Category Archives: Psychological health in today’s world

Stress, Success, And the Demise of Manhood

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 3.36.27 PMMay 17, 2016

It’s no surprise that surveys document increasing stress and emotional conflict among workers and within their intimate relationships. One recent example: A report from Fortune that American workers are more stressed than ever. Based on 500 Americans, it found that more than half said their stress level reached significant levels. And at home, career-related conflicts increasingly intersect with relationship issues in negative ways.

One study found that men automatically interpret a partner’s success as their own failure, even when they’re not in direct competition. Moreover, couples’ conflicts often involve differences about what success means. Those differences infiltrate their sex lives. As I’ve written elsewhere, some believe that “make-up” sex will cover over their differences about their life goals or values. But it doesn’t.

In my view, such findings and observations highlight a deeper and broader theme: Our views of “success” and traditional “manhood” are changing as a byproduct of our evolving, diversifying culture. That theme was hinted at by recent research findings that higher status and material success are associated with attitudes of entitlement and narcissism. Those, in turn, affect your view of yourself and how you relate to others you’re connected with, often with negative consequences.

In essence, we’re experiencing significant upheaval and transformation regarding what men traditionally learn to define as “manhood” and “success” in our culture. It’s unraveling the traditional definition of “maleness;” the values and behavior that have defined what a successful male is — at work, in intimate relationships and in society.

That is, many men feel unmoored regarding their identity, purpose and place in a world that’s evolving rapidly in ways that feel threatening to life as they’ve known it. Men who cling to traditional positions of power in society (including domination in their intimate relationships) — and who define their self-worth by such power — can feel terrified; in danger of losing what they thought “manhood” and a stable, successful life was. They may fear losing domination in their relationships and material measures of prestige and success

It can be frightening to experience one’s previously stable world under siege. Especially so, for those who’ve profited from or otherwise bought into a manhood identity centered around holding and using personal power for material ends, elite status and social recognition. To them, it may feel inconceivable that society would be anything other than stable and supportive of who they are; of their secure place in the world, and that they would be the perpetual beneficiaries of that stability.

Much of the political appeal of Donald Trump both reflects and taps into those fears. That stirs longings for restoring how things “used to be.” But reality has a path of its own. Old expectations are eroding in the face of major cultural and social shifts that give voice to demands for greater equality and shared power. This forces men to reformulate what they think supports positive, intimate relationships, and what they think defines a successful life as a man, in today’s world.

Consider just a few of these shifts:

The upshot is that our society is evolving towards greater interdependency, collaboration and equality at all levels. That means shifting away from the primacy of self-interest and towards serving the larger social good. The traditional definition of success and manhood, along with attempts to maintain the vested interests in it, can, indeed, feel like standing on crumbling ground when you’re hit with large-scale social change and transformation that you don’t understand; or are told is harmful and must be opposed at all costs.

A version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post.

Credit: The Huffington Post

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The Impact Of Long-Term Resentment Among Family Members

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 3.49.50 PMMay 10, 2016

Thoughts I was reflecting on the other day….It’s so pervasive – and so debilitating, for so many families: Allowing anger, resentment, rivalries and related negative, unforgiving, emotional attitudes prevail in their relationships, up through and even beyond death. I’ve observed this to some degree in the majority of my patients and research, over the years. Such a waste of energy and spirit. Certainly confirms Tolstoy’s comment, “…each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Credit: CPD Archive

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Is Your Coworker Struggling With Depression?

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 10.53.04 AMMay 3, 2016

Here’s an informative article by Martha C. White, from Money. It quotes me a few times, especially about my emphasis on how the management and workplace culture can create emotional conflict for people, independent of what they be bringing to the workplace from their personal lives, outside of work.

The article follows:

The recent sad news that a young Apple employee was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the company’s headquarters raises an important, if troubling, question: Would you know what to do if you suspected a coworker might be dangerously depressed?

Of course, if there is the threat of violence to themselves or others, calling 911 or contacting company security is the way to go—you shouldn’t put yourself in danger. But before a troubled person reaches that breaking point, mental health experts say they often tip their hand, indicating in ways that seem clear in hindsight that they were wrestling with depression.

The Warning Signs

Many of us see our coworkers more hours in a week than we see our own family members, which means we are in a unique position to detect a shift in a colleague’s mental state.

“It’s always a difficult issue, yet most coworkers can tell if something seems wrong or off in a colleague’s demeanor,” said Douglas LaBier, a business psychologist and the director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, D.C.

While saying things like they want to die, feel completely alone, or have nobody who cares about them are obvious indications of a troubled mental state, most people who struggle with depression in the workplace express their distress more subtly than that, noted Edward Yost, a human resources executive with the Society for Human Resource Management. More general feelings of being helpless or trapped, especially if expressed frequently, are more likely to be the kind of comments a coworker might express to another, he said.

Two hallmarks of depression that go hand in hand are isolation and withdrawal, said Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute. The isolation may be self-imposed or may be a result of being shut out of workplace cliques.

People who are depressed may withdraw from others and distance themselves from social interaction, Namie said, and because many people with depression are good at masking their feelings of self-negativity, a colleague may brush off a sudden disappearance from team lunches or department happy hours by blaming an increased workload or other job-related obligations.

For a conscientious coworker, those claims should be carefully considered, because there are two possibilities here, neither of which is great news from a mental health perspective. The first is that he or she is using work as an excuse to pull away from others. The second is that the person actually is overloaded with work all the time.

“Many become depressed and demoralized not just by personal issues outside of work, but by the management culture at work,” LaBier said. Whether the reason is a conflict with the boss or other management, no opportunity for advancement, or a sense of stagnation, “Feelings of being stuck and trapped result—which will cause emotional problems,” he said. Continue reading

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Prejudice Reduced After Just Brief Periods of Meditation

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 10.57.28 AMApril 19, 2016

This new research is both interesting and encouraging: It found that just seven minutes of meditation can reduce racial prejudice. The study, from the University of Sussex, was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. It used the Buddhist mediation technique of loving-kindness meditation, which promotes unconditional kindness towards oneself and others.

Before describing this particular study, I want to point out that one important implication of this research, in my view, is that prejudices of all sorts are learned and conditioned from a variety of social and cultural forces; and, they can be consciously altered. Knowing this is especially important in our current era of reactive prejudice towards those who are “different,” and whose presence is becoming more visible as our society becomes increasingly diverse.

Regarding this study, the lead researcher Alexander Stell, said: “This indicates that some meditation techniques are about much more than feeling good, and might be an important tool for enhancing inter-group harmony.” This form of meditation is aimed at generating feelings of happiness and kindness towards oneself and others through conscious focus on repeating thoughts and phrases that are positive and beneficent, while visualizing a particular person.

According to Stell, “We wanted to see whether doing loving-kindness meditation towards a member of another ethnic group would reduce the automatic preference people tend to show for their own ethnic group.”

In the study, a sample of 71 white, non-meditating adults were each given a photo of a gender-matched black person and either received taped LKM instructions, or instructions to look at the photos and notice certain features of the face. Both conditions lasted just seven minutes. Details of the experiment are described in this summary from the University.

The researchers found that just seven minutes of loving-kindness meditation directed to a member of a specific racial group (in this case, a black person) was sufficient to reduce racial bias towards that group. Additionally the researchers measured levels of positive emotions that were either “other-regarding” (e.g., love, gratitude, awe, elevation) and those that were more self-directed (e.g., contentment, joy, pride). They found that people doing loving-kindness meditation showed large increases in other-regarding emotions. Those emotions were found to be what drives the reduction of bias.

Credit: CPD Archive

A version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post

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Wisdom Requires Both “Head” and “Heart”

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 2.51.47 PMApril 5, 2016.

Of course! Our cognitive, logical, linear thought processes must be joined with our capacity for perspective and understanding of the larger context of a problem, for “wisdom” to emerge. This new study finds an interesting dimension of that “oneness”: the variability of the heart rate.

The research was described in this summary from the University of Waterloo. It found that heart rate variation and thinking process work together to enable wise reasoning about complex social issues. The study by Waterloo and the Australian Catholic University was published in  Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

The authors state that their study breaks new ground in wisdom research by identifying conditions under which psychophysiology impacts wise judgment. “Our research shows that wise reasoning is not exclusively a function of the mind and cognitive ability,” says the lead author,Igor Grossmann. “We found that people who have greater heart rate variability and who are able to think about social problems from a distanced viewpoint demonstrate a greater capacity for wise reasoning.”

The study extends previous work on cognitive underpinnings of wise judgment to include consideration how the heart’s functioning impacts the mind. It points out that a growing consensus among philosophers and cognitive scientists defines wise judgment to include the ability to recognize the limits of one’s knowledge, to be aware of the varied contexts of life and how they may unfold over time, to acknowledge others’ points of view, and to seek reconciliation of opposing viewpoints.  Continue reading

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Open Marriages, Other Forms of Sexual-Romantic Coupling: On The Rise?

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 4.06.43 PMMarch 24, 2016

I was recently interviewed for a New York Times article by Tammy La Gorce that portrayed the long-term open marriage of the actress Mo’Nique and her husband Sidney Hicks. The couple maintains that it works for them, despite the criticism and disbelief they often encounter. La Gorce’s article quoted my views about open marriage — what it means, and whether it “works,” from a psychological perspective. Because my views contrasted sharply with some of the others cited, especially those of Helen Fisher of the Kinsey Institute, I’m elaborating on them here.

First, the open marriage is just the current version of what became more visible during the early ‘70s because of the book, The Open Marriage, and the popular movie, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.” Overall, it’s part of a much broader shift, or evolution, underway today. It’s towards a sense of greater freedom to create and be open about different forms of intimate relationships; ones that people define for themselves as desirable and satisfying.

