Archive for January 31st, 2011
January has been a bad month for violence. It started with the hideous Jan. 8 near-assassination in Tucson, Ariz., of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The rampage killed six people and wounded 13, including Giffords.
Closer to home, just a week ago, a man reacted to a traffic stop by shooting Lincoln City police officer Steven Dodds, sending him to the hospital in critical condition. The attack triggered an intense manhunt around Waldport for the man police identified as the suspect: Portland area resident David Durham.
“What is it with people?” everyone wonders when something like this happens. Two possible answers — usually linked in some way — spring to mind: extreme anger or psychosis.
And they’re probably not far off. Ten years ago, Jonathan Pincus — a well-known neurologist at Georgetown University and chief of neurology at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Washington, D.C. — wrote a book called “Base Instincts: What Makes Killers Kill.” In it he examined the components of violence.
Pincus concluded that the propensity to do violence involves a complex interaction of three factors: childhood neglect or abuse; psychiatric abnormality; and neurological damage.
Pincus describes, in such cases, an anger developing because of childhood influences, with psychiatric and neurological problems then inhibiting a normal person’s ability to control the urge to commit violence.
However, Pincus also stressed that even all three of those markers do not guarantee a violent personality. Most people with brain damage do not become violent, he said, nor do most people who were abused or neglected as children or who suffer from mental illness.
In Pincus’ view, it takes a peculiar combination of the three factors to trigger that level of violent temperament.
If that’s the case, there obviously are ways to prevent people from carrying out violent acts by removing one or more of the components of violence, including successful treatment of mental illness and control of the tendency toward unreasonable anger.
While diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders and mental illness are usually the province of the medical profession, anger is something that is a normal part of human emotion. The problem begins not because of anger itself, but because a person begins to use violence to act out angry emotions.
“Anger is an emotion like another other. It is a temporary state,” Eugene family therapist Debra Jackson said. “People who feel anger need to recognize it as temporary and then develop ways to express it that aren’t destructive. It’s a problem-solving skill, which may sound easy, but can be really hard to do.”
It’s important for couples, who make up the bulk of her clientele, to learn how to handle their own anger both as individuals and within their relationship, because children develop their own anger reactions based on what they see from the adults in their lives, Jackson said.
“It’s very important that children see their parents having a conflict and resolving it in a rational way.”
Of course, “There’s that whole other piece to anger, and that’s where the issue of criminality comes in,” she said. “There’s a lot of research going on that looks at sociopathy and psycopathy. For example, there is evidence that a ‘warrior gene’ may exist, which results in poor impulse control and poor decision-making. The question is, what turns on that gene.”
The answer may go back to the combination theory of the Pincus research, which included decades worth of interviews with 150 murderers — among them serial killer Ted Bundy and Kip Kinkel, the Thurston High School student who killed his parents, then shot and killed two fellow students at the high school and wounded another dozen.
Another study, conducted in Oregon and California by the RAND Corporation, found that the greatest predictors for seventh-grade boys to become violent by the end of high school included poor grades, frequent moves during elementary school, early signs of anti-social behavior, offers of drugs and overall prevalence of drug use at school.
Predictors for girls were similar except that frequent moves and drug offers did not figure as predictors, while low self-esteem and living in poor neighborhoods did.
The implication there, as concluded by the RAND researchers offers the hope to “target interventions to the adolescents who are most at risk, thereby creating more effective violence prevention programs.”
In other words, the “It takes a village to raise a child” mantra — coordination of the family, school and community — may be key in helping preteens and adolescents turn away from future violence as teenagers or adults.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Rating your self or your you- ness is an overgeneralization and is virtually impossible to do accurately. You are (consist of) literally millions of acts, deeds, and traits during your lifetime. Even if you were fully aware of all these performances and characteristics (which you never will be) and were able to give each of them a rating (say, from zero to one hundred) how would you rate each one?; for what purpose?; and under what conditions? Even if you could accurately rate all your millions of acts, how could you get a mean or global rating of the you who performs them? Not very easily!
Just as your deeds and characteristics constantly change (today you play tennis or chess or the stock market very well and tomorrow quite badly), so does your self change. Even if you could, at any one second, somehow give your totality a legitimate rating, this rating would keep changing constantly as you did new things and had more experiences. Only after your death could you give your self a final and stable rating.
