Are You Fun? | Psychology Today

Source: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

I hate to break the news to you, but life is short. And as you get older, the years do seem to go by more quickly.

Given this fact of life, there really is not a lot of time to be hanging out with people who are just no fun!

While nearly everyone would likely agree with this sentiment, from a behavioral scientific perspective, you just have to ask: What exactly does it mean to be “fun” or “no fun”!?

The “Fun” Personality and the Big Five Traits

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Personality psychologists, such as Nettle and Clegg (2008), often frame the essence of our personality structure as mapping onto five superordinate traits — the Big Five personality trait dimensions. Decades of quantitative research on human personality functioning has, in fact, shown that pretty much all personality-related attributes map onto one of the Big Five personality trait dimensions, which are as follows:

  • The tendency to be outgoing and high in social energy (versus introversion)
  • The tendency to be anxious and to experience various negative emotional states (versus emotional stability)
  • Open-mindedness — The tendency to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking (versus closed-mindedness)
  • The tendency to be diligent, meticulous, and organized (versus having a disorganized nature)
  • Agreeableness — The tendency to be friendly and supportive of others in one’s world (versus disagreeableness)

Importantly, each of these dimensions is exactly that: a dimension with people scoring anywhere on a continuum, with most scores near the mean (average) on each dimension.

Given how ubiquitous the Big Five personality traits are in characterizing human dispositions, perhaps it would be helpful to think of the idea of having a “fun” versus “no fun” personality in terms of the Big Five trait dimensions.

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To help guide this process, consider the work by Nettle and Clegg (2008) that documented which end of each of these trait dimensions is considered relatively attractive in romantic partners. While this idea is not exactly the same as “fun,” it might be a useful starting point to think about this basic idea.

Nettle and Clegg’s (2008) analysis, which summarizes much past research on the topic of how personality traits play out in the domain of mating, essentially suggests that the following ends of each of these trait dimensions are relatively attractive:

  • Extraverted people are, all things considered, more attractive than introverted people.
  • Emotionally stable people are, all things considered, more attractive than neurotic others.
  • Open-minded people are, all things considered, more attractive than those who are closed-minded.
  • Conscientious others are, all things considered, more attractive than those who are generally disorganized.
  • Agreeable others are, all things considered, more attractive than the disagreeable among us.

So perhaps someone who is outgoing, emotionally stable, conscientious, open-minded, and agreeable would be described as fun.

Perhaps. However, the characteristics of an ideal mate are not always fully consistent with what we might think of when we conjure up a fun person. You might want something a little different in a platonic friend from what you would want in a mate. We can all think of plenty of disagreeable people, for instance, who are hilarious. Or you might have that highly neurotic friend who just cracks you up all the time (Think: George Costanza). On the flip side, we can probably think of someone who is extremely conscientious who, well, is just a total snooze-fest!

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When it comes to how the Big Five relates to whether someone is “fun,” then, it may be the case that “fun-ness” extends beyond these five basic trait dimensions.

Source: RyanMcGuire / Pixabay

Have a Sense of Humor!

Over the past few years, research on understanding personality from an evolutionary perspective has demonstrated that the Big Five, in fact, are not all there is to it. Work on the topic of humor and creative abilities, for instance, has shown that these attributes are not fully predicted by the Big Five traits, yet they are importantly related to various outcomes in social relationships (see Kaufman et al., 2008).

When it comes to a sense of humor, we tend to like people in our worlds who are strong in terms of both humor production and humor reception. In other words, we like people who are good at both making jokes and getting jokes. Let’s face it: Someone who doesn’t get the joke is just no fun!

Create!

Creativity, which is related to a sense of humor as well as to general intelligence(see Geher & Miller, 2008), is similar. We are deeply entertained by highly creative people, including high-caliber musicians, artists, comedians, actors, dancers, storytellers, architects, and so forth. Creative people have been found to be high in emotional intelligence, which is a key factor in social relationships (see Geher, Betancourt, & Jewell, 2017). In short, highly creative people are fun, and we like them!

Source: LaBruixa / Pixabay

Basic Attributes of the Fun Personality

Based on the reasoning here, it seems that there are several key ingredients to having a fun personality — as follows:

  • Extraversion — Because extraverts are exciting and are easy to talk to
  • Open-mindedness  Because open-minded people are up for all kinds of things
  • Humor Production  Because someone who can make you laugh is worth having around
  • Humor Reception  Because we like it when someone gets the joke
  • Creativity — Because the highly creative among us keep us entertained

Bottom Line

Life is too short to surround yourself with boring people! Nearly by definition, we like others who are fun. They make us laugh. They make us smile. And they keep us entertained for all kinds of reasons. Interested in living a richer life? Stuck in a rut? Find some creative, outgoing, funny people, and have some fun!

Facebook image: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

References

Geher, G., Betancourt, K., & Jewell, O. (2017). The link between emotional intelligence and creativity. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality.

Geher, G., & Miller, G. F. (Eds., 2008). Mating Intelligence: Sex, Relationships, and the Mind’s Reproductive System. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Kaufman, S.B., Kozbelt, A., Bromley, M.L., & Miller, G.F. (2008). The role of creativity and humor in human mate selection. In G. Geher & G. Miller (Eds.), Mating intelligence: Sex, relationships, and the mind’s reproductive system. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Nettle, D. & Clegg, H. (2008). Personality, mating strategies and mating intelligence. In G. Geher & G. F. Miller (Eds.), Mating intelligence: Sex, relationships, and the mind’s reproductive system (pp. 121-135). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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4 Ways to Cultivate Relationship Sanity | Psychology Today

“Everyone has a right to have a future that is not dictated by the past.”

—Karen Saakvitne, PhD, renowned traumatologist

Couples get together for many different reasons: love, convenience, family and cultural forces, shared dysfunction, social and peer group reasons, checking the boxes, and a host of others. We try to enter into serious, long-term relationships with eyes wide open, but more often we have blinders on.

