Author Archives: Douglas LaBier

Building An “Inside-Out” Life

1.  Why “Work-Life” Balance Is A Myth

Meet Linda and Jim, who consulted me for psychotherapy.  Linda is a lawyer with a large firm; Jim heads a major trade association.  They told me they’re totally committed to their marriage and to being good parents.  But they also said it’s pretty hectic juggling all their responsibilities at work and at home They have two children of their own plus a child from her former marriage. Dealing with the logistics of daily life, to say nothing of the emotional challenges, makes it “hard just to come up for air,” Linda said.  Sound familiar?

Or listen to Bill, a 43-year-old who initially consulted me for help with some career challenges.  Before long, he acknowledged that he’s worried about the “other side” of life. He’s raising two teenage daughters and a younger son by himself – one of the rising numbers of single fathers.  He’s constantly worried about things like whether a late meeting might keep him at work. He tries to have some time for himself, but “it’s hard enough just staying in good physical health, let alone being able to have more of a ‘life,’ ” he said. Recently, he learned he has hypertension.

It’s no surprise that these people, like many I see both in my psychotherapy practice and my workplace consulting, feel pummeled by stresses in their work and home lives. Most are aware, at least dimly, that this is unhealthy – that stress damages the body, mind and spirit. Ten years ago, a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that 70 percent of all illness, physical and mental, is linked to stress of some kind.  And that number has probably increased over the last decade.  Much of this stress comes from struggling with the pressures of work and home – and trying to “balance” both. The problem seems nearly universal, whether in two-worker, single-parent or childless households.

I think these conflicts are so common because people have learned to frame the problem incorrectly to begin with. That is, there’s no way to balance work life and home life, because both exist on the same side of the scale – what I call your “outer” life. On the other side of the scale is your personal, private life – your “inner” life. Instead of thinking about how to balance work life and home life, try, instead, to balance your outer life and inner life.

The Other Balancing Act

Let me explain. On the outer side of the scale you have the complex logistics and daily stresses of life at both work and home – the e-mails to respond to, the errands, family obligations, phone calls, to-do lists and responsibilities that fill your days. Your outer life is the realm of the external, material world. It’s where you use your energies to deal with tangible, often essential things. Paying your bills, building a career, dealing with people, raising kids, doing household chores, and so on. Your outer life is on your iPhone, BlackBerry, or your e-calender.

On the other side of the scale is your internal self.  It’s the realm of your private thoughts and values.  Your emotions, fantasies, spiritual or religious practices.  Your capacity to love, your secret desires, and your deeper sense of purpose.  In short, it embodies who you are, on the inside.  A “successful” inner life is defined by how well you deal with your emotions, your degree of self-awareness , and your sense of clarity about your values and life purpose.  It includes your level of mental repose:  your capacity for calm, focused action and resiliency that you need in the face of  your frenetic, multitasking outer life.

If the realm of the inner life sounds unfamiliar or uncomfortable to you, this only emphasizes how much you – like most peple – have lost touch with your inner self.  You can become so depleted and stretched by dealing with your outer life that there’s little time to tend to your mind, spirit or body. Then, you identify your “self” mostly with who you are in that outer realm. And when there’s little on the inner side of the scale, the outer part weighs you down. You are unbalanced, unhappy and often sick.

When your inner life is out of balance with your outer, you become more vulnerable to stress, and that’s related to a wide range of physical damage.  Research shows that heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, a weakened immune system, skin disorders, asthma, migraine, musculoskeletal problems – all are linked to stress.

More broadly, when your inner and outer lives become unbalanced, your daily functioning is affected in a range of ways, both subtle and overt. When operating in the outer world – at work, for example, or in dealings with your spouse or partner – you may struggle with unjustified feelings of insecurity and fear. You may find yourself at the mercy of anger or greed whose source you don’t understand. You may be plagued with indecisiveness or revert to emotional “default” positions forged during childhood, such as submissiveness, rebellion or self-undermining behavior.

Even when you’re successful in parts of your outer life, neglecting the inner remains hazardous to your psychological and physical health. Without a developed inner life, you lose the capacity to regulate, channel and focus your energies with awareness, self-direction and judgment.  Personal relationships can suffer, your health may deteriorate and you become vulnerable to looking for new stimulation from the outer-world sources you know best – maybe a new “win,” a new lover, drugs or alcohol.

And that pulls you even more off-balance, possibly to the point of no return. The extreme examples are Continue reading

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Obama, Empathy And The Supreme Court Nominee

Well, people, it looks like the fight over the “e-word” has started again.  Remember last year, when President Obama said that the capacity for empathy was an important criteria for selecting a Supreme Court nominee?  He was quickly attacked by those who apparently heard “empathy” as a code word for some kind of ideological bias.  And shortly after, Obama backed off from using the term.

Last June, I wrote here about why I thought he should keep on using the word empathy, not back away from it.  I have a particular interest in the subject, having written about our national “empathy deficit disorder” in The Washington Post a few years ago — and which I recently updated on my Psychology Today blog.  During last year’s Supreme Court nomination process, critics distorted what empathy is.  It’s  actually the capacity to experience what another person experiences.  It’s what gives you the capacity for wisdom, perspective and sound judgment; not bias or distortion or being bamboozled into the other’s point of view.

Nevertheless, as Obama decides who to nominate as Justice Stevens’ replacement, it’s like Yogi Berra said: “It’s déjŕ vu, all over again.”

To wit: A recent article in  The New York Times asks if  Obama is looking for empathy “by another name.”  The piece, by Peter Baker, points out that

A year after Mr. Obama made “empathy” one of his main criteria in picking his first Supreme Court justice, he is avoiding the word, which became radioactive, as he picks his second nominee. Instead, he says he wants someone with “a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.”

Baker goes on to say,

The issue is more than semantic. …The president emphasizes that while adhering to the rule of law, judges should also be able to see life through the eyes of those who come before the bench. His critics call that a prescription for twisting decisions to reach a desired outcome…..

The dispute became so contentious last year that even Mr. Obama’s nominee for the court, Sonia Sotomayor, disavowed the notion of empathy during hearings before her confirmation, saying that “judges can’t rely on what’s in their heart.”

In the same vein, Lee Epstein, a constitutional scholar at the Northwestern University School of Law, said in the Times piece, “You hear ‘empathy’ and you don’t think impartiality, judicial temperament.”

And getting right to the “heart” (whoops, sorry!) of the matter,

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “It seems to be calling again for judges to be less committed to fidelity to the law and calling for them to reach decisions that somehow endeavor to decide who ought to win.”

All of this posturing should be exposed for the ignorance and manipulation it contains, and presented in hopes that the public will buy it.  We need to emphasize why empathy is a plus, an inborn capacity, and the basis of healing the serious wounds in our global society, as Jeremy Rifkin has written in The Empathic Civilization.  But as far as the relevance of empathy to the Supreme Court issue, The Nation’s  Katrina vanden Heuvel, writing in The Washington Post, put it in proper context:

Is it better to have a corporate stooge on the bench than someone capable of understanding how his or her decisions will affect 300 million fellow citizens? Better to have a biased judge than a humane one, a dishonest justice instead of one who’s insightful?  It… goes to show how hysterical those critics have become about empathy.

It’s sad and discouraging to witness fear-fueled distortions coming from elected officials and others.  I hope that President Obama returns to his well-founded support for empathy as a criteria.  It’s especially important at this time in our history when we need more, not less empathy, not only in a Supreme Court justice, but in our society at large, to help face and solve major problems that confront us – economically, socially, psychologically.  As I wrote previously, in the Bible King Solomon asked God for “a heart that listens.” Notice that he didn’t ask for “a head that thinks.” Continue reading

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Learning To “Forget Yourself”

“Becoming Sane…”  Part IV

In Part III of “becoming sane….” I wrote that our prevailing model of psychological health needs revision for today’s world – for outward success in a changing world, and for internal well-being.  I concluded by saying that a key to emotional resiliency and, more broadly, psychological health, in current times is learning to “forget yourself.”

So what does that mean?  Not thinking about your own needs?  Not looking out for yourself?  Not quite.  I’m using the phrase “forget yourself” to highlight an important capacity for health, survival, and “happiness” in today’s tumultuous, interconnected environment: the capacity to focus more on problems, needs, and solutions beyond just your own.  That is, the person who is too absorbed in his or her own self, own conflicts, own disappointments, and the like is much less able to engage the larger dilemmas and issues in positive, solution-oriented ways.  And that deficiency circles back to create dysfunction, damaged relationships, and career downturns.

Along the way I’ll be writing more about specific ways you can learn to “forget yourself” in your work, your relationships and your role as a global citizen. Here are some guidelines that help lay the foundation.

Three Responsibilities:

Think about your responsibilities as a human being living in today’s world, and on this planet.  Specifically, consider the following three responsibilities. They can serve as helpful guidelines for moving through and beyond the tendency we all share — to focus too much on our own selves.

Responsibility for your own mind-body-spirit

Recognize that it’s your job, alone, to continue learning and developing your emotional, mental, creative and physical capacities. Enlarging these capacities helps provide the flexibility and adaptability you need to deal with changes, good or bad. Don’t become like the character John Marcher in Henry James’ “The Beast In The Jungle,” who waited passively, believing that something significant was going to happen…and ended up with a failed life.

