Dr. Deborah Chiles,  Psych Consulting 

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The Life-Changing (But Tricky) Impact of Friendships at Work

Posted on October 10, 2017 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (0)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology website to be interesting. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201710/the-life-changing-tricky-impact-friendships-work

The Life-Changing (But Tricky) Impact of Friendships at Work

They help so much - but you have to manage them with skill

Posted Oct 10, 2017

It’s hard to build real connections with your colleagues if you never get beyond superficial chit-chat. And yet people who have a “best friend at work” are not only more likely to be happier and healthier, they are also seven times as likely to be engaged in their job. What’s more, employees who report having friends at work have higher levels of productivity, retention, and job satisfaction than those who don’t.

 

Many companies have tried to support office bonds through perks like ping-pong tables, free lunches, or corporate retreats, but the reality is that most of us don’t have close friends at work. In a survey by Pew and the American Life Project, just 12% of respondents’ closest ties were with people from their professional life. If we expand this to people who were significant in the respondent’s life, the results aren’t wildly different. Only 19% of the people surveyed had a significant relationship with a workmate.

 

This phenomenon seems to be particularly American. Going on a vacation with a coworker is virtually unimaginable in America — less than 6% of workers have taken their relationship with colleagues to this level. Research by Stanford professor Hazel Markus, author of Clash: How to Thrive in a Multicultural World, suggests that this fact is probably due to our cultural propensity towards fierce independence — rather than the interdependence characteristic of many other cultures. More than one in four Poles and close to half of Indians have vacationed with a coworker. Is there something that American workers are missing?

 

Research shows that, after food and shelter, belonging is a fundamental human need. Given that we spend between 8 and 9 hours of our day at work (not including commute time), we have significantly less time to fulfill our social needs outside of work. When we’re not working, we’re either dealing with family, errands, or trying to grab some rest when we can. The workplace, where we spend such a large portion of our time, is an ideal place to foster the positive connections we all need — not just for our well-being but also for our productivity and health.

 

That said, friendship at work is often tricky for a reason. It can be a mixed blessing; people who are friends with coworkers tend to perform better at work but they also report being more emotionally exhausted and having difficulty maintaining their friendships. When conflict (inevitably) arises among work friends, relationship conflict leads to negative outcomes in teams composed of friends, but positive outcomes among teams without prior friendships.

 

The difficult truth is it just may not be possible to have friendships at work without some degree of fallout. There are real entanglements that can arise when the boundaries between work and friendship become blurred. Work responsibilities need to take precedence over socializing. Managers and leaders need to continue being able to assign tasks and role hierarchy does need to be respected. Performance evaluations need to happen authentically and honestly. Competition is often part of workplace culture — will you or your peer get promoted? — which can lead to lack of trust or willingness to get too close. After all, how would your friendship fare after you become their manager?

 

Alongside these factors is a fear of being vulnerable, of disclosing too much in case this disclosure makes you look weaker or less competent — worse yet, you might get thrown under the bus for it.

 

Finally, the need to look and act professional creates a desire not to get too informal or familiar with anyone else — after all, “professional distance” ensures that people will maintain respect for you. All of this can make friendship at work hard — or at least somewhat scary.

 

Maybe that’s why, despite the benefits of having friends at work, some people still choose to avoid it. Some just aren’t comfortable having real friends at work. They may benefit from a more formal relationship with their colleagues. And that’s OK. Many of the benefits that come from having friends at work likely emanate from values like vulnerability, authenticity, and compassion. Emphasizing these values, rather than the relationships, can allow workplaces to feel “friendly” even if there aren’t real friendships. Moreover, research by John Cacioppo, professor at the University of Chicago and author of Loneliness, shows that the true health and happiness benefits of social connection stem less from how many friends you have in your circle and more from how connected you feel to them (after all, you can feel lonely in a crowd). So nurturing that internal and subjective feeling of connection and friendliness is really most important.

 

While some people will always be hesitant to make friends at work, for these or other reasons, social connection is a basic human need. All friendships have hard moments. Work friendships just have different ones.

 

 


The Life-Changing (But Tricky) Impact of Friendships at Work

Posted on October 10, 2017 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psycholgy Today website to be encouraging. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201710/the-life-changing-tricky-impact-friendships-work

The Life-Changing (But Tricky) Impact of Friendships at Work

They help so much - but you have to manage them with skill

Posted Oct 10, 2017

It’s hard to build real connections with your colleagues if you never get beyond superficial chit-chat. And yet people who have a “best friend at work” are not only more likely to be happier and healthier, they are also seven times as likely to be engaged in their job. What’s more, employees who report having friends at work have higher levels of productivity, retention, and job satisfaction than those who don’t.

 

Many companies have tried to support office bonds through perks like ping-pong tables, free lunches, or corporate retreats, but the reality is that most of us don’t have close friends at work. In a survey by Pew and the American Life Project, just 12% of respondents’ closest ties were with people from their professional life. If we expand this to people who were significant in the respondent’s life, the results aren’t wildly different. Only 19% of the people surveyed had a significant relationship with a workmate.

 

This phenomenon seems to be particularly American. Going on a vacation with a coworker is virtually unimaginable in America — less than 6% of workers have taken their relationship with colleagues to this level. Research by Stanford professor Hazel Markus, author of Clash: How to Thrive in a Multicultural World, suggests that this fact is probably due to our cultural propensity towards fierce independence — rather than the interdependence characteristic of many other cultures. More than one in four Poles and close to half of Indians have vacationed with a coworker. Is there something that American workers are missing?

 

Research shows that, after food and shelter, belonging is a fundamental human need. Given that we spend between 8 and 9 hours of our day at work (not including commute time), we have significantly less time to fulfill our social needs outside of work. When we’re not working, we’re either dealing with family, errands, or trying to grab some rest when we can. The workplace, where we spend such a large portion of our time, is an ideal place to foster the positive connections we all need — not just for our well-being but also for our productivity and health.

 

That said, friendship at work is often tricky for a reason. It can be a mixed blessing; people who are friends with coworkers tend to perform better at work but they also report being more emotionally exhausted and having difficulty maintaining their friendships. When conflict (inevitably) arises among work friends, relationship conflict leads to negative outcomes in teams composed of friends, but positive outcomes among teams without prior friendships.

 

The difficult truth is it just may not be possible to have friendships at work without some degree of fallout. There are real entanglements that can arise when the boundaries between work and friendship become blurred. Work responsibilities need to take precedence over socializing. Managers and leaders need to continue being able to assign tasks and role hierarchy does need to be respected. Performance evaluations need to happen authentically and honestly. Competition is often part of workplace culture — will you or your peer get promoted? — which can lead to lack of trust or willingness to get too close. After all, how would your friendship fare after you become their manager?

