Category Archives: Psychological health in today’s world

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.

Credit: Shutterstock


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. 

Credit: Forbes


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.”

Credit: WomenPlanet


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


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



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.”

Credit: Aiste Miseviciute/Alamy


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


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.”

Credit: CPD Archive


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


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?

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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.”

Credit: Moms Magazine


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

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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.”

Credit: Spirit Science and Metaphysics


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


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


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

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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.


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.

Credit: CPD Archive


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

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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



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.

Credit: ASTD


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

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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.”

Credit: Triometric


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.

Credit: CPD Archive


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


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 


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.

Credit: CPD Archive


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.
Credit: Highwaymail




The Fake Workaholic

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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



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

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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.”



The Enduring Impact of Loss…In Love and Life

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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


Money, Gratitude, Happiness: Are They Linked?

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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



Is Your Sexism Showing? It’s All in Your Smile!

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Well, this is interesting: A new study finds that sexist men reveal their degree of sexist attitudes — from more hostile and malignant to benign and patronizing — by the way they smile towards women in social interactions; and how they speak to them in those situations.

That is, the study, conducted by Jin Goh and Judith Hall of Northeastern University, and published in the journal Sex Roles, found that if you want to uncover a man’s true attitude about women, you need to watch how he smiles and talks to her. 

In this study the researchers examined how men’s word choice, attitudes and smiles show their version of sexism in different ways when they interact with women they’ve just met. The researchers carefully examined the interactions of 27 pairs of American undergraduate men and women. They were filmed while they played a trivia game together and then chatted afterwards. Researchers analyzed the men’s behavior, including nonverbal behavior and choice of words used during the interactions, as explained in the journal article.

They found that the more “hostile sexists” were viewed as less approachable, less friendly, in their speech. They also smiled less during the interaction. However, the men who were more of the “benevolent sexist” variety were rated as more approachable, warmer, friendlier and more likely to smile. Moreover, the benevolent sexists used more positive emotional words and were overall more patient while waiting for a woman to answer trivia questions.

The authors argue that sexism can range from hostile to benevolent; either form reflects negative or discriminatory attitudes towards women. They describe hostile sexism as an Continue reading


A True Test of Empathy Towards Others

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Many people believe themselves to be compassionate beings who experience empathy towards others. That’s the capacity to put yourself “inside” the other person, and experience his or her reality. It’s different from just feeing sympathy for another’s situation. Research confirms our innate capacity for empathy; we’re “wired” that way. But practicing it? That doesn’t always occur, especially when you’re challenged to do so. I think the latter presents the true test. For example, say you’re feeling burdened with stressful situations or conflicts of your own; and a friend or family member is also experiencing major difficulties. Are you able to muster up and convey empathy to that person, when you’re dealing with your own difficult issues at the same time? That’s the real challenge. It’s a kind of corollary to the idea that virtue is meaningless in the absence of temptation: Empathy is meaningless in the absence of major self-concerns! 

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Look Over Your Shoulder: Generation Z is Rising!

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“These children are so mature and they learn so fast, they might just be ready to take over by the time they’re 22.”

Generation X and the aging baby boomers often have trouble understanding and dealing with the millennials. But now, Alexandra Levit’s article in the New York Times calls attention to the rise of Generation Z. Take note, in case you forgot: Everyone grows up and everyone becomes older. Levit writes, “While executives have been fretting over the millennials, though, a new generation is growing up behind the scenes — Generation Z (born starting in the mid-90s to the early ’00s depending on whom you ask). Within the next three years, Gen Zers will be the college grads in my audiences, and they are poised to be somewhat different from the millennials.” Moreover, “These children are so mature and they learn so fast, they might just be ready to take over by the time they’re 22.”

Levit describes her own encounter with them and, more seriously, points out some of their attitudes, values and behavior regarding work, diversity, and activism on issues that concern them. They are the future, and the older generations would do well to pay attention to them — and maybe even learn something from them. She writes:

I recall the exact moment the temperature changed in the workplace. It was 2005, and I was speaking to an audience of 100 young professionals. I was relating my experiences building a career as a Gen Xer (born 1964-79) in a world of traditionalists (born before 1945) and baby boomers (born 1946-63).