Responsibility for those less able

Part of the new criteria for psychological health include this awareness:  You grow through your efforts to help and support others, less able than yourself, to find and follow a healthy path in this world. Find someone who needs and would welcome your aid, whether your children or family member. But stretch further, to include a stranger or those within the extended world community who suffer from lack of clean water, from famine, disease or torture. Organizations and individuals who could use your help are a click away on the Internet.

Responsibility for the planet

Reflect on the fact that your actions at home or in your community can help maintain a healthy, sustainable planet for future inhabitants, including your own descendants. Or, they can further jeopardize the environment they will live in. Look at your own actions in your home, your community, and at work. Ask yourself, are you becoming a “good ancestor?”

Some Steps You Can Take:

Loosen the grip of self-interest

Use self-awareness to observe – and contain – your Continue reading

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The Paradox of Indifference – The Key To A Revitalized Relationship

Nora, 43, has a successful career as a free-lance magazine writer with two children.  She’s been married for 15 years to Ken, a media executive.  They’re typical of many couples today — committed to their relationship and family as much as to their careers. Yet something troubles them. It’s what’s happened along the way during their marriage.

There’s nothing “wrong” with it, exactly. But the excitement and energy, the feelings of connection and passion that were once there have gradually faded over the years.  “The old feelings haven’t exactly disappeared,” Nora says. “Now and then it feels something like it used to. But mostly it feels like our relationship has ‘flatlined.’”

Another person, David, recently celebrated the eleventh anniversary of his second marriage.  He describes a similar shift a bit more sardonically, saying that his relationship has settled into a state of “depressing comfortableness.”  He’s thought about having an affair.

If these laments sound familiar to you, it’s likely because most men and women find that their long-term marriages (I’m defining “marriage” to describe all committed relationships, straight or gay) tend to head south over time.

Gradually, they descend into what I call the Functional Relationship.

Most people think it’s inevitable, but there’s a unique way to liberate yourself from it.  It’s learning to “leave” your relationship in order to transform it.  You do that through becoming “indifferent.”

First, let’s look at what typically happens in the Functional Relationship.  The relationship continues to “work” fairly well, but mostly in a transactional way, around the logistics of daily life: “I thought you were taking the car in for repair.” “Whose turn is it to take the kids to soccer practice on Saturday?”

Sometimes, it becomes more adversarial: “Why did you schedule the plumber for tomorrow when you knew you couldn’t be here? I told you that I have a meeting I can’t miss.”

But even when “functioning” goes fairly smoothly, feelings of passion or even fun just hanging out together diminish, especially in contrast to how it felt early on in the relationship.  As I’ve studied contemporary marriages in our post-9-11/post-economic meltdown-world of the 21st Century, I find that couples experience this diminishment in three main ways:

  • Decreased emotional intimacy and sharing of feelings.
  • Less equality in decisions and daily interactions, which are often tinged by power-struggles and silent maneuvering for the “upper hand.”
  • And dampened sexuality, both in quantity and quality.

A note about that third item: Even when arousal is jacked up by Viagra or the new products purporting to enhance women’s desire, your libido — desire for the person you’re with — remains diminished.  That’s no surprise, because the latter is relationship-dependent. It remains unaffected even if you’re physiologically able to become aroused.

Overall, couples in a Functional Relationship report a diminished sense of connection with each other.  Sometimes it’s a feeling of not being on the same wave-length.

Most people assume that the Functional Relationship is completely “normal;” just a sad reality of adult life. Some are resigned to it as just one more part of the “long slide home,” as one 47-year-old journalist described his experience of midlife. Of course, not everyone feels so bleak, but many would agree with this woman’s lament about her 18-year relationship: “What was once a bright flame has turned into a pilot light.”

You, too probably assume that romantic and sexual connections are supposed to fade over time. Common sense seems to tell you so. After all, you’re seeing the same person day-in and day-out, not just when he or she is most attractive.  And like the majority of couples today, you’re probably dealing with the impact of multitasking, dual-career lives. Raising children in addition absorbs enormous time and energy.  Just trying to carry on in this uncertain, unpredictable world adds another huge layer of stress.

If everyday experience doesn’t convince you that the Functional Relationship is inevitable, there are the pronouncements of various experts. For example, some researchers claim that brain chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylethylamine, associated with sexual excitement or desire, decline with familiarity. At the same time, oxytocin and endorphins, which generate feelings of quiet comfort and calm, rise. Therefore, they say, you are going to feel diminished desire for your partner over time.

Many marriage and relationship experts advocate just accepting this decline and learning to be happy with it. For example, in her  book Surrendering to Marriage Iris Krasnow advocates learning to appreciate and live with the security and comfort that come along with the “inevitable” decline — unless, of course, you want to go down the slippery slope of an affair, or dumping your partner altogether and look for a new one.   It’s easy to think it’s best to stop complaining about what you don’t have and learn to live with lowered expectations.

If all of the above is really true, then you’d better resign yourself to the fact that a “passionate marriage” is an oxymoron.

But before you do that, consider this: Descending into the Functional Relationship is neither natural nor inevitable.  True, the experience is widespread. But most people descend into the Functional Relationship because it’s the natural outcome of how you learn to engage in love relationships to begin with.  As I wrote in a previous post, it’s a version of adolescent romance. Its features — like intense arousal by a new person; infatuation, often followed by deflation; manipulating and game-playing, are part of normal adolescent development. But we carry them into our adult experience. And  that model of love can’t sustain long-term connection and vitality.

Becoming “Indifferent”

Through my research and clinical work I’ve been discovering how and why some people defy the norm and generate new energy and vitality within their long-term relationships. I’m convinced that there’s a way out of the Functional Relationship. There’s even a way to avoid it altogether.  I call it the art of Creative Indifference. Continue reading

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Today’s Psychologically Healthy Adult — Neither Adult Nor Healthy

Becoming Sane….Part III

In previous posts on the theme of “becoming sane in a turbulent, interconnected, unpredictable world,” I described why conventional emotional resiliency doesn’t work in the 21st Century; and what that means for building a psychologically healthy life in today’s world.

In this post I’ll explain why many of the conflicts men and women deal with today stem from this contradiction:  The criteria for adult psychological health accepted by the mental health professions and the general public doesn’t really describe an adult. Nor, for that matter, does it describe psychological health.

A contradiction, to be sure, so let me explain: As we entered the world of the 21st Century our definition of psychological health was largely defined by the absence of psychiatric symptoms. The problem is, that’s like defining a happy person as someone who’s not depressed.  Moreover, sometimes what appears to be a psychiatric symptom reflects movement towards greater health and growth in a person’s life situation.

But more significantly, our conventional view of psychological health is, in effect, a well-adapted, well-functioning child in relation to parents or parent figures.  Or, a sibling who interacts appropriately in a social context with other siblings. Either way, it describes a person functioning within and adapted to a world shaped and run by “parents,” psychologically speaking.

That is, we pretty much equate healthy psychological functioning with effective management or resolution of child- or sibling-based conflicts. For example, resolving and managing such child-based conflicts as impulse control; narcissistic or grandiose attitudes; and traumas around attachment, from indifference, abandonment, abuse, or parenting that otherwise damages your adult capacity for intimacy or trusting relationships.

Healthy resolution of sibling-type conflicts includes learning effective ways to compete with other “siblings” at work or in intimate relationships; managing your fears of success or disapproval; containing passive-aggressive, manipulative or other self-undermining tendencies; and finding ways to perform effectively, especially in the workplace, towards people whose approval, acceptance and reward you need or crave.

It’s no surprise, then, that many people feel and behave like children in a grown-up world. Examples permeate popular culture.  A good one is the popular TV show, “The Office.” It often portrays the eruption of these sibling-type conflicts, as the workers act out their resentments or compete with one another to win the favor of office manager Michael, another grown-up child who is self-serving and clueless about his own competitive motives and insecurity.

Unconscious child-type conflicts are often visible within intimate relationships and family life, as well.  They provide a steady stream of material for novels and movies. You can see, for example, fears of abandonment in a man who demands constant attention and assurance that he’s loved; or low-self worth in a woman who’s unconsciously attracted to partners who dominate or manipulate her. Of course it’s critical that you learn to become aware of and manage effectively whatever emotional damage you bring from your early experiences into adulthood. We all have some.  That’s a good starting point for adult psychological health, but it’s not sufficient.  A well-adapted member of a community of other “children” and “siblings” within a psychological world of “parents” is not the same thing as a healthy adult.  Especially not within today’s interconnected, non-linear world.

So – without a picture of what a healthy adult would feel, think and do in the current environment, you’re left with questions but few answers. For example:

  • How can you maintain the mental focus to keep your career skills sharp and stay on a successful path at work when you suddenly acquire a new boss who wants to take things in a new direction? Or if your company is acquired by another, or goes out of business?
  • How can you best respond, mentally, if you have a new baby and a drop in family income at the same time that globalization sidetracks your career?
  • How can you handle the pressure to work longer or do more business travel when your spouse faces the same demands?
  • What’s the healthiest way to keep your relationship alive with fresh energy – or avoid the temptation of an affair?
  • And how do you deal emotionally with the threat of terrorism — always lurking in the background of your mind — while enjoying life at the same time?

We now live within a world where the only constant is change, and where a new requirement is being able to compete and collaborate with everyone from everywhere about almost everything.

Doing that with self-awareness and knowledge of how to grow and develop all facets of your being – that’s the new path to adult psychological health.  But you need to know where to find the path.

