Let’s try and exercise. The exercise is: Don’t think of an elephant! Whatever you do, do not think of an elephant. I’ve never found a client who is able to do this. Every word, like elephant, evokes associations. Elephants are large, have floppy ears and a trunk, are associated with circuses, and so on. The word elephant is defined relative to its features and context. When a person tries not to think about an elephant, for example, direct and associated experiences with elephants are likely to come to mind. In short, when you suppress a feeling, you evoke that feeling. This can be seen in everyday speech when you say, “Don’t worry, Don’t be late, Don’t blame me.” By saying “don’t” you are encouraging yourself to think and feel what you were trying to avoid. The conscious effort made to avoid concentrating on something can, ironically make our attention focus on something more.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
You may find yourself feeling miserable because of the way you see yourself in the world. You may say to yourself, ”Why does this always happen to me, you think, or why does life have to be so unfair? or why is it so hard?” You react this way when you secretly imagine yourself as being at the center of the universe. This isn’t conceit or arrogance, but it can be called “narcissism”. It’s what happens when you’re the point of reference for everything that happens all around you. We are all a bit narcissistic. A little of that is natural; you look out at the world through your own eyes and hear through your very own set of ears. But when you act like everything happens because of you, you’re headed for trouble.
Narcissism, a psychological state rooted in extremely low self-esteem, is a common syndrome among the parents of psychotherapy patients. Narcissistic people are very fearful of not being well regarded by others, and they therefore attempt to control others’ behavior and viewpoints in order to protect their self-esteem. The underlying dynamic of narcissism is a deep, usually unconscious, sense of oneself as dangerously inadequate and vulnerable to blame and rejection. The common use of the term refers to a preoccupation with one’s own physical and social image, a preoccupation with one’s own thoughts and feelings, and a sense of grandiosity. There are, however, many other behaviors that can stem from narcissistic concerns, such as immersion in one’s own affairs to the exclusion of others, an inability to empathize with other’s experience, interpersonal rigidity, an insistence that one’s opinions and values are “right.” They also have a tendency to be easily offended and take things personally.
Narcissism sees everything as a reflection on you; the universe revolves around you. Your car has broken down; it is your fault and you must have done something to deserve it. A friend walks past without saying hi; she must have done it on purpose to make you angry! Your child does not do their homework properly; you must be a bad father! A commenter accuses me of something I have not done; it was more a reflection of his distortions. There is no realistic reason for me to feel guilt – and yet you do. When you are narcissistic, you assume the guilt for things that go wrong outside of your control. You may see things as your fault that there was no way you could have prevented. For example, a child may write on the wall with a marker and the mother thinks, “It’s my fault, I am a bad mother. If I was a better mother I would have seen him withy the marker before he could draw on the wall.” Narcissistic emotional thinking leads you to assume that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you.
Take driving in traffic. How many of people raise their blood pressure unnecessarily because they’re wondering why the ‘other drivers are all idiots’ and their sloppy driving is directed at you, individually? Or at the office, where a disagreement with the person in the next cubicle seems to be an act of disrespect or hostility? Or closer to home: your boyfriend goes off the deep end over a stupid little joke you told some friends over drinks. It’s not like you told an embarrassing story about his mother; this was just a silly gag! But now he’s upset and you’re feeling misunderstood, attacked and hurt. However, you’re often fighting about something other than what you think you’re fighting about. Maybe your attempt at humor didn’t offend anyone else, but in your partner, it triggered a response going back to times when his father would criticize him after drinking too much. In other words…it wasn’t about you, at least not all of it.
Let me give you another example. I remember when the first woman I really loved, left me, ‘rejected’ me, for another man. It felt personal. How can I not take this personally? Well I learned the reason I don’t need to take things personally is because it’s not personal. How can that be you may ask? Isn’t the person standing in front of you screaming and being mean to you, doesn’t that say something about you? Isn’t the girlfriend who just went four days without calling you, saying something about you? Or how about the girlfriend who just broke up with you for another guy, isn’t that personal, isn’t that about you? Maybe your boss was really cold and aloof today, ‘isn’t that about you?’ you ask. How about your mother who spent your entire life not being affectionate and warm, ‘Isn’t that about you?’
