Saturday, October 27, 2012

Assertiveness - Is It The Missing Link for Anger Problems?

English: A metaphorical visualization of the w...
Interestingly enough, individuals who suffer from anxiety due to being in social situations, or have anxiety about standing up to difficult people may have something in common with individuals who have anger issues.  Looking at the big picture, both types of responses can tend to be inappropriate if used in the majority of life situations.  The largest portion of people we will interact with or situations that we find ourselves in, can be handled by using assertiveness skills. 

On the behavioral spectrum, people who lack confidence for whatever reason are at the opposite end of the spectrum from individuals who seem to be over confident.  The under confident tend to chronically respond to people and situations by withdrawing, not speaking up, not expressing their opinions, being overly nice, or not asking for what they want.  On the over confident end of the spectrum we find individuals who chronically use intimidation, anger or bullying to get what they want in life. When we analyze both sets of issues, it seems obvious that the individuals lacking in confidence need to be strengthened and the angry folks need to dial back the intensity of their responses to a less intense level.  

Cheerfully FirmAssertiveness, the topic of today's post,  is in the middle of the spectrum and is really what each of these groups need to learn and practice as they communicate with others. Although not as apparent, assertiveness skills are missing in both of these groups.  On the one end of the spectrum, we might find  the less confident person came from a family where conflict was avoided rather than dealt with.  In this situation, the child observing conflict being avoided or even not seen at all, will leave the child with little modeling of how to handle a conflict.  They will not learn how to be assertive, or how to negotiate through a conflict if they have never seen parents or important authority figures in their lives model that type of behavior.  This leaves them with an assertiveness deficit which looks like low confidence levels.  It can result in a low level of confidence, but in many situations, it is a skill deficit because they don't know what to do or how to respond. 

On the other hand, individuals who are over aggressive in their responses, either by getting angry, intimidating with their size or voice volume as well as those who may manipulate for what they need, also lack assertiveness skills.  These individuals have never learned what the appropriate level of response is; that there is a difference between assertiveness and aggression.  This group tends to respond with a high level of aggression or none at all in the situations they deal with.   For this group of individuals, it is essential for them to be able to determine in any given situation what level of response is appropriate. 

For those who lack self-confidence, it is a common experience to be treated in a condesending manner, or even directly put down and not be able to think of how to respond until later.  Some of that is due to the physical shut down of the higher functions in the brain that control thought processes, which come when we get anxious or fearful.  As anxiety increases, we move toward the fight, flight or freeze response and our thought processes become very primitive.  This is why it is so important to role play certain scenarios and train how to respond in those situations.  If you have never practiced being assertive, you won't learn it by being in the situation.  Determine what you might say if someone puts you down by saying a derogatory remark and then passing it off as humor.  For example, inappropriate co-worker might say to you, "That was a great answer, for someone your age...ha, ha, ha."  Someone with a low confidence level might just smile and not say anything.  However an appropriate answer might be to look at the co-worker and say, "I'm confused by what you just said.  What was your point?"  This can be said very kindly and in a non-threatening manner, but it makes the point that the comment was inappropriate and makes the person say what they meant to say directly.

Two people in a heated argument about religion...Overly aggressive individuals must learn the appropriate assertiveness skills that will help them accomplish what they want to accomplish, but not in an indirect or inappropriate way.  These individuals must step back and determine what level of strength the situation might require.  For example, if a family member continues to pry into private or personal matters, rather than responding aggressively, determine what level of strength would set the appropriate boundary.  Anger would be inappropriate in this situation.  However, using some assertiveness skills like lowering your tone of voice, looking the person in the eye and stating that, "I prefer not to talk about this right now", or "perhaps I haven't made myself clear that I'd rather not discuss this topic", or asking, "Why is it that you want to know these things" might be a less aggressive way to set the boundary. 

Assertiveness, like diplomacy, is an art in being able to communicate.  Once we have a few of the skills in our relationship tool box, we can negotiate many of the difficult situations that we come across quite well.  However, there may still be the person or the situation that we choose to avoid, just because it makes good sense to do so.  Depending on how assertive we become, we can still be thought of as aggressive if we use our assertiveness skills in an overbearing or inconsiderate way.  It is always good to take stock of any situation we find ourselves in and determine how best to respond.  Assertiveness gives us the tools to be able to ask for what we want, give our opinions without being offensive and stand up for ourselves when we believe we are being misjudged.  These tools do not give us the right to mistreat or be inconsiderate of anyone we are relating with. 

If you believe learning assertiveness skills would be of benefit to you, you might consider finding a group counseling situation that is working on these issues, an individual counselor or if you are more of a self help type person, there are many good books and resources available on the topic.  Your Perfect Right is a good resource, in my opinion.  It gets a little bogged down in the details, but the author has gone to great lengths to give people step by step information in how to develop assertiveness skills in their lives.  The Assertiveness Workbook is also a good resource if you want to practice your skills.