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The blinders are made up of our misconceived hopes for the future—in contrast to realistic optimism—and our emotional baggage from the past. They make our blind spots even worse, a big problem when it comes to love and relationships. When our own history distorts how we interpret and make sense of current relationships, we miss important parts of ourselves and the other person, seeing only what our expectations and past experiences allow us to see.

This, in turn, leads us to keep making the same mistakes over and over, apparently imagining the outcome will be different this time. And we all know that doing the same thing over again and expecting different results is a popular definition of insanity.

Irrelationship: A straitjacket built for two

In our work on “irrelationship”—the term coined for a jointly created psychological defense system that two or more people maintain in order to avoid awareness of the anxiety that’s a natural part of becoming close to others—my co-authors and I think about this dynamic a lot. We have extensively discussed a critical and often overlooked set of forces that holds couples together, even when they are in unsatisfying relationships. Irrelationship is, at its core, a way for couples to avoid intimacy by acting as if they were really trying their best to find intimacy together.

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Couples struggling with closeness use the appearance of building a relationship to actually defend against getting close. This is because they are unaware of how anxiety about intimacy combined with the need for intimacy creates a perfect storm that is a vicious and unending cycle of distancing, loneliness, and unconstructive conflict.

The roots of this dynamic go deep. We see it frequently when early caregivingrelationships between parent and child get flipped, and the child becomes the caregiver to the parent. Children in situations like this become “parentified,” prematurely developing an exaggerated sense of self-sufficiency and responsibility at the expense of having the time and space to experience a full and nurturing upbringing. This leads to problems with sense of self, security, and attachment, which all play out in adult relationships.

The Performer and the Audience

Typically, in irrelationship, one person ends up as a rescuer and fixer type—who we call the Performer—and the other one ends up as the Audience in a seemingly passive role, appearing to need fixing or rescuing while simultaneously undermining the Performer’s efforts.

The Audience and Performer create all-consuming tasks for each other based on maladaptive caregiving, which distracts from a lack of togetherness, stunts the growth of the relationship, and creates an unnoticed, yet convincing and distracting narrative: “We are both doing our best to make it work, and are therefore beyond reproach.”

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Genuine mutual caring is replaced by compulsive caretaking. There is no interdependence, only enmeshment without boundaries, and isolating self-sufficiency. We can tell ourselves we are being good, are without guilt or blame, because we are trying, trying our best and hardest… but the words have a hollow ring to them.

Relationship sanity: Darkest before the dawn?

There is hope for couples caught in irrelationship. When unchecked, this situation can end in traumatic break-ups or chronically lonely relationships held together by habit and fears of loss. However, when couples recognize they need and want to work on their relationship, overcome their individual issues, and create and maintain a healthy relationship, they can approach the dysfunction in their relationship entirely differently and begin to work their way out of irrelationship into relationship sanity.

While getting to relationship sanity takes time and effort, there are several core concepts which provide a framework to begin to think about setting foot on the path to healthier, more fulfilling and loving relationships. These core concepts range from ways of approaching oneself and others, to tools which can help to foster communication, to an overarching framework to jointly nurture the relationship. Those core principles are:

  1. Recognition of the situation. Both partners have to see not only that there is a problem, but they also have to agree on what the problem is. Because often the relationship has been on the rocks for so long, couples have developed a sense of hopelessness and resignation, alongside desperation and loneliness. Because there is usually a track record of repetitive, unresolved conflict, couples also share a sense of resentment and injury. These feeling are important to recognize and address, mutually, in order to start to develop the motivation to break long-standing dysfunctional patterns. Once this happens, if couples are compatible and loving and decide they want to stay together, they can develop a sense of growing hopefulness and efficacy to build a better relationship. Rather than being “defensive” all the time, they come to recognize one another anew.
  2. Compassionate empathy. In the face of of chronic negative feelings and damaging relationship experiences, couples often have become so defensive and hostile with one another that when they try to sit down and talk through things, it ends up going nowhere except to further injury and avoidance of the issues. The result of repeated unsuccessful attempts at fixing the relationship can be that partners drift even further apart, more and more convinced that they shouldn’t stay together. Partners are unable to empathize enough to take on one another’s perspective—a necessary step for getting along—and they lose interest in being kind and open-hearted with one another, further putting a damper on love. On the flip side, over-empathizing isn’t helpful either, as it can cause us to lose sight of our own needs and fall into the trap of trying to fix and rescue, ending with compulsive caretaking. By building compassion—for both oneself and for one’s partner—couples can shift the basic tone of the relationship in the direction of collaboration. Not only that, but compassion keeps empathy balanced between self and other, setting the stage for mutuality and reciprocity. Getting free from destructive cycling also allows couples to see the actual value of the relationship by reducing distortions caused by heightened negative emotions.
  3. Reciprocal communication. People in dysfunctional relationships are generally unable to communicate effectively and constructively. Rather than truly communicating, they go on the attack—often being critical under the guise of protecting their own needs or “just trying to help.” They talk past each other, talking about the other person or talking at the other person without really engaging each other. And they stonewall one another by refusing to really listen. However, when couples agree together to follow simple ground rules for talking through challenging issues, it can be a game-changer. Basic rules for reciprocal communication include: a) taking turns speaking and listening, ideally using an actual timer to give each person 3-5 minute turns; b) agreeing to only speak about one’s own experiences and feelings, rather than talking about the other person’s contributions; and c) listening non-judgmentally, with an open mind, to what the other person has to say. We inevitably hear difficult things about how we have affected the other person, making self-compassion so essential. Inevitably people slip up. When they do, rather than taking that as proof it can’t work, it is important to view that slip-up as an opportunity to use compassionate empathy to gently stick with the plan. Yes, it is a challenge to follow these rules, but grit pays off big time here. We can free ourselves from destructive patterns and end up solving problems in ways we were unable to when we felt more threatened by one another. Over time, communication becomes safe enough to be effective.
  4. A commitment to work together. A relationship can only move forward in this way if both parties agree to do it. Committing to improved communication is key. With the right approach, solutions often arise for long-standing problems which seemed unsolvable, even impossible to imagine. For example, a couple fighting endlessly over whether to renovate the kitchen because of financial issues figures out a compromise which actually works for both. Each time they are able to listen attentively, speak from the heart, and really feel one another, it’s a loving experience that builds on itself over time with a therapeutic effect.