Every time I threw out phrases like “paying your dues” and “playing the game,” the audience stared at me blankly. This was not the reaction I had come to expect from early twentysomethings. Usually they took notes on how they could get ahead in corporate America as quickly as possible. Continue reading


The Rapid Transformation of American Families

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A recent analysis from the Pew Research Center shows the continued evolution underway in the American families. It finds that less than half of children who are less than 18 years old live with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage. The Pew report finds that this is a notable change from 1960, when the figure was 73%; and in 1980, when it was 61%.

 A good illustration of this is the rapid diversification of Astoria, Queens, as described in this recent NPR report. It shows the steady transformation of a traditionally Greek and Italian community to a highly diverse international population.

These findings join with the steady rise of multi-ethnic Americans, and the growth of diversity of our population from nation of origin. They show that American culture and society is becoming more mixed and diverse, both individually and within families.

The Pew analysis was based on the American Community Survey (ACS) and Decennial Census data. It found, for example, that

Americans are delaying marriage, and more may be foregoing the institution altogether. At the same time, the share of children born outside of marriage now stands at 41%, up from just 5% in 1960. While debate continues as to whether divorce rates have been rising or falling in recent decades, it’s clear that in the longer term, the share of people who have been previously married is rising, as is remarriage. According to our analysis, today 15% of children are living with two parents who are in a remarriage.

This summary from Pew contains visual depictions of these changes.

Photo credit: CPD Archive


Must You Feel Trapped By Regrets About The Past?

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John, a 57 year-old man, consulted me for a mixture of “personal and career stagnation,” as he put it. His thoughts soon turned to a decision he made in his 20s, when he reluctantly entered a career path and profession that his father urged him to follow. He said he now saw that his need for parental approval back then was part of a larger pattern that also led him into a marriage with the “wrong” partner. “I feel so much regret, about how foolish I was not to listen to my own heart – if I even knew what it was back then.”

Throughout the decades I’ve heard many men and women express similar laments about turning points in their lives – significant experiences or choices they made, which they look back upon with deep regret and feelings of entrapment. They tell me the sadness they feel about the direction they took; what they turned away from, especially when they see the consequences over time that they feel entrapped by.

However, it’s possible to experience your regrets in life differently. Those regrets have likely taught you something about yourself and changed you. But you may not realize it. And, you may not have acted upon what’s changed within you, as you go forward in your life today.

To explain, lets first take a look at two examples of people’s regrets and how they can paralyze one’s present life: The woman who dropped out of graduate school when she was offered an entry-level editorial job with a newspaper. She was attracted by the seeming security of the position, and she said she had doubts about her journalistic skills, anyway. She remained with the paper for many years, while feeling increasingly stagnated. Ultimately, she was let go during a retrenchment. Now, at midlife, in a tight job market and an unforgiving life situation for people like her, she tells me, “If only I had stayed in grad school, how different my life would have been. But now…” She says she feels trapped and depressed about her life.
Continue reading


Why Anxious People Make Bad Decisions

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If you’re highly anxious, you’re going to have trouble making decisions in unpredictable, uncertain situations. That’s no surprise, but new research shows how and why that happens. I think the findings add to the value of meditation, which many studies have found builds your capacities to regulate stress and anxiety.

In this new study, researchers at at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Oxford looked at people’s response to unpredictability. As reported in Medical Express, they found that people prone to high anxiety have a tougher time reading the environmental cues that could help them avoid a bad outcome. They have more trouble deciding how best to handle life’s uncertainties, in general.

“Our results show that anxiety may be linked to difficulty in using information about whether the situations we face daily, including relationship dynamics, are stable or not, and deciding how to react,” said study lead author Sonia Bishop, in a summary of the research. “It’s a bit like being Alice in Wonderland, trying to work out if the same rules apply or if everything is different and if so, what choices you should make,” she added.