As you seek to improve your communication skills, expect that you will relapse from time to time.  The way you have communicated all your life is somewhat of a default setting and it will take some time to change.  Look at these small setbacks as learning experiences and decide what you could have done differently to effect a different outcome.  Every time you do something different, it will take you to a different outcome.  Decide through the process what works and what doesn't.  You will soon be able to negotiate difficult circumstances with confidence and the right level of assertiveness.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Understanding Grief and its Effects on the Body

Cover of "Molecules of Emotion"
Cover of Molecules of Emotion
Grief is a series of many thoughts and emotions in response to a loss. The extent the heart is connected to what is lost, affects how much grief is experienced. For individuals who are unable to adjust to a loss and move on, it may be necessary to look deeper to see what might be contributing to the prolonged grief. Unresolved past emotions may be triggered by a current loss. In such cases, the resolution of the current grief may be inhibited by a previous decision to either not think or not feel.
In her book, “Molecules of Emotion”, Dr. Candace Pert presents evidence that the experience of emotions are the result of neuropeptides released from the hypothalamus in response to a thought. Each emotion has a specific chemical makeup that flows throughout the body and is picked up by receptor sites in various organs. Each emotion will effect a unique combination of organs in a specific way, and hopefully this will trigger a resolving thought. Dr. Scott Walker has developed a process he calls Neural Emotional Technique which has helped to pinpoint where in the body and what organs are usually effected by each of the different emotions. For purposes of this article, we will choose the three emotions we have talked about here; fear, grief and bitterness. Dr. Walker says that fear is an emotion that effects the kidneys and grief effects the lungs. Scripture leads us to believe that bitterness effects the bones.
Two difficulties can occur in the processing of grief. If one refuses to think about the loss, unresolved energy remains in the brain, resulting in mental distress. Secondly, if the emotions are internalized, repressed, denied or transposed, rather than embraced and expressed, the chemistry of the emotion remains in the organ, and the natural mental processes do not continue to resolution. Since each organ shares a neural pathway with a specific set of muscles, the unresolved emotion will continue to affect both the organ function and the related muscle groups resulting in predictable disorders and pains. However, when the emotion is expressed, the thought processes continue toward resolution causing the release of new emotional chemistry that resolves and replaces the previous set. If each successive new emotion is embraced and expressed, this process finally results in the flow of the vital feel-good, unifying chemicals of a state of joy that facilitate both our biology and behavior.
A scriptural example of this connection between thought, emotion and body function is revealed in Psalm 73. Asaph is envying the apparent ease of the wicked, (vs. 3-12). In verses 13 and 14 he declares his judgment against his efforts for purity of heart and innocence. However, he then realizes the foolishness of that judgment and turns to God for His perspective. Verses 21-22 state, “When my heart was embittered, and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant ”. In the Hebrew, “within” is the word “Kilyah” which means kidneys. When he held onto bitterness in his heart, his kidneys were afflicted and his thinking was blocked. The conclusion of the Psalm in combination with verses 18 through 20 present a godly resolution of his dilemma. We can see this kind of connection when we look at individuals who have certain kinds of kidney failure. As the kidneys are unable to do their job filtering toxins from the body, the toxicity builds and thought processes begin to erode. In advanced stages people become delusional, they may lose their ability to comprehend time and their understanding of simple every day life declines.
Many children are told, “Big boys don’t cry”, or “You’re just too emotional”. These events can result in inner determinations of the heart not to express emotion. Therefore, as loss is experienced, a person may repress the grief and choose to just move on. Also, the processing of overwhelming experiences, especially in childhood, can be so traumatic that the subconscious defensive systems of the mind will shut it down until a time when the person has the capacity to handle the emotion. A person may also stop the processing of grief because they judge a particular thought or emotion within the process as unacceptable. If any of these patterns of repression continue through life, the mental tension and physical chemistry of grief will build. Each successive event can then trigger fresh waves of the chemistry of the unresolved previous events along with those appropriate to the present situation. As a result, they may experience excessive, inappropriate stages, or prolonged grief along with physical symptoms of pain in their bodies. This extreme and confusing response often leads to further repression.
It may be helpful to reconsider other losses in the life and explore how grief was handled in those situations. When a previous event is recalled, it should be meaningful information, but if a wave of emotional chemistry is released it indicates the emotions have not been allowed to resolve. Emotions, when allowed to come forward can resolve when we cry, as we talk and share with another safe person or during the night when we experience REM sleep and begin to dream. Dreams are a human being's way of working through the "baggage" of the day. If we don't dream, we don't process as effectively.
As suppressed emotion is faced, understand that for past experiences, that unresolved chemistry will feel exactly the same. However the good news is that if you are feeling emotion that was suppressed during childhood, what felt overwhelming at the time, may not be as overwhelming as an adult. Allow yourself to feel, work through the emotions and resolve the chemistry...that is the path to good emotional health.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

OMG! I've been diagnosed with.....

My wife reading in bed. And it wasn't because ...
Responses to a diagnosis, whether it is a mental disorder or a physical one can range from great fear to anger to denial. Most of the time we can't figure out why it has happened, why it would happen to us and aren't familiar with what it is.