Although rating your performances and comparing them to those of others has real value because it will help you improve your efficacy and presumably increase your happiness, rating your self and insisting that you must be a good and adequate person will (unless you, again, are perfect!) almost inevitably result in your being anxious when you may do any important thing badly, depressed when you do behave poorly, hostile when others out-perform you, and self-pitying when conditions interfere with your doing as well as you think you should.
So the point here is that as an adult, you need to take responsibility for your conclusions. You need to take responsibility for the decisions you make. You need to keep an open mind, express your feelings, and explore a variety of options. You can catch yourself jumping to conclusions, it is your choice and no one can do it for you. Just like a child who hears a noise and jumps to the conclusion that there is a monster under the bed and then runs into his parents’ room. “Well it could be a monster” says mom, “but it could be the cat, the wind, a leaky pipe.” As an adult, you are able to use your critical thinking, and say “one theory is that there is monster under the bed, but what’s another?” You can stop yourself when jumping to the worst case scenario, catch your thoughts and consider possible alternatives. It is your choice to do so. It took time to evolve these emotional reflexes and it will take time to eliminate them. Yet, humans we all have the same ability to control our attention and choices. You choose to put effort and attention on some things and not others. It is not always easy to learn new skills and change your habits, but you can do it so long as you choose to make a commitment to change. All humans put effort towards developing new skills, like when you were learning to dive. At first, driving was a conscious and focused effort. You had to concentrate your attention by reducing distractions, placing your hands at ten and 2, attending to the speedometer, peering at the mirrors, and flicking the turn signal. Then with some time, you drank your coffee, played with the radio, and used your cell phones all while driving. It’s a skill to catch your emotional thinking, but with time it becomes second nature.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
You have conversations every day. They can be with your children, your parents, family members and spouses; with colleagues, coworkers or with the boss; with friends and neighbors; with tenants, and landlords. Sometimes these conversations are about the big issues of race, religion, gender and politics. More often than not they are about common everyday concerns. At work, conversations involving feedback on poor performance are difficult for both managers and employees. In families, conversations about disciplining children and how household chores should be shared are often difficult. Neighbors get into damaging arguments about dogs, noise and parking problems, then go to court, or move. Most of people wish they could avoid the conversations about money that they sometimes face with your spouse, children parents, and siblings.
You may put these conversations off for as long as you can because you know they are likely to involve a heated argument, blame or accusations, often end up in an emotional outburst of tears or anger. It is simply not safe to get into them! The stakes are high. You might make a fool of yourself, damage a relationship forever, or make it impossible to work constructively with someone in the future. At the same time, you probably realize that swinging from a stony silence into an emotional rage and then back again, is not good in any relationship.
You can start to improve your communication skills by recognizing four of the most common mistakes you are likely to make that can make communication difficult.
1) You talk too much! When you talk about something that is sensitive, personal and difficult, you may talk around the subject, not being specific, trying to be polite, hoping the other person will somehow pick up the meaning. Plan what you need to say, then choose the most simple way of saying it. The fewer words you use to open a conversation and explain the problem as you see it, the safer you will be. However, you may talk so much that the person you are speaking with is unable to figure out what you are getting at. You only succeed in adding confusion to an already difficult conversation. You know when things aren’t going well. You may by accident, say something exaggerated or accusing, which causes the other person to take a defensive posture.
2) You think you know everything! When you feel strongly about something you are usually convinced that you have got all the facts at your finger tips and that you know exactly what is going on. You are also quite sure that you know who is right and who is wrong! So you go into a conversation primarily to get the other person to agree with you. You unconsciously say to yourself: If I can just get him/her to see, or: If they will just do. Then they will see I’m right.” So the more the other person resists, perhaps because they are trying to offer their own viewpoint, the harder you push to get your way. However, you rarely, if ever, know all the facts in a complex conversation, and you cannot always be right! You must go into difficult conversations about complex issues prepared to listen, and prepared to consider the viewpoint of the other person.
3) You blame everyone except yourself! It is tempting to see every problem as the fault of someone else. If they would perform to the agreed to your standards, if they would just stick to the rules, if they would do what they promised; then there would not be a problem. The fact is that if you are part of the situation, you are in some way also part of the problem. Are you sure you made your instructions clear? Did you clarify priorities? Did you set clear standards? Did you get commitment to these standards? You need to remember that you may be as much part of the problem as anyone else.