 

Alongside these factors is a fear of being vulnerable, of disclosing too much in case this disclosure makes you look weaker or less competent — worse yet, you might get thrown under the bus for it.

 

Finally, the need to look and act professional creates a desire not to get too informal or familiar with anyone else — after all, “professional distance” ensures that people will maintain respect for you. All of this can make friendship at work hard — or at least somewhat scary.

 

Maybe that’s why, despite the benefits of having friends at work, some people still choose to avoid it. Some just aren’t comfortable having real friends at work. They may benefit from a more formal relationship with their colleagues. And that’s OK. Many of the benefits that come from having friends at work likely emanate from values like vulnerability, authenticity, and compassion. Emphasizing these values, rather than the relationships, can allow workplaces to feel “friendly” even if there aren’t real friendships. Moreover, research by John Cacioppo, professor at the University of Chicago and author of Loneliness, shows that the true health and happiness benefits of social connection stem less from how many friends you have in your circle and more from how connected you feel to them (after all, you can feel lonely in a crowd). So nurturing that internal and subjective feeling of connection and friendliness is really most important.

 

While some people will always be hesitant to make friends at work, for these or other reasons, social connection is a basic human need. All friendships have hard moments. Work friendships just have different ones.


Coping in the Face of Deadly Violence: The Vegas Shooting

Posted on October 3, 2017 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (1)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psych Central website to be encouraging. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.

https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/2017/10/coping-in-the-face-of-deadly-violence-the-vegas-shooting/

Coping in the Face of Deadly Violence: The Vegas Shooting By Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP

~ 5 min read

The Vegas Shooting that took the lives of 59 people and wounded 527 others is the deadliest shooting incident in modern American history. It is a tragic and violent event.


As we shockingly take stock of this horrific event, we once again dare to imagine the pain of the families, the suffering of those wounded and the echoes of fear and horror triggered in so many who have faced violence and tragedy. In the face of such violent loss and injury we are left without words, helpless to understand ‘Why’ and needing to believe there is a way to prevent such events. How Do We Cope?


Psychological First Aid


We have come to know that even as we can still barely catch a breath and struggle for answers; there are some initial steps of Psychological First Aid (PFA) that offer some relief when life has suddenly become so terrifying.


Establishing Safety-Monitoring Media


One of the most important sources of safety in the aftermath of catastrophe is the invaluable updating and communication of information through media sources. It can also be a source of heightened anxiety and re-traumatization.

Continual witnessing of a horrific event on social media or in the news can be frightening and dysregulating.

Events that are discrepant with our usual expectations are disturbing for adults and children. For most people, music concerts and trips to Vegas bring associations of fun, wonderful times and treasured memories. As such, the impact of this shooting needs to be moderated. Explanations of what has happened need to be made in age appropriate ways to teens and children.

Overall it is crucial to balance “ the need to know” with shutting down your own and the family’s media sources so that adults, young people and children are not assaulted by a 24/7 exposure to this tragic event.

Networks of Support

When a traumatic event has occurred, an invaluable source of physical and psychological safety is connection with familiar networks of support. People feel comfort, empathy and validation in community – be it family, friends, school, church or online communities.


It is often helpful for friends and family to have the opportunity to share their feelings about the events, their associations and their fears. Finding out that you are not alone with the emotional impact of a violent and lethal shooting – is helpful.


When a tragic event has harmed or taken those close to us, we often don’t even have words. There are no words. We can’t think and sometimes can’t feel. What we have learned is that the compassionate presence of those we love and those with whom we are most comfortable, help buffer the anguish and suffering of such loss.


Making Meaning of Common Responses to Trauma


It helps many to understand that there are common stress responses to experiencing and witnessing trauma and traumatic loss. These include symptoms of Hyperarousal; Intrusion or Re-experiencing; Negative Thoughts and Feelings; and Numbing and Avoidance. Not everyone experiences these responses and they rarely last more than a few weeks. When they persist, getting professional support can be very helpful.


Hyperarousal or the Persistent Expectation of Danger


Hyperarousal is reflected in an inability to relax, exaggerated startle response, inability to sleep or concentrate and irritability. It is as if your mind and body does not yet know you are safe.


Strategies to address hyperarousal include:


Self Care of your basic needs – Are you sleeping, eating and do you have a way to relax?

All of your basic needs are helped if you make use of physical and emotional stress reduction opportunities to exercise, play music, cook, read the paper, pray or do something that calms you.

This is the time to use your relaxation strategies. In the disorganized state of trauma, people often forget the value of re-setting and using their own routines.

Be very careful about the use of alcohol and drugs. People often see them as quick ways to relax; but they actually add to the physical and emotional disorganization experienced after trauma.

Intrusion or Re-experiencing


Feeling caught in the imprint of the trauma, many re-experience the images or sensations felt at the time of the traumatic event. They have nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive memories.

If you find yourself jolted by a picture in the paper or have a nightmare, consider that such reactions are the mind and body’s way of assimilating an incomprehensible event into your life experience.


Strategies to deal with them include:


Re-frame them as understandable sequels to an event outside your life experience.

Share them, write about them, express them in music, art or some medium – move them from frightening fragments to something for which you have more mastery.

Use positive re-focusing — once you have identified them as unassimilated glimpses and traumatic memories, turn your mind and body to something that feels transformative. People find nature, pets, sports, music, prayer and helping others to be effective.

Negative Thoughts and Feelings: It is common that the direct experience, witnessing or learning of a violent event will trigger negative thoughts about the world, excessive blame of self or blame of others. It is important to know that such feelings are part of the fight/flight reaction to an unspeakable event.


Strategies to Deal with them Include


Cognitively accept and reframe these thoughts or feelings as symptoms of traumatic exposure. They will shift as time passes and as you take opportunities to lower your stress level.

Many people find that being with people they love and care about reduces these feelings – be it playing with your children or feeling grateful for dinner with a loved one.

Taking on an achievable goal – particularly one that benefits someone else reduces the feelings of helplessness and is an antidote to anger and self-blame. Generosity to others lowers the fight/flight reactivity.

Gratitude for what is precious and awe inspiring in this world like the wonders of nature or the way that people step up to help each other fosters loving kindness and a calming perspective.

Numbing and Avoidance


Numbing is a response to trauma that involves physical and psychological shutdown. Like the other responses to trauma, it is actually a functional way to survive in the face of overwhelming danger. For some teens, children and adults it may be a necessary first survival strategy.


When numbing persists, it often unfolds into avoidance and isolation as an attempt to avoid triggers of traumatic memory or intolerable feelings of loss, grief or pain.