Physical disorders can be very scary. How many times in your lifetime have you gone to the doctor and heard you just needed an antibiotic, you had the flu or a rash or needed something to help with indigestion? Then you have an annual physical, a blood test and the doctor calls back saying they need you to come in right away. You hear you have diabetes or heart disease, high cholesterol or some other frightening disease that you never thought you would hear. Your mind starts racing, you think, "This can't be happening to me!" Then, once it sinks in, you start learning everything you can about it, believing that it will be relatively easy to overcome and you'll be back to normal in no time. However after a short time you come to realize that overcoming 40 or 50 years of bad habits isn't so easy. Then you get discouraged and realize that if you don't make the changes needed to turn this thing around, your life may be at stake. Determination takes over and you begin again.

Sometimes as we are researching what to do, we are successful in finding alternative treatments that work, that are more compatible with our value systems. If we have caught the disease in time, it may be much more simple to turn around than if we have denied our symptoms and the disease has progressed.  Hope returns and step by step we can address the problem that has overtaken us physically.

Mental disorders are not the same, although many people are diagnosed every day with depression, bi-polar disorder or different forms of personality disorders.  The problem is that mental disorders come with more of a stigma. Once the person is diagnosed, although perhaps feeling relieved to know exactly what is going on, they then have to deal with learning about it, how to manage it and often the reaction from family and friends when they become aware of the diagnosis. This kind of diagnosis is just as scary, but can come with a distinct weight and path that needs to be walked out individually.

There are support groups for some of the more well known mental health issues such as depression and grief, but many of the more severe disorders don't lend themselves to support groups as well. Usually by the time someone has been diagnosed, they have alienated family and friends, finding themselves with little to no support.

As we age, the probability that we are going to hear something like this in our own lives becomes more real. How will we deal with it? How will those around us that we care about be affected?  How will we be able to handle a negative response.  These too become individual responses. As much as possible, attitude plays a huge part in whether we are successful in facing a distressing diagnosis or not. Joy, laughter, love and encouragement are just as essential in the path back to good health as medical science.

Although we may not realize it, unaddressed emotion can effect us mentally as well as physically. It is my humble opinion that in the journey of life, the body is the last voice to speak when we continue to ignore our feelings and stuff our emotional responses to the problems we face in life. Feelings that are ignored don't die.  They come up when we are exposed to similar events, people, sights or smells.  These are called emotional triggers and are there due to the chemistry of the unresolved emotion existing within the body.  If we continue to ignore these emotions, they can develop into fears, social withdrawal, discouragement, depression or eating disorders. If we let them go long enough, the body becomes endangered.

For example, given enough time, the body will begin to interpret a consistent emotion of anger as a wound. The normal response to a wound is to release fibrin, the wound clots, scar tissue forms and the wound begins to heal. So what happens when there is no wound? The body releases that fibrin and it continues to build up and circulate in the blood stream. Clots can form and the person may be more susceptible to a stroke than s/he would have been if that emotion had been dealt with early on in life. Additionally, anything we do to turn the body more acidic will leave us more vulnerable to disease.

Bob HopeCover of Bob Hope
So what can we do? The most obvious answer is to deal with our emotions as quickly as we are ready too.  According to the field of positive psychology, laughter and happiness is one of the easier ways to address our attitudes as a part of good self care. I am old enough to remember some of the comedians of early television like George Burns, Sid Caesar, Bob Hope and others and have observed that these individuals lived well into their 90s, in relatively good health. Why? I would suggest that it is because they lived a life where they incorporated humor. They saw the funny side of life and they were able to laugh at themselves. If we look into scripture, we find verses that confirm this thought as well.  For example...."a merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones".

It has also been shown in various studies that happiness helps to innoculate us to the hardships of life.  It provides us with a strength of spirit that can sustain us during the hard times.  Some things that can increase our happiness quotient revolve around developing a grateful heart.  We can do that by keeping a gratitude diary where every day we write down three things we are grateful for.  As we write in the diary, it is important to feel that gratefulness, just for a few minutes each day.  Another strategy is to begin doing things each day that make us happy.  Sometimes it can be a hobby or participating in activities that we are passionate about.  Focusing on others, random acts of kindness, and telling the important people in our lives how much they mean to us can begin to turn our hearts to a more positive place.  For couples, a wonderful idea can be found in keeping a journal that each person writes in.  One day, one spouse writes something about the other spouse that blesses them and leaves the journal in a predetermined place for the spouse to find.  The next day, the other spouse writes something in the journal that blesses them about the first spouse and returns it to the same place.  This technique serves to encourage and bless both spouses as it focuses attention for each one on the positive attributes and actions of the other.  Siblings and families can adapt this technique as well. 

Human beings are very complex so please understand I am not suggesting that this is the only way to stay healthy. However, in the long term, it does have its benefits. My encouragement to you would be to deal with your emotional baggage as soon as possible. Forgive where you need to, try to find the humor in things and enjoy the life that you have been given.  Life is too short to address it any other way, but unfortunately we let too much time pass by before we truly understand that concept.

Kriss Mitchell is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Post Falls, Idaho. For more information, please visit
Enhanced by Zemanta