Do you understand where I’m going with these questions? The operative word in all these scenarios is, you. And here’s the key. Drum roll please! When someone is doing or saying something to you, it is about them, not you. Let me be clear. There behavior speaks to them, not to you. Their insults and antagonism, is about them. So the girlfriend who I mentioned that broke my heart and ‘rejected’, me turned out to be afraid of confrontation, so she found a way out of the relationship without having to talk. She used her behavior not her words. She went off with a man who would take care of her so she didn’t have to take care of herself. When I saw her years later I realized I had been spared a life of misery. So here is the point, when you hear yourself say ‘I can’t believe they did or said that to me’, you need to stop, take a deep breathe, and realize you were not the issue, you were the target. When you use the word ‘me’ about someone else’s behavior, you make yourself the important part of the interaction. The truth is, that its the other person who is acting in an exaggerated way, trying to make themselves the important part of the interaction. That’s why it’s about them. That’s why it isn’t personal. It isn’t personal because their behavior isn’t about you, but it’s a reflection on them.
The important thing is to realize how self-centered this all is. By assuming everyone’s mood and reaction is about you (mad at me! something I did! insulting me!) you assume that the whole world is focused on you, and revolving around you. Narcissistic Personality Disorder refers to a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. But, in its more universal sense, narcissism can be found at the core of almost all psychological dysfunction. Narcissism represents the way you, like the Greek god Narcissus himself, can “fall in love” with yourself. This is not real self-acceptance. Narcissism, conceit, selfishness, all are used as a distraction, an ad campaign, to hide your own inadequacy. This is seen in the person who constantly treats others like “a child” to make themselves feel strong and superior.
Let’s look at an example. I had a client whose boss was the most abrupt man in the world. And she thought it was personal. He was loud, condescending, abrupt, sarcastic, overworked and that was just his professional life. He was also disrespectful. Guess what? She ultimately realized it wasn’t personal, and that it didn’t work for her to be intimidated by him. It’s empowering when you can say, ‘This doesn’t work for me.’ But as long as you take it personally, then you still may feel badly about yourself and you won’t change your situation. This particular client asked her boss “what the worst part about it was?”. He looked at her and thought and laughed because there was no worse part. It wasn’t about her. From then on, the whole dynamic shifted. He wasn’t a bad guy, he was just a bully, as long as he could get away with it. And he didn’t have a large enough support staff to help him, so he was irritated and cranky. My client took her boss’s behavior as his disapproval of her. When she was able to accept that she was a good employee, despite her flaws and imperfections as a human, she could look at the situation differently. Today, they have a good working relationship.
Let me give you another situation. I had a male client who was deeply in love with a woman who wasn’t emotionally available. She would draw him in and then do something to push him away. It’s commonly called sabotaging the relationship. Well at first he took this personally. And here’s why. He had done some things in the relationship that he felt guilty about. So he was sure her behavior was personal. As we talked and he looked at why he had done certain things, he expressed deep sorrow. We worked on letting go of his guilt himself for his previous behavior and to forgive himself. He went to her and apologized. At first she accepted the apology; soon enough, she once again pushed him away. He got to see that she had major issues around emotional intimacy. It wasn’t personal. She had had a pretty tough life and the way she protected herself when she felt unsafe, was to lash out. And she was highly effective! That person may be suffering from a fear of intimacy caused by some abuse, insecurity because of past failures, or be emotionally unavailable due to their upbringing. You may never know the real reason. It is rarely personal when someone pulls away. It speaks to them, It is there problem, They are afraid of being exposed.
Do you see now that people’s behavior and actions are about them? If you go up and hit someone and they hit you back, well that’s a different story. I’m talking about the uncaused action or behavior; the yelling, the pulling or pushing away, the aloof treatment, the manipulations, or the overreaction. Who hasn’t had a challenging relationship with a boss, a coworker, a lover, a friend or a parent? And when you recall these people, you may ask; now why is it that what they did to me wasn’t personal? Because it’s about them. You don’t have the luxury of knowing about the person’s personal perceptions of life. What made them the way they are and why they see the things they do. They may not even know themselves. In fact, I’ll share this with you. After working with people in various mental health settings for the last 10 some years, I can tell you many people have had unbelievably dysfunctional, painful lives. It’s amazing they even keep going.
