Trauma Symptoms of Adult Children of Alcoholics


Recognizing the long-term effects of growing up with alcoholic parents.

Posted Aug 16, 2019

Source: Sherry Gaba, LCSW

When you grow up in a home with one or more alcoholic parents, the impact of the dysfunction reverberates throughout your life. It can be challenging to understand how this type of early interaction shapes your life, behavior, and even your choice in partners, but the research is very clear in the link between growing up in a household with an alcoholic parent and the potential for trauma.

According to a study by the National Association of Children of Alcoholics (NACOA), there are over 11 million children in the U.S. under the age of 18 living in families with at least one alcoholic parent. The statistics provided by multiple sources further break this down to about 76 million adults in the country who have lived or are currently living with a family history of alcoholism.

Adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) have higher rates of specific mental health issues. This includes an increase in rates of depressionsubstance abuse, and challenges in interpersonal relationships. In the study, “Self and Partner Alcohol-related Problems Among ACOAs and Non-ACOAs: Associations with Depressive Symptoms and Motivations for Alcohol Use,” it was found that ACOAs were three to four times more likely to choose a partner with an alcohol addiction than non-ACOAs in the study.

In addition to the higher rate of selecting an alcoholic partner, ACOAs are also more likely to experience the symptoms of trauma. Dr. Tian Dayton, a clinical psychologist, reports the impact of this trauma on a child and how the environment in which these children grow up directly reflects the major factors contributing to PTSD. These factors include the feeling of being unable to escape from the pain, being at risk in the family, and being frightened in a place that should be safe.

There are several issues relevant to the effects of trauma on a child in these types of households. The most critical factors include the age of the child, the duration of the trauma during development, and the ability of the child to have support within the family or from an outside source.

Signs and Symptoms of Trauma

There are several different signs and symptoms of PTSD and trauma exhibited by adult children of alcoholics. Similar to PTSD, any one symptom can be problematic and can have a negative impact on the quality of life for the individual.

Some of the most common symptoms experienced by ACOAs include:

  • Hypervigilance: ACOAs frequently are hyper-vigilant around the family, the work environment, and in relationships. This may stem from the shame and pain they experienced in their childhood; being aware of any potential dangers may have become a self-protective coping mechanism.
  • Need for control: Growing up in a world without control may lead to an extreme focus on controlling their current behavior as well as the behavior of those around them. This can also create problems with intimate partners as they need to control all aspects of the relationship.
  • Difficulty with emotions: Growing up with an alcoholic parent means learning to hide your emotions, particularly any that are seen as negative, such as sadness, angerembarrassment, frustration, or shame. This can also result in the inability to express positive emotions, even to a child or a partner.
  • Low self-esteem: It is not surprising that ACOAs typically have a low sense of self-esteem. They are often uncomfortable with recognition or praise, although it is also what they seek. They can be very sensitive to any type of criticism or perceived negative feedback.
  • Physical and mental health issues: As with any type of trauma or stress, poor self-care routines, isolation, and a higher risk of depression can lead to both ongoing physical and mental health issues.

With therapy and support, ACOAs can make changes in their life and treat the underlying PTSD and trauma. Talk therapy one-on-one or group counselingsomatic experiencing, and EMDR are highly effective in addressing the signs of trauma and developing new, healthy coping mechanisms.

References

Alcoholism Statistics. (2013). Family Alcoholism Statistics. Retrieved July 28, 2019, from Alcoholism Statistics: http://www.alcoholism-statistics.com/family-statistics/

Dayton, D. T. (2015, April 29). Adult Children of Alcoholics and Trauma. Retrieved July 28, 2019, from HuffPost: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/adult-children-of-alcohol_b_6676950

Kelley ML, L. A.-B. (2014). Self and Partner Alcohol-related Problems Among ACOAs and Non-ACOAs: Associations with Depressive Symptoms and Motivations for Alcohol Use. Addictive Behavior, 211-218.

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

When Is It Good for You to Feel Miserable?

Randolph Nesse’s Good Reasons for Bad Feelings is a book I would recommend as required reading for anyone practicing or hoping to practice, clinical psychology, psychiatry, or social work. In fact, I would recommend the book to anyone who suffers from anxietydepression, or problems controlling their eating, drinking, drug use, or sexual impulses.

Randy Nesse is an evolutionary psychiatrist. He is a founder of the field of evolutionary medicine, and is best known for his earlier book, Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine, which he wrote with George C. Williams, the eminent evolutionary biologist. Nesse was also one of the founders of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, whose initial members were a group of intellectual giants who changed the face of modern evolutionary biology, psychology, and anthropology (E.O. Wilson, William Hamilton, Sarah Hrdy, Napoleon Chagnon, Leda Cosmides, Rob Boyd, Martin Daly, Margo Wilson, John Tooby, Joan Silk, Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, David Buss, and Richard Dawkins).article continues after advertisement

The theory of natural selection has completely changed the way we think about virtually every aspect of life, offering insights into the functional significance of aspects of nature from the beautiful peacock’s tail to those nasty parasitic wasps that lay their eggs inside the body of a paralyzed caterpillar. Nesse’s pet peeve is that students of medicine, whose job it is to apply the insights of biology to treating dysfunctions of the body and brain, often do not take a single course in evolutionary biology during their medical training. Instead, medical students tend to focus on the proximate causes of bodily and mental dysfunctions, such as infections and breakdowns in biochemical and immune responses.

Source: Used with permission

What’s wrong with psychiatrists and clinical psychologists not thinking about evolution? Several things, according to Nesse. One big problem is the tendency to treat symptoms as the disease, when in fact they’re often just your mind’s way of responding functionally to an important underlying problem. He contrasts the way a doctor would respond to someone who comes in with severe abdominal pain versus high levels of anxiety or depression. For the abdominal pain patient, the doctor would not simply prescribe pain killers and consider the mission accomplished, he or she would try to determine whether the pain was caused by constipation, ectopic pregnancy, or cancer. But for the patient complaining of high levels of anxiety or depression, it would not be unusual to prescribe a drug that reduces the symptom, and if the drug works, to consider the job done. That is not unlike treating someone with measles by prescribing make-up to cover up the spots.

What’s good about anxiety and depression?

Nesse makes the case that both anxiety and depression can be helpful in inducing you to make necessary course corrections in your life. We inherited a tendency to feel anxious in situations that signal potential harm, and healthy doses of anxiety prevent you from doing dangerous things (see “Does Anxiety Help You Survive in the Modern World?”). Nesse notes that women’s higher level of anxiety, compared to men’s, is potentially a good thing. Men are many times more likely to die in accidents, due to their motivation to win respect and admiration. Alex Honnold’s willingness to free solo up Yosemite’s precipitous El Capitan without a rope won him great kudos for his bravery and athletic prowess. But if you visit the Wikipedia page listing the world’s greatest free solo climbers, you’ll find that a shockingly high proportion of them died in climbing accidents. Men’s low levels of anxiety are not a design flaw, though, but the result of a trade-off. As in the case of many vertebrates, a male’s odds of winning a mate go up if he can call attention to his superiority over other males; females do not typically need to compete as vigorously for mates, they are in a buyer’s market, because they are already paying the high costs of bearing the young and, in the case of mammals, nursing them afterward.article continues after advertisement

We also inherited a tendency to feel depressed under circumstances when our efforts are not paying off. Nesse reviews research and theory on what biologists call optimal foraging theory, which deals with the circumstances under which it pays any animal to give up seeking rewards in one spot or at one task (picking berries from a bush, for example) and move to another. There is also evidence that other animals are likely to become lethargic when resources are scarce, and high levels of effort might be dangerous (this is related to why some animals hibernate in the cold winter months). So a depressed mood may be your body’s way of saying that you should simply give up on a course of action that is failing.

What’s the problem with drugs that improve your mood? They hijack your brain into thinking everything is fine. Nesse describes one woman who stopped caring about the demanding tasks on her job after taking drugs to relieve her bad feelings, and several months later was in danger of losing that job, because now she was slacking off with a devil-may-care attitude.

There’s an important caveat—because overwhelming levels of anxiety or sad mood can become problems in themselves, Nesse believes it is often important to treat the symptom, but not without also addressing the underlying environmental problem.article continues after advertisement

Nesse’s emphasis on the environmental causes of psychopathology highlights a classic misconception about evolutionary psychology—that it is about finding genes and ignores the environment. Quite the opposite, evolutionary researchers are typically interested in studying the links between threats and opportunities in the environment and whether psychological mechanisms are designed to respond adaptively to those threats and opportunities. In the case of psychological problems, it is critical to understand the normal adaptive systems, and the events in the environment that trigger those systems, if one is to solve the problem.