The problem with avoidance, if it persists, is that it leaves a person alone with the trauma. It does not allow for sharing, diluting, normalizing or integrating the traumatic event.


Strategies to deal with numbing and avoidance include:


Reaching for and accepting the offer of someone who knows what you have faced and can be a compassionate presence – a friend, a partner, a family member, a professional, a spiritual caregiver.

Just being with someone who cares regardless of whether you are walking, cooking, shooting hoops or listening to music takes you away from the trauma and allows you to dare to feel again – a crucial start.

Access You Coping Skills


In the aftermath of trauma, it can feel as if you are frozen in time with the trauma. The past seems gone and the future seems impossible. It is really important to reach behind the wall of trauma to your passions and resiliency traits because they still belong to you and they are what you have drawn upon in life to cope in situations of pain, disappointment, adversity and even loss.


Be it physical strength, intelligence, social skills, love of nature, sense of humor, creativity, playing music, mindfulness, spirituality, generosity and the wish to help –these strengths are the best of you.


Flipping the Stigma: Social Anxiety from a Strengths Perspective

Posted on September 21, 2017 at 7:50 PM Comments comments (0)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psych Central website to be helpful. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.

https://blogs.psychcentral.com/character-strengths/2017/09/flipping-the-stigma-social-anxiety-from-a-strengths-perspective/

Flipping the Stigma: Social Anxiety from a Strengths Perspective

By Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D

What words come to mind when you think of “social anxiety”? Most likely words like: fear, embarrassment, self-consciousness? Not anymore. New research is now flipping the stigma on this disorder by examining it from a strengths-based perspective, specifically looking at overuse and underuse of strengths.

It is possible to overuse any of your character strengths. For example, if you use too much curiosity by asking your shy colleague one too many questions, they might start to view you as nosey and bothersome. Conversely, you can underuse your character strengths. For example, if you never give money to an important work charity, year after year, your colleagues might come to view you as low in generosity or underusing your strength of kindness.


Back to social anxiety disorder. How might the underuse and overuse of character strengths be operating here?


My colleagues, Pavel Freidlin and Hadassah Littman-Ovadia, and I investigated this question. We developed a new test called Overuse, Underuse, Optimal-Use (OUOU) Survey of Strengths and gave it to people with and without a social anxiety disorder. While there were many interesting findings, one in particular stuck out to me. It turns out a unique combination of six overuses/underuses of strengths could be used to identify people with the disorder from those without (with over 87% accuracy!). This is the first actual study of character strength overuse/underuse to be published.


Here are the six overuses/underuses, along with an explanation of why they are relevant to social anxiety (they are not listed in any order of importance):

1.) Overuse of social intelligence

What it means: You are analyzing your thoughts and feelings too much. You might also be quick to over-analyze the intentions and actions of others.

How this relates to social anxiety: You are probably giving extra attention to your nervousness and worry and less attention to more balanced thoughts and other feelings (such as excitement, interest, and hope). For example, you might see a hand gesture or expression on someone’s face and come to an immediate conclusion that they are thinking something negative about you.


2.) Overuse of humility

 

What it means: You have little interest in talking about yourself or any of your accomplishments. When people praise you for doing something good, you feel uncomfortable and awkward and say little to nothing.


How this relates to social anxiety: Humility is an important strength and can have social benefits. However, too much humility in certain situations can lead to depriving others of learning about you. If people can’t learn about you, it’s hard for them to connect with you, which can subsequently contribute to sub-optimal social situations.


3.) Underuse of zest


What it means: If others perceive you as coming across without even a moderate amount of energy, you might be perceived as uninterested or lacking in enthusiasm. Zest is one of the character strengths most connected with happiness, so in some situations, you might even come across as “unhappy.”


How this relates to social anxiety: In order to contribute to social situations, you need to express energy. If you are bringing forth too little of energy, you won’t contribute as much. This underuse feeds your “avoidance” mechanism which is a problem because “avoidance of fear” is a hallmark feature of all types of anxiety. Socially anxious people avoid what they are afraid of, which further perpetuates the cycle of anxiety. Underuse of zest feeds this process.


4.) Underuse of humor


What it means: In some social situations, you are especially serious and don’t smile, joke, laugh, or see the lighter side of things. While that might be appropriate behavior at times, there are situations where humor is particularly important—take, for example, socializing with friends or co-workers at a restaurant.


How this relates to social anxiety: Socially, humor and playfulness are kings (or queens). People generally want to be around funny or playful people. They want to laugh and have a good time. If you underuse humor in social situations, you are essentially eliminating one of the main pathways to connecting and socializing with others.


5.) Underuse of social intelligence


What it means: You are not particularly attuned to your own feelings or the feelings of others. You pay little attention to social cues, body language, or the circumstances of the social situation you are in.


How this relates to social anxiety: Social situations often require a subtle and nuanced level of awareness of feelings and circumstance. People unaware of their own feelings, unable to speak appropriately to those feelings, unaware of how others might be feeling, or unaware of how to query and discuss others’ feelings are at a significant disadvantage. Furthermore, those who sense this reality within themselves are prone to feel more anxious about this disconnect. People with social anxiety may also misinterpret cues or misread body language, further contributing to the problem.


6.) Underuse of self-regulation


What it means: You have some difficulties in managing your reactions to others or in managing your feelings or personal habits. You may come across as lacking discipline (in your speech and behavior).


How this relates to social anxiety: The best social interactions involve a balanced back and forth of questioning, sharing, and communicating. If your self-regulation is particularly low in these situations, you may appear insensitive to others. This can impact the interaction and contribute to anxiety.


Taking action:


1.) The first step is awareness. If you or someone you know suffers from social anxiety, what is it like for you (or for them) to look at anxiety in this way? The best course of action with this new research is to reflect on how you might be overusing or underusing these particular character strengths in social situations. This will lead you to new insights and ideas for taking action.


2.) Think about social anxiety from the lens of overuse and underuse. This does not mean you have to get rid of deficit-based thinking or attending to symptoms and other parts that feel “wrong” about you. Instead, you now have an empowering language and a new lens for looking at this challenge.


Caveats:


There are different subtypes of social anxiety disorder that I have not addressed in this article. These are quite wide-range, for example, there are social fears involving eating in restaurants, giving presentations, and using public restrooms, to name a few. Thus, the overuse/underuse of these character strengths will need to be adapted accordingly.


Remember, this is a new study so it is important to have these findings replicated in additional studies. If these findings above are also found in future research, this could lead to new treatment approaches to this relatively common and painful condition.



