We think of walls and bridges as constructed of concrete and steel. Yet if we feel a need to protect ourselves emotionally, we build emotional walls between ourselves and others to make us feel safe. After resolving our own inner hurt, we can then feel safe enough to start building emotional bridges between us and others.

The natural reaction of a hurt person to anger expressed toward him or her is to hurt the person seen as an attacker. Responding to Trump’s anger with our own anger just makes it harder for him to recover from his own sense of being hurt and escalates his tendency to react to everyone he sees as a threat with even greater anger.

I have come to realize that my anger aroused by Trump’s actions results from my own pain residing in my inner child. I will work on my own sense of hurt signified by my anger toward Trump. I will work toward a sense of compassion for his inner child and for the pain he has accumulated.

Life Lab Lessons

  • When you feel anger toward someone, look inside yourself to see what inner hurt triggers your anger.
  • Before you engage someone else, work to resolve your own feeling of hurt.
  • See others’ anger as a sign of their inner feelings of being hurt.
  • Once you have resolved your own feelings, see what you can do to help others see the meaning of their own anger.
  • Help them resolve their feelings of hurt if they will let you.

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Signs of Relationship Harmony

Signs of Relationship Harmony

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.
~Thomas Merton~

Lately it seems that everyone is at each other’s throats. Maybe it’s time to start reconnecting with each other. How can you tell if you are in harmony with another person? Here are some signs:

  • You can talk openly about a wide range of topics without needing to filter what you say or worry that you will be misunderstood or criticized.
  • You are both on the same emotional plane.
  • You understand the feelings expressed by another and he or she understands your feelings.
  • You are both aware when your feelings start to head in different directions and know enough to discuss it so you can avoid conflict.

People in harmony generally agree on issues. That is one of the reasons they are conversing in the first place. Of course, no two people agree on everything. How could they? No two people have the same set of experiences on which to base their opinions. But people in harmony respect each other enough to listen, try to understand and then accept their differences as one of the challenges in maintaining a relationship.

People in harmony usually share the same or similar outlooks on the meaning of life. If they are headed in completely opposite directions they are not apt to be of much help to each other and don’t consider themselves compatible. More moderate differences can be helpful to both people if heard out and discussed.

Harmonious people are helpful to each other, finding minor course corrections which can bring together their life paths and make their interactions more productive. People in harmony usually support each other’s life goals and offer mutual help when they can. People with completely different goals usually have little to offer each other and may well find each other’s personalities grating on them.

People in harmonious relationships find it easy to relax around each other. They don’t need to feel defensive or ready to protect themselves from physical or verbal attack. On the contrary, they anticipate kindness and understanding. They also feel validated.

They know that how they live their lives makes sense to each other and that neither has to keep explaining why they think or do certain things. They are comfortable sharing their opinions and feelings knowing that however they feel or think, the other person will agree with them or at least accept their positions, perhaps asking for some clarification.

Being in harmony with another person leaves you with good feelings as I just mentioned. But is there more to the story than how you feel? Fortunately, the answer is yes.

Cooperation literally means working together. Harmonious relationships go beyond shared thoughts, feelings hopes and dreams. Based on all you experience with each other you are in an ideal place to share and support each other’s unique creativity in approaching life.

You understand each other, know how you think, plan, and do things. You don’t waste time explaining everything you do and why you do it. You don’t worry about being told your plans are stupid. You already know the other person respects and backs you even when your plans differ. As your relationship deepens, you find more common goals. You may have discussed how to reach them and are now in a position to pursue them together.

Your expectations of each other, of people in general, and of yourselves match. For the most part, there are no great surprises or disappointments as you work together. You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You learn to compensate for weaknesses, learn new skills, or bring in others to supplement your work together. There is no guessing or assumptions. You know you can talk directly with each other. You can do so in a spirit of cooperation, respect and kindness.

When you reach a crossroads or fork in your journey, you can negotiate constructively to arrive at the best solution. You do this cooperatively with no power struggle or conflict and agree on the best solution no matter which one of you discovers it.

At the end of a shared project you can evaluate the results impartially. If you need to go back and make changes you do so harmoniously with no thought of blaming anyone because you could have done a better job. You work together on revisions until you are both satisfied.

Harmony also creates a safety zone for both of you. You know you can count on each other in a crisis or even to help with minor needs. You also know that you will not be judged by each other and that what you say will be received with love and understanding.

Life Lab Lessons

  • How many of the people in your life are in harmony with you?
  • Are you satisfied with how things are now?
  • If so, thank the people with whom you are in harmony.
  • If not, what can you do to make these relationships more harmonious?
  • Your efforts will be contagious and make the world a little more peaceful.

(Excerpt from my forthcoming book, From Rage and Violence to Peace and Harmony)

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Thank You for Your Apology

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Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past.

