Category Archives: Personality Traits

Contempt:
“You’re always scowling at me!”

"Forlorn Heart" Julia Louis-Dreyfus, by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Contempt breaks the heart, because it implies that one person considers the other as undeserving of respect. Studies have shown that people who make sour facial expressions when their spouses talk are likely to be separated within four years. The dissolution of the relationship may take longer, but contempt will steadily and painfully eat away at a relationship, even when there are a few good times in between. In an atmosphere of contempt, partners find it difficult to remember any positive qualities about each other. So the vicious cycle of disdain and hurt gets worse and more irreversible with time.

It is crucial to break this cycle before it gets a stranglehold on the relationship. If your partner talks down to you, express your desire and need to be treated with love and respect. Be firm, but compassionate enough to be listened to. Try saying something like, “You may not be aware of this or mean anything by it, but you look as though you dislike me. Your facial expression makes me feel defensive and bad. I would love it if you could look at me with love and kindness.”

If your partner doesn’t get it, show him or her the research on relationships and contempt. Get any of John Gottman’s books, such as “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” that show the mathematical research on the effects of contempt on a relationship. Tell your partner that life is too short to spend time together if both of you are not willing to try to bring the best of yourselves to the relationship.

While you can’t control another person, you do have control over what kind of behavior you are willing to accept, and whom you spend time with. If your partner knows that you have the desire and courage to leave an unsatisfactory relationship you will retain power over your own life. If you’re determined not to let contemptuous behavior slide, your partner will be hard pressed to continue to treat you poorly. If the behavior continues despite your ongoing efforts, the only solution may be to limit or end the relationship before heartache and misery overwhelm you.

A loving relationship based on respect requires a sense of self-respect on your part. People who exude self-respect by stopping or withdrawing from others who talk down to them are more attractive than those who accept contempt. Expecting respect can be a more powerful aphrodisiac than unconditional acceptance. But it has to be backed up by the courage to remove yourself from an unhealthy relationship.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

John Gottman’s website.

Read “Criticism and Contempt.”

Can you have too much empathy?

“Crescendo” by Mimi Stuart ©

Can you have too much empathy?

Empathy is often considered to be the source of good behavior. The literal meaning of empathy is “the ability to share another person’s feelings.” Our culture highly values empathy and assumes you cannot have too much of it. However, when you experience other people’s feelings too strongly, you can run into big problems. Paul Bloom’s book “Against Empathy” shows how empathy can often prevent a person from making sound decisions in a crisis:

“Unmitigated communion makes you suffer when faced with those who are suffering, which imposes costs on yourself and makes you less effective at helping.”

Compassion, Kindness, Empathy

There is a subtle but important distinction between compassion, kindness, and empathy. Compassion is the concern for the suffering of others, which is different from actually feeling or experiencing the suffering of others. Kindness means being friendly, generous, and considerate of others. Kindness creates positive other-oriented feelings and makes other people feel better, which results in positive health effects all around. Compassion and kindness promote pro-social motivation and behavior, and are not likely to get in the way of good decision-making and helpful action.

Empathy, on the other hand, often comes at a great cost. As Walt Whitman quipped: “I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.” Becoming the wounded person creates distress for both the empathetic person and the suffering one, while also causing negative health outcomes for all. Moreover, too much empathy for a distressed person’s feelings often overwhelms the empathetic person and clouds clear thinking.


Do people in distress benefit from empathy?

Would you want a therapist to feel depressed or anxious when dealing with a patient who is depressed or anxious? Therapy would be impossible if therapists couldn’t put aside some of their empathy. Would you want a doctor to be overwhelmed with grief when dealing with the grief-stricken family members of a sick or dying patient? Would you want a pilot to feel the fear of the passengers in an emergency situation while airborne? Would you want a fireman to feel your loss while your life and property are burning or at risk? Clearly not. You want them to do their job calmly, quickly, and rationally, free of distracting emotions.

Empathy causes feelings of distress, which can incapacitate the empathetic person and obstruct objective thinking and effective action. Therefore, you can have more positive impact on others and on your own wellbeing when you do not experience too much empathy, albeit some empathy is helpful in making a person aware that others are suffering. People can be more effective helping distressed people when they are NOT experiencing strong feelings. The suffering person benefits more from people whose strength and decision-making are not hindered by feelings of distress.

A therapist should try to understand a client’s feelings, but without matching or absorbing those feelings. It is more important to be engaged by a client’s challenges and to think creatively about possible tools, options and solutions for improving the client’s life. In a medical emergency, you would want a trauma surgeon to stop the bleeding and assess the situation quickly without pausing to feel the patient’s pain. Pilots should focus on what actions are needed while remaining emotionally separated from their passengers in order to best serve them.

How does empathy affect relationships?

Too much empathy in a relationship leads to emotional fusion, which is quite destructive to the individuals involved. If your partner feels your anger or panic to the extent that you do, that will exacerbate the situation. If, instead, your partner remains emotionally separate, objective, calm and compassionate, then he or she can be a rock for you and help you gain perspective and insight into your situation. You can get better support and advice from someone who does not freak out or become upset when you are suffering and need support. Someone who remains cool and calm in difficult times can better guide and counsel you through emotional turmoil.

Similarly, parents who demonstrate too much empathy will overreact when their children are hurt or upset. A parent’s anxiety is infectious and will only increase the fearfulness and distress of the child. If the parent habitually overreacts to the child’s distress, either by panic or extreme coaxing or placating, the child may very well become an anxious, insecure individual. Children need to sense from their parents’ demeanor that everything will be fine. Often they learn resiliency and faith in the future from the parent’s calm, solution-oriented demeanor in stressful situations.