Feeling Lost? A Single Word Can Help You Find Your Way

Posted on September 11, 2017 at 6:45 PM Comments comments (0)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psych Central website to be helpful. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.

https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2017/09/11/feeling-lost-a-single-word-can-help-you-find-your-way/

Feeling Lost? A Single Word Can Help You Find Your Way

By Eve Hogan

A while back, I was at a tradeshow where I spent hours setting up my display. I had all of my books out, and several dozen rocks with individual words engraved in them like, “Love”, “Peace”, “Gratitude”, and “Namaste.” As the day wore on, I started to recognize a clear reality that was rather uncomfortable as an author: I was selling rocks with one single transformational word on them at a rate of about twenty to one over my books full of words. The next tradeshow yielded the same results. Mind you, the price wasn’t the issue as the rocks were nearly the same price as the books. It was then that I came to a haunting realization. One word carries as much, if not more, potential transformation than thousands.

 

Really, how many words do we need to read to remember to love? Is not “compassion” alone enough to remind us to be kind and caring of others? Is not “generosity” enough to remind us to give? Is not “courage” enough to help us overcome our fears?

 

Perhaps, a lot of words are particularly handy when we need to know how to be courageous or loving or giving, but once we know how, a single word can guide us back to our path when we have lost our way.

 

In the book Eat, Pray, Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert dedicated one word to define different cities giving London “stuffy” and New York “ambition.” She then challenged her readers to see if they could find one word to define themselves.

 

I invite you to extend this exercise to become self-observant periodically and define with a single word how you are feeling in any given moment. There is a clarifying power in taking the moment to identify the strongest feeling in and amongst several.

 

The other benefit of the defining the “one word moment” is the freedom to feel differently one moment to the next. Sometimes we get stuck in the labeling of our feelings saying things like, “I’m depressed” as if that is all we feel, all the time. By taking the time to pay attention to a single moment during which we may feel “happy” or “peaceful,” we have the opportunity to change our language to something more temporary like, “I’m feeling depressed right now.” This allows us to move quickly into a new and different feeling as the situation changes.

 

We can also apply this process to our relationships. Sometimes we get stuck in thinking our relationships or our partners are a certain way. If we become observant of the present moment and find the single word that defines it, we realize that sometimes our relationship is stagnant, sometimes close, sometimes intimate, sometimes distant. And our partners are sometimes kind, sometimes rude, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes distracted, sometimes loving. By realizing the constantly moving reality of the momentary one word definition, we can set ourselves free of generalized terms.

 

If you were to choose one word to serve as a reminder of who you are, or what you aspire to embody, what would you choose?

 

“In the beginning there was the word…”


Questions of Realness

Posted on August 17, 2017 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (0)

We thought that you would find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be very interesting. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mind-stage/201708/questions-realness

Questions of Realness

How do we react to real people portraying fictional characters?

Posted Aug 16, 2017

Theatre is obviously artifice. An audience pays money, sets a date and a time they will go to the theater, walks in, sits down all facing the same way, and waits for the lights to go out.

 

Meanwhile, actors, directors, and designers rehearse, prepare, raise money, rehearse some more, and then arrive backstage 30 minutes before the audience walks in to put on costumes and make up, and warm up their bodies, voices, and minds to portray fictional characters in a fictional world.

 

Yet at the same time, theatre is particularly real. All art relies on a language of representation. Visual art uses paint, sculpture, decoupage, etc, to express an idea. Music uses sound; literature, the written word. Dance uses the body and face, but in a way we hardly ever see in daily life. Theatre is unique. Theatre uses real humans, saying real words, and interacting with each other in realistic ways. Even if the play is not realistic, even in the most experimental of theater, humans are still there, behaving. How do we understand this realness? How do we balance automatic reactions (e.g. person processing) with an imagined, presented scenario?

 

Add to this a complication: In some cases, directors and actors play with the fiction/reality boundary by using typecasting (think nice guy Tom Hanks always playing a nice guy character) or the real stories of actors to get audiences to react to the characters. In a recent version of The Glass Menagerie on Broadway, director Sam Gold cast actress Madison Ferris as Laura. Typically, Laura is portrayed as shy, perhaps with a limp, and therefore the disability that keeps her inside and pulls in her mother may be more mental than physical. For the recent Broadway production, the actress Madison Ferris has muscular dystrophy, and actually, really, in real life uses a wheelchair to move around the theatre and the stage. This set off a number of discussions about both whether this is what the play calls for, and what it means as an audience member to watch someone who needs a wheelchair to get around have to actually pull herself up stairs and around a stage while in character. In that moment, she’s not acting the need to use only her arms—that’s the actual truth. Where does the audience draw the line between imagined reaction and actual reaction?

 

Acting teachers such as Stanford Meisner claimed that acting is “real reactions under imaginary circumstances.” But what does this mean in the face of disability or tragedy? Actors are not regularly killed on stage, or maimed in order to get into their parts. Is Meisner therefore only speaking of emotional truth? Behavioral or body truth? It is not healthy for an actor to feel the depths of despair of Hamlet every time he must portray the part (note, for example, that The Public Theatre recently cancelled several of its Hamlet matinees for the health of its actors). Film is different, an actor need only get the scene right once for the camera. But on stage, night after night, for many weeks, months, or even years, an audience must be satisfied. Actors cannot survive full involvement. Whether or not this means audiences believe they are seeing the truth is an open question.

 

There are a number of autonomic psychological reactions that happen in the presence of real people, and may even happen in the presence of imagined people. An unexplored question is whether these processes are parallel or sequential, and what happens to these processes when real people are portraying imaginary characters. Do audience members react to the live people in theatre in an overlapping way with the ways everyone reacts to live people in every day life, as they walk down the street? Do audiences process actors on stage in the same way they process their neighbors and friends? Or is the framing of fiction and pretense in theatre enough that engaging with actors as real people does not happen—are actors treated at the same distance and detachment as other art forms?

 

Particularly when directors try to use the qualities of actors to imbue the characters, audiences must determine the line between their: 1) reaction to real life 2) reaction to real, but on stage 3) reaction to realistic, but not real, on stage and 4) reaction to non realistic and non real, on stage. For option #4, there is obviously much overlap with any sort of aesthetic reaction, to music, film, visual arts, etc. And where psychological science has the most research is on point 1: reaction to real. There are a number of known automatic processes that happen when you first approach or even look at a person: a number of decisions that you make and bodily reactions you have. These include, gender, age, personality, emotional state, power status, and possibly mental states, beliefs, desires, intentions, etc. The level of automaticity to these reactions varies both depending on who you are reacting to (known versus unknown), the context (familiar versus unfamiliar), and the complexity of the target you are reacting to (e.g. is the behavior stereotypical in some way?). Most theorists would agree that we don’t have to consciously process most judgments, and only when something is out of the ordinary (their face is hidden, or a normally scowling, authoritative boss is suddenly looking scared and powerless) does our conscious awareness take over.