Resilience in building trust over time

The end result of all this is a shift in the dynamic of the relationship to one in which couples are aware of and come to value being vulnerable together. They are able to take healthy emotional risks along with a sense of basic safety and security, and they can tolerate feeling uncertain when exploring beyond their comfort zone to keep the relationship fresh and rewarding.

Relationship sanity is not a destination, but rather an ongoing journey—a process of mutual respect, trust and emotional investment, balanced and genuine caring, and enjoyment together. Relationship sanity also involves seeing one another more clearly and knowing one another more fully and authentically, rather than being caught up in the distortions of the past.

True relationship sanity means that couples not only attend to their own needs and one another’s needs in healthy ways, but that they also devote resources to tend to the relationship itself, as a shared project they treasure together. Relationships based on living, working and loving together, day in and day out, are resilient relationships—built to weather hardships, revel in the good times, and last a lifetime. It isn’t always easy or quick, but the work pays off.

Sanity isn’t just for long-term, committed relationships

Not everyone wants or needs to be part of a long-term, committed relationship, and not every relationship works out. For people in a relationship who are concerned they are bogged down in dysfunction stemming from their own individual issues with caregiving, going about intimacy more methodically and intentionally within a useful framework can help them build better ways of relating. Even if they decide ultimately to go their separate ways, they can do so with greater awareness, compassion, and intentionality to make leaving one another more affirming than re-traumatizing.

And these principles work well in all of life’s relationships. Learning to communicate more effectively and compassionately and to work through conflicts constructively, and generally fostering relationship sanity in our dealings with others and ourselves, can make stronger and more fulfilling friendships, shorter-term romances, family relationships, and professional relationships.
Co-Authored with Mark B. Borg, Jr, PhD and Daniel Berry, RN, MHA

Honoring Our Partner | Psychology Today

Linda: What does it mean to honor our partner? According to dictionary.com, the verb to honor is: to hold with high respect, to confer distinction upon, and to show courteous regard for. Those couples with great relationships are honoring each other on a daily basis in all manner of ways. If you want to join the elite group of highly successful couples, consider the following practices, and become members of the population that makes a point of letting their partner know that they are valued in all the most meaningful ways. When we master the art of honoring, these are the kinds of actions that we take regularly.

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1. We make the relationship a priority, are fully present, and we show up and pay attention.

2. We show respect, and we listen attentively when our partner speaks to us.

3. We take influence from them whenever we can.

4. We commit ourselves to creating safety in the relationship, so that they can be at ease and live with peace of mind.

5. We hold ourselves as their devoted friend who will be their strongest supporter, especially in the hard times.

6. We dedicate ourselves to learning how to speak the truth of our experience, our feelings, and needs without blame or judgment.

7. We offer ourselves up to be their believing eyes, seeing their greatness and potential when they might not be able to see it themselves.

8. We have sympathetic joy for their successes.

9. We understand that people change over time, as do the needs of the relationship, and we are flexible, adaptable, and creative about transitioning with those changes.

10. We commit ourselves to a growth path, so that we are evolving into our greatest self to bring more of who we are to our partner.

11. We learn how to handle disappointment, anger, frustration, and resentment in a responsible way, so that we don’t cause harm to our partner by expressing it crudely.

12. We internally clear as much reactivity and irritability as possible to spare them from having to hear our complaints, and when we can’t clear it, only then do we speak up as respectfully as possible.

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13. We cultivate self-discipline, so that we cease and desist from using sarcasm, hostility, criticism, judgment, or any other forms of manipulation to get our way.

14. We look for our part and take responsibility in any breakdown.

15. We show our caring through both our words and actions by learning their favorite love language (e.g., touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, and how we spend our leisure time), so that they will feel the love that is our heart nourishing them.

16. We become a gracious receiver, so that the love they offer us goes in, and they can enjoy giving it to us.

17. We stretch into their world to see things from their perspective and to share activities that they are passionate about.

18. We seek to understand what intimacy means to them, so that we meet their intimacy needs.

19. We realize that a failure to confront is a failure to love, and that there are times when difficult truths must be spoken.

20. We strive for the balance between safety and challenge.

21. We risk vulnerability through the process of revealing rather than concealing, being open rather than closed, and expressing our feelings rather than repressing them.

22. We repair any damage done to the relationship at the first possible moment and become masterful in repair.

23. We respect our partner’s way of doing things, which may be quite different from our own style.

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24. We create small but significant rituals, such as how we greet each other in the morning, a kiss before running off to work, a hug when coming home from work, a debrief about work, cooking her favorite dish, date night, and good night kisses, etc., that bring sweetness to each day.

25. We bring an attitude of curiosity and wonder to our partner, showing interest in who they are and who they are becoming.

26. We spend time devising ways of bringing novelty, excitement, passion, fun, meaning, and connection to our partnership.

27. We take time to nurture the sensual and sexual connection.

28. We pay attention to the balance of power to make sure that we continue to share the power of decision-making.

29. We practice generosity of spirit.

30. We dedicate ourselves to loving our partner so thoroughly and demonstrating it in ways that are unmistakable, so that they never have any doubt that they are honored and loved.

This is just a starter kit, a small portion of the ways that we honor our mate, thereby increasing the chances of creating a delightful, resilient, loving, lasting partnership. Please don’t be confined to this list. Tune into your partner to discover the specific ways that they long for you to honor them, and then get busy laying it on them. You both stand to benefit enormously, and that’s a very good deal.

The Mind of a Psychopath | Psychology Today

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In a prior post, I discussed how psychopaths lack the brake pedal most of us have that stops us from engaging in immoral behavior. Now a new study shows that this lack of conscience is actually wired into the physical structure of a psychopath’s brain.

