Grief

The following information was published by Hospice Foundation of America http://www.hospicefoundation.org

Whenever we face loss, we experience grief. Our reactions are unique and individual; none of us experience grief in the same way.

Not only are we different, but our losses are different. Some may grieve a spouse, others a child, parent, brother, sister, or friend. Each of these relationships is unique. Some may have been close; others may have had more tension or conflict. Circumstances may differ. Some losses are sudden, while others follow a prolonged illness. And we may each be able to draw upon different levels of support.

As we experience loss, we may need to remind ourselves of these basic facts. Sometimes we torture ourselves wondering why we do not respond as others, even our family members, do. But each of us is different.

We may feel anger — at God, towards the person who died, perhaps towards someone who we feel is not responding the way we’d like him or her to respond. We may feel guilt, too. Could we have done something differently or done more? We may even feel responsible for the loss.

Other emotions are common. Feelings of sadness, longing for the person’s presence, jealousy of others who have not experienced our loss, even relief that a prolonged illness has ended, may trouble us, but they are normal and natural responses to grief. Grief may affect us in other ways. In some, the experience of grief may be physical: aches and pains, difficulty eating or sleeping, fatigue. We may constantly think of the person, even replaying in our mind some final episode or experience. Grief can affect our spiritual selves. We may struggle to find meaning in our loss; our relationship with God may change.

Grief may be described as a roller coaster. It is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, times that we may think we are doing better and times that we may think we are sure we are not. The metaphor reminds us that our sense of progress may feel very uneven.

But there are things we can do to help ourselves as we experience grief. First it is important to accept the fact that we are grieving. Take time to grieve, to realize that life will be different, and sometimes difficult. We need to be gentle with ourselves.

Second, we can learn from the ways we have handled loss before. We need to draw on our resources — the coping skills we have, our own sources of support, and our spiritual strengths. And from earlier experiences, we can learn the mistakes we need to avoid.

We do not have to struggle alone. We can share our grief with family and friends. We can seek help from clergy or counselors. Hospices may be able to suggest mutual support groups. And librarians and bookstores can recommend books that can assist us as we grieve.

Shattering Eight Myths About Grief

Over time, people learn to live with the loss, but it’s not something you get over. The grieving process is a series of ups and downs, and often it’s more intense in the early years. The thing that we need to remember is that you never have to like a loss. You just have to learn to accept it and deal with it. A more accurate understanding of the way grief affects us can facilitate healing.

Myth 1: We only grieve deaths.
Reality: We grieve all losses.

Myth 2: Only family members grieve.
Reality: All who are attached grieve.

Myth 3: Grief is an emotional reaction.
Reality: Grief is manifested in many ways.

Myth 4: Individuals should leave grieving at home.
Reality: We cannot control where we grieve.

Myth 5: We slowly and predictably recover from grief.
Reality: Grief is an uneven process, a roller coaster with no timeline.

Myth 6: Grieving means letting go of the person who died.
Reality: We never fully detach from those who have died.

Myth 7: Grief finally ends.
Reality: Over time most people learn to live with loss.

Myth 8: Grievers are best left alone.
Reality: Grievers need opportunities to share their memories and grief, and to receive support.

Facing Sudden Loss

Of all the experiences we confront in life, the toughest to face is the sudden, unexpected loss of someone we love. Loss in itself is painful enough, but sudden loss is shocking. The shock doubles our pain and intensifies our grief.

Even if on some level we understand that no one lives forever, actually losing people we love is unimaginable. When we know someone we love has a fatal disease or when we have nursed a loved one who is very ill, we have a chance to begin to prepare for their loss — at least a little. However, the unexpected death of a loved one — regardless of how that loved one dies — can leave us stunned, lost, and overwhelmed with pain. We may not know where to begin to cope.

Sudden loss gives us no chance to prepare. It is not unusual that we feel cheated by a sudden death, cheated of a chance to say the last words we would have liked to say or to do some last act that would have had meaning to us — like a hug, a kiss, a walk hand in hand. Missing out from having a way of saying some kind of goodbye can leave us feeling especially bereft for weeks or even months. Feeling cheated in this way can add to our grief, anguish and despair.

Besides our feeling cheated by it, sudden loss can make the world feel shaky or less safe. This is a natural response to any unexpected and traumatic event. When we feel as if someone we love is suddenly ‘yanked’ out of our lives, we are left feeling that the world isn’t a safe place. We may then become fearful and uncertain, or angry and frustrated. This loss can negatively colour our view of life, but hopefully only temporarily.

When we face a sudden loss, all at once we have three overwhelming tasks to deal with: Our grief over the loss of our loved one, the absence of this special person from our daily lives, and the changes in our lives that are caused by this loss. Each is a big task to take on, and each will become a part of our mourning and healing process.

Although it may be hard to imagine at the moment, we must remember that people do recover from sudden losses, and that we too can ultimately move through this terrible pain and begin to heal.

It helps to bear in mind that emotional pain isn’t constant, and that we don’t have to grieve forever. We will love forever, whether our loved ones are with us in body or not, but we do not need to grieve to honour that love. We can just love.

There are several important, possibly universal, ways to help oneself heal:

Love yourself and take special care of yourself through your grief.

Do your mourning now. Being strong and brave is important, but never miss an opportunity to cry. That is not self-indulgent, but simply sensible and honest in dealing with your emotions.

Expressing your feelings will help you heal, as feelings expressed disappear. Feelings repressed don’t. So give vent to your feelings.

Get support from other people — counselors and support groups like widow’s groups, bereavement groups, compassionate friends, or suicide survivors. You may find them through a hospice, your church, or a community or social service agency.

You will not only help yourself, but you may also help another and that can be a great source of strength, joy and recovery.

And, most of all, trust that the person you loved and lost would want you to recover from losing them, and would want you to remember and honour them by living a fulfilling life.

Guilt and Regret in Prolonged Illness

Each death is difficult — but in its own way. Sudden deaths leave survivors feeling shocked and vulnerable, but death after a long illness can still leave survivors feeling numbed and exhausted.

Survivors of any death still grieve. When death follows a long illness, that grief can be evident in feelings of guilt and regret that may arise from the illness experience itself.

Two issues may develop. First, during the course of a long illness, there are many questions to decide. Should we do this course of chemotherapy? Should we go for more treatments? Are we at a point that hospice care would be helpful? After the death, we may review those decisions, constantly rethinking them, asking “Did I do what was best?”

Marla wonders about such things. Her husband, George, was ill for a long time with cancer. In the end, he decided to forego a last treatment of chemotherapy. Marla questions continually whether his decision was correct. She also wonders why they were so late in summoning hospice. Once they came, he seemed to be more comfortable. Marla regrets that she did not call hospice earlier.

There is another issue, too. Care-giving is very difficult. It is difficult for family and friends. It is even tough for the person who is receiving care. Once independent, he or she is now faced with the humiliating position of having others assist with the most intimate tasks. In such situations, anger easily flares, tempers can be lost, and people can say things that they later regret. And again, after the death, these memories can haunt us.

Reviewing all these events is part of the grieving process. But, we also need to acknowledge that things always look different in hindsight, removed from all the pressures that led us to act the way we did.

Acknowledging this fact is the first step in dealing with your feelings. But other things may be helpful as well. If these issues are really troubling, it is helpful to talk them over with a counselor or in a support group. Reviewing the illness and reminding ourselves of all the situations that led us to act the way we did can reassure us that faced with the same situations, with similar information and choices, we would be unlikely to act differently. Exploring our decisions and behaviors with others who understand can reassure us of the human limits to our power and patience.

If the feeling of guilt is strong there may be other ways to help. Sometimes writing to the person who died or talking to an empty chair at the cemetery can give us needed opportunities to ask, to receive, and to offer forgiveness. Our own rituals and beliefs can be paths to that forgiveness as well.

All of these actions may affirm a critical point as we struggle with grief. Under all the stress of grief, illness and caregiving, we did, after all, the best we could.


Music for grief

Pictures say a thousand words, but music shows a thousand pictures…

Music can help us cope with grief and many people will have their preferred music for these times. Following are links to music on YouTube that some people might find therapeutic when grieving. Listed first (under A) is music that might be most appropriate when the grief intensity is extreme.

A. (ordered by composer date of birth)

  1. Johann Pachelbel (1653 – 1706)
    Canon in D
  2. George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759)
    Suite No. 7, g minor, HWV 432
  3. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750)
    Prelude No. 1 in C major, BWV 846
  4. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
    Piano Concerto No. 5, Op. 73 – Emperor II Adagio un poco mosso
  5. Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)
    Moment Musicaux No. 3
    Ave Maria, S. 558/12
  6. Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 49)
    Prelude “Raindrop” in D flat Major, Op.28, No.15
  7. Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)
    Siegfried’s Funeral March
  8. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 93)
    Hymn of the Cherubim
  9. Ovidio De Ferrari (?Year born. He’s still alive.)
    Ara (Invited Composer #1)

B. (ordered by composer date of birth)

  1. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750)
    Prelude No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 847
  2. Wolfgang Mozart (1756 – 91)
    Piano Concerto no 21, 2nd movement
    Sonata No. 12 in F major, 2nd Movement
  3. Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 49)
    Nocturne Op. 9, No. 1
    Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2
    “Aeolian Harp” Étude Op. 25, No. 1
  4. Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)
    Love Dream (Liebestraum No. 3)
  5. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 93)
    June, Barcarolle Op. 37, no. 6
    Swan Lake, Op. 20: 1
  6. Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943)
    Moment Musicaux in E minor, No. 4
  7. Vangelis (1943 – )
    Cosmos
  8. Rolf Løvland (1945 – )
    You Raise Me Up (first performed at the funeral of his mother), performed here by Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Anger Management

The physiological (body) and psychological (mind) anger response evolved to help people handle physical threats. However in today’s world there are not many places where physical aggression is an appropriate response. Anger is a normal human response to the experience of unfair treatment, injustice, frustration and criticism. However some people get angry without provocation, others react excessively to minor adversity, and others experience inappropriately intense or prolonged anger to legitimate triggers. Individuals who cannot get a grip on their anger risk serious social problems, including loss of employment, loss of family, and even incarceration. Excessively angry people also risk serious health problems and premature death.

Heart Disease, Heart Attack and Stroke

A study at Harvard found that the angriest men are three times more likely to develop heart disease than the most placid men. Another Harvard study found that intense anger more than doubles the risk of heart attack within the next two hours. Similarly, a study in Israel found that an experience of intense anger was linked to a 14-fold increase in the risk of stroke within the next two hours. Many other studies confirm that excessively angry people risk serious bodily harm to themselves.

Mechanisms

Like other forms of stress, anger triggers a surge in adrenaline, the stress hormone that boosts the blood pressure and pulse rate, increasing the heart’s workload and multiplying its need for oxygen. Adrenaline can also provoke abnormal heart rhythms, including potentially lethal ventricular arrhythmias. In addition, the hormone activates platelets, the tiny blood cells that trigger blood clots that can block arteries narrowed by the cholesterol-laden plaques of atherosclerosis. High levels of anger can even provoke spasm in a coronary artery, which results in the additional narrowing of a partially blocked blood vessel.

A Measure of Anger

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory anger scale evaluates long-term tendency toward hostility. Answer true or false to each of these questions:

  1. At times I feel like swearing.
  2. At times I feel like smashing things.
  3. Often I can’t understand why I’ve been so irritable and grouchy.
  4. At times I feel like picking a fistfight with someone.
  5. I easily become impatient with people.
  6. I am often said to be hot-headed.
  7. I am often so annoyed when someone tries to get ahead of me in a line of people that I speak to the person about it.
  8. I have at times had to be rough with people who were rude or annoying.
  9. I am often sorry because I am so irritable and grouchy.
  10. It makes me angry to have people hurry me.
  11. I am very stubborn.
  12. Sometimes I get so angry and upset, I don’t know what comes over me.
  13. I have gotten angry and broken furniture or dishes when I was drinking.
  14. I have become so angry with someone that I have felt as if I would explode.
  15. I’ve been so angry at times that I’ve hurt someone in a physical fight.
  16. I almost never lose self-control.

For questions 1–15, each “true” scores 1 point; for question 16 “false” scores 1 point. The higher your total, the higher your anger level.

The Psychological Process

When we get angry a subtle chain of observable events occurs. We may think that sometimes we just ‘snap’, but that is not the case. The chain includes an external trigger (something happening), our interpretation of that trigger, the thoughts or mental statements that we make to ourselves, and our increased level of physical arousal. Anger management is largely about recognizing and altering this chain of events.

Anger Management

This involves the following stages:

1. Recognize the external triggers that are likely to increase your anger. For example, hunger, tiredness, being in traffic, being in a crowd, being ignored, etc. What is it about these situations that you find so upsetting?

2. Ask yourself what thoughts or self-statements you make to yourself in those situations. We all ‘talk’ to ourselves consciously or unconsciously. This process starts in childhood where children initially talk out loud about what they are going to do. Between the ages of four and six years this self-instruction tends to become covert or internal. Find out what you are saying to yourself and then attempt to alter those statements. Work out a list of helpful self-statements such as:

  • This is going to be upsetting but I can deal with it.
  • If I find myself getting upset I know what to do.
  • Stay calm, continue to relax – take a few deep breaths.
  • Don’t take it personally.
  • I’m not going to let this person get to me.
  • This is a challenge – relax those muscles.
  • Congratulations – you handled that well.

3. Recognize the physical signs of tension in your body, e.g. clenched fists, tightening biceps, rapid shallow breathing, accelerated heart rate. Then try to relax. Practice muscle relaxation exercises and slow controlled breathing. Say to yourself a soothing word such as CALM or imagine a peaceful scene, or try something that distracts you such as counting backwards.

4. Manage your background stress levels. Anger is usually a symptom of being over-stressed and feeling unable to cope. If you are feeling very stressed, look at ways of changing your lifestyle. Talk about your worries.

5. Express and explore your feelings. Aim to improve your assertiveness skills. Increase your level of physical activity.

Following is detailed information on anger management from an article by Harry Mills, Ph.D.

Anger Management

Edited version of an article by Harry Mills, Ph.D.

Most people decide to make changes in the way they deal with anger only after experiencing serious personal, social or occupational consequences of their anger. Deciding to learn control of your anger represents a big change in how you will live your life and it is an ongoing task. It will require you to rethink your automatic responses toward people and take more responsibility for your thoughts and actions than you may have in the past, which requires discipline and a plan.

Stages of Change

People go through predictable stages when working through life-changes.

Awareness. Awareness begins as the angry person seeks information about anger management; what anger is, how anger affects health and relationships, and how anger can be controlled. It involves no commitment to change.

Preparation. This stage begins with your decision to actually make a change in the way you express anger. Preparation involves self-study and planning. It may be useful for you to keep an anger management journal where you keep a record of the things that make you angry, how you react when you are angry, and the consequences of your reactions. Your anger journal will help you identify and become aware of your anger triggers and may help give you some insight into how proportional your angry outbursts are to the various situations that provoke them (more on this later). The more you learn about your personal anger triggers, the better your chances of success in changing how you express anger.

Action. Now you start making real changes. You may decide to take a professional anger management course or to purchase workbooks, tapes, or videos. You may also design a personal program for anger management. Any of these approaches might help you to develop greater control over your anger. However, none of them will work if you do not apply yourself to them with dedication and persistence.

Maintaining Gains. Maintenance of change never ends. During this stage, you learn to accept that you are not perfect, that you will make mistakes and act inappropriately, and that you can recover from lapses in your behaviour when they do occur. Achieving sustained behaviour change is a project. It may take multiple attempts and multiple failures before you will achieve this goal. Each time you do lapse into old behaviour, you can use the tools and strategies you have learned along the way to help you pick yourself up and recover.

It is particularly difficult for many people with anger problems to work up the motivation to seriously want to work an anger management program. Because anger has a seductive, self-justifying quality to it, people are not typically drawn to anger management on their own. Many times, people need to suffer serious negative consequences of their anger before they realize that they need help in controlling their outbursts. Even then, motivation for continuing an anger management program can wax and wane. It is fairly common for angry people to stop attending an anger management program before finishing it, or for people to never actually apply or use the techniques they learn in their program. People often need to repeat anger programs a number of times before they truly understand the message and incorporate the training into their own lives.

Recognizing Anger Signs

Before you learn the techniques to manage your emotions, you first need to recognize your anger. You need to answer questions like:

  • “How do I know when I am angry?”
  • “What events/people/places/things make me angry?”
  • “How do I react when I’m angry?”
  • “How does my angry reaction affect others?”

Answering these questions takes a while. It is likely you can rattle off several things that make you angry. You might even be able to identify several signs that you exhibit when you are angry (e.g. clenched fists, etc.). These quick answers are only the beginning, the low hanging fruit. You will want to continually ask yourself these questions for a period of time before you can be satisfied that you are fully knowledgeable about your personal anger.

Some angry people see their emotions as a black or white state — they are either raging mad or they are calm. In reality, anger is not black and white, but rather quite gray. Anger occurs on a continuum between rage and calm where most of the time people experience some gradation of anger between these two extremes.

People who tend to see anger in terms of extremes sometimes have difficulty recognizing when they are experiencing intermediate anger states. Most people experience physical, emotional and behavioural cues that they can use to know when they are becoming upset.

Physical

  • Clenching jaws or grinding teeth
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Increased and rapid heart rate
  • Sweating, especially palms
  • Feeling hot in the neck/face
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Dizziness

Emotional

  • Want to get away from the situation
  • Irritated
  • Sad or depressed
  • Guilty
  • Resentful
  • Anxious
  • Feel like striking out verbally or physically

Behavioural

  • Rubbing your head
  • Cupping your fist with your other hand
  • Pacing
  • Getting sarcastic
  • Losing your sense of humour
  • Acting in an abusive or abrasive manner
  • Craving a drink, a smoke or other substances that relax you
  • Raising your voice
  • Beginning to yell, scream, or cry

Rage Ratings

Another way you can learn how your anger manifests is to measure your anger. Picture a thermometer that measures the amount of anger you are feeling. Imagine that when you are slightly irritated or frustrated, the mercury begins to rise out of the bulb of the thermometer. When you feel the anger building but are still able to control it, the mercury rises about halfway up the thermometer. When you get really upset and your anger is boiling, imagine the mercury rising to the top of the thermometer. Rate your anger on that thermometer from 0 to 100 where zero means you are completely calm, and 100 means you are in a complete rage.

Use your anger thermometer to practice making anger ratings. Start by thinking back on recent past situations in which you were angry, and then use the anger thermometer to rate how angry you were during each situation.

The goal in rating your anger is to recognize that anger operates on a continuum; that it moves smoothly up and down between calmness on the one hand and rage on the other. People with anger problems sometimes don’t get the continuum nature of anger because they experience their anger as an either/or thing; things seem to be either “fine” or “furious”. Even though anger appears to be an ‘on’ or ‘off’ sort of thing for these people, this is generally because they are only counting the times when they are the most angry as episodes of anger; everything else is lumped into the ‘fine’ category. With sufficient practice, these people can distinguish ever finer shades of anger and calmness.

Anger ratings are important because they provide feedback about how likely you are to lose control or explode at any given moment. By training yourself to recognize when you are getting increasingly angry but are not yet out of control, you improve your chances of being able to maintain control by taking steps to reverse the upward trend of your anger.

Anger Management Plan

To defuse your anger before it gets out of control, you’ll need a plan listing activities you can do to calm down.

Examples of a Plan

  • Take a ‘time-out’ when you start getting upset — temporarily remove yourself from the situation that is provoking you to get space in which to calm down.
  • Move the conversation away from the upsetting topic toward a more neutral topic.

There are many ways to defuse an angry situation once you start thinking about it. The best of them help you stay calm without damaging your pride. As each person has unique strengths and weaknesses, each person’s list of strategies for defusing anger will be slightly different.

Anger Diary

Being able to predict situations that provoke you is a tremendous aid to controlling your temper. You can choose to avoid provoking situations entirely, or, if that is not possible, you can prepare to cope in ways that minimize the risk of you losing control prior to entering your dangerous situations.

An anger diary or journal can be a useful tool to track your experiences with anger. Make daily entries into your diary that document the situations you encounter that provoked you. This is the type of information to record for each provoking event:

  • What happened that gave you pain or made you feel stressed?
  • What was provocative about the situation?
  • What thoughts were going through your mind?
  • On a scale of 0-100 how angry did you feel? (Rage Rating)
  • What was the effect of your behaviour on you, on others?
  • Were you already nervous, tense, and pressured about something else? If so, what?
  • How did your body respond? Did you notice your heart racing, your palms sweating?
  • Did your head hurt?
  • Did you want to flee from the pressure or perhaps throw something?
  • Did you feel like screaming or did you notice that you were slamming doors or becoming sarcastic?
  • What did you actually do?
  • How did you feel immediately after the episode?
  • Did you feel differently later in the day or the next day?
  • What were the consequences of the incident?

After recording this information for a week or so, review your diary and look for reoccurring themes or “triggers” that make you angry. Triggers often fall into one of several categories, including:

  • Other people doing or not doing what you expect them to do
  • Events that get in your way, e.g. traffic jams, computer problems, ringing telephones
  • People taking advantage of you
  • Being angry and disappointed in yourself
  • A combination of any of the above

Look for anger-triggering thoughts that reoccur again and again. You can recognize these particular thoughts because they will generally involve one or more of the following themes:

  • The perception that you have been victimized or harmed.
  • The belief that the person who provoked you meant you deliberately harm.
  • The belief that the OTHER person was wrong, that they should have behaved differently, that they were evil or stupid to harm you.

Use your anger diary to identify instances when you felt harm was done to you, why you thought the act was done deliberately, and why you thought it was wrong. Tracking your thought patterns will help you begin to see the common themes in your experiences. Here are examples of trigger thoughts to get you started:

  • People do not pay enough attention to your needs; they do not care about you
  • People demand/expect too much of you
  • People are rude or inconsiderate
  • People take advantage or use you
  • People are selfish; they think only of themselves
  • People criticize, shame, or disrespect you
  • People are cruel or mean
  • People are incompetent or stupid
  • People are thoughtless and irresponsible
  • People do not help you
  • People are lazy and refuse to do their share
  • People try to control or manipulate you
  • People cause you to have to wait

And here is a list of situations where these themes are likely to occur:

  • When stating a difference of opinion
  • While receiving and expressing negative feelings
  • While dealing with someone who refuses to cooperate
  • While speaking about something that annoys you
  • While protesting a rip-off
  • When saying “No”
  • While responding to undeserved criticism
  • When asking for cooperation
  • While proposing an idea

At the base of all trigger thoughts is the notion that people are not behaving properly and that you have every right to be angry with them. Most people find a few thoughts that frequently trigger their anger. Look for instances of situations that trigger your anger and see if you can identify the particular set of triggering thoughts that really do it for you.

The purpose of your diary is to help you identify patterns of behaviour and specific recurring elements that really “push your buttons.” The more accurately you observe your feelings and behaviours and the more detailed your anger diary, the more likely you are to identify anger triggers and how you react to them. Understanding the ways in which you experience anger can help you plan strategies to cope with your emotions in more productive ways.

Deactivating Triggers

Once you have identified some of your triggers and understand some of your trigger themes, you can work more constructively to control your response to those triggers. Anger-triggering thoughts occur automatically and almost instantaneously, so it will take some work to identify them and substitute something more helpful.

For example, imagine you have just been cut off while driving on the freeway. Take notice of the physiological anger signs that tell you you’re upset. Take a deep breath, and try to look at the situation rationally instead of going with your first impulse to attack. Instead of automatically assuming the driver that cut you off did it deliberately (which might be your first thought), consider the possibility that the person did not see you. If you can consider that the provoking action was not aimed at you personally or was a mistake, it will be easier to tolerate.

When you feel justified in your anger, you are giving yourself permission to feel angry, whether or not it makes sense for you to feel that way. The faster you stop justifying your anger, the sooner it will recede.

Relaxation Techniques

These techniques will not produce results if you only use them casually — you must use and practice them before they have any chance of positively affecting your life.

Controlled Deep Breathing and Muscle Relaxation

Set aside at least 15 minutes in which to do this exercise. Less time than this will not likely be beneficial.

Take several slow and deep breaths in a row, each time taking care to exhale for twice as long as you inhale. Count slowly to four as you breathe in, and then breathe out slowly as you count to eight. As you do this, notice where the air in your lungs is going. Open your lungs and breath deeply across the lung’s full range. Your breath should enter your belly first, then your chest, and finally your upper chest just below your shoulders. Feel your ribs expand as your lungs expand. Pay attention to how your ribs return to their original location as you exhale completely. Continue this breathing pattern for several minutes, returning immediately to normal breathing if you feel odd or out of breath.

Slowly and GENTLY roll your head toward one shoulder and then toward the other. Coordinate your head role with your breathing. Roll your head gently to one side as you exhale, back to the center as you inhale and to the other side as you exhale again. Carefully repeat this technique several times until you feel the muscles in your neck relax a little.

You can work out shoulder tension by carefully shrugging your shoulders and releasing them several times. Shoulder rolls backward and forward can also help. Using these techniques together will help you to relax.

As your face, neck, and shoulders become more relaxed, see if you can identify tension in other parts of your body (your anger diary can help you identify areas to focus on). If relaxation techniques alone don’t work, try the opposite – tighten and tense the stressed muscles for a slow count of ten and then release them. Be sure to release your tightened muscles immediately if you feel any pain! Move from one muscle group to the next until you have treated each section of your body to a cycle of tension and release. With practice, you can work your way down your entire body in a few minutes. Tensing and then relaxing muscles can sometimes achieve a better quality relaxation than relaxation alone.

You should give yourself 20 to 30 minutes to calm down. Keep your breathing very deep and very regular during this time. Tell yourself that you are calming yourself down and soon you will be feeling much calmer.

Managing Thoughts

Controlled Thinking

You have a much better chance of controlling your anger if you do not focus on your hurt and/or angry feelings but instead focus on understanding the situation. Ask yourself what the anger is telling you and what you can learn from it. What about this particular situation is making you angry? How can you improve the situation and improve your anger at the same time? Then, use your relaxation techniques to reduce your arousal.

Most situations are flexible enough for you to take time to compose yourself, calm down and really think about the situation before you act. You might even take time to talk a troubling situation over with trusted advisers. The more you can approach a troubling situation in a prepared and relaxed manner, the greater your chances of getting what you want from that situation.

Reality Testing

When an accused criminal goes to trial there is an assumption that he or she is innocent until proven guilty. Angry people do not make this assumption and presume that people they are upset with are simply guilty. Angry people blame others (or themselves) for things that went wrong. They presume that the target of their anger caused things to go wrong. But this is not always the case! Sometimes the target is an innocent bystander who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. To better manage anger, it is important to slow down, not act on the first aggressive impulse, and do reality testing.

Give up the assumption that your first impression of a situation is always accurate. It is hard to know the objective truth of situations. Reality is often more complex than our senses are capable of appreciating.

To illustrate, for thousands of years educated and intelligent people thought the world was flat. They believed that if you sailed too far from land you could fall over the edge of the world and be destroyed. The world still looks quite flat today but we know it is round because we’ve sailed around it and returned to our starting place and we’ve been into space and looked down on it from above. Our senses deceived us and we only knew the truth of the situation after further investigation.

Similarly, angry people need to stop and gather more evidence before passing judgment if they want to manage their anger better.

Feedback from Others

Your partners, friends and trusted associates can often recognize when you are getting angry better than you can, so it is a good idea to include them in your anger plan, if possible. Agree on a signal that friends can give you when they see you start sliding into old aggressive patterns. Once you receive the signal, you will know you need to change your behaviour to avoid escalating your anger. You may want to take a time-out or agree to postpone your argument until you can speak about it more calmly and rationally.

Black and White Thinking

Recognizing complexity is difficult for angry people in the habit of seeing the world in “Black” or “White” terms. Many angry people insist that things must “always” be a certain way, or that people should “never” behave in a particular way. They may concentrate on the negative sides of things instead of acknowledging the positive aspects that may also be present. They may rapidly jump to conclusions without bothering to verify whether or not their understanding is correct. These black and white thought habits need to be broken down so that shades of grey are recognized in order for there to be lasting progress in anger management.

Talking About It

One of the best ways to reality test is to talk with other people who witnessed the angering event. What do they think happened? How do they think the problem was caused? If you believe that a particular person has damaged you, for example, and other people strongly tend to see the situation the same way you do, then you are more justified in feeling angry at that person than you would be if other people saw the situation very differently to you. Other people’s input can help you appreciate more of the complexity of the situation than you can know on your own.

The Benefit Of The Doubt

A quick reality testing method is the venerable “Count to 10 before you act” rule, otherwise known as giving the target of your anger the benefit of the doubt. As your angry reaction rises to meet a situation, put the breaks on it for a while. Do what you can to calm yourself. Then look for alternative explanations that might account for the situation you’re upset about. Take for example a situation where someone is driving slowly in front of you on the freeway, blocking you from getting where you need to go in an efficient manner. Your first impulse might be to scream at the slow driver for being incompetent. By counting to 10 before you scream, you give yourself time to consider alternative possibilities that might account for the situation. Perhaps the slow driver has faulty breaks or some other mechanical problem with his car and needs to drive slowly so as to maintain control while on his way to the repair shop. Perhaps the slow driver has had several tickets recently and is driving at exactly the speed limit so as to avoid losing his license. If either of these alternative explanations turn out to be true, it would be harder to stay angry at the slow driver, even though it would still be frustrating to be stuck behind him.

Believable Reasons for Staying Cool

Even if you are justified in feeling angry about a situation, it is not okay to simply attack the target of your anger. There are too many ways in which you can and will be punished for inappropriate and unrestrained aggression. In today’s world violent outbursts and threats are not well tolerated. If you physically attack someone there is a good chance that you will be arrested. If you attack your boss, a co-worker or a customer, there is a good chance you will lose your job. If you attack your child, you may well find that child removed from your custody. Even if you don’t lose custody, you will have taught your child that it is acceptable to behave violently toward children (it is not). If you attack friends and family, you seriously reduce the chances that they will want to help you in the future when you might need their support.

It is a good idea to develop a list of personal reasons why you want to stay calm and cool in certain situations, and to read over these reasons frequently so that they stay fixed and clear in your mind. The reasons you generate should be informed by the realistic consequences that might befall you should you allow yourself to get out of control. The following example reasons might help you get started:

  • I need to stay calm so I will not lose my job.
  • I need to stay calm so my children can learn that it is not good to act violently.
  • I need to stay cool so I do not end up in hospital or jail.
  • I need to stay calm so my spouse will not divorce me.
  • I need to stay calm so I will not break things or knock holes in the wall, either of which will take money and time to repair
  • I need to stay calm so I will not alienate a close friend.

Assertive Communication

Angry people tend to have distinct communication postures that they habitually take up when communicating with others. Psychologists have described four of these communication postures, each possessing its own motto:

  • The Aggressive communication posture says: “I count but you don’t count.”
  • The Passive communication posture says: “I don’t count.”
  • The Passive-Aggressive communication posture says: “I count. You don’t count but I’m not going to tell you about it.”
  • The Assertive communication posture says: “I count and you do too.”

Angry people use the Aggressive and Passive-Aggressive postures often. However Aggressive communicators are more likely to start an argument than they are to get the results they want. Being passive in your communication is also a mistake, as it communicates weakness and tends to invite further aggression. The Assertive communication posture is the most useful and balanced of all the postures as it is the only posture that communicates respect for all parties. Communicating assertively is the most likely way to ensure that everyone involved gets their needs taken care of. Learning how to become assertive rather than aggressive or passive-aggressive is an important step in discovering how to communicate appropriately with others.

Habitually aggressive people tend to fundamentally misunderstand what it means to be assertive. They confuse assertiveness with aggression and think they are acting assertively when in fact they are aggressive. Both aggressive and assertive communications postures can involve fierce and persuasive communication but they are fundamentally different. Aggressive communication tends to go on the offense – it attacks and berates the other – while assertive communication uses anger and fierceness only in defense. Assertive people stand up for themselves and their rights and do not take crap from others. However they manage to do this without crossing the line into aggressiveness; they do not attack the person they are communicating with unnecessarily. Assertiveness is “anger in self-defense” whereas aggressiveness is “anger because I feel like it”.

Making Requests

People who have difficulty being assertive often also have difficulty making requests. Angry people can be particularly bad at making effective requests. As they feel entitled to being treated in a particular way, they may never make requests in the first place, instead assuming (falsely) that others around them should know what to do and how and when to do it. When angry people do make requests, they may make them in the form of demands, which provoke angry feelings in others and are not likely to be happily carried out.

An effective request should have the following qualities:

Clarity. A well formed request should state clearly what it is that you want. Requests that lack clarity are difficult to meet and can provoke stress, frustration, and anger. This is especially true when requests are interpreted as demands. An effective request needs to be stated explicitly, and must provide clear answers to three questions:

  • Who? – To whom is the request being made?
  • What? – What must be done to fulfill the request?
  • When? – When should it be done?

Respectfulness. A well formed request should be respectful. The reason for this is simple: If people feel respected, they are more likely to want to comply, and you are more likely to get what you want. Respectful requests begin with phrases such as:

  • “Would you be so kind as to…”
  • “If it is not too much trouble, could you…”
  • “I would very much appreciate it if you would …”

Emotional Transparency. Consider the following angry request:

“You insensitive bastard! You stupid forgetful idiot! What’s wrong with you?! Why did you forget the milk I asked for?!” How does it feel to read that request? You likely feel a little defensive while reading that request, which is less a request and more of an accusation or demand. Such an angry, judgmental request is unlikely to get a sympathetic audience.

The example request above fails in part because it lacks in emotional transparency. To be emotionally transparent is to be willing to share real feelings. The speaker in the example request doesn’t share feelings at all – he or she simply makes accusations. If we try to put ourselves into the speaker’s state of mind, however, we can guess at what his or her real feelings are. The speaker likely feels neglected or forgotten, and hurt.

Requests that are emotionally transparent – that share with the listener the true reasons for the request – are more likely to motivate the listener to act than accusatory requests. Consider this variation on the example request, rephrased so that it is more emotionally transparent.

“I feel like you don’t care about me when you forget to purchase the milk. Please remember me next time!” Making the fact that your feelings have been hurt clear in your request does two good things. First, it makes your motivation for making your request clear, and second, it doesn’t put your listener on the defensive. Requests that are emotionally transparent, clear, and respectful in tone are most likely to be taken to heart.

An Assertive Request Formula

Crafting clear, respectful and transparent requests doesn’t have to be difficult. Try filling in this simple formula to get started:

“I feel ……. when you ……….. because ……………………”

Only discuss how you feel about yourself when filling in the “I feel” part of the formula. If you say “I feel that you are a jerk!” the formula won’t work, because you have created an aggressive and attacking statement that is not at all transparent, and which says nothing explicit about what you are feeling. If you instead talk about how you feel about yourself, you’ll get better results because you won’t be on the attack. For example:

“I feel like you don’t care about me when you don’t call to let me know that you are going to be late because I end up worried and upset and I feel abandoned.”

Putting The Techniques Together

Individual techniques can be practised by themselves or groups of them can be combined to work multiple angles at once.

When facing a situation that provokes anger, learn to stop and reflect before responding. Follow these steps:

Immediately stop how you are thinking and acting at the first sign you are getting angry. If imagery helps you, imagine a big red stop sign.

Practice deep breathing and/or repeat a relaxation cue (e.g. repeat the word calm or cool ) to yourself if you have the opportunity.

Reflect and try to identify the emotional trigger that has set you off. Ask yourself:

  • What thoughts are going through my head?
  • How am I feeling?
  • What is my body doing?
  • Am I responding to a real problem or to an incomplete first impression?
  • What do I want from the situation I’m faced with? (If your answer is “revenge”, then ask yourself if the situation is really worth getting worked up about)
  • What would the likely consequences be if I act in an aggressive, angry way?
  • In what ways could I respond to this situation to help resolve it rather than make it worse?

Choose how you want to respond. Work to come up with an assertive response rather than an aggressive one.

Then (and only then) … Respond

Often, in the heat of an angering situation, you can feel that things are happening too fast and that you don’t have time to follow these anger management steps. This perception of pressure may itself be an illusion, supported by the intense arousal you feel as a result of your anger. You may not really have to respond quickly. You may have more time to respond than you realize.

If you find yourself getting too hot you may be able to excuse yourself for a short ‘time out’ during which you go through the anger management steps outlined above. Disengage with a polite statement, such as “I’m upset now. I’ll return in a few minutes and talk with you about what happened.” Time out sessions are wonderful ways of interrupting your anger process. When you return to the situation you’ll be refreshed and better able to approach it with a new mind and an assertive rather than aggressive approach.

If you can’t take a break while under pressure, try these steps:

Make intermittent eye contact with the person you’re confronting. Don’t stare, however. Staring is often perceived as aggressive. An intermediate amount of eye contact will suggest your courage and willingness to stand up for yourself.

Use “I” statements to express your feelings or make a request. The goal is to let the other person know where you stand – not to beat them up or belittle them.

Listen. When you’re listening to what someone else has to say, listen actively. Don’t “yes, but” them. When you “yes, but” someone, you turn the spotlight away from the person you are responding to and back onto yourself.

State your needs and your common goals with the person. This can be difficult when feeling angry and defensive, but it is vital for creating an empathetic mood.

Assess whether or not you’ve been heard. Did the person you’re confronting hear and understand what you were saying? If so, continue your conversation. If he or she is too angry to understand what you were saying, try restating yourself in a different way. Keep in mind that the person you are talking to may also have a problem controlling their anger, and may not be able to use the same control techniques you are using. If it seems that communication is impossible, disengage until another time.

Refuse to be pushed into a premature reaction. If you need more time, buy that time by stalling. If your choice is to either lose control, or leave the situation, then choose to leave the situation. It is better to remain in control.

Practice Makes Perfect

Though you will get plenty of opportunities to practice your anger management techniques in ‘real’ life, you can also practice them through role playing exercises to simulate your anger triggers.

Role playing can be done alone or with a partner (or partners). Make a list of the triggers that set you off and come up with various situations in which you might be faced with those triggers.

If you work alone, stand in front of a mirror and take on the role of yourself talking with someone who has angered you. Standing in front of the mirror allows you to observe your face and body language as you speak. Now, try to really get into the role. Imagine the person you are speaking with in detail, including how that person acts towards you as you say different things to him or her. Say the things you want to say out loud to that imagined person as though he or she is really there. Work your anger management techniques into your imagined interaction so that you get a chance to practice them. You might feel self-conscious doing this at first, but if you get past this initial feeling, you may find the exercise helpful and absorbing.

If you have access to a partner (a friend or a therapist) who can play the role of someone you’re upset with, so much the better. It is easier to get into the role when you have a real person to direct your emotions toward. Explain the scene that pushes your buttons to your partner and then act that scene out between the two of you. Practice your anger management techniques while interacting with your partner. Try to stay in character and maintain control for as long as you can.

Anger Management Programs

Depending on your needs, you may choose to work with a counsellor or counselling group to get control of your anger, or you may be able to do the work on your own using one of the self-study resources available.

Caution. Research shows that it is hard to change habitual behaviour and that it is easier to make sustained real changes in behaviour if you have a good support group. For this reason, if you are really serious about changing the way you handle anger, you are likely to be better off participating in a formal anger management program than taking the self study approach. A formal program provides structure to guide your change process, helps motivate you to continue working when you might otherwise want to quit, and it helps you recognize and be proud of the progress you make.

Following is a brief overview of the types of anger management programs and resources available.

Individual and Group Therapy for Anger Management

For some people, the easiest way to change how they handle anger is to work with a psychologist or other mental health professional in an individual or group therapy setting. A therapist, who can observe and analyze your behaviour from an impartial perspective, can help you with your reality testing. If you participate in an anger management group, the other group members can help you do this too. An anger management therapist will also be expert in all manner of effective anger management strategies, and will be able to help you develop a personalized set of strategies for changing both your thinking and behaviour that will work best for you.

If you go the therapy route, make sure that you select the right kind of therapist! There are multiple schools of therapy out there. Therapists who subscribe to dynamic, psychodynamic, humanistic, or psychospiritual schools of thought may lead clients to get more in touch with their feelings. While this approach is helpful for some emotionally over-controlled people, it is not helpful for people whose main difficulty revolves around not being able to control their emotions (e.g. angry clients)! Instead of exploring your feelings, you want to be learning to control them. A cognitive-behavioural therapist will generally be in the best position to help you do this.

Additionally, the therapist will ideally have been trained in anger management techniques and therapies and/or have specialized their practice for anger management problems.

A typical course of therapy for anger management unfolds more like a class than a traditional therapy session. Participants are helped to become conscious of their emotional, cognitive and physical responses to anger and the different ways they respond to conflict. Depending on your needs, your therapist may work with you on breathing or meditation exercises to reduce anger arousal, safe and appropriate emotional and physical techniques to release anger, communication skills, or ‘cognitive restructuring’ (a method for disputing and changing the thoughts that shape your emotions).

Therapy can take several months to have an effect. On average progress may be visible after 8 or 10 sessions. How much progress you make will in part be determined by how dedicated you are to the process: how regularly you attend, how much you take the lessons to heart, and how often you practice your homework.

Anger Management Classes

Anger management classes may be available through your employer, or through a variety of organizations serving your community. Anger management classes vary in length and quality. While some stretch across multiple weeks and begin to approximate the therapy approach described above, others span a single weekend only. It is better to select a longer class than a shorter one if you have a choice, as longer classes will provide you with more sustained support for your change process. Regardless of their length, anger management classes will often assign you homework projects to complete, and will use quizzes to track your progress through the course.

Think carefully about your specific needs when choosing to participate in an anger management class. Do you need help dealing with your anger in general, or would you benefit more from a class geared toward couples? If most of your issues occur in the workplace, would a seminar about anger management in the workplace be more helpful? Perhaps you have been asked by your employer or mandated by the courts to attend classes. In either of these cases, you will need to make sure you select an approved class that will keep track of your progress and provide you with formal proof of your participation and completion.

Self-Study

You can learn to deal with your anger issues on your own in a number of different ways. Video and audio recordings and online classes allow you to complete programs in your spare time and work at your own speed. Some of these programs offer email or phone support, and online message boards or chat groups.

If you are looking for a more specialized approach to anger management, such as strategies specifically tailored for women or for corporate executives, your local library or book store might be your best resource. There are a great number of books available today that address anger and anger management from a variety of perspectives. Perhaps the best way to learn about and understand your problems with anger may be to do some more research.

Go with the Program

Whether you choose to pursue your anger management program in private (not recommended) or work in the context of a class or program, there will come a day when your planning and preparations are over and you must get started actually changing your anger behaviour. Since pursuing an anger management program is work, it will take commitment to follow it through to the point where you see positive results. You will not benefit from any anger management program if you do not follow the program systematically regardless of the obstacles that will inevitably challenge you along the way.

Advantages of a professionally led program. You will dramatically improve your chances of progress with anger management if you get yourself into a professionally designed and led anger management program. Professionally designed and led anger management programs shield you from having to think about how to design your own program and let you instead focus on the hard work of changing your behaviour. They also provide you with group support from peers and from the program leader which can help you sustain the motivation to continue when the going gets rough. Support can be technical (suggesting effective new ways to manage anger) or emotional (recognizing how difficult it can be to change). You can receive support yourself, and give it to others as well when you are in a group program. Sometimes helping someone else to succeed can provide you with the motivation you need to succeed yourself.

If you can’t locate a program or know that you’re just not a joiner and won’t do well in a formal program, you should still do as much as you can to surround yourself with an already-laid out program structure to follow, and one or more people who can help support you in your efforts. Simply put, having social support and structure for your anger management efforts helps you to succeed.

The Internet offers many opportunities for anger management support. Online communities offer chat and bulletin board forums that allow people working on anger issues to share tips with one another anonymously. If you decide to use these sorts of online support systems, keep in mind that online communities are not always polite places and discussions can become provocative or even anger-provoking.

Recommended Anger Management Reading

The following books and workbooks are recommended for learning more about anger management and related concepts.

McKay, Matthew, Ph.D. & Rogers, Peter, Ph.D. (2000). The Anger Control Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Semmelroth, Carl, Ph.D. & Smith, Donald E.P., Ph.D. (2000). The Anger Habit. Writer’s Showcase Press.

Semmelroth, Carol, Ph.D. (2002). The Anger Habit Workbook. Writer’s Showcase Press.

Anxiety Management

Anxiety and your body

When we feel anxious a chain of automatic events occurs in our bodies, which prepares us for action. This reaction is often termed the “fight or flight” response and can be traced back into our evolutionary past. Imagine the primitive caveman threatened by a wild animal. He needs to be prepared for vigorous action: either to run or to fight. We still possess this survival reaction, although it is now triggered by more subtle situations – some of which we are not even consciously aware of.

The reaction itself consists of the brain sending a message to pump adrenalin into the bloodstream and into the large skeletal muscles of the arms and legs. The heart beats faster as it is working harder. Because it is working harder, it need more fuel so we breathe in more oxygen. To cool down the body, sweat and blood capillaries come to the surface. The body ideally needs to be as light as possible so a visit to the toilet might be necessary. When this chain of events occurs in a normal situation, for example if we are pushing a trolley around a supermarket or sitting in a business meeting, it can be very frightening. The important thing to remember is that the physical symptoms are natural and not harmful, but are appearing in an inappropriate situation.

The three systems of anxiety

Anxiety is often referred to as if it is a single phenomenon, but this is not the case. There are three parts to the feeling of anxiety:

a) Bodily sensations. These have already been mentioned – they include irregular breathing, churning stomach, sweating, trembling, racing heart and the need to visit the toilet.

b) Behaviour. This means the way you behave – that is what you do when faced with the situation you fear. Especially important is the behaviour of avoiding the situation, either not going into the situation, or getting out of it as quickly as possible.

c) Thinking. This includes your ideas and beliefs, your mental comments to yourself, or our mental pictures about what might happen to you in the situation you fear.

Looking at these parts separately, and learning new skills in each area, is an important part of anxiety management.

A. Managing Bodily Sensations

Meditation

This is discussed here. Provided it is done regularly, meditation induces relaxation during the meditation session and more generally.

Controlling Hyperventilation

Catch it early

If it has happened to your before, you may be able to identify the warning signs, e.g. a stifling feeling as if the window should be open, tightness in the chest, or noticing your breathing is fast. These should be your cue to:

1. Stop whatever you are doing and try to find a quiet place to sit down.

2. Close your eyes and focus on the word “calm” in your mind.

3. Try to release some of the tension in the upper body. Sitting in a tense hunched-up position increases the possibility of hyperventilation. Dropping shoulders in a sideways widening direction makes hyperventilation more difficult since the chest and diaphragm muscles are stretched outwards.

4. Breathe slowly from the stomach, not the chest. Breathe in to a count of four slowly and out to a count of four slowly. Or visualize your breathing-in as going up one side of a hill, experiencing a plateau at the top, and then breathing out as though going down the other side.

5. It may also help to place your hands with your fingertips together on your stomach; make sure that each time you breath in, your fingertips come apart.

6. Concentrate on breathing out.

The re-breathing technique

If your symptoms don’t go away after a few minutes it is likely that you haven’t caught it quickly enough, and you will need to use the re-breathing technique. This involves breathing in the air you have just breathed out. This air is richer in carbon dioxide and will thus quickly replenish the carbon dioxide you have been exhaling.

  • Make a mask of your hands, put them over your nose and mouth, keep them there.
  • Breathe in through your nose (if possible).
  • Breathe out hard through your mouth.
  • Breathe your own exhaled air.
  • This should be done slowly and without holding your breath. Repeat four or five times (no more).
  • All the time try to stay calm and relaxed.

It is even better to use a paper bag (not polythene) over your nose and mouth instead of your hands, if circumstances allow. Adjust your posture so that your elbows are on a level with or above your shoulders (this makes it difficult to over-breathe).

B. Managing Behaviour

Dealing with Avoidance and Facing Fear

Avoiding anything that makes us anxious is in some ways a natural reaction. However, avoiding some situations that create anxiety can lead to the development of phobias and loss of confidence. Once we begin to avoid things, we may find our mobility increasingly restricted.

When you either stay in the situation you fear, or deliberately put yourself in that position, your anxiety will go up, reach a plateau and then go down again. The first time you do this the anxiety will take time to subside. The second time you face the situation you fear, your anxiety will be less severe and fall in a shorter time. Each time you put yourself into that situation your anxiety will progressively be less severe and fade more quickly.

The best way of overcoming avoidance and loss of confidence is by tackling your fears one step at a time in easy stages. This technique is called graded practice or systematic desensitization. By identifying situations that you avoid, and gradually confronting them time and again, you can reduce the anxiety associated with those situations. It is important to practice easier tasks first, so as to build up your confidence before tackling more difficult situations.

Graded Practice

1. List a number of situations that you avoid because of your anxiety.

2. Describe the situations in as much detail as possible. Be specific. Rather than saying, “Going on a bus,” say, “Travelling, alone on the number 29 bus, into town, on a weekday afternoon.”

3. Rate how much anxiety you anticipate each situation will create on a scale of 0 – 10 where 0 = low anxiety, 5 = moderate anxiety and 10 = extreme anxiety.

4. Rearrange the situations in ranked order with the most difficult at the bottom.

5. Start with the easiest situation and practice it. If practice is to be helpful it must be (a) regular, (b) frequent, and (c) prolonged – you must go on practising until the anxiety has died down.

6. If something is too hard, look at ways of breaking it down into intermediate stages.

7. Do not be put off by feeling anxious. Remember you are learning to master anxiety rather than avoid it.

8. Reward yourself for your successes.

Examples

  • Catching the no. 29 bus to the station, on my own, on Saturday morning. 5
  • Going into a lift in a department store, on my own, on a weekday afternoon. 6

Overcoming a Specific Phobia

A specific phobia refers to an isolated experience of anxiety attached to a particular object or situation. It is different from a complex phobia where there are multiple fears and anxieties. Specific phobias are often of animals, such as spiders, snakes, cats and dogs; or illness and blood; or natural phenomena such as thunderstorms, lightening, wind, or heights; more unusually they can be of situations such as eating or even going to the toilet in a public space.

The characteristics of a specific phobia

1. An intense fear of an object or situation, which is out of all proportion to the situation that evokes it.

2. The person recognizes that it is unreasonable and irrational but cannot do anything about it.

3. The sufferer avoids the feared situation as much as possible and this process of avoidance interferes with the smooth running of their everyday life.

It is estimated that the incidence of phobia in the general population is between 2-3 percent. The specific phobias often have their origins in childhood fears that have failed to diminish with time. When looking at the development and maintenance of phobias, a number of factors appear relevant. There is often a family history of fear, phobia and avoidance; parents can often act as models for their children. If they are not acting as direct models, it is possible that they are subtly supporting the child’s avoidance behaviour. Often there is a traumatic experience that acts as a nucleus for the subsequent phobia. But the main factor that keeps phobia going is a marked pattern of avoidance behaviour. Avoidance reduces the immediate feeling of anxiety, which strengthens the likelihood of avoidance in future.

The treatment of choice for a specific phobia

1. Understand the process, development and maintenance of the phobia.

2. Gain some control over physical reactions of fear and anxiety, through relaxation training, breathing exercises, distraction and positive self-talk.

3. Construct a desensitization hierarchy of situations that you are afraid of. This is done by rating specific situations on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 = no anxiety and 10 is equal to the worst possible anxiety. Be as specific and concrete as possible in describing situations.

4. Once a hierarchy is established, start at the top and work down by exposing yourself to the situation. The golden rule is that ultimately the only way to overcome a phobia is to face it directly. Stay in the situation of fear until you notice your anxiety going down. Once you feel comfortable with one situation move on to the next most difficult one.

Example of a desensitization hierarchy

  • Look at picture of spider.
  • Watch video of spider.
  • Stay in same room as spider in jar.
  • Pick up jar with spider in it.
  • Open lid of jar and look at spider.
  • Put spider in bucket – look at it.
  • Touch spider in bucket.
  • Put spider on desk.
  • Touch spider on desk.
  • Let spider walk on hand.

C. Managing Thoughts

Positive Self-Statements for Coping with Anxiety

Preparation

  • It’s not going to be as bad as I think.
  • It won’t last long and I can cope with it.
  • I might enjoy it if I go.
  • If I do get bad feelings, I know they won’t last long and I can cope with them.
  • It’s better to go than not to go. Worry doesn’t help.
  • I am getting better and need to go to rebuild my confidence.

Coping

  • Concentrate on what is going on.
  • Concentrate on what I have to do.
  • Remember to relax and think positive.
  • This is just anxiety; it is an unpleasant feeling but I’ve never been ill.
  • I can tolerate anxiety; I’ve managed it many times before.
  • I know I’m going to be OK.
  • The feelings are unpleasant but not harmful or dangerous.
  • One step at a time.
  • The feelings always pass away.

Praise

  • I coped with that.
  • I achieved that; I’m getting better.
  • I handled that; it should be easier next time.
  • I can be pleased with the progress I’m making.
  • I did that well.
  • If I keep this up I’m going to get really good at this.

Distraction

Thinking about unpleasant symptoms will tend to make them worse. We begin the “fear of fear” cycle, provoking further symptoms and preventing existing ones from disappearing.

It is difficult to simply turn your attention away from unpleasant feelings. To do so, two things are necessary.

  • Be determined not to think about or dwell on the symptoms.
  • Fill your mind with other things; distract yourself.

Distraction techniques

1. Mental Games. Do puzzles, crosswords or other word games, recite a poem, sing a song or count backwards from one hundred — all are useful distraction exercises. The important thing is that they take your attention away from the panic thoughts.

2. Environmental Focus. Concentrate on a specific detail of the world around you, for example, make words out of the number plates of cars or guess what people do for a living. Focusing on the outside world will prevent you thinking about what is going on inside.

3. Use a bridging object. This might be a photograph or a special brooch or a souvenir from a happy time. Looking at the object generates positive anxiety-reducing thoughts.

4. Physical Activity. Give yourself a task to do. This takes your mind off worrying thoughts. For example, hand drinks out at a party, change the music, or wash up after a meal. On a more general level, keep yourself physically active and mentally distracted from worrying thoughts by pursuing sporting activities — this is one of the best insulators against stress.

Mental Rehearsal

Mental rehearsal involves imagined, mental practice of performing a task effectively and it improves actual performance. Research shows that a combination of “imagined practice” and actual practice often results in better performance of difficult activities than if preparation relies only on actual practice. This applies to a wide range of activities, including those of sport, work, social and psychological coping skills.

As mental practice is perfect practice, it also boosts confidence as the experience of success increases confidence even if the experience is imagined. Mental practice should supplement other forms of skill development, not replace them. For instance, role playing effective listening skills and getting feedback on performances helps to develop those skills in ways that mental rehearsal cannot. Nonetheless, mental practice assists the skill learning process and provides the extra edge for those who have reached sufficient levels of skill development.

Just a few seconds to visualize successful performance can be helpful. More elaborate mental rehearsal, like the following, is even more useful.

A mental rehearsal procedure

1. Find a time and place where you won’t be interrupted.

2. Recline or lie down, and close your eyes.

3. Relax, concentrate, and focus. Take deep breaths and exhale slowly. As you exhale, imagine that stress is leaving your body. Start at your feet … feel all the stress leave your feet … then your legs … then your chest … all the way to the top of your head … feel all the stress leave your body.

4. Once relaxed, focus on the specific challenging task.

5. Mentally tell yourself that you are confident and that you have the ability to perform this task successfully. Repeatedly tell yourself, with confidence, that you will be successful.

6. Imagine what you will see just before you begin the task. Visualize yourself as an active participant, not as a passive observer. For example, to mentally rehearse putting a golf ball, imagine that you are standing on the green rather than watching yourself from the gallery.

7. While relaxed and focused, mentally rehearse successful performance of this task. Imagine going through the process and seeing successful results.

8. Repeat step 7 several times.

9. Finally, open your eyes and smile. You have successfully performed in your mind, which is great preparation for actual performance. You should now be confident that you will perform successfully in the real situation. Remember to praise yourself for being successful. Self-reinforcement is another a key to self-motivation.

Depression Management

What is Depression?

People experience depression in many different ways, but perhaps the most prominent feature is a low or sad mood. Other typical signs of depression include lethargy, trouble with sleeping or early wakening, feeling constantly tired, pessimistic negative thoughts, difficulty thinking straight or making decisions, change in appetite and loss of interest.

There are different types of depressive reaction ranging from mild mood fluctuations or ‘the blues’ to severe clinical depression. At the severe end of the scale people often experience more marked physical symptoms and it seems likely that this is related to biochemical changes in the brain. For most people a depressive reaction is triggered by a set of life events which they are finding difficult to cope with.

Vulnerability to depression

Some people are more vulnerable to depression than others. Vulnerability factors include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Negative thinking habits
  • Low assertiveness
  • Lack of social support
  • Excessive stress

The depressive spiral – thoughts, mood, behaviour

Depressed people are prone to continuous, automatic, negative thoughts. Their thinking tends to be distorted, e.g. all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, personalizing, focusing on the negative, and jumping to conclusions. These patterns of thinking initiate or worsen a low mood state which results in reduced activity. Reduced activity produces less rewarding experiences, which produces further negative thoughts and low mood. A vicious spiral of thoughts, feelings and behaviour is created. To stop this downward spiral, the following is recommended:

  • Recognize that the way you think influences the way you feel.
  • Recognize negative thinking habits.
  • Try to challenge and replace these negative thoughts.
  • Try to increase activity levels.
  • Try to do more of the activities you enjoy.

Challenges to Upsetting Thoughts

Evidence

What evidence do I have to support my negative thoughts?

What evidence do I have against them?

Alternative views

How would someone else view this situation?

How would I have viewed this situation in the past?

Distorted thoughts

1. Am I thinking in all-or-nothing terms, ignoring the middle ground?

2. Am I catastrophizing, overestimating the chances of disaster?

3. Am I personalizing, blaming myself for something which is not my fault?

4. Am I focusing on the negative, looking on the dark side; ignoring my strengths?

5. Am I jumping to conclusions, predicting the future and mind-reading?

6. Am I living by fixed rules, fretting about how things ought to be; overusing the words should, must and can’t?

Action

What can I do to change my situation?

Am I overlooking solutions to problems on the assumption they won’t work?

Stress and Coping

Stress occurs when coping with a stressor taxes or exceeds our coping resources. Coping involves thoughts and behaviour to manage the problem. Alternatives to the word “coping” include: battle with, carry on, confront, contend, deal, endure, face, get by, grapple, handle, live with, manage, struggle, suffer, survive, tangle, weather, and wrestle. Stressors can be personal (examples here), occupational (examples here), environmental (e.g. acute stressors of solar storms and the moon/season, enduring stressors such as our ecological collapse) and societal (e.g. the attack on our societies by followers of killer religions).

Two aspects of coping

Effective coping accurately recognizes what we can change and what we cannot. Effective coping reduces stress, either by removing or modifying the stressor, or by managing our reaction to it. Ineffective or insufficient coping does not reduce stress.

Problem-focused coping

If problems caused by the stressor (e.g. snails eating one’s plants) can be solved or eliminated (e.g. by making a trap for snails that are eating one’s plants) then an effective problem-focused coping approach is emphasized.

Emotion-focused coping

If the stressor cannot be removed or modified, for example the accelerating mass extinction caused by humans and which is expected to include the extinction of humans, then an emotion-focused coping approach is adopted. In this situation effective coping would address the accompanying emotions.

Coping usually requires a blend of the problem-focused and emotion-focused approaches to address the full complexity of a problem.

Coping resources

Our ability to cope depends on the resources we can apply to solving the problems, e.g. intelligence, knowledge, skills, creativity, self-confidence, perseverance, money, tools, materials, supportive friends and family, health, energy and time.

When we have the resources to solve problems we hardly give them a second thought. But coping is far more difficult when resources are limited, e.g. if we are unemployed, in substantial debt and facing eviction from our home. Problem-focused solutions are not apparent, stress mounts, and emotions become intense. While our problem-focused coping efforts are frustrated, we also employ emotion-focused coping efforts to help resolve our feelings of distress.

Stages of coping

Even coping with simple problems proceeds through the following distinct stages:

  1. Orienting — Noticing something interesting and turning our attention toward it, e.g. plant leaves look damaged.
  2. Observing — Paying careful attention to the leaves. Recognizing the familiar signs of snail damage.
  3. Appraisal — Evaluating the impact of the observations on our particular goals, e.g. will this level of snail activity impact the goal of having healthy plants.
  4. Deciding — Creating alternatives, assessing their value, planning, and choosing our next actions. After considering the alternatives, the decision is made to set traps for the snails.
  5. Acting — Carrying out the decisions. The traps are prepared and placed in position.
  6. Reappraising — Reflecting on the appraisal, decision, actions, and result. We are satisfied with the large number of snails trapped and the reduction in new damage observed on plants.

Unsolvable problems

These stressors often involve permanent loss such as destroyed property, serious injury, death of a friend, divorce, chronic illness, or death of a spouse or close relative. There is no effective problem-focused solution to these unsolvable problems. Therefore any coping strategy that relieves stress and resolves emotions without causing further problems or destruction is a good choice. This may involve grieving and taking time to restore ourselves to a new equilibrium.

Stages in coping with grief

A way of thinking about about how people cope with major loss experiences is provided by the five stage model of psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying:

  1. Denial — We ignore or discount the evidence; cling to a false, preferable reality, e.g. “This mass extinction is not really happening.”
  2. Anger — When the facts cannot be ignored, we feel frustration and anger toward people blamed for the loss, e.g. “Why did our politicians not take genuine action to conserve nature?”
  3. Bargaining — We hope to avoid or delay the loss in exchange for us making changes, e.g. recycling waste and reducing pollution in the hope that this will stop/slow the mass extinction.
  4. Depression — We despair about the inevitable loss, e.g. “What have we done to our planet? This is terrible.”
  5. Acceptance — We accept the inevitable and perhaps find meaning in the loss at a spiritual level (the topic of God and Heaven is discussed here).

Denial of solvable problems

Although failing to acknowledge evidence can be an effective coping strategy if there is no action that can alleviate the problem, denial delays effective action and prolongs the harm if there are steps we can take to address the problem. We cannot change what we do not acknowledge.

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Steps not taken to address an important problem . . .

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Result

References

Lazarus, Richard, & Folkman, Susan (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping, New York: Springer.

Lazarus, Richard (1999). Stress and emotion: A new synthesis, New York: Springer.

Winning the psychological war

We see evidence of this war on us almost everywhere we look, including the destructive conduct of formal education, media, government and religion.

The battle can be cast in various terms, e.g. spiritual (yin-yang, good-evil, God-Satan) and cycles (ups/downs of the evolutionary process, including very long-term solar and planetary cycles, real climate change). Regardless, the concept of personal control can help us understand and win this psychological war.

Importance of personal control

  1. Felt lack of personal power in the face of events that are — at least to some extent — under personal control leads to inappropriate passivity. This mental state follows irrational beliefs about the nature of reality, prophecy, ‘fate,’ teachings of Christianity, and it can lead to catastrophe.
  2. Beliefs about personal control are targeted in psychological operations against individuals / groups in sport, war and the psychopathic lunatics’ relentless attacks on us, e.g. Bible “prophecy” (does not withstand rational analysis), films like The Matrix (lies about a scripted future) and other j-media lies about our future, including the present “X over America” priming of “believers” (see footnotes for explanation).
  3. Personal control is also the focus of effective psychological therapy. A good therapist (rare) quickly identifies and challenges irrational beliefs about powerlessness and then mobilizes the person’s anger (opposite of low morale). Anger can fuel dramatic psychological recovery when skilfully channelled, from the level of the individual and their therapist to the level of a gifted patriotic leader like Adolf Hitler. Those who seek our submission know this. Therefore they present controlled opposition figures and events to try direct our anger according to their agenda, e.g. civil war.

How our enemy tries to con us

The enemy tries to fool us by mixing truth with lies, e.g. God + “Jesus” (Christ Con — see this post), ecological catastrophe + “Anthropogenic Global Warming” (Climate Con — see this post), seasonal cold/flu + “pandemic” (Corona Con — see this post). In the case of our supposed lack of personal control over our destiny (Cosmic Con), the con works by presenting a partial lack of control (true) as a total lack of control (lie).

Cosmic Con

Extent of personal control
Scientific evidence and logic indicates that (a) all events are generated by God (aka collective unconscious, quantum vacuum, etc); (b) we have free will (personal control) to exercise in response to internal (feelings, impulses, thoughts) and external events to some extent (depending on event demands and our coping resources); and (c) our behaviour influences the likelihood of particular events thereafter. Depending on characteristics of the situation and person / group, this influence over future events can range from minimal to immense.

Extent of foreknowledge
There is impressive experimental evidence of future event predictability to some extent — individuals with strong non-local awareness display high levels of precognition in tests of this ability. This predictability makes sense as evolution involves much repetition and is sometimes referred to as a story re-told. If you can access the Book of Life (Hall of Records, universal DNA, etc) and read the previous version of the story, as some people seem able to do, you should have a good idea of what might happen next.

However in the experiments referred to above, even individuals with the highest levels of non-local awareness cannot anticipate all details of future events. This limited foreknowledge is consistent with the randomness (spontaneity, quantum leaps, creativity) that is part of the evolutionary process — details of the process are worked out in a dynamic relationship between God and his expressions in all instances of consciousness. God is on the journey too and doesn’t know all that is yet to happen.

Our future is written in clay (not stone) and much of it is blank
This is implied by personal control over future events and the extent to which future events are unknowable in advance. This is consistent with systematic analyses of published “prophecy,” e.g. analyses of Bible “prophecy” that indicate it is invalid and best viewed as an anti-gentile psyop and perhaps as a script followed by our enemy; and Erica Cheetham’s book (The Prophecies of Nostradamus) that reveal Nostradamus prophecy as hit or miss (not reliable). However my study of Boer prophet Siener van Rensburg prophecy (see this post) indicates that he was a superior prophet to Nostradamus and he is one of the prophets whose visions I treat with the greatest of respect.

Nevertheless in general we see flawed individuals pretending to know our future and gullible types believing them. There have been innumerable ‘expert’ predictions about our future (e.g. climate, technology, medicine) that turned out to be totally wrong. Further, the current predictions of futurist Raymond Kurzweil were so obviously illogical to physicist Peter Russell that he could immediately dismiss them as nonsense in an article (Get Real, Ray).

Conclusion and recommendation

When politicians, mainstream media or ‘experts’ present our ‘future’ (e.g. a world dominated by the technology required for psychopathic lunatic world government) as if it is a foregone conclusion over which we have no control, that is a lie — an attempted con (Cosmic Con).

Let’s dismiss all the psychopathic lunatic cons: Christ Con, Cosmic Con, Clash of Civilizations Con [ruse for jew wars], Climate Con, Communication Con [supposed need for toxic 5G], Corona Con, Choice Con [illusion of democracy] ….

We can use our God-given power to positively influence our role within the evolutionary process, to show respect for all God’s plants and animals (our ecological catastrophe is discussed in this post) and to record an enlightened passage in the Book of Life.

Notes

Christ Con

In my experience, people who value God (a provable reality, as is karma and life after death — see this post), knowledge and the evolutionary process (learning), welcome information about the Christ Con even if they are still victims of this deception. There is so much to gain in progressing beyond the distortions of religion to a clearer and more inspired relationship with God. Ex-Christians such as myself still treasure parts of the Bible that we find helpful but we totally dismiss the jew-serving lies, including the mythical “Jesus.”

Several scholarly references on the Christ Con are presented in this post. In particular, the reference that people seem to find most helpful is this one, jesus never existed.

X over America

The 21 Aug 2017 and 8 Apr 2024 solar eclipses (always at New Moon) form an X over America and apparently this particular X (but not the ones before or after for some reason) signifies a time of Divine retribution as foretold in jew Bible “prophecy.”

Unsurprisingly, this scaremongering is promoted by jews (this is easily established by an Internet search). Where there is scaremongering there is an agenda. What is the purpose of this particular psyop? As with other cons (climate, corona, etc) we can be certain that the X Con does not serve our best interests.

Speculation about the X Con agenda includes reference to Jim Stone’s report (discussed here) of strong factual evidence suggesting that Israel used atomic bombs to artificially induce the Fukushima catastrophe on 11 Mar 2011 (New Moon phase).

Are the lunatics planning to induce ‘natural’ catastrophe(s) in the USA on or soon after the 8 Apr 2024 New Moon (and solar eclipse)? They can always count on Christ-Conned naiveté and are now easily priming “believers.” But on that date they can also count on favourable solar cycle (in the area of a peak) and season (Spring) effects. (Evidence of solar, season and lunar factors in mass human violence is presented toward the end of this post.)

Assertiveness: ACTIVE responding to complaints, criticism and put-downs

Receiving Complaints or Criticism

Often the unassertive person indiscriminately accepts complaints / criticism and apologizes for events even when s/he cannot be held accountable for these. On the other hand, people who become highly aroused and livid when they receive complaints are behaving aggressively, not assertively.

Method

1. Distinguish whether the criticism is valid, invalid or nothing but a thinly veiled put-down. If the criticism is vague or ambiguous, it may be helpful to ask the person to be more specific. You may share your feelings with the person making the criticism so that the person will know the effect the criticism is having on you.

Valid criticism is criticism that you know to be legitimate; it is true and applies to you. Invalid criticism includes comments and statements that you know to be untrue.

2. Don’t accept unjust complaints just to keep the peace. If you think someone’s criticism is excessive or unfair, you can say so or you can call a halt to it. State your viewpoint with conviction, not apologetically.

3. If you are at fault, apologize briefly (don’t apologize endlessly).

4. If the criticism is fair, you may find it useful to ask for specific suggestions and alternatives. Try to move toward the future and turn the person criticizing you in the same direction.

5. If you feel there is some truth in a criticism (and you feel comfortable with getting the criticism) you can use the skill of Active Listening [discussed below] to prompt further criticism in order to either use the information if it turns out that your critic is trying to be constructive, or to expose it if your critic is being purely manipulative or vicious.

By taking the initiative and in a sense inviting negative criticism, you put yourself in a much stronger position to handle it. You choose the moment so you are not caught off your guard.

6. Use the Broken Record technique if a discussion has passed the point of usefulness or when dealing with an antagonistic person. Coolly and calmly repeat your statement over and over, making sure you don’t show anger or irritation. Don’t fall for giving excuses or reasons, or explaining yourself.

7. Accept the substance of a valid complaint, but not the vindictiveness of the complainant. If you have been unacceptably insulted, terminate the discussion on the spot.

8. Active Listening / Reflection [discussed below] can reduce the sting of hostile criticism or constructive criticism.

Dealing with Put-Downs

A put-down is (verbal and nonverbal) aggressiveness that is meant to hurt and humiliate – aggressive criticism, the caustic or barbed remark, being rudely ignored, a hostile expression, etc. It is often executed in the company of other people or at other times of personal vulnerability.

Your response to the put-down will influence its effect on you and the aggressor’s future behaviour toward you.

Verbal self-defense

1. Respond, even if you are not sure whether s/he meant it or not. If it felt like a put-down, respond as to a put-down. Respond as soon as possible (this doesn’t have to be lightening fast). Respond calmly, rationally and assertively.

2. Put the other person on the defensive – let her / him explain. Valuable techniques for this are Active Listening / Reflection (a form of active listening), which can include questioning, paraphrasing and summarizing. Reflection can involve reflection of content (what is said) and reflection of underlying feeling. Examples:

“What do you mean ….?”
“Can you be more specific / explain ….?”
“Can you give me some examples ….?”
“You seem aggressive today …. What’s the matter with you?”
“Does that remark / behaviour / expression mean you are feeling angry?”
“I’m not sure how to take that …. Is it meant to be aggressive?”

If you show you’re afraid of a dog, he’ll take it as an invitation to bite you.

Related posts
Assertiveness: Introduction
Assertiveness: Our Rights
Assertiveness: PASSIVE responding to complaints, criticism and put-downs

Assertiveness: PASSIVE responding to complaints, criticism and put-downs

FOGGING

(from Smith, 1989, pp. 104-112)

This is a way of dealing with manipulative criticism from other people. It follows these principles:

We do NOT: deny any criticism, get defensive, or counter attack with criticism of our own. In other words, we respond to this criticism as if we are a fog bank. A fog bank is very persistent, offers no resistance to our penetration, and it does not fight back. It has no hard striking surfaces from which a rock we throw at it can ricochet back at us, enabling us to pick it up and throw it at the fog once more. We can throw an object right through it, and it is unaffected. Inevitably, we give up trying to alter the persistent, independent, non-manipulable fog and leave it alone. Similarly, when criticized, we can assertively cope by offering no resistance or hard psychological striking surfaces to critical statements thrown at us.

Other ways of describing this assertive skill include agreeing with truth, agreeing in principle, or agreeing with the odds. It is a powerful verbal skill that can be used in everyday situations to deal with manipulative logic, argument, guilt- and anxiety-inducing statements.

We can use this skill in the following ways:

1. We can agree with any truth in statements people use to criticize us, e.g. if an overprotective mother keeps checking up on her daughter even after the daughter no longer lives at home, the daughter might respond to her mother’s criticism of implied or suggested wrongdoing with assertive fogging:

Mother: You stayed out late again. I tried to call you until twelve thirty last night. Daughter: That’s true, Mom, I was out late again last night.

2. We can agree with any possible truth in statements people use to criticize us. In the case of the daughter and her mom, if mom criticized her with a statement of direct wrongdoing, daughter might still respond with assertive fogging:

Mother: If you stay out late so much you might get sick again.
Daughter: You could be right, Mom. (Or, That’s probably true. Or, I agree with you, Mom, if I didn’t go out so often I would probably get a lot more sleep.)

3. We can agree with the general truth in logical statements that people use to manipulate us. In the case of this daughter’s mother, if she persisted in trying to impose her own rules of living upon her daughter’s lifestyle, daughter could continue to assert herself with verbal fogging:

Mother: You know how important looking good is to a young girl who wants to meet a nice man and get married. If you keep staying out late so often and don’t get enough sleep, you won’t look good. You don’t want that to happen, do you?
Daughter: You’re right, Mom. What you say makes sense, so when I feel the need, I’ll get in early enough.

A practice exercise using Fogging to deal with criticism

Critic: I see that you are dressed in your usual sloppy manner.
Respondent: That’s right. I am dressed in my usual way. [Fogging]

Critic: Those pants! They look like you stole them off the Goodwill rack without pressing them.
Respondent: They are a bit wrinkled, aren’t they? [Fogging]

Critic: Wrinkled is the understatement of the week. They are positively dreadful.
Respondent: You’re probably right. They do look a bit worse for wear. [Fogging]

Critic: And that shirt! Your taste must be all in your mouth.
Respondent: That’s probably true. My taste in clothes isn’t one of my strong points. [Fogging]

Critic: Anyone who dresses like that obviously hasn’t got much going for them.
Respondent: You’re right. I do have a lot of faults. [Fogging]

Critic: Faults! Is that what you call them? They are more like chasms. Your personality is one empty Grand Canyon.
Respondent: You could be right. There are a lot of things I could improve. [Fogging]

Critic: I doubt if you are able to do a job effectively if you can’t even dress properly.
Respondent: That’s true. I could improve my work on the job. [Fogging]

Critic: And you probably pick up your paycheck each week from the poor boss you are ripping off without feeling any guilt.
Respondent: You’re right. I don’t feel any guilt at all. [Fogging]

Critic: What a thing to say. You should feel guilty!
Respondent: You’re probably right, I could feel a bit guiltier. [Fogging]

Critic: You probably don’t budget the salary you cheat other people – hard-working people, not loafers like you – out of.
Respondent: You’re probably right, I could budget my money better, and I do loaf a lot. [Fogging]

Critic: If you were smarter and had some moral sensibility you could ask someone how to buy better clothes so you don’t look like a bum.
Respondent: That’s true, I could ask someone how to buy better clothes, and I certainly could be smarter than I am. [Fogging]

Critic: You look nervous when I tell you things that you don’t like.
Respondent: I’m sure I do look nervous. [Fogging]

Critic: You shouldn’t be nervous, I’m your friend.
Respondent: That’s true, I shouldn’t be as nervous as I am. [Fogging]

Critic: I’m probably the only person who would tell you these things.
Respondent: I’m sure you’re right about that! [Fogging with sarcastic emphasis]

Critic: You were being sarcastic.
Respondent: That’s true, I was. [Fogging]

Critic: You’re not here to learn to be sarcastic, you already know that! You are deliberately resisting how to Fog.
Respondent: You’re right, I already know how to be sarcastic and I probably am fighting learning something new. [Fogging]

Critic: Only someone dumb does that.
Respondent: You’re probably right, that may have been dumb of me. [Fogging]

Critic: You’ll never learn to do this.
Respondent: You’re probably right; I may never be any good at it. [Fogging]

Critic: You’re scratching your ear again.
Respondent: That’s true. [Fogging]

Critic: And you quickly pulled your hand away when I pointed it out.
Respondent: I did, didn’t I? [Fogging]

Critic: And my pointing it out made you nervous again.
Respondent: I guess you’re right. [Fogging]

Critic: You’re hopeless.
Respondent: You may be right. [Fogging]

Critic: And what kind of hair style is that you have? It looks like one of those worn by those dirty hippies.
Respondent: It does, doesn’t it? [Fogging]

Critic: And it looks just as dirty, too.
Respondent: That’s true. It could be much cleaner, couldn’t it? [Fogging]

Critic: You probably would like to live like them; never having to wash and rolling in sex.
Respondent: You could be right. Maybe I should think about that! [Fogging]

Critic: And you probably would enjoy all the sexual perversions they perform! [Fogging]
Respondent: That’s a point. You may just be right there! [Fogging]

Critic: Now that I think of it, you seem like the type that wouldn’t have to join a band of hippies to be taught sexual perversions. You probably know about them already.
Respondent: That’s true. I’ve made a lifelong study of sex. [Fogging]

Critic: Yes, but I can see from your sneaky, beady eyes that you have already put some of them into practice. [Fogging]
Respondent: You may be right. [Fogging]

Critic: You shouldn’t grin when you are told what’s good for you.
Respondent: That’s true, I shouldn’t. [Fogging]

Critic: All you do is agree with me.
Respondent: You’re right. [Fogging]

Critic: You sound like a yes-man with no spine or personality of his own.
Respondent: I do sound like that, don’t I? [Fogging]

Critic: You don’t sound like one, you are a yes-man!
Respondent: You may be right. [Fogging]

Critic: You’re doing it again.
Respondent: That’s true, I am. [Fogging]

Critic: I don’t think you can say anything but “Yes” to someone!
Respondent: I can certainly see why you think that. [Fogging]

Critic: Well, can you say “No” and mean it?
Respondent: Perhaps. [Fogging]

Critic: Don’t you know?
Respondent: We’ll have to see, won’t we?

Additional points on Fogging

1. It forces the respondent to listen to exactly what the critic says. If the critic says, for example, “you sound like …” the learner replies, “You’re right, I do sound like …”. If he says, “I think that you …” the learner replies, “I can see that you do think that …” or “I can understand why you would think that …”. The respondent responds only to what the critic actually says, not what is implied or what the novice thinks the criticism implies. It teaches the respondent to be a good listener, to listen to what is actually said – not to read minds – by the critic instead of interpreting what is said to conform to the novice’s own self-doubts and insecurities, what we all secretly feel or think.

2. It also forces the respondent to think in terms of probabilities – what he would be willing to bet money on, not in absolutes, in yes or no, blacks or whites, 100 per cent or zero. Indeed, the respondent may be a bit lazy on the job, but he still gets the job done. His hair probably does have some foreign matter on it, unless he just stepped into the classroom dripping wet from the shower stall. His sexual behaviour (or lack of it) would likely be described as perverse by aficionados at both ends of the erotic spectrum. In short, any critical comment will have at least a grain of truth in it, depending upon the relative vantage point from which his behaviour and personality are viewed.

3. Sensitive people might ask: “How can I agree with someone who tells me something that is not true. I’m not going to lie about myself!” Questions of this type are either prompted by deep feelings of insecurity about that very criticism that is “not true,” i.e. the critique strikes a bit too close to home for comfort, or the respondent has such a general lack of confidence in himself that he desperately needs to hang on to those positive things about himself; he is unable to suffer any slander about them.

In working with these people, an assertiveness trainer might say something like: “For example, if someone says you are dumb, what do you say? You aren’t dumb, are you? (Person always shakes head in negative.) Well, congratulations! You are very lucky, because speaking for myself, I’m very dumb. Sometimes I do very stupid things. Other times I’m brilliant, but a lot of times I’m dumb. Also dumb in comparison to what? In comparison to famous scientists, I’m a village idiot. On the other hand, in comparison to a lot of people I know, I’m a positive genius. So when I’m told that I’m dumb, I can readily agree with it. You’re probably right; compared to some people, I’m really dumb, and compared to myself, sometimes I’m a real clod. So I listen to what people tell me about myself in all things, and give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, they may be right, but then I still make my own judgment about it and do what I decide.

Reference

Smith, M. J. (1989). When I say no, I feel guilty. New York: Bantam.

Related posts
Assertiveness: Introduction
Assertiveness: Our Rights
Assertiveness: ACTIVE responding to complaints, criticism and put-downs

Assertiveness: Our Rights

The underlying philosophy of assertiveness training is based on the premise that we are all equal and that we all possess the same basic rights. Many people seem to have forgotten, or have never been told, that these rights exist. The goal of assertiveness is to stand up for your rights without violating the rights of others. A good starting point is to remind yourself of some of these basic rights.

  1. I have the right to express my feelings.
  2. I have the right to be treated with respect as an intelligent, capable and equal human being.
  3. I have the right to express my opinions and beliefs.
  4. I have the right to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ for myself.
  5. I have the right to change my mind.
  6. I have the right to say, ‘I don’t understand.’
  7. I have the right simply to be myself without having to act for other people’s benefit.
  8. I have the right to decline responsibility for other people’s problems.
  9. I have the right to make reasonable requests of others.
  10. I have the right to set my own priorities.
  11. I have the right to be listened to, and taken seriously.
  12. I have the right to make mistakes and feel comfortable about admitting to them.
  13. I have the right to be illogical in making decisions.
  14. I have the right to say, ‘I don’t care.’
  15. I have the right to be miserable or cheerful.

Add any other rights that you can think of.

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Assertiveness: Introduction
Assertiveness: PASSIVE responding to complaints, criticism and put-downs
Assertiveness: ACTIVE responding to complaints, criticism and put-downs

Assertiveness: Introduction

What is assertiveness?

The word assertiveness is used to describe a certain pattern of behaviour or a style of communicating with others. It is a way of behaving which means we are communicating our feelings, thoughts, and beliefs in an open, honest manner without violating the rights of other people. It is an alternative to being either aggressive, where we abuse other people’s rights, or to being passive, where we abuse our own rights.

Being assertive means we are able to ask for what we want from others; it means we can say ‘no’ to the requests of others; it means we can express a range and depth of emotion, for example, love, liking and anger; and it means we can express personal opinions without feeling self-conscious. Very few people manage to be assertive all the time in all areas of their lives. It is undoubtedly true that we could all benefit from being more assertive in some areas of our lives.

Why are we unassertive?

We act in an unassertive manner because we have learned through our experiences to behave that way. This learning process can be traced back to our early childhood. Small babies have no fear of expressing themselves and communicating their needs. They cry and smile openly; there is no inhibition or ‘beating about the bush’. But very quickly children learn to adapt their behaviour to the kind of responses they receive from those around them.

Children’s behaviour is subtly shaped by the models they are exposed to and by the encouragement, or lack of it, received from parents, family, friends and school.

Some children are encouraged and rewarded for expressing themselves openly and honestly and are quite comfortable expressing a range of emotions. Others may be encouraged to express their thoughts but find it more difficult to express emotions. We have all learned to be the way we are; therefore we can learn to behave differently.

The effects of being unassertive

The long-term effect of being unassertive is a growing loss of self-esteem. This term refers to our evaluation of ourselves in respect to how competent, significant, and likeable we see ourselves as people. The more we act in an unassertive way, the weaker is our positive sense of identity: the sense of, “This is me, this is how I feel and how I think.” This can result in a lack of sense of purpose, or a feeling that we are not in control of our lives, which in turn leads to negative feelings and symptoms of stress.

If we are failing to express ourselves openly and we are concealing our feelings and thoughts, this can lead to internal tension, also resulting in physical and mental symptoms of stress. Inherent in unassertive behaviour is poor communication which leads to the development of unhealthy, uncomfortable relationships. Communicating effectively in relationships is the best possible insulator against symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Why be more assertive?

By being more assertive we can improve our sense of identity, our confidence and our self-esteem. A snowball effect is created: the more confident we feel, the more assertive we are and so on. By stating more clearly what our needs are, we increase the chances that these needs will be met.

Being assertive leads to a saving in energy and a reduction in tension. We are no longer preoccupied with avoiding upsetting others, and no longer overly concerned with making gains in an aggressive way. People who are generally assertive are confident people who are simply happy to be themselves.

Related posts
Assertiveness: Our Rights
Assertiveness: PASSIVE responding to complaints, criticism and put-downs
Assertiveness: ACTIVE responding to complaints, criticism and put-downs

Symptoms of Mental Distress

Symptoms of depression and anxiety are listed below.

Major Depressive Disorder

A. Five (or more) of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms is either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.

  1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
  2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
  3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  4. Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day.
  5. Psychomotor agitation (restlessness) or retardation (slowed down) nearly every day.
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
  8. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
  9. Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation with­out a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

B. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupa­tional, or other important areas of functioning.

Fear Problems

Specific Phobia

  1. Marked fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation (e.g. flying, heights, animals, receiving an injection, seeing blood).
  2. The phobic object or situation almost always provokes immediate fear or anxiety.
  3. The phobic object or situation is actively avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.
  4. The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual danger posed by the specific object or situation and to the sociocultural context.
  5. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or more.
  6. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Social Anxiety Disorder

  1. Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others such as social interactions (e.g. having a conversation, meeting unfamiliar people), being observed (e.g. eating or drink­ing), and performing in front of others (e.g. giving a speech).
  2. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way or show anxiety symptoms that will be negatively evaluated (i.e. will be humiliating or embarrassing, lead to rejection or offend others).
  3. The social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety.
  4. The social situations are avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.
  5. The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation.
  6. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or more.
  7. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Panic Disorder

A. Recurrent unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time four (or more) of the following symptoms occur;

  1. Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate.
  2. Sweating.
  3. Trembling or shaking.
  4. Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering.
  5. Feelings of choking.
  6. Chest pain or discomfort.
  7. Nausea or abdominal distress.
  8. Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint.
  9. Chills or heat sensations.
  10. Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations).
  11. Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself).
  12. Fear of losing control or “going crazy.”
  13. Fear of dying.

B. At least one of the attacks has been followed by 1 month (or more) of one or both of the following:

  1. Persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences (e.g. losing control, having a heart attack, “going crazy”).
  2. A significant maladaptive change in behavior related to the attacks (e.g. behaviors designed to avoid having panic attacks, such as avoidance of exercise or unfamiliar situations).

Agoraphobia

A. Marked fear or anxiety about two (or more) of the following five situations:

1. Using public transportation (e.g. automobiles, buses, trains, ships, planes).
2. Being in open spaces (e.g. parking lots, marketplaces, bridges).
3. Being in enclosed places (e.g. shops, theaters, cinemas).
4. Standing in line or being in a crowd.
5. Being outside of the home alone.

B. The individual fears or avoids these situations because of thoughts that escape might be difficult or help might not be available in the event of developing panic-like symptoms­ or other incapacitating or embarrassing symptoms (e.g. fear of falling in the elderly; fear of incontinence).

C. The agoraphobic situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety.

D. The agoraphobic situations are actively avoided, require the presence of a companion, or are endured with intense fear or anxiety.

E. The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual danger posed by the agoraphobic situations and to the sociocultural context.

F. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or more.

G. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

A. Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities (e.g. work performance).

B. The individual finds it difficult to control the worry.

C. The anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms:

  1. Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge.
  2. Being easily fatigued.
  3. Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank.
  4. Irritability.
  5. Muscle tension.
  6. Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep).

D. The anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

A. Presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both.

Obsessions

  1. Recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and unwanted, and that in most individuals cause marked anxiety or distress.
  2. The individual attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, urges, or images, or to neutralize them with some other thought or action, i.e. by performing a compulsion.

Compulsions

  1. Repetitive behaviors (e.g. hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g. praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly.
  2. The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing anxiety or dis­tress, or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however these behaviors or mental acts are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent, or are clearly excessive.

B. The obsessions or compulsions are time-consuming (e.g., take more than 1 hour per day) or cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

A. Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.

B. Presence of one (or more) of the following:

  1. Recurrent, involuntary distressing memories of the traumatic event(s).
  2. Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content and/or affect of the dream are related to the traumatic event(s).
  3. Dissociative reactions (e.g. flashbacks) in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic event(s) were recurring.
  4. Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).
  5. Marked physiological reactions to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).

C. One or both of the following:

  1. Avoidance of or efforts to avoid distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s).
  2. Avoidance of or efforts to avoid external reminders (people, places, conversations, activities, objects, situations) that arouse distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s).

D. Two (or more) of the following:

  1. Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event(s).
  2. Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world (e.g. “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted,” “The world is completely dangerous”).
  3. Persistent, distorted cognitions about the cause or consequences of the traumatic event(s) that lead the individual to blame himself/herself or others.
  4. Persistent negative emotional state (e.g. fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame).
  5. Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities.
  6. Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.
  7. Persistent inability to experience positive emotions (e.g. happiness, satisfaction, or loving feelings).

E. Two (or more) of the following:

  1. Irritable behavior and angry outbursts (with little or no provocation) typically expressed as verbal or physical aggression toward people or objects.
  2. Reckless or self-destructive behavior.
  3. Hypervigilance.
  4. Exaggerated startle response.
  5. Problems with concentration.
  6. Sleep disturbance (e.g. difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep).

F. Duration of the disturbance (Criteria B, C, D, and E) is more than 1 month.

G. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Reference

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

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