Learning From The Business World?

Actually, I think we can learn a lot about what’s needed for psychological health from changes occurring in the business world. Continue reading

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Becoming Sane….Part II

“What Happened To My Mental Health?”

In Part I of “Becoming Sane in a Turbulent, Interconnected, Unpredictable World,” I wrote about why you need a new kind of emotional resiliency for success and well-being in today’s world.  Here, I’ll extend those thoughts about resiliency to psychological health in general.  Just as we need to redefine resiliency, I think we need to reformulate what a psychologically healthy adult looks like in this transformed world.  Here are my ideas about that:

Throughout most of the last century, adult psychological health has been largely equated with good management and coping skills: Managing stress within your work and personal life; and effective coping with or resolution of whatever emotional conflicts you brought with you into adulthood – and we all bring along some.

So, in your work that might include being clear about your career goals, and working your way up a fairly predictable set of steps to achieve power, recognition and financial success – all the things that we’ve equated with adult maturity and mental health.

At home, it would mean forming a long-term relationship that withstands the power struggles and other differences that often lead to affairs or even divorce.  You would assume that the healthy adult doest that via compromise at best, or disguised manipulation at worst.  In addition, you would accept “normal” decline of intimate connection and vitality over time.

But the fallout from the worldwide upheaval over the last few years have turned all those criteria of health upside down.  To be clear, it’s important to be able to manage conflicts that could derail your career or personal life.  But doing that isn’t enough to ensure future success, sanity or well-being in this turbulent and highly interdependent world we now live in.

Massive, interconnected forces within this globalized, unpredictable world add a host of new emotional and behavioral challenges to living a psychologically healthy, well-functioning and fulfilling life.

I deal with the fallout almost daily: People who’ve functioned pretty well in the past, but now feel as if they’re standing on tectonic plates shifting beneath them. Despite their best efforts, they struggle with mounting anxiety about the future of their own and their children’s lives, and confusion about their values and life purpose.

There’s the former Wall Street financial executive who told me he’d always defined himself by “making it through the next end zone” in his career, working long hours to ensure financial success. Now, as his company – and career – crumbled, he found that in addition to sacrificing time with his family, he had sacrificed his health: He has diabetes and high blood pressure. “Kind of a reverse ‘deal-flow,’ ” he lamented to me.

And the management consultant, pressured to ratchet up her travel to keep her career on track. “I’d been coping with everything, I thought,” she told me, “though I don’t like needing Zoloft to do it.” Instead of her career becoming more predictable as she gained seniority, her career propelled her into an even wilder ride. “Now I don’t have enough time for my daughter or my husband,” she said. “What kind of life is this? . . . My husband’s checked out, emotionally. And what am I teaching my daughter?”

Or the lawyer, who’d prided himself on “eating what I kill, and I’m a good killer.” He told me he has “more money than I ever dreamed of,” but also says that, “secretly, I hate what I do for a living.” But what’s the alternative, he asks, without “looking like a dysfunctional failure if I opt out?” After a failed marriage, he entered therapy and had begun to realize how his father’s unfulfilled dreams of “success” have impacted his own life — when suddenly his father died. “I’m in a tailspin,” he says; depressed and confused about what his own purpose in life is.

All of these people were on the kinds of life paths they expected would bring them predictable rewards. But counting on that linear upward climb is now hazardous to your mental health.

In fact, following that old path can make you more vulnerable to Continue reading

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The Psychology Of Public Policy

The other day Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stirred up some interesting reactions.  He said in a speech that Americans are faced with having to accept higher taxes or readjustments in programs like Medicare and Social Security, in order to avoid ever-increasing budget deficits that will be catastrophic.

Now I’m not an economist (see former Undersecretary of Commerce Ev Ehrlich’s blog for such matters).  But I started thinking about Bernanke’s comments — and the reactions from some Republicans and assorted “anti-tax patriots” who came out with guns blazing (metaphorically….so far) — from a psychological perspective.  I find some psychological attitudes and ideology about the role of individuals in society driving the reactions to what Bernanke raised.  They’re visible as well in the angry, hostile response to the health care legislation and, more broadly, the fear and loathing of “government takeover.”

Here’s what Bernanke said:

“These choices are difficult, and it always seems easier to put them off — until the day they cannot be put off anymore. But unless we as a nation demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility, in the longer run we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth.”  And, “To avoid large and ultimately unsustainable budget deficits, the nation will ultimately have to choose among higher taxes, modifications to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, less spending on everything else from education to defense, or some combination of the above.”

In The Washington Post story reporting Bernanke’s speech, writers Neil Irwin and Lori Montgomery point out that:

“…the economic downturn — with tumbling tax revenue, aggressive stimulus spending and rising safety-net payments such as unemployment insurance — has driven already large budget deficits to their highest level relative to the economy since the end of World War II. This has fueled public concern over how long the United States can sustain its fiscal policies.

The upshot of what we’re facing appears to be this: Our current way of life is unsustainable.  So what’s a possible remedy, according to Bernanke and others?  Raising taxes, not lowering them.  Cuts in Medicare benefits.  Raising the retirement age.  And bringing rising health care costs down.  To  do any or all of that requires a different mentality about our responsibility and obligations to others in our society.  And it’s not pleasant.  That’s the psychology part.

That is, we’re highly attached to the ideology that we are and should be separate, isolated individuals; that each of us should look out for one’s own self-interest.  And we define that largely by material acquisition and money.  Hence, opposition to “redistribution” of wealth, even though that’s exactly what we do via taxes that support all the services that we expect society to give us.  We also define our self-interest as psychologically healthy, mature, even; the hallmark of a succesful life.  Those that don’t do as well are not my problem.

Except now they are:  We’ve been hit with the reality that our world is so interconnected that someone else’s “problem” is also our own.  To consider subordinating some of our personal wants and goals for the larger common good feels foreign and frightening.  Yet that’s exactly what we’re faced with doing. It begins with shifting our mental perspectives towards recognizing that we’re all in the same boat — not just we Americans, but all of us in this global community.  And it means stimulating the emotional counterpart of that perspective — the hard-wired capacity for empathy.  And then, making the sacrifices that result from embracing the new realities.  The economic collapse has made the need for those shifts very apparent.  We’re faced with learning to sacrifice in ways that we’re not used to doing, in order to thrive as individuals and a society in the world as it now exists.

But such shifts meet with strong, ingrained resistance and denial.  They’re fueled  by unrealistic, almost delusional notions that pursuing self-interest at all costs will lead to success and well-being. So, for example, Republicans pounced on the suggestion of increasing taxes.  They also went after remarks by Paul A. Volcker earlier this week, who spoke very directly in favor of higher taxes.  He said that the U.S. might have to consider a European-style sales tax, known as a value-added tax, to close the budget gap.  He said “If at the end of the day we need to raise taxes, we should raise taxes.”

That’s a pretty direct, unvarnished statement of reality.  But Republicans accused Obama of plotting a big tax hike, for nefarious purposes.  ”To make up for the largest levels of spending and deficits in modern history, the Administration is laying the foundation for a large, misguided new tax, a first-time American VAT.” Sen. Charles E. Grassley said in a statement.

Onward goes the struggle between facing reality and dealing with it, or not facing it….and still having to deal with it

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Becoming Sane In A Turbulent, Interconnected, Unpredictable World — Part 1

Why Emotional Resiliency Doesn’t Work In The 21st Century

It’s becoming clear that our understanding of emotional resilience – what it is and how to achieve it — (and, more broadly, psychological health)  doesn’t mesh very well with today’s realities. Conventional descriptions of resilience and pathways to mental health don’t enable you to handle the challenges and stresses we face in the 21st Century.

Let me explain. Resilience is generally defined as the ability to cope successfully with misfortune or traumatic events. Being able to bounce back from adversity and keep on going. What helps you do that includes, for example, reviewing your strengths, focusing on positive thoughts and feelings, learning stress management, looking down the road to what you can manage better. And, by getting psychotherapy and medication when you’re unable to bounce back very well on your own.

Prior to the 21st Century, that view of resiliency and how to build it was more relevant than today. The adversity and disruptions you were likely to experience were more stable, in a sense. The world was more predictable, more linear, with respect to the kinds of stresses and disruptions that would occur – as emotionally troubling as they might be.

Most of our thinking about emotional resilience and healthy functioning, then, fits a world in which unanticipated negative events are fairly predictable. They follow a fairly understandable course, following which you can reasonably anticipate a return to some form of previous stability. In that world, wars eventually ended. The economy went through recessions, then recovered. You might suffer a career or relationship setback but could assume that there was a path to recovery.

That notion of resilience and the ways to build it remain an important foundation for mental health. But they don’t help so much when you’re faced with the challenges of today’s environment. That’s because the very notion of resilience and the strategies for bouncing back are reactive. They focus on responding to something that happens to you, rather than on what you need to be doing proactively, as part of your way of life.

Starting with 9-11, and especially since the economic meltdown that began in the fall of 2008, we’ve been living in a world that’s rapidly transforming beneath our feet. Today’s world is an interconnected, interdependent, diverse, unpredictable and unstable global community. And that’s created new psychological challenges for everyone, challenges that require a highly proactive mentality.

Without it, you might feel like the woman who consulted me recently. Even before she sat down she said,  ”I don’t know whether to reach for the Prozac….or Prilosec!”