Here’s a big secret about how to not take things personally. Work on yourself to heal your wounds. As you heal, you can see that other people have wounds that cause them to act or react in all sorts of ways. Often you can’t see the other person if your wounds are too tender. They inadvertently hit a raw spot and you react from the pain. Yet, as you heal, there are less and less raw spots for others to hit and hurt. As a result, there are less opportunities and reasons for you to react.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
What is a pachyderm? Well, “pachy” means “thick,” and “derm” means “skin.” The three most famous pachyderms are the elephant, rhinoceros, and the hippopotamus. Their skin serves them well, preventing them from being bitten. These insects are promoting their own survival; they are not personally going after any particular pachyderm. Now this is the question, are you thick-skinned? Are you being bitten by other people’s words? If you are thick-skinned, you don’t notice or get upset when people criticize you. To have thick skin means you do not take other’s actions personally, as a reflection of your worth as a human. Here are a few tips to developing a thick skin:
Don’t take things personally. Sometimes you may need to reframe a person’s bad behavior by remembering that it’s not about you.
Don’t let others get to you. Refuse to get overly responsive to the negative feelings and provocations of others. Adopt strategies that regulate emotional arousal; otherwise negativity hijacks the thinking brain. Try simple deep breathing or declare time out. Remember that everyone gets rejected sometimes. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a few times to get it right. Successful people are rejected over and over, but never stop trying. When you’re rejected or something doesn’t go your way, propose a new solution. Often, the person declining your offer is not rejecting you. He may even want to hear another idea. Successful individuals come back from rejection with new proposals. They’re creative at coming up with additional ways of looking at things and solving problems. Don’t hesitate to un-stick sticky situations. If you’re discussing an issue and the conversation is going off track, stop it and restart it on the right track. You could say: “This isn’t going productively. Let’s reshoot this scene from the beginning” or “Can we take it from the top?”
Don’t be self-focused. If you do focus on yourself, you’ll likely dwell on your shortcomings. Instead, think about your goals and what steps you need to get there.
Stop the self-talk. Counter self-defeating self-talk with truth talk: “You can be your own worst enemy, so give yourself a break.”
Don’t worry about looking stupid. If you are asked a question and you don’t know the answer, you can simply say, “I need to think about that and get back to you later.”
Learn to be patient. Don’t be impulsive or react to a situation without giving yourself time to cool off.
Don’t be quick to blame. Recognize that other people have their ups and downs.
Think about others. Enter social interactions with this thought of making the experience itself enjoyable. Ask yourself, “What can I do to feel more comfortable?”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
This seems to be Self-Righteous Indignation Month. Apparently I did not receive the memo. I’m seeing so many clients this month who are filled with self-righteous indignation about the behavior of other people. They really get themselves worked up over it and come in totally frustrated and angry. What is this all about?
The term “self-righteous” is defined by yourdictionary.com as “filled with or showing a conviction of being morally superior, or more righteous than others; smugly virtuous”
Beautiful. That’s exactly it. Not virtuous, but smugly virtuous. It is about feeling superior to someone else. Most of us are most easily tempted into self-righteous indignation when driving. The driver ahead of us is driving too slow, too fast, cuts us off or makes some other terribly heinous error. And we are filled with outrage. We lay on the horn and yell and make sure everyone around knows that driver is not driving “correctly” (or at least how we define correct driving). The nerve of that guy! What a loser.
When listening to someone smoldering with self-righteous indignation I often hear the words, “right”, “fair” or “should”. “They should do it this way.” “They are not doing it the right way.” “It’s not fair.” Why shouldn’t we distinguish when people aren’t doing things “correctly”, or the way they “should” be done, or the “fair” way? For two reasons:
1. Because it’s not real. They aren’t doing it that way. They are doing it “wrong” or in a way they “shouldn’t” or “unfairly”. That is the reality. That is what’s happening. Expecting them to do something else just sets you up to be frustrated and angry.
2. Because it makes us unhappy. I always ask people, “how much time and energy have you invested in being upset about this? What could you have done with that time and energy instead? Most have invested a lot of both. And for what? Is this issue really that important?
If self-righteous indignation isn’t real and it makes us frustrated and angry, why do so many of us do it? Because it feels good. It feels “right”. We feel superior to that idiot over there doing things “wrong”. We feel better than that loser over there being “unfair”.