Increasingly, men and women seek to create and maintain an intimate relationship that they experience as fulfilling and meaningful. And that they define, themselves; not by others or conventional norms. How their relationships evolve down the road, over time, is something they will assess and judge for themselves. And we can see what the evidence shows.

It’s wise to suspend judgment, especially about psychological health, when views about the latter are contaminated by ideology or shared values and norms. As you grow through the adult years in today’s changing, increasingly diverse society, a broadened perspective enables you to realize that life can be complex; and can work differently for different people.

For example, Kim (not her real name) a divorced woman in her 40s, explained to me that she maintains a satisfying relationship with a man who also has a lifelong, supportive connection with a woman who is the mother of his three children. They find it works for them, given their life circumstances. And we can judge them from our own perspectives and life choices…or observe and respect what works for them. Continue reading

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Covert Sexism in the Workplace: As Harmful as Overt Behavior?

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 4.55.27 PMMarch 15, 2016

It’s pretty clear that our workplaces are steadily evolving towards environments of greater equality. That is, organizations in which men and women are valued, recognized and rewarded for the capacities most crucial to an organization’s success. For example, the ability to work collaboratively, particularly with others who differ from oneself — whether because of gender, cultural and ethnic backgrounds; or sexual orientation.

This is an ongoing, gradual transformation, however, with many subtle obstacles rooted in personal and institutional prejudices and barriers. So it’s important to document and raise awareness about attitudes and behavior that continue to undermine individuals and teams in organizations. One current example is revealed in this study that examined hidden sexism in the workplace. It found that that frequent sexist comments as well as a management culture that covertly demeans women are just as damaging to women as overt acts of sexual coercion, sexually-tinged conduct or sexist behavior towards them.

Such hidden, embedded sexism, according to the research published in The Psychology of Women Quarterly, may go unnoticed. That is, “Norms, leadership, or policies that reduce intense harmful experiences may lead managers to believe that they have solved the problem of maltreatment of women in the workplace,”according to the authors. Continue reading

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Renewed Interest In Open Marriages?

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 10.12.00 AMMarch 10, 2016

This New York Times article by Tammy La Gorce looks at the practice of the open marriage from today’s perspective. She quotes my views as follows:

“Douglas LaBier, a psychologist and the director of the Center for Progressive Development...said that from a psychological perspective, people shouldn’t assume that openness in a sexual relationship is bad.

“What’s at the core of it is a desire to form a healthy relationship,” he said. “…people want relationships in which they feel emotionally fulfilled and connected, and for some couples that means being transparent about outside partners. In marriage, the motto of the future may be “live and let live.” 

“I see a much more tolerant, nonjudgmental openness emerging,” Dr. LaBier said. “Everyone is different. You figure out what works for you, and if it’s not imposing something on someone else or hurting someone else, it’s acceptable.”

My views may be “outlier,” but they are based on solid observation and data about shifts in our culture, as I’ve described in other posts here. Of course, such views will be criticized from other perspectives. For the full New York Times article, click here.

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Does More Money or More Time Bring Greater Happiness?

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 9.47.41 AMFebruary 23, 2016

Here’s a bit of new research I came across. It’s findings sound intuitively obvious, but I think it’s important to emphasize: The study found that valuing your time over the pursuit of money is linked to greater overall happiness. This finding highlights one aspect of a link between healthy personal values and psychologically healthy lives. I regularly see this in my work, and wish it would be more soundly emphasized by my fellow mental health professionals.

In the research, a series of studies of nearly 5,000 people was conducted by the University of British Columbia. It found that there’s a pretty even divide among people’s preferences for valuing their time vs. their money. Unfortunately — but not surprisingly, given our cultural view about what’s most “desirable” in life — only about half of the study’s participants said they valued their time over money. However, slightly more than half of the people were found to value their time over their money.

The important finding, however, was that the preference for giving priority to time over making more money was associated with greater happiness in life. And happiness, wellbeing, equanimity and psychological health are all interwoven.

The study is described in detail here, and was published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science.

Interestingly, the study also found that older people also were more likely to say they valued their time compared to younger people. This raises questions about the impact of age upon one’s values and overall life perspectives; and whether the shift in mentality and values hat occurs with increasing age can be supported and grown at earlier stages of life. Continue reading

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Are You ‘Checked-Out’ On the Job? Here’s Why

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 2.49.30 PMFebruary 16, 2016

You may have heard about the Spanish man who was found to have not reported for work for six years, and no one noticed — although he continued to be paid. When finally discovered, he claimed that when he did go to work, he had nothing to do.

That may be an extreme example, but many people today are turned-off by their jobs in less visible ways. They become pretty disengaged from work – either mentally checking out, or in actual behavior if they can – like faking doing work, or skipping out to go to a movie. Surveys find disengagement as high as 70% of American workers. It’s no surprise that nearly every day a new survey pops up about how much people dislike their jobs and their management. The reasons typically include severe, unrelenting stress from too many demands and too few resources or rewards, such as cited in a poll of 7000 people. Both stress and just tuning out are often rooted in debilitating, undermining management behavior and workplace culture. For example, a survey of 2,000 workers found that 47 percent said their managers made them feel threatened, rather than rewarded, and 24 percent thought their bosses were poor communicators, lacking empathy.

Three Sources of Boredom and Disengagement

But I find three additional, often overlooked reasons why employees tune out or disconnect from their work, and become bored or depressed on the job:

Too Much Mismatch – This occurs when you start to realize that “I just don’t belong here.” An example is a woman working in financial services who described to me an increasing mismatch Continue reading

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Chronic Stress and Anxiety Will Damage Your Brain

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.03.47 PMFebruary 9, 2016

A new research review finds that chronic stress and anxiety puts you at increased risk for developing depression and dementia. Finding such an association is not new, but this examination of several studies was more extensive and conclusive. It examined a number of research reports of how brain areas are impacted by chronic anxiety, fear and stress.

In a summary of the findings, the authors concluded that there is “extensive overlap” of the brain’s neurocircuitry in all three conditions, which may explain the link between chronic stress and the development of neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

The authors pointed out that experiencing anxiety, fear and stress is considered a normal part of life when it is occasional and temporary, such as feeling anxious and stressed before an exam or a job interview. However, when those acute emotional reactions become more frequent or chronic, they can significantly interfere with daily living activities such as work, school and relationships. The research was published in the journal Current Opinion in Psychiatry and conducted by Canadian researchers from the the Rotman Research Institute.

“Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are associated with structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia,” said Linda Mah, lead author of the review.

“Looking to the future,” she added, “we need to do more work to determine whether interventions, such as exercise, mindfulness training and cognitive behavioral therapy, can not only reduce stress but decrease the risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders.”

Credit: Allouteffort

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To Get More Creative, Become Less Productive

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 2.42.57 PMFebruary 2, 2016

A recent Harvard Business Review article by Art Markman highlights the value of subverting your usual way of thinking and doing, in order to enhance creativity at work. I’ve seen this borne out in the experiences of those who’ve tried stepping out of their comfort zone, outside of their usual “box;” and become more of an “outlier” in their approach to solving problems or dealing with new challenges,

Markman writes:

There is a fundamental tension between productivity and creativity, and managers won’t get more of the latter until they recognize it. Productive people move through the tasks they have to accomplish in a systematic way. They make steady and measurable progress toward their goals. They make effective and efficient use of their time.

Creativity… doesn’t. Creativity needs time and space to grow. Although we can systematically engage in activities that are related to creativity, it is hard to systematize creativity itself. In particular, creativity is fundamentally about knowledge. Nearly all creative ideas involve people finding new uses for existing knowledge – some novel configuration of old insights. James Dyson developed his vacuum by drawing a parallel to sawmills. Fiona Fairhurst designed a faster swimsuit by understanding shark skin. George de Mestral invented Velcro by understanding cockleburs.

That means people need to have the time to learn things that are not obviously relevant to their jobs, so that they will have a broad and deep knowledge base to draw from when they need to be creative. Moreover, creative enterprises rarely involve steady and measurable progress. Instead, being creative involves trying lots of different possibilities, struggling down several blind alleys before finding the right solution. Continue reading

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Why Living Together Without Marriage Can Increase Your Mental Health

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 10.20.24 AMJanuary 26, 2016

I’ve written previously that we’re living through a steady, growing shift in our society, as men and women re-think what kinds of relationships they seek and prefer – whether straight or gay. For example, I’ve written here that part of this shift is towards increasing acceptance of a variety of emotional-sexual experiences of couples; including polyamory; and committed couples who choose not to marry.

Now, some new research adds to these findings, as well as to recent survey data, that younger people, especially, are more concerned with building a positive, sustaining relationship than with marriage, per se. The current study, described in this report from Ohio State University, found that both men and women experience as much of a boost in their emotional well-being whether they move in together or marry. It was a bit more for women, but interestingly, that boost occurred equally among men and women who had a prior relationship that didn’t work out.

That finding is significant for reasons that might not be visible on the surface: I think it reflects the reality that forming a lasting love relationship with the right partner requires a prior failure or two. Such experiences are like a “leavening” of your inner self. It builds the foundation for learning what kind of person – his or her values, character, outlook on life — meshes with who you are, along those dimensions. And that increases the likelihood that a couple will grow together, emotionally, sexually, intellectually and spiritually, rather than grow apart.

This new study was based on data collected throughout the 2000s. It found that, for young adults who moved on from a first relationship, both men and women received similar emotional boosts whether they moved in with their second partner or got married to them.

The findings suggest an evolving role of marriage among young people today, said Sara Mernitz, co-author of the study. “Now it appears that young people, especially women, get the same emotional boost from moving in together as they do from going directly to marriage,” she said. “There’s no additional boost from getting married.”