4) You go straight to action! It is tempting to offer an immediate solution to the problem in a difficult conversation, so you can end it quickly. Avoid this temptation! Slow down. You need to hear all sides of the story, and the other person needs to know that their opinions and feelings have been heard. If you push too quickly for your own solution it is likely that others will not be committed to the outcome. You will think you have solved the problem only to find that nothing changes and you are back to square one after the conversation.
These four mistakes account for many of the problems you face in difficult conversations. If you can avoid them you will find that your communication skills will improve noticeably.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Emotion can be defined as the bodily changes aroused by external and internal cues, which lead to behavioral acts. There are three parts of this definition to consider. First, there are physiological changes that occur. Many people know someone who has been told by a doctor to reduce stress to help with a heart condition, high blood pressure, or other health problem. It is also well known that fear elicits a response from the nervous system that is commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response. During this response the pupils dilate, salivation is inhibited, heart rate increases, bronchi relax, stomach activity declines, intestinal activity declines, and the bladder relaxes. Essentially the body is poised for “fight or flight” which is a natural physiological response to fear, stress, and anxiety. When the emotion subsides, the body returns to a state of balance known as homeostasis. Second, an internal or external trigger can arouse each emotion you experience. Facing immediate danger may arouse fear. Joy may be aroused upon seeing your daughter marry the man of her dreams in a wedding ceremony. Discovering vomit in a public sink may arouse disgust. Some sort of stimulus arouses every emotion that you experience. Third, emotions usually lead to a behavioral reaction. Fear may produce screaming, running, or jumping. Joy often produces smiling, contentment, and exuberant behaviors. Disgust may produce strange vocalizations, recoil, or another emotion such as anger.
The distinction between bodily feelings and emotions is not altogether clear cut. Emotions do seem to involve bodily feelings. For example, people say that someone feels a stab of fear, a surge of anger, or a flutter of joy. This might make you wonder how nausea differs from disgust. On the face of it, being startled does not look like an emotion. It seems to be a reflex action. A sudden noise triggers the automatic response of freezing and turning towards the sound. But the startle response has some important features in common with states that could be classified as emotions. Say you’re in a crowed restaurant and the noise of chatter from dozens of conversations fills the air. Suddenly a waiter drops a tray with several glasses, which crashes and shatters as they hit the floor. Automatically, the restaurant comes to a dramatic halt as everyone simultaneously comes to a hush. There is an instinctual reflex to stop and freeze when there is a sudden loud noise. The same thing happens when you are on the street and two cars are screeching as they collide. Some argue that the startle response is a very primitive kind of emotion, a precursor of fear or surprise. If you do not agree, you might ask yourself: in what way does the startle response differ from an emotion?
Experts in the field of emotion, have identified four core emotions that are universally experienced and recognized: fear, anger, sadness and enjoyment. However, most researchers believe that there are many families or dimensions of these emotions that result from the myriad blends, variations and nuances that are possible. This is to say; there are many types of love, sadness, fear, etc, because emotions consist of a cluster of feelings and not merely a single one. For example, sorrow, loneliness, grief, dejection and despair are associated with sadness while happiness, joy, delight, contentment and amusement are associated with enjoyment. Your grief may involve emotions of anger, guilt, and sadness; anger may be associated with fear; love may incorporate jealousy, hope, and admiration; or hate may be connected with fear and envy. Hence, great love and joy are associated with jealousy and fear, which stem from the possibility of losing the beloved. These combinations are not accidental; rather they are due to the fact that your emotional state is unstable and in flux. The rapid heartbeat, upset stomach, headaches, muscle tension, shortness of breath, flushed face, sweaty forehead, fidgety legs, is how your body lets you know its time to make a choice for urgent action. These emotional messages take a physical form that can be seen as literal, gut feelings. These sensations arise from experience, warning you against lethal danger or alerting you to a golden opportunity.
Unfortunatly, people rarely trust this inner knowledge because they are told in so many ways to focus on objective facts instead. A pervasive distrust of your unconscious intuition and emotions is evident in stock phrases like “Sorry I wasn’t thinking.” I have never heard anyone say, “Sorry, I wasn’t feeling.” You do yourself damage when they think of yourself as exclusively logical and fail to pay attention to the role of emotions. These two systems are enmeshed because of the way your brain has been put together by evolution. While strong feelings can create havoc in reasoning, the lack of awareness of feelings can build up over time and this can also be damaging. Scientists now realize how important your emotions are. Placing reason first and emotion second really overstates that value of reason. It is kind of like the Wizard of Oz shouting, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Your logical brain has deluded you into believing that it has been pulling the strings, but it is your emotions that are directing your decisions.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
“No! Stop right now!,” I screamed frantically at my partner. I couldn’t help it. I felt so threatened, so stressed out, as if everything depended on this moment. Under this kind of pressure, I lost my rational abilities, my knowledge of what I “should” be saying and doing. Instead, I clutched the door and screamed again: “Stop! I mean it!”
