Think about this the next time someone cuts you off in traffic or in a grocery store line: Anger can bring on a heart attack or stroke.
That’s the conclusion of several studies at Harvard Medical School and elsewhere. One study of 1,305 men with an average age of 62 revealed that the angriest men were three times more likely to develop heart disease than the most placid ones.
Angry older men, as stereotypes go, are most vulnerable. But excessive ire can take a toll at any age. Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine tracked 1,055 medical students for 36 years. Compared with cooler heads, the hotheads were six times more likely to suffer heart attacks by age 55 and three times more likely to develop any form of heart or blood vessel disease.
The conclusion is clear: Anger is bad for you at any age. “Among young adults, it’s a predictor of premature heart disease later in life,” says Harvey Simon, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Most anger research has focused on men, so whether the same risk applies to women remains unknown. One study, published in 1995, found that, during two hours after an angry outburst, a individual’s risk of having a heart attack was more than twice that of someone who had not lost their cool. Out of 1,623 people in that study, 501 were women.
“Almost all the anger research I’m familiar with has focused on men,” notes Simon. “However, based on a 2006 study of road rage, I would guess that women are less prone to severe anger and thus to its deleterious effects, which include heart attack, stroke, and even impaired lung function.”
A Harvard study, published in August, concluded that men who showed high hostility at the start of the eight-year investigation exhibited significantly poorer lung function at the end of it. “This research shows that hostility is associated with poorer [lung] function and more rapid rates of decline among older men,” notes Rosalind Wright, an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Strokes of anger
Over the years, then, anger increases a man’s and, probably less so, a woman’s chances of heart disease. But, what about a single burst of rage, the guy who cuts in front of you just before the exit ramp? The answer apparently is “yes.” In the Harvard study of 1,623 patients, which included 501 women, intensive anger more than doubled their risk of heart attack if the emotion occurred in the two hours previous to the heart attack.
In an evaluation of 200 stroke patients in Israel, researchers linked a bout of intense anger to a 14-fold increase in risk of stroke within two hours of the emotional incident.
Results from a study published this year found that of more than 2,500 patients treated in emergency rooms in Missouri hospitals, about 500 of them were torn by anger just before the injury. The greater the anger, the higher the risk, researchers concluded.
Anger comes in many doses: annoyance, irritability, frustration, vexation, resentment, animosity, ire, indignation, wrath, and rage, for example. Most people know when they’re mad. If not, someone is bound to tell them so, sooner or later.
Psychologists have developed a scale that rates anger levels. It’s a true-or-false test that presents statements like: “At times I feel like smashing things.” “I easily become impatient with people,” “I’ve been so angry at times that I’ve hurt someone in a physical fight.”
Once you decide how irate you are, you need to decide what to do about it. For a start you can see your family doctor about the wisdom of taking an aspirin a day. Harvard researchers recently found that a single low-dose (81 mg) pill can reduce anger-caused heart attacks by 40 percent. In other words, a daily aspirin may cut the risk of breaking an angry heart by almost half.
How to be cool
Simon adds more advice in the September issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch, which he edits. “Try to identify the things that bother you most and do your best to change them,” he suggests. “Learn to recognize warning signs of building tension, such as a racing pulse, fast breathing, or a jumpy, restless feeling. When you recognize such signals, take steps to relieve the tension. Often something as simple as a walk can cool things down.”
Don’t boil in silence. Talk out your feelings with your spouse, partner, or a good friend. If that doesn’t work, write down your feelings. Try to explain to yourself why you are so irritated or vexed.
Simon also suggests learning to meditate, or experimenting with deep breathing exercises. Also, you can, with practice, change behaviors that light your fuse. Here are some examples: Don’t always try to have the last word. Try not to raise your voice. Don’t curse. Wait a few seconds when you feel on outburst coming on then try to express yourself calmly. Don’t grimace or clench your teeth. Practice smiling.
If all such efforts fail, angry people can seek professional help. A 2002 study reported that stress management classes can protect men from anger-induced heart problems, and individual counseling may be even better.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
If a caller upsets you, do you hurl the phone across the room? Do you curse and blast the horn furiously if the driver in front of you takes three seconds to notice the green light? An angry temperament can hurt more than relationships – anger and heart disease may go hand in hand, according to experts.
“You’re talking about people who seem to experience high levels of anger very frequently,” says Laura Kubzansky, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who has studied the role of stress and emotion on cardiovascular disease.
Moderate anger may not be the problem, she says. In fact, expressing one’s anger in reasonable ways can be healthy. “Being able to tell people that you’re angry can be extremely functional,” she says.
But explosive people who throw things or scream at others may be at greater risk, as well as those who harbor suppressed rage, she says. “Either end of the continuum is problematic.”
Gender doesn’t appear to make much difference, she adds. “Once people are chronically angry, men and women seem to be at equally high risk.”