Claire Kamp Dush, co-author of the study, pointed out that “We’re finding that marriage isn’t necessary to reap the benefits of living together, at least when it comes to emotional health.” The study appears online in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Credit: Kari Layland

A version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post.

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Can Divorce Increase Your Overall Health?

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 5.08.44 PMJanuary 19, 2016

Whether you approve or not, there’s no question that intimate relationships are steadily transforming — what we seek from them, how we engage in them, and what we define as desirable and fulfilling. Men and women increasingly pursue relationships that they define as positive, meaningful, and healthy, though they may differ from traditionally accepted norms. And the latter includes, even, recent advocacy regarding polygamy, as well as support for legalization of sex workers, as Amnesty International has announced,  Such developments stir considerable emotional and moral reactions, which is why it’s helpful to find research that studies that show how some of these shifts may to lead to positive outcomes regarding emotional and psychological health.

Here’s one example: It concerns the mental health impact of divorce. It’s an illuminating study because it contradicts previous research indicating that divorced and unmarried couples are less healthy than married ones. This current study, conducted by London-based researchers, found evidence to the contrary. For example, it found that people who have divorced and remarried are no more likely than those who have remained married to have cardiovascular or respiratory health problems in early middle age. And physical health is interwoven with mental health, as many studied have confirmed.

The research examined the health outcomes of people who are divorced, as well as unmarried, cohabiting couples. The research found that people born in the late 1950s who experience divorce and separation or live together without marrying “…have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married,” said lead author George Ploubidis in a Medical XPress summary. Continue reading

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Does Having More Money Or More Time Bring You Greater Happiness?

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.27.45 PMJanuary 12, 2016

Here’s a bit of new research I came across. I think it provides an example of healthy values among psychologically healthy people; and should be emphasized by us mental health professionals. The study found that valuing your time over the pursuit of money is linked to greater overall happiness. Not surprisingly, only half of the study’s participants said they valued their time over money.

The research consisted of a series of studies of nearly 5000 people, conducted by the University of British Columbia. It found that there’s a pretty even divide among people’s preferences for valuing their time vs. their money. Actually, slightly more than half of the people valued their time over their money — which is encouraging. 

The study’s basic finding was that the preference for giving priority to time over making more money was associated with greater happiness in life. The study, described in detail here, and published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science, also found that older people also were more likely to say they valued their time compared to younger people.

The study noted that a participant’s gender or income didn’t affect whether they were more likely to value time or money. However, the researchers pointed out they didn’t include participants living at the poverty level who may have to prioritize money to survive. That’s understandable, but it also points out how strongly our culture — incorrectly — associates increasing material wealth with personal happiness and wellbeing in life overall, as though they go hand in hand. And once you go down that road, it’s endless: how much is “enough?” Our social values make the criteria for having “enough” very elusive.

Credit: CPD Archive

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Behind the Climate Victory; a Human Victory?

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 10.37.39 AMJanuary 5, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 10.27.16 AM

A guest post from John Friedman, who heads corporate responsibility communications worldwide for Sodexo Group. John blogs on sustainability for The Huffington Post, and is a leading writer on corporate responsibility and sustainable business. He’s the author of PR 2.0: How Digital Media Can Help You Build A Sustainable Brand.

Now that the fireworks have faded along with some of the afterglow from the very successful COP21 meeting in Paris we must begin in earnest in deciding what 2016 will bring. With guarded optimism I read articles summarizing the year and for the most part they reflect a renewed hope and optimism that comes from the global agreement not only on efforts to cap global temperatures to increasing no more than 2 degrees Celsius, but also the ‘stretch target’ of 1.5 degrees.

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals are an excellent framework. They recognize that we must continue to improve quality of life and social justice for more and more (ideally all) people within the constraints of our very resilient planet’s ability to replenish and restore (some) natural resources.

They bear repeating here:

  • Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  • Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

What happened in Paris at the COP21 was a watershed meeting because it demonstrated our ability to agree on the big important issues and come together to set universal goals. And we can and should take notice of the importance not just for the global climate, but for all the issues, including those impacted by climate change and the need to address it (such as health, well-being, sustainable economic development, equality, justice, fighting corruption, etc.) Continue reading

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Thoughts To Contemplate For The Holidays…Or Anytime

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 10.05.58 AMDecember 22, 2015

And this, another from the writings of Hafiz, the 14th Century Persian Sufi poet:

“These candles — our bodies – see how they burn.
How many hours will they last – days, months, years?
Look at the warmth and comfort we can give
to each other or to anything that comes close.”

Credit: poetseeers

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Are You Emotionally Connected With Your Work? Does It Matter?

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 9.42.36 PMDecember 15, 2015

Some new research about workplace behavior caught my attention recently. It highlights — by omission — the important link between an organization’s management culture and the psychological experience of working within it. That’s a link that needs to be examined, but often isn’t; and this study illustrates that gap. It found that people who report feeling emotionally engaged and connected with their work and their organizations also experience greater psychological well-being.

That finding may sound obvious, though it’s always good to have empirical data confirm the obvious. In this case, it shows that if you’re among the fortunate ones who feel engaged and positive about your work and management, you’re likely to experience a greater sense of wellbeing. The problem is, most people aren’t so fortunate, as surveys repeatedly show. But this study does expose important questions, raised by its own findings:

What, exactly, promotes a sense of emotional connection with your work to begin with? And how might that increase your overall sense of well-being?

First, let’s look at the study, conducted in Denmark and published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. It examined the well-being and other health-related outcomes in 5,000 Danish workers. Among employees in various workgroups the study found significantly higher well-being concerning “the employee’s emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organization.” Those employees also had lower sickness absence rates and fewer sleep disturbances.

The lead author, Thomas Clausen, suggests that efforts to increase emotional connection with work may lead to a happier, healthier workforce. Of course. That makes good sense, and most companies would likely agree. The problem is that a positive sense of connection with work requires several conditions and factors that organizational leadership often fails to recognize or address. Among the most important are, in my view:

  • Does senior leadership promote a positive work culture, in which workers are valued and provided opportunities for continued learning and development?
  • Is diversity encouraged and valued in practice, not just in company mission statements?
  • Is there a workaholic and/or sexist management culture permeating the organization?
  • Perhaps most importantly, do employees experience a sense of impact their work has upon the product or service the company provides? The latter appears increasingly important to younger workers, as surveys show.

I’ve written about these issues previously, and they are crucial for long-term, sustainable success within today’s environment – one of increasing interconnection, transparency and constant flux; of rapid technology change and generational shift regarding values, life goals; and how people are redefining personal and career success.

Credit: Lionbridge

A version of this article previously appeared in The Huffington Post.

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Living Together Or Married? No Difference In Your Emotional Health

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 4.35.14 PMDecember 8. 2015

This new research is consistent with recent surveys that show younger people, especially, are more concerned with building a positive, sustaining relationship than with marriage, per se. The current study found that both men and women experience as much of a boost in their emotional well-being whether they move in together or marry. It was a bit more for women, but Interestingly, that boost occurred equally among men and women who had a prior relationship that didn’t work out. 

That finding is significant. I think it reflects the reality that form a lasting love relationship with the right partner requires a prior failure or two. Such experiences are like a “leavening” of the inner self; it builds the foundation for learning what kind of person – his or her values, character, outlook on life — meshes with who you are, along those dimensions. That increases the likelihood that a couple will grow together, emotionally, sexually, intellectually and spiritually, rather than grow apart. 

This new study, described in this report from Ohio State University, was based on data collected throughout the 2000s. It found that, for young adults who moved on from a first relationship, both men and women received similar emotional boosts whether they moved in with their second partner or got married to them. 

The findings suggest an evolving role of marriage among young people today, said Sara Mernitz, co-author of the study. “Now it appears that young people, especially women, get the same emotional boost from moving in together as they do from going directly to marriage,” she said. “There’s no additional boost from getting married.”

Claire Kamp Dush, co-author of the study, pointed out that “We’re finding that marriage isn’t necessary to reap the benefits of living together, at least when it comes to emotional health.” The study appears online in the Journal of Family Psychology and will be published in a future print edition.

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Actions That Benefit Others — Not Just Oneself — Lead to More Effective Work Teams

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Although we’re seeing political and cultural calls for policies that advocate self-interest; and social-political positions that ignore or deny evidence of continuing global interdependence, the reality on the ground tells a different story: There, we find data that positive benefits for individuals, business and society accrue from serving the common good; actions that support the benefit of others enhance all, including oneself.

A recent study from Notre Dame and the University of Illinois is a good example. The research, published in the Academy of Management Journal, found that when members of a work team are supported and motivated to benefit others, those teams are higher performing. Moreover, its members remain in their teams for longer periods.

The study examined 67 work teams from both the U.S. and China, as well as 124 student teams at Notre Dame. According to lead researcher Jasmine Hu, “Findings from both the field study and lab research showed that the greater motivation to benefit others, the higher the levels of cooperation and viability and the higher the subsequent team performance.”

She added, “These types of teams were also less likely to have members voluntarily leave their teams. Furthermore, we discovered that these positive effects of team motivation to benefit others were stronger the more the tasks required close interaction and higher interdependence among its members.”

The researchers concluded that the research provided evidence for the importance of management practices that enhance motivation to benefit others. That, in turn, increases the collaboration and cooperation necessary for high-performing teams. It produces “…higher performance, more organizational citizenship behavior, and (members) stay in their teams for a longer period,” Hu said. Moreover, “The highest level of team effectiveness was achieved when team motivation to benefit others and the interdependence of tasks among team members were both high.”