In this study, incarcerated men’s brain activity was examined (via a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, fMRI, machine) while the prisoners played a game. During this game play, the men were given multiple opportunities to behave dishonestly. The first thing they found was that psychopathic prisoners were quicker to lie than non-psychopathic prisoners. No real surprise there. But when the researchers looked at the brain activity data, they did make a startling discovery. The higher the prisoner’s psychopathy score, the lower the activity in a specific area of the brain known as the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC).

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So what is the ACC and why should we care about it?

As it turns out, the ACC is a part of the brain that plays a vital role in impulse control and conflict monitoring. When most people consider committing an immoral act like lying, they experience conflict. On one shoulder sits a metaphorical devil hissing in their ear, daring them to be bad. On the other shoulder sits an angel, pleading for them to be good. The ACC is the part of our brain that recognizes when we are experiencing this tug-of-war between good and bad and helps us resolve it, usually by appealing to “our better angels,” as Lincoln once said.

But psychopaths have an inactive ACC. This means that when they find themselves in a moral dilemma, their brains fail to register that a conflict even exists. To a psychopath, deciding whether to lie or not is like choosing between eating chocolate versus broccoli. There is no conflict.

Now remember, this study focused exclusively on men who were incarcerated for committing a crime. First, this means that not all criminals are psychopaths. But more importantly, this tells us that criminals who are low in psychopathy do in fact experience conflict when they are lying (and perhaps even when they are committing a crime). Criminals high in psychopathy do not.

So what can these results tell us about others?

It is certainly not the case that everyone who has an inactive or small ACC is a psychopath. Psychopathy occurs because of a combination of traits, not just one (to learn more about what those traits are, click here). But this research does suggest that when those combined traits do exist, the psychopath’s neuralarchitecture makes it easy for them to behave immorally, and do so with little concern or remorse.

What Is Hypersensitivity? | Psychology Today

What, exactly, does it mean to be hypersensitive? I imagine most of us have seen or been hypersensitive. Someone points out a mistake on your math homework and you fall to pieces. Your friend says, “Well, I won’t try to help you again,” when you suggest a different cleaning product for wooden floors. Or a family member says you forgot to call them last week and then pauses mid-sentence, so you get defensive. All of these are actions of a hypersensitive person.

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But what is the psychology underlying this hypersensitivity? Are we simply putting a name to the basic behavior? Or is there some thought system beneath the behavior?

Yang & Girgus (2018) have published a study in PAID in which they drill into this very question. In order to understand how hypersensitivity is defined, we first have to realize that we all differ in how closely our self-esteem is linked to our relationships going well. Some people need positive relationships or else they feel worthless. Others are more relaxed about sometimes being out of favor. But, the more someone believes their self-worth depends on being in good standing with others, the more hypersensitive that person is. That’s how psychologists define it.

The researchers go on to show that this view of life, the “I must keep things good with others,” attitude, leads to over-interpreting ambiguous situations as if they are threats.

For example, they asked people how they would feel if someone said, “You have forgotten to call me,” and then paused mid-sentence. Pause now, and think about it. It really could mean a lot of things. Perhaps they were thinking, perhaps they were angry, perhaps they were embarrassed to even bring it up, who really knows? It’s quite ambiguous.

What Yang & Girgus found is that the more hypersensitive a person was, the more likely they were to feel judged in those ambiguous situations and also to feel low self-esteem in that situation.

There’s something seemingly counterintuitive here: if you care more about relationships, you are more likely to feel judged in those relationships. And this can hardly have positive effects, it’s likely to cause tension in those relationships. But note that the hypersensitive person doesn’t have a selfless concern for the relationship, the relationship is crucial for their self-esteem. I’m not throwing any judgment here, I can see how easily hypersensitivity could reflect a history of being told, “You are nothing unless we’re good,” and that’s really painful. But hypersensitivity shuts off conversation instead of listening to others and resolving those ambiguous situations. It jumps to conclusions when slowness is needed.

The main research findings are very interesting. Not only can we define hypersensitivity, we can also see how it plays out in ambiguous situations. Feeling like you’re “only as good as your relationships” is associated with a tendency to feel judged and worthless in ambiguous situations. There’s an underlying psychology to hypersensitivity, it’s not just an action. Perhaps, knowing this, we can stop dealing with our actions, and start dealing with our underlying beliefs. And, the easiest way to do that is probably to stop, slow down, and ask the other person what they really meant, and then to listen and believe, instead of jumping to conclusions.

References

Yang, K., & Girgus, J. S. (2018). Individual differences in social hypersensitivity predict the interpretation of ambiguous feedback and self-esteem. Personality and Individual Differences, 135, 316-327.

Talking to Men About Depression | Psychology Today

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Not so long ago I had to approach a friend to discuss what appeared to me to be a battle with depression. It was clear to me that this debilitating disorder was affecting both him and the people around him, and that some type of loving intervention was needed. But wow, was this a nerve-wracking conversation to have. And I’m a therapist!

Part of the difficulty was that my friend’s symptoms were more about impatience, irritability, and anger than behaviors we typically associate with depression, such as crying, moping, and an inability to get started with any task because everything seems so daunting. And this is often a reason why depression in men can be more difficult to identify than depression in women. Depressed women tend to “act in” (sleeping too much, crying, overeating, drinking too much, failing to fully function, etc.), while depressed men tend to “act out” with unpleasant behaviors. So a depressed woman might look and act depressed, while a depressed man might just seem like he’s being a jerk.

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Yes, plenty of men do get depressed with tears and an inability to function, and plenty of women express anger and rage when they’re depressed, but as a general rule, depressed women are more obvious about what they’re feeling, while men just seem unhappy and angry. And that’s what I was experiencing with my friend—a great guy for many years who slowly but steadily became incredibly unpleasant over the course of a year. I know this individual well and felt certain that he was acting out not because he’s a jerk, but because he was depressed, so I decided to share this with him. But still, this was not an easy thing to do.

I worried:

  • What if I’m wrong and he really isn’t depressed?
  • What if he gets angry with me for my “accusation”?
  • What if trying to intervene costs me an important friendship?

