Category Archives: emotions

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.

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)

Since 9/11, our fear has harmed us more than terrorists have

 

crowd of people

Fifteen years ago, American self-confidence shattered amid the death and debris of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, a field in Pennsylvania and four hijacked aircraft.

The ripple effect has been felt ever since.

Before these terrible terrorist attacks, we believed history was on our side. Perhaps rightly so — the forces of democracy and capitalism had torn down the walls of communist tyranny, and the world was poised for an era of “perpetual peace” enforced by unchallenged U.S. power. In fact, foreign policy was barely discussed during the 2000 presidential election. The world was going our way.

Then Sept.11, 2001, happened. It was a shock because it was not supposed to happen.Read more.

Thank You Donald Trump

The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer~

Some people are horrified at the venom spewing from the mouth of Donald Trump. People at the other end of the spectrum are happy to hear someone express the rage they feel because their lives are not the way they would like to see them.  Most of these people don’t dare to share their anger or lash out at anyone who could possibly be responsible for their lives being a mess but suffer in resignation.

The Trump rhetoric is not a reasoned response to feeling angry among his followers. There is no attempt to understand why they are in the situation they are in or to find a reasonable approach to changing that situation. Their sole focus seems to be to rage at those they blame for their misfortune and to destroy the people and institutions they hold responsible.

Trump supporters are not the only ones suffering. Many people silently endure poverty, racism, debt, lack of a good job and medical woes. They could choose rage as well but realize that spewing invective as he does will not change their situation. Nor will it make them feel any better in the long run. Those suffering in both groups do not have the power individually to change their status to that of people with more satisfying lives.

Have you ever known an angry mob to find constructive solutions to their plight? I haven’t. The only way to make reasonable changes is to learn how to work together. But you can’t do this while you are consumed with rage.

People shouting are not in the frame of mind to reason with anyone else about anything. Others who listen to the shouting only hear raw emotion. They don’t hear any details of others’ pain, how it came about or how it affects individuals and families. Neither do they hear anything rational which might become a basis for productive negotiations or cooperation.

So why should we thank Donald Trump? We all have within us the capacity to negotiate with each other toward our common good. All of us have the capacity to descend into blind rage where our words are merely weapons and offer no bridges toward mutual dialog. We can thank him for showing us the worst of which we are capable. He mirrors the depth of rage and spitefulness for which we all have the capacity.

Can you imagine all of the billions of people on earth acting as he does in public? It’s a frightful image to behold. Before we get to this point, we can learn to behave like rational human beings and express our concerns in a way which others can understand and which allows us to work together toward solutions which benefit us all.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Write down what makes you angry about your life.
  • Try to understand how you got to feel this way.
  • Do so without blaming someone else for your misfortune.
  • Consider what you have to offer others to better their lives.
  • Try out one of your ideas with one other person.

The Emotional Citizen- How Feelings Drive Political Preferences and Behavior

This is a photo of people making phone calls for a political campaign.

What we learned from the last general election:

When US citizens enter the voting booth on November 6 to cast their ballots for the next President of the United States, a complex nexus of factors is likely to impact who they vote for as well as how they arrive at their decision. Right at the top of this list is emotion. Early voting-behavior scholars viewed emotions as biasing factors that need to be eradicated because they lead voters astray from the issues and individuals of importance, but more recent work has steadily tipped the balance from emotions as irrational biases to emotions as fundamental determinants of political attitudes and actions (for reviews, see Brader, Marcus, & Miller, 2011; Groenendyk, 2011; Isbell, Ottati, & Burns, 2006). In fact, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the first publication to consider seriously the important role of affect in determining candidate evaluations (Abelson, Kinder, Peters, & Fiske, 1982). This work demonstrates that citizens’ emotional experiences in response to candidates are a powerful and significant predictor of how they evaluate candidates, even after controlling for citizens’ assessments of the candidates along numerous trait dimensions (e.g., honest, weak).

Excerpt from Elizabeth Isbell’s 2012 article in The Association for Psychological Science- read more.

Time to Notice the Little Things

I still get wildly enthusiastic about little things…
I play with leaves. I skip down the street and run against the wind.
~
Leo Buscaglia~

My friend Judie has been watching a pair of nesting phoebes for several years. They build their nest in the most improbable space and tend their chicks with well coordinated teamwork. While driving along the expressway, Carol spotted a tiny fawn grazing along the median, seemingly oblivious of where its mother was. Carol added it to her gratitude list for the day. Driving on a back road, I noticed a row of cornflowers and Queen Anne’s lace framing a cornfield in a subtle blue and white border.