In my view, this study’s findings emphasize the key management role of building and supporting positive relationships among team members. The latter is interwoven with and dependent upon positive management and leadership behavior. That is, by demonstrating belief in and commitment to collaboration and support for individual growth and development at the same time.

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Even Short Periods of Meditation Will Reduce Racial Prejudice

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Now this is encouraging news: A new study finds that just seven minutes of meditation can reduce racial prejudice. The study, from the University of Sussex, was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. It used the Buddhist mediation technique of loving-kindness meditation, which promotes unconditional kindness towards oneself and others.

The lead researcher Alexander Stell, said: “This indicates that some meditation techniques are about much more than feeling good, and might be an important tool for enhancing inter-group harmony.” This form of meditation is aimed at generating feelings of happiness and kindness towards oneself and others through conscious focus on repeating thoughts and phrases that are positive and beneficent, while visualizing a particular person.

According to Stell, “We wanted to see whether doing loving-kindness meditation towards a member of another ethnic group would reduce the automatic preference people tend to show for their own ethnic group.”

In the study, a sample of 71 white, non-meditating adults were each given a photo of a gender-matched black person and either received taped LKM instructions, or instructions to look at the photos and notice certain features of the face. Both conditions lasted just seven minutes. Details of the experiment are described in this summary from the University.

The researchers found that just seven minutes of loving-kindness meditation directed to a member of a specific racial group (in this case, a black person) was sufficient to reduce racial bias towards that group. Additionally the researchers measured levels of positive emotions that were either ‘other-regarding’ (e.g. love, gratitude, awe, elevation) and those that were more self-directed (e.g. contentment, joy, pride). They found that people doing loving-kindness meditation showed large increases in other-regarding emotions. Those emotions were found to be what drives the reduction of bias.

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Can Empathy Modify Someone’s Political Views?

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In the context of the rising xenophobia expressed by — mostly — Republican presidential contenders, this new study from the University of Toronto is certainly apropos: It finds that empathy towards a political opponent’s moral views is a more effective path towards political persuasion. I think it highlights the power of being able to step outside yourself and put yourself into the mindset – the emotions, thoughts and values — of another; especially someone with whom you disagree strongly.

A summary of the study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin pointed out that if opponents really care about making even modest in-roads with each other, they’ll pay attention to this research: It showed that arguments based on a political opponent’s moral principles, rather than one’s own, have a much better chance of success. 

“We were trying to figure out ways to overcome the polarization,” said Mathew Feinberg, one of the researchers. A series of experiments had liberals and conservatives come up with arguments of their own for someone of the opposite political viewpoint.

The results showed that both groups were extremely poor at developing arguments that would appeal to their political opposite, even when specifically asked to do so. Worse, some participants in both camps actually attacked the morality of those they’d been asked to convince. 

But appealing to core principles of the opposite political persuasion appeared to help. For example, conservatives were more inclined to support universal health care when presented with purity-based arguments that more uninsured people might lead to more disease spread. Liberals showed an uptick in support for higher military spending, when shown an argument based on the principle that the military and the employment opportunities it provides help to reduce inequality.

“Instead of alienating the other side and just repeating your own sense of morality, start thinking about how your political opposition thinks and see if you can frame messages that fit with that thought process,” suggests Feinberg. A good point.

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How Depression Damages Your Memory And Concentration

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November 10, 2015

A new study finds that depression can diminish what you retain in your memory, as well as interfere with your ability to stay mentally focused. This research confirms what we see clinically among people who experience persistent negative, depressed moods and mental states. I think these findings underscore we are one integrated bio-psycho-social-spiritual-environmental organism. All dimensions of ourselves and our life experiences, both “inner” and “outer,” affect all others – emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally.

The study, from the University of Texas at Dallas, and published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, is the first to show that depressive thoughts are maintained for longer periods of time for people with depressed mood, and this may reduce the amount of information that they can hold in their memory.

According to lead author Bart Rypma, “We have known that negative thoughts tend to last longer for those with depression. However, this study is unique in showing that, these thoughts, triggered from stimuli in the environment, can persist to the point that they hinder a depressed person’s ability to keep their train of thought.”

And, added researcher Nick Hubbard, “The fact that depressive thoughts do not seem to go away once they enter memory certainly explains why depressed individuals have difficulty concentrating or remembering things in their daily lives. This preoccupation of memory by depressive thoughts might also explain why more positive thoughts are often absent in depression; there simply is not enough space for them.” The UT Center for Brain Health’s summary describes how the study was conducted and the data it provided.

I think this research points to the value of both mindfulness meditation and psychotherapy. Both can help people build their inner resources for, on the one hand, managing the impact of depressed mood upon their mental focus; and on the other hand — most importantly — envisioning positive emotional experiences to create in daily life. Both forms of help can gradually subsume a person’s cognitive and emotional dimensions of depressed thoughts and attitudes; as well as help them expand beyond their often fixed, negative view of themselves, which impedes creating a more positive experience of life.

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Feeling Emotionally Connected To Work Is Linked With Greater Psychological Wellbeing…But Why?

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I came across this new research finding that people who feel emotionally engaged and connected with their work experience greater psychological wellbeing. That may sound obvious, though it’s good whenever empirical data confirms the obvious. But I think the missing piece in the research is what, exactly, promotes that sense of emotional connection with your work to begin with?

This study from Denmark, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, examined the well-being and other health-related outcomes in 5,000 Danish workers. It found significantly higher well-being for employees in workgroups with “the employee’s emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organization.” They also had lower sickness absence rates and fewer sleep disturbances.

The lead author, Thomas Clausen, suggests that efforts to increase emotional connection with work may lead to a happier, healthier workforce. This makes sense, of course. Most companies would likely agree. The problem is that sense of connection with work reflects many factors that organizational leadership often fails to recognize or address. For example:

  • Does senior leadership promote a positive work culture, in which workers are valued and provided opportunities for continued learning and development?
  • Is diversity encouraged and valued in practice, not just in company mission statements? 
  • Is there a workaholic and/or sexist management culture permeating the organization?
  • Perhaps most importantly, do employees experience a sense of impact their work has upon the product or service the company provides? The latter appears increasingly important to younger workers, as surveys show. 

I’ve written about these issues previously, and they are crucial for long-term, sustainable success within our culture of increasing interconnection, transparency and constant flux; of rapid technology change and generational shift regarding values, life goals, and how people re-define personal and career success. 

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Why Showing Gratitude Strengthens Marriage Relationships

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I want to highlight the findings of this new study from the University of Georgia  — that feeling appreciated and valued by your partner strengthens your marriage and increases your belief about its endurance. I think that these findings — though they are about marriage relationships — underscores something important about what builds positive relationships in general. That is, whether they are intimate, work-related, or those in broader societal contexts. Showing and feeling gratitude in relationships go a long way in building and maintaining positive, mutually supportive connections. And the latter are crucial for personal and societal wellbeing.

This study, published in the journal Personal Relationships, was based on surveys of 468 married couples. It found that that spousal expression of gratitude was the most consistent significant predictor of marital quality. 

“It goes to show the power of ‘thank you,'” said the study’s lead author Allen Barton. “Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes.” Added co-author Ted Futris. “…when couples are engaging in a negative conflict pattern like demand/withdrawal, expressions of gratitude and appreciation can counteract or buffer the negative effects of this type of interaction on marital stability,” 

The study also found that higher levels of spousal gratitude protected men’s and women’s divorce proneness from the negative effects of poor communication during conflict. And, according to Barton, “This is the first study to document the protective effect that feeling appreciated by your spouse can have for marriages. It highlights a practical way couples can help strengthen their marriage, particularly if they are not the most adept communicators in conflict.”

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How Can You Deal With An Abusive Boss?

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I’ve written previously about abusive bosses and psychologically unhealthy management in general, and I’m revisiting it a bit here, because of a new study that highlights the difficulty people have when dealing with this kine of management environment. And not just employees: sometimes researchers themselves have a naive understanding of the problem.

That is, some recent research about employees who deal with abusive bosses shows that a well-intentioned study of workplace behavior can produce findings that confound the researchers’ predictions. This research found one unsurprising result; but another part of the findings – which puzzled the researchers — is what caught my eye.

To explain, the research surveyed the ways in which employees behave when working for abusive bosses. Those are often people who are narcissistic, denigrating, arrogant and unsupportive — or outright undermining — of employee’s learning and development.

The unsurprising part of the findings was that just trying to avoid the abusive boss or plotting ways to retaliate didn’t work. That made things worse for the employee, according to the study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and summarized by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post.

Rather, the other set of findings is what got my attention. Here, the researchers predicted that “acts of compassion and empathy — employees who assist bad bosses by going above and beyond, helping bosses with heavy workloads even when they’re not asked” would lead to diminished abuse by those bosses. And, that “acts of kindness might help lessen future rude or abusive behavior.”

The researchers were surprised to discover that it didn’t happen. Instead, according to the study’s co-author Charlice Hurst, “Abusive supervisors didn’t respond to followers being positive and compassionate, and doing things to be supportive and helpful.” The researchers concluded that their findings seemed to “clash with common sense.”

Really? I think most anyone who’s ever worked for abusive bosses would laugh at such “common sense” assumptions. No, trying to be “nice” or empathic towards the narcissistic, arrogant boss who often makes conflicting demands on employees isn’t going to produce positive change. Continue reading

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Psychedelics Increasingly Used For Healing And Growth

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The benefits of psychedelics for a range of emotional conflicts has been gaining increased recognition and re-emergence into — hopefully — the mainstream of treatment. In addition, researchers who are now legally allowed to conduct studies on their benefits are also finding that psychedelic drugs can have profound, transformative effects upon people — not just those who experience emotional conflicts such as anxiety or PTSD. 