And then I worried the opposite:

  • What if I’m right and I don’t say something and he never gets help?
  • What if he desperately needs to know that someone cares enough to say something?
  • What if I don’t intervene and I lose an important friendship to suicide?

So yeah, when a person in your life is showing signs of depression, you’ve got a tough decision to make. Do you take the seemingly easy path and hope things will run their course, or do you step up and try to help? The answer, if you’re wondering, is that you absolutely must step up and help.

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In many respects, intervening with depression is like intervening with an addiction. First and foremost, you should know that depressed people, especially men, can be deeply in denial about their problem and the negative impact it’s having on them and the people around them. They may actually have no conscious knowledge that they look and act depressed. And even if they are consciously aware, they may craft a web of lies that they tell themselves (and others) about why they seem to be struggling. Often, they blame other people, especially those closest to them, for their ongoing bad mood.

This, of course, can make attempts to help them difficult at best. But there are ways to intervene successfully.

Know What You are Dealing With

First and foremost, you must understand the nature of depression, including the signs and symptoms. As stated above, depression can manifest differently in men and women. In general, however, the warning signs are as follows:

  • Expressing a negative or a hopeless outlook.
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyable hobbies and activities.
  • Social and emotional isolation.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Eating too much or too little or poorly (junk food).
  • Expressing shame, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness.
  • Talking about death or suicide (even in passing).
  • Sudden bursts of irritability, agitation, anger, rage, etc.
  • Blaming others for personal problems.
  • Feeling trapped.
  • Unexplained pain and/or physical malaise.
  • Feeling like a burden.
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or an addictive behavior (pornsex, gambling, spending, etc.)
  • Extreme mood swings.
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If you see more than one or two of these warning signs on a consistent basis in a man you care about, you need to initiate a conversation about depression. If you’re uncomfortable having this conversation one-on-one, speak with his family and friends and ask them to assist.

Speak Up

You can’t help a struggling man if you don’t speak up. If you stay silent, the depression will continue, perhaps indefinitely, or until he eventually commits suicide. So you must initiate a conversation, however difficult and anxiety-inducing that might be.

The best way to go about this is to use the “addiction intervention” model of telling him that you love him and care about him, and you are worried for his safety and wellbeing. Next, you can say that you think he is suffering from depression. Then you should list the signs of depression that you have seen him exhibit. If you’re worried about suicide, be direct: Ask him, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

Be prepared for any response—anger, fear, crying, resignation, desperation, and just about any other emotion you can think of. Whatever the response, be willing to sit there and to let him get it out. Listen with patience and compassion. Make sure he knows you care and want to help. Do not leave until you feel certain he is not a danger to himself or anyone else.

Most of all, you need to let him know that help is available, so he doesn’t have to always feel this way. Ideally, you will steer him to both a medical doctor and a certified psychotherapist who specializes in depression and related issues. Clergy members can also help, as can friends, family, and support groups for men dealing with depression.

If he is willing to listen, you can educate him about treatments for depression, which include:

  • Individual therapy, where he can explore thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and develop coping skills to help manage depression.
  • Group therapy, with the same basic goals as individual therapy, but with added support from others who are also fighting depression.
  • Medications (antidepressants and mood stabilizers) can help a depressed individual manage the symptoms (though they don’t “cure” depression).
  • Support groups for men with depression provide confidential spaces for depressed men to share openly and honestly and to support one another.
  • Eating healthier, developing healthy sleep habits, and exercising regularly are helpful in combatting depression.

If a depressed man says that he is suicidal, you need to immediately call 911 or take him to the nearest Emergency Room.

Resources you can share with a depressed man include:

For specific information about healthfully helping a troubled man, I recommend my recently released book, Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependency. The book is written primarily for family members of addicts, but the principles apply equally to depression.

How Stress Changes Your Brain | Psychology Today

People are constantly exposed to stressful situations. These may be physical (like participating in marathons, being exposed to radiation, and, perhaps surprisingly, exposed to sedatives or anesthetics). But stress can also be mental, wherein we become anxious and worried over certain events, existing or anticipated. Whether physical or mental, stress activates a brain network involving most directly the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal cortex to release stress hormones. Such hormones include several cortisone-like compounds called glucocorticoids, and the most prominent one in humans is cortisol.

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Glucocorticoids have profound effects on both the body and brain. Regulation of glucocorticoids is accomplished by the brain, and learning experiences have profound effects on this control system. Most of what was initially known about glucocorticoids was their effect on the body. I had the great thrill of visiting the pioneer in this field, Hans Selye in his laboratory complex at the University of Montreal.

Effects on the Body

Selye’s research led him to formulate the widely accepted concept of the glucocorticoid system as accounting for a “General Adaptation Syndrome,” which basically explained how the brain and body respond to stress. He discovered that glucocorticoids are “Goldilocks” compounds. That is, a little doesn’t do much, a lot is damaging, and intermediate levels are “just right.”

A moderate amount of cortisol is what is normally released every morning before you awaken. By the way, this is the reason surgeons want to operate early in the morning. This release helps prepare the body for the day’s activities by mobilizing blood glucose, typically by breaking down fat and, if needed, protein stores. Glucose is especially important for the brain, which has huge demands for energy, and which can only burn glucose for energy. Neurons are energized and memory ability is enhanced. Another useful thing cortisol does is to reduce the release of cellular chemicals that cause inflammation.

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However, the hormone also inhibits systems that channel resources for growth and reproduction, impairs bone formation, and inhibits the immune system. These problems are why glucocorticoid prescriptions usually start off with a high dose to the blood level up quickly and then the dose is tapered to zero after about four days.

The rub comes when stress is prolonged. Selye discovered that the beneficial adaptation to temporary stress cannot be sustained in chronic stress. The system becomes exhausted and control breaks down. Under chronic stress, body muscle mass decreases because the system has been breaking down proteins in order to generate energy. Inflammation bathes cells in toxic chemicals. Infections increase because the immune system has been compromised. In obese people, glucocorticoid levels cumulatively increase in fat cells, increase fat deposits still further, and increase the likelihood of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Effects on the Brain

In the case of brain, persistent high levels of glucocorticoid often causes depression. Memory ability is impaired. Brain degeneration and cognitive decline accelerate. Many neurons are actually killed. What I want to stress here is that chronic high levels of cortisone change the neural circuitry that regulates its release. In other words, the brain learns a new way of functioning if constantly bathed in high levels of cortisone.