For example, the researchers explained, a friend may suddenly lash out for no discernible reason. That friend’s behavior could reflect a typical variation in their day-to-day mood or interactions or, more dramatically, an underlying change in their relationship with you. The challenge for a person prone to anxiety is assessing the situation in context of what else has happened recently and responding appropriately.

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, found that highly anxious people may catastrophize as well. For example, they may “interpret a lovers’ tiff as a doomed relationship or a workplace change as a career threat.” And, as Bishop noted, “An important skill in everyday decision-making is the ability to judge whether an unexpected bad outcome is a chance event or something likely to reoccur if the action that led to the outcome is repeated.”

The researchers suggest that a glitch in the brain’s higher-order decision-making circuitry may underlie this difficulty. For a full description of the study and how it was conducted, see this summary in Medical Express. 

Photo Credit: HomeArt / Shutterstock


5 Essential Mind-Body-Behavior Practices That Enhance Everything

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Evidence from both clinical observations and empirical research increasingly confirms that how you engage your entire being in the world significantly impacts your physical, mental, emotional and relationship health. Moreover, each of several life practices enhances the others; they are synergistic. Let’s look at some:

Cultivating a positive outlook is associated with a healthier heart and lower incidence of osteoporosis. This study of 5100 adults from the University of Illinois found that “Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts,” according to lead author Rosalba Hernandez. And, “This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health.”

Similarly, research conducted by the University of Eastern Finland found that post-60 year old women who have higher levels of satisfaction with their lives were found to have higher bone density, and suffer less frequently from osteoporosis than those who are more unsatisfied with life. The study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine,assessed life satisfaction by looking at such factors as “interest in and easiness of life, happiness, and loneliness,” as reported in an AAAS summary. Although the study focused on women, men, as well, suffer from osteoporosis; and more significantly, would experience greater overall health with a positive mentality about life.

And still another study finds that people who experience positive emotions also have greater longevity, as do those who express self-determination in life.

Western empirical science is validating the benefits of such Eastern mind-body-spirit practices as meditation and yoga. 
Their benefits have been well known to practitioners, but they are now increasingly embraced in the West because the evidence from research makes their benefits more “believable” and acceptable to Western thinking.

Two recent examples: Continue reading


Become More Productive at Work by Giving it Less Attention?

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February 17, 2015

I often suggest to business clients — as well as to some of my psychotherapy patients — that they create a “life project” in which they commit to personal development within these six interrelated dimensions of life: intellectual, emotional, relational, creative, spiritual and physical. Note that none of these relate explicitly to work and career. But when you do this — creating new goals or aspirations for each dimension, and taking steps that pull you towards them, you find that it also enhances your effectiveness and productivity at work. You realize how interrelated the different “parts” of your life is.

In an interesting Harvard Business Review article, Stew Friedman of the Wharton School describes research confirming that building an integrated life will, in fact, increase work effectiveness and productivity. This is important, because I think we’re seeing increasing evidence that when you seek to develop and “grow” more fully, in all dimensions, it enhances your overall life — your inner wellbeing and your outer success.

Friedman’s study has a somewhat different take on the dimensions of life from those I described above, but it confirms the value of bringing “parts” of your life into greater integration and harmony. That leads to a seeming paradox: By giving less focus to your work, you perform better at it.

He writes, “…what if the secret to performing better at work, and feeling more satisfied, isn’t to put more effort and energy into work but less? Instead of working harder and longer, what if you better integrated the four domains of your life – work, home, community, and self? My research has shown just that: By focusing more on the areas of life you care most about, even if those aren’t work, you’ll perform better at your job.”

In the research, Friedman asked participants to experiment with small changes “to see how those tweaks affected all four domains over a short period of time.” He pointed out that there are, of course, barriers to integrating the dimensions of one’s life, such as fear of change. But learning to minimize them can make it more likely to try, “thereby getting more done and creating greater harmony in your life.”