Mismatches, trade-offs, and smoke detectors

One of the useful ideas that Nesse describes is what evolutionary theorists call “mismatch.” Sometimes a system was functional in the ancestral past but is somehow being short-circuited by circumstances in the modern world. As he notes in his chapter on eating disorders, our ancestors mainly had to worry about starvation in a world where the plants and animals they wanted to eat were adapted to avoid being eaten (rabbits are fast and stealthy, and many plants have toxins and sharp thorns, for example). And even when our ancestors could find food, the plants were typically low in sugars, and the prey animals were lean. But following the agricultural revolution, the food not only stays in place, but the plants are selectively bred to be high in calories (bananas and avocados), and the animals to be pleasantly laced with fat. And with modern food delivery systems, most of us don’t need to burn calories searching for fruits, catching rabbits, or casting nets at the fishing hole, as our ancestors did, we can just satisfy our need for sugars and fats by driving down to the supermarket or the local fast-food outlet. Nesse observes that in the ancestral environment, there would have been very few problems with diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, or obesity. But we are still designed for a world in which we moved around for most of the day, and where the calories were typically barely sufficient to sustain life. So we stuff ourselves with pizza and double chocolate fudge ice cream. As a consequence, obesity rates and disorders such as bulimia are rising in the modern world.

Another useful concept that helps us understand costly and dangerous behaviors is the idea of trade-offs. No living organism can ever optimize all its goals, because time and energy devoted to building nests or finding new mates must be taken away from time devoted to finding food or caring for offspring. Time spent hiding from predators is time not spent searching for food. Thinking back to men’s risky behaviors, we noted that they likely result from a trade-off faced by ancestral males—between survival and mating success. Many behaviors that look maladaptive, such as delinquent acting out, may instead be the product of trade-offs.

Another useful idea in Nesse’s book is his “smoke detector metaphor.” If you set the smoke detector in your house to go off too easily, it may wake you in the middle of the night with a false alarm when someone passes by on the street smoking a cigarette. But if you set it too conservatively, it may not go off soon enough when there is a real fire in the house. The costs of missing a real fire are many times higher than the costs of being annoyed by a false alarm. Nesse describes how this might explain overly high levels of anxiety, using the example of avoiding lions. What if one of your ancestors ran every time he heard a sound in the bushes that might possibly have been a lion, and the odds of actually being eaten by a lion were only 1 in 1,000. If he ran away 999 times, it would have been for nothing, and he would have wasted calories. But if he failed to run on that thousandth occasion, he would have been eaten, and you wouldn’t be here to think about it. Of course, mismatches can come in here also, as our natural smoke detector settings may not apply in the modern world. Sometimes our brains are set to avoid being eaten by lions, and our anxieties prevent us from taking risks that are objectively minimal in the pursuit of goals that might make us quite a bit happier.

Nesse’s book covers a lot of territory, offering evolutionary insights into the whole spectrum of problems covered by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. He notes in his final chapter that most of the funding for research on mental disorders has gone to studies of specific genes and brain abnormalities responsible for particular dysfunctions. If, however, one accepts his strong arguments that much of human misery stems from the operation of normal adaptive systems, it is easy to accept his conclusion that there will be immense benefits from training all budding psychiatrists and clinical psychologists in the tools of evolutionary thinking.

Below I list a few related thoughts about how to cope with feelings of depression and anxiety:

“What if your life isn’t going so well?”: Lists seven research-based suggestions to improve your well-being.

“Zen and the art of embracing rejection”: What’s so good about embracing negative feedback.

And here’s a review of some other research on positive aspects of negative feelings: “7 good things about feeling bad.”

Also complementing Nesse’s perspective, there’s research suggesting it can actually be harmful to directly seek happiness as an end in itself: “If You Pursue Happiness, You May Find Loneliness.”

Facebook Image: Mangostar/Shutterstock

References

Nesse, R.M. (2019). Good reasons for bad feelings: Insights from the frontier of evolutionary psychiatry. New York: DuttonPsychology Today

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

Silencing Your Inner Critic

Photograph by Nathaniel Welch

Just minutes into her interview at the white-shoe law firm, Elena heard the voice, that voice, in her head. They see right through me. Biting the inside of her cheek, she gazed at the faces around her. I’m not one of them, it said. I’m a lightweight. It struck Elena, a recent law-school graduate, that she was the only woman in the room with the dark wood paneling and marble floors, the only face that might not belong in a colonial-era portrait gallery. She fumbled through the next three questions.

By the 30-minute mark, Elena was able to slide in a mention of her rank at the top of her class and her hands-on experience in immigration law. At last, her confidence was kicking in. That’s when a partner in a blue pinstripe suit waved Elena’s résumé in the air, and in a carefully neutral voice asked, “How wonderful that you’ve been involved in pro bono work for Honduran immigrants. Is that where your family’s from?” Unsure of his intentions, Elena gulped and nodded. That was an unlawyerly response, her inner voice complained. Now I’m definitely not going get a call back.

The second Elena stepped out the door, her internal critic was all over her. I’m blowing this, it said, and built a persuasive case for why her future in law wasn’t going to pan out, including a rehash of all the blunders she’d made in the last few interviews and the time her torts professor only half-jokingly told her that she was too emotional to be a litigator. I’m done.article continues after advertisement

Like many accomplished people, Elena feels she owes a lot to her inner critic. Her self-discipline, she believes, comes from the “succeed or suffer” mentality of that driving, sometimes derogatory taskmaster. The critic helped her win cross-country races, become the first in her family to go to college, and to pass the bar exam. It helped her seek out the support of teachers and bosses in the same way she always sought the approval of her ambitious, hard-driving mother. Most important, from Elena’s perspective, it has always helped her home in on her faults and weaknesses before others detect them.

But over time, the self-critic can take a toll.

Your Own Worst Enemy?

Photograph by Nathaniel Welch

Too old, too fat, too lazy. A terrible parent, daughter, son, partner, citizen. Clueless. Thoughtless. Never good enough.article continues after advertisement

“You can’t ever stop ‘cracking the whip’ on yourself for fear that if you don’t, the disapproval and rejection that seems imminent will become your reality,” explains psychologist Leon Seltzer of Del Mar, California. “The stress is unremitting.” As a result, “When you do something well, you won’t jump for joy but merely breathe a sigh of relief: You’ve escaped from being criticized or censored.” But that relief lasts only until the next expectation presents itself. It’s the perfect setup for anxiety and depression.

Elena suspected that her internal critic might have been harsher than most, but she had always seen it as a net positive, especially as it pushed her through college and law school. But in the real world, where the path to success isn’t so well defined, it seemed to carry a different message. It made her feel she didn’t have the right pedigree or background, or maybe even the necessary competence. I’m an imposter, it said, whenever she entered the minimalist confines of a top-tier law firm. Not as smart as I think I am. After her fifth rejection, a previously unthinkable idea popped into her mind: Maybe she should just return to the family restaurant business, the life she had worked so hard to leave behind.article continues after advertisement

Herein lies the koan-like paradox of the inner critic: It attacks and undermines you to protect you from the shame of failure. For many, this is a link that dates back to a time when they feared the disapproval and rejection of caregivers. It’s no coincidence that an internal critic’s words often sound as if they’re coming from an authoritarian parent: The critic may literally be an echo of a parental figure’s voice. When you internalize its judgments and expectations, Seltzer says, you “join it in demanding that you always do more, and better, than you may be doing now.”

Shame, sometimes called the “master emotion,” is the feeling that we’re not worthy, competent, or good—that we are, in a sense, rotten at the core. Beating ourselves up is a preemptive gambit to inoculate ourselves from external shaming. Sometimes, the message is: Shame on you if you don’t work really, really, really hard. Or, Shame on you if you’re not tougher, smarter, and better than you were last time. But sometimes, as Elena found, the message is: Shame on you if you fail, so don’t try.

There’s one thing the inner critic doesn’t offer: Room for growth. All too often it sends us back to a zone where we find ourselves safe, but also stuck.

Answering the Voices

People with a strong inner critic tend to have one thing in common: However great their success, they don’t feel it’s genuine. “Achievement may feel conditional, even fortuitous,” Seltzer says. “The inner critic won’t let them see their past achievements as ‘real’ for fear that, if they do, they’ll slack off and end up a ne’er-do-well.” So they may push themselves more, with diminishing returns, driven more by fear of failure than inspiration.

The solution isn’t to shut down the critic, suggests research by Ethan Kross, of the University of Michigan’s Emotion & Self Control Lab, and his colleague Ozlem Ayduk, of the University of California, Berkeley. It won’t work; the voice will return no matter how hard you try to suppress it. Nor is it always effective to analyze the emotions it rouses; that opens you to the risk of ruminating or reliving those feelings and getting stuck in a negative cycle. The best intervention may be to respond to its grievances from a detached perspective—almost as if you were another person.