An analysis published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal finds, according to a summary of the research, that psychedelic drugs have a strong effect on one’s conscious experience. They include such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, found in “magic mushrooms,” dimethyltryptamine (DMT), mescaline and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). According to Evan Wood, one of the co-authors, “The re-emerging paradigm of psychedelic medicine may open clinical doors and therapeutic doors long closed.”

Much current research focuses on more overt emotional disorders or conflicts. For example, that LSD-assisted psychotherapy might help reduce anxiety from terminal illness. Another, that “magic mushrooms” helped alcoholics reduce their drinking; and, a study of the drug MDMA shows a reduction in PTSD symptoms in people with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD.

But also highly intriguing are the observations that psychedelics can have lasting, significant effect on transforming your personality. For example, a Johns Hopkins study found that a single session of psilocybin can produce lasting personality changes. The Hopkins study reported that “Lasting change was found in the part of the personality known as openness, which includes traits related to imagination, aesthetics, feelings, abstract ideas and general broad-mindedness. Changes in these traits, measured on a widely used and scientifically validated personality inventory, were larger in magnitude than changes typically observed in healthy adults over decades of life experiences.”

In a recent Huffington Post interview, Johns Hopkins researcher Matthew Johnson discussed research by him and his colleagues on the effects of psilocybin and other psychedelics, which he calls a “paradigm shift,” that “Psychedelics open a door to the mind, and then what’s behind that door is really all about the participants and the intention that they bring to the session. The fact that the effects last beyond the time that you take the medication — that’s really a new paradigm in psychiatry.”

Credit: CPD Archive

 

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Covert Sexism In The Workplace Is As Harmful As Overt Behavior

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Our workplaces are steadily evolving towards environments in which men and women are valued, recognized and rewarded for their ability to work collaboratively with others who differ from them – whether gender, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, or sexual orientation. It’s a gradual process, however, and it’s important to document and raise awareness of the attitudes and behavior that continue to undermine individuals and teams in organizations. A current example is this study: It found that that frequent sexist comments and management cultures that are covertly demeaning to women are just as damaging to women as acts of sexual coercion or overtly sexual conduct and behavior towards them.

The research, published in The Psychology of Women Quarterly, found that “Norms, leadership, or policies, that reduce intense harmful experiences may lead managers to believe that they have solved the problem of maltreatment of women in the workplace,” according to the authors. “However, the more frequent, less intense, and often unchallenged gender harassment, sexist discrimination, sexist organizational climate and organizational tolerance for sexual harassment appeared at least as detrimental for women’s wellbeing. They should not be considered lesser forms of sexism.” The research team analyzed 88 independent studies of a combined 73,877 working women, and found following associations:

  • Sexism and gender harassment were just as harmful to working women’s individual health and work attitudes as common job stressors such as work overload and poor working conditions.
  • When women are the targets of sexism and harassment in the workplace, they are more dissatisfied with supervisors than co-workers.
  • There was a trend of a more negative effect of sexism and harassment in male-dominated workplaces, such as the armed forces and financial and legal services firms. However, the authors suggested this required further research.

The authors added, “Our results suggest that organizations should have zero tolerance for low intensity sexism, the same way they do for overt harassment. This will require teaching workers about the harmful nature of low intensity sexist events, not only for women, but also for the overall organizational climate.”

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Why It’s Possible To Alter Your Personality

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The novelist Norman Mailer wrote in The Deer Park, it’s a law of life that “one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same.”

So true, though many people believe that who you are – specifically, your personality – is fixed. In fact, much conventional thinking in psychology holds that our personalities remain constant.

But that’s not accurate: We’re always changing and evolving, in some way – for better or for worse. Many of us mental health professionals witness that occur among our patients. Keep in mind that who we may “become” is being shaped and determined by who we are right at this moment, by the kind of person we are inside; the qualities that we express in our daily lives, relationships and aspirations.

It’s good to see some recent research that confirms our capacity to change and grow dimensions of our personality. Change occurs from awareness of what aspects of our personality we want to develop, and working hard to “practice” them in daily life.

One example: Researchers at the University of Illinois conducted a study that tested the degree to which people could “grow” a particular personality trait or quality over a period of 16 weeks. The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that the participants who desired to change some dimension of themselves did so, in contrast to those who displayed less interest. The researchers pointed out that the results were modest, but that they show, “…at the very least, people’s personality traits and daily behavior tend to change in ways that align with their goals for change.”

They explained that it’s an unfolding process: “Goals led to changes in behavior, which led to changes in self-concept, which prompted more behavior change.”

I think this highlights the importance of having a vision of your more “developed” self; some aspect or dimension of your personality that you aspire towards. That has the effect of drawing you towards expressing those qualities of yourself, like being pulled by a magnet. Continue reading

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What Matters More — Your Character, Or What You Can Do For Me?

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This is one of those experiments that give credence to an intuitive feeling, one that’s consistent with a philosophical/spiritual perspective but we often ignore when we want to extract value from others, for our material benefit. The study, conducted by NYU researchers, found that people’s impressions of others’ character is a more important factor than what they might be able to do for us, when making decisions about them.

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, contradicts the conventional thinking that when we learn from positive or negative feedback in our interactions with people, we make conclusions based on the benefits they bring us – their “reward value.”

As so often the case, “conventional” thinking,” is often based more on assumptions than on evidence. As this study’s lead author Leor Hackel explains, “When we learn and make decisions about people, we don’t simply look at the positive or negative outcomes they bring to us—such as whether they gave us a loan or helped us move. Instead, we often… form trait impressions, such as how generous a person seems to be, and these impressions carry more weight in our future social decisions.”

In the experiment, participants made a series of “reward-based” decisions while their neural activity was monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Participants learned about other people in a series of interactions in an economic game played over the computer. Part of the study examined whether participants learned the relatively generosity of a player—a “trait impression”—in addition to learning the monetary worth of the player. The researchers’ statistical tests showed that participants learned generosity information more strongly than reward value.

After the experiment, described in detail here, participants were asked to choose which players they would prefer to interact with in a future cooperative task. The researchers found that their preferences were strongly guided by their trait impressions of players, relative to a player’s reward value. According to David Amodio, one of the researchers, “In other words, our results show that people naturally see others and even objects in terms of more general characteristics—and not just in terms of mere reward value.”

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The Most Energized, Productive Workers: Not Who You Might Think!

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What fuels the energy and excitement that’s visible among people who are highly engaged and productive at work? Is it something about what they bring to their careers to begin with? The management culture they experience? Or, are those qualities found mostly among the young, because of youthful energy, as some surveys indicate?

Some new research sheds some light on this. It finds that the most energized and creative workers are not only the young, age-wise. They are best described as “young at heart.” The secret ingredient is their emotional attitude about life in general; and the way they typically respond and deal with negative, stressful experiences. That’s what differentiates them from others. But these interesting findings also raise this question: Why so many work cultures actively undermine the positive energy and vitality that such people bring into their workplaces? And which – one would think – companies would value and support in every way possible.

First, let’s look what at the evidence from two unrelated but complementary studies tell us about this. In brief, the first found that your overall attitude about life – independent of age -influences your performance and creativity at work. The other study found that positive emotions and your outlook on life — especially how you deal with stressful circumstances or conflict — is linked with greater long-term health. And many sources of stress are found in the workplace, needless to say. Continue reading

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How Your Personality Can Change And Grow — Or Stagnate Over Time

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There’s an old Buddhist saying that if you want to see into your future, just look into a mirror. It’s true, that who we are right now, and at each moment of time into the future, shapes who we become – for better or for worse. Although that truth is evident to anyone who’s at all observant of how people’s lives unfold and evolve over time, it’s interesting to see empirical evidence supporting it. The latter helps those who think we’re fixed in our personalities over our lifetime. Unfortunately — and ironically — such people tend to be those of us in the psychological and mental health fields.

This new study from Germany focused on people who experience loneliness early in life can act in ways that increase that aspect of their personality – leading to more loneliness and poorer health over time. And the experiences we seek out can also affect and shape our personalities, in reverse, over time. As the research finds, “there’s evidence that personality changes as we get older. And just as we can strive to lose weight, there’s evidence we can intentionally change our personalities.

The researchers found that “our personality affects the likelihood that we’ll become more lonely (and feel less well) as we get older, but also that being lonely (and feeling less healthy) shapes our personality, potentially setting up a vicious circle of isolation.”

Although this study looked at negative personality traits and how they interact with life experiences, I think it’s more significant to consider how we can evolve and grow positive dimensions of ourselves over time, with conscious intent and a vision of how we want to “become.” Here, clinical evidence joins philosophical teachings. As the novelist Norman Mailer wrote in The Deer Park, it’s a law of life that “one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same.”

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Why Are Women More Likely To Initiate Divorce?

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 11.08.14 AMAugust 25, 2015

Some new data about divorce and non-marital breakups contains an unexpected finding, and I think it underscores an ongoing evolution in what people want and seek in their romantic relationships. The study, based on a survey of over 2000 heterosexual couples, found that women initiated nearly 70% of all divorces. Yet there was no significant difference between the percentage of breakups initiated by women and men in non-marriage relationships.

How to explain? I find that this data is consistent with what I and others have seen clinically. When men and women seek couples therapy and then subsequently divorce; or, when either partner seeks individual therapy about a marriage conflict that ends in divorce, it’s often the woman who expresses more overt conflict and dissatisfaction about the state of the marriage. On the other hand, the man is more likely to report feeling troubled by his wife’s dissatisfaction, but “OK” with the way things are; content to lope along as time passes.

