“If I don’t keep on top of everything, I don’t know what will happen.”

“Garden of Eden” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Being organized, dependable, and creative in planning for the future are wonderful qualities. They allow you to create beauty in the home, order in your finances, and enjoyment in your social life.

Control and order

Responsible people generally strive to achieve security, order, and harmony to prevent upheaval, chaos, and turmoil. When circumstances become stressful, however, the drive to sustain order can get out of control and actually add to the stress. Ironically, the attempt to take too much control of life sometimes results in excessive vigilance that leaves you feeling powerless and out of control.

Moreover, you may become preoccupied with your worries to the exclusion of appreciating your blessings. As a result, you end up feeling tense, angry, and tormented — even panicked, while others seem to be nonchalant. It doesn’t seem fair.

Effective Problem-Solving

Paradoxically, by focusing exclusively on what has gone wrong and what might go wrong in the future, you lose your objectivity and effectiveness. If you dwell too much on a problem, you may lose sight of the bigger picture and access to your intuition. You may get mired in the mud of hopelessness. You may also drive other people away with your anxious energy.

Brain research shows that the best way to resolve a problem is to focus on that over which you have control. Inform yourself of all the facts and seek good advice if necessary in order to consider the problem thoughtfully. Then engage in something other than thinking about the problem. Stepping away from the problem at this point will allow your intuition to inform your decision-making. It also allows you to maintain perspective, while being able to enjoy other aspects of life.

Security

Taking the time to plan and organize fosters security and harmony in life. Too much planning and organizing, however, creates excessive tension that wipes out feelings of security and harmony. While you can hedge against some risks in the future, you cannot prevent all misfortunes and loss. Life is fleeting and mercurial. At some point you have to let go of trying to control against all misfortunes, and face the unknown with courage and acceptance.

Balance

Given the ephemeral quality of life, we need to balance planning for the future with being present in the moment. It may seem inappropriate and even absurd to think about enjoying life when faced with uncertainty, misfortune, and stress. Yet it is the present moment that we actually have the most control over, that is, we have control over our attitude and reactions to whatever is currently happening. Regardless of how beautiful and safe we try to make our world, we inevitably must accept what comes our way willingly and gracefully.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen


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Guest Author Sam Vaknin: “Why narcissists react to criticism with narcissistic rage.”

"Volcano" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Intensity” by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR SAM VAKNIN writes:

Narcissistic Injury

Narcissistic injury results from any threat (real or imagined) to the narcissist’s grandiose and fantastic self-perception (False Self) as perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and entitled to special treatment and recognition, regardless of his actual accomplishments (or lack thereof).

The narcissist actively solicits Narcissistic Supply – adulation, compliments, admiration, subservience, attention, being feared – from others in order to sustain his fragile and dysfunctional Ego. Thus, he constantly courts possible rejection, criticism, disagreement, and even mockery.

The narcissist is, therefore, dependent on other people. He is aware of the risks associated with such all-pervasive and essential dependence. He resents his weakness and dreads possible disruptions in the flow of his drug: Narcissistic Supply. He is caught between the rock of his habit and the hard place of his frustration. No wonder he is prone to raging, lashing and acting out, and to pathological, all-consuming envy (all expressions of pent-up aggression).

The narcissist’s thinking is magical. In his own mind, the narcissist is brilliant, perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and unique. Compliments and observations that accord with this inflated self-image (“The False Self”) are taken for granted and as a matter of course.

Having anticipated the praise as fully justified and in accordance with (his) “reality”, the narcissist feels that his traits, behavior, and “accomplishments” have made the accolades and kudos happen, have generated them, and have brought them into being. He “annexes” positive input and feels, irrationally, that its source is internal, not external; that it is emanating from inside himself, not from outside, independent sources. He, therefore, takes positive narcissistic supply lightly.

The narcissist treats disharmonious input – criticism, or disagreement, or data that negate the his self-perception – completely differently. He accords a far greater weight to these types of countervailing, challenging, and destabilizing information because they are felt by him to be “more real” and coming verily from the outside. Obviously, the narcissist cannot cast himself as the cause and source of opprobrium, castigation, and mockery.

This sourcing and weighing asymmetry is the reason for the narcissist’s disproportionate reactions to perceived insults. He simply takes them as more “real” and more “serious”. The narcissist is constantly on the lookout for slights. He is hypervigilant. He perceives every disagreement as criticism and every critical remark as complete and humiliating rejection: nothing short of a threat. Gradually, his mind turns into a chaotic battlefield of paranoia and ideas of reference.