Photograph by Nathaniel Welch

This technique, called self-distancing, is increasingly used in cognitive-behavioral therapy. To self-distance, one replaces the first-person pronoun I with a non-first-person pronoun, you or he/she, when talking to themselves (Elena, what happened is no reflection on your abilities. You were surprised by his question during the interview but now you know what to do. It’s called experience.)

Self-distancing can be combined with asking yourself “why” questions: Why does Elena, who is so confident in the classroom, feel like a sham in a boardroom? This grammatical shift works especially well in the heated moments when you’re beating yourself up most, Kross finds. Instead of feeling pain again, as when you recount an experience in the first-person mode, self-distancing allows you to pause, step back, and think as clearly and rationally as if it had happened to someone else.

Once emotions cool, “use story editing to stop reverting to that negative cycle over and over again,” advises Timothy Wilson, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia and the author of Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change. A story edit offers a way to reframe or revise a negative experience. If Elena’s critic disparages her about her performance in a job interview, her default reaction might be to listen to it, question her whole careerpath, and get trapped in a self-defeating thought cycle. Or, says Wilson, she could reframe the experience as a turning point: This is when you first learned how to handle curveball questions. In this revised version, Elena can see that a failure is not a reflection on her intelligence, character, self-worth, or anything else the inner critic is hardwired to protect. The critic’s story is no longer the only story.

Self-affirmation has also proven to be a useful offset to self-criticism. When we hear a voice saying we’re inferior or deficient, Seltzer recommends that we try to see the evidence that refutes it in our mind’s eye. Elena could redirect her focus to her strengths—her managerial talents, her improv-comedy hobby, her famous tiramisu, or her ability to put people at ease. Affirmations can revise the negative messages we hear—or think we hear—from the voices of parental figures unable to show that they believed in us enough, or from a naturally neurotic or self-doubting personality. And when the inner critic pipes up with counterexamples, we can label the voice: Oh, that’s just the inner critic again. In doing so, we—again—detach ourselves from the badgering fault-finder rather than reflexively identifying with it and letting it dominate.

No one intervention works for everyone. Some find success in addressing the critic directly, Seltzer says, and befriending it rather than treating it as the enemy within. This approach draws on the psychotherapy model known as Internal Family Systems (IFS), developed by Harvard psychologist Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. It views the person as containing a network of subpersonalities struggling for dominance, with the inner critic just one part of a multiplicity within, one that activates other parts, like the “taskmaster,” the “perfectionist,” and the “underminer.” The challenge, Seltzer says, is to see the critic as a protector that is on our side, looking out for our interests, even if it’s often misguided. If it’s making us feel that we’re not good enough, it’s only because it is trying to prevent us from the ego blow of not being good enough. We can learn to thank the critic for trying so hard to protect us—and then ask for it to step back.

We can help our self-compassion find its voice. In one exercise, often guided by a therapist, individuals are encouraged to remember when their inner critic was born, so that they can give their younger selves more sympathy and security than they received in the first go-round. Elena wouldn’t tell her 5-year-old self that she’ll never achieve her dreams; she’d reassure her. Ideally, a self-compassionate response emerges from this interaction and can, going forward, be called on as a buffer against self-criticism. In a study at University College London employing virtual reality, women with severe inner-critic issues simulated a scenario in which they had to console a crying child. In the next session, each adult was embodied as the hurt child and became the recipient of her own recorded words and gestures of compassion. Many reported experiencing a surge of long-overdue self-compassion and—at last—reprieve from their critic.

Photograph by Nathaniel Welch

A New Image

Margot felt sick about the incident at the playground. A moment after arriving with her 2-year-old son, she noticed that a group of teenage bicyclists had unlatched the gate behind her. “Hey!” she said, advancing toward them with hands on hips. “Read the sign! No bikes allowed!” In a flash she found herself exchanging heated words with five or six of the young men while their friends rode in circles around her wide-eyed toddler and other kids. Startled, Margot pulled out her phone and waved it in the air. The teens, who were black, froze and glared at her, a white woman, understanding her implicit threat to call the police, before pedaling toward the exit.

Later, Margot couldn’t stop thinking about the shock, fear, and outrage on the boys’ faces. Idiot! her inner critic screeched. There are a trillion better ways I could have handled that. Here I am, making the world worse.

Margot’s mistake was the sort that could be a springboard for self-growth, says Dolly Chugh, a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business. But if beating herself up over it is all she does, she’ll either conclude that she’s a bungling bigot at her core or she’ll do a 180 and insist that she is a good person and in the right. We tend to think of the self in a simplistic binary way, Chugh says—good or not, honest or not, fair or not. It’s a false dichotomy, of course, but many of us hew to it unconsciously.

While most people see their core self as good, some take the opposite tack. When certain individuals are confronted with their unethical misdeeds, like ostracizing others, they begin to see themselves as “bad,” or even less than human. To compensate for a mistake and restore a positive self-image, someone like Margot might work to be more socially conscious. But sometimes wrongdoers, especially those who feel powerless or disconnected from others, internalize a bad self-image, according to research by Northwestern University’s Maryam Kouchaki and others, and come to believe that they’re damaged at the core. When this shift occurs, they’re likelier to commit subsequent offenses.

Taking refuge in the “good-person” self-image that most of us have, Chugh says, is not a solution, either: It leaves us with no room to fail, which means no room to grow. All we need is someone or some situation to suggest we’re not sufficiently fair, ambitious, responsible, motivated, maternal, paternal, or good, and our defenses go up, leading us to deny, self-justify, deflect, and minimize blame. It’s one thing to be self-critical; it’s quite another for others to criticize us.

Instead of “good” or “bad,” Chugh suggests, we need to start thinking of ourselves as good-ish, a term she introduces in her book, The Person You Mean to Be. Good-ish embraces the idea that the self is error-prone and conflicted, yet strives to be better. It’s a rejection of a fixed “good person” image—like the one the inner critic pushes us toward—in favor of the idea that we are a work in progress. Good-ish encourages us to take risks, make mistakes, and, most important, learn from them. The emphasis is not on who you are, but who you’re becoming.

To make this shift, Chugh advises that people activate a new, growth-oriented inner voice that stands opposite the self-critic. Elena’s inner critic might insist that she’s bad at interviews; Margot’s might call her stupid. But a growth-oriented voice could respond with self-compassion and forgiveness for a mistake, followed by encouragement: What can you learn from this?

If Margot had channeled a growth-oriented voice instead of her inner critic, the playground episode could have ended in revelation instead of recrimination. That voice would have asked the crucial questions, What were the boys seeing and hearing in the interaction? Why do you think you reacted that way? What was their perspective? In embracing such a mindset, she’d lay the groundwork for self-improvement rather than dwelling on feelings of self-loathing or defensiveness. That voice, Chugh says, could have also asked her what she’d do differently next time; if she would have responded the same way if the boys were white; or whether an African American mother would have done what she did. “Then, hopefully, she’d share her reflections with others,” Chugh adds, because that’s how personal growth leads to social change.

Wilson calls this sort of incremental self-growth “do good, be good.” If we consistently act the part of the person we’d like to be, we can methodically work to overcome the parts of ourselves that hold us back. Say your protective and disapproving critic prevents you from being the sort of person who speaks up more. In the past, Wilson says, it might have told you that you’re just not the type, or that you’ll come across as attention-seeking and embarrass yourself. A growth-oriented voice, once it’s been embraced, can instead pipe up and tell you to seize every opportunity to be heard—to speak up at meetings and parties, to step to the microphone during Q-and-A sessions, or to make small talk on public transportation, even if it initially seems tedious or unpleasant.

“The day will come when you’ll think, I guess I am that type sometimes,” Wilson says, “and you’ll be more likely to speak up next time, and the time after that.” Eventually, it will feel more natural to engage people or to share your reflections and insights, because you’ll start to see yourself as more outspoken. It begins with a conscious choice to let the growth-oriented voice speak louder than the critic.

Hearing the Choir

Every morning as Paul waits for the elevator at his son’s preschool, he’s confronted by a sign with bright red lettering: “Did you know that seven minutes of stair climbing a day protects your heart?” Paul, who is 60 pounds overweight, hates that sign. “Every time I see it, my knee-jerk compulsion is to look at my reflection in the elevator door. I see an elephant.” That’s just the first moment each day that Paul’s inner voice shames him about his weight. The next comes when he squeezes himself into the crowded elevator, avoiding eye contact for fear he’ll see revulsion. “But do I take the stairs?” he asks. “No.”

Photograph by Nathaniel Welch

Paul isn’t alone in his self-sabotage. People who are self-critical about their fitness and body image are often less likely to follow motivational health prompts, which typically spur not action but shame and self-threat, a study at the University of Pennsylvania revealed. Those prompts are read as criticism from the outside—exactly what an inner critic fears and tries to protect us from. Paul doesn’t want to see himself, and certainly doesn’t want others to see him, as unfit or in need of nudges.

In limbo between self-criticism and self-defense, there’s little room for self-improvement. But we can escape the trap by transcending, or shifting our focus beyond the self. After all, self-criticism and self-transcendence are opposing forces—one inward-looking and inhibiting, the other outward-looking and expansive. There are many ways to transcend—through meditation, time in nature, religious faith, ecstatic dance, and creative pursuits. But we can also rise above by affirming our core values, such as care for family, friends, and the causes we believe in.

Could people like Paul use self-transcendence to get out of their own way? In the Penn study, subjects received daily text messages with instructions to reflect compassionately on other people or to tap into their own connection with a higher power, followed by health prompts urging them to be more active (stair-climbing included). And indeed, in the weeks that followed, the transcenders’ fitness trackers showed that they exercised more than a control group. Turns out, these messages were like Trojan horses: With them, targets became less guarded, and the self-improvement advice penetrated and was followed; without them, the advice was rejected.

Could self-transcendence work as a counterforce when self-criticism and shame hold us back? If Paul were able to activate a voice in his head to think benevolent outward-looking thoughts—his hopes for his ailing mother, his concern for Syrian refugees, his love for the 4-year-old holding his hand, and the desire to keep up with him—he might find himself less resistant to, or less threatened by, reminders to improve his health. Outward compassion, it seems, opens the door to the self-compassion and patience we need to help ourselves. Perhaps Paul wouldn’t push back so hard when his wife urged him to exercise, or she’d find ways to strategically pepper those nags with thoughts that helped him think beyond himself.

Self-transcendence may also free us to grow in areas in which we lack self-confidence. For Elena, as for many women, one such impasse is networking. “I know schmoozing would help my job search, but it makes me feel desperate and phony, like I’m using others to get ahead,” she says, contrasting how fake she feels in networking sessions compared with her genuine enthusiasm for less contrived social situations. But research finds that when reluctant networkers are directed to think beyond themselves—to see how making connections contributes to a greater cause, like increasing female presence in traditionally male fields or helping coworkers or clients—they can overcome the aversion.

For Elena, a shift in focus from inward to outward empowered her in a way her inner critic couldn’t, even in its most hard-driving, guilt-inducing, moments. Thinking about her future, she asked herself, “What if my performance isn’t just about me, but everyone who is like me—a first-generation woman of color going into law?” In this new script, the plot is no longer driven by self-doubt, fear of shame, or a vestigial dread of parental disappointment, but by a higher purpose.

After all, it is one thing to heed an inner critic and live in the suffocating space between self-threat and self-motivation. It is another thing to align your star with something greater. “I was pursuing corporate law because I saw it as an obvious touchstone of success,” admits Elena, who has now set her sights on a career in human rights. On the old path, she says, she was reluctant to take a risk. She didn’t feel authentic or confident. “But when it comes to helping others overcome their personal obstacles,” she says, “I fight like hell.”

Submit your response to this story to letters@psychologytoday.com. If you would like us to consider your letter for publication, please include your name, city, and state. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

Pick up a copy of Psychology Today on newsstands now or subscribe to read the the rest of the latest issue.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: wavebreakmedia/ShutterstockPsychology Today

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

3 Reasons Why Anxiety Is Good For You

Worrying isn’t always such a bad thing.

Posted May 20, 2019

In 1947, W. H. Auden published an obscure poem called “The Age of Anxiety” — a title that has resonated through the years as a perfect distillation of the uncertainties of contemporary living. Perhaps we’re hearing that phrase even more often these days, as the United States has come to be known as the most anxious nation on Earth. As of late 2017, almost 20% of American adults had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder over the preceding year. The lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders in the American population is even higher, at over 31%. Several studies suggest that anxiety has been on the rise over the past few years, too: the American Psychiatric Association recently released a poll showing that our anxiety increased measurably between 2016 and 2017, and again between 2017 and 2018.

Source: Michael Jagdeo / Pexels

For the few, lucky human beings who don’t immediately understand what it’s like to feel anxious, consider the feeling you get at a job interview: your palms are sweaty, your stomach is in knots, you feel agitated and fatigued at the same time, and you can’t concentrate. You haven’t slept well in days. Your muscles are tense and achy, which makes you irritable with the people you talk to. Highly anxious people have to cope with these job-interview-level feelings every day. Anxiety is very different from fear, too: while fear could be described as the feeling you’d get while facing down a man-eating tiger, anxiety is the feeling you might have while wandering through the jungle, wondering if there is a tiger hiding behind the next tree.

But as difficult and unpleasant as daily anxiety can be — as those who have panic attacksobsessive-compulsive disorder, or social anxiety disorder know all too well — anxiety can also be good for you. (No one benefits from chronic or excessive anxiety.) Situational anxiety, if it’s proportionate to the circumstances in which it arises, can have quite a positive impact. As long as you are able to keep your anxiety levels in check, using the self-care methods that work best for you, you should be able to experience its benefits.article continues after advertisement

First and foremost, anxiety is built into our primate origins as a warning system. This is why it’s so hard to shut anxious feelings off: they are hard-wired into our neurons. Anxiety helps us detect and attend to potential threats so that we can avoid danger. In the short term, anxiety can keep you at a heightened state of alert, allowing you to react more quickly when urgent dangers arise — like when you’re driving anxiously in the rain, and you find yourself responding immediately to erratic changes in traffic patterns. Even vague, unfocused anxiety can function as a soft alarm bell for longer-term dangers: if you’re feeling unsettled within your marriage or romantic relationship, for instance, your low-level anxiety may be calling your attention to a problem that you aren’t fully attending to. And the warning properties of anxiety may also help you focus your thoughts on big decisions, like buying a house or deciding whether or not to move to a new city. Imagine feeling absolutely no anxiety over life-changing choices like these; the odds are, you’d breeze through the decisions in such a facile way, with minimal thought or consideration, that you’d end up missing something important.article continues after advertisement

Situational anxiety is also good for enhancing motivation and boosting performance levels. Just before crunch time — say, at a college sporting event — a fair amount of anxiety can be a very positive thing. Research indicates that student-athletes who feel anxiety are able to perform better in their events — and on college exams! — than those who denied feeling worried. (Sometimes anxiety can improve your memory, as well.) This makes intuitive sense: if you’re anxious about an upcoming event, like a test or a race, you may be motivated to work harder to get ready for it. And when crunch time arrives, the physiological features of anxiety — the action of your adrenal glands and sympathetic nervous system — can improve our ability to carry out athletic feats, or give us a burst of strength. Cognitively, we also benefit from an increase in alertness and presence in the moment. At significant moments when performance becomes an issue, the right amount of anxiety will help us do that much better.

Lastly, in addition to its cognitive and physical benefits, anxiety also conveys a psychological one: an improvement in empathy. Remembering the stressful times you’ve been through may help enhance your perspective on others when they have similar difficulties. It can offer you insight into what the significant people in your life may be feeling when they, too, start to worry. Recognizing anxiety in others should thus inform your ability to respond appropriately, with gentleness or understanding. It’s also been said that the capacity for taking another person’s perspective, and to offer empathy, can improve one’s leadership abilities. Think about it: a sensible awareness of the many things that might go wrong, the resulting tendency to think more prudently, plus the deep ability to sense the needs of the people who depend on you, may in fact be a solid recipe for responsible leadership.

So in the end, the anxiety you feel may not actually be so bad for you, after all — as long as you can distinguish between appropriate, situation-specific anxiety and chronic, flooding worries. Recent research supports this view, indicating that the ability to experience stressful life events as challenges — not dangers or hazards — your anxiety may convey a burst of energy or an uptick increase in motivation. Perhaps instead of telling yourself not to worry, you should ask yourself if you are worrying the right amount.

References

National Institute of Mental Health (2017, November). Any anxiety disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml

Clark, J. (n.d.) How can adrenaline help you lift a 3,500-pound car? Retrieved from https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/arts/circus-arts/adrenaline-strength1.htm

Collier, J. (2018, September 5). Anxiety in the West: Is it on the rise? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322877.php

Jones, O. (2012, July 6). How America became the world’s most anxious country. Retrieved from https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/america-the-land-of-the-anxious-and-the-home-of-the-stressed

Keller, J. (2019, January 15). Research suggests Trump’s election has been detrimental to many Americans’ mental health. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/news/research-suggests-trumps-election-has-been-detrimental-to-many-americans-mental-health

Smith, D. (2012, January 14). It’s still the ‘age of anxiety.’ Or is it? Retrieved from https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/14/its-still-the-age-of-anxiety-or-is-it/

Star, Katharina. (2019, March 18). The benefits of anxiety and nervousness. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/benefits-of-anxiety-2584134

Weisberger, J. (2018, May 31). The upside to anxiety: 3 reasons why anxiety is actually good for you. Retrieved from https://www.talkspace.com/blog/upside-to-anxiety-reasons-why-good/

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

Mindfulness Meditation Helps Resolve Many Sex Problems | Psychology Today

Source: shutterstock

Great sex and meditation have a good deal in common. Several researchers have shown that one type of meditation, mindfulness, helps resolve several sex problems. It focuses practitioners’ thoughts intently on the present moment.

The Sex-Meditation Connection

Both sex and meditation involve taking breaks from daily routines and responsibilities. Both include deep diaphragmatic breathing. Both encourage emptying the mind of extraneous thoughts and focusing attention on the present moment. And both help free the mind from daily hassles.article continues after advertisement

Meditators accomplish this by sitting quietly and focusing intently on their breath, or on a word or phrase (mantra), or on a simple activity (walking, slowly chewing one bite of food). Lovers free their minds by engaging in mutual erotic touch while focusing intently on one another (though they may fantasize about other partners). Both expand spiritual connections—meditators to the world around them, lovers to their partners. And after both, meditators and lovers emerge feeling calm and refreshed, better able to cope with life’s challenges.

But emptying the mind isn’t easy. During both meditation and lovemaking, random thoughts—some possibly disturbing—inevitably dart in and out of consciousness. Meditation teachers urge students to accept their thoughts without judging them, no matter what the content. They say: “Your thoughts are not you. They’re like dreams. You can’t control them and are not responsible for them. Don’t judge your thoughts. Simply observe them, then let them go as you return to your breath, mantra, or mindfulness activity.”

Sex therapists concur, encouraging lovers to observe their erotic thoughts and fantasies nonjudgmentally no matter what their content, and then gently let go of them as lovers return to focusing on giving and receiving pleasure. Just as random thoughts during meditation don’t mean anything, neither do the vast majority of thoughts and fantasies during sex.article continues after advertisement

A Head Full of Ideas

In Bob Dylan’s song “Maggie’s Farm,” includes the line: “I got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane.” Many people can identify. They have heads full of sexual beliefs that may not exactly drive them crazy but produce sufficient stress to cause problems. Stress/anxiety/worry triggers the fight-or-flight reflex that constricts the arteries in the central body, limiting blood flow to the gut and genitals and sending it out to the limbs for self-defense or escape. Reduced blood flow through the genitals compromises sexual responsiveness, function, and satisfaction. But deep relaxation, the kind produced by meditation, opens the arteries that supply blood to the genitals and enhances sexual function and pleasure.

In recent years, several sex researchers, notably Lori Brotto at the University of British Columbia, have harnessed the power of meditation to treat a broad range of sex problems:

Child sex abuse. A team led by Brotto enrolled twenty adult survivors of childhood sexual trauma in a program shown to aid recovery, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). CBT helped them reframe their stories away from the horror of abuse toward self-forgiveness and personal empowerment. Half the group also learned mindfulness meditation and practiced it daily. After one month, both groups reported less sexual distress, but the mindfulness group reported greater relief and better sexual functioning.article continues after advertisement

Low libido. Another Brotto team recruited 117 low-desire women. Forty-nine were placed on a waitlist. The rest participated in three 90-minute classes over six weeks that discussed the causes of low libido and offered instruction in mindfulness meditation. Between classes, the women practiced mindfulness daily at home. After six months, the treatment group reported significantly greater desire, arousal, and lubrication, easier orgasms, and greater satisfaction.

Investigators at Willamette University in Oregon analyzed eleven studies of mindfulness involving 449 women who complained of low libido and arousal and orgasm difficulties. “All aspects of sexual function and well-being—exhibited significant improvement.”

). A third Brotto team enrolled ten men suffering erection difficulties in a four-week mindfulness-based treatment program that included information about ED, counseling, and mindfulness meditation practiced in therapy sessions and daily at home. Most of the men reported significant improvement.

Men in distress because of their porn consumption. Creighton University investigators took thirty-eight men convinced they were porn addicts to a rustic retreat center for eight days. They spent thirty-two hours in cognitive behavioraltherapy. During CBT sessions, the researchers endeavored to correct participants’ sexual misconceptions, such as:

  • Sexual thoughts and fantasies are wrong, harmful, and sinful.
  • Only bad people masturbate.
  • My porn watching proves I’m evil.

The therapists endeavored to correct those mistaken beliefs:

  • There’s nothing wrong with sexual thoughts and fantasies. Everyone has them. They’re perfectly normal and a key element of great sex.
  • Almost everyone masturbates, particularly men who feel stressed. Unless it interferes with life responsibilities or partner lovemaking, there’s nothing wrong with it, even frequently, even daily.
  • Virtually every Internet-connected man on Earth has seen porn, many frequently, some daily. Viewing it doesn’t make you evil. Porn is a cartoon version of men’s fantasies of effortless sexual abundance.

The researchers also taught participants mindfulness meditation, which they practiced several times a day. After the retreat, their sexual anxiety and porn viewing decreased significantly.

Breaking Vicious Cycles

Anxiety contributes to many sexual problems. That’s why “Am I normal?” is one of the most common questions sex experts get. It’s a leading query on the site I publish, GreatSexGuidance dot com. Many people feel nervous about their fantasies, bodies, libidos, sexual repertoire, and ability to negotiate functional sexual relationships. That nervousness causes stress, which, as mentioned, impairs sexual desire and function.

When sex experts correct people’s misconceptions, sometimes that’s all that’s necessary to resolve their issues. But quite often, sexual issues cause chronic stress not relieved just by learning the truth. Sometimes, people need the truth plus tools to relieve their sexual stress. That’s where mindfulness and other relaxing activities help: deep breathing, hot baths, massage, yoga, tai chi, dance, hiking, and other exercises. They break the vicious cycle of stress-dysfunction-more stress-worse dysfunction and replace it with refreshing calmness.

Sex unfolds most pleasurably when people feel calm, centered, and focused on pleasure—their own and their partners’. Even those free of sex problems can benefit from deep relaxation. For more, search: mindfulness, meditation, or the relaxation response.

References

Bossio, J.A. et al. “Mindfulness-Based Group Therapy for Men with Situational Erectile Dysfunction: A Mixed-Methods Feasibility Analysis and Pilot Study,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2018) 15:1478.

Brotto, L.A. et al. “Pilot Study of a Brief Cognitive Behavioral Versus Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Women with Sexual Distress and a History of Childhood Sexual Abuse,” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy (2012) 38:1.

Brotto, L.A. et al. “Pilot Study of a Brief Cognitive Behavioral Versus Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Women with Sexual Distress and a History of Childhood Sexual Abuse,” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy (2012) 38:1.

Brotto, LA. et al. “Mindfulness-Based Sex Therapy Improves Genital-Subjective Arousal Concordance in Women with Sexual Desire/Arousal Difficulties,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2016) 45:1907.

Brotto, L.A. and R. Basson. “Group Mindfulness-Based Therapy Significantly Improves Sexual Desire in Women,” Behavior Research and Therapy (2014) 57:43.

Brotto, L.A. et al. “A Mindfulness-Based Group Psychoeducational Intervention Targeting Sexual Arousal Disorder in Women,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2008) 5:1646.

Hallberg, J. et al. “A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Group Intervention for Hypersexual Disorder: A Feasibility Study,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2017) 14:950.

Patterson, L.Q. et al. “A Pilot Study of Eight-Session Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Adapted for Women’s Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder,” Journal of Sex Research (2017) 54:850.

Patterson, L.Q. et al. “A Pilot Study of Eight-Session Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Adapted for Women’s Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder,” Journal of Sex Research (2017) 54:850.

Stephenson, K.R. et al. “Effects of Mindfulness-Based Therapies for Female Sexual Dysfunction: A Meta-Analytic Review,” Journal of Sex Research (2017) 54:832.Psychology Today

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

Is Ignoring Someone to Use Your Phone Acceptable? | Psychology Today

Girl being phubbedSource: Thaninee Chuensomchit/Shutterstock

Some ninety-eight percent of people born between the late 1990s and early 2000s own a smartphone and spend around 4 hours per day using this, claiming it to be their most important possession (Young, 2017). Smartphones are more than just phones, functioning more like mini computers, containing our contacts, photos, bookmarked web pages, along with allowing us almost constant contact with others. Indeed, when we asked people why they used their smartphones 77% reported using social media as the main reason and 62% reported messaging as the main reason thus suggesting that smartphones are what might be termed relationship facilitating devices (Graff & Fejes, 2019).article continues after advertisement

Not surprisingly then, people often pay great attention to their phones, ignoring people around them as a result. Such behavior has become known as ‘phubbing’ which is a portmanteau of ‘phone’ and ‘snubbing’ and refers to the practice of using one’s phone in a social setting while simultaneously ignoring someone in your company.