Scientists don’t all agree that anger plays a role in heart disease, she says. But many studies have suggested a significant link. “I think the case is strong,” Kubzansky says.
For example, one large study published in Circulation in 2000 found that among 12,986 middle-aged African-American and white men and women, those who rated high in traits such as anger — but had normal blood pressure — were more prone to coronary artery disease (CAD) or heart attack. In fact, the angriest people faced roughly twice the risk of CAD and almost three times the risk of heart attack compared to subjects with the lowest levels of anger.
Anger may not be the only culprit in heart disease risk. Kubzansky’s own research suggests that other extreme, negative emotions may contribute, too. “Anger is a problem, but so, too, are high levels of anxiety and depression. They tend to co-occur. People who are angry a lot also tend to have other chronic negative emotions as well.
How might hotheads be hurting their hearts?
Scientists speculate that anger may produce direct biological effects on the heart and arteries. Negative emotions, such as anger, quickly activate the “fight-or-flight response.” They also trigger the “stress axis,” Kubzansky says. “That’s a slightly slower response, but it activates a cascade of neurochemicals that are all geared toward helping you in the short run if you’re facing a crisis.”
While these stress responses mobilize us for emergencies, they might cause harm if repeatedly activated. “When they persist over time, they end up being potentially damaging,” she says.
For example, excessive amounts of stress hormones may speed up the process of atherosclerosis, in which fatty plaques build up in arteries, Kubzansky says.
Anger may also disrupt the electrical impulses of the heart and provoke dangerous heart rhythm disturbances.
Other research suggests that stress hormones may lead to higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a substance linked to atherosclerosis and future heart disease risk. In 2004, Duke University scientists who studied 127 healthy men and women found that those prone to anger, hostility, and depression had two to three times higher CRP levels than their more placid peers.
“CRP levels at this range are associated with inflammation that is likely to eventually increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke,” says researcher Edward Suarez, PhD. The findings were published in Psychosomatic Medicine.
Besides direct biological effects, lifestyle factors also come into play. Angry people may take worse care of themselves. “People who are chronically distressed may not behave in health-promoting ways,” Kubzansky says. “We know that anxious, depressed, angry people are more likely to smoke, less likely to engage in physical activity, have poor nutritional habits and drink to excess.”
Anger — as well as anxiety, depression and other negative emotions — are a part of life, Kubzansky says. They can serve useful purposes. “But if people find that they have them chronically and at high levels and can’t seem to get away from it, I view it like pain. It’s a signal that something needs to change. This is not how it’s supposed to be.”
Anger is intertwined with other problems that may end up harming the heart, says psychologist Wayne Sotile, PhD. “If you mismanage anger, it’s going to compromise your most intimate relationships,” he says. “It’s going to isolate you from others. The likelihood increases that you’ll get depressed, and you’re going to cause problems in your life that increase anxiety and worry.”
Sotile is director of psychological services for the Wake Forest University Healthy Exercise and Lifestyle Programs and a special consultant in behavioral health for the Center for Cardiovascular Health at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C.
Counseling and anger management classes can help the chronically angry to get their deep-seated emotions under control. But you can take more immediate steps, too, experts say.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Anger is a basic human emotion that is experienced by all people. Typically triggered by an emotional hurt, anger is usually experienced as an unpleasant feeling that occurs when we think we have been injured, mistreated, opposed in our long-held views, or when we are faced with obstacles that keep us from attaining personal goals.
The experience of anger varies widely; how often anger occurs, how intensely it is felt, and how long it lasts are different for each person. People also vary in how easily they get angry (their anger threshold), as well as how comfortable they are with feeling angry. Some people are always getting angry while others seldom feel angry. Some people are very aware of their anger, while others fail to recognize anger when it occurs. Some experts suggest that the average adult gets angry about once a day and annoyed or peeved about three times a day. Other anger management experts suggest that getting angry fifteen times a day is more likely a realistic average. Regardless of how often we actually experience anger, it is a common and unavoidable emotion.
Anger can be constructive or destructive. When well managed, anger or annoyance has very few detrimental health or interpersonal consequences. At its roots, anger is a signal to you that something in your environment isn’t right. It captures your attention and motivates you to take action to correct that wrong thing. How you end up handling the anger signal has very important consequences for your overall health and welfare, however. When you express anger, your actions trigger others to become defensive and angry too. Blood pressures raises and stress hormones flow. Violence can ensue. You may develop a reputation as a dangerous ‘loose cannon’ whom no one wants to be around.