By pointing out the errors of someone else we are attempting to position ourselves as better than them. People with low self esteem, people who are unhappy in their lives, people who are frustrated with where they are in life are most susceptible to self-righteous indignation. By finding someone we believe to be less than or worse than ourselves and condemning them, we manage to feel some sort of superiority.
We can also use this to sabotage ourselves or make ourselves a target. Being intolerant of the mistakes of other people, and pointing them out loudly, will not make you popular. And it can totally destroy a career. I frequently see people living out the Scapegoat role utilizing this technique to alienate themselves.
A client came into my office fuming about her boss at work and how he was mishandling an account by giving a client preferential treatment. The client made a point of telling him that he was mishandling the account and did not except his explanation as being valid. She then went over his head and complained to his boss. When I asked how the mishandling of this account affected her she could not readily answer. She had no interactions with the client, it didn’t affect her clients, and she would not be held responsible for the account. She then continued to rail against the unfairness of the preferential treatment and her need to expose it. She denied ulterior motives or her long and conflictual relationship with the boss. She denied her wish to see him punished and stated she was unaware of any possible fallout from this action. She reported telling the boss’ superior that she did not mean to be a “tattletale”, but that she needed to know if this was “right” or not. When I asked her what her gut told her about whether it was right or not, she admitted that she already knew it was wrong and her boss’ explanation flimsy. But she continued to insist that she had to go over his head to find out “for sure” whether she was right or not. She was completed surprised when, a few weeks later, the boss attempted to have her transferred to another office. She had completed sabotaged herself with her boss in her need to be self-righteous. This is a pattern she has replicated in many offices prior to this. Her self-righteous intolerance of the foibles of other people and her need to confront superiors about them makes her a target, or a scapegoat. She eventually is let go or fired. Yet she continues to maintain this behavior. She had rather be “right” than employed.
If you are guilty of this pattern, how do you stop it?
1. Instead of deciding what people should be doing, look at what they are doing and then decide how to react to it.
2. If you find yourself condemning people, examine your motives. Is the issue itself really that important? Is it really worth your time and energy? Is this really a battle you want to take on? Or are you doing it for some other reason?
3. Feel your feelings. How do you feel when you are complaining about or reporting this behavior? Superior? Powerful? Is that the true motivation for it, rather than righting a wrong?
4. Examine the effects. What effects is this behavior having on your life? Has it damaged your career? Cost you friends? Caused conflict within your family?
5. Repeat after me: “I cannot change other people’s behavior, only my own.” You have no power over other people. Whatever they are doing is what they are going to do. The only person you can change is yourself. And most of us have more than enough work to do developing ourselves without taking on other people’s issues.
Self-righteous indignation is a heady, powerful emotion that can be quite exhilarating. But it comes at a high cost. If you can only bring yourself up by putting other people down perhaps you need to look at that. Perhaps your time and energy would be better spent developing your own character rather than shooting down other people’s.
Every person seeks happiness. You hear it all the time. “I just want to be happy.” “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This last phrase points out an important aspect, the pursuit of happiness. There is no guarantee that it can be obtained. One of the common things I see is people spending most every waking moment seeking happiness. As if it is something out there to be gained or discovered. Perhaps this is a major contributor to the status of society.
Watch television for more than five minutes and you will see this idea confirmed. If I can only get the car, house, boat, job, relationship, salary increase; then life will be complete. I will lack nothing, at least until the next can’t-do-without product is available for purchase. The average adult now has more than 4 different careers in their lifetime. My father-in-law had one job from the time he was a teenager until retirement. Forty-two years at the same job. That’s almost unheard of now. It seems our society is more into the thought that if this job won’t bring about happiness, the next one will. If this relationship doesn’t bring about happiness, then a relationship with him or her will. If life in this tax bracket isn’t satisfying, then the next bracket up will be. It’s the same story over and over. Something out there will complete my life. It will fill the void.
What if the key to happiness rests internally? What if happiness can be learned?
This starts with the idea that happiness is up to me. My perspective of things will influence the results. My expectations affect the outcome.
So what is it about my life that brings me happiness? If I change my outlook from happiness being something out there to it resting internally, ask this; what am I grateful for in my life? What are my successes or wins lately? When I focus too much on what else is out there, I neglect the things we currently possess. Going to the other extreme is also unhealthy. Spending too much time focusing on what used to be produces blurred vision about what is.
Focusing too much on the future or too much on the past, I will miss a lot of what is going on now. I think I have told every one of my clients at some point to slow down. We live life at a fast enough speed as it is. Sometimes speed only produces uncertainty. Did you realize that of all the species on the planet, humans are the only ones that when lost, speed up. All other animals will slow down or even sit down until they get their bearings before proceeding. Do you know where you really want to go? What is your vision for life?
If you have trouble answering the preceding questions, that’s where you should spend some time reflecting and searching. Take an inventory of your current life. What are the things that you enjoy? What are the things that drain you? Enjoy the things going on in life right now. Happiness can be learned, and it starts with what’s going on inside you now. Happiness is not something out there, its inside. Resting deep within your soul waiting to be tapped into. By slowing down and seeking what you really want, life will begin to be more aligned and then more full.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Now I know you have been in this situation. You are involved in your daily tasks with your family or significant other and they say something in passing to you. While whatever they said was innocuous, your interpretation was anything but. So you storm out of the room or react with a verbal unleashing that would give any baseball coach in an argument with an umpire a run for his money. If the preceding hasn’t happened, maybe the following has. You are so deeply involved in your routine of life and work that when you come home after a long day, you simply co-exist with your spouse. You don’t even talk anymore. You’ve drifted apart and are living lives together under the same roof but miles apart.
A common belief regarding the cause of these examples is usually that the people involved are having trouble communicating. They would benefit from some communication training. Learning how to be assertive and use “I” messages properly. Nothing against these types of approaches, they are each good concepts to learn and incorporate within the right contexts. It is however my belief that within a committed relationship is not one of these contexts. Let me explain. As a foundation for this article, keep in mind that you cannot not communicate (pardon the double negative).
Everything we say; spoken and otherwise speaks volumes. Everything we don’t say speaks loudly as well. Research continues to confirm that around 93% of our communication resides in our body language and tone. How we say what we say speaks louder than what we say. The reverse is also true, how we say what we don’t say speaks louder than what we don’t say. I think I just confused myself. Maybe an example will bring about a little clarity. My wife comes in while I am watching a show on TV and begins a conversation (sorry if this is stereotypical). I now have a choice. I can turn off the show (or more likely hit pause on the Tivo) and respond to her invitation for a conversation. I can continue watching without saying a word. Or I can leave the show on and respond with the distraction of the show still in the background. She will react to whichever path I choose since she will read whatever I am saying by my reaction to her reaction and so forth. No wonder there are times when it seems communication is difficult.
The fact of the matter is, more often than not, communication problems are not the result of trouble understanding each other; it’s that we understand each other too well. In other words, the problem lies in me not liking what the other person is saying, and then reacting. When we react to the spike of emotion we get while interacting with another human, we often do so in an attempt to sooth ourselves.
Back to the previous example. If I do not pause the TV show and respond, or at the very least ask to have the conversation later, that can be interpreted as a threat to the status of our relationship. The message could be the show is more important than the conversation, and then the relationship, and then the family, and then the marriage, and ultimately then my wife. She may as well pack her bags and move out. I realize that is a bit overboard but it often starts that simply.
A majority of communication within a committed relationship in my opinion is covert. We are afraid to say what we really mean because we are afraid to take the “hit.” So we say it in code. We also interpret what we hear and see on our own without asking for clarity. Mainly because we may not want to know what the answer really is. We treat our significant other with kid gloves so as not to damage them. Incidentally, when exactly did I marry a person who is fragile? Why do I treat them as though they can’t handle what I truly think?
Conflict is not all bad. It is only through some conflict that value and rewards are increased. I hate to break it to you, but living a life that is more alive requires some work on your relationships, unless this life you envision is alone.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Yesterday I sat with a couple who were so angry with each other and so hurt, they could barely speak. I know them well enough to know that they love each other deeply – so seeing them in this much pain was hard. Sitting with them, I felt my own heart tightening in my chest in response to the stuckness they each felt. When we are hurt, we naturally want to retreat or retaliate – it’s just a normal part of being human. But in our couple relationships, neither of these strategies leads to resolution. What we really need, is to soften, to find more understanding and compassion for ourselves and each other. But often, that’s the last thing we want to do.
I also know that they come from families where the adults had all the power and control. Their parents used anger and shame to intimidate them into “behaving.” When we grow up in families where there is anger – especially scary anger – and shame was used to control our behavior, we are more likely to dig in to the retreat/retaliate strategy. It’s what lets us feels safe. Revealing the hurt under the anger feels too vulnerable, weak or helpless. We feel like we are in a power struggle, and if we show softness, we will lose.
Yet, at the same time, digging in doesn’t feel good. It’s safer, yes. But it’s lonely. We don’t like feeling disconnected from our partner – our primary source of love, nurturing and care. When this happens we’re in a terrible bind. We can’t get the closeness we want, because it doesn’t feel safe. That’s where my clients were when they came to see me yesterday. Ouch.
So the goal of therapy, in my mind was to begin building little bridges between safety and closeness. I know that safety has to come first. So I started with the partner who seemed to be the least triggered/traumatized, in this case, the husband. We spent a long time just exploring the feelings and sensations he was noticing in his body, while his partner watched and listened.
He identified tension in his shoulders and neck, tightness in his jaw. These are the places where we naturally feel our anger. Our jaw muscles tense, at the ready to growl and bite. Our shoulders store energy in case we need to hit or punch. It’s our biology. I asked him to stay with the process of noticing. He became aware that his stomach was tight, usually a sign of anxiety/fear. He also felt a heaviness in his chest, a sign of sadness/hurt/longing.
As his awareness moved from the sensations of anger/protection to the more vulnerable sensations of fear and sadness, I checked in with his wife. “What are you noticing in your body, as you listen to him?” I asked. “All the same things,” she answered, describing similar sensations in her own body.
I knew this was a bridge, and I pointed it out to them. “Wow. So you guys have so much resonance with each other, even when you’re upset, you are feeling each other.” They agreed, making eye contact for the first time in the session (maybe the first time in days).
Each of their faces softened just a little. In their eyes was more of the hope and longing, and a little less of the stony coldness they had at the start of the session. I pointed that out too. “What are you seeing in his face now?” I asked.
“He looks a little sad, a little… less angry.”
“What is that like?” I asked, “to see him less angry?”
“It makes me less angry.”
I turned to him. “What is that like – to know that when you soften, she softens too?”
And so we began to move into an upward spiral. As they expressed more of their vulnerable feelings, what they saw was that they didn’t “lose” as they would have in childhood. When one partner saw the sadness, pain and fear in the other, he or she was moved to compassion. At the end of the session, they were holding each other and passing the tissues back and forth.
“But we won’t be able to do this at home!” They both shared, near the end of our time.
“That’s okay. I said.” Some little part of you knows that you have this in you, even if it’s not accessible right away. You’re building muscle. No one expects you to get it on the first try, or even the tenth try. Be patient with yourselves. Know that in the heat of the moment, you won’t be thinking straight. But after a fight, when you’ve calmed down a little, you may feel an urge to say to each other, I was feeling really hurt (or misunderstood, or criticized…) when we were fighting, and I didn’t know how to tell you. It’s always okay to repair the rift later on. In time, you’ll get better at doing repair sooner and sooner.”
Couples therapy isn’t just a place to air grievances and get advice. It can also be a sandbox where you get to try new things, notice more about yourself and your partner, and develop new ways of thinking and being with each other. If you get locked into anger with your partner, and you don’t know how to get out, if fights fizzle out but don’t lead to resolution and more understanding, if each fight erodes more and more trust and love, then it may feel really good to try therapy – especially with a therapist who understands the biology of attachment and the fundamental foundation of safety in relationships.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
A significant study from Duke, out today, provides the best evidence we’ve had thus far that bullying in childhood is linked to a higher risk of psychological disorders in adulthood. The results came as a surprise to the research team. “I was a skeptic going into this,” lead author and Duke psychiatry professor William E. Copeland told me over the phone, about the claim that bullying does measurable long-term psychological harm. “To be honest, I was completely surprised by the strength of the findings. It has certainly given me pause. This is something that stays with people.”
I’m less surprised, because earlier research has shown that bullying increases the risk for many problems, including low academic performance in school and depression (for both bullies and victims) and criminal activity later in life (bullies). But the Duke study is important because it lasted for 20 years and followed 1,270 North Carolina children into adulthood. Beginning at the ages of 9, 11, and 13, the kids were interviewed annually until the age of 16, along with their parents, and then multiple times over the years following.
Based on the findings, Copeland and his team divided their subjects into three groups: People who were victims as children, people who were bullies, and people who were both. The third group is known as bully-victims. These are the people who tend to have the most serious psychological problems as kids, and in the Duke study, they also showed up with higher levels of anxiety, depressive disorders, and suicidal thinking as adults. The people who had only experienced being victims were also at heightened risk for depression and anxiety. And the bullies were more likely to have an antisocial personality disorder.
The researchers also checked to see if the variation among the groups could be attributed to differences in socio-economic status, or family dysfunction/instability, or maltreatment (which they defined as physical or sexual abuse). All three groups—the victims, the bullies, and the bully-victims—had higher rates of some type of family hardship than the kids who didn’t experience bullying at all. For the victims, the risk of anxiety disorders remained strong even when taking into account family problems, though the risk of depression did not (it dropped just below statistical significance if the victims came from a stable home, Copeland said). For bully-victims, the risk of both anxiety and depression held, and for bullies, the risk of antisocial personality disorder did as well. In other words, these results suggest that bullying scars people whether they grow up in a home with two functional parents or with frequent arguing, not much parental supervision, divorce, separation, or downright abuse or neglect. It’s a finding that’s in line with other work, for example by Judith Rich Harris, who in her book The Nurture Assumption, shows that kids are very much influenced and affected by their peers.
Why does bullying have such far-reaching impact? Copeland and his team suggest the experience may change kids’ physiological response to stress, and their ability to cope. This looked especially stark for the bully-victims. “It was definitely the case that chronic bullying led to worse outcomes, but much more the case that being a bully-victim was associated with really significant problems,” Copeland said. The biggest cry for help is coming from that group. Fortunately, it’s a smaller number than victims overall.” Bully-victims, Copeland and others have found, have more problems at home and the most trouble with impulse control and aggression. Sometimes they do the dirty work for popular kids who bully to curry favor with them. “I don’t think things are working out socially for them in a lot of ways,” Copeland said.
It’s important to point out that Copeland and other researchers don’t define bullying broadly, in a way that encompasses a lot of mutual conflict among kids, or one-time fighting. Bullying is physical or verbal harassment that takes place repeatedly and involves a power imbalance—one kid, or group of kids, making another kid miserable by lording power over him. As Dan Olweus, the Scandinavian psychologist who launched the field of bullying studies in the 1960s, has been arguing for many years, this is a particular form of harmful aggression. And so the effort to prevent bullying isn’t about pretending that kids will always be nice to each other, or that they don’t have to learn to weather some adversity.
If the results of this study are dismaying because they indicate that bullying is permanently scarring, the findings also strengthen the argument for prevention. Copeland underscores this idea. “Consider me a reluctant convert, but I’m starting to view bullying the same way I do abuse in the home,” he said. “I honestly think the affects we’re observing here are just as potent. And that’s definitely not the way American researchers look at things. They want to know all about what parents are doing at home. Peers aren’t considered a priority. But these days, with all the time they spend on the Internet, kids are spending even more time with their peers, and that’s a factor we need to pay more attention to.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
We all want a peaceful, cheerful, even joyous, atmosphere at home—but we can’t nag and yell our way there. Here are some strategies that help:
1. At least once a day, make each child helpless with laughter .
2. Sing in the morning . It’s hard both to sing and to maintain a grouchy mood, and it sets a happy tone for everyone—particularly in my case, because I’m tone deaf and my audience finds my singing a source of great hilarity.
3. Get enough sleep yourself . It’s so tempting to stay up late, to enjoy the peace and quiet. But morning comes fast. Along the same lines …
4. Wake up before your kids. We were so rushed in the morning that I started getting up half an hour earlier than my children. That means I can get myself organized, check my e-mail, and get my bag packed before they get up. It’s tough to wake up earlier, but it has made a huge difference in the quality of our mornings.
5. I’ve been researching the hedonic treadmill: People quickly adapt to new pleasures or luxuries, so it takes a new pleasure to give them a jolt of gratification. As a result, I’ve cut back on treats and impulse buys for my kids. The ice cream sandwich or the Polly Pockets set won’t be an exciting treat if it isn’t rare.
6. Most messages to kids are negative: “Stop,” “Don’t,” “No.” So I try to cast my answers as a “yes.” “Yes, we’ll go as soon as you’ve finished eating,” not “We’re not leaving until you’ve finished eating.” It’s not easy to remember to do this, but I’m trying.
7. Look for little ways to celebrate . I haven’t been doing holiday breakfasts long, but they’re a huge source of happiness. They’re quick and fun, and everyone gets a big kick out of them.
8. Repetition works . A friend told me he was yelling at his kids too much, so he distilled all rules of behavior into four key phrases: “Keep your hands to yourself”; “Answer the first time you’re asked”; “Ask first”; and “Stay with us” (his kids tended to bolt). You can also use the school mantras: “Sit square in your chair;” “Accidents will happen,” “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset” (i.e., when cupcakes are handed out, you don’t keep trying to switch).
9. Say “no” only when it really matters . Wear a bright red shirt with bright orange shorts? Sure. Put water in the toy tea set? OK. Sleep with your head at the foot of the bed? Fine. Samuel Johnson said, “All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle.”
10. When I find myself thinking, “Yippee, soon we won’t have to deal with a stroller,” I remind myself how fleeting this is . All too soon the age of Cheerios and the Tooth Fairy will be over. The days are long, but the years are shortRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
No matter how old people are, they seem to believe that who they are today is essentially who they’ll be tomorrow.
That’s according to fresh research that suggests that people generally fail to appreciate how much their personality and values will change in the years ahead — even though they recognize that they have changed in the past.
Daniel Gilbert, a psychology researcher at Harvard University who did this study with two colleagues, says that he’s no exception to this rule.
“I have this deep sense that although I will physically age — I’ll have even less hair than I do and probably a few more pounds — that by and large the core of me, my identity, my values, my personality, my deepest preferences, are not going to change from here on out,” says Gilbert, who is 55.
He realized that this feeling was kind of odd, given that he knows he’s changed in the past. He wondered if this feeling was an illusion, and if it was one that other people shared: “Is it really the case that we all think that development is a process that’s brought us to this particular moment in time, but now we’re pretty much done?”
Gilbert says that he and his colleagues wanted to investigate this idea, but first they had to figure out how. The most straightforward way would be to ask people to predict how much they’d change in the next decade, then wait around to see if they were right. “The problem with that is, it takes 10 years,” says Gilbert.
So the researchers took a much quicker approach. They got more than 19,000 people to take some surveys. There were questions about their personality traits, their core values and preferences. Some people were asked to look back on how they changed over the past 10 years. Others were asked to predict how they thought they would change in the next decade.
Then the scientists crunched the data. “We’re able to determine whether, for example, 40-year-olds looking backwards remember changing more than 30-year-olds looking forwards predict that they will change,” Gilbert explains.
They found that people underestimated how much they will change in the future. People just didn’t recognize how much their seemingly essential selves would shift and grow.
And this was true whether they were in their teen years or middle-aged.
“Life is a process of growing and changing, and what our results suggest is that growth and change really never stops,” says Gilbert, “despite the fact that at every age from 18 to 68, we think it’s pretty much come to a close.”
Personality changes do take place faster when people are younger, says Gilbert, so “a person who says I’ve changed more in the past decade than I expect to change in the future is not wrong.”
But that doesn’t mean they fully understand what’s still to come. “Their estimates of how much they’ll change in the future are underestimates,” says Gilbert. “They are going to change more than they realize. Change does slow; it just doesn’t slow as much as we think it will.”
The studies, reported in the journal Science, impressed Nicholas Epley, a psychology researcher at the University of Chicago. “I think the finding that comes out of it is a really fundamentally interesting one, and in some ways, a really ironic one as well,” says Epley.
He says everyone seemed to remember change in the past just fine. “What was bad, though, was what they predicted for the future,” says Epley.
He notes that if you want to know what your next 10 years will be like, it’s probably good to look at what your past 10 years were like — even though we seem not to want to do that.
Gilbert says he doesn’t yet know why people have what he and his colleagues call the “end of history illusion.”
One possibility is that it’s just really, really hard to imagine a different, future version of yourself. Or maybe people just like themselves the way they are now, and don’t like the idea of some unknown change to come.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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