What causes people to phub?

One cause of phubbing might be the extent to which a person is internet addicted. Quite clearly, if a person is addicted to using the internet, then they will be motivated to use their smartphones more, which would ultimately be related to phubbing.

Secondly, phubbing may be related to a person’s fear of missing out (FoMO) on conversations or events which might be happening in a different place or location. In order to allay any anxiety over this fear of missing out, individuals are driven to constantly check their phones, resulting in phubbing.

Thirdly, self-control would seem to be something which might also be related to phubbing behavior. A phubber may lack the ability to control or even monitor their smartphone use. Phubbing is related to smartphone addiction and people who are addicted to using their smartphones will use them even if it is dangerous or discourteous to do so and therefore the same would be the case for phubbing also.article continues after advertisement

Varoth Chotpitayasunond and Karen Douglas from the University of Kent in the UK, investigated these three factors which might predict phubbing (Chotpitayasunondh & Douglas, 2016). Their study included 276 participants, who completed the following measures:

  • The phubbing questionnaire which measured phubbing frequency and frequency of being phubbed, ranging between less than once daily to four or more times per day. It also measured phubbing duration and duration of being phubbed ranging from less than 15 minutes to more than two hours. Finally, it measured perceived social norms of phubbing with items such as ‘do you think that phubbing behavior is typical amongst people around you?’ and ‘do you think phubbing behavior is appropriate?’
  • Smartphone Addiction Scale, containing items such as ‘not being able to stand not having a smartphone’, ‘missing planned work due to smartphone use’, ‘the people around me tell me I use my smartphone too much’.
  • Internet Addiction Test, containing questions such as ‘How often do you find you stay online longer then you intended?’ ‘how often do your grades or school work suffer because of the amount of time you spend online?’ ‘How often do you form new relationships with fellow online users?’ ‘how often do you lose sleep due to late night logins?’
  • Fear of Missing Out Scale ‘I fear others have more rewarding experiences than me’, ‘I fear my friends have more rewarding experiences than me’, and ‘I get worried when I find out my friends are having fun without me’.
  • Self-Control Scale ‘I am good at resisting the temptation’, ‘I have a hard time breaking bad habits’, and ‘I never allow myself to lose control’.

article continues after advertisement

What the researchers found

Firstly, the researchers found that self-control negatively predicted smartphone addiction, in other words, the lower the level of self-control, the higher the level of smartphone addiction, whereas Internet addiction, and fear of missing out positively predicted smartphone addiction, the higher the levels of internet addiction and the more people feared missing out, then the greater their degree of smartphone addiction.

In terms of phubbing, they found a relationship between smartphone addiction and phubbing, meaning the more one is addicted to their smartphone, the more likely they are to engage in phubbing. Similarly, they found a relationship between phubbing behavior and being phubbed, meaning that the more a person is phubbed, the more likely they are to engage in phubbing.

Is phubbing normal?

However, perhaps the most curious finding is that the more a person engaged in phubbing behavior and the greater extent to which they are phubbed were positively related to the extent to which people perceived phubbing as just normal behavior. Just a casual look around in a bar or at a café or restaurant and you see people using their phones, ignoring their surroundings and the people around them. Therefore, has this behavior become normal and acceptable?

Reciprocity

The researchers in the current study suggest that phubbing occurs as a result of observing phubbing going on around us, and by engaging in phubbing ourselves. When we see and experience phubbing behavior around us, we become more likely to judge such behavior as socially acceptable. Being phubbed oneself increases the likelihood of phubbing. If you are with someone and they get out their phone, then observing this behavior encourages us to mirror and copy it.

It seems that phubbing is changing the way we interact socially. However, more research is still needed on the way in which phubbing has had an effect on the quality of social interactions. Furthermore, we need to know more about the way in which people might phub. For example, is it OK to divide our attention between our phone and someone whose company we are in, or is it OK to engage in mutually agreed phubbing? Overall, it seems as though phubbing is on the increase, and we need to understand the effects of this in more detail.

References

Chotpitayasunondh, V. & Douglas, K. M. (2016) ‘How “phubbing” becomes the norm: The antecedents and consequences of snubbing via smartphone’ Computers in Human Behaviour, 63, 9-18.

Graff, M. G. & Fejes, F. (2019) ‘Attachment and Phubbing’ In preparation.

Young, K. (2007). ‘98% of gen Z own a smartphone.’ Retrieved from https://blog.globalwebindex.com/chart-of-the-day/98-percent-of-gen-z-own-a-smartphone/Psychology Today

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

Fall in Love With a Person, Not an Idea | Psychology Today

Source: Stockpic/Pexels CC0

Evan was a 27-year-old medical student, who had first encountered Emma, a 23-year-old kindergarten teacher, during trivia night at a local bar. After a brief chat, Emma happily gave Evan her number. While only knowing minor details about her—what she looked like, where she worked, and her alma mater—Evan found himself constantly thinking of her, eventually mustering the courage to send her a message. Emma responded warmly and struck up a conversation with him. With each message received, Evan would agonize over the exact response to send back: What could he say that would keep her attention, while also making him seem desirable, likable, interesting, and worthy? He would frequently message his friends asking for their input into crafting the exact perfect response, but the more he would fret, the more strained his responses seemed, and the less interested Emma became, eventually not responding altogether. Though they only exchanged messages over a short period of time, Evan was distraught, feeling deeply as though he had lost someone irreplaceable. Though friends tried to comfort him, reminding him that he hardly knew her, Evan felt heartbroken just the same: He had fallen for an idea, not a person.article continues after advertisement

Why do we do this?

Through our life experiences, the way we are nurtured, and our genetics, each of us develops a set of standards we have for romantic partners. These “ideal partner preferences” put forth a benchmark from which we evaluate the person before us in terms of suitability. These attributes not only help us to ensure we choose the right person to be our partner by comparing them to our ideal standards, but they also help us evaluate whether our partners continue to be “right” for us as the relationship progresses. Indeed, research has shown that the more our romantic partners match our ideals across several traits, the more positively we see them.

These ideal traits differ for everyone. One person may have an ideal for how attractive their partner should be, while attractiveness may not be as important to another—though, curiously, there has been no difference found between importance of attractiveness shown by gender, contrary to popular thought—but we nevertheless use these ideal standards as a guiding light.

If, upon first meeting, we only glean surface characteristics about a potential partner that match our ideals—as exemplified in the case study above—we may blind ourselves to aspects of that person which would otherwise pull him or her away from the ideal we have in mind. In fact, when we first encounter a potential partner, our brains are wired to look at them through rose-colored glasses, such that we ignore faults, flaws, and even red flags, because from an evolutionary perspective, we are also wired to find a mate. This is primarily because we are a social species who receives large protective effects from emotional intimacy, and we are also a rarity in the animal kingdom, because we derive not only product (in the form of children), but pleasure from sexual intimacy, as well. In short, we need others to survive, and being around them tends to feel good, too.article continues after advertisement

As we feel a deep yearning to connect with a potential partner, if we see them in the truest of lights from early on (aka before our brains have a chance to bond, connect, and invest), it would be difficult to justify to ourselves coupling with someone while overlooking their annoying habits and social allergens, positioning them far from our ideal. In this sense, this initial overly charitable and positive perception we have of a potential love interest is meant to be protective, and while we fall in love with presumably who our partner is, we downplay the negatives and amplify the positives.

When we see someone from afar and only take in their surface qualities which happen to match our ideals, it’s easy for the mind to “fill in the blanks,” particularly if we are prone to excessive fantasizing. Coupling these factors with being uncertain that our own feelings will be reciprocated, we may begin to naturally alter our own behavior to try to match what we assume our love interest’s ideal partner preferences are. This is a long-term losing proposition, however, for as time goes on, as people, we each need our partners to see us, know us, and accept us for who we really are (something known as the “self-verification principle”), and masking our true selves can lead us down a bad path known as the “Marriage Shift,” described here.

While some masking of ourselves is natural in the initial stages of getting to know someone, when we significantly alter our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to essentially feel wanted by another person, there is much to lose. The truth of the matter is, happy and healthy relationships involve two people who deeply know each other and choose to be together, just the same: If you find yourself bending your behavior to fit into someone else’s assumed mold, you’ll never know whether the “real you” might just be the idealized partner they have been looking for! As cliché as it sounds, for long-term success when dating, have the courage to be yourself and to fall in love with an actual other, knowing them “warts and all,” not just the idea of someone, projected outward from yourself.

Facebook Image Credit: golubovystock/Shutterstock

References

Eastwick, P. W., Finkel, E. J., & Eagly, A. H. (2011). When and why do ideal partner preferences affect the process of initiating and maintaining romantic relationships? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(5), 1012-1032.

Eastwick, P. W., Luchies, L. B., Finkel, E. J., & Hunt, L. L. (2014). The predictive validity of ideal partner preferences: A review and meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin, 140(3), 623.Psychology Today · by Mariana Bockarova, Ph.D., is a researcher at the University of Toronto.

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

Is Ignoring Someone to Use Your Phone Acceptable? | Psychology Today

psychology Today

Girl being phubbedSource: Thaninee Chuensomchit/Shutterstock

Some ninety-eight percent of people born between the late 1990s and early 2000s own a smartphone and spend around 4 hours per day using this, claiming it to be their most important possession (Young, 2017). Smartphones are more than just phones, functioning more like mini computers, containing our contacts, photos, bookmarked web pages, along with allowing us almost constant contact with others. Indeed, when we asked people why they used their smartphones 77% reported using social media as the main reason and 62% reported messaging as the main reason thus suggesting that smartphones are what might be termed relationship facilitating devices (Graff & Fejes, 2019).article continues after advertisement

Not surprisingly then, people often pay great attention to their phones, ignoring people around them as a result. Such behavior has become known as ‘phubbing’ which is a portmanteau of ‘phone’ and ‘snubbing’ and refers to the practice of using one’s phone in a social setting while simultaneously ignoring someone in your company.

What causes people to phub?

One cause of phubbing might be the extent to which a person is internet addicted. Quite clearly, if a person is addicted to using the internet, then they will be motivated to use their smartphones more, which would ultimately be related to phubbing.

Secondly, phubbing may be related to a person’s fear of missing out (FoMO) on conversations or events which might be happening in a different place or location. In order to allay any anxiety over this fear of missing out, individuals are driven to constantly check their phones, resulting in phubbing.

Thirdly, self-control would seem to be something which might also be related to phubbing behavior. A phubber may lack the ability to control or even monitor their smartphone use. Phubbing is related to smartphone addiction and people who are addicted to using their smartphones will use them even if it is dangerous or discourteous to do so and therefore the same would be the case for phubbing also.article continues after advertisement

Varoth Chotpitayasunond and Karen Douglas from the University of Kent in the UK, investigated these three factors which might predict phubbing (Chotpitayasunondh & Douglas, 2016). Their study included 276 participants, who completed the following measures:

  • The phubbing questionnaire which measured phubbing frequency and frequency of being phubbed, ranging between less than once daily to four or more times per day. It also measured phubbing duration and duration of being phubbed ranging from less than 15 minutes to more than two hours. Finally, it measured perceived social norms of phubbing with items such as ‘do you think that phubbing behavior is typical amongst people around you?’ and ‘do you think phubbing behavior is appropriate?’
  • Smartphone Addiction Scale, containing items such as ‘not being able to stand not having a smartphone’, ‘missing planned work due to smartphone use’, ‘the people around me tell me I use my smartphone too much’.
  • Internet Addiction Test, containing questions such as ‘How often do you find you stay online longer then you intended?’ ‘how often do your grades or school work suffer because of the amount of time you spend online?’ ‘How often do you form new relationships with fellow online users?’ ‘how often do you lose sleep due to late night logins?’
  • Fear of Missing Out Scale ‘I fear others have more rewarding experiences than me’, ‘I fear my friends have more rewarding experiences than me’, and ‘I get worried when I find out my friends are having fun without me’.
  • Self-Control Scale ‘I am good at resisting the temptation’, ‘I have a hard time breaking bad habits’, and ‘I never allow myself to lose control’.

article continues after advertisement

What the researchers found

Firstly, the researchers found that self-control negatively predicted smartphone addiction, in other words, the lower the level of self-control, the higher the level of smartphone addiction, whereas Internet addiction, and fear of missing out positively predicted smartphone addiction, the higher the levels of internet addiction and the more people feared missing out, then the greater their degree of smartphone addiction.

In terms of phubbing, they found a relationship between smartphone addiction and phubbing, meaning the more one is addicted to their smartphone, the more likely they are to engage in phubbing. Similarly, they found a relationship between phubbing behavior and being phubbed, meaning that the more a person is phubbed, the more likely they are to engage in phubbing.

Is phubbing normal?

However, perhaps the most curious finding is that the more a person engaged in phubbing behavior and the greater extent to which they are phubbed were positively related to the extent to which people perceived phubbing as just normal behavior. Just a casual look around in a bar or at a café or restaurant and you see people using their phones, ignoring their surroundings and the people around them. Therefore, has this behavior become normal and acceptable?

Reciprocity

The researchers in the current study suggest that phubbing occurs as a result of observing phubbing going on around us, and by engaging in phubbing ourselves. When we see and experience phubbing behavior around us, we become more likely to judge such behavior as socially acceptable. Being phubbed oneself increases the likelihood of phubbing. If you are with someone and they get out their phone, then observing this behavior encourages us to mirror and copy it.

It seems that phubbing is changing the way we interact socially. However, more research is still needed on the way in which phubbing has had an effect on the quality of social interactions. Furthermore, we need to know more about the way in which people might phub. For example, is it OK to divide our attention between our phone and someone whose company we are in, or is it OK to engage in mutually agreed phubbing? Overall, it seems as though phubbing is on the increase, and we need to understand the effects of this in more detail.

References

Chotpitayasunondh, V. & Douglas, K. M. (2016) ‘How “phubbing” becomes the norm: The antecedents and consequences of snubbing via smartphone’ Computers in Human Behaviour, 63, 9-18.

Graff, M. G. & Fejes, F. (2019) ‘Attachment and Phubbing’ In preparation.

Young, K. (2007). ‘98% of gen Z own a smartphone.’ Retrieved from https://blog.globalwebindex.com/chart-of-the-day/98-percent-of-gen-z-own-a-smartphone/Psychology Today

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

Our Anxiety Is Rooted in the American Way of Over-Analyzing | Psychology Today

Source: By Mivolchan19/Shutterstock

As most people are aware by now, mood disorders like depression and anxiety are on the rise, and are even being seen as “diseases of modernity.” Western cultures in particular see the highest rates of anxiety-related disorders compared to Eastern and other non-Western cultures. So what’s to blame for the influx of anxiety and stress?

There are likely several factors at play. Many people have pointed to the rise of smartphones and the erosion of meaningful social connection, growing levels of sleep-deprivation, and an overall increase in sedentary lifestyles. But we’re not satisfied with these answers, partly because these trends aren’t unique to Western living; they’re happening everywhere. We suspect the issue goes deeper—down to the level of our basic psychological functioning.article continues after advertisement

Our heightened anxiety has its roots in the way we think. More specifically, how we think—our default style of cognition—is different from the way it is in most other places in the world. We’re analytic thinkers, meaning we see the world in a linear fashion, carving out separate events and peering at them through a lens of cause and effect. We are rule-bound and systems-oriented and we are drawn in by focal events. We care less about context. You know the old saying, “can’t see the forest for the trees?” That’s us: We Westerners are tree-obsessed.

In contrast, the majority of the world’s population (around 85 percent and comprising mostly of Eastern culture) are holistic thinkers. They see the world non-linearly, recognizing the contextual and overlapping features of a given event or situation. Most phenomena, to them, consist of complex interconnections that fit together in greater harmony.

A simple example highlighting the difference in cognition comes from what researchers call the “triad test.” Suppose you’re presented with a dog, a rabbit, and a carrot, and then asked which two belong together. The analytic thinker chooses the dog and rabbit because both satisfy the internally held rule of “animal category.” The holistic thinker, on the other hand, chooses the rabbit and carrot because of the interconnected and functional relationship between the two: A rabbit eats carrots.article continues after advertisement

A consequence of analytic thinking is that its adherence to rule-based reasoning breeds a type of hyper-rational mindset. We believe every problem has a solution. It’s simply a matter of analyzing, solving, striving, looking, doing, working, acting, thinking. Because our world can be logically reduced to a set of basic cause-and-effect principles, we think answers can always be found. Even answers to problems related to personal anxiety. Ironically, it’s the constant striving for answers and solutions that makes anxiety worse in the long run. Solving for anxiety through calculated, analytic-based reasoning just doesn’t work. You can’t analyze your way out of an anxious state.

To understand how these two thinking styles link to differences in anxiety, we have to look at the philosophical and historical traditions of East versus West. In many Asian cultures, holistic thinking traces its roots back to ancient Eastern philosophies, most notably Confucian and Taoist traditions. The teachings of the Chinese classics, the I Ching and Tao Te Ching, continue to shape the holistic cognitive style of East Asian populations today. It’s a remarkable feat of cultural transmission occurring across eons of generational change.