To tell the truth, I was surprised at myself. I thought that I was beyond all that. I thought that no matter what the circumstances, I would always be able to control myself. Of course, I have “lost it” on many occasions during my relationship, but not like this. It was certainly within the realm of possibility for me to shout at my partner, something which I always regretted. If I found myself yelling for some reason or other, I would take note, find what was causing me to over-react and under-think, and then promptly fix it. By the time my partner provoked me in the same way on a subsequent occasion, I knew I would be able to handle it “the right way” – and I did.
However, this was different. This breakdown of communication between myself and my partner was unprecedented in many respects. Firstly, this was a considerate, easy-to-love person who virtually never provoked me. The last time I screamed at her must have been years ago during some frustrating antics. Secondly, no matter how much I tried to anticipate the trouble and prepare myself to respond more appropriately, I just couldn’t seem to get a handle on it. This was actually beyond me. It happened so fast. Every time she did it, I reacted in the same, destructive way. I was destroying her self-esteem, her personal confidence and our very relationship: I was teaching her to drive.
People are not supposed to say that someone is “driving us crazy” since, ultimately, your choice is your own. If you choose to collapse in a frenzied, tantrum – well, that’s your choice. No one is making you do that. No one else is responsible for your impulsiveness and low frustration tolerance. It’s just that, when it comes to teaching my partner to drive, it’s very different. In this case, it is possible, correct and accurate to say, “she’s driving me crazy.”
Now her driving teacher wouldn’t understand. Her driving teacher thinks that she’s the best student she has ever encountered. Perhaps this is true. But the driving teacher has a special brake in her car, doesn’t she? And I don’t. All I can do to stop the car from swerving into the lamp pole, is shout. Which I do. Still, I find it disappointing. I would like to be able to say in a calm, sweet voice something like, “Darling, do you see that lamp post coming up rapidly on the right? Do you think you could steer the car a little to the left, Sweetheart, so that we could avoid driving into it?” But no, not me. I open my mouth and holler: WATCH OUT!! WE’RE GOING TO CRASH!” Naturally this only alarms her and makes her quite annoyed with me. I regret it immediately. In fact, I am filled with remorse. Why did I do it?
The explanation is quite scientific, actually. You see, during times of threat (both physical threats such as the appearance of a poisonous snake and psychological threat such as being the victim of verbal abuse) the human body goes into the “fight or flight” response. This is an automatic and fast reaction, in which the body gets literally ready to attack or to flee. In this readiness routine, adrenalin and noradrenaline pump rapidly through the blood, readying the body for quick movement: the pupils dilate, the breathing becomes rapid and shallow, digestion slows down or ceases, sweat gland activity is increased, and blood and oxygen drain from the brain into the larger muscles becoming prepared for rapid movement.
Notice the last part of the previous sentence: “and blood and oxygen drain from the brain…”. This part is very important for understanding “why I do it” (scream, that is). You see, the brain is emptying of blood and oxygen, leaving it somewhat dysfunctional apart from the emergency system it is operating regarding fighting or fleeing from danger. The frontal cortex, your thinking brain is out of commission and the amygdala, the emotional brain is in control. This presents a problem in my relationship because the amygdala controls emotional processing and automatic responses. The cortex is where you do your thinking, which is best when its fed by a good supply of blood and oxygen. But during the fight or flight response, no significant thinking can occur.
So that explains it. I shout because of adrenalin. My life is at risk (I figure) and adrenalin saps the oxygen from my brain, leaving nothing there but a primitive scream reflex. When you shout, obviously the stress response is at play. A person’s antagonism or lack of co-operation threatens you and sends off the alarm in the brain, quickly hurling you into the fight or flight response. You know that you shouldn’t be shouting. Yet you are shouting because of your brain’s oxygen deprivation. Having figured this out, I solved the problem by taking up reading in the car. I read, my partner drives. She doesn’t really need me to point out the near crashes; she’s actually doing great – much better since I stopped trying to be helpful. I stopped shouting and our relationship has healed.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )