I like to define assertiveness as the art of asking for what you want in a way that makes it easy for the other person to give it to you. If you think of it as a skill that can be learned by anyone, and can be learned easily by children at an early age when they are learning all kinds of communications skills, I can explain how it is preferable to the other ways of getting what you want.
Parents can teach assertive asking in two simple ways:
The next most important thing in assertiveness is timing, which requires some empathy for the other person so that your request can be heard. Children shouldn’t have to be too sensitive to their parents’ needs, though they often are acutely aware and can be quite naturally empathic. Parents can help the child develop this skill by coaching them: “I can’t read you a story right now, because I am fixing dinner, but if you remind me after dinner, I would be happy to.”
Some have noted a pattern of suspicion followed by silence among those who knew something about Sandusky’s behavior with young boys. Those who work with survivors of child sexual abuse know this pattern all too well and are often angered by it. How do we explain the reluctance of people to talk about their suspicions openly so that something might be done to stop these atrocities?
One of the explanations suggested is that the abuser is a person of power or status who could use that power to punish anyone who dared talk about what they suspected or knew. Though there is some truth to this, especially in the minds of the young person who has been manipulated and sometimes threatened into silence, I think there is a more basic explanation that comes clear in an understanding of the nature of shame and our responses to behavior that evokes shame.
Shame is one of the powerful survival emotions with which we are all hardwired. It is the emotion that compels us to surrender and try to hide when we are faced with an overwhelming threat or defeated in competition. It can save our lives in a primitive battle over status, and it has a complex function in forming our consciences and guiding our moral awareness. But although we use the word in a way that has many complex connotations, it is a fundamental and powerful basic emotion, and shares some characteristics with other survival emotions.
1. Shame compels an immediate behavioral response. Fear compels us to freeze first, then run. Anger compels us to attack. And shame compels us to surrender and withdraw, averting our gaze and trying to hide. We want to become invisible, and anything that draws attention to us makes the shame stronger. So when someone tells an inappropriate joke at a party, everyone wants to crawl under the table. And when someone in your group is behaving badly, no one wants to be the first to call attention to the problem. “For some people, the subject is literally unspeakable.”
2. Shame is contagious. Like the panic triggered in a crowded theater when someone shouts fire, or the rage evoked in a mob when it is focused on a target, shame over someone’s exposure evokes an emotional response in all of us. Depending on our relationship to the person shamed, the emotional response can be one of shame or anger, but if the person is a member of your family, tribe, or a group with which you identify, the shame will come first. When Dad is drunk and making a fool of himself, everyone in the family wants to leave the scene. A secondary
reaction of anger may set in soon, but the initial response is shared shame. If our political leader makes a gaffe, we all groan inside before we go into defensive action.
3. Shame is followed by anger. But the anger may be expressed toward almost anyone. After feeling the sting of shame, we may be angry at ourselves, we may be angry at the world, we may be angry at the easiest person to be angry at – which maybe the victim of the abuse – or we may fear the anger of others that we know is likely to emerge if we make a lot of noise about the shameful situation. So family members enable the alcoholic rather than confront, institutions shield and hide the abusers in their midst rather than share the shame of exposure, and people with suspicions of others, particularly leading members of the group with which they identify, keep their mouths shut and their heads down (the classic posture of shame). The fear of angry reprisals can extend to fear of legal action against the institution involved. But underlying this fear is the naive wish that it will all just go away if we can cover it up or keep quiet about it.
Understanding the nature of our powerful survival emotions, how they compel us to freeze, run, attack, or hide, can help us resist the self defeating behavioral responses that can arise in response to emotionally loaded situations and help us solve problems sooner. Wishing the problems and the feelings would just go away only prolongs the damaging situation.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
About a month ago, Declan Procaccini’s 10-year-old son woke him early in the morning in a fright.
“He came into my bedroom and said, ‘Dad, I had a horrible, horrible dream!’ ” Procaccini says. “He was really shaken up. I said, ‘Tell me about it,’ and he told me he’d had a dream that a teenager came into his classroom at his school and shot all the kids in front of him.”
Procaccini’s son is a sensitive kid, frequently anxious, so Procaccini did what he often does when his son crawls into his bed with a fear or anxiety: He explained why the fear wasn’t rational by simply laying out the math.
“The chance of that happening here are 1 in a zillion,” Procaccini told his son, and then continued with a lesson about probabilities and possibilities. “You know, it’s possible that Godzilla could right now come through the trees? Yes. But is it probable? No. I think we both know that it’s not probable.”
This discussion seemed to calm his son down a bit. He shook off his dream and returned to life as usual.
“That worked out for a little while,” Procaccini says.
And then Procaccini’s community became the “1″ in “1 in a zillion.”
‘I’m Going To Need Help For A Long Time’
The day Adam Lanza shot his way through Sandy Hook Elementary School, Procaccini’s 8-year-old daughter was in a reading room just down the hall from the principal’s office.
She had walked herself to her class early and was sitting there with two teachers when the three of them heard the sound of gunfire coming from outside.
“They grabbed my daughter by the arm and threw her into the bathroom,” Procaccini says. “There’s a little bathroom off the reading room, I think it’s a single-person … and the three of them just sat in there, quiet, ’cause he came into the room.”
Apparently, Lanza didn’t hear them because he left, and everyone in the tiny bathroom survived.
In the days after the shootings, though, one of the teachers who had been at the school and knew Procaccini well reached out to him and his wife, Lisa. She wanted them to know just how terrifying their daughter’s experience had been.
You need to get your daughter help, she told the family. Procaccini recalls her saying, “I was literally in the same area as your daughter, and I know what she saw and I know what she heard, and I’m going to need help for a long time. You need to get her help.”
But since the shootings, Procaccini’s daughter has barely talked about what happened, barely registered any emotional distress at all.
“I don’t know if she’s just disassociated. I don’t know if it’s her defense mechanism. Or I don’t know if she just doesn’t get it. I truly don’t,” Procaccini says.
His 10-year-old son, however, has been struggling. Procaccini’s son graduated from Sandy Hook Elementary last year and now attends Reed Intermediate School, which went into lockdown during the shooting, so the boy had no idea what was happening until Procaccini picked him up and told him about it. Immediately, Procaccini says, his son started crying. “I mean, he was crying like a little baby. I haven’t seen him cry like that, you know? He was so scared.”
And as soon as they got home, Procaccini says, his son made a decision: no more school for him. “I’m not going!” he insisted over and over again.
But when Procaccini’s family went to see a therapist the next day, one of the things the therapist made clear was that staying away from school was a bad idea. The more school his son missed, she told Procaccini, the harder it would be to get him to go back.
And so on Tuesday of last week, when Reed went back into session, Procaccini tried to persuade his son to go.
“I said, ‘Come on, I’ll walk you in, I’ll show you!’ And he just snapped. And it was crying and screaming, ‘I’m not going! I’m not going! You’re not leaving me!’ “
For the rest of the week, Procaccini and his son simply drove to the school and walked together through the halls for hours, Procaccini’s car keys safely tucked into his son’s coat pocket so that Procaccini couldn’t drive away by himself.
This procedure was supposed to convince his son that school really was a safe place, but his son doesn’t seem to be buying it, and Procaccini is worried about what will happen after the holiday break.
“I don’t have a plan, really,” he says.
Since the shootings, Procaccini’s son hasn’t had another dream, but Procaccini is certain that if he does, there will be at least one difference in the way that Procaccini responds. Procaccini won’t talk about probabilities and possibilities again. That argument suddenly doesn’t make any sense.
‘Something Somewhere Will Happen’
Zhihong Yang, another parent of a Sandy Hook student, lives two miles away. Yang tells me to call her Jen, and when I walk in, there’s a small pile of papers spread over the table in her kitchen, handouts for Sandy Hook Elementary parents distributed at a conference the night before.
Yang’s son Jerry is in the third grade and was at Sandy Hook during the shooting. Unlike some of the other kids who were at the school, he genuinely seems to be doing OK. But for her part, Yang finds herself thinking about things she had never considered before.
“Yesterday I went to Costco and I can’t help but think: If there was a shooter here, what do you do? I went to the supermarket: If something happened there, what do you do?” she says.
This makes sense, since death is all around Yang. Take her drive to school. Her usual seven-minute route is now lined with families affected by the tragedy. “At least four families that had victims in that accident,” she says, “and when I drive by I feel the pain and I do cry.”
Yang is from China. She says that in college there, she studied math, and then suddenly — totally without prompting — I find myself in another conversation about possibilities and probabilities. Yang, it turns out, specialized in statistics, and since the shooting has been thinking a lot about possibilities and probabilities, reconsidering her original feelings about them.
Yang tells me that she had always assumed that she was safe because the chance of a shooting happening to her specifically was very small. But since the shooting she’s been focused on this one rule of statistics she learned in college, which she calls the “large number certainty theorem.”
“If the base is big enough,” she explains, “even though the probability is small, things will happen with certainty.”
By Yang’s reckoning, this is how the large number certainty theorem applies.
We know that many people have guns, and we know that a certain number of people have disordered minds or bad intentions, and we also know that this is a huge country. In other words, the base is big.
“So, you know, mathematically, something somewhere will happen with certainty,” she says.
And so though Yang previously depended on the idea that school shootings were so rare they would probably happen to someone else, the shooting has taught her that “we should not wait until it actually happens to us to take action.”
Yang has decided to get more involved with fighting for gun control. This, to her, seems like the logical thing to do.
Still, the logic of many parts of all this are not clear to her at all.
“You can safely predict that this will happen, but why it particularly happened to that class? To that teacher’s room? That particular family?” she says.
This obviously is not a question that math can answer. Math can tell us only that something will happen — not when, not to whom.
And so, Yang reasons, morally she should not distinguish between its happening to someone else and its happening to her. Probabilities just aren’t improbable enough for that.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Do you bite your nails? For 30 years, I did. We nail biters can be “pathological groomers” — people for whom normal grooming behaviors, like skin picking or hair pulling, have become virtually uncontrollable.
But psychiatry is changing the way it thinks about pathological grooming, and these changes will be reflected in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM, short for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A new version is coming out early next year, and it puts pathological grooming in the same category as another disorder you’ve probably heard of: obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD.
This rethinking gives pathological groomers some new ways to think about those behaviors.
I can tell you the exact moment I became a nail biter. I was 6 years old, watching my mom get dressed for work. She paused to mull something over, chewing on a nail. My reaction: “How cool! How grown-up! I think I’ll try it.”
I never stopped. It was embarrassing — like wearing your neuroses on your sleeve. At parties, I learned to wrap my fingers all the way around my wine glass, so that my nails faced my chest. I hated filling out forms in public places.
Recently, something happened that made me finally quit biting my nails. I’ll get to that in a bit. But I was feeling quite pleased with myself when I showed them to Carol Mathews, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco. “Your cuticles are pushed back. It’s not bad. Looks like you’re a recovered nail biter is what I’d say,” she pointed out.
“They are behaviors that stem from normal grooming — the kind of thing that most animals do and is evolutionarily adaptive, right?” says Mathews.
But in pathological groomers, those behaviors go haywire. Instead of being triggered by, say, a hangnail, the pathological nail biter is triggered by driving, reading or feeling stressed out. “After a while, the behavior becomes untriggered,” says Mathews. “It becomes just an automatic behavior that has no relationship to external stimuli at all.”