Most narcissists react defensively. They become conspicuously indignant, aggressive, and cold. They detach emotionally for fear of yet another (narcissistic) injury. They devalue the person who made the disparaging remark, the critical comment, the unflattering observation, the innocuous joke at the narcissist’s expense.

By holding the critic in contempt, by diminishing the stature of the discordant conversant – the narcissist minimizes the impact of the disagreement or criticism on himself. This is a defense mechanism known as cognitive dissonance.

Narcissistic Rage

Narcissists can be imperturbable, resilient to stress, and sangfroid. Narcissistic rage is not a reaction to stress – it is a reaction to a perceived slight, insult, criticism, or disagreement (in other words, to narcissistic injury). It is intense and disproportional to the “offense”.

Raging narcissists usually perceive their reaction to have been triggered by an intentional provocation with a hostile purpose. Their targets, on the other hand, invariably regard raging narcissists as incoherent, unjust, and arbitrary.

Narcissistic rage should not be confused with anger, though they have many things in common.

It is not clear whether action diminishes anger or anger is used up in action – but anger in healthy persons is diminished through action and expression. It is an aversive, unpleasant emotion. It is intended to generate action in order to reduce frustration. Anger is coupled with physiological arousal.

Another enigma is:

Do we become angry because we say that we are angry, thus identifying the anger and capturing it – or do we say that we are angry because we are angry to begin with?

Anger is provoked by adverse treatment, deliberately or unintentionally inflicted. Such treatment must violate either prevailing conventions regarding social interactions or some otherwise a deeply ingrained sense of what is fair and what is just. The judgement of fairness or justice is a cognitive function impaired in the narcissist.

Anger is induced by numerous factors. It is almost a universal reaction. Any threat to one’s welfare (physical, emotional, social, financial, or mental) is met with anger. So are threats to one’s affiliates, nearest, dearest, nation, favourite football club, pet and so on. The territory of anger includes not only the angry person himself, but also his real and perceived environment and social milieu.

Threats are not the only situations to incite anger. Anger is also the reaction to injustice (perceived or real), to disagreements, and to inconvenience (discomfort) caused by dysfunction.

Still, all manner of angry people – narcissists or not – suffer from a cognitive deficit and are worried and anxious. They are unable to conceptualize, to design effective strategies, and to execute them. They dedicate all their attention to the here and now and ignore the future consequences of their actions. Recent events are judged more relevant and weighted more heavily than any earlier ones. Anger impairs cognition, including the proper perception of time and space.

In all people, narcissists and normal, anger is associated with a suspension of empathy. Irritated people cannot empathize. Actually, “counter-empathy” develops in a state of aggravated anger. The faculties of judgement and risk evaluation are also altered by anger. Later provocative acts are judged to be more serious than earlier ones – just by “virtue” of their chronological position.

Yet, normal anger results in taking some action regarding the source of frustration (or, at the very least, the planning or contemplation of such action). In contrast, pathological rage is mostly directed at oneself, displaced, or even lacks a target altogether.

Narcissists often vent their anger at “insignificant” people. They yell at a waitress, berate a taxi driver, or publicly chide an underling. Alternatively, they sulk, feel anhedonic or pathologically bored, drink, or do drugs – all forms of self-directed aggression.

From time to time, no longer able to pretend and to suppress their rage, they have it out with the real source of their anger. Then they lose all vestiges of self-control and rave like lunatics. They shout incoherently, make absurd accusations, distort facts, and air long-suppressed grievances, allegations and suspicions.

These episodes are followed by periods of saccharine sentimentality and excessive flattering and submissiveness towards the victim of the latest rage attack. Driven by the mortal fear of being abandoned or ignored, the narcissist repulsively debases and demeans himself.

Most narcissists are prone to be angry. Their anger is always sudden, raging, frightening and without an apparent provocation by an outside agent. It would seem that narcissists are in a CONSTANT state of rage, which is effectively controlled most of the time. It manifests itself only when the narcissist’s defenses are down, incapacitated, or adversely affected by circumstances, inner or external.

Pathological anger is neither coherent, not externally induced. It emanates from the inside and it is diffuse, directed at the “world” and at “injustice” in general. The narcissist is capable of identifying the IMMEDIATE cause of his fury. Still, upon closer scrutiny, the cause is likely to be found lacking and the anger excessive, disproportionate, and incoherent.

It might be more accurate to say that the narcissist is expressing (and experiencing) TWO layers of anger, simultaneously and always. The first layer, of superficial ire, is indeed directed at an identified target, the alleged cause of the eruption. The second layer, however, incorporates the narcissist’s self-aimed wrath.

Narcissistic rage has two forms:

I. Explosive – The narcissist flares up, attacks everyone in his immediate vicinity, causes damage to objects or people, and is verbally and psychologically abusive.

II. Pernicious or Passive-Aggressive (P/A) – The narcissist sulks, gives the silent treatment, and is plotting how to punish the transgressor and put her in her proper place. These narcissists are vindictive and often become stalkers. They harass and haunt the objects of their frustration. They sabotage and damage the work and possessions of people whom they regard to be the sources of their mounting wrath.

_________________________________________________

by Guest Author Sam Vaknin, the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.

He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb, and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam’s Web site.

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How to express anger effectively: Nonviolent communication

Everyone has reasons to get angry once in a while. But if you lose your temper or become mean and hostile, you are not going to improve your long-term relationships. When you lose your temper and attack another person, that person is likely to feel horrible and defensive rather than receptive and compassionate toward you.

So how can you express anger effectively, and what can you learn about yourself from your anger?

What emotion is hiding beneath the anger?

Often the fear of abandonment or of losing love and connection is what is fueling the anger. Sometimes it is a feeling of being insignificant or unappreciated that underlies the anger.

Frequent triggers to anger include not be listened to, anxiety, or feeling powerless.

Uncontrolled anger backfires and often causes the very thing you fear. For instance, you may fear abandonment. Yet when you become angry and possessive, you push the other person away.

Self-reflection

1. Recognize your feelings before you explode in anger. When you feel a mere irritation, it’s easier to do or say something calmly than when anger has built up.

2. Know what you need to do for yourself rather than expect another person to do something for you. Don’t expect others to read your mind or to satisfy your desires and needs.

Sometimes you do need to express your anger to another person. Here is how we change powerless hostility to personal power to inspire transformation:

Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication:

The most important component of this four-step process is that the intent shown through tone of voice is to treat the other person with respect while respecting our own needs. Without a calm tone and demeanor, it will be difficult to be effective even with the right words.

If you’re too angry, let the other person know you’ll discuss this later when you’re calm.

1. State the facts. Express the facts neutrally and factually without exaggeration and without saying “You never” or “You always”.

2. Express your feelings. “I feel angry/ sad/ defensive/ lonely.” Saying you feel angry is very different than expressing hostility and anger through yelling. Make sure your feelings aren’t in fact judgments. “I feel that you’re a jerk” is not a feeling.

3. Express your need or desire. “I need support/ to be able to trust someone/ to have more fun.” Be careful that your needs are not specifically about the other person. “I need you to clean your room” is not as effective as “I need order and cleanliness.” Remember that you have to satisfy many of your needs yourself.

4. Make a specific positive request, not a demand. Don’t be too abstract, e.g., “I want you to love me forever.” Avoid negative requests, e.g., “I want you to stop being selfish.” An example of a specific positive doable request would be “Let’s go out to dinner Friday night,” or “Would you help me do the dishes after dinner.”

Rather than complaining or nagging, you’re giving the other person the opportunity to do something thoughtful for you.

5. Observe patterns. This is an added step to consider it your requests keep getting ignored. You don’t want to try to control other people. Yet if you see that a person is repeatedly ignoring your reasonable requests, desires, and expectations, then you want to change your expectations and perhaps limit your relationship with that person. By changing your expectations, you’re less likely to be disappointed and once in a while you’ll be surprised to find the other person treating you with more respect.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Dealing with Angry People.”

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Overfunctioning and underfunctioning:
“If I don’t take care of things, nothing will ever get done.”

"Crescendo" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Crescendo” by Mimi Stuart ©

Emotional system

Every family is an emotional system, where the functioning, behavior and beliefs of each person influence those of the others. Overfunctioning is different from simply doing kind things for another person or having distinct but equal roles and duties. It is an ongoing pattern of feeling responsible for the emotional well-being of another and working to compensate for the perceived or real deficits in that person.