Out of control anger alienates friends, co-workers and family members. It also has a clear relationship with health problems and early mortality. Hostile, aggressive anger not only increases your risk for an early death, but also your risk for social isolation, which itself is a major risk factor for serious illness and death. These are but two of many reasons why learning to properly manage anger is a good idea.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Anger is a natural and mostly automatic response to pain of one form or another (physical or emotional). Anger can occur when people don’t feel well, feel rejected, feel threatened, or experience some loss. The type of pain does not matter; the important thing is that the pain experienced is unpleasant. Because anger never occurs in isolation but rather is necessarily preceded by pain feelings, it is often characterized as a ‘secondhand’ emotion.
Pain alone is not enough to cause anger. Anger occurs when pain is combined with some anger-triggering thought. Thoughts that can trigger anger include personal assessments, assumptions, evaluations, or interpretations of situations that makes people think that someone else is attempting (consciously or not) to hurt them. In this sense, anger is a social emotion; You always have a target that your anger is directed against (even if that target is yourself). Feelings of pain, combined with anger-triggering thoughts motivate you to take action, face threats and defend yourself by striking out against the target you think is causing you pain.
A Substitute Emotion
Anger can also be a substitute emotion. By this we mean that sometimes people make themselves angry so that they don’t have to feel pain. People change their feelings of pain into anger because it feels better to be angry than it does to be in pain. This changing of pain into anger may be done consciously or unconsciously.
Being angry rather than simply in pain has a number of advantages, primarily among them distraction. People in pain generally think about their pain. However, angry people think about harming those who have caused pain. Part of the transmutation of pain into anger involves an attention shift – from self-focus to other-focus. Anger thus temporarily protects people from having to recognize and deal with their painful real feelings; you get to worry about getting back at the people you’re angry with instead. Making yourself angry can help you to hide the reality that you find a situation frightening or that you feel vulnerable.
In addition to providing a good smoke screen for feelings of vulnerability, becoming angry also creates a feeling of righteousness, power and moral superiority that is not present when someone is merely in pain. When you are angry, you are angry with cause. “The people who have hurt me are wrong – they should be punished” is the common refrain. It is very rare that someone will get angry with someone they do not think has harmed them in some significant fashion.
The definition of whether someone’s anger is a problem often turns on whether or not other people agree with them that their anger, and the actions they take in the name of their anger, is justified. Angry people most always feel that their anger is justified. However, other people don’t always agree. The social judgment of anger creates real consequences for the angry person. An angry person may feel justified in committing an angry, aggressive action, but if a judge or jury of peers do not see it that way, that angry person may still go to jail. If a boss doesn’t agree that anger expressed towards a customer is justified, a job may still be lost. If a spouse doesn’t agree that anger was justified, a marriage may have problems.
Whether justified or unjustified, the seductive feeling of righteousness associated with anger offers a powerful temporary boost to self-esteem. It is more satisfying to feel angry than to acknowledge the painful feelings associated with vulnerability. You can use anger to convert feelings of vulnerability and helplessness into feelings of control and power. Some people develop an unconscious habit of transforming almost all of their vulnerable feelings into anger so they can avoid having to deal with them. The problem becomes that even when anger distracts you from the fact that you feel vulnerable, you still at some level feel vulnerable. Anger cannot make pain disappear – it only distracts you from it. Anger generally does not resolve or address the problems that made you feel fearful or vulnerable in the first place, and it can create new problems, including social and health issues.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Like other emotions, anger is experienced in our bodies as well as in our minds. In fact, there is a complex series of physiological (body) events that occurs as we become angry.
Emotions more or less begin inside two almond-shaped structures in our brains which are called the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for identifying threats to our well-being, and for sending out an alarm when threats are identified that results in us taking steps to protect ourselves. The amygdala is so efficient at warning us about threats, that it gets us reacting before the cortex (the part of the brain responsible for thought and judgment) is able to check on the reasonableness of our reaction. In other words, our brains are wired in such a way as to influence us to act before we can properly consider the consequences of our actions. This is not an excuse for behaving badly – people can and do control their aggressive impulses and you can too with some practice. Instead, it means that learning to manage anger properly is a skill that has to be learned, instead of something we are born knowing how to do instinctually.
As you become angry your body’s muscles tense up. Inside your brain, neurotransmitter chemicals known as catecholamines are released causing you to experience a burst of energy lasting up to several minutes. This burst of energy is behind the common angry desire to take immediate protective action. At the same time your heart rate accelerates, your blood pressure rises, and your rate of breathing increases. Your face may flush as increased blood flow enters your limbs and extremities in preparation for physical action. Your attention narrows and becomes locked onto the target of your anger. Soon you can pay attention to nothing else. In quick succession, additional brain neurotransmitters and hormones (among them adrenaline and noradrenaline) are released which trigger a lasting state of arousal. You’re now ready to fight.