(Quick aside: A similar enculturation process holds for us in the West. Our thinking of hyper-analytic style can be traced back to the atomistic philosophies of the Ancient Greeks like Socrates and Plato.)article continues after advertisement

And there are two prominent Eastern teachings in particular that help to explain the Western anxiety trap. The first is a principle called Wu Wei. A famous Taoist concept, it’s roughly translated as non-action. It says that we shouldn’t hurry to action. We shouldn’t constantly strive towards “doing” in attempt to resolve an issue, since things will resolve themselves if left alone. Ironically, the lesson here is that often the best way to resolve our stress and anxiety is, well, to not do anything at all. (You can see how this opposes our Western bias.)

Here’s the good news: Westerners can reach Wu Wei by turning up an intuitive style of thinking and turning down an analytical, deliberate style thinking. Recent advances in cognitive psychology are showing that this shift can be done through routine mental exercises.

The second principle embodies a collection of Taoist virtues, which are loosely translated as naive dialecticism. This is the essence of the yin yang. The defining aspect of dialectic thinking is that things in life have mutual dependence, and two sides of an apparent contradiction reveal a greater harmony and truth. In other words, two things can be mutually opposed, and at the same time, mutually connected. You can be, for example, in an anxious state and still have perfect control of your situation and your life. Thinking in this way allows a person to tolerate contradictions and to accept the uncertainties that inevitably present themselves.

In fact, dialecticism is such a powerful buffer against negative emotions that we’re seeing its teachings come through in one of the fastest growing Western-based clinical therapies: dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). The goal of any DBT treatment is to find a balance between acceptance and change strategies; to be tolerant of one’s current state and emotions while still striving towards personal growth. It’s effective in resolving the dialectic (i.e., finding the balance) and avoiding certain extreme positions that amplify destructive emotion states.

Remarkably, for many people struggling with anxiety and stress, DBT has shown to be a superior form of therapy than, say, cognitive behavior therapy and even drug interventions.

Even though these differences between East and West are deeply rooted in both cognitive functioning and historical learnings, we’re not doomed to live forever in our Western-biased anxiety trap. We can break out of it. The mind is highly plastic, capable of rewiring itself based on changing inputs from internal and external experiences. That means we can, in fact, think more like Easterners. We can engage in certain practices like the art of non-action and dialecticism and have it positively impact our mental well-being.

So what are you waiting for? You need to do, well, nothing. Nothing at all.

Nick is an applied behavioral scientist. Come on over to The Behaviorist to learn more fun things about psychology and behavioral science.Psychology Today

How Mindfulness Can Reshape Negative Thought Patterns | Psychology Today

Italy mountainsSource: pixabay

“Our life is like a silent film on which we each write our own commentary.”

—Unknown Zen Buddhist Master

“T’is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” 
—Shakespeare

We spend most of our lives thinking or lost in thought. The average human has 17,000 thoughts daily. Around 90% of them are repeat-thoughts! (these numbers go down, however, if you’re an experienced meditator) Unfortunately, we tend to believe the stories underlying these often excessive thoughts, although they may have little basis in reality. Mindfulness can help us relate more skillfully and wisely to our own thought patterns. Here’s how.article continues after advertisement

A common issue is that we often get stuck in thinking patterns that reduce the quality of our lives. I call these patterns mental tapes because they usually have roots in the past. (Now, most of us are streaming music instead of listening to tapes anyway!) These tapesoften originate from when we were younger, more vulnerable, less mature, and less competent. Let me clarify before, however, that thinking patterns are complex and this isn’t the only way mindfulness can help reshape thought patterns; just one common and effective way (I’ll cover others in future posts).

I will start with a personal example of an old mental tape. I used to worry unnecessarily about my professional growth as a budding psychotherapist, writer, and professor. The first time I remember this was when I was in 6th grade and had to write my first research paper. My teacher was strict and didn’t provide the guidance I felt I needed. As loving as they were, my parents didn’t know how to help me with research either. Back then, I couldn’t stop worrying about it. I barely slept the night before it was due. My 11-year-old self needed a lot of research guidance, compassion, support, and patience; no wonder he worried so much. Fast forward to now—even though I write well, teach well, am on track to finish my doctorate in a year, and have always completed what I needed to, I still often get swept up in the “worry about completing future tasks” mental tape from when I was 11!article continues after advertisement

That old mental tapefrom 6th grade surfaced recently. Around a month ago when I went to the movie theater with my wife, I had a subtle yet long-lasting burst of anxiety about all I needed to complete that week. The mental tape was back, consisting of the predictable old thought pattern, such as, “I need to finish this and that,” “will I be able to do it?” and “all I have to do is hard and stressful!” “why is my to-do list always so long?” “”what will go wrong if I don’t perform these tasks well?” This unnecessarily interrupted my focus and enjoyment of the movie. This was an old mental tape from my past—a mere repeat, a meager obsolete replay, that tried to convince me it was only related to what’s happening now. Each time I identify the old tapeand its source, it gets weaker. I know this cognitively, but this awareness has not always prevented me from feeling stuck and lost in it.

Mindfulness practice has allowed me to disconnect from this outdated mental tape. How? By compassionately observing my own mind. Mindfully I can realize that throughout my whole life, I have almost always managed to complete the tasks at hand, and even if I didn’t for some reason, I manage well anyway. Mindfulness can help reality kick in. Just like a lake produces a mirror-like image when it’s still (reflecting the surrounding trees and sky), in mindfulness practice, these truths arise naturally as we learn to wisely and compassionately observe and calm our minds.article continues after advertisement

So how can this help us with our old mental tapes that have unnecessarily brought us down? If you’ve been in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), your therapist likely has helped you identify cognitive distortions and actively challenge them. CBT therapists assume that thoughts directly causes feelings. Therapy is thus about “correcting irrational thoughts,” which will automatically lead to happier emotional states.

Mindfulness and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy offer an alternative to traditional CBT. From a mindfulness perspective, my feeling overwhelmed with responsibility originates from an old mental tape of ruminative thoughts about not being able to complete responsibilities, and all my old fears about what could have happened when I was in the 6th grade, the first time faced with a research paper. Since that mental tape has repeated itself countless times since it developed a connection to neural networks in the brain facilitating its proliferation since. Mindfulness offers this awareness and allows me to do something different. Fortunately, our brains are quite plastic; they can learn, adapt and change no matter how old we are.

So, to change this habit, when I notice that I am simply re-experiencing replays of old thought patterns—“hearing old tapes playing”—I can assess their legitimacy in the now, and step into Ontological Mode of being. This can naturally discredit their basis in reality, as I have always completed what I needed to (letting the facts naturally inform, guide, and nurture the irrational thoughts fueling the obsolete mental tape) so I can enjoy the present moment.

Taking it a step further, I can also see the “old tapes playing” mindfully, as merely mental events, like rainy clouds passing through the sky, not take them seriously and simply stay present in the here-and-now, which is indispensable in Ontological Mode of Being. Realizing that negative thoughts can be triggered by low moods and vice versa, I can notice my emotional states, the thoughts they generate, and continually and gently remind myself that thoughts aren’t reality. From this vantage point, it can be interesting, potentially fascinating to notice the thinking patterns that certain moods engender, instead of mindlessly following their story-line as if they were a truth with a capital T.

In my practice, I mindfully choose to consider the evidence that I have always completed what I’ve needed to. This enables me not to buy into the old conditioned thought pattern (tape) that doesn’t accurately reflect me, and update it with a more meaningful and flexible one that captures all my strengths, accomplishments, and wisdom. I know I complete all my tasks by merely seeing the facts and looking at how far I’ve come. This also helps me savor the present.

You can look how far you’ve come too. You can do the same with mental states or mental tapes that can unnecessarily bring you down, and find refuge in the moment or the current task at hand… What are your most common tapes? According to Dr. Ronald Siegel, among the common (we can give them funny labels) are “I blew it again” tapeor “no one cares about me” tapeor “I suck at everything,” tape. Even more basic are “obsessing” or “criticizing,” tapes. We all have them, even when they are often baseless.

This post may seem easier in principle than practice. Every time to practice it gets easier. It is never too late to practice, practice, practice. Through the compassionate, calm, and wise observation you cultivate in mindfulness practice, you can undercut the old tapes by watching them play out and redirecting your precious attention to now and the facts. I created this meditation to help you mindfully observe your thoughtsDr. Ronald Siegel’s is also effective.

Lastly, if your mental tapes feel too deeply ingrained for this post, EMDRtherapy, which I’m trained in, can also help reprocessing past upsetting memories. Bottom line: instead of conditioned habits writing my story for and dictating my mental patterns, it’s also time for us to write our own commentaries and live fully in the moment.Psychology Today

http://www.bevillandassociates.com