Until recently, the DSM treated pathological grooming a bit like an afterthought and put it in a catch-all category called “not otherwise classified.” But the new DSM proposes to lump together pathological groomers and those with mental disorders like OCD. That includes people who wash their hands compulsively or have to line up their shoes a certain way.
These behaviors have a lot in common. In both cases, it’s taking a behavior that’s normal and healthy and putting it into overdrive, doing it to the point of being excessive. But in at least one way, OCD and pathological grooming are also very different.
“In OCD, the compulsion is really unwanted,” says Mathews. People with OCD don’t want to be washing their hands or checking the stove over and over again. There is no fun in it. There’s fear — fear that if they don’t do something, something else that’s very bad will happen to them.
But from her pathological grooming patients, Mathews hears a very different story: They enjoy it. “It’s rewarding. It feels good. When you get the right nail, it feels good. It’s kind of a funny sense of reward, but it’s a reward,” she says.
I can relate to that. And in my household, I’m not the only one. My daughter Cora is 3, and she’s why I decided to quit. I didn’t want Cora to learn to bite from me, the same way I learned from my mom. So for three months, I wore acrylic fingernails and spent many long hours at the manicurist maintaining them.
And it worked. I lost the urge. But apparently, it was too late.
“I don’t want to put my fingers in my mouth. I just [do] it even though I don’t want to,” Cora explained to me. But was she just mimicking me, or was there something else going on — something deep and strong enough to make nail biters out of at least four generations of women in my family, including my grandmother?
That’s where Francis Lee, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, comes in. A few years ago, a colleague came to Lee with a mystery: A mouse — bred with a specific gene mutation — was behaving very oddly. “I was dumbstruck,” recalls Lee. “It was just repetitively moving its front paws over its eyes and ears,” — a behavior he instantly recognized from studying people.
Mice bred with this mutation groom so much, they give themselves bald spots. “They’ve removed the hair around their eyes, they actually look like they have little white rings around their eyes,” says Lee.
In these mice, the genome is destiny. Every mouse that has this particular mutation — even if it’s separated from its mother early on — eventually will become a pathological groomer. And the grooming isn’t all. Lee says these are some of the most anxious mice he’s ever seen. He even said to his colleague at the time, “That is one crazy mouse.”
People, of course, are a lot more complicated. There are some genetic mutations that seem to crop up in people with OCD and in people who groom pathologically. But just because you have the mutation doesn’t mean you get the behavior.
In fact, with OCD, it’s more likely you won’t, says Mathews. “As genetically determined as OCD is, the risk to a family member for someone who has OCD is only 20 percent. So it’s 80 percent chance of not getting it,” she says.
Which brings me back to my own crazy mouse.
As a parent, there are ways I could lower the chances that Cora will grow into a biter. When Mathews works with young kids, she does things like put Band-Aids on their fingers to help them notice when they’re biting or pulling. Then she sets up reward systems to try to steer them away from the behavior.
I’d already started to do a clumsier version of this, gently batting Cora’s hand away from her mouth whenever she started to bite. But it had come at a price, one I wasn’t entirely comfortable with. I had to decide what was worse: making Cora feel bad about herself for something she couldn’t help, or just letting her grow into a nail biter, which, while certainly not the worst thing in the world, had given me some grief.
Tracy Foose, a psychiatrist in San Francisco who specializes in anxiety disorders, seemed to offer a third option. She bites her nails, and, like me, she has a 3-year-old daughter. Foose has a whole different take on it — probably a much better one. Nail biting is just part of who she is. She’s even proud of it. “You know, my mom bites her nails. She was an artist. So, I think I associate it with being cool and being older and working on something important,” she says.
During her residency, Foose met a patient at the ER one night. “A lovely, middle-aged mother of several kids who came in and looked scared out of her wits,” she recalls. This woman had become fixated on a perceived blemish on her face. “She had picked at her cheek to a level where she was bleeding profusely,” says Foose.
It was dermatillomania, to be specific.
“She truly could not control herself, despite the pain that it was causing, despite the disfigurement. And nail biting sort of forever fell off my radar,” says Foose.
Nail biting is not life threatening. On the scale of human failings, it barely lifts the needle. It’s not to say Cora wouldn’t be better off not biting her nails. But, says Foose, there may be a better way to talk about it. Just as Foose had removed the stigma and guilt for herself, maybe I could do that for my daughter.
“You can go to the place of giving kids information. Like, ‘Oh, I see you biting your nails. Mommy bites her nails, too. You know why we shouldn’t bite our nails? Because there are germs that live under our nails,’ ” explains Foose.
A way that frames it, in other words, as a choice. One that’s hers to make — even if it takes having her own kids one day to make it.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
New research on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers challenges popular assumptions about the origins and trajectory of PTSD, providing evidence that traumatic experiences in childhood — not combat — may predict which soldiers develop the disorder.
Psychological scientist Dorthe Berntsen of Aarhus University in Denmark and a team of Danish and American researchers wanted to understand why some soldiers develop PTSD but others don’t. They also wanted to develop a clearer understanding of how the symptoms of the disorder progress.
“Most studies on PTSD in soldiers following service in war zones do not include measures of PTSD symptoms prior to deployment and thus suffer from a baseline problem. Only a few studies have examined pre- to post-deployment changes in PTSD symptoms, and most only use a single before-and-after measure,” says Berntsen.
The team aimed to address these methodological issues by studying a group of 746 Danish soldiers and evaluating their symptoms of PTSD at five different timepoints. Their study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Five weeks before the soldiers were scheduled to leave for Afghanistan, they completed a battery of tests including a PTSD inventory and a test for depression. They also completed a questionnaire about traumatic life events, including childhood experiences of family violence, physical punishment, and spousal abuse.
During their deployment, the soldiers completed measures related to the direct experience of war: perceptions of war zone stress, actual life-threatening war experiences, battlefield wounds, and the experience of actually killing an enemy.
The researchers continued to follow the soldiers after their return home to Denmark, assessing them a couple weeks after their return, two to four months after their return, and seven to eight months after their return.
What Berntsen and her colleagues found challenges several widely held assumptions about the nature of PTSD.
Rather than following some sort of “typical” pattern in which symptoms emerge soon after a particularly traumatic event and persist over time, Berntsen and colleagues found wide variation in the development of PTSD among the soldiers.
The vast majority of the soldiers (84%) were resilient, showing no PTSD symptoms at all or recovering quickly from mild symptoms.
The rest of the soldiers showed distinct and unexpected patterns of symptoms. About 4% showed evidence of “new-onset” trajectory, with symptoms starting low and showing a marked increase across the five timepoints. Their symptoms did not appear to follow any specific traumatic event.
Most notably, about 13% of the soldiers in the study actually showed temporary improvement in symptoms during deployment. These soldiers reported significant symptoms of stress prior to leaving for Afghanistan that seemed to ease in the first months of deployment only to increase again upon their return home.
What could account for this unexpected pattern of symptoms?
Compared to the resilient soldiers, the soldiers who developed PTSD were much more likely to have suffered emotional problems and traumatic events prior to deployment. Childhood experiences of violence, especially punishment severe enough to cause bruises, cuts, burns, and broken bones actually predicted the onset of PTSD in these soldiers. Those who showed symptoms of PTSD were more likely to have witnessed family violence, and to have experienced physical attacks, stalking or death threats by a spouse. They were also more likely to have past experiences that they could not, or would not, talk about. And they were less educated than the resilient soldiers.
According to Berntsen and colleages, all of these factors together suggest that army life — despite the fact that it involved combat — offered more in the way of social support and life satisfaction than these particular soldiers had at home. The mental health benefits of being valued and experiencing camaraderie thus diminished when the soldiers had to return to civilian life.
The findings challenge the notion that exposure to combat and other war atrocities is the main cause of PTSD.
“We were surprised that stressful experiences during childhood seemed to play such a central role in discriminating the resilient versus non-resilient groups,” says Berntsen. “These results should make psychologists question prevailing assumptions about PTSD and its development.”
D. Berntsen, K. B. Johannessen, Y. D. Thomsen, M. Bertelsen, R. H. Hoyle, D. C. Rubin. Peace and War: Trajectories of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms Before, During, and After Military Deployment in Afghanistan. Psychological Science, 2012;
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There was a time — and it wasn’t that long ago — when kids would leave home on a summer morning and roam free. “I knew kids who were pushed out the door at eight in the morning,” writes Bill Bryson of his childhood in the 1950s, “and not allowed back until five unless they were on fire or actively bleeding.” That’s what kids did. They went out. Parents let them, and everybody did it. “If you stood on any corner with a bike — any corner anywhere — more than a hundred children, many of whom you had never seen before, would appear and ask you where you were going,” Bryson writes. That was then.
But it’s not now. Look at what’s been happening all over the developed world. The Thomas family has been living in Sheffield, a town toward the north of England, for at least four generations. When great-grandpa George Thomas turned 8 in 1919, he was allowed to walk six miles — by himself — to go fishing. But each generation after has been given less and less room to roam.
In 1950, when Jack, the grandfather, turned 8, he was allowed to go just a mile on his own to visit the woods.
In 1979, when Vicky, the mom, turned 8, she was allowed to ride her bike around the immediate neighborhood, walk by herself to school, and could visit a swimming pool on her own. Her zone of play was a half-mile wide.
In 1950, when Jack, the grandfather, turned 8, he was allowed to go just a mile on his own to visit the woods.
In 1979, when Vicky, the mom, turned 8, she was allowed to ride her bike around the immediate neighborhood, walk by herself to school, and could visit a swimming pool on her own. Her zone of play was a half-mile wide.
What’s happened? Back in the 1950s in Des Moines, parents must have known their kids would do stupid things, like jump off trestle bridges into filthy rivers. Bill Bryson regularly leaped into the Raccoon River, which was a watery soup of “dead fish, old tires, oil drums, algal slime, heavy metal effluents and uncategorizable goo.” He describes sneaking to the top of a shopping center past ”a vicious, eagle-eyed stick of a woman named Mrs. Musgrove who hated little boys,” to get to a perch eight floors directly above a lobby restaurant onto which he would drop peanut M&Ms.
“A peanut M&M that falls seventy feet into a bowl of tomato soup makes one heck of a splash, I can tell you,” he says.
Are modern parents trying to protect innocent soup eaters from their 8-year-olds?
No, say the studies. Parents today are afraid that their children will be hurt, bullied or even abducted close to home. And they worry longer. In Italy, reports Chelsea Benson, “71 percent of 7- to 12-year-olds are always accompanied by adults on journeys to and from school.” (12-year-olds? Really?)
Maybe parents have good reason to fear strangers, predators or heavy traffic. Maybe they think their friends will think them irresponsible to let their kids go unsupervised. Maybe media horror stories are more horrible these days. Or more accurate.
Whatever is causing this, children don’t seem to be objecting. In this, too, the Thomas family in Britain is typical. Eight-year-olds these days seem content to stay close to home, plugged in to Playstations, iPads, their phones, texting away. Richard Louv, a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, worries that bugs and creepy crawly things may become more alien, more “other,” if kids stay out of the woods. All over the world, children may not be getting to explore plants and animals in natural settings on their own. That’s a loss, he thinks. Will they know what they’re missing? In 2005, Louv asked a fourth-grader in San Diego where he liked to play, indoors or out? The kid said, “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where the electric outlets are.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
1. Is what I’m thinking a fact (provable of course)
2. Does thinking this thought help me feel the way I want to feel?
3. Does thinking this thought help me achieve my goals? or better yet get where I want to go or be where I want to be.
4. Take responsibility for disturbing yourself and do not cop out by blaming others;
5. Face the fact that your early disturbances do not automatically make you disturbed today;
6. Understand that no magical forces will change you, but only your own strong and persistent work and practice – yes, work and practice.
Recognize that neither another person, nor an adverse circumstance, can ever disturb you–only you can. No one else can get into your gut and churn it up. Others can cause you physical pain–by hitting you over the head with a baseball bat, for example–or can block your goals. But you create your own emotional suffering, or self-defeating behavioral patterns, about what others do or say.Identify your “musts.” Once you admit that you distort your own emotions and actions, then determine precisely how. The culprit usually lies in one of the three core “musts:”
“Must” #1 (a demand on yourself): “I MUST do well and get approval, or else I’m worthless.” This demand causes anxiety, depression, and lack of assertiveness.
“Must” #2 (a demand on others): “You MUST treat me reasonably, considerately, and lovingly, or else you’re no good.” This “must” leads to resentment, hostility, and violence.
“Must” #3 (a demand on situations): “Life MUST be fair, easy, and hassle-free, or else it’s awful.” This thinking is associated with hopelessness, procrastination, and addictions.
Begin by asking yourself: “What’s the evidence for my `must?’ ” “How is it true?” “Where’s it etched in stone?” And then by seeing: “There’s no evidence.” “My `must’ is entirely false.” “It’s not carved indelibly anywhere.” Make your view “must”-free, and then your emotions will heal. Reinforce your preferences.
Preference #1: “I strongly PREFER to do well and get approval, but even if I fail, I will accept myself fully,”
Preference #2: “I strongly PREFER that you treat me reasonably, kindly, and lovingly, but since I don’t run the universe, and it’s a part of your human nature to err, I, then, cannot control you,”
Preference #3: “I strongly PREFER that life be fair, easy, and hassle-free, and it’s very frustrating that it isn’t, but I can bear frustration and still considerably enjoy life.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Though post-traumatic stress disorder is often associated with war veterans, many sufferers have yet to finish high school.
According to the National Survey of Adolescents, about 4 percent of teenage boys and 6 percent of teenage girls meet the clinical definition of PTSD.
But adolescents can be hard to diagnose.
The night Stephanie Romero turned 23, she and a friend were attacked by a stranger.
“My friend went outside to have a cigarette, and there was this guy — he came out; he was harassing us,” she says.
The man hit her and her friend, leaving Romero shocked.
“It was just a total nightmare,” she says. “I think about it all the time. I’ve never gone through anything like that.”
After the attack, Romero’s friends and family noticed she was acting differently. She didn’t go out as often. Her weight started changing. She was really depressed. Later, doctors diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I was like, PTSD? I thought it was just for veterans,” Romero says. “But I found out it’s not; it’s for anyone who’s experienced an event where you keep thinking about it and it takes over your life.”
I can relate. When I was 15, my mom was murdered. I tried everything I could to deal with my feelings, including writing songs.
But still, something was different about me. I noticed that I didn’t feel like my normal self anymore, not only mentally, but physically. I was losing weight, and my hair was falling out.
“That’s a pretty clear symptom that things aren’t going well,” says Jamal Harris, a pediatrician at a community health center in San Francisco. Harris says he sees teens with PTSD at his clinic all the time, and that many of them have physical symptoms related to their stress.
“Some examples in teens would be problems sleeping, weight gain, and just being frustrated,” Harris says.
It turns out a lot of those changes are due to hormones your body makes in response to stress. This can be a good thing. For example, if a car comes at you all of a sudden while you’re crossing the street, your body produces a chemical called cortisol, which helps you react fast enough to move before the car hits you.
But for people with PTSD, such as Stephanie Romero and me, it doesn’t take a speeding car to set us off.
In a lab at Stanford University, scientists are using a technology called Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or fMRI, to study the emotional reactions of patients with PTSD.
“So we know, for example, when they’re faced with a reminder of their trauma, they don’t activate the circuitry we normally associate with emotional regulation, the ability to be resilient in an automatic effortless fashion,” says Dr. Amit Etkin, the project’s lead researcher.
He says cortisol — that’s the same stress hormone that causes physical changes in the body — may also be responsible for the changes in the brain.
“Over time, elevated cortisol can cause death of neurons in the brain, the kind that don’t get replaced,” he says.
But that doesn’t mean PTSD can’t be treated. Scientists know talk therapy can be helpful. Etkin wants to understand how that kind of therapy might be repairing emotional connections in the brain. And he’s recruiting volunteers.
Stephanie Romero is one of the research subjects participating in the study. Ten months after her attack, she’s still having trouble feeling safe.
“It’s always in the back of my head. Like, you just never know your life could change in the blink of an eye,” she says. “One minute you could be celebrating your birthday, and the next you’re in the hospital and you don’t know how you ended up there.
In a room on the other side of a huge glass window, Romero lies in an fMRI machine, which looks like a big tube with a small hollow center. A monitor shows different angles of her brain.
“A lot of what we look at with emotion is focused on certain regions of the brain. One of them is the amygdala, which is really important not only for guiding your attention and focus on a threat stimulus, but also for affecting your body,” he says. “But somebody with PTSD doesn’t activate that circuitry well.”
Etkin asks Romero several questions to help him identify which specific parts of the brain are affected by PTSD, and how she feels throughout the experiment.
“Does she feel in her body at the moment, or is she feeling, like many PTSD patients report, feeling a little out of body, or detached, or unreal?” he asks.
I can relate to that unreal feeling. It started to hit me right there in the lab. Etkin hopes by understanding how that feeling plays out inside the brain, scientists will be able to come up with more effective ways of treating this disorder, whether it’s through singing, talking, neuroscience, or all of the above.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
1. THE RISK OF CHANGE IS SEEN AS GREATER THAN THE RISK OF STANDING STILL
Making a change requires a kind of leap of faith: you decide to move in the direction of the unknown on the promise that something will be better for you. But you have no proof. Taking that leap of faith is risky, and people will only take active steps toward the unknown if they genuinely believe – and perhaps more importantly, feel – that the risks of standing still are greater than those of moving forward in a new direction. Making a change is all about managing risk. If you are making the case for change, be sure to set out in stark, truthful terms why you believe the risk situation favors change. Use numbers whenever you can, because we in the West pay attention to numbers. At the very least, they get our attention, and then when the rational mind is engaged, the emotional mind (which is typically most decisive) can begin to grapple with the prospect of change. But if you only sell your idea of change based on idealistic, unseen promises of reward, you won’t be nearly as effective in moving people to action. The power of the human fight-or-flight response can be activated to fight for change, but that begins with the perception of risk.
2. PEOPLE FEEL CONNECTED TO OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE IDENTIFIED WITH THE OLD WAY
We are a social species. We become and like to remains connected to those we know, those who have taught us, those with whom we are familiar – even at times to our own detriment. Loyalty certainly helped our ancestors hunt antelope and defend against the aggressions of hostile tribes, and so we are hard wired, I believe, to form emotional bonds of loyalty, generally speaking. If you ask people in an organization to do things in a new way, as rational as that new way may seem to you, you will be setting yourself up against all that hard wiring, all those emotional connections to those who taught your audience the old way – and that’s not trivial. At the very least, as you craft your change message, you should make statements that honor the work and contributions of those who brought such success to the organization in the past, because on a very human but seldom articulated level, your audience will feel asked to betray their former mentors (whether those people remain in the organization or not). A little good diplomacy at the outset can stave off a lot of resistance.
3. PEOPLE HAVE NO ROLE MODELS FOR THE NEW ACTIVITY
Never underestimate the power of observational learning. If you see yourself as a change agent, you probably are something of a dreamer, someone who uses the imagination to create new possibilities that do not currently exist. Well, most people don’t operate that way. It’s great to be a visionary, but communicating a vision is not enough. Get some people on board with your idea, so that you or they can demonstrate how the new way can work. Operationally, this can mean setting up effective pilot programs that model a change and work out the kinks before taking your innovation “on the road.” For most people, seeing is believing. Less rhetoric and more demonstration can go a long way toward overcoming resistance, changing people’s objections from the “It can’t be done!” variety to the “How can we get it done?” category.
4. PEOPLE FEAR THEY LACK THE COMPETENCE TO CHANGE
This is a fear people will seldom admit. But sometimes, change in organizations necessitates changes in skills, and some people will feel that they won’t be able to make the transition very well. They don’t think they, as individuals, can do it. The hard part is that some of them may be right. But in many cases, their fears will be unfounded, and that’s why part of moving people toward change requires you to be an effective motivator. Even more, a successful change campaign includes effective new training programs, typically staged from the broad to the specific. By this I mean that initial events should be town-hall type information events, presenting the rationale and plan for change, specifying the next steps, outlining future communications channels for questions, etc., and specifying how people will learn the specifics of what will be required of them, from whom, and when. Then, training programs must be implemented and evaluated over time. In this way, you can minimize the initial fear of a lack of personal competence for change by showing how people will be brought to competence throughout the change process. Then you have to deliver.
5. PEOPLE FEEL OVERLOADED AND OVERWHELMED
Fatigue can really kill a change effort, for an individual or for an organization. If, for example, you believe you should quit smoking, but you’ve got ten projects going and four kids to keep up with, it can be easy to put off your personal health improvement project (until your first heart attack or cancer scare, when suddenly the risks of standing still seem greater than the risks of change!). When you’re introducing a change effort, be aware of fatigue as a factor in keeping people from moving forward, even if they are telling you they believe in the wisdom of your idea. If an organization has been through a lot of upheaval, people may resist change just because they are tired and overwhelmed, perhaps at precisely the time when more radical change is most needed! That’s when you need to do two things: re-emphasize the risk scenario that forms the rationale for change (as in my cancer scare example), and also be very generous and continuously attentive with praise, and with understanding for people’s complaints, throughout the change process. When you reemphasize the risk scenario, you’re activating people’s fears, the basic fight-or-flight response we all possess. But that’s not enough, and fear can produce its own fatigue. You’ve got to motivate and praise accomplishments as well, and be patient enough to let people vent (without getting too caught up in attending to unproductive negativity).
6. PEOPLE HAVE A HEALTHY SKEPTICISM AND WANT TO BE SURE NEW IDEAS ARE SOUND
It’s important to remember that few worthwhile changes are conceived in their final, best form at the outset. Healthy skeptics perform an important social function: to vet the change idea or process so that it can be improved upon along the road to becoming reality. So listen to your skeptics, and pay attention, because some percentage of what they have to say will prompt genuine improvements to your change idea (even if some of the criticism you will hear will be based more on fear and anger than substance).
7. PEOPLE FEAR HIDDEN AGENDAS AMONG WOULD-BE REFORMERS
Let’s face it, reformers can be a motley lot. Not all are to be trusted. Perhaps even more frightening, some of the worst atrocities modern history has known were begun by earnest people who really believed they knew what was best for everyone else. Reformers, as a group, share a blemished past . . . And so, you can hardly blame those you might seek to move toward change for mistrusting your motives, or for thinking you have another agenda to follow shortly. If you seek to promote change in an organization, not only can you expect to encounter resentment for upsetting the established order and for thinking you know better than everyone else, but you may also be suspected of wanted to increase your own power, or even eliminate potential opposition through later stages of change.
I saw this in a recent change management project for which I consulted, when management faced a lingering and inextinguishable suspicion in some quarters that the whole affair was a prelude to far-reaching layoffs. It was not the case, but no amount of reason or reassurance sufficed to quell the fears of some people. What’s the solution? Well, you’d better be interested in change for the right reasons, and not for personal or factional advantage, if you want to minimize and overcome resistance. And you’d better be as open with information and communication as you possibly can be, without reacting unduly to accusations and provocations, in order to show your good faith, and your genuine interest in the greater good of the organization. And if your change project will imply reductions in workforce, then be open about that and create an orderly process for outplacement and in-house retraining. Avoid the drip-drip-drip of bad news coming out in stages, or through indirect communication or rumor. Get as much information out there as fast as you can and create a process to allow everyone to move on and stay focused on the change effort.
8. PEOPLE FEEL THE PROPOSED CHANGE THREATENS THEIR NOTIONS OF THEMSELVES
Sometimes change on the job gets right to a person’s sense of identity. When a factory worker begins to do less with her hands and more with the monitoring of automated instruments, she may lose her sense of herself as a craftsperson, and may genuinely feel that the very things that attracted her to the work in the first place have been lost. I saw this among many medical people and psychologists during my graduate training, as the structures of medical reimbursement in this country changed in favor of the insurance companies, HMO’s and managed care organizations. Medical professionals felt they had less say in the treatment of their patients, and felt answerable to less well trained people in the insurance companies to approve treatments the doctors felt were necessary. And so, the doctors felt they had lost control of their profession, and lost the ability to do what they thought best for patients.
My point is not to take sides in that argument, but to point out how change can get right to a person’s sense of identity, the sense of self as a professional. As a result, people may feel that the inherent rewards that brought them to a particular line of work will be lost with the change. And in some cases, they may be absolutely right. The only answer is to help people see and understand the new rewards that may come with a new work process, or to see how their own underlying sense of mission and values can still be realized under the new way of operating. When resistance springs from these identity-related roots, it is deep and powerful, and to minimize its force, change leaders must be able to understand it and then address it, acknowledging that change does have costs, but also, (hopefully) larger benefits.
9. PEOPLE ANTICIPATE A LOSS OF STATUS OR QUALITY OF LIFE
Real change reshuffles the deck a bit. Reshuffling the deck can bring winners . . . and losers. Some people, most likely, will gain in status, job security, quality of life, etc. with the proposed change, and some will likely lose a bit. Change does not have to be a zero sum game, and change can (and should) bring more advantage to more people than disadvantage. But we all live in the real world, and let’s face it – if there were no obstacles (read: people and their interests) aligned against change, then special efforts to promote change would be unnecessary.
Some people will, in part, be aligned against change because they will clearly, and in some cases correctly, view the change as being contrary to their interests. There are various strategies for minimizing this, and for dealing with steadfast obstacles to change in the form of people and their interests, but the short answer for dealing with this problem is to do what you can to present the inevitability of the change given the risk landscape, and offer to help people to adjust. Having said that, I’ve never seen a real organizational change effort that did not result in some people choosing to leave the organization, and sometimes that’s best for all concerned. When the organization changes, it won’t be to everyone’s liking, and in that case, it’s best for everyone to be adult about it and move on.
10. PEOPLE GENUINELY BELIEVE THAT THE PROPOSED CHANGE IS A BAD IDEA
I’ll never forget what a supervisor of mine said to be, during the year after I had graduated from college, secure as I was in the knowledge of my well earned, pedigreed wisdom at age twenty-two. We were in a meeting, and I made the comment, in response to some piece of information, “Oh, I didn’t know that!” Ricky, my boss, looked at me sideways, and commented dryly, “Things you don’t know . . . fill libraries.” The truth is, sometimes someone’s (even – gasp! – my) idea of change is just not a good idea. Sometimes people are not being recalcitrant, or afraid, or muddle-headed, or nasty, or foolish when they resist. They just see that we’re wrong. And even if we’re not all wrong, but only half wrong, or even if we’re right, it’s important not to ignore when people have genuine, rational reservations or objections.
Not all resistance is about emotion, in spite of this list I’ve assembled here. To win people’s commitment for change, you must engage them on both a rational level and an emotional level. I’ve emphasized the emotional side of the equation for this list because I find, in my experience, that this is the area would-be change agents understand least well. But I’m also mindful that a failure to listen to and respond to people’s rational objections and beliefs is ultimately disrespectful to them, and to assume arrogantly that we innovative, change agent types really do know best. A word to the wise: we’re just as fallible as anyone.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
So many of my clients, friends, family and colleagues find themselves unhappy dealing with expectations placed on them by family, friends, and society as a whole. Many of them have high-paying jobs, gorgeous families and seemingly nothing to be depressed about and yet they feel unsuccessful. The problem is that many people typically do not live their lives according to their own definition of success. Instead they are governed by external influences that include family, especially parents and spouses; friends, culture and society. People make decisions based more upon what they believe is expected of them, rather than what they truly want and desire. This brings upon stress and imbalance because when you live to meet other’s expectations, rather than your own, you begin to move your own happiness down on the list of priorities.
To feel successful, you must first define what success means to you. Everyone has a very different definition of success. Success is not like my car, I can’t point to it. Success is abstract and subjective. To some, success may mean a six-figure income. Others are successful just by living the American dream: a house with a white picket fence, a spouse, 2.5 kids and a dog. Still others feel successful even in the midst of daily financial trials and tribulations. The secret to success is determining what your priorities are and then to make every decision based upon these priorities. The key to maintaining your priorities and your success is to balance them out. Not ranking them with lesser or greater importance, but by making them all equally important. Success really equates to what pleases you? What makes you happy and fulfilled.
I was recently asked the following question: At the end of your life, how do you know if you’ve succeeded? I wasn’t sure how to answer. Before you can achieve success, you need to define what success means to you. Without a clear vision of what success means to you, you cannot work towards it.
Success means different things to different people. If you ask 100 people what their definition of success is, you may get 100 different answers. It’s common to have multiple definitions of success. Success is measured in many areas, such as career, academic, health, spiritual, emotional, and financial.
To find your own personal definition of success, you need to dig deep within yourself and question your values in life. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is important to you? Answering questions like this brings you closer to your own definition of success. This process can be a long one. You may not get the answers quickly. Let’s take your career as an example. What would your definition of success be in regards to your career? To make a certain managerial level by a specified time? To make a specified amount of money? To experience great job satisfaction? You then need to dig deep to see how these goals fit with your own strengths and weaknesses. Which strengths would help you achieve your goal? Which of your weaknesses could be a barrier? Do your goals go against any of your values? Sometimes you will adjust your definition of success based on your answers.
When defining success, remember one important thing – Success is a journey. It has multiple peaks and valleys and not one ultimate pinnacle. One success builds on another. Setbacks and mistake also help you build success – don’t be afraid of them.
You will define success differently depending on what is happening in your life. Success is defined differently for a new college graduate than for a new father. It really depends on the perspective of life you have.
There is a difference between accomplishment and success. Accomplishment is where you have engaged in an action and have obtained the desired results. It is based on what was expected and the end result. This is a daily happening in the world. People accomplish things all day long, but success is not always achieved in these actions.
Success is something different. Success involves an ongoing string of accomplishments that when put together, add up to a major obtainment in life. The addition of all the accomplishments in a person’s career or life can be viewed as success. Success can then be partially defined as an ongoing realization and obtainment of worthy desired results, concerning actions, life, business, wealth, or a worthy ideal. True success occurs when your heart is deeply connected to an ideal. It is passion. It is what people die for. It is why some people explode out of the gates and create success easily, and others struggle all their life. These people are often operating on a whole different realm of success and action.
The true definition of success is not the one held by society. You do not have to become a gazillionaire or a celebrity. Having material possessions and career accomplishments should only be a means to a goal – It shouldn’t be the goal. Some people equate the word “success” with recognition. Recognition may be a sign of success, but it is not the end result. Success is also not comparative and dependent on being better than others.
There are several levels to success. At one level you must overcome your own personal demons, such as losing weight, forgiving your parents, ceasing to worry about how others judge you. We all have these issues to overcome in one form or another. The next level is when you to try to prove yourself to the world. You compete, you win and you grow. True success is about using your power, position and all your resources to make a positive difference in this world. Realizing and internalizing this should wake one up from blindly accepting the world’s definition of success, and make them focus more on true success.
Some people keep after success for as long as they live. Until the day they die they keep a sense of wonder, of curiosity, of zest. They care about things. They reach out. They enjoy. They risk failure. They discover new things about themselves. This is in direct correlation to how they define success.
I’d like to leave you with two ideas about success. The first is part of a commencement address at San Jose State College by John W. Gardner in 1969. It goes like this: “The conventional thing for me to do in closing would be to wish you success. But success as the world measures it is too easy. I would like to wish you something that is harder to come by. So I am going to wish you meaning in your life. And meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life, starting fairly early and working at it fairly hard. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of mankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the yardstick by which the world measures success will hardly be relevant.”
The other is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. “The definition of success – To laugh much; to win respect of intelligent persons and the affections of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give one’s self; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition.; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm, and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.”
Both of these address the measurement of success in intangible ways. The next time you feel pressure to think of success in terms of stature or money, think about these words. They may very well change your definition of success.
How do you define success? Is it working hard and attaining wealth or is it doing something good for someone else or for mankind in general? Can you be successful without truly being happy? To achieve success, you must define it for yourself. Find out how. Plus: Take our quiz to test your manners.
“If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.” Anna Quindlen
There is no one, all-encompassing definition of success because success is a relative concept. Success, in the action sense, is achieving something you have set out to do and wanted to do. But what about the connection between success and happiness? What if what you’ve accomplished doesn’t bring you true happiness and satisfaction? Are you still successful simply because you completed something?
Some people define success as acquiring great wealth, holding a high-level position in a career, receiving good grades or winning the game. When you read a dating profile of someone in the personal ads or on the Internet, ever wonder what it means when someone says their looking for a “successful person”? What does that success entail?
The only true way to define success is to define it for yourself instead of letting the expectations for success be determined by your family, your culture, society, or anyone else. You can’t think of yourself as successful if you’re unable to define it. And even if others see you as successful, but you don’t, then this idea of success is simply a façade. So to be successful, define it for yourself.
Here is an exercise to determine what your definition of success is. Take out a piece of paper and write at the top “What is my definition of success?” Then take a good, long moment to think about this question before writing anything down.
To help guide you through the process, ask yourself some questions: Who from the past or who in my life would I consider successful? What exactly is it about them that I consider successful? What is the one ingredient that must be present in order for me to consider myself successful? What am I most proud of in my life?
Think interms of career, family, health, love, money, values, giving, etc. You can further divide your list within these categories and write down what it is about these things that will make you truly successful. For example, in your career, will you consider yourself successful when you come up with the big idea, when you make a six figure salary or when you are able to balance your career and home life effectively? Your list can be as long or short as you want, but make sure your list is realistic and as relevant to your life as possible. Once you are aware of what will concretely make you successful by truly feeling successful, you’ll be that much closer to achieving it. Having trouble getting started?
Let Ralph Waldo Emerson inspire you with his success list:
“To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people, and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics, and endure the betrayal of
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.”
Success is ultimately interwoven with happiness. Being successful and feeling successful are also interwoven but often independent of each other. Your fancy clothes or wall of trophies may project a level of success to any outsider, but if you aren’t happy and fulfilled by wearing those clothes or displaying that trophy, what’s the point? If happiness is your ultimate goal, and you are doing whatever it is that makes you genuinely happy, then you can consider yourself successful.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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