Although it is possible for your emotions to rage out of control, the prefrontal cortex of your brain, which is located just behind your forehead, can keep your emotions in proportion. If the amygdala handles emotion, the prefrontal cortex handles judgment. The left prefrontal cortex can switch off your emotions. It serves in an executive role to keep things under control. Getting control over your anger means learning ways to help your prefrontal cortex get the upper hand over your amygdala so that you have control over how you react to anger feelings. Among the many ways to make this happen are relaxation techniques (which reduce your arousal and decrease your amygdala activity) and the use of cognitive control techniques which help you practice using your judgment to override your emotional reactions.
If anger has a physiological preparation phase during which our resources are mobilized for a fight, it also has a wind-down phase as well. We start to relax back towards our resting state when the target of our anger is no longer accessible or an immediate threat. It is difficult to relax from an angry state, however. The adrenaline-caused arousal that occurs during anger lasts a very long time (many hours, sometimes days), and lowers our anger threshold, making it easier for us to get angry again later on. Though we do calm down, it takes a very long time for us to return to our resting state. During this slow cool-down period we are more likely to get very angry in response to minor irritations that normally would not bother us.
The same lingering arousal that keeps us primed for more anger also can interfere with our ability to clearly remember details of our angry outburst. Arousal is vital for efficient remembering. As any student knows, it is difficult to learn new material while sleepy. Moderate arousal levels help the brain to learn and enhance memory, concentration, and performance. There is an optimum level of arousal that benefits memory, however, and when arousal exceeds that optimum level, it makes it more difficult for new memories to be formed. High levels of arousal (such as are present when we are angry) significantly decrease your ability to concentrate. This is why it is difficult to remember details of really explosive arguments.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Anger provides a mixture of motivational benefits, some healthy and some short sighted and self-destructive.
On the positive side, anger creates a sense of power and control in a situation where prior to anger these positive, motivating feelings did not exist. The feelings of control and righteousness that come from anger can motivate you to challenge and change difficult interpersonal and social injustices. If handled correctly, your anger can motivate others to help you win your cause. Anger can provide you with a rest from feelings of vulnerability, and a way of venting tensions and frustrations. It can provide the energy and resolve necessary to defend yourself when you’ve been wronged. If you are a long suffering victim of domestic abuse, for example, and your anger finally reaches the boiling point so that it enables you to leave your abusive relationship, anger has been a truly positive force in your life. If you are a dedicated crusader working to further a truly moral cause (such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s drive for civil rights, or Gandhi’s drive for Indian independence), then anger gives you the strength to carry on, and the will to persevere.
There are negative motivational sides to anger too. Anger can create and then reinforce a false sense of entitlement, an illusory feeling of moral superiority that can be used to justify immoral actions. For instance, anger-motivated aggression can be used to justify terrorism, or to coerce and bully people into doing what you want them to do against their will. Angry people are likely to subscribe to the philosophy that “the end justifies the means” and then use unspeakable means of working towards their goals that defeat their purpose. If you are a terrorist like Timothy McVey (who bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995), a bully like television’s Tony Soprano (lead character in the HBO drama “The Sopranos”), or a ‘school shooter’ like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (who murdered fellow high school students in Columbine, Colorado in 1999), anger has led you to the dark side.
It is important to recognize that the effect of anger can be either positive or negative. If years of unresolved anger reach the boiling point and motivate you to leave an abusive relationship, your anger has saved you from additional abuse. On the other hand, if you use your anger to frighten others into doing what you want them to without considering their needs, you are allowing your anger to coerce and control others and you are no better than a bully.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Though anger is a normal human emotion, the way you choose to express your anger may not be normal or acceptable to those around you. If you suspect you have an anger problem, or if people you respect have told you that you do, we invite you to read on so as to learn about how to gain better control over your anger.
Help for anger problems is available through anger management programs which are offered through various sources including your workplace, employee assistance program, and through local counseling clinics. Anger management programs are designed to help you learn to control your anger responses in order to improve your relationships and health prospects. Anger management programs have much to teach that can help you to gain mastery over your problem anger. However, like any therapy or educational program, anger management programs can only benefit you to the extent that you decide to participate in them fully, and take in all they have to offer.
Learning to control your anger will be an ongoing task. You will need to rethink your automatic responses towards people. You will also have to take more responsibility for your thoughts and actions than you may have in the past. All of this will require discipline and a plan. As a means of helping you to gain this discipline and plan, we will next step back and review how normal people approach making large scale life changes. Having this perspective should prove useful in your anger management efforts. Understanding the best way to approach a problem is an important step in eventually overcoming it.
Stages of Change
People tend to go through a predictable set of several stages while working through life-changes. Progress through the stages is largely due to a combination of motivation, technique and dedication. Some people move quickly through the stages, while others move more slowly, perhaps even taking a step or two backward before continuing on to complete their change.