 

And the body reacts too, outside of awareness. If they are having the same reactions as they do in everyday life, audience members may unconsciously mimic an actor. They may begin to have an emotional reaction via emotion contagion. And this may happen first, before thinking about the fictionality of the situation. Think about if you've ever interacted with someone, started to feel uneasy, and then only later found out they were lying. This echoes basic cognitive theories of “system 1” which is automatic and unthinking, and “system 2”, which is slower and requires more cognitive resources, but also allows for complexity and subtlety in a way system 1 thinking does not. (Echoed in some theories about theory of mind and empathy, or Gendler’s “alief” and “belief” to explain benign masochism).

 

The question then becomes whether seeing live humans in a theatre prevents these automatic reactions, increases these automatic reactions, or does not affect these automatic reactions?

 

I can make arguments for all three.

 

Theatre prevents automatic reactions. We know what we’re seeing is fake in some way, because it’s not just people who wandered in off the street and are now on stage. These are actors, who have rehearsed and prepared to do this performance. Even in an improvisational show, the actors have rehearsed and prepared the games, activities, and types of performances the audience is about to see. Therefore, audience members have no automatic reactions, because such reactions may only happen when people are really interacting with other people. Since everything is already grounded in fiction, system 1 takes a snooze.

 

Theatre increases automatic reactions, because theatre deals in archetypes and clearly defined charactersistics. When the real people come out on stage, they are behaving realistically. They are expressing what they feel and what they mean, often clearly and explicitly. There is a performative nature to their personality, emotions, status, etc. So it’s even easier to read them than people in real life, and our automatic reactions happily hum along. This does open up the question of whether the realization of fictionality comes in (and maybe it doesn’t, hence actors continuously having to remind interviewers how different they are than their characters).

 

And the third option, of course, is that theatre doesn’t affect our reactions. We react to real people onstage as real people, and the characters they are portraying as characters, using different systems of person reading for each. Unlikely, though, given the reasons above.

 

Young children have to develop an understanding of the difference between the real people they’re seeing on stage, performing a scene as if for the first time (one of the central tenants of modern theatre being that the characters should be acting and reacting as if they’ve never experienced the events of the play before). The actor Jason Alexander explains this succinctly in The Best Worst Thing that Ever Happened. As a child, he loved going to the theatre, but couldn’t figure out how it happened nor how he might be a part of the performance. But then, he saw Ben Vereen in a production of Pippen, and realized (as the show Pippen is all about the artifice of theatre) “It’s an illusion! A magic trick! I could do that!”

 

While most audience members are unlikely to come to the realization that the artifice of a performance is reason to become a performer, at the same time, audience members are also unlikely to see multiple nights of the same performance, and therefore may believe the performance they are seeing to be particularly truthful or emotional, even when it’s actually highly technical and planned. This crosses the boundary of what is imagined and what is real again, and adds a layer of confusion onto our understanding of actors and acting. Yet it’s not enough to look to filmed acting. Having the person in the room, in the same space, is critical to think about reactions to live people portraying imagined circumstances. Research that would be able to isolate reactions to something happening live, where there are various levels of awareness as to its fictionality, could begin to clarify types of reactions to actors and theatre. But without even clear theory of how people think about actors, this facet of imagination remains underexplored.


You Really Need to Be Tracking Your Dreams

Posted on August 3, 2017 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)

We thought that you would find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be very interesting. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dream-catcher/201708/you-really-need-be-tracking-your-dreams

You Really Need to Be Tracking Your Dreams

Attention to your dreams produces gold over time.

Posted Aug 01, 2017

Most people still hold prescientific views of dreams as mildly bizarre experiences that occur during the night and that are meaningless froth of the sleeping brain. But scientific investigation of dreams demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that dreaming is associated with consistent brain activation and deactivation patterns that reliably produce the cognitive products we know as dreams. The brain produces dreams for a reason or a whole host of reasons. You need your dreams and you need to reflect on them and work with them. Here’s why:

 

1. Tracking one’s dreams is the evolutionary default for human beings.


Dream recall and sharing was and is a common practice in pre-modern traditional groups. Up until about 150-200 years ago virtually all people in all cultures kept track of their dreams and shared their dreams with others. Carefully documented ethnographies on aboriginal peoples all across the planet has demonstrated that dreams were almost universally considered to be sources of all kinds of peronal knowledge and cultural innovations. In his study of the Plains Indian cultures of North America, Irwin (1994) noted that “Dreaming is a creative basis for what might be called higher knowledge in the Native American context…Dreams and visions constantly revealed new applications of many types such as: inventive technologies, hunting methods, warfare strategies, healing practices and herbal formulations, along with other innovations in culture. For example, the origin of fire making was attributed to visionary experience by the Lakota . . .” (Irwin, 1994, p. 191). Among the Iroquois, sharing a dream with the tribe could lead to that dreamer being given extra food, being danced over, fussed over, rubbed with ashes, given presents, sung to, and accepted into a special society or club. Dreams were considered privileged sources of information and had to be taken seriously. A similar story could be told about the centrality of the dream among Australian aboriginals (Spencer and Gillen, 1899), African aboriginals and tribal peoples (Jedrej & Shaw, 1992), the peoples of Oceania (Lohmann, 2003), and many other cultures. A fair-minded appraisal of the existing ethnographic literature on the role of dreams in aboriginal societies around the globe would have to conclude that dream recall and sharing was a vitally important social act that carried major consequences for the social organization, moral customs and beliefs of the tribe.


Although dream recall and sharing has lost some of its social power, scientific findings may be giving us a new appreciation of the role of dreams in the life of “tribe”. Even today, young adults recall one to two dreams per week with 37 percent of these reporting that they recall a dream “every night” or “very frequently”. In representative samples of the general population, between 40 and 75 percent recall between one to five intense and “impactful” dreams per month (Kuiken & Sikora, 1993; Stepansky et al., 1998). Once recalled, a dream is typically shared with another person (Vann & Alperstein, 2000). For example, Vann and Alperstein reported that 98 percent of the 241 individuals they interviewed reported telling dreams to others, particularly friends and intimates.


2. Dreams more accurately track your emotions and thoughts than waking reflection

 

Because the dreaming brain demonstrates very high activation levels in the limbic emotional brain as well as lower activation levels in dorsal prefrontal regions (that normally inhibits impulses and emotions) during the dream state, it is reasonable to suppose that dreams will more transparently exhibit your emotions that the waking state. Dream content studies suggest that that is indeed the case.

