Category Archives: Attitude

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

“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

Performance Anxiety:
“I get extremely anxious when I compete in sports or engage in public speaking.”

"Purple Rain" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Purple Rain” by Mimi Stuart ©

As long as I do not take myself too seriously I should not be too badly off.

~Prince

Think of how little anxiety you experience when you are comfortably on your couch watching TV. Now imagine that you are going to perform a concert, give a speech, compete in a tournament, or go on a first date. Would you want to be as stress-free as you are in front of the TV? Or would a totally relaxed, lackadaisical attitude hurt you?

Some stress is good

Some people think that they want to eliminate all anxiety and stress from their lives. Yet a total lack of anxiety generally only occurs when someone feels low energy, apathetic, or indifferent.

In situations involving danger, the unknown, and peak performance, you need to be at your best and on your game; you need to be alert and ready to take action. Anxiety — or stress — in moderate doses prepares you for those situations.

Anxiety is a physical response to a mental state, in addition to other factors such as genetics, personality, history, disease, and drugs. Stress generates an increase in cortisol and adrenaline, which cause you to be alert and ready for action. In excess, anxiety can cause you to freeze, panic, or lose mental or motor control. Yet in moderation, it arouses the senses and increases awareness and the ability to react quickly. It turns out that having too little cortisol can be just as much a problem as having too much.

Excitement and passion

Falling in love, traveling, and intellectual and physical challenges cause anxiety and concurrent chemical changes in the brain known as “excitement.” Events involving situations of novelty, significance, or the unknown cause an arousal of the senses and a state of alertness that allow you to notice everything vividly. Without some anxiety, you won’t experience the exhilaration involved in anticipation, adventure, and peak performance.

Having stress in your life is healthier than no stress, as long as you can exercise some control over the situation. Thus, the goal is not to eliminate stress completely but to re-train your brain to handle anxiety better in the more extreme situations you may face.

Four ways to train your neural-circuitry

1. Practice

Whether your goal is public-speaking, performing at a concert, or competing in a sport, the most effective way to practice is to practice extensively, always with focused attention, and not necessarily in “perfect” external circumstances. With such focused practice, the required movements will occur more naturally and automatically in the future regardless of your anxiety levels.

If you have performance anxiety, it’s good to start with mildly stressful situations to avoid traumatizing yourself. A gradual increase in stress is much more effective than jumping into panic-inducing situations. If you want to do more public speaking, for instance, practice in front of the mirror, make toasts at the dinner table, go to toastmasters, and eventually give small workshops. If you play an instrument, start by practicing with other people in the room, and invite more and more people over to listen.

2. Imagine the worst-case scenario

Prepare yourself by imagining how you would handle the worst-case scenario. For example, at a Nationals water ski tournament, I saw a slalom competitor respond beautifully to a worst-case scenario. After falling at the one ball on her opener, which is about the worst performance possible, she came out of the water without any hint of anger or embarrassment, and simply shrugged it off. She laughed and said that she felt fortunate to be competing at Nationals, and that she hoped to do better the following year. Because she had such a great response and demeanor, other people did not feel embarrassed or sorry for her. Instead they felt comfortable, and retained respect for her.

It also helps to have a sense of humor about yourself and to remember what Michael Jordan once said:

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, lost almost 300 games, missed the game-winning shot 26 times. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.

3. Practice getting centered.

During practice or performance, we need to be prepared to deal with self-defeating thoughts that do nothing but intensify our anxiety.

“What an idiot I am! That was horrible!”

“What if I can’t remember?”

“Oh no. Look who just walked in.”

When people get distracted by a negative thought or an unexpected interruption, they get centered again in very different ways. Here are some examples of how to get your focus back quickly:

1. Take a slow deep breath.

2. Focus on others rather than how you appear to them.

3. Focus on kinesthetic feeling rather than on your thoughts about how well you must perform.

4. Imagine a relaxed place — a serene beach or a loved one appreciating you.

5. Practice simply letting go of distracting thoughts and moving on. Meditation is a great way to practice getting centered.