As you consider each of the stages of change below, think about how each stage has played out in your own life as you have made life changes in the past. Imagine how you will work through the challenges of each stage as you approach your anger management goals. While your experience may not mirror the order of the stages listed below, understanding each stage can help you on your way to achieve your goal.
Challenge. Deciding to learn how to control your anger represents a big change in how you will life your life. People aren’t usually motivated to make big life changes like this until something comes along that challenges them to examine their old way of doing things, and motivates them to learn new, better ways of handling those things. Most people decide to make changes in the way they deal with anger only after they experience serious personal, social or occupational consequences for their anger. Challenging consequences might occur when a spouse starts divorce proceedings after a violent fight, or when you have lost your job after a workplace outburst. Some portion of angry people feel personally out of control after an outburst and decide to go for help so as to gain better self-control. Others go for help just to get other people off their back.
- Awareness. The awareness stage begins as the angry person seeks information about anger management; what anger is, how anger affects health and relationships, and how anger can be controlled.
- Preparation. Awareness is all about information gathering; it involves no commitment. The Preparation stage begins with your decision to actually make a change in the way you will express anger.Beyond commitment to change, preparation involves self-study and planning. It may be useful for you to keep an anger management journal where you keep a record of the things that make you angry, how you react when you are angry, and the consequences of your reactions. Your anger journal will help you identify and become aware of your anger triggers and may help give you some insight into how proportional your angry outbursts are to the various situations that provoke them (more on this later). The more you learn about your personal anger triggers, the better your chances of success in changing how you express anger.
- Action. In the Action stage you start making real changes. You may decide to take a professional anger management course or to purchase workbooks, tapes, or videos. You may also design a personal program for anger management. Any of these approaches might help you to develop greater control over your anger. However, none of them will work if you do not apply yourself to them with dedication and persistence.
- Maintaining Gains. The maintainance stage of change never ends. During this stage, you learn to accept the fact that you are not perfect, that you will make mistakes and act inappropriately, and that you can recover from lapses in your behavior when they do occur. Achieving sustained behavior change is a project. It may take multiple attempts and multiple failures before you will achieve this goal. Each time you do lapse into old behavior, you can use the tools and strategies you have learned along the way to help you pick yourself up and recover.
It is particularly difficult for many people with anger problems to work up the motivation to seriously want to work an anger management program. Because anger has a seductive, self-justifying quality to it, people are not typically drawn to anger management on their own. Many times, people need to suffer serious negative consequences of their anger before they realize that they need help in controlling their outbursts. Even then, motivation for continuing an anger management program can wax and wane. It is fairly common for angry people to stop attending an anger management program before finishing it, or for people to never actually apply or use the techniques they learn in their program. People often need to repeat anger programs a number of times before they truly understand the message and incorporate the training into their own lives.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
How Are Good Intentions Mischief?
Children want to be helpful and productive. That is how they learn and grow. Many parents and parental stand-ins insist on keeping their young people in a state of discouraging uselessness with good intentions. This is no more than self-serving mischief which we define as anything that doesn’t need to be done. Mischief doesn’t make sense to us. It doesn’t even make sense to the mischief maker. Mischief isn’t sensible or rational. It is non-rational. It arises out of purposes that lie below the level of conscious awareness. We can cope with our well intentioned mischief makers when we know what these hidden purposes are:
“Here, let me help you with that puzzle. “(Subtext: See what a good parent I am everybody?”) ( This is Goal 1: Attention and Service for the purpose of self-validation which will not succeed.)
(Better: “Here’s a new puzzle. Let’s see if we can put it together, you and me.”)
“Give me those scissors. You’ll poke your eyes out!” (Subtext: It’s my job to prevent bad things from happening.”) (Goal 2: Power and Control, for the purpose of preventing disaster perfectly in the future.)
(Better: “Be careful. Don’t hurt yourself.”)
“I told you not to try riding your bike by yourself! I’m going to punish you for disobeying me! I’ll teach you to listen next time” (Subtext: I am teaching the child the difference between right and wrong for his own good.”) (Goal 3: Revenge. Relieving the pain of our anger at someone else’s expense.)
(Better: “It makes me angry when you don’t do what I tell you. I don’t want you to hurt yourself. What can we do about it?” “Put it in the shed till tomorrow?” “O.K..”)
“Forget about it. It’s too hard. We’ll do it some other time” (Subtext: What’s the use of trying. We’ll only fail again.”) (Goal 4: Withdrawal in Helplessness and Discouragement. We succeed in setting an example of discouragement for our child to see and follow.)
(Better: “It’s hard isn’t it. Do the best you can and let me know if you get stuck.”)
This is how we shape the child’s attitudes and behaviors. This is how our good intentions replace the child’s native self-respect and confidence with self-doubt. This is how we eliminate the possibility of positive, productive behavior and leave only the option of making destructive mischief. The irony is that we do it all with the best of intentions.