In contrast, I find that younger couples – who are more likely to form non-marital but committed relationships — experience more egalitarian partnerships to begin with. When the relationship crumbles beyond repair, both experience that disintegration. Both are equally likely to address it – and part, if it can’t be healed.

These clinical observations are consistent with what the study’s lead author, Michael Rosenfeld, suggests — that women may be more likely to initiate divorces because the married women reported lower levels of relationship quality than married men. In contrast, women and men in non-marital relationships reported equal levels of relationship quality. Rosenfeld said his results support the feminist assertion that some women experience heterosexual marriage as oppressive or uncomfortable.

He adds, “I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality. Wives still take their husbands’ surnames, and are sometimes pressured to do so. Husbands still expect their wives to do the bulk of the housework and the bulk of the childcare. On the other hand, I think that non-marital relationships lack the historical baggage and expectations of marriage, which makes the non-marital relationships more flexible and therefore more adaptable to modern expectations, including women’s expectations for more gender equality.”

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Feelings of Awe and a Sense of Meaning Alter Your Mental Health and Behavior

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 3.26.14 PMAugust 18, 2015

One of the themes I write about is that our vision of our future self – what we aspire to “become” over time – can affect our mental health, positively or negatively. I’ve described how the absence of a positive vision of your future can actually create depression over time. In our society it’s easy to become encased within oneself; too self-absorbed and disconnected from our interconnections with others that are part of reality of life, today. Some recent research illustrates that how we experience ourselves in the larger world impact on tendency towards anxiety and depression. Moreover, it affects how we relate to other people.

A good empirical confirmation of this comes from research from the UC Berkeley and UC Irvine. It found that people who experience a sense of awe – a sensation of being part of something much larger than themselves – prompts them to behave more benevolently, in a more giving manner, towards others. I think what happens, there, is that the awe-struck experience pulls you outside of yourself. It propels you into an experience of “forgetting yourself.” And that expanded awareness that your are part of, and interwoven with, something much larger than just your individual being carries over towards behaving more positively and generous towards others.

Participants in the research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, consistently reported that awe produced “a reduced sense of self importance relative to something larger and more powerful that they felt connected to,” according to the lead researcher, Paul Piff. Subsequent analysis of the research data confirmed that this feeling of the “small self” was responsible for the increase of ethical, generous behavior they subsequently demonstrated in the study.

In a different but related way, a study of the impact of a sense of meaning and purpose upon one’s mental health found a strong connection. The research, published in the Journal of Social Service Research, found that people who create a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives, and seek to find and experience their “true self,” experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. This study looked at role of having a sense of meaning and purpose in treatment programs for addiction, in particular. It found that, in that population, more symptoms of emotional disorders were found among those who lacked a sense of meaning in their lives. However, I think that it has implications for the population at large, and corroborates the larger theme that I described above about the value of learning to “forget yourself.”

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How Good Leaders Help People Change And Grow

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This Harvard Business Review article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman suggests ways in which good leaders enable people to change. I think it captures some of the best attitudes and behavior of those leaders who value the growth and development of their employees.

However, there’s one missing element that I would like to have seen the authors include and emphasize. They defined effectiveness at leading change as “…the managers’ ability to influence others to move in the direction the organization wanted to go.” True, per se – but only if that direction promotes collaboration, creative innovation, learning and development; occurs within a positive, healthy leadership culture; is committed to sustainable practices; and in which leadership conveys – as recent studies find is essential to a productive workplace — a sense of humbleness and empathy in one’s leadership role. 

With that caveat, I think the authors describe eight leadership practices that do support positive change among employees. They are based on their analysis of a large dataset of direct reports and leaders. Following is their description of them, excerpted from their HBR article.

They write: Continue reading

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Reduce Your Social Anxiety By Serving Others

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I think a recent study about social anxiety provides more evidence that fixating on our ego — our self-absorption — whether it’s heightened focus on our “needs,” our personal slights, real or imagined, our sense of self-importance, our desire to possess and control — is the root of many emotional and physical conflicts. In this study researchers examined what might help people who suffer from social anxiety, which can be very debilitating, frustrating, and isolating. It found that engaging in acts that help or benefit other people helps reduce social anxiety.

In effect, doing good for others helps socially anxious people become more socially engaged in positive, satisfying ways. That reflects letting go of preoccupation with one’s self; of how other’s will perceive you, think about you, form assumptions about you. Doing something for others pulls you out of that kind of anxiety-generating self-absorption.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University and published in Motivation and Emotion, pointed out that performing acts of kindness to the benefit of others is known to increase happiness, positive interactions and perceptions of the world at large. So they examined if, over time, acts of kindness change the level of anxiety that socially anxious people experience while interacting with others; and helps them to engage more easily.

The results of the study confirmed that. It found that a greater overall reduction in the desire to avoid social situations was found among those who actively lent a helping hand in the experimental situation. That is, acts of kindness helped counter feelings of possible rejection and levels of anxiety and distress. 

According to senior author Jennifer Trew, “Acts of kindness may help to counter negative social expectations by promoting more positive perceptions and expectations of a person’s social environment. It helps to reduce their levels of social anxiety and, in turn, makes them less likely to want to avoid social situations.” 

Credit: CPD Archive

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You’re An Expert At Something? You’re More Likely To Make Things Up!

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 11.56.49 AMJuly 28, 2015

A new study finds that the more you think you know about a topic, the more likely you are to assert knowledge of completely made-up information and false facts. 

According to Stav Atir of Cornell University, lead of author of the study published in Psychological Science, “Our work suggests that the seemingly straightforward task of judging one’s knowledge may not be so simple, particularly for individuals who believe they have a relatively high level of knowledge to begin with.” In other words, such people are prone to lie, and believe their own lies – made-up “facts” and other “knowledge.”

In one of the studies, described in Science Daily, one hundred participants were asked to rate their general knowledge of personal finance, as well as their knowledge of 15 specific finance terms. Most of the terms on the list were real (for example, Roth IRA, inflation, home equity), but the researchers also included three made-up terms (pre-rated stocks, fixed-rate deduction, annualized credit). As expected, people who saw themselves as financial wizards were most likely to claim expertise of the bogus finance terms.

“The more people believed they knew about finances in general, the more likely they were to overclaim knowledge of the fictitious financial terms,” Atir says. “The same pattern emerged for other domains, including biology, literature, philosophy, and geography. For instance,” Atir explains, “people’s assessment of how much they know about a particular biological term will depend in part on how much they think they know about biology in general.”

Then, In another experiment, the researchers warned one set of 49 participants that some of the terms in a list would be made up. Even after receiving the warning, the self-proclaimed experts were more likely to confidently claim familiarity with fake terms, such as “meta-toxins” and “bio-sexual.” Some additional experiments that found the same results are described here.

The research team warns that a tendency to overclaim, especially in self-perceived experts, may actually discourage individuals from educating themselves in precisely those areas in which they consider themselves knowledgeable–leading to potentially disastrous outcomes. For example, failure to recognize or admit one’s knowledge gaps in the realm of finance or medicine could easily lead to uninformed decisions with devastating consequences for individuals.

That’s for sure, and I think we’ve seen evidence of it in the political as well as financial realms, in recent years.

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Men Are More Threatened By Female Bosses

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July 21, 2015

As the French saying goes, the more things change…

New research finds that men may feel threatened by female supervisors and act more assertively toward them than male bosses, which could disrupt the workplace with struggles over power dynamics. According to the study’s lead author, Ekaterina Netchaeva, of Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, “The concept of masculinity is becoming more elusive in society as gender roles blur, with more women taking management positions and becoming the major breadwinners for their families. “Even men who support gender equality may see these advances as a threat to their masculinity, whether they consciously acknowledge it or not.”

The study, conducted with participants at U.S. universities, found, in essence, that men feel more threatened when they answer to female bosses.

Published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the study pointed out that — while women are underrepresented in senior management positions in the United States — they are almost on par with men at middle and lower management levels, according to Labor Department statistics. Self-assertive behavior by men toward female bosses could disrupt the workplace dynamics, stifle team cohesiveness and negatively affect team performance, Netchaeva said. “In an ideal world, men and organizations would be concerned by these findings and adjust their behavior accordingly. But if they don’t, where does that leave women?” she said. “Given the strong societal norms surrounding masculinity, it may be difficult for men to recognize or change their behavior.”

For a description of how the studies were conducted, click here.

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Divorce, Separation, Co-Habitation — Good For Your Health?

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 4.06.43 PMJuly 14, 2015

We’re in the midst of a steady, major transformation of how we think about intimate relationships — what we seek from them; and how we engage in them for mutual benefit. Increasing numbers of men and women pursue relationships that they define as positive, meaningful and healthy, although they may differ from traditionally accepted norms. So it’s good to see research evidence that sheds light on which of those shifts demonstrate positive outcomes with respect to emotional and physical health.

One recent study looked at the health outcomes of people who are divorced, as well as those who co-habit without marriage. Contrary to previous studies suggesting that divorced and unmarried couples experience less health than those who are married, this study, conducted by London-based researchers, found evidence to the contrary. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study found that individuals who have divorced and remarried are no more likely than those who have remained married to have cardiovascular or respiratory health problems in early middle age. The study has implications for younger generations as more people pursue unconventional relationships, and the reality of divorce continues to be an option for some.

“…Our research shows that people born in the late 1950s who live together without marrying or experience divorce and separation, have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married,” said lead author Gerge Ploubidis, in a Medical XPress summary. In fact, some even experienced health benefits, in the long term, despite going through divorce, according to the researchers. “Surprisingly, those men who divorced in their late 30s and did not subsequently remarry, were less likely to suffer from conditions related to diabetes in early middle age compared to those who were married.” In fact, although couples who married in their 20s and early 30s and remained married had the best levels of health, unmarried couples living together had almost identical standards of health.