Polarization

Overfunctioning leads to the underfunctioning person feeling dependent and entrusting responsibility for decisions and effort on those willing to do the work. As a result, the underfunctioning person becomes “less capable” — a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As family members anxiously focus on compensating for the underfunctioner and trying to “correct” the problem, the family members become more polarized. Examples of these polarities include “overadequate” and “inadequate,” “hard-working” and “lazy,” “decisive” and “indecisive,” “goal-oriented” and “procrastinator.”

Resentment

The underfunctioning person gets comfortable being taken care of, and thus continues to allow others to overfunction. Yet the underfunctioner’s increased dependence and helplessness cause feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. Meanwhile, the overfunctioning care-taker feels overwhelmed — “I have to take care of everything, or things will go wrong.” Resentment on both sides builds.

Solution

The way out of such polarities is to work on oneself, rather than to attempt to change others. A positive change in one person will have a positive impact on all others, though there may be a bit of resistance at first.

1. Do Less

Those who overfunction need to do less. When mistakes are made, the overfunctioning family member must resist jumping in to take charge, fix things, and make motivational speeches. He or she must be able to handle the frustration of seeing others fumble around and do things far from perfectly.

2. Gradual Change

Gradual change is often less shocking and deleterious than sudden change. If, for instance, the overfunctioning person has been in charge of all budgets, financial decisions, and bill paying, it’s wise to ease into sharing such duties.

3. Explaining Change

Overfunctioners can explain to the underfunctioning family member(s) that they realize that their own well-intentioned overfunctioning has contributed to the current unsatisfactory situation and that they intend to ease off such doing so much. Then they must stand back a bit and allow others to become more autonomous, make mistakes, suffer consequences, develop resilience, and determine their own individual paths.

It helps to focus on one’s own interests and new activities rather than always focusing on other family members’ behavior.

Example: Teenager Laundry

For instance, if the overfunctioning parent has been doing all cleaning and laundry for the teenagers in the house, it’s helpful to explain how and why you’d like them to start doing their own. Teenagers like the idea of independence, although they resist doing “boring” chores that are at the core of being independent.

Explain that such changes are intended to help them become more capable and independent as they will be moving out in a few years and need to develop the habit of taking care of themselves. “Embrace chores, as they are at the core of becoming independent!”

Then you can either let their dirty laundry pile up in their closets, or tell them you won’t drive them anywhere until they’ve done their laundry. In either case, the consequences of not doing their own laundry will eventually provide its own motivation.

Balance and Harmony

After initial resistance, those who underfunction will gain more autonomy, especially if those who overfunction allow them to suffer the natural consequences of their inaction. Although it’s hard work to break patterns, eventually, with more emotional separation and autonomy, a better balance of capabilities and contributions in the household will bring much needed harmony to the family.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

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Feeling Shame:
“I’m not worthy to be loved.”

"Rocky Mountain Nobility" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Rocky Mountain Nobility” by Mimi Stuart ©

Deeply-held feelings of inadequacy can cause a person to live with a feeling of shame. Ideally in childhood, we have a parent who expresses both love and reasonable, constructive criticism. However, many people experience excessive neglect, contempt, or harsh criticism from their closest adult relation. The message they may take from such negativity is that they are deeply flawed and unworthy of love.

People who live with a feeling of shame experience great suffering and self-consciousness. They want nothing more than to excise the feeling of inadequacy from their psyche.

While it is important that they moderate their harsh self-criticism with objectivity so they can feel better about themselves, they should also appreciate a couple of skills they have acquired through their challenging upbringing. There are two diamonds in the rough underlying shame that they should hold on to, while eliminating self-condemnation: 1. their ability to self-assess, and 2. their desire to improve themselves.

1. The ability to self-assess

People can experience shame only if they are able to observe themselves and sense their impact on the world around them. They are generally excessively self-critical of themselves, because they have been made acutely aware of how they are viewed by others.

But imagine someone who lacks the ability to observe his or her own conduct and its effects on others. Such a person would be selfish, inconsiderate, and uncaring.

Thus, while excessive self-awareness hinders spontaneity and enjoyment, some conscious awareness of one’s impact on others is a good thing. Ideally, self-assessment can be moderated to become compassionate, helpful and constructive.