None of these are earthshaking spectacles. Without an eye for the little things, they would all be easy to miss. It seems much easier for us to notice all the terrible things which bombard us each day and the worries which follow us around. If we allow it to happen, all the awful things in life can overwhelm us. Sometimes things which brighten our day take a special effort to notice.

Henry Thoreau wrote his memoir, WaldenU, in the nineteenth century. He described his practice of writing down the things for which he was grateful each day before getting out of bed. Oprah also suggested Thoreau’s practice, described as a gratitude list, a way of keeping in touch with the good things in our daily lives. In order to list things for which we are grateful, we must pay attention to them and savor them as they happen. Some days it seems easy to generate a long list, and some days our troubles seem to block out the good things, making them harder to remember.

The little things are usually subtle and, without practice, easy to overlook. Nevertheless, they are all around and waiting for us to notice them. The above examples are all from nature, but there are many other delights as well. A kind word, a loving gesture, or a small favor can all brighten our day if we let them.

The things we notice and choose to think about influence what kind of person we are and how we present ourselves to the rest of the world. If we constantly tune into tragedy, crime and conflict, we will undoubtedly become morose and negative about the world and eventually about ourselves. If we make an effort to notice the day’s little gifts, we will have a brighter outlook on life despite our troubles.

Having a positive outlook can be contagious. A young woman I know, Megan, is so consistently cheerful, even when things are not going right for her, it is impossible to spend any time with her and not come away feeling more cheerful yourself.

We all have the choice of what to notice and think about. We can choose to descend into the doldrums or look for the joy in life. It might take some practice but we do have a choice and can brighten our lives and the lives of those around us as well.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Slow down the pace of your life for a little while.
  • Look around you.
  • Find something marvelous you did not see before.
  • Keep this new discovery in your mind.
  • Return to it when you become frustrated.

From Commonsense Wisdom for Everyday Life

Take 9 Steps to Manage Troublesome Emotions

butterfly

We might be the master of our own thoughts,
still we are the slaves of our own emotions.

~Author Unknown~

When was the last time you said or did something without thinking and then regretted it? You shouldn’t have too much trouble thinking of an example. We’ve all done it. How often do you let your emotions decide what’s best for you? You can’t always rely on how you feel. If you feel sad, you are likely to see everything that happens to you as another disappointment. If you are angry, you will probably think of someone to blame for what happens to you. If you feel guilty, you might blame yourself.

Your emotions are like a filter. You see your life through a lens which can often cloud your vision. You see everyone you meet through the same filter. If you accept emotional decisions at face value without thinking about them, you are likely to have a distorted view of reality. Your emotions are not reality. They are just how you feel at the moment.

How does that happen? Emotions aren’t logical. Let’s consider an example. Say you roll out of bed angry for whatever reason. Then let’s say someone makes a remark you take as critical of you. Your angry mood will incline you to take offense and snap back at that person or worse. Where do you think this encounter will end if you let your emotions decide your course of action?

What if you live in a family where there is no money to pay the rent, buy food or decent clothes. In that case, you are likely to feel angry most of the time. You are likely to view your life in light of your ongoing emotions as they lead you down paths you would be better off avoiding. Venting your anger on some unsuspecting person might make you feel better for the moment, but it doesn’t improve your lot in life.

So what’s the alternative? Here are some steps to try:

  1. Take time out from your regular routine.
  2. Listen to the talk in your head to hear what your emotions tell you.
  3. Think about how you came to have these emotions.
  4. Ask yourself if you want to let these feelings direct your life.
  5. Accept that you have negative feelings but that they don’t need to rule you.
  6. Look back to see if you always feel this way.
  7. If so, see what you can change about your life to help you find more positive feelings.
  8. If not, concentrate on your more positive feelings.
  9. Once your feelings have had their say, find a more rational way to handle the situation.

You will find yourself in better control of your feelings and your actions.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Make a list of situations you wish you had handled better.
  • Review them to see what you were feeling at the time.
  • Did your feelings incline you to overreact?
  • What would you have liked to do instead?
  • Use the above steps next time you feel like giving in to your emotions.