To top off the irony, we say to our adult child, again with the best of intentions, “Why are you such a lazy bum? Look at you. You should be ashamed of yourself! After all I’ve done for you!”
We still don’t get it, do we. And if we don’t get it, how can we expect our child, our student, our employee, our client to get it?
The antidote to all of these mischiefs and counter-mischiefs is positive behavior which arises out of a context of self-respect. We teach self-respect by setting an example of it ourselves. If we do not have it, we cannot set an example of it for others people to see and follow. We can demonstrate our self-respect by replacing our good intentions with real intentions. Children can feel the difference. Real intentions make their lives happy and productive. They will carry our example of self-respect into the future and pass it on to the next generation. If we do not set the example, they cannot carry it on.
Why Do We Need To Know About Good Intentions?
If we do not understand the destructive effects that these seemingly beneficent intentions have on our relationships at home and at work, we cannot begin to counter their negative effects.
A. The Individual Parent Has Good Intentions.
1. We have just seen how “good intentions” can have a deleterious effect on young children. Parents cannot see the effects of their good intentions on that child because they are deceived by the camouflage of their self-serving concerns. But this is how parents rob their children of their native self-respect and replace it with self-doubt and self-contempt.
2. Parental good intentions have the effect of replacing the child’s healthy, appropriate attitudes with their exact opposites. The child grows up with negative attitudes towards himself, his loved ones, society, his employer and his community.
3. It is the context of self-contempt that predisposes the child to behave negatively and destructively. His negative behavior brings about punishment and other negative consequences which confirm him in his self-contempt. He carries his predisposition to behave negatively into adulthood where he inflicts his abusive tendencies on the people around him if he thinks he can get away with it.
4. In extreme cases of self-contempt, the individual’s behavior has the hidden purpose of bringing about the pain, unhappiness and destruction that worthless people such as himself “deserve.”
B. People In Positions Of Authority And Responsibility Have Good Intentions.
It isn’t only parents. Teachers, counselors, administrators, politicians, police and so on have good intentions for the people they control. Their misintentions turn out to make things worse instead of better. It is as if they were standing in loco parentis on their fellow human beings, as if they knew what was best for everyone by virtue of their superior station in life. There is no basis for this assumption.
In extreme cases, unstable politicians and religious leaders set their followers on a high-sounding but destructive path that has little or no relation to the demands of living in the real world.
C. Good Intentions Make Us Angry.
The good intentions of others make us angry. We don’t know what to do with our anger because these people seem so beneficent. We are reluctant to displease them because of the seeming kindness in their hearts. We need to see that this is not kindness, but rather self-serving, over-compensatory, inappropriate behavior on their part as a our first step to countering it effectively. For instance, we can say, “I know you mean well, that you want the best for me, but I prefer to do it this way. Or, we can say, “No thanks, I’ll be fine.”
D. Good Intentions Can Make Us Violent.
Some people, who do not respect themselves to begin with, are vulnerable to becoming super angry. They are angry at being controlled by well-intentioned but unself-respecting superiors; they resent the well intentioned rules and regulations imposed on them for their own good, as if they were too stupid to make independent judgements on their own. They become super angry when they perceive an injustice in the “wrongness” of a public policy with which they disagree. These controls are often imposed by someone who meant well but had a self-serving power and control agenda below the surface.
The person who becomes violent often has the good intention to right these wrongs by taking up arms against them. We may disagree with his tactics, but we “see his point.” But his point can never be made by using good intentions instead of mature, difficult thought processes. That is how problems are solved in the real world. That is a real intention.
E. We Need To Repair Our Own Damage.
We all had parents! To the extent that our parents weren’t perfect, they made mistakes, too. Their good intentions for us contributed to our present self-doubts, inappropriate roles and negative attitudes. It is our responsibility to identify these carryovers from our imperfect childhoods and bring them into alignment with the demands of the real world. We cannot be as effective in our capacities as counsellors, teachers, parents or spouses until we repair the damage that was done to us. We need to repair the damage in the right way. Too many of us try to repair it with techniques that make things worse instead of better, such as indulging in addictive behaviors, withdrawing from life, escaping into negative excitement and so on.
F. We Have Good Intentions For Ourselves.
Most of these self-destructive techniques are no more than good intentions that we have for ourselves. We bring about our own misfortune when we operate out of mindless attitudes from the past instead of our adult, considered judgment in the present. We must get out of our own way if we wish to live happy, productive lives.
How Do We Get Out Of Our Own Way?
How can we replace our inept good intentions with real intentions for ourselves and our fellow human beings? By doing our Homework. We can catch ourselves in the act of inflicting a self-serving good intention on someone and choose not to. We can catch ourselves:
• Wanting to be liked by pleasing in ways that are inappropriate to the situation.
• Wanting to be more responsible than reality requires us to be.
• Wanting to prevent disasters in the future as if we knew what was going to happen, as if the worst case scenario was the only possible outcome and that it had to be prevented at all costs. We cannot predict the future out of attitudes that formed in childhood.
• Wanting to prove that we are not inadequate by doing more than the situation requires us to do “just to be on the safe side.”
• Wanting to prevent the humiliating exposure of our inadequacy to cope by withdrawing from reality.
• Wanting to get our own way by controlling others for their own good.
• Wanting to ensure a perfect outcome.
These “wants” are all silent good intentions that we have for ourselves. We want our way.
Specifically, we can catch ourselves wanting to give someone what we are sure is good advice: “This is what I would do” or “This is what you should do.” We do not give advice. We find out what is preventing the individual from taking appropriate action in his own behalf. We want to find out
• What is he afraid will happen if he takes appropriate action?
• What attitude is he operating out of and how can it be replaced with a more
• What is his operating attitude towards success? If he doesn’t deserve to succeed, he will find a way to fail and sabotage our good advice. He will then blame us for the negative outcome and he will be right. We have fallen into his dependency trap.
Instead of giving well-intentioned advice, we identify and remove these impediments to action. We reveal to people that they are not powerless and dependent anymore. They have the power of choice; they have adult judgment; their judgment can be trusted now. It is good enough. They have the courage to take appropriate risks. For example, we reveal that they have the option of doing what pleases them. They may not even know what pleases them. That possibility has not occurred to them heretofore. Their Homework, then, is not to take our good advice, but to find out for themselves what it would please them to do and then do it, perhaps for the first time in their lives.
After they have done it, for example, treat themselves to a nice breakfast in a restaurant for a change, we can debrief their Homework. We can ask them how they felt after they did it. We can ask if they felt relief, control, accomplishment, success, identity, maturity, appropriate responsibility, security, independence, liberation, trust in their judgment, equality, courage, living in the present and belonging. These are all components of self-respect which is the antidote to the self-doubt from their childhood. We can even ask, “Was that a good intention that you had for yourself?” They may say, “Yes,” but it wasn’t. It was a real intention to do what the situation required them to do. They earned the right to enjoy this treat after all their hard work. If it were mere self-indulgence, they would not have experienced all these components of self-respect. Having succeeded once, they are in a better position to do it again. That feeling is called confidence. We did not give them this confidence. They earned it. They gave it to themselves.
Another problem unself-respecting people have is that they are unable to express their appropriate needs and wants. Their impediments to accomplishing this task include:
• “I want to avoid displeasing.”
• “I want to avoid looking selfish or inconsiderate.”
• “I want to avoid appearing weak and dependent.”
• “I won’t get it anyway so why bother?”
• “I don’t deserve to get it.”
• “I’d feel guilty if I got it and then have to give it back in the end.”
• “I want to avoid feeling obligated to return the favor.”
• “I’m afraid I won’t ask for it in the right way, that is, perfectly.”
• “There’s no guarantee I’ll get it. I’m afraid to take the risk of failing. I will take my failure personally. It would hurt too much. It hurts less to just do without.”
All of these are negative attitudes and these are all consistent with self-contempt. These are all counter-productive good intentions to avoid the painful disaster that unself-respecting people predict for themselves. This person’s Homework would cut through all of these negative considerations and just ask. That is a real intention. Reality requires that we secure the cooperation of our fellow human beings in a context of mutual respect. But reaching out to someone after all these years is scary. It takes courage, and some of us are willing to take anything but a risk. As adults, people have the power of choice to do it or not. They are in control of the time and place. Asking is not a sign of weakness or dependency at all. It is a matter of interdependence between two equal, imperfect human beings. After they succeed in getting what they want, they will experience all the components of self-respect. It will come easier next time. They are prepared to enter into appropriate give and take relationships with their friends and coworkers. This is called positive cooperation as opposed to negative cooperation which is mutually destructive mischief.
If the answer to their request is no, the individual is prepared for the problem of taking “rejection” personally. Their antidote is the knowledge that self-respect is not conditional upon getting what one wants. This is not a reflection on ones worth as a person. One is a worthwhile human being in spite of ones faults and imperfections, whether the answer is yes or no. We would have preferred a positive response, but we are worthwhile either way. If the negative response makes us angry, we can express our legitimate anger like a civilized human being, “It makes me angry when you won’t lend me a hand when I need you.” This is not self-pity, or a threat of revenge. It is telling the truth about ourselves even when that truth is displeasing. This demonstration of self-respect is often the first step in the creation of an atmosphere of mutual respect in which it is possible for people to give and take as equal members of the human race.
These concepts remain intellectual and theoretical until the individual works up the courage to make a break with his or her unhappy past. These new ideas become incorporated into the newly forming personality in the moment that the individual gets out of his or her own way and does what reality requires them to do. Then these concepts become real.