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Effects of Learning

Few people make the connection between glucocorticoid control and learning. The neuronal circuits that control hormone secretion learn from stressful experience, just as all neurons learn from whatever they experience. What neurons in the cortisol control circuit learn in chronic stress is that the usual controls can’t work any more.

A typical response to a repeated stress of a certain type (for example, constant quarrels with a spouse or repeated job failures) can be habituation. It’s like “tuning out.” Repeated exposure to the same stress teaches the neurons to stop responding as much as usual. Thus, there is less of the benefits that glucocorticoids provide.

At the same time, the hormone control system becomes hypersensitive to other stresses, especially unpredictable or especially severe stresses. The control system learns to overreact to everything other than the stress to which it has habituated. Now, the damaging effect of too much glucocorticoid becomes pervasive, both for the body and brain.

Whether the brain learns stress-coping strategies depends on conscious override of hyperactive responses to stress, because the neural system that operates our emotions, the limbic system, also regulates the glucocorticoid control system. We can not only reduce excessive glucocorticoid but also teach our brain better ways to deal with stress by doing the following:

Source: Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhoto.net by Ambro
  • Simplify and organize our life
  • Do one thing at a time and finish it
  • Find pleasure in the little things
  • Learn to have a more positive attitude
  • Laugh and be happy
  • Suppress anxiety
  • Be more rational and less emotional
  • Develop supportive social relations
  • Reduce exposure to stressors

Excessive stress is a special problem in children. First, growing up is usually stressful, because of school and complex social experiences. Children are just beginning life’s journey of learning how to cope with stress. For that reason, I produced a Youtube video to help school children learn about stress and how to deal with it.

References

Herman, James P. (2013). Neural control of chronic stress adaptation. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. August 8. Doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00061

Vogelzangs, N. et al. (2009). Late-life depression, cortisol, and the metabolic syndrome. Am. J. Geriatr. Psychiatry.17(8): 716-21. doi: 10.1097/JGP.0b013e3181aad5d7.

How Sex Gives Meaning to Life | Psychology Today

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What gives meaning to life? This is a question that has been debated at least since the days of the Ancient Greek philosophers. The discussion has centered on the question of which is more important for a fulfilling life — the pleasures of the body or the pleasures of the mind.

Those who subscribe to hedonism define happiness as the experience of pleasure and the absence of pain. A meaningful life, then, is one filled with the sensual pleasures of the body. Thus, tasty food and drink are an important component of the good life. But so are bodily activities, such as playing sports and games, dancing, and enjoying music. And don’t forget the greatest bodily experience of all — sex. According to the hedonist, a life of frequent, high-quality sex is one that’s well lived.

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Others discount bodily pleasures relative to those of the mind, arguing that meaning in life is achieved through the pursuit of what the Ancient Greeks called Eudaimonia (pronounced you-DIE-muh-NEE-uh). This term roughly translates as being in good spirits, but the point is that the most meaningful pleasures in life come from activity of mind rather than body.

Those who subscribe to Eudaimonia certainly don’t argue that life should be lived in solitude and austerity. However, they do maintain that a life of learning and contemplation is more meaningful in the long run than one filled with the pursuit of fleeting sensual pleasures. So they would count a deep conversation with a trusted friend as adding more meaning to life than a romp in the hay with a lover. Again, it’s not that sensual pleasures should be avoided. It’s just that you’ve got to get your priorities straight.

In the last few decades, researchers in a field known as positive psychologyhave taken up the ancient question of what constitutes a good life. But rather than just debating the issue, they’re trying to apply the scientific method to find an answer.

According to psychologist Todd Kashdan and his colleagues at George Mason University, studies on subjective well-being have focused more on aspects of Eudaimonia than of hedonism. This is especially true when it comes to questions of sexuality in everyday life. There’s still an undercurrent of puritanism in North America, and this is reflected in the kinds of studies funding agencies are willing to finance and journal editors are willing to publish.

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To be sure, there are plenty of published studies on sexuality, but they tend to focus on the negative — intimacy problems in relationships, pernicious effects of sexual abuse and coercion, and so on. These are certainly important issues, and we can help alleviate untold suffering if we can find effective ways of dealing with them.

However, Kashdan and colleagues look instead at the positive aspects of sexuality, and they dare to ask the question: Does engaging in sexual activity lead to an increased sense of meaning in life?

For this study, the researchers recruited 152 college students who agreed to respond to a survey before going to bed each night for three weeks. Before beginning the study, they provided the following information about themselves:

  • Relationship status — About 64 percent of respondents indicated they were in a committed relationship, most of them dating, but some living together or married.
  • Relationship closeness — Those in committed relationships also responded to questions regarding how close they felt to their partner.
  • Relationship length — They also indicated how long they’d been in the relationship. Most reported a range from one to five years.

Each night before sleeping, the participants responded to questions measuring the following issues:

  • Meaning in life — Participants responded on a scale from 1 (“not at all”) to 7 (“very much”) to the question: “How meaningful did you feel your life was today?”
  • Positive and negative affect — Using the same 7-point scale, the participants reported on their levels of four positive moods (enthusiasm, happiness, satisfaction, and excitement), as well their levels of four negative moods (embarrassment, disappointment, anxiety, and sadness).
  • Sexual activity — Participants reported whether they had had sex that day. For the purposes of the study, only sexual acts with a partner were counted. If they’d had sex that day, they also rated their feelings of pleasure and intimacy.
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This should come as no surprise, but Kashdan and colleagues did find that sexual activity was correlated with both positive mood and a sense of meaning in life. However, correlation doesn’t show whether one causes the other. It could be that having sex makes people feel happy and fulfilled, but it could also be that happy, fulfilled people have more sex.