If you want to be effective at alleviating someone’s suffering, it is best to be compassionate and kind while remaining calm and emotionally separate enough to use your reason.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Reference: “Against Empathy” by Paul Bloom. 2016.


Saying “Yes.”
“No, I don’t feel like it. I’d rather stay home.”

"Yes!" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Yes!” by Mimi Stuart ©

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the comfort of your favorite routines. Yet when you get into the habit of always saying “no” when others suggest doing something different, you may be narrowing your life and your experiences to the detriment of your vitality and relationship potential.

For example, when you consider inviting friends over for dinner, and decide, “No, I’m not a great cook,” or “No, our house is a mess,” or “No, we hardly know them,” you are letting your anxiety about uncertainty get the better of you. When asked to go ice skating or try a dance class, and you say “No, that’s not my thing, I’m very uncoordinated,” you are letting your fear of discomfort or embarrassment get in the way of an interesting experience, an adventure, or at least a funny story.

Ironically, one of the greatest things about uncertainty is the very thing people don’t like about it: the anxiety it causes. When you feel anxiety because you are doing something new or different, you become more alert and perceptive. Your senses come alive and your mind sharpens. A moderate dose of anxiety is healthy. Moreover, as you make it a habit to face your anxiety, you start to experience it differently; it transforms into the excitement of being alive. You gain confidence in your readiness to respond in the moment even when you don’t know exactly what will happen. So learn to embrace your anxiety!

Another benefit to participating in novel activities with others is that it magnifies the positive emotions you feel for one another. No matter how long you’ve known someone, new experiences enhance your relationship. Therefore, embracing opportunities and the anxiety that go with them helps you both individually and together.

Of course, you shouldn’t say “yes” to everything. You will know which activities are clearly not going to enhance your life in any way. Also, you need to balance the vitality and growth of facing the unknown with the ease and contentment of enjoying the known. When you choose routine, you can relax and be comfortable, which is an important part of life, just as you need sleep each night to restore your mind and body. Yet too much comfort can lead to lethargy, apathy, and boredom. To see how either extreme can be hazardous to your mental, emotional, and physical health, I recommend seeing the entertaining comedy “Yes Man” with Jim Carrey.

So the next time a friend says “Lets go Spelunking,” say “yes,” and just do it!

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

“Is there hope for our relationship when we have such different mindsets?”

"Jazz Night" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Jazz Night” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I have a “growth mentality” and I guess my husband has a “fixed” mentality. I want to grow and change in every area of my (our) lives. I want us to become better people and pursue greater happiness. My husband wants to stay the same. He is insecure and likes comforts and approval and takes my wanting change as a personal affront. He says I’m never happy. But I am happy. I’m just happiest when I/we are moving in new directions and growing! He loves movies and food and I want to read and be outdoors and learn. We have little children and I really don’t want to divorce. We seem to want such different things that I fear we won’t make each other happy over the long run. Is there hope for people with such different mindsets being together?”

Two people who are very different from one another can have a loving, fulfilling relationship as long as there is no contempt or abuse within the relationship. While you can generally improve a relationship more easily if you have a growth mentality than a fixed mentality, I don’t think having a husband with a fixed mentality is enough reason to toss in the towel, especially if you have children. Remember that we can never get everything we want in any particular partner.

I would consider whether part of your growth could be to accept your husband for who he is, that is, someone with different interests and less desire to change and grow. I would recommend continuing to pursue your interests while respecting his complacency. Continue to grow, read, go outdoors, and learn. But don’t show contempt for your husband’s lack of interest in doing the same. I would not badger him to read, because he probably won’t, and he would feel that you are nagging and criticizing him. If you try to push him, he will become more defensive, entrenched, and find more things to criticize about you.

I bet that there were qualities about him that you liked when you met, and that there’s a reason you liked those qualities. Perhaps you liked him in part because he is predictable and not seeking novelty and growth. Predictable people tend to be more loyal and bring less chaos into a relationship. They can be more stable as a partner and parent than someone who is seeking change and improvement. Your differences from each other can bring a nice balance to the relationship as long as there is no contempt.

I would recommend continuing to pursue your interests and learning, while also spending a little time trying to appreciate the things he likes to do, whether it’s watching football, going to movies, or eating delicious food. You don’t have to do everything together by any means. But it would be nice if you could find a way to do a couple of the things he likes to do and really appreciate those activities (even as a learning experience) and try to understand why he likes them.

Reading, learning, and going outdoors may sound more virtuous than watching movies, enjoying food, and staying comfortably at home. Yet it is important to enjoy the present even while seeking improvement in YOURself for the future.

I am not implying that you don’t enjoy the present, and I can see why you would be frustrated with someone who isn’t trying to better himself and explore life more. I’m just trying to help you appreciate what is good in your husband, while you continue to seek your own path. We cannot change others, but sometimes it is surprising what we can learn from them while continuing to maintain our own preferences.

I’m glad you’re reluctant to divorce, particularly since you have children together. It can be beneficial for children to experience two very different kinds of parenting—one who is predictable and stays at home, while the other explores the outdoors and new activities.

If you continue to grow, and the two of you thereby grow apart dramatically and can no longer get along, then that will become much more clear over time. Or if you are able to resist criticizing him and pushing him to change, and he continues to act with defensiveness and hostility toward you, then it may be time to seek counseling to improve the situation or to consider other alternatives.

But there is a good chance that you can and will continue to grow while honoring who your husband is as a person, a mate, and a father. You may come to appreciate your differences, while experiencing growing mutual respect and love for each other.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

“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


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.