Archives for March, 2012
Understanding how emotions and thoughts influence behavior is important for people who have intense emotions and are often ruled by them. Knowledge about emotions and the thoughts that strengthen or soften those emotions can help people develop ways to better manage their actions. One urge that people experience but rarely discuss is revenge. Webster's online dictionary defines revenge as to avenge (as oneself) usually by retaliating in kind or degree or to inflict injury in return for something, such as to revenge an insult. The struggle with revenge is centuries old. Shakespeare said, "If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?" Shakespeare clearly thought revenge was as normal and predictable as the sun rising. Maybe, but what about the idea that revenge is self-destructive? Confucius said , "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." Gandhi seemed to agree with him when he said, "An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind." Revenge seems to be one of the deepest instincts we have. Who hasn't said, "I hope he gets his," or wished that Karma would strike sooner rather than later? Dirty Harry's "Go ahead, make my day" resonates across generations. Out of control revenge, attack and counterattack, can be blinding and destroy the lives of all involved. But our instincts and emotions usually serve a purpose.
Dopamine is that wonderful chemical that helps us recognize an opportunity to feel good. Dopamine release is about craving, wanting and seeking. Those sensations are all very different from liking, loving or being happy. When a rat's dopamine system is wiped out, he'll still love the taste of sugar if you give it to him, but he won't work to get it. Dopamine is what spurs us to work to get what we think will make us feel good. Dopamine is about anticipation of a reward, not the actual experiencing of a reward. Brian Knutson did brain scans on humans who knew that when a certain symbol appeared on a computer screen that they would be given money. The interesting result was that the dopamine releasing pleasure center of the brain lit up when they saw the symbol, but not when they got the actual reward.
One of the most difficult feelings to acknowledge is not liking your loved one who has an emotional disorder. Being angry, frustrated, or disliking a close relative is difficult enough. But when the family member has a mental illness, you may judge yourself harshly for having negative feelings toward that person. But the situation is normal and you are not alone. Family members don’t always like each other. It’s normal to feel angry toward siblings and parents at times. And someone having an emotional disorder doesn’t change that fact. But there are some special considerations when the family member has an emotional disorder. Not liking a family member who struggles with their emotional health is a very difficult situation with many possible causes. How to manage these feelings is an important, complex question with many different possible options.
You will have many opportunities to practice accepting no. You may be turned down for a job you wanted, the person you asked to have dinner with you will refuse, the person who owns a house you want to buy will not accept your offer, and your spouse will not agree to allowing your poker group to play at your house. Some weeks it may seem like "no" is all you hear. The way you react to hearing no can add to your suffering or be a gift to your relationships. Accepting refusals with grace is a skill. Practicing acceptance of no will improve your friendships and your romantic relationships. When those close to you know you will love them and not devalue them if they do not do as you ask or suggest, they will feel accepted. Feeling accepted just as you are is a powerful relationship builder. In addition, accepting no without arguing, withdrawing, or judging yourself or the other person will add to your own sense of mastery, personal security, and freedom.
Emotionally sensitive people often have a difficult time with saying no. Some have difficulty saying it at all and others say it too often. Some say it timidly and others say it too harshly. Sometimes out of fear or discomfort people give lots of reasons for refusing a request or invitation or apologize for not being able to say yes though they really may not want to agree. Often the difficulty about saying no isn't about knowing when to say it but about the interpretations that are put on the word or that they fear will be made. Sometimes people are afraid of the result of a refusal, even when their fears are not likely to occur. For those who don't say no often enough, the reason may be about the meaning that they associate with the word. Saying no can be interpreted as a rejection or a lack of caring and emotionally sensitive people don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Sometimes 'no' may be interpreted as abandonment of someone you care about, though that does not need to be the case. The word could also lead to someone abandoning you and the loss of a relationship that is important. When saying that two-letter word to someone you care about, you are likely to feel vulnerable and that can be uncomfortable. Sometimes it's just too scary to do.
Generally, our brains will tend toward avoiding loss, lessening risk and averting harm. For the most part, that's good for survival and helps keep us safe. But sometimes these choices aren't the best ones for us. That's when we have to go against what our brain wants us to do. Knowing what those situations are can help you not say "Why on earth did I agree to do that?" The Brain's Rulebook David DiSalvo says it's like our brain has a rule book. There are rules that have always been in the book and there are rules that are being added to the book. You always have the book with you and use it often. But there are a couple of problems. Many of the rules in the book are written as if they are absolute and as if they apply to all situations, but in truth the rules aren't black and white and they don't fit every situation.
Remember mindsets from the previous post? Growth mindsets are when you see yourself as a work in progress and believe that you can learn new skills and improve your abilities. Fixed mindsets are when you believe that you are either smart or not and that your abilities are basically unchangeable (Dweck 2006). As you might imagine, looking at the world and people as fixed versus capable of learning significantly affects the way you view relationships. People with fixed mindsets believe that their partner's behaviors and characteristics are set in stone and that the relationship's qualities are fixed, either good or bad. If their partner isn't affectionate, then he won't ever be affectionate because that's just the way he is. There's little use in pointing out that you would like more affection or that he is not as loving as he could be. They also see themselves in the same way. A person with a fixed mindset might say, "I'm grumpy in the mornings and I'll snap if you try to talk with me. That's just the way I am. Nothing is going to change that."
In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck describes "growth mindsets" and "fixed mindsets." A growth mindset is the idea that we can learn to be good at something and that abilities are like muscles that need to be developed and practiced. When you have a growth mindset, a setback, like not achieving a goal you wanted to achieve, is seen as meaning that you need to study harder or practice more or do other actions to improve your skills. A fixed mindset means that you see your abilities and personality as set. When you don't pass a test, it's because you don't have the ability, aren't smart enough, or another permanent reason.
In his book Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, Timothy Wilson described the "broken windows" theory of James Wilson and George Kelling. This theory is about neighborhoods and safety. Wilson and Kelling believed that the appearance of neighborhoods made a difference in preventing criminal activity. They proposed that the environment communicated to people information on what behavior was appropriate. Broken windows and graffiti were signals to people that a neighborhood was deteriorating and breaking the law was acceptable.
Experiencing painful situations is a part of life. One of the ways people cope with the sadness and pain is by balancing those experiences with joyful or pleasant ones. It's like having a bank account. You make deposits of pleasurable experiences so you can draw on them when life is hard. Emotionally sensitive people can easily get worn down by difficult situations, so creating pleasure is an important means of coping. Sometimes it seems that many people wait for positive experiences to happen, to come to them. Working to create happiness doesn't seem to make sense. But creating positive experiences is one of the best ways to increase your resiliency or ability to bounce back from tough times. For some, pleasant experiences involve others. Parties, getting together for dinner, going to a play, hiking a trail, or playing tennis may be activities they would enjoy. Others might prefer reading a book, playing with a pet, or exploring nature. Volunteering is a positive experience for many.