The impact of a relationship, per se, was underscored by the finding that men and women who had never married or lived with a partner, had the worst health in middle age, with higher likelihood of conditions related to diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory problems. In that respect, the missing element in this research, of concern to those of us in the mental health field, is what we can learn about the impact of shifting definitions of relationships upon psychological health. Recognizing that they are intertwined is crucial, and the subject of increasing study. For example, the links discovered between the gut, the brain, emotions, types of food consumed and inflammation.

Credit: Funologist

 

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Bosses Who Serve Their Employees Have Better Business Outcomes

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July 7, 2015

A recent study has found that when bosses put employees’ needs over their own, measurable improvements result: in customer satisfaction, higher job performance by employees, and lower turnover are the result. According to the researchers, this type of leadership suggests that if businesses lead by caring for their people, the profits will take care of themselves.

Although this study focused on a service-oriented business, I think its implications highlight something broader: The findings mirror growing recognition by organizations, by individuals in relationships and throughout society in general that positive, supportive engagement with others — in which you serve something of value and importance to all of you, and not just your own narrow self-interest – creates positive benefits for everyone. And that’s really a core feature of a healthy society – one in which people’s attitudes, values and behavior adapt positively to continuous change; to the growing diversity and interconnection among people. Such adaptation promotes positive outcomes for all. Business leadership, as this and many other studies show, increasingly recognizes that reality. But it also applies to intimate and family relationships; and has implications for public policy, as well.

This particular study adds another bit of evidence in the business realm. For example, it found that when bosses act as servants to their employees, it’s good for business. The research found measurable increases in key business metrics like job performance, customer service and employee retention. That is, employees feel the most valued and give back to the company and its customers when their bosses create a culture of trust, caring, cooperation, fairness and empathy. According to Sandy Wayne, one of the authors of the research, “The best business leadership style is far from, ‘Do this. Don’t do that.’ A servant leader looks and sounds a lot more like, ‘Is there anything I can do to help you?’ Or, ‘Let me help you….’ Or, ‘What do you need to…?’ This approach helps employees reach their full potential.”

The corresponding admiration employees have for bosses who care about them manifests itself in teamwork, loyalty and dedication to the business and its customers. The leadership style trickles down. Wayne said, “It’s contagious. The employees see their leaders as role models and often mimic those qualities, creating a culture of servant leadership. This serving culture drives the effectiveness of the business as a whole.”

The need for management cultures that recognize and support this kind of leadership is highlighted when you consider the frequent surveys that show ongoing work-related stress, often associated with negative or unsupportive leadership. One current example is a survey of over 2000 people. It found that the majority of workers feel overworked, and that burnout appears to have become the new normal.

And that’s a prescription for an unhealthy workforce and society.

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Your View of the Future: It Can Increase Your Mental Health….Or Create Depression

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 10.14.00 AMJune 30, 2015

If you’re suffering from depression, you’re likely to believe that your emotional state generates negative thoughts and expectations about the future. After all, depression can color everything, so it’s natural to assume that a negative outlook reflects your depressed mood. And that’s the conventional thinking among most of us in the mental health professions, as well. But for many people the reality is the other way around: It’s how you envision the future that can make you depressed.

A new study supports this. I was happy to come across it because it’s what I’ve observed and emphasized for years: Your vision of your future “self” shapes your mental health. Specifically, a positive vision of what you aspire towards –– a picture of what you’re aiming for, a sense of new possibility –– acts like a kind of psychological magnet. It pulls you towards it, helping you find the path that will take you there. Picturing what you strive towards can feel as though it has tether connected to you, steadily tugging you towards it. That generates positive energy and wellbeing.

But if you lack that vision of possibility, you’re likely to remain more stuck if you’re already depressed. Or you may become depressed, as the new research shows. And even if you’re not, you’ll tend to feel stagnant and flat-lined about some important dimension of your life –– your relationship, your career, your sense of purpose.

The study I referred to was published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology and conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. It concluded that a pessimistic view of the future may not be the result of depression but the cause of it. The researchers found that three kinds of pictures of the future, or “prospection,” can drive depression:

  • poor generation of possible futures
  • poor evaluation of possible future
  • negative beliefs about the future

According to the researchers, “Prospection belongs front and center in the study of depression…(and) that faulty prospection does drive depression. An understanding of how prospection shapes psychopathology may enable researchers to create more effective treatments and help distressed individuals to create brighter futures.”

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Positive Emotions Are Linked With Long-Term, Healthy Life

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This should be obvious, but it’s good to see another study showing the links between how we deal with stress and the ups and downs of life, emotionally; and our body’s inflammatory response. The level of inflammation affects many forms of disease. It’s significant for our long-term health.

This study, conducted by researchers at Penn State, and summarized in this report, found that adults who fail to maintain positive moods such as cheerfulness or calm when faced with the minor stressors of everyday life have elevated levels of inflammation. 

I think this research is particularly important because it shows that “resilience” to stress is more than the capacity to absorb, handle, and rebound in the face of stressful experiences. It also includes a pro-active mentality; a positive outlook and positive emotions in the face of life’s conflicts, negative experiences and unpredictability. That mental and emotional orientation plays a key role in the body’s level of inflammatory response when we’re stressed.

That is, the research showed that the frequency of daily stressors, in and of itself, was less consequential for inflammation than how an individual reacted to those stressors. “A person’s frequency of stress may be less related to inflammation than responses to stress,” said lead author Nancy Sin. “It is how a person reacts to stress that is important.” These findings add to growing body of evidence regarding the health implications of emotional response to daily stressors. 

In the short-term, with illness or exercise, the body experiences a high immune response to help repair itself. However, in the long term, heightened inflammatory immune responses may not be healthy. Individuals who have trouble regulating their responses may be at risk for certain age-related conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, frailty and cognitive decline, Sin said. “Positive emotions, and how they can help people in the event of stress, have really been overlooked,” Sin added.

Click here for the full summary from Penn State.

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Poet and Beat Publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti — Thriving at 96

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June 16, 2015

NPR broadcast a nice story recently about Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the acclaimed poet and owner-publisher of City Lights Bookstore in SF. He first brought attention to Beat Generation writers, including his publishing of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Ferlinghetti is now 96, and working on three new books that are coming out this year.

Now that’s my idea of “healthy aging!”

Here’s a link to the audio of the NPR feature about him by Richard Gonzales. Or, read the text from it here: Continue reading

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Workers With a “Spirit of Life” Are More Productive – At Any Age

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Are the most energized and creative workers young, per se; or are they “young at heart?” A new study sheds some light on this: It found that your own sense of yourself; your overall attitude about life influences your work. I describe the findings below, but the study brings to mind that we often speak of the “spirit of youth” when describing an older person who conveys vitality, passion and engagement. However, I think it’s more accurate to think of that spirit as a spirit about life itself. It may be more embodied within or visible among younger people, but I attribute that to this: Many people in our culture enter a long descent into emotional, creative and spiritual stagnation — via the values of a self-centered, overly materialistic society. That’s what I see in so many of the people who have come to me for help – either for personal issues or career-related conflicts.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was described in The British Psychological Society’s publication, Research Digest, and it concludes that If you want a dynamic workforce, seek not the young, but the young at heart. The study surveyed over 15,000 employees from 107 companies to determine how subjective age influences workplace performance. It found that employees who felt substantially younger than their chronological age were more successful in meeting the goals they’d promised their managers they would achieve. Companies with more of these “young at heart” employees also tended to perform better overall, in terms of financial performance, efficiency and a longer tenured workforce. The survey also showed that organizations tended to have more young at heart workers when they offered both age-inclusive policies and, on average, their employees felt that their work was more important and meaningful.

This raises questions about what’s needed to counter that long descent that I described above. Among the possibilities are more meaningful, engaging work, which can enable people feel more vibrant and experience some impact upon the consequences of their contribution. When workers can feel young, energized by their work — and not judged and stereotyped — that facilitates the kind of dynamic performance thought to be limited to younger workers…until they begin that slow descent into stagnation.

Credit: Pharic Crawford 

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A Leftward Shift on Key Moral and Political Issues

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As our society becomes increasingly interconnected and generational shifts occur, we’re witnessing continued evolution in peoples attitudes and behavior about “moral” issues, as well as increasing acceptance of diverse values and ways of life. This recent Gallup survey highlights the direction of these shifts. It reports that “Americans are more likely now than in the early 2000s to find a variety of behaviors morally acceptable, including gay and lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage and sex between an unmarried man and woman. Moral acceptability of many of these issues is now at a record-high level.”

At the same time, another Gallup survey finds that more Americans now rate themselves as socially liberal than at any point in Gallup’s 16-year trend, and for the first time, as many say they are liberal on social issues as say they are conservative. This reflects a shift from older surveys that tended to show greater numbers who identify as conservative on social and political issues. Currently, thirty-one percent of Americans describe their views on social issues as generally liberal, matching the percentage who identify as social conservatives for the first time in Gallup records dating back to 1999.

Moreover, according the Gallup report, Americans are becoming more liberal on social issues, as evidenced not only by the uptick in the percentage describing themselves as socially liberal, but also by their increasing willingness to say that a number of previously frowned-upon behaviors are morally acceptable. The biggest leftward shift over the past 14 years has been in attitudes toward gay and lesbian relations, from only a minority of Americans finding it morally acceptable to a clear majority finding it acceptable.