 

For example, Mota et al. used network and graph analysis to analyze dream reports and wake reports derived from clinical oral interviews of schizophrenic, bipolar type I, and healthy control subjects. They quantified emotions and mental content in dreams using pre-written algorithms to capture a number of speech graph attributes (SGA) that characterize thought patterns in the reports. SGA analyses of the dream reports but not the waking reports or standard clinical tools led to better identification of subjects, i.e. whether they were bipolar, schizophrenic or a healthy control subject.

 

3. Dreams can predict physical and mental illness

 

Repeated dream imagery of body wounds, pain or dramatic bodily changes can herald an oncoming illness. Violent nightmares and dream enactment behaviors can predict onset of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s Disease 10 years later. Recurrent nightmares in late childhood significantly predict psychotic illness during young adulthood.

 

4. Dreams promote creativity.

 

We all know of anecdotal reports of creative inspiration deriving from dreams. An entire school of art, surrealism, was born out of the dream imagery of its practitioners.. Similar stories can be culled from the testimonies of numerous artists working in virtually all domains from paintings (e.g., Salvador Dali) to music (e.g., the Beatles’ “yesterday” and several others).

 

These anecdotal reports of a link between dreams and creativity, furthermore, can now be supplemented with experimental data. Semantic priming techniques have revealed that we are faster in accessing disparate associations after a bout of REM dream sleep than we are in accessing strong associations. Something about REM enhances our abilities to access more distant semantic associations to a given stimulus. For example, after REM sleep, we are better at making associations between animals not typically associated such as dog–elephant than we are in making more typical associations such as dog–cat (Stickgold, Scott, Rittenhouse, & Hobson, 1999). This enhanced ability to cognitively reach for the more distant association is fundamental to thinking outside the box and arriving at novel insights. Indeed, it seems clear now that after a good night’s dream-rich sleep, we have improved ability to solve anagram problems, or to suddenly “see” the solution to a difficult problem that eluded us before we engaged in the sleep (Walker & van der Helm, 2009). The available data suggest that the kind of sleep we need to enhance our creative abilities is dream-rich REM sleep. For example, subjects who had engaged in REM sleep during a daytime nap did better on a remote associates task than those who had engaged in NREM during the nap or those subjects who did not sleep at all during the nap period (Cai, Mednick, Harrison, Kanady, & Mednick, 2009).


5. Dreams contain a knowledge base separate from waking consciousness

 

The dreaming mind constitutes a knowledge-producing system. People who have kept records of their dreams over many years have repeatedly noted that dreams often reference one another—that a theme or image from one dream gets repeated in another dream and so forth. Those repeat images and themes are sometimes not traceable to daytime residues or events. Instead they find their source in previous dreams. The images were born in dreams, and they reappear in later dreams suitably changed due to the passage of time. These dream images do not reflect waking emotional life. Instead the dream images have a life or logic and rationale of their own and are linked to insight and creativity.


6. Dreams facilitate memory processing—especially emotional memory processing

 

Cartwright (2010) has shown that REM and its associated dreams directly aid in the working-through of stressful life events and serve a protective, mood regulatory role with regard to potential psychiatric sequelae of experiences of stress and loss. Levin and Nielsen (2009) suggest that nightmares result from the dysfunction in a network of cortical and subcortical limbic structures that, during normal dreaming, serve an adaptive, mood regulatory function of fear memory extinction.

 

Tore Nielsen and Mark Blagrove (Blagrove et al., 2011 ) have demonstrated the so-called dream lag effect which refers to the empirical finding that items being encoded into long-term memory sometimes appear in one’s dreams usually the night after the event was experienced and then subsequently five to seven days later. Recording and tracking your dreams, particularly this dream-lag effect would allow you to identify images you wanted stored in long term memory and images you did not want stored.

 

7. Dreams facilitate emotional attachment to romantic and other significant others


McNamara et al. (2001) documented significant positive associations between attachment orientation, dream recall rates, and image intensity in dreams. McNamara, Pace-Schott, Johnson, Harris, and Auerbach (2011) found that people classified as anxiously attached evidenced reduced REM latencies and were more likely to have dreams containing themes of aggression and self-denigration compared to people with other attachment styles. Mikulincer, Shaver, and Avihou-Kanza (2011) reported similar findings regarding associations between insecure attachment and negative self-concept in dreams. Mikulincer, Shaver, Sapir-Lavid, and Avihou-Kanza (2009) found that both attachment-related avoidance and anxiety correlated with less dream content denoting secure attachment such as less support seeking, less support availability, and less distress relief in dreams. Most importantly, Selterman, Apetroaia, Riela, and Aron, (2014) demonstrated that attachment related dream content influenced daytime attachment behaviors. Specifically they found that the frequency with which participants reported dreams about their romantic partners was positively associated with the extent to which they interacted with their partners and felt more love/closeness on days subsequent to dreaming about them. When people high in attachment avoidance had greater negative affect in dreams of their partners, they reported interacting less with their partners on subsequent days. For those high in interdependence, having a dream containing sexual behavior with one’s partner was associated with increased love/closeness on subsequent days.


People are still dreaming and sharing their dreams but they need to begin tracking or recording them and working with them on a daily basis as well.


The Anxiety Epidemic

Posted on July 11, 2017 at 10:25 PM Comments comments (0)

We thought that you would find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be both interesting andinsightful. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/rewired-the-psychology-technology/201706/the-anxiety-epidemic?collection=1103993

The Anxiety Epidemic

Our smartphones may be a major cause.

Posted Jun 18, 2017

The recent phenomenon of the “fidget spinner”—a device originally developed to help children with anxiety, ADHD or autism—has seen explosive sales, particularly among children, adolescents, and young adults who appear to use it to alleviate anxious feelings.

 

One explanation for the spike in anxiety among teens and young adults may be found in the Times Sunday Review section that same day — “Texting With Boys.” Kaitlyn Greenidge discussed how we react with anxiety and apprehension while we watch someone with whom we are texting appear to be texting back as the “typing awareness indicator” bubbles parade in front of our face. It is truly mesmerizing for many and I have watched people stare at these dots for long periods of time and seen their moods vacillate from anticipation to sadness to anger. And it is entirely possible that the person is not texting at all but just left their cursor in the text box. Frustrating beyond belief.