2. The desire to improve

The experience of shame implies an underlying desire to become better, more worthy, and deserving. People who experience shame have a strong sense of right and wrong, better and worse, skilled and unskilled. They want to be better than they believe they are.

While excessive shame can lead to depression and self-sabotaging behavior, the underlying desire to become better can act as a strong motivating force to improve oneself.

Solution:

1. Appreciate your ability to self-assess and your desire to be a better person—at work, as a parent, as a friend, etc.

2. Correct your internal thinking. When you hear yourself say something harsh to yourself, such as, “How stupid that was,” change it right away to something reasonable, kind, and objective, such as “Everyone makes mistakes. Next time I’ll try to remember to….”

3. Remember that life is fleeting. Enjoy and focus on what’s good about yourself, instead of focusing on your mistakes or how you compare to others.

4. Become less of a perfectionist. Appreciate small improvements. Learn to laugh at yourself!

Remember that your effectiveness at work and within your relationships improves as you replace shame with compassion, a sense of humor, constructive criticism, and acceptance of what is. Not only will you suffer less, people around you will enjoy you more.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

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“I am overwhelmed by worry.”

"Stars of Valor" by Mimi Stuart © after Thomas Franklin

“Stars of Valor”
by Mimi Stuart © after Thomas Franklin

Fear as a signal – it can be lifesaving

Fear is a healthy emotional response that alerts you to potential danger. But when you allow fear to turn into extreme anxiety or panic, you can no longer respond to danger in an effective way. When fear and anxiety take control of your life you can become debilitated.

Three negative consequences when fear turns to panic:

1. Excessive fear leaves you vulnerable and is ineffective

Extreme anxiety can lead to mental paralysis or physical illness. It also prevents you from being taken seriously by others. Imagine a doctor, lawyer, or military leader who expresses extreme anxiety in facing an emergency.

2. Anxiety can be contagious

Extreme anxiety is infectious, particularly among emotionally-fused people, often causing others to become more anxious. Emotional fusion is the dissolution of boundaries between people, which can cause anxiety to become extremely contagious. Emotional fusion occurs when people do not function with emotional independence. For example, one person’s anger or anxiety causes the other person to react with the same emotion or to polarize to a position of having no concern. This extreme reactivity takes away from productive problem-solving.

3. The anxious person become the problem

When you allow anxiety to overwhelm you, it may cause others to respond to you rather than focus on the problem at hand. In order to effectively handle difficult or emergency situations, you have to learn to keep things in perspective and control your emotions. Only with a calm and rational approach can constructive and deliberate action be taken.

Differentiation

To resolve the anguish caused by emotional fusion, individuals need to become more highly-differentiated, that is, emotionally separate, and therefore, less reactive.

Differentiation will —

1. permit you to get deeply involved with a problem or with another person without becoming overwhelmed by anxiety,

2. eliminate the need to withdraw from or control a situation to modulate your own emotional well-being, and

3. give a modicum of peace of mind in knowing that you best influence others through your presence of mind and composure rather than through fear or emotional coercion.

Even if only one person becomes less reactive, the ability to handle difficulties will improve. Ironically, if you really care, keeping a cool head is the best way to help others and yourself through difficult times.

How to handle fear

When you imagine a downward spiral of catastrophic consequences, you are likely to become overwhelmed, panic-stricken, despondent, and mentally paralyzed. If you become overwhelmed with worst-case expectations, the situation will likely spiral out of control and your worst-case prophecy is more likely to come true. Thus, it is important to redirect your focus as follows:

1. Engage the rational part of your mind to address the challenge as well as to alleviate the panic.

2. Figure out what you have control over and take appropriate action.

3. Imagine what the worst possible outcome could be. Then imagine the most constructive and self-possessed way to accept the worst consequences. Once you prepare for the worst, know that reality will probably not be as bad as you fear.

4. Continue to engage in other parts of your life — your work, family, friends and interests — in order to buoy your strength, be a good role model, and enjoy the blessings that you still possess.

While it is important to be prepared for potential dangers in the world, we should strive for a balance between fear and hope, viewing the world with an informed awareness and equanimity.

How do we handle difficult times?

Life will present us with challenges. The best way to handle difficulties is to face them head on, while maintaining our dignity and having faith in ourselves. Above all, we must remember that we do not have control over other people nor over all situations, but we do have control over our actions, words, demeanor, and perspective, and how we respond in a given situation.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

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