To get at the question of whether sex gives meaning to life, the researchers conducted a time-lagged analysis. That is, they considered whether sexual activity on one day was correlated with a positive mood and sense of fulfillment on the next day. Indeed it was. They then looked at whether a positive mood and sense of meaning in life on Day 1 predicted engagement in sexual activity on Day 2. It did not.

In other words, the time-lagged analysis suggests that having sex leads to a positive mood and a sense of fulfillment that continues into the next day. This finding is consistent with other studies which have found that the “afterglow” of sex extends for a day or two after the act. The researchers don’t deny the likelihood that happy, fulfilled people have more sex. Rather, they simply contend that it’s sexual activity that makes people happy and fulfilled, not that their happiness and fulfillment leads them to have more sex.

Furthermore, when the researchers compared those in committed relationships with those who were not, they found no differences in reported positive mood and meaning in life after sex. This suggests that the received wisdom about sex within committed relationships being more fulfilling than casual sex may not be true.

Kashdan and colleagues are cautious in interpreting this result, since their participants were college students, mostly in the age range of 18-20. They argued that today’s college students, with their hook-up culture, may have more positive attitudes about casual sex than previous generations.

I’m not so sure I buy this argument. When I was a college student back in the 1970s, casual sex was pretty common. It’s just that you met your partner for the night in a bar rather than through a smartphone app.

One of the most important and consistent findings of positive psychology is that meaningful social relationships are absolutely essential for a sense of well-being and purpose in life. When others show interest and concern in us, we feel validated. Likewise, as we express our interest and concern for others, we feel our life has meaning.

However, as Kashdan and colleagues point out, partnered sex isn’t just about sensual pleasure. It’s also a social act. And when we think about sex this way, we can understand why it boosts our mood and sense of fulfillment beyond the gratification of the moment. After all, what could be more affirming to another person than to willingly engage with them in the most intimate acts of human experience?

References

Kashdan, T. B., Goodman, F. R., Stiksma, M., Milius, C. R., & McKnight, P. E. (2018). Sexuality leads to boosts in mood and meaning in life with no evidence for the reverse direction: A daily diary investigation. Emotion, 18, 563-567.

Psychology Today · by David Ludden, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College.

9 Ways to Calm Your Anxious Mind | Psychology Today

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Anxious thoughts can overwhelm you, making it difficult to make decisions and take action to deal with whatever issue bothers you. Anxiety can also lead to overthinking, which makes you more anxious, which leads to more overthinking, and so on. How can you get out of this vicious cycle? Repressing anxious thoughts won’t work; they will just pop up again, sometimes with more intensity. But there are more effective techniques you can borrow from Mindfulness-Based StressReduction and Cognitive-Behavioral therapies.

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Following are 9 strategies to help you get unstuck and move forward:

1. Attempt Cognitive Distancing

Try to see your anxious thoughts as guesses not facts. Your mind is trying to protect you by predicting what could happen, but just because something could happen doesn’t mean it will. Look at objective evidence: How likely is it that the negative outcome will actually happen? Is there anything good that might happen instead? And which do you think is most likely to happen, based on past experience and other information you have about the situation?

2. Try Cognitive De-fusion

Stop being fused with your thoughts. Think of your thoughts as moving data passing through your mind, rather than the objective truth about a situation. Our brains are hypersensitive to threat and danger because this kept our ancestors alive in the wild. Some of your thoughts may just be automatic conditioned reactions generated by a brain that is oriented to survival. Choose whether or not to believe these thoughts, rather than just accepting them.

3. Practice Mindfulness

Practice observing your thoughts, rather than reacting automatically to them. Think of your thoughts as clouds floating by. Which draw you in and which make you want to run away? Is there a way you can untangle yourself and just observe your thoughts, rather than reacting?

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4. Focus on Direct Experience

Your mind makes up stories about who you are, and about your safety and lovability. Not all of these stories are accurate. Sometimes our minds are biased by negative past experiences. What is your experience in the present moment? Is this something that is actually happening or something that might happen? Notice that they are not the same thing, even though your mind may treat them as the same.

5. Label Things

Label the type of thought you are having, rather than paying attention to its content. Watch your thoughts and when you notice a judgment (e.g., how good or bad the situation is), go ahead and label it as Judging. If you notice a worry (e.g., that you are going to fail or experience a loss) label it as Worrying. If you are criticizing yourself, label it as Criticizing. This gets you away from the literal content of your thoughts and gives you more awareness of your mental processes. Do you want to be spending your time judging and worrying? Are there less judgmental or worried ways to see the situation?

6. Stay in the Present

Is your mind regurgitating the past? Just because something negative happened in the past doesn’t mean it has to happen today. Ask yourself if the circumstances, or your knowledge and coping abilities, have changed since the last time. As an adult, you have more choice about whom to associate with and more ability to identify, preempt, or leave a bad situation than when you were a child or teenager.

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7. Broaden Your View

Are you focusing too narrowly on the threatening aspects of a situation, rather than seeing the whole picture? Anxiety makes our minds contract and focus on the immediate threat without considering the broader context. Is this situation really as important as your anxiety says it is? Will you still care about this problem in 5 or 10 years? If not, then ease up on the worry.

8. Get Up and Get Going

Worrying over an issue without creating a solution will not help you solve the problem. It may in fact make you less likely to act by feeding your anxiety. When your mind is stuck in a loop, you can interrupt it by getting up and moving around or doing a different task or activity. When you sit back down, you should have a different perspective.

9. Decide Whether a Thought Is Helpful

Even if a thought is true doesn’t mean that it is helpful to focus on it, not all the time. If only 1 in 10 people will get the job you seek, and you keep thinking about those odds, you may become demotivated and not even bother applying. This is an example of a thought that is true but not helpful. Focus your attention on what is helpful and let the rest go!

Resources and Links

Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a psychologist in Mill Valley, California, and expert on mindfulness, emotions, neuroscience, and behavior. She provides workshops and speaking engagements for organizations, psychotherapy for individuals and couples. She regularly appears on radio shows, and as an expert source in national media. She also does long-distance coaching via the internet.