 

So who gets more anxious as a result of technology usage? In a study published in 2014, Dr. Nancy Cheever and our lab conducted an experiment to see what would happen if we deprived college students the ability to access their smartphones and induced a state of boredom where they were not allowed to do anything. Sounds stressful, right? For some it was and for others, it was not. Over an hour-plus of boredom, we measured anxiety using a simple self-report scale (the state portion of the well respected State-Trait Anxiety Inventory) three times, after about 10 minutes, after about 30 minutes and again after about an hour. Turns out that when we looked at the daily smartphone use of our 163 subjects and split them into thirds, the bottom third, those who used their phone the least, showed no change in anxiety across the boring hour. The middle third did not show any increase in the first ten minutes but did increase their anxiety at the 30-minute testing and then stayed at a constant but moderate level of anxiety for the duration. The heaviest users, our top third, showed an increase in anxiety 10 minutes into the boring situation and continued to feel increasingly anxious throughout the hour-plus period far eclipsing the moderate users even after 30 minutes. What I didn't tell you is that half of the group had their phone taken away and replaced with a claim check and the other half had to turn their phone off and place it out of sight. It really didn’t matter: Turns out that out of sight is definitely not out of mind.

 

Cheever is now following up the study by examining the impact of a text message interruption on physiological signs of arousal and, perhaps, stress.

 

Larry D. Rosen

Source: Larry D. Rosen

You may have seen this experiment being performed on Anderson Cooper on an April 9, 2017 segment on 60 Minutes entitled "Brain Hacking." In a simulation of the study, Anderson was hooked up to a galvanic skin response (GSR) device, which monitors electrodermal activity (EDA) as well as a device monitoring his heart rate. EDA is that sweaty feeling that you feel when you are anxious or excited and your hands start to sweat a bit (happens to me during every episode of the television show 24). Anderson was instructed to read material on a screen and to leave his phone by his side. After a few minutes, Cheever told him that his phone was interfering with the electrical equipment and she needed to move it a few feet behind him. Shortly after, Cheever texted Anderson’s phone and we saw an immediate spike in his skin conductance. She did it four times and each time the GSR spiked. Finally, outside the protocol, she called his phone and got a huge reaction spike in GSR and he turned his head to try to see who was calling him. Earlier in the day when he was interviewing me, he admitted that he was not paying close attention to my answers because he had silenced his phone and put it on the floor at the foot of his chair and he was anxious about missing out on his texts and other messages. He was profoundly impressed by the strength of his anxiety reactions both in the experiment and during the interview.

 

Recent research has demonstrated the impact of even having a conversation with someone when a third person’s phone is placed nearby. In one study researchers placed either one of the two participants’ phones close by as they communicated or a phone that did not belong to either conversant. Following a 10-minute discussion between the two people, each person felt less close and less trusting of the other. In another study participants completed puzzles while the experimenter either called their phone (sitting on a table behind them) or did not call their phone. Those who endured a missed phone call showed increased anxiety as well as decreased performance on the puzzles compared to a group with no interruption. Another study indicated that even the “mere presence” of one’s phone led to decreased performance on all but the easiest tasks.

 

In our lab, we have tested models showing the impact of anxiety (as well as other variables such as executive functioning and boredom) in other domains. In a study of the impact of these variables on sleep problems among college students, we found that a particular form of anxiety that some call FOMO—“fear of missing out”—predicted more daily smartphone use, more preference for multitasking and more nighttime awakenings to check a phone which, in turn, predicted sleep problems. In another study, using a similar model to predict performance in an upper-division college general education course, FOMO directly predicted lower grades but also predicted more daily smartphone use, shorter attention span while studying and a lack of classroom digital “metacognition” (defined as knowing how to control your focus during lecture and not be distracted by technology) which, in turn, predicted poor grades.

 

Smartphones have been a major part of our world for a decade or so and it appears that they (and other devices, too) are having a deleterious effect on our mental and emotional functioning. People who use them a lot (and that is most of us) cannot seem to stay away from them and the research is pretty clear that one major cause is anxiety. Whether it is FOMO or some other technology-related anxiety is an open research question. Regardless, we know that some form of anxiety is driving us to check in constantly with our technology.

 

In the study mentioned earlier predicting course grades students installed an app on their computer called “Instant Quantified Self” which monitors smartphone use. The typical college junior/senior unlocked his/her phone 60 times a day for a total of 220 minutes. Try it yourself and see how often you check your phone. Also, pay attention to times when you “think” that your phone vibrated in your pocket or purse and find that either it didn’t or it wasn't even in that location. Normal neuronal activity, previously meriting a quick scratch to quell an itch, now is perceived as a phantom pocket vibration. That is a function of anxiety.

 

I get asked all the time by the media, by parents, by teachers and nearly every group I have spoken with in the past 10 years what I think long-term usage is going to do to our children. I think we are already seeing some of the ramifications. If anxiety disorders are increasing in teenagers, perhaps this is due to incessant smartphone use in general and use for communication purposes in specific. Our smartphone is a marvelous device that gives us more power than many computers and has everything we could want and need with us all day (and night) long. As companies vie for your attention you will be faced with new apps that allow you to do more and new websites that grab your attention. More of those bubbles will increase your anxiety. More social media platforms will demand your attention. The 60 Minutes segment on brain hacking tells you more about this and I encourage you to watch it as well as the auxiliary overtime material on 60 Minutes Overtime.

 

In the meantime, there are strategies you can use to moderate your smartphone usage and become a smarter, more focused and more productive user. You do not have to salivate like Pavlov’s dogs when your phone beeps or vibrates. You can avoid phantom vibrations. For clear strategies, take a look at the model that Adam Gazzaley and I present in our book, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, in which we take a serious look at distraction from the dual perspectives of neuroscience and psychology. The final two chapters present strategies for saving your Humanware from those two perspectives.


Why We Should Be Having More Meaningful Conversations

Posted on June 22, 2017 at 10:45 AM Comments comments (0)

We thought that you would find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be a very interesting read. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-secret-lives-introverts/201706/why-we-should-be-having-more-meaningful-conversations

Why We Should Be Having More Meaningful Conversations

Research shows what introverts have known all along.

Posted Jun 20, 2017

You and a coworker step into an elevator. As you descend floors in the tiny metal box, the silence between you grows more awkward. Suddenly your coworker blurts out, “Such a shame that we’re stuck in the office on a beautiful day like this!” You mumble, "It sure is." As an introvert, you really despise making small talk; it feels like your brain was literally not programmed for this.

 

Conversationally, introverts like to dive deep. We want to know what's really going on in your head, or talk about something interesting we've read, heard, or watched recently, among other meaningful topics. And, turns out, deep talk is actually good for us (whether you're an introvert, extrovert, or whatever-vert).

 

Happy People Have More Meaningful Conversations

 

Psychologist Matthias Mehl and his team set out to study happiness and deep talk. His study, published in the journal Psychological Science, involved college students who wore an electronically activated recorder with a microphone on their shirt collar that captured 30-second snippets of conversation every 12.5 minutes for four days. Effectively, this created a conversational “diary” of their day.

 

Then, researchers went through the conversations and categorized them as either small talk (talk about the weather, a recent TV show, etc.) or more substantive conversation (talk about philosophy, current affairs, etc.). Researchers were careful not to automatically label certain topics a certain way; for example, if the speakers analyzed a TV show’s characters and their motivations, this conversation was considered substantive.

 

The researchers found that about a third of the college students’ conversations were considered substantive, while a fifth consisted of small talk. Some conversations didn’t fit neatly into either category, such as discussions that focused on practical matters, like who would take out the trash.

 

The researchers also studied how happy the participants were, drawing data from life satisfaction reports the college students completed themselves, as well as feedback from people in the students’ lives.

 

The results? Mehl and his team found that the happiest person in the study had twice as many substantive conversations, and only one-third of the amount of small talk, as the unhappiest person. Almost every other conversation the happiest person had — about 46 percent of the day’s conversations — were substantive.

 

For the unhappiest person, only 22 percent of this person’s conversations were substantive. Similarly, small talk made up only 10 percent of the happiest person’s conversations, while it made up almost three times as much of the unhappiest person’s discussions.

 

Small talk equals unhappiness? Score one for Team Introvert, because we've known this all along.

 

Why Is Happiness Linked with Deep Talk?

 

Further research is still needed, because it’s not clear whether people make themselves happier by having substantive conversations, or whether people who are already happy choose to engage in meaningful talk. However, one thing is evident: happiness and meaningful interactions go hand-in-hand.

 

Mehl, in an interview with the New York Times, discussed the reasons he thinks substantive conversations are linked to happiness. For one, humans are driven to create meaning in their lives, and substantive conversations help us do that, he said. Also, human beings — both introvert and extrovert — are social animals who have a real need to connect with others. Substantive conversation connects, whereas small talk doesn’t.

 

How to Have More Meaningful Conversations

 

You'll never completely banish small talk, because it exists for some important reasons. First, it helps two people warm up to each other conversationally. In the elevator scenario, if your coworker were to ask you about your darkest secrets or deepest wishes, you would probably feel like this is too much, too fast. Likewise, small talk helps us probe for more interesting topics to talk about. For example, if you were to answer your coworker by saying, “It sure is a shame to be stuck indoors! I wish I were in my backyard working on my laser defense drone instead,” your coworker would definitely have some follow-up questions.

 

However, you can minimize small talk and maximize deep talk. Here are some questions to help you do just that:

 

Instead of . . .

 

“How are you?”

“How was your weekend?”

“Where did you grow up?”

“What do you do for a living?”

Try . . .

 

“What’s your story?”

“What was your favorite part of your weekend?”

“Tell me something interesting about where you grew up.”

“What drew you to your line of work?”


 

Bad Things Happen to Everyone

Posted on June 4, 2017 at 11:15 PM Comments comments (0)

We thought that you would find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be a very interesting read. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/meditation-modern-life/201706/bad-things-happen-everyone

Bad Things Happen to Everyone

“I’m a good person, how could this happen to me?”

Posted Jun 04, 2017

You’re watching the TV news. The reporter is describing a terrible car accident that just took place on the highway. A mother of three children was rear ended by a careless driver who fell asleep at the wheel. The woman survived the collision unscathed. Unfortunately, her three children all died in the accident.

 

After describing the sad events, the reporter wraps up the segment by saying, “Three children instantly killed in the collision. The tragic accident was something no parent should ever have to go through.”

 

I’m sure you’ve heard a variation of the reporter’s commentary throughout your life. Maybe you’ve even said something similar to the following:

 

No one should ever have to experience (fill in the blank).

 

But the truth is, if you live long enough, you’re most likely going to experience some significantly stressful event: a loved one will die. You’ll get sick. Someone will mistreat you. The list goes on.

 

“I’m a good person, how could this happen to me?” is one question so many of us ask ourselves when tragedy strikes.

 

The reality is bad things happen to everyone.

 

We live in a world filled with catastrophes. Just click on your favorite news website, and you’ll see a long list of stomach churning, tear jerking events. The problem with clinging to the mindset that you or someone you know doesn't deserve to experience a certain painful event, that it’s unfair, that it shouldn’t have happened, is that it increases suffering.

 

When Adversity Strikes We Have Two Options: Accept What Is or Suffer

 

There is much confusion about “accepting what is.”

 

Many caring, compassionate people confuse it with indifference. They contend, “That’s terrible. I don’t want to accept what is and sit back and do nothing.”

 

I agree. Accepting what is, in the context I’m describing is not the same as throwing your arms in the air and doing nothing. In fact, I am a strong believer in taking action when you witness injustice or helping those in need.

 

When you’re confronted with circumstances that stir you into action ask yourself, “Is there something I can do to improve the situation?” “Can I volunteer, write a check, or contribute my efforts in other ways?” In other words, is there a way you can do your part?

 

As you can see, my version of accepting what is has nothing to do with complacency.

 

The problem is, many people who want to make a difference in the world suffer because they are unable to quiet their minds after they’ve done their part. Accepting what is means aligning your actions with your values. And once you’ve taken action, you let go of the outcome.

 

When you continue to worry and set up expectations for a certain outcome that must happen, you are not accepting what is. As a result, you’ll suffer. The mental thoughts will stress you out, create anxiety, and can even make you physically sick.

 

So How Do You Accept What Is and Act in a Way that Aligns with Your Convictions?

 

Let’s take the example of professionals who deal with high-stress situations everyday. Doctors, nurses, firefighters, law enforcement, and social workers often experience harrowing situations on a regular basis. These professions are notorious for burn out that often results in high worker turnover.

 

But many professionals that are able to maintain their careers over the long-term have learned a powerful skill. They show up to work. They do their jobs. They take care of those who need help.

 

Once they’re done for the day, however, they flip the mental switch, so to speak, and put work behind them. This “out of sight, out of mind” approach is what allows them to maintain their careers helping others while maintaining peace of mind.

 

Learn to Love Cockroaches

 

There’s a story of a monk who was imprisoned for his religious beliefs. He was a peaceful man and never harmed a soul. Yet he was put into jail along with men who had committed terrible crimes. After years in prison, he was finally released.

 

When asked about his experience, rather than harbor resentment and anger about his unfair incarceration, he said, “Spending so much time alone deepened my meditation practice. I learned to appreciate the beauty in everything—including the cockroaches that would visit me in my cell everyday.”

 

So the next time you or someone you care about is confronted with a difficult situation, avoid the conventional wisdom that says, “Bad things shouldn’t happen to good people!”

 

Rather, accept that bad (and good) things happen to everyone. Do your part to alleviate suffering, and then accept what is. No matter how adverse the experience we are having, life always presents us with something beautiful to appreciate, embrace, and enjoy.



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