6. Pretend you are someone who exudes the right kind of confidence or does your activity well. Mirroring is the fastest way to learn new attitudes and behaviors, just as infants and children do. With practice, you will own that energy and embody it in your own personal way.

4. Gain Perspective

Given personality traits, upbringing, and other environmental factors, people develop unconscious assumptions of what will happen if they fail or make mistakes. For example, they may feel that they will be unlovable, a failure, worthless, or unhappy.

To put your fears in perspective, it helps to investigate what makes people feel happy, worthwhile, or lovable. Research shows that the greatest happiness comes from activities such as maintaining meaningful relationships, helping others, having a sense of community, meditating, smiling, and laughing. Exercising, adequate sleep, and eating healthy foods also have a serious impact on our well-being. Learning and executing skills does positively effect our well-being as well, but it is lower on the list than having good relationships, helping others, and feeling a sense of community. We want to make sure that our perfectionist thinking about performing skills doesn’t sabotage the more important ingredients for a happy and meaningful life.

Living life

Life is rarely stress-free because life by its nature requires us to deal with the unknown on a daily basis. However, the more practice we get in handling the unknown, the more confidently we can approach life and its challenges. If we are experiencing anxiety, we are living. Only by doing mundane activities mindlessly do we get relief from all stress — by sleeping through life. Is that what we really want?

Look at the adventure, challenges, and growth we would be missing if we chose to eliminate all stress! Through facing the anxieties of living life, we learn to handle new exhilarating and challenging situations.

Sometimes it takes years to become an overnight success.

~Prince

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Guest Author Roswitha McIntosh
Beyond Gloom & Doom

"Yes" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Yes” by Mimi Stuart ©

Brain research shows that happiness is more closely related to our state of mind than to our external circumstances. We filter life through our mind’s eye. Thus, we can choose to appreciate the moment and view our life as a precious gift. By transforming our state of mind, we can improve life’s ordinary moments, making them extraordinary, which results in greater enjoyment of life’s journey.

Here is an example of how a change of attitude can transform our experience of ordinary life, and make it better for those around us as well.

GUEST AUTHOR Roswitha McIntosh writes:

Whenever I listen to the news or read the newspaper, a sense of gloom overtakes me—nothing cheerful, nothing uplifting. News about terror, war and corruption, news about the alarming decimation of other species and destruction of our planet, or earthquakes, floods and fires. Man against man, man against beast, man against nature, and nature against man. Nothing but gloom.

I decide to take a walk. A neighbor waves a friendly Good Morning. A little boy holds the door for me—what kindness in one so young! The sky is blue. Overhead, a plane takes travelers to distant lands. Below, flowers shine in the sun. My spirits lift with joy.

As always when I enter a grocery store, I marvel at the abundance of it all. I grew up in war-torn Europe, when food was severely rationed. People were pitifully thin.

I remember my overwhelming amazement when I had my first American meal, succulent roast beef—more than a month’s ration—a baked potato, butter and corn. We did have potatoes—that’s what we lived on—but there was no butter or cream or anything else. For my first dessert in America I chose an orange—I vaguely recalled once having seen one. I knew nothing about ice cream.

Today I’m looking for an orchid for my brother. “Long lines,” I mention to the young woman in front of me. It is Saturday. “You’ve got only one item?” she asks, looking at my plant. “Do go ahead of me,” she offers.

I thank her for her kindness, but decline, seeing her little son. “I bet you’re eager too to get back outside,” I say to the boy. He smiles. We chat amicably about this and that and before we know it, we reach the checkout stand.

I walk home with a smile, glad to realize again that most individuals are kind, far kinder than the media realizes. I mentally survey my friends and acquaintances and find that they all have admirable traits: it may be kindness, joie de vivre or integrity, knowledge, special skills or a good sense of humor. It’s rare that I run into a person who’s devoid of a worthy trait.