The key trends that Gallup cites include:

  • The substantial increase in Americans’ views that gay and lesbian relations are morally acceptable coincide with a record-high level of support for same-sex marriage and views that being gay or lesbian is something a person is born with, rather than due to one’s upbringing or environment.
  • The public is now more accepting of sexual relations outside of marriage in general than at any point in the history of tracking these measures, including a 16-percentage-point increase in those saying that having a baby outside of marriage is morally acceptable, and a 15-point increase in the acceptability of sex between an unmarried man and woman. Clear majorities of Americans now say both are acceptable.
  • Acceptance of divorce and human embryo medical research are also up 12 points each since 2001 and 2002, respectively.
  • Polygamy and cloning humans have also seen significant upshifts in moral acceptability — but even with these increases, the public largely perceives them as morally wrong, with only 16% and 15% of Americans, respectively, considering them morally acceptable.

For a longer description of the survey’s findings, click here.

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Women Leaders Have Greater Workplace Stress

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This isn’t surprising, for two reasons: One is that men are socially conditioned to internalize stress. They deny it consciously while expressing it via physical illness and/or psychiatric symptoms that they don’t recognize; or, they seek relief through alcohol, drugs or other kinds of escapism. The other reason is that women are conditioned more towards experiencing and expressing emotional experience, in general. So their stressful workplace experiences — which are often related to men’s denigration of their leadership roles — tend to be more visible.

A recent conference on women’s leadership, reported in Financial Times by Charles Wallace, describes several examples of the ways in which women leaders face workplace stress in organizations today. He writes, “An increasing amount of attention is being paid to the troubling fact that women in the workplace, especially in management or leadership roles, report being stressed out more often than men,” and “… despite recent strides in equality in the office, women experience a lot more stress than men.”

One reason, frequently cited, is what I referred to above. For example, Errica Moustaki, executive coach at Careers in Depth, a London executive development firm, explained that  “women may express stress in psychological or behavioral ways, while men bottle up feelings and have more heart attacks and strokes.” And, that many women executives “experience stressful work situations because of a constant sense of having their confidence undermined by men. Women have to continuously prove themselves in the workplace.”

Despite strides towards more inclusiveness and integration of women into leadership roles, the context of the organization’s culture, especially as it’s shaped by men’s view of women in these roles, is key. It continues to generate stress for women as they rise up in senior level positions.

For the full Financial Times report on the conference and some of its other presentations, click here.
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The Fake Workaholic

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 11.23.35 AMMay 12, 2015

This recent article by New York Times writer Neil Irwin caught my attention: He describes a study of the workaholic culture within one large consulting company. The study, from Boston University, found that “Some of the people ostensibly turning in those 80- or 90-hour workweeks, particularly men, may just be faking it.” The findings were based on just that one company, but it does raise the possibility that workers in other companies that promote — or require — a workaholic culture may also be publicly pretending to embrace the long hours regimen.

But to me, these findings raise, implicitly, a deeper problem: Our career and organizational cultures require men and women to adapt and embrace a view of “success” defined by steady, singular pursuit of position, power and financial reward — via workaholic behavior. That, despite substantial evidence that the latter leads to diminished productivity, innovation and employee commitment; despite the pervasive stress among employees, which underlie a wide range of illness — emotional and physical; and despite — no surprise — surveys that show tremendous employee dislike, dissatisfaction and conflict with the culture and management of their organizations. Irwin alludes to an aspect of this at the end of his article, writing, “Maybe it’s that too many companies reward the wrong things, favoring the illusion of extraordinary effort over actual productivity.”

Interestingly, the study found that people who were “passing” as workaholics “…received performance reviews that were as strong as their hyper-ambitious colleagues. For people who were good at faking it, there was no real damage done by their lighter workloads.” Moreover, “…women, particularly those with young children, were much more likely to request greater flexibility through more formal means, such as returning from maternity leave with an explicitly reduced schedule. Men who requested a paternity leave seemed to be punished come review time, and so may have felt more need to take time to spend with their families through those unofficial methods.”

Those additional findings highlight the deeper, pervasive theme I raised above: Our cultural norm that equates a successful adult life with embracing a workaholic and psychologically unhealthy workplace culture has ongoing destructive impact –to individuals, but also to the long-term viability of organizations in this fast-evolving era of rapid change and the rise of younger generations and their view of work, life, and what they are seeking in both realms.

For Irwin’s full article, click here.

Credit: Peter Arkle

 

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Why Low Self-Esteem Will Keep You Stuck Within a Bad Relationship

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 10.20.38 AMMay 5, 2015

I’ve often worked with individuals and couples who experience a diminished sense of their self-worth; low self-esteem. And when they find that their relationships have entered the dead zone, they are often stuck within them, unable to push for revitalizing them, if possible; or leaving. Even as they uncover the roots of their low self-worth, they often remain frozen in a bad, even destructive relationship.

Some recent research provides some empirical confirmation of what we know, clinically. It found that the partner with diminished self-esteem tends to avoid confronting problems or conflicts. That avoidance often reflects feelings of insecurity about the partner’s feelings for them, and leads to hunkering down and withdrawing from conflict that might be resolved through more open, transparent communication.

The research, conducted by the University of Waterloo, confirmed in essence that partners with low self-esteem tend not to voice relationship complaints with their partner because they fear rejection. “There is a perception that people with low self-esteem tend to be more negative and complain a lot more,” says Megan McCarthy, the study’s lead author. “While that may be the case in some social situations, our study suggests that in romantic relationships, the partner with low self-esteem resists addressing problems.”

And, “If your significant other is not engaging in open and honest conversation about the relationship,” says McCarthy, “it may not be that they don’t care, but rather that they feel insecure and are afraid of being hurt. We’ve found that people with a more negative self-concept often have doubts and anxieties about the extent to which other people care about them,” she says. “This can drive low self-esteem people toward defensive, self-protective behavior, such as avoiding confrontation.”

A summary of the research points out that people with low self-esteem’s resistance to address concerns may stem from a fear of negative outcomes. Sufferers may believe that they cannot speak up without risking rejection from their partner and damage to their relationship, resulting in greater overall dissatisfaction in the relationship.

“We may think that staying quiet, in a ‘forgive and forget’ kind of way, is constructive, and certainly it can be when we feel minor annoyances,” says McCarthy. “But when we have a serious issue in a relationship, failing to address those issues directly can actually be destructive.”

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The Enduring Impact of Loss…In Love and Life

Screen shot 2014-12-23 at 12.30.09 PMApril 28, 2015

As a young boy living in upstate New York, I loved roaming through the nearby woods and fields by myself, on summer days. One sunny afternoon I came upon a tall, thick-trunked tree that had a deep scar on it’s lower portion. It looked like it had been struck by lightning some years before, and was damaged there. Yet it continued to grow.

That memory came to mind recently, as I reflecting on experiences of loss in our relationships and lives, over time; and what endures from them. I recall an essay by the novelist Walter Mosley, who wrote about an awakening, as a small child – his first “mystery.” He described a memory of his three-year-old self in the backyard of his parents’ house, in which he realized, “These must be my parents” and he called out to them. “My mother nodded. My father said my name. Neither touched me, but I had learned by then not to expect that.”

He described ”an emptiness in my childhood that I filled up with fantasies,” and noted that “the primitive heart that remembers is, in a way, eternal.” Interestingly, Mosley grew into the acclaimed mystery novelist he is, today.

Sometimes an unexpected event triggers a memory of a once-meaningful adult relationship. It may have faded over time, but had etched itself onto our soul. For example, the writer Lee Montgomery described a drop-in visit by the son of her first lover, with whom she had many romantic and adventurous experiences in her early youth, during the 1970s. “When I think of Ian, I think of endless days hanging out in the woods and fields around our New England prep schools, sucking dope out of a metal chamber pipe. Ian showed me the world and taught me to live in it. New York City. The Great West. And Europe, where we lived for several months during his first college year abroad.”

Eventually, their relationship ended. She went on with her life, married, began a career. He inherited money, married, “…had no career that I knew of and shot himself when he was in his 30s.”

The son, quite young at the time his father committed suicide, was now about the age Montgomery when she and his father were lovers. He had dropped by her office hoping to hear some stories of what his father was like. Montgomery describes how fresh and alive the memories felt to her, as she drew into them: “Sitting across a booth studying this young man, I was overwhelmed. So many years later, I was stunned to find the feeling of first love still there.” Continue reading

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Money, Gratitude, Happiness: Are They Linked?

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 11.55.32 AMApril 21, 2015

A new piece of research suggests people who feel thankful and grateful experience greater happier in life than those who are more focused on material wealth and possessions. Interestingly, when the more materialistic people experience gratitude in some form, their level of happiness rises.

The study, summarized in BioSpace, was led by James A. Roberts of Baylor University. The researchers wanted to examine “the relationship between materialism – making acquisition of material possessions a central focus of one’s life – and life satisfaction.”

Many studies have shown that more materialistic people are generally less satisfied with their standards of living, their relationships and their lives as a whole. Given that, the researchers wondered if anything could moderate that relationship; that is, help materialistic people more satisfied with their lives.

That is, they raised the possibility that the experience of gratitude — viewed as the positive emotions you experiences when another person intentionally gives or does something of value to you — might stimulate greater overall happiness within the more materialist and less happy individual.

The research, described and published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, initially confirmed what previous studies had found: “People who pursue happiness through material gain tend to feel worse, and this is related to negative appraisals of their satisfaction with life.” But they also found that the experience of gratitude, when it occurred, also raised their satisfaction with their lives. On the other hand, the more materialistic people who experienced little gratitude or positive emotions had the least life satisfaction.

I think the most useful aspect of this research is not so much the finding that materialistic people might become happier if they experience gratitude, but rather the importance of seeing that appreciation, thankfulness and gratitude is part of health human development, and is a feature of positive, mutually supportive connections with others, in contrast to serving self-interest, alone – especially in the form of material acquisition.

Photo credit: CPD Archive

 

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