Her grim humor masked her “recession depression” and other emotional battering. She didn’t know what would help. I’ve witnessed that a great deal in the last few years: Career and financial worries or losses; the ripple effect of those upon family life; anxieties about what sort of future one’s children are headed into, especially with climate change and terrorist threats; and the increasingly polarized views about our government’s role in people’s lives. Research and clinical observation show that all of the above are taking a psychological toll on relationships, families, career expectations, and on people’s entire sense of what they’re living and working for — their life purpose.

Unfortunately, those of us in the mental health professions haven’t been much help with these issues. Most of us continue to look through the rear-view mirror at a model of resiliency and health defined by coping with and managing conflicts in relationships and the workplace; conflicts that you can bounce back from and reestablish some kind of stability…all while continuing to pursue self-interest, such as getting your needs met, your personal goals achieved, your “happiness” acquired.

But today’s world of ongoing disruptions, continuous uncertainties and insecurity has become the new normal. Seeking to bounce back to stability and focusing on self-interest, which we’ve learned to think is the pathway to success, health and well-being, isn’t the right ticket.

In short, there’s no state of equilibrium you can bounce back to. In this highly diverse, interdependent, interconnected world.  Trying to do so is a fast ticket to dysfunction and derailment. You can’t reestablish equilibrium within a constantly shifting world. But engaging these new realities in positive ways will support your success and well-being.

Research shows that you can proactively build specific emotions, thoughts and actions that are effective for adapting to life in the non-equilibrium world we now live within. That’s encouraging, because I think we’re evolving towards a new definition of psychological health via rethinking resilience.

The criteria of a new, proactive resiliency – maybe call it “prosilience – may sound contradictory because they include letting go of self-interest in your relationships and work. The new view of resilience emphasizes being flexible, open and nimble; being able to shift and redeploy your personal resources – emotional, creative, intellectual – towards positive engagement with others.

Resiliency grows from putting your energies, your values, emotional attitudes and actions in the service of the common good – something larger than just yourself. That’s what supports both success in your outside life and internal well-being. And in today’s rapidly transforming world, you need both.

In the future look for new posts about perspectives, research and actions that relate to “becoming sane in a turbulent, interconnected, turbulent world.”  Through them I hope to contribute to a revised and needed reformulation of what psychological health and resiliency are in today’s world — in all realms of life:  intimate relationships, career challenges, engagement with diverse people, and in our responsibilities as  global citizens.

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Welcome To The New “Real America”

In two recent New York Times columns, both Frank Rich and Charles M. Blow dug beneath the current surge of anger and right-wing extremism and came up with some penetrating insights about the sources of the outrage; insights that are also the tip of an iceberg:  Both of their analyses reflect a broad, sweeping evolution within the mentality of men and women that’s been taking place beneath our feet for the last several years.  I’ll describe some of those broader changes below, but first let’s look at what Rich and Blow describe.

Rich points out that the “tsunami of anger” today is illogical, in the sense that the health care legislation is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare.  He also reminds us that the new anger and extremism predated the health care debate:

The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Gov. Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

He’s pointing out that major changes are occurring in the demographics of our country.  These changes – and others, concerning what people look for in relationships and in their careers —  are beginning to have major impact on us psychologically, including our psychological health.  For some, they generate tremendous fear that can give rise to hatred and aggression; a desire to “take back our country.”

Rich points out that:

Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

Then, in a similar analysis, Charles M. Blow writes in his column:

It’s an extension of a now-familiar theme: some version of “take our country back.” The problem is that the country romanticized by the far right hasn’t existed for some time, and its ability to deny that fact grows more dim every day. President Obama and what he represents has jolted extremists into the present and forced them to confront the future. And it scares them.

Even the optics must be irritating. A woman (Nancy Pelosi) pushed the health care bill through the House. The bill’s most visible and vocal proponents included a gay man (Barney Frank) and a Jew (Anthony Weiner). And the black man in the White House signed the bill into law. It’s enough to make a good old boy go crazy.

Blow cites a recent Quinnipiac University poll that found Tea Party members to be just as anachronistic to the direction of the country’s demographics as the Republican Party. For instance, they were disproportionately white, evangelical Christian and “less educated … than the average Joe and Jane Six-Pack.”  Blow points out that this is at the very time

when the country is becoming more diverse (some demographers believe that 2010 could be the first year that most children born in the country will be nonwhite), less doctrinally dogmatic, and college enrollment is through the roof. The Tea Party, my friends, is not the future.

Well said.  Mounting demographic and psychological research are confirming and extending what Rich and Blow describe.  In fact, several strands of change have been underway and coalescing into a changing psychology of people – their emotional attitudes, mental perspectives, values regarding work and relationships, and behavior towards people in need or who suffer loss.  These are shifts within a wide range of thought, feelings and actions.  Here are some of them: Continue reading

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Your “Life Footprint” And The 4.0 Career

In a previous post I wrote about the rise of the “4.0” career, and how it contrasts with earlier orientations to work.  In brief, the 4.0 version is an emerging shift towards a broader vision of career “success.”  It includes the desire for new learning, growth and personal meaning from work – increasingly visible themes over the last few decades, and what I’ve called the “3.0” career orientation.

What’s different about the emerging 4.0 career is that it’s an expansion beyond looking for greater meaning and sense of “purpose” through one’s work.  It also includes a desire for impact on something larger than oneself, beyond one’s personal benefit.  It’s becoming visible in the pull men and women report towards wanting to contribute to the common good -  whether it’s through the value and usefulness of a product or service.

The 4.0 career is part of the emerging new business model focused on creating “sustainable” enterprises.  It’s part of what’s known as the new “triple bottom line” — financial, social and environmental measures of success.

In this and in future posts l’ll describe some 4.0 career themes and how men and women illustrate them.  This is important because the transformations now underway in global societies, which became more dramatically apparent following the economic nosedive in September 2008, have tremendous implications for career survival and success.  The unstable, unpredictable new world upon us makes the 4.0 career orientation the path towards both outward success and personal well-being in the years ahead.

As a step towards finding the 4.0 career path, consider this little historical nugget: Continue reading

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Thoughts On Political Intolerance and Bigotry In Today’s Culture

In a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times, columnist Bob Herbert wrote that the G.O.P. has become

…the party of trickle down and weapons of mass destruction, the party of birthers and death-panel lunatics. This is the party that genuflects at the altar of right-wing talk radio, with its insane, nauseating, nonstop commitment to hatred and bigotry.

Glenn Beck of Fox News has called President Obama a “racist” and asserted that he “has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”

Mike Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate, has said of Mr. Obama’s economic policies: “Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.”

The G.O.P. poisons the political atmosphere and then has the gall to complain about an absence of bipartisanship.

And over the weekend, such civil rights leaders as John Lewis were subjected to racial slurs; Congressman Barney Franks was slammed with homophobic labels as he walked to the Capitol.  Much of this occurred with the egging on of Republican House members, shouting and sign-waving from the balcony, as they watched Tea Party members engaging in what Michael Steele described as just “stupid things” being said by “idiots.” But they aren’t.  They are statements of bigotry and racism.

The interesting thing, psychologically, is what propels this in 2010, and how pervasive such intolerance is, in our country.  I think it may be more widespread in appearance than in reality, however, though it certainly looks like the former.  And Herbert is dead-on when he writes,

…it is way past time for decent Americans to rise up against this kind of garbage, to fight it aggressively wherever it appears. And it is time for every American of good will to hold the Republican Party accountable for its role in tolerating, shielding and encouraging foul, mean-spirited and bigoted behavior in its ranks and among its strongest supporters.

I think the real trends across our culture are in opposite directions — towards greater, not lesser tolerance; towards awareness that we’re all interconnected in this globalized world, and that we rise or fall together, as a species. Continue reading

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Having An Affair? But Which Kind?

The other day Tiger Woods began his ďż˝I did bad thingsďż˝ tour of the talk shows, and I recalled a recent moment with George (not his real name), who had consulted me about the dilemma posed by his new affair.ďż˝ As he told me how it began, visions of Woods, Mark Sanford, and John Edwards began flashing through my head — along with the similar stories of countless patients over the years.

ďż˝She was standing off by herself during a conference break, leaning against a wall, sipping coffee,ďż˝ George said.���As I walked by, our eyes met and I felt a sudden jolt — a rush of energy, real connection.��Suddenly we found ourselves talking, feeling like we had known each other for years.�� The affair ďż˝just ďż˝happened,ďż˝ George added.

That�s an explanation I�ve heard many times.��Another is a bit more �strategic.�� For example, Jan, a 41 year-old lawyer, said her affair was a �marriage stabilizer�.safe and discreet, a perfect solution for me.� �She decided it was a rational alternative to the disruption of divorce.

Of course the public always enjoys being titillated with stories of public figuresďż˝ affairs, especially when hypocrisy is exposed.ďż˝ But cultural attitudes have clearly shifted towards acceptance of affairs.ďż˝ Theyďż˝re seen as a life-style choice; an option for men and women yearning for excitement or intimacy thatďż˝s lacking or has dulled during their marriage.ďż˝ So given that new reality, I decided to write this piece, about the psychology of affairs — their meaning and their consequences.

Based on my work over the decades, I find six kinds of affairs that people have today. �I think a non-judgmental description of them (but with a tinge of humor) can help people who have affairs deal with them with greater awareness and responsibility.��Here are the six I�ve diagnosed: Continue reading

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Awakening The Common Good In Our Self-Serving Culture

The eminent historian Tony Judt, author of the seminal work Postwar, about the dynamics of Europe since World War II, has written an important new book, in my view, Ill Fares the LandThe New York Times has called it a “…bleak assessment of the selfishness and materialism that have taken root in Western societies (that) will stick to your feet and muddy your floors. But the Times adds that “Ill Fares the Land is also optimistic, raw and patriotic in its sense of what countries like the United States and Britain have meant — and can continue to mean — to their people and to the world.”

In his review, Dwight Garner explains that Judt is describing the “political and intellectual landscape in Britain and the United States since the 1980s, the Reagan-Thatcher era, and he worries about an increasing and ‘uncritical adulation of wealth for its own sake.’ What matters, he writes, ‘is not how affluent a country is but how unequal it is,’ and he sees growing and destabilizing inequality almost everywhere.”

It’s heartening to see at least one “public intellectual” – a vanishing breed – lay out in a direct, forceful argument the accumulating toll of greed and self-centeredness that has dominated our recent political and social landscape.  Judt describes these themes as “elevated to a cult by Know Nothings, States’ Rightists, anti-tax campaigners and — most recently — the radio talk show demagogues of the Republican Right.”

Judt observes, for example, that the notion that taxes might “be a contribution to the provision of collective goods that individuals could never afford in isolation (roads, firemen, policemen, schools, lamp posts, post offices, not to mention soldiers, warships, and weapons) is rarely considered.”  Click here for the full Times review.

I think Judt’s theme about serving the “common good” is growing throughout our culture.  It’s increasingly visible, for example, in the recognition that humans are “wired” for empathy and for serving something larger than their just their own needs — many of which are socially conditioned to begin with and fuel self-centeredness and narcissism.

In that vein I wrote about healing our “empathy deficit disorder” in my previous post, and author Jeremy Rifkin has argued much more broadly and in great depth about the rise of an “empathic civilization” in his major, well-documented new book.

I also see the awakening of interconnectedness and service to the common good increasingly visible in the rise of a new business model – one that combines having impact on the common good as well as achieving financial success.  The green business movement incorporates much of this emergence, as well as related trends towards sustainable investment, social entrepreneurialism and venture philanthropy.  I would add to those the growing recognition of the need for a psychologically healthy management cultures, as well.

Interesting, also, in Judt’s book is his argument that the left and right have switched sides, in a sense.  That is, he explains that today the right pursues radical goals, and has abandoned the “social moderation which served it so well from Disraeli to Heath, Theodore Roosevelt to Nelson Rockefeller.” He argues that it’s now the left that is trying to conserve “the institutions, legislation, services and rights that we have inherited from the great age of 20th-century reform.”  For another interesting take on the “reversal” of the left and right from the 1960s to the present, see economist Ev Ehrlich’s two-part essay on his blog, Ev Ehrlich’s Everyday Economics.

It sounds lame, but true: We’re sure living through some interesting times….

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Healing Our “Empathy Deficit Disorder”

You may not realize it, but a great number of people suffer from EDD.  And no, I don’t mean ADD or ED. It stands for “Empathy Deficit Disorder.”

I made it up, so you won’t find it listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.   Given that normal variations of mood and temperament are increasingly redefined as “disorders,” I’m hesitant to suggest adding another one. But this one’s real.  It’s based on my decades of experience as a business psychologist, psychotherapist and researcher, from which I’ve concluded that EDD is a pervasive but overlooked condition. And it has profound consequences for the mental health of individuals and of our society.

Our increasingly polarized social and political culture over the past year  has prompted me to post this — an expansion and revision of  an article I wrote for The Washington Post a couple of years ago about our nationwide empathy deficit.  It’s worse than ever, but ignored as a psychological disturbance by most of my colleagues in the mental health professions.

First, some explanation of what I mean by EDD:  People who suffer from it are unable to step outside themselves and tune in to what other people experience, especially those who feel, think and believe differently from themselves.  That makes it a source of personal conflicts, of communication failure in intimate relationships, and of the adversarial attitudes — including hatred — towards groups of people who differ in their beliefs, traditions or ways of life from one’s own.

Take the man who reported to me that his wife was complaining that Continue reading

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“Terrorism” — A Politically Useful Label?

The distinctions we’re hearing between”terrorism” and “criminal acts” go beyond the issue of whether to try certain defendants in military or civilian courts.  It appears that when it serves the Cheney/Tea Party political purposes, some acts of murder and destructiveness against Americans — attempted or consumated — are called “terrorism,” while  other similar acts –  such as those of Joseph Stack, who flew his plane into the IRS building in Texas, killing someone in a suicide mission; or Amy Bishop, the professor who shot and killed several colleagues when denied tenure — are labeled as simply criminal acts of  individual, emotionally disturbed people.

Aside from understanding the  psychology of people engaging in such acts (an important issue, itself), whether they act as individuals or part of an organized group,  many in the media appear to swallow this portrayal whole – accepting and repeating the same alleged distinction. Even Homeland Security Secretay Napolitano has joined in, recently stating on NPR’s Diane Rehm show, for example, that Joseph Stack’s actions were those of a “lone wolf,” carrying out a “personal agenda.”

Of course, all this gives more cred to part of the right wing’s core agenda – convincing the public that the Obama administration is “soft” on terrorism, despite all the hard evidence to the contrary.  The recent uproar over Cheney The Daughter’s portrayal of some Justice Department lawyers as part of the “al-Qaeda 7” is another example of this strategy. Unfortunately,  Napolitano, as well as some journalists and politicians, are playing right into this by trying to make a politically safe but dubious distinction between certain “terrorist acts” and “terrorism.”

An interesting distinction, perhaps, except to those who end up dead either way.

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Looking For Your Soul Mate?

Most men and women long to find a partner who is their soul mate…even if they don’t think that such a person exists outside of the imagination.  Over the years, I’ve heard many of my patients describe their longing for a soul mate, and a few of them believe they were fortunate enough to find one.  But most have concluded that it’s just an elusive dream, fueled by idealized illusions.  And many of them have had to face how their longing for a soul mate drew them into relationships that ended up distorted or dysfunctional, partly because of their idealization of their partners.

Of course, one reason for that is the damaging impact of our adolescent model of adult love that I described in a previous post.  Many people become socially conditioned into a view of love that they equate with an intense yearning for the feeling of being “in love.”  That heightens desire for an idealized lover, especially when he or she is elusive or unavailable.  Longing for the unattainable ideal is more of an enthrallment with your own experience of feeling in love, than a reality-based interest in the real person of your partner.

Beyond that flawed experience that colors most people’s romantic lives, many relationships that begin with a positive charge, emotionally and sexually, crumble under the weight of daily life, with all it’s pressures, conflicting desires, bills to pay, career conflicts, children’s needs, and so on.  Therefore, many assume that boredom with your partner and the corresponding sexual decline is “inevitable.”  And that can reactivate old yearnings or hope for a soul mate who might be out there, after all, beckoning you to a simple, pure, passionate love.  Of course, that’s what leads many people into affairs – a subject I’ll go into in a later post.

But I think there’s another way to envisioning what the soul-mate experience is and how it can grow and develop, as part of a mature adult love relationship; something that’s attainable in reality.  In essence, sustainable adult love blends together erotic desire, friendship, respect and support of each other’s growth and development — as independent, different human beings. Think of the way in which a new substance can arise from the joining of two separate elements, like water emerging from the coming together of hydrogen and oxygen.  Similarly, adult love is the product of two self-sufficient, “non-needy” people.  It’s more of an art that you practice and cultivate, not a set of techniques that you acquire from a how-to book.

So how do you build it?  I think there are three sources of the adult version of a soul  mate: what I call “radical transparency;” “words-into-actions;” and “good vibrations,” sexually-physically. Continue reading

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Vermont Proposes Creating A “Beneficial Business” Corporation

Now this is interesting:  Legislation has been introduced in Vermont to create a new kind of corporation.  Different from a non-profit, it would provide social good for the community, while returning gains to investors.  In a Burlington FreePress article describing this legislation, Seventh Generation co-founder Jeffrey Hollender is quoted as syaing that the bill “provides Vermont with a very unique and important leadership opportunity.”

The FreePress reports that the legislation calls for new and existing for-profit corporations to elect status as a for-benefit corporation with the purpose, among other things, of creating public benefit.  The bill, called the Vermont Benefit Corporation Act, defines “public benefit” as “a material positive impact on society and the environment, as measured by a third-party standard, through activities that promote some combination of specific public benefits.”

Will Patten, executive director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, backs the measure, saying “It’s a no-cost, positive piece of legislation that might have an impact on Vermont’s economy.”  Green Mountain Roasters is reportedly a prime candidate to become a benefit corporation, upon approval by two-thirds of shareholders, should the legislation become law.  Click here for the complete article.

This kind of hybrid corporation makes good sense in this era of economic and organizational turmoil and change — one that calls for out-of-the-box thinking about ways to combine economic success and service to the common good.  Increasingly, economists and others are observing that our institutions and their leadership vision are locked into 20th Century thinking and realities; and that new kinds of thinking and structures are needed to address the complex, interconnected issues facing societies and people today.  Harvard’s Umair Haque, among others, has been addressing these issues in his writings.

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Gen X and Gen Y Careerists – Harbingers Of Change In Business and Personal Lives

I often hear a similar lament from both younger and older careerists….about each other.  The younger workers say, “These older people just don’t get it.  They expect us to just fall into line, follow bureaucratic rules, and they don’t show us respect for what we know.”

And the older one’s say, “These young people just don’t understand how to function within an organization.  They want recognition, promotion, everything before they’ve earned it, like we have.  That’s not how reality is.”

It reminds me of a couple that once said about each other – “It’s not that we see things differently.  It’s worse than that:  We’re seeing different things!

Exactly.  So, what can we make of this?  Is it simply the current generation gap?  I think it’s more than that.  It’s part of a broader, growing shift in the mentality of adults towards career, personal life and the role of business in society.  But it’s more visible and pronounced in the so-called Gen X and Gen Y workers, who are the offspring of those “older” workers – the Baby Boom generation now at midlife.

Some interesting research and survey data sheds light on what’s occurring.  For example, a study of 3,500 wage earners conducted by the Families and Work Institute of younger workers.  One finding was a dramatic shift among younger workers in how they handle hostile or abusive work environments:  They won’t stay very long in them, in contrast to how older workers traditionally behave – acceptance and suffering.  The younger workers tend to leave, confident that they’ll find something better.  Or, they “play” with the situation, not letting it get to them emotionally, while they craft an exit strategy.

Puzzling to older workers is that younger careerists want to know, “How quickly will I take on new responsibilities? How meaningful will my work be — immediately?”  They look for a collaborative atmosphere in which all members of a hardworking team share responsibilities.  Older people see this as Continue reading

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What Is The “4.0” Career?

Some readers have asked me to explain why I have a category labeled “Work and Career ‘4.0.’”  Fair enough: A few of these blog posts are tagged that way, but I haven’t described what I mean by that designation.

What I call 4.0 is a shorthand way of describing a new evolution I see in people’s attitudes, behavior and desires about their work and career.  Think of 1.0” as more of a survival orientation to work.  It’s how people think about and engage in their work when they’re in situations of extreme hardship, political upheaval, or within socio-economic conditions that limit their opportunity and choices.  That probably describes the situation for the masses of people throughout most of history, and of course it exists today.  In such situations, just earning enough of a living to survive and support yourself and your family is your target, your criteria of  “success.”  Today, the conflicts that people experience within version 1.0 often concern working conditions, discrimination and limited opportunities for getting onto a career path that can lead to something better.

Version 2.0 emerged with the political and economic environments that gave rise to the modern “career”; that is, mostly within increasingly large, bureaucratic organizations from about the late 1800s into the early 20th Century.  Those organizations required layers of management and administration – white-collar jobs.  Advancement became possible along a defined path, and was available to people who could gain a foothold within it, usually because of educational opportunities and/or social class advantages they were born into.  Seeking recognition, power, status, and material perks from steady advancement define success with Version 2.0.  It still predominates within today’s career culture.  It’s where you find the conditions that generate, for example, work-life conflict, boredom, workplace bullying, hostile management practices, and subtle racial and gender barriers to moving up.

Version 3.0 arose just in the last few decades.  It reflects Continue reading

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Our Adolescent Model of Adult Love and Sexual Relationships

Like most men and women today, you and your partner are almost guaranteed to descend into what I call the “Functional Relationship.”  One that lopes along OK, but with declining energy and connection, emotionally and sexually.   That’s because most people learn a way of relating within romantic and sexual relationships that is a version of adolescent romance.  “But I’m an adult,” you may protest.  “I grew out of that teen-age romance stuff long ago.”

Not quite.  We’re socially conditioned into intimate relationships that are basically extensions of the adolescent experience.  That is, the features of normal adolescent romance shapes and defines most of the expectations, behavior, and experience about romance and sexuality that you carry into your adult life.  Few realize it, because most don’t learn any other way.  And that’s a big problem, because adolescent romance is incompatible with building an adult love relationship.

Take a look at some typical features of adolescent romance:  Short-term intense arousal from a new partner.  Infatuation and idealization of the new love, often followed by deflation and feelings of loss.  Intense longing and yearning — especially when the person is unattainable or elusive.  Emotional upheaval and turmoil.  The novelist Graham Greene captured much of this in The Heart of the Matter, in which he described  “…the intense interest one feels in a stranger’s life, the interest the young mistake for love.”

Emotional tumult and intense emotional-sexual arousal by a new partner are part of what a person experiences when such feelings are new – physiologically and emotionally.  That’s a part of normal developmental experience for hormone-driven teenagers.  Dion captured the anguish this can cause in his classic song, “Why Must I Be A Teen-Ager In Love?” The problem is, most people are still singing the same tune at 40.

Men and women tend to become frozen within the residue of adolescent romance by the time they enter adulthood.  It morphs into the Functional Relationship the longer a couple stays together.  The reason is that adolescent love extended into adulthood undercuts sustained the vitality and connection needed for a long-term relationship.  You can see the features of adolescent romance in what adults do when they are seeking or forming a new relationship.  For example, manipulation and game playing; trying to find the right “strategy” to get and possess the partner; jockeying around for control, and so forth.  Generally, we learn to associate intensity of feelings with “real love.”

Even though most people don’t really enjoy being caught up in all this, most learn to accept it as part of “normal” love relationships. But a more accurate understanding is that such experiences reflect an enthrallment with our own feeling of being “in love,” much more than a response to the other.  The former is part of the adolescent experience. Continue reading

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Three Kinds Of Boredom At Work

Boredom at work can as stressful and damaging as overwork – perhaps more so.  Sometimes it creates embarrassing situations, as it did for Joel, a mid-level executive.  He felt so bored that he sneaked out of his office one afternoon to take in a movie.

When it was over, guess whom he ran into coming out of the same theater?  His boss.

“We know that 55 percent of all U.S. employees are not engaged at work. They are basically in a holding pattern. They feel like their capabilities aren’t being tapped into and utilized and therefore, they really don’t have a psychological connection to the organization,” said Curt W. Coffman, global practice leader at the Gallup Organization, as reported in the Washington Post. And Jean Martin-Weinstein, managing director of the Corporate Leadership Council, a division of the Corporate Executive Board Co., cited findings from a survey of 50,000 workers around the world who were asked questions such as: “Do you love your job? Do you love your team? Are you excited by the work you do every day?”  Thirteen percent came out saying no, no, and very much no.  “They are disaffected, because they are basically completely checked out from the work they do,” Martin-Weinstein said.

Employees who are better utilized are more fulfilled.  They work more productively.  For example, Continue reading

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Dealing With Career And Management Conflicts In Nonprofit Organizations

  • A social justice advocacy organization is stung by accusations from some of its staff that the leadership doesn’t “walk the walk” when it comes to racial and sex bias. Complaints also include that the organization’s mission has become too diffuse.  Anger and resentment build.
  • A public interest research organization discovers that shared staff commitment to consumer protection doesn’t preclude staff relationship conflicts or complaints about management practices. “We all believe in what we’re doing,” the Director tells me, “so we shouldn’t be having these kinds of problems.”
  • A social service organization is faced with apparent emotional disturbance of a senior staff member. Increasing amounts of management time are spent trying to deal with the person’s declining performance, absenteeism, and behavior toward coworkers. The Executive Director is unsure how to deal with the problem, and asks me “How do we balance compassion with the needs of our agency, in situations like these?”

Sound familiar? I have observed many nonprofit organizations trying to carry out their public interest or social service missions effectively – but within a workplace and cultural environment that gives rise to problems like these.  Such problems reflect an increasingly common, interwoven mixture of personal and organizational conflicts.  Many are similar to those I find in for-profit companies.  But the unique circumstances of nonprofit groups makes knowing what helps – and what doesn’t – critical to maintaining their internal and external success.

Continue reading

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Why Do People Volunteer?

During the holiday season, many people feel the need to volunteer their time to charity organizations.  Feeding the homeless is especially popular at this time of the year, and then often forgotten – duty done.  Such volunteering is often met with eye-rolling by the staff of organizations, who wish that such earnest desire to help would continue at other times of the year as well.

It’s easy to be cynical about holiday volunteering.  But for an increasing number of men and women, young and old, volunteering their time, service, and expertise has become an integral part of their lives; an expression of their core values.  And that raises the question: Why do people volunteer?

Moreover, how does it impact your own life, as well as those whom you help? Over the years I’ve explored these questions with men and women, and tried to help them discover the meaning and impact of their volunteer work upon their own lives, both personally and professionally. I’ve found that volunteer work can impact peoples’ values, perspectives, and even their life goals.  For many, it spurs new growth, spiritually and emotionally.

This makes sense.  Over the years, as I’ve investigated the link between career success and emotional conflict, I’ve found that many highly successful, career-oriented men and women acknowledge feelings of inner emptiness, and absence of meaning in their lives. At the same time, many say that their volunteer work is the only arena that provides a sense of meaning and human connection.  Far greater than their career, and – sadly – often greater than their intimate relationships.

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Behind the Obama Nobel Prize “Outrage”

I think the reasons suggested for the uproar over President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize miss a deeper issue.  First, no one would dispute that Mr. Obama has not yet achieved the level of contribution to world peace that other honorees have.  He, himself, acknowledged that.  Critics of both right and left argue that the reward reflects an unhealthy cult of personality, and that his rock star status has overwhelmed better judgment.  Some point to the Europeans’ apparent delight at sticking it to Dubya.  And, needless to say, racism is part of the angry outbursts as well.

But there’s a missing source of the outcry.  It’s probably less conscious; certainly less articulated.  It’s that the award gave a new focal point for mounting fears generated by a profound shift the world is undergoing on many fronts: The economic meltdown; global dangers and threats; the impact of climate change.  It’s an interlocking world, in which everyone has to figure out how to compete and collaborate with everybody else.  And it’s a diverse world – not “out there,” somewhere, but right here in people’s community and workplace.  Moreover, shifts in how people conduct their social, sexual and individual lives are visible all around.

In today’s new era of tumultuous change, we’re shifting from an environment of  old-style “command and control,” in private relationships, careers, and organizations, to “collaborate and cooperate.”

This wave-change, this new reality that the future has arrived, is very hard to digest for some. I’m not referring, here, to the Fox crowd — the right-wing commentators and pundits.  Most probably know better; and know what’s going on throughout our society and the world.  They may not like the changes taking place – perhaps symbolized for them by a black man in the White House.  But they’ve chosen to exploit fears among segments of the public hardest hit by these massive changes.  They’re exploiting them for their own avarice and self-promotion. Continue reading

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Psychologically Unhealthy Management: A Human Rights Violation?

Four years ago, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Harvard professor John G. Ruggie to be Special Representative on business & human rights. This new mission was charged with investigating human rights abuses by transnational corporations and other business enterprises. Since then, it’s focused on such areas as discrimination, pesticide poisoning, child labor, drinking water contamination, sexual abuse, and the displacement of indigenous peoples.

But I think another, largely overlooked category of corporate behavior deserves inclusion as a human rights violation:  Management practices that damage the mental health of a company’s own employees.?? Unhealthy management and leadership harms employees and, therefore, their work performance.  Most everyone is familiar with the damaging effects of abusive, hostile, arrogant and narcissistic bosses; of manipulative or deceitful leadership behavior, often directed by senior management towards each other; workaholic demands that result in burnout and diminished productivity; intimidation and threats, subtle and overt; public denigration and humiliation; destructive political maneuvering and closet discrimination.  The list goes on.

Typical consequences for individuals include depression, rage, severe stress or anxiety, withdrawal, paranoia and, increasingly, lawsuits.

As a consultant to business leadership and a psychotherapist for 30 years, I’ve helped people at both end of the spectrum — from the mailroom to the corporate suite — deal with the consequences.  Moreover, I’ve seen an increase of such practices since the economic meltdown began in September 2008.

Unhealthy leadership and the culture it spawns Continue reading

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Comfortably Numb at Midlife?

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’re probably aware that the 78 million baby boomers have entered midlife. As a psychotherapist and business psychologist – and member of this new midlife generation myself – I’ve worked a great deal with midlifers seeking help for emotional conflicts, career dilemmas and life transition issues.

I’ve heard many expressions of midlife distress, but few as poignant as this one: A 47 year–old married mother of three told me of a dream in which she’s on one of those moving sidewalks, but can’t get off. On either side scenes pass by – it’s herself, living different lives, with different people. Suddenly she recognizes the Grim Reaper standing at the end of the sidewalk, arms outstretched, awaiting her. She wakes up, screaming.

How to best understand it’s meaning? One problem is that much of the research and clinical understanding about midlife is contradictory. Some, like a MacArthur Foundation study, suggest that there’s no such thing as a “midlife crisis” today; that most people sail through it smoothly. Others, like two recent studies, suggest that midlife is a time of universal depression;
sometimes severe.

For example, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found a 20 percent rise in midlife suicide among 45 to 54 year–olds from 1999–2004 – a rise that exceeded all other age groups in the U.S.

Another study reported an increase in depression during one’s 40s to early 50s, after which happiness rises again. Researchers from the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College studied 2 million people from 80 nations and found this pattern to be consistent across gender, socio–economic levels and among developed and developing countries alike.

Some experts think the rise of midlife suicide may reflect the decrease of hormone replacement therapy among women, the stress of modern life or increased drug usage among midlifers. But they’re groping in the dark.  Such experiences can lead to many outcomes, depending on how the person handles them, not necessarily suicide.

Regarding the rise of “happiness” after midlife depression, some speculate that people may feel happier after their 40s because they’ve learned to count their blessings, or resign themselves to life goals they know they’ll never achieve.

Based on my own work over the last few decades, I find these explanations unconvincing. The data only underscore the need for a new understanding of midlife; a new framework through which people could learn to deal more effectively with the positive and negative changes they encounter. Here’s mine:

What Is “Midlife”Anyway?

First, I think the term “midlife” is a misnomer. Psychologically, it’s really the portal into full adulthood, the time when you face the challenges of “evolving” into a fully adult human. Successfully crossing that portal involves addressing some core questions: “What am I living for?” “What’s the purpose of my life?”

These questions are the source of most adult emotional conflicts, because facing them often arouses tremendous fear, denial or escapism. After all, we’re highly conditioned to define ourselves by what we have rather than who we are. We learn to turn away from looking down the road, where we see Death patiently awaiting us all, as that 47 year–old woman did in her nightmare.  The economic downturn that began in September 2008 has added to the fears about what may lie ahead.

Moreover, “midlife” actually kicks in around 35.  That’s when most people start Continue reading

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“Birthers” and The Black Man In The White House

The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Gene Robinson has a great piece about the paranoia of the “birther” movement — those, including members of Congress, who claim that President Obama was not born in the US, is an alien, not an American citizen, a “Manchurian candidate” after all, and so forth.  http://tinyurl.com/ktstgj

A recent poll shows that the overwhelming majority of those who believe in this conspiracy are Southern Republicans.  I think it’s pretty clear what’s behind this movement, and why some members of Congress go along with it; or refuse to repudiate it.  It’s the simple fact that we’ve elected an African-American President of the United States.  As Chris Matthews has pointed out on “Hardball,”  this alleged “controversy” is not about documentation; it’s about pigmentation.

That’s a polite way of saying “racism.”  I think the “birther” believers are really saying to themselves (and to each other) “Oh my God, there’s a black man in the White House!”  So they’ve got to de-legitimize him. I hope that more public figures expose this for what it is, and not skirt the issue.  Or give credence to it, as Lou Dobbs has been doing on CNN. The larger issue, though, is that our country is undergoing massive transition and evolution in many areas.  We are moving away from a dominant white male culture.  It’s estimated that in about 40 years white people will be in the minority.  Already, five states have non-white majorities.

This is our future — we’re headed towards a multi-racial, multi-ethnic America.  While the fears of those who view this as threatening can be understood, the expression of those fears through hatred, conspiracy theories and potential violence should not be tolerated.

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The Casualties of War…Coming Home

“Before the murders started, Anthony Marquez’s mom dialed his sergeant at Fort Carson to warn that her son was poised to kill.

It was February 2006, and the 21-year-old soldier had not been the same since being wounded and coming home from Iraq eight months before. He had violent outbursts and thrashing nightmares. He was devouring pain pills and drinking too much.

He always packed a gun.

‘It was a dangerous combination. I told them he was a walking time bomb,’ said his mother, Teresa Hernandez.

His sergeant told her there was nothing he could do. Then, she said, he started taunting her son, saying things like, ‘Your mommy called. She says you are going crazy.’

Eight months later, the time bomb exploded when her son used a stun gun to repeatedly shock a small-time drug dealer in Widefield over an ounce of marijuana, then shot him through the heart.”

So begins “The Casualties of War,” by Dave Philipps, which appeared recently in the Colorado Gazette

It was forwarded to me by my old friend David Addlestone, who founded the National Veterans Legal Services Program in Washington, DC and led it for many years, until stepping down in 2008.  Addlestone – whom the American Bar Association called “a Human Rights Hero…who dedicated his entire professional career to vindicating the rights of the often scorned warriors…” has fought for veterans’ legal rights for decades, going back to the Vietnam era.

So it’s no surprise that he would be calling attention to this latest human rights tragedy underway regarding the mental health of our returning veterans and the behavior their psychological condition provokes.

Philipps’ article documents chilling accounts of the emotional damage suffered by many vets, often leading to violence, murder and self-destructive behavior – both while on duty and especially after the vets return to “normalcy.”  Unfortunately the military appears to not take very seriously — and even eggs on, in some cases — the mental traumas that the returning soldiers bring with them.  See the rest of Philipps article at http://tinyurl.com/ngo3hz

Our elected officials and our institutions need to address this, perhaps with a war-to-peace transition program Continue reading

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Values and Behavior Are Evolving Towards Success & Service To Others

Great Nicholas Kristof piece in NYT about Scott Harrison’s Charity: Water http://bit.ly/yfRgm

I interviewed Scott for an article I wrote in the Washington Post in 2007 and was impressed with his ability to put his business and media savvy and talents in the service of addressing a humanitarian problem.

Even more impressive and significant is his personal story arc: From an awakening out of a self-centered life; which led to an unexpected, almost serendipity experience; which led, in turn, to creating a successful venture — one that’s having tremendous impact on people who are deprived of something as basic as clean water. http://www.charitywater.org

I’m finding that people like Scott are emblematic of a growing evolution within personal values and behavior, today: Redefining success away from self-centeredness, greed and purely personal gain; and towards using your talents to serve the common good.  My study of this evolution suggests that it reflects an emerging new definition of psychological health that fits the needs of our post-globalized era.

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Are We Capable Of Tackling Future — Not Just Present — Dangers?

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote that evidence from brain research shows “…that the human brain systematically misjudges certain kinds of risks. In effect, evolution has programmed us to be alert for snakes and enemies with clubs, but we aren’t well prepared to respond to dangers that require forethought.”

“If you come across a garter snake, nearly all of your brain will light up with activity as you process the “threat.” Yet if somebody tells you that carbon emissions will eventually destroy Earth as we know it, only the small part of the brain that focuses on the future — a portion of the prefrontal cortex — will glimmer.” http://tinyurl.com/mqkq4c

In other words, we will tend to acknowledge a threat and react to it when we experience it as more immediate.  But if it appears to lie in the distance somewhere, it doesn’t have the same impact.  In effect, our brain circuitry, from early in our evolution, makes us cavalier about future dangers, even if those dangers are horrendous in their consequences if not headed off by action that begins in the present.  And even if the dangers we’re programmed to react to were relevant in an ancient environment, but minimally present in today’s world.

Kristoff points out that “…all is not lost, particularly if we understand and acknowledge our neurological shortcomings — and try to compensate with rational analysis. When we work at it, we are indeed capable of foresight: If we can floss today to prevent tooth decay in later years, then perhaps we can also drive less to save the planet.”

I think there is even more encouraging evidence, beyond applying “rational analysis.”  In additions – and perhaps more importantly – is the capacity to grow consciousness about our impact on the world, through our actions; and deliberately use our empathy – which is also hard-wired, as brain research shows – to initiate actions that support desired outcomes.  Whether for our own lives or future generations.

For example, part of our early ancestry propels us to seek out multiple partners, because of evolutionary need to reproduce. (Of course, some of us continue to do that, repeatedly!)  But acting contrary to that – or any other impulse that may benefit your own self but hurt others – well, that’s a choice you can make, as your consciousness grows. The latter enables you to define what you value, why, and engage in actions based on conscious values that promoting and supporting life, not just your own.

The more our consciousness grows within us as a species, that, in turn, drives continued emotional, mental, and behavioral evolution.  It leads to thinking about what your “life impact” is; or what you want it to be.  I’m reminded of something Samantha Power said in a college commencement address last year, “Become a good ancestor

Now there’s a good principle to live by.

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Actually, We’re All World Citizens, Now….

Newt Gingrich says, “Let me be clear: I am not a citizen of the world.” What planet does he inhabit, then? Here on totally interconnected Earth, we’ve all become global citizens. That’s especially clear, since the economic collapse last Fall.  The reality is that success and security depend on that awareness —  and on actions that reflect it, in public policy, business and in individual behavior – especially since the economic meltdown.

It’s frightening that the GOP finds that so…well, frightening.

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Obama should keep using the word “empathy”

President Obama recently shifted away from speaking about “empathy” as an important quality in a Supreme Court justice, in favor of “an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live.” A nice phrase, but I think he should stick with “empathy,” and not let the Right redefine the term as they’ve been doing.

I feel compelled to weigh in on this in part because I introduced the term “empathy deficit disorder” in an article I wrote in the Washington Post in the recent past. There, I argued that our culture suffers from a dearth of empathy; absolutely necessary today for effective functioning, as individuals or a society, within our interconnected, post-globalized world.

Consider this: In the Bible King Solomon asked God for “a heart that listens.” Notice that he didn’t ask for “a head that thinks.” There’s a reason: The head – repository of the mind – is more akin to a processor of information within a logical framework and sequence; like a computer program. It uses reason without context or “real world” judgment.

In contrast, the heart symbolizes the repository of wisdom; of judgment. And that’s based on the accumulation of life experience, broadened perspectives, and tested values, including the consequences of the behavior they generate. Overall, it derives from a leavened character.

Empathy is central to judgment and wisdom. It’s the capacity to step outside of yourself and experience the world of the other from the inside, so to speak. It’s different from sympathy, which is based on identifying with something another person experiences; that is, relating it to your own self. For example, “I feel sympathetic to her situation because that’s what I felt when it happened to me.”

But suppose you can’t relate it to your own experience? That’s where empathy is critical, because it means stepping inside the mindset and emotional experience of the other person. With that immersion, you can make more judicious, fair, and wise assessments in relation to your actions — whether towards friend, foe, or someone who’s neither.

In the Bible, God grants Solomon’s request, in the form of “wisdom in your heart.” Note He didn’t say, “wisdom in your head.” He gave him “discernment in administering justice.” Further, it was said that the whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom that God had put in his heart.

The Right is trying to redefine empathy to mean — at best — personal emotional preferences; at worst, irrational emotion that drives behavior. Using this shift, they then advocate “fact-based” judgments, devoid of anything “emotional.” They are wrong in both efforts.

If an important matter in your life was being adjudicated, would you rather come before someone with a developed capacity for empathy, and who can access it in the service of administering justice; or, someone following a flow-chart of logical sequence as the basis for deciding the proper administration of justice?

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Psychological Resiliency Needs Redefinition In Today’s Chaotic World

Much talk in the media about the need to be “resilient” in the face of economic meltdown, career uncertainties, stress at home and work, etc. The conventional advice – like trying to “balance” work and life, managing your stress with proper exercise, diet, meditation, and focusing on positive thoughts and feelings to help you cope with it all — good stuff, per se, but it’s not going to help very much in this current world, which is transforming beneath our feet in ways that can be hard to fathom or deal with.

Conventional solutions aren’t effective because they point you to coping and managing with conventional conflicts. Our changing world requires much more of a proactive position – perspectives, emotional attitudes and actions that address a new reality: that our lives and well-being are totally interconnected, globally. We succeed or fail at work and in relationships to the extent that we can, in effect, “forget ourselves,” and focus on serving the larger, common good. It sounds like a paradox, but we’re all global citizens now, and whatever attitudes and actions support positive engagement — other people, co-workers, or missions larger than our own narrow self-interest – they circle back to increase success and security in our own lives.

 

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GOP Doesn’t Like Obama’s “Empathy”

Republicans have been criticizing Obama’s “empathy” factor, when considering possible Supreme Court nominees.  It’s an interesting example of what I wrote about in the Washington Post — about the rise of what I call (slightly tongue-in-cheek) “EDD,” or Empathy Deficit Disorder, that plagues our society.  Read it on my main website (click on Center).

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Sustainable Leadership

We see an increasing focus by corporate executives on actions that promote sustainability. This is a positive development, but we need to focus on describing, promoting and teaching the leadership mentality, mindset, and perspectives that will support those actions throughout all levels of an organization. Otherwise it becomes dissipated or lost. A positive, supportive management culture is an essential ingredient, from the start. Too often, this is overlooked or neglected.

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“Recession Anxiety”

We see increasing media reports about people suffering from “recession anxiety,” depression, and even worse.  Apparently, stemming from the global economic meltdown and what it’s done to our sense of stability; our expectations of continued “success” in life.  I think these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.  We’re living in a world that has been changing in front of our eyes, and is creating new psychological and behavioral challenges for everyone.

In this post-globalized, totally interconnected world, our old definitions of the psychologically healthy adult no longer fit.  We need new thinking, new criteria about what constitutes healthy emotional attitudes, behavior, mental perspectives, and personal values in today’s world.  I think that outward success and internal well-being are interwoven with responsibilities for the common good – the larger human community and the planet.  We’re all global citizens, now.  That shift calls for a new picture of psychological health and how to build it, individually and socially.

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Climate Change Denial

We need to understand the psychology of climate change denial.  Much is driven by deep fears and helplessness in the face of new dangers.  Or when confronted by new realities that subvert a mindset that all is secure and unchanging, and will remain so.  We mental health professionals need to raise this to the public; help people recognize that awareness coupled with action can help mitigate helplessness and fear. That’s what gives you a sense of impact, of empowerment.  My colleague Lise Van Susteren has written about the need for mental health professionals to deal with this in the Huffington Post: http://tinyurl.com/djnqzz

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Understanding The ‘Marriage Gap’

American society is undergoing some major shifts in how men and women think about marriage –whether to enter it, stay within it, or consider alternatives to it.  But some recent explanations about what these shifts mean contribute more confusion than clarity.

First, some facts:

• The divorce rate continues to hover at around 50%, regardless of greater awareness of the potential emotional and financial impact of divorce upon couples and their children.

• Polls find that about 60% of those surveyed accept affairs; and about 30% actually admit to having had one.

• The marriage rate has dropped by 37% in the last four decades

• Cohabitation has risen dramatically during the same period

In 1960, 430,000 unmarried couples were living together.  By 2000, that number had soared 12-fold to 5 million.  Today, only 2.3 million couples marry in a year.  It’s possible that cohabitation is on its way to becoming the dominant form of  male-female unions.

Clearly, people are thinking and behaving differently about marriage than previous generations — especially how necessary or desirable they think it is compared with other forms of intimate partnership.  This raises questions about how best to understand these shifts, and what they portend for the decades ahead.

Some answers have been provided by socially conservative organizations, such as the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values.  But these answers are shaped by an ideological agenda, rooted in two convictions:  First, that divorce and cohabitation are social evils, to begin with, and should be curtailed through legislative action, whenever possible.  And secondly, that the best social arrangement is the traditional marriage (heterosexual only, of course) in which the wife is a dutiful subordinate; an unequal partner.

Such self-described “pro-marriage” groups seem especially annoyed by Continue reading

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