It is NOT a world of gloom and doom, I conclude, but a world of infinite variety. And, gratifyingly, we are free to choose our focus and attitude. By doing so we create a world of our own making.

by Roswitha McIntosh, editor of the blog “Rosi Colored Glasses

“Stress is killing me.”
The surprising facts about stress.

"Nessun Dorma" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Nessun Dorma” by Mimi Stuart ©

Research shows that having stress is healthier than having little or no stress at all, as long as you have some control over your life. People who have some stress and some control over their lives tend to live the longest, feel happiest, and have the strongest immune system. Thus, active participation in directing your life with its built-in difficulties turns out to be better for you than passive acceptance of an easy life or feeling helpless in face of a difficult life.

Stress triggers release of cortisol in your body, and having too little cortisol can be just as unhealthy as having too much. Moreover, research shows that simply embracing stress rather than trying to get rid of stress causes people to handle difficulties better, and makes stress less likely to lead to depression, divorce and health problems.

This is good news, because an interesting and enjoyable life involves taking risks and facing the unknown, both of which are inherently stressful. The more practice we get in dealing with uncertainty and hardships, the more confident we can be in our approach to life. The more actively we endeavor to face and deal with challenges, the better we become at taking appropriate action, and the healthier the accompanying stress is to our system.

Imagine that you are deciding whether to take on a stressful job or a stress-free job. Consider first that there is a point where having too much going on in your life can cause you to lose control over your life. However, if you have too little going on in your life, your passivity and boredom are likely to lead to unhappiness and a feeling of meaninglessness or emptiness. Thus, it is important to pursue what gives you meaning and that you gain the confidence to handle the accompanying stress.

Taking control of your life means taking positive steps to deal with challenges. Such positive steps include the following:

• prioritize what is important in your life,
• face your difficulties head on,
• take steps to change what you can about any given situation,
• change your perspective about circumstances you cannot change,
• develop your sense of humor,
• take care of yourself physically and emotionally.

By all means, take risks!

It is key to recognize that even when we don’t have control over external circumstances, we do have control over our perspective, attitude and response to external circumstances. Thus, Viktor E. Frankl survived the holocaust.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

~Viktor E. Frankl

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Watch Ted Talk by Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend

The essential personality trait for a calmer, more interesting and all around better life.

"Can't walk but I can fly" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Can’t walk but I can fly” by Mimi Stuart ©

How do you react when your flight gets canceled, a friend doesn’t show up, or your dinner burns to a crisp? What if you spill coffee on your white shirt before a business meeting? Or you are robbed of your passport, money, and cell phone in a foreign country?

Many of us would become anxious or angry, which certainly does not improve the situation.

We need to be flexible. Being flexible means remaining cool headed, which allows us to problem-solve and to think of alternative actions when facing an unforeseen event. Being ready to adapt to changed circumstances invites creativity and resourcefulness.

Flexibility of attitude and action will give you the confidence to confront any situation. The simple act of remaining calm opens the possibility of maintaining a sense of humor and adventure, which increase your chances of having a positive outcome or at least an interesting experience.

For example, imagine the advantage of going to your business meeting with comfortable ease and a witty remark despite the stained shirt vs. being uncomfortably embarrassed. Or imagine the story you could tell when you are one of the few tourists who gets to experience a police station in Morocco vs. feeling panicked and overwhelmed.

Our memories of difficult situations and experiences make the best stories. If you keep calm and aware enough to observe the details and emotions while engaging the characters involved in the mishap it will make your experience that much more rewarding.

Bad situations may require that you modify your expectations. In a worst-case scenario that lacks any humor or an otherwise silver lining, being flexible means letting go and trying to gain patience, wisdom and humility, and to face the misfortune with a sense of grace.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “My negative emotions bring me down. I tend to dwell on feeling hurt or angry.”

Read “Transformational Vocabulary: ‘I’m angry, totally confused, and an emotional mess over these overwhelming problems.’”