In doing an appropriate Homework, we heal the heart/mind connection that was broken in childhood. We feel integrated into a new whole that did not exist before. We can do it again. Like anything else, it gets easier with practice.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
While driving down the highway in the fast lane, the person in front of you appears to have no idea what the fast lane means. After running all over town with the kids, you arrive home. They know they have rooms yet insist that the entire house is their closet and drop things wherever they please. It’s your birthday and your best friend gets you just what you needed, nothing. It seems that in these instances, the first reaction is to take things personally. As if what was done was intentional, a personal attack.
As odd as it sounds, we often think that there are many forces against us and we are innocent bystanders. I don’t agree. While there are some truly random events, much of what happens is our own doing. How we feel and react to the things going on around us will largely determine what happens to us. In the preceding examples, what makes us think that the things that happen to us are directed at us? Instead of reacting with a “How dare you!” we often react with a “How dare you do this to me!” The truth of the matter is that each person is really more concerned about themselves than they are others. It’s survival of the fittest. The person driving slow in front of me in traffic is more concerned about having a wide open lane ahead of them than they are with me getting past.
A lot of our life is spent worrying about what others may think or feel about us. To paraphrase Dr. Phil, we wouldn’t worry near as much about what others thought about us if we knew how seldom they did. When we are emotionally reactive to things in life, we give up our power to choose. If we take things personally, whether intended personally or not, our reaction intensifies. All of the sudden we have to defend ourselves, though many times a response is not warranted. Instead it would be better if we could learn the art of self-soothing. To be able to calm ourselves in the midst of emotional reactions opens a whole new range of responses.
We all have this ability. We are born with it. Just the other day, my 2 year old was climbing up on a toy in the house for the first time. As I watched her, she had a moment of pause just before she stood up tall and proud. In that moment of pause, she gathered herself and found the internal courage to stand. We do the same thing just before we honestly speak our mind, or address an issue with our spouse or kids. Self-soothing can be enhanced and used in all situations. And doing so gives you much more power over life’s circumstances.
To put this another way; you teach people how to treat you. If you feel that many people treat you wrong or take advantage of you, it only happens because you let them. Learning how to self-sooth, then stand up will produce a different outcome. This in turn will change the way others treat you. If you demand respect, trust, love, honor, comfort, or whatever, accept nothing less. Whenever you receive less than you expect, rather than taking it personally and reacting as such, calm yourself and address the issue. Either put yourself in their shoes and see it from their perspective or stand up and be honest, or both. If this honesty comes from both your mind and heart, it carries much more weight than just emotional reactivity.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
We hear what we expect to hear, we see what we expect to see. Our expectation changes our experience. If we walk into a meeting and expect it to be a long, drawn out process rivaled only by a root canal or preparing your taxes, more than likely it will not disappoint. At that same meeting, another member of the crowd may come with a more open mind and willingness to learn and think it is the most enlightening time they have ever spent. So what’s the difference? This same rule applies to our relationships. Our expectation changes our experience.
So where does our main model for relationships and communication come from? You probably guessed it, our parents; who received their patterns from their parents and so on. How they did and do relationships has an impact upon our own. Like it or not. If you had an affectionate relationship modeled by your parents, you will most likely carry the model forward or go to the other extreme so as to try and break the cycle, either way the influence is there. If your parents were good communicators when it came to the sticky topics; money, discipline/parenting styles, intimacy, then you most likely can handle the tension most people try to avoid when it comes to talking about some of the tough things in life. If this information gets you down, don’t worry. You can change the pattern if you choose. When you understand some of the forces at work in your relationships and life, you attain the possibility of being able to have your past no longer dictate your future.
When you shed some light on this process in your relationships it’s easy to see why our important relationships are so much work. There are two family systems fighting to gain control of this newly formed system. Coupled with the idea that we see what we expect to see and hear what we expect to hear, no wonder there are times of conflict in this relationship. Surprisingly, there are many people I have worked with that are shocked at this fact. Apparently they have held on to the fairy tale version of relationships for too long. Maybe you have too. Movies and TV portray relationships as an alluring time of romance, love, laughter and joy. You know what I mean, “and they all lived…”
If you can complete that sentence, you have had that illusion as well.
Now back to the initial question, what did you expect? The onus rests on our own shoulders to make the most out of this life. If you expect things to be tough today, most likely they will be. If you expect your marriage to be rocky, it will. I am not advocating that you don’t examine reality honestly, but more often than not, what we expect out of things becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. By changing your focus or outlook on things, other aspects of life will begin to change as well. Problems in life are inevitable, struggling is optional. Improve your ability to improvise, adapt and overcome will allow you to take charge of your life and harness more energy for your day. Rather than spending a lot of time trying to change the wind in your life, adjust your sails.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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