~Tryon Edwards~

The day after the recent presidential election, I ventured out the door after a period of being stunned. I ran into a man I knew on a limited social basis. As usual, he asked how I was doing that day. I told him I was not doing very well. His very upbeat demeanor told me we had voted for different candidates.

We tried having a conversation about politics and in particular the election, both voicing our reasons for voting the way we did. I don’t think the conversation resolved anything or led either of us to alter his views.  I left his company resolving to be cordial in the future but to avoid political conversation which only served to upset both of us.

This has worked for several weeks. This morning when we met, he surprised me by apologizing for being overly strong in his statements in our last conversation of any length or consequence. I tried to recall whether I had said anything which might have offended him and apologized myself just in case. He assured me that I had not said anything to offend him and again apologized for his tone in the last conversation.

We were able to agree that the campaign and election were upsetting for everyone including both of us. We also agreed on being upset and worried about the great divide between the two halves of our fellow countrymen. We shared our fears about what this conflict would mean for the future of our country.

As I left our conversation, I felt the best I have since the election. Neither of us changed our minds, and did not try to change each other’s. We were able to share our mutual fears and hopes for the future. I realized that I do not need to see everyone with whom I disagree as an enemy.

Most of us want the best for our country and for each other. We just have different ideas about how to get there. At one time our leaders with different positions were able to sit down to find compromises with which we could all live. This does not seem to be the case right now. However, if we who elected them can talk with each other in the interest of our mutual benefit, we might be able to set a good example for our elected leaders. None of us can single-handedly change the tensions, disagreements, and hostility evident among our country’s citizens. Yet we can begin by building bridges between ourselves and those with whom we come into contact on a daily basis. That is at least a start.

Life Lab Lessons

  • If you are angry when you discuss politics, why do you think that is?
  • Look further to see what other feelings you might have?
  • Is fear one of them?
  • What do you fear?
  • Is it easier to discuss your fears with others than your anger?

How can people move past anger after the election?

Why do elections create such strong emotions?

In any election both sides have invested a lot of passion, energy and time in their point of view. For many reasons humans take not getting their point of view validated as a menace and a threat to their well-being. When we have to coexist with someone who has a different point and their point of view is victorious, it’s hard.

It’s quite challenging to be in a world where one’s strongly held views are repudiated. Our minds wrap around the rightness of our view and the need to have other people share those views in order to feel that there is order and safety. If you find out the other side has won, it is a loss which needs to be grieved and it creates a tremendous amount of vulnerability.

Excerpt from Amy Adam article in Stanford News- read more

Stress, Violence and Peace

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What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments,
but what is woven into the lives of others.

~ Pericles~

The pace of life has become faster and more frantic in recent years. Many people leave little time for thoughtful reflection or just sitting still. If you are older, you might remember when life was simpler and less hectic. If you are younger, you might have heard about more peaceful times from your relatives. How did we get from living our lives in relative peace to being obsessed with anger and its expression in violence?

Many people lately have become alarmed by “senseless” violence around the world. Have you wondered whether there is a connection between the spate of suicide bombings in Europe and the mass shootings around the world, including those in this country? I have long considered a possible connection between these events and their relationship to fear and violence. Let’s take a closer look.

If you have ever studied psychology or even read about it casually, you are most likely familiar with the fight or flight response to fear. Depending on your circumstances, when faced with something fearful to you, you react by attacking the source of your fear (fight) if you think you can overcome it or avoiding it (flight) if it seems more powerful than you are. Immediate fear and these responses to it follow a direct and immediate threat of attack such as by a wild animal or person. You don’t have time to think about it but automatically react almost immediately.

Anxiety is related to fear. The feared object might not be immediately present, but you can worry about what might happen or not happen in the future. You become anxious about your own welfare or that of your family. You might also fret about the possible behavior of other people or the course taken by the society in which you live.

If you are unable to find a way to relieve this anxiety, it builds and eventually leads to a sense of desperation or hopelessness. This can take place inside you and possibly remain unknown to others. You might find someone whom you trust with your concerns and share them or act on your anxiety by lashing out. Based on my experience and reading, it seems clear that everyone has a breaking point at which they feel forced to act in ways not typical of them. Perhaps some people will 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 be a lashing out toward other individuals or society in general if we see others as responsible for our predicament. If we could understand the workings of others’ minds, much of the violence in our world might not seem quite so senseless. The violence 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 step back 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.

Life Lab Lessons  

  • Practice setting aside peaceful moments or longer periods of time.
  • Without blaming anyone, consider how you arrived in this situation.
  • If you have been here before, what worked to get you back on track?
  • If you have no idea what to do, find someone you can trust with your challenge.
  • Once the crisis is resolved, write about what you did to handle it.