  • Sign up for Melanie’s newsletter with weekly mindfulness tips
  • Visit her website
  • Like her on Facebook
  • Follow her on Twitter
  • Read her new book The Stress-Proof Brain

Secure, Anxious, and Avoidant Attachment Styles at Work | Psychology Today

Have you ever had a boss who you admired? Someone who you felt loyal to, who made you feel part of the team, and who made you motivated to put forth extra effort and achieve more? What were the characteristics of that person? Chances are that they (a) provided a consistently warm, stable and supportive environment and (b) held high expectations for achievement while providing you with the resources and coaching to get the job done. If you fell short of expectations, you were probably coached on how to do better next time without being shamed and ridiculed.

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On the opposite end of the continuum, have you ever had a boss who you considered callus and demeaning? Someone who made no effort to hide that they just don’t care? Someone who has very high expectations and demands excellence but does not provide a warm, stable, and supportive environment?

Or, have you had a boss who was demanding and dictatorial, who had a strong need to be liked and admired and expressed strong disapproval toward others while at the same time seeming anxious and unsure of him/herself?

If you have had bosses like these (securedismissing/avoidantpreoccupied/anxious), then you have seen the impacts of attachment styles at work. Attachment styles are not just about romantic relationships. These styles reflect deep personality dispositions…the building blocks on which thoughts, behaviors, and interpersonal relationships are founded.

A recent article I published in the Journal of Personality Assessmentwith my colleague Jay Chaffin shows that bosses’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward those who work for them are highly correlated with both romantic attachment styles and attachment to people in general. Leaders’ attachment behaviors toward their followers function the same as attachment styles to people outside of work.

In our research, we took a romantic attachment scale (the Experiences in Close Relationships Scale) and reworded the items to refer to workers instead of romantic partners. We administered these items and a battery of other personality measures to 97 Fortune 500 C-Suite executives. Here are a couple of examples of the items:

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  1. I get uncomfortable when my direct reports want to share their feelings with me.
  2. I need reassurance that I am respected and valued by my direct reports.

Our results indicate that executives who are more anxiously attached worry more about their relationships and feel that they need the approval of others, including the people who work for them. They are less likely to be able to effectively manage stress or suppress their impulses. They also are likely to have some difficulty with critical thinking and may be somewhat inflexible in their approaches to solving problems. They are likely to be less emotionally stable, have higher levels of trait anxiety, and be somewhat vulnerable, prone to depression, and short on self-discipline.

Executives who are more avoidant, in contrast, are not comfortable being emotionally close with their followers and prefer to put achievement ahead of relationships. They are not likely to seek out approval or worry about their interpersonal relationships. They report lower levels of emotional self-awareness and may struggle with maintaining positive relationships, being empathic, or expressing an interest in social responsibility. They are likely to be somewhat introverted, not particularly assertive, and may have difficulty experiencing positive emotions or expressing their feelings or warmth toward others.

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Of course, leaders with fearful styles will be a mixture of the avoidant and anxious traits, and those with secure styles will score low (which is a good thing) on most of the descriptors presented in the two paragraphs above. Many bosses and leaders will have secure styles because the secure style enables them to be warm, available, and supportive, while also maintaining high standards both for themselves and others.

But research shows that those with dismissing/avoidant styles are also over represented (relative to their proportion in the general population) among the ranks of leaders. This is because our society generally values their hard-charging, goal directed, charismatic attitudes. But their charisma can be self-serving, and research has shown that they may put achievement ahead of the welfare of their teams. In addition, people with anxious styles may actually become more anxious and depressed under their leadership.

So, you are sitting there at work reading my blog hoping your boss doesn’t notice. What do you do?

  1. Accept that you can be a positive influence on your boss. Being a leader isn’t necessarily about position. It is about intentionally influencing other people to move in a positive direction.
  2. Identify your boss’s attachment style. It isn’t that difficult. Read descriptions of the secure, dismissing, preoccupied, and fearful styles here and see if you can pick one out.
  3. Realize that the way your boss interacts with you may have just as much to do with his/her attachment style as it does with anything about you. This realization can help you take negative interactions less personally and enable you to think clearly and meaningfully contribute when under stress.
  4. Ask yourself: Given my boss’s attachment style, how can I behave in a way that will help her/him be more effective in leading me and our team?

If your boss has a dismissing/avoidant style, realize that anxious people are likely to make him/her more activated. This activation may foster more harsh reactions from the boss toward anxious followers. In other words, if you are emotionally activated and upset about something, cool down and gather yourself before you go into your boss’s office to tell her/him what you think. In helping your dismissing leader make good decisions, be sure to clearly present data (they love data) in an organized way and keep your feelings out of it.

If your boss has a preoccupied/anxious style, be sure to give both verbal and non-verbal feedback to him/her when you are in the role of listener. Nothing activates a preoccupied/anxious boss more than talking to a follower who shows no facial expression. It makes them anxious and they may get angry or punitive in response.

But above all, know your own attachment style and how you are likely to be activated by attachment figures (that would include bosses who hold sway over much of your well-being at work) with the various styles. Take responsibility for your own emotions and behaviors. Now that you are aware of your style and how it pulls you to think and feel in various circumstances, you can choose to override it, be your best, and lead others (even your boss) with intent.

References

Davidovitz, R., Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P., Izsak, R., & Popper, M. (2007). Leaders as attachment figures: Leaders’ attachment orientations predict leadership-related mental representations and followers’ performance and mental health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 632-650.

Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2007). Application of attachment theory and research in group and organizational settings. In M. Mikulincer & P. R. Shaver (Eds.) Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change (pp. 433-455). New York: Guilford.

Shorey, H. S. & Chaffin, J. S. Leader-Follower Attachment: Implications for Personality Assessment in Organizational Contexts. Journal of Personality Assessment.

Brennan, K. A., Clark, C. L., & Shaver, P. R. (1998). Self-report measurement of adult attachment. In J. A. Simpson & W. S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships (pp. 46-76). New York: Guilford Press.