He suggested these three ways of minimizing the barriers: Continue reading


Two Classic Ways To Damage Your Relationship

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I’ve worked a great deal with individuals and couples in psychotherapy who are masters at damaging their relationships. They do so by engaging in a kind of dance: One partner withdraws, emotionally, when confronting differences or conflicts, and hunkers down, waiting – or hoping – for the conflict to go away somehow. The other partner conveys his or her desires or feelings by…saying nothing. The magical thinking, here, is that the partner will, of course, know how to mind-read, and then respond accordingly.

It’s classic – and you can almost hear a Strauss waltz playing as the couple does this little dance together. It’s very familiar in psychotherapy, and now some recent research has honed in on this pattern. It shows empirically the different ways in which both withdrawal and mind-reading harm relationships.

The research, conducted at Baylor University, examined these two patterns and demonstrated how they are harmful in different ways, and for different reasons. “Withdrawal is the most problematic for relationships,” said researcher Keith Sanford. “It’s a defensive tactic that people use when they feel they are being attacked, and there’s a direct association between withdrawal and lower satisfaction overall with the relationship.” And, “Expecting your partner to be a mind-reader” — which often reflects feeling anxious in the relationship – “…makes it especially difficult for couples to make progress toward resolving conflicts.

The study was published in Psychological Assessment, and is described in detail in this report from Baylor. It concluded that that withdrawal doesn’t necessarily influence whether a couple can resolve their conflict, but expecting or hoping the other person will be a mind reader has a direct influence on the couple’s ability to settle the issue.

The researchers found that withdrawing from a partner’s criticism or complaint can reflect feeling threatened, and is “more characteristic of unhappiness…you see more of that in distressed relationships.” Those who expect a partner to know what’s wrong without being told tend to feel anxious and neglected; vulnerable, rather than threatened. Conflicts in which one partner expects the other to mind-read were more likely to lead to negative communication and anger.

Either way, relationships suffer from any kind of hidden communications. Countless couples become entrenched in patterns that will undermine their mutual understanding, respect and intimacy over time. This research highlights the damage that results. In my view, it underscores the importance of building greater transparency throughout one’s relationship – “radical transparency,” as I’ve called it — as scary as that can feel at the outset.

Credit: Tetra Images/Getty Images

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


A Positive Mentality About Life Increases Both Cardiovascular and Bone Health

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February 3, 2015

Do you want to increase your heart health and keep your bones strong throughout your lifetime? Cultivating a positive mentality about life helps, according to new research findings. Such studies add to accumulating data that your emotional, mental and spiritual states are interwoven with your physical wellbeing. We’re seeing Western empirical science steadily confirm what’s been observed and known about the mind/body/spirit interconnection within the ancient Eastern traditions.

One new study found a strong connection between optimism – a generally positive outlook on life – and cardiovascular health. This study of 5100 adults from the University of Illinois found that “Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts,” according to lead author Rosalba Hernandez. And, “This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health.”

Optimists had significantly better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels than their counterparts. They also were more physically active, had healthier body mass indexes and were less likely to smoke, according to the research, published in Health Behavior and Policy Review. This was the first study to examine the association of optimism and cardiovascular health in a large, ethnically and racially diverse population.

According to Hernandes, “This evidence…suggests that prevention strategies that target modification of psychological well-being — e.g., optimism — may be a potential avenue for…improving Americans’ cardiovascular health.”

Similarly, research conducted Continue reading


How a Leader’s Power Can Undermine the Company’s Success

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January 27, 2015

The role and impact of power in an organization is complex. It’s highly interwoven with the attitudes and personality of people who have achieved power and status within their organizations, and how they express it. Recent studies show that some bosses use the power of their positions in ways that damage their teams and the organization. They may be driven by socially conditioned, conventional attitudes about power and ego; or by more outright psychopathology.

On the more benign end of the spectrum are the findings from a study lead by researchers at Columbia University’s Business School. It found that the more power-lusting, power-fixated leader tends to listen to his or her own views, but neglects to take into account the perspectives of subordinates. And that has consequences for business strategy and decisions. Published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, the research found that when leaders fail to take into account or utilize the perspectives of their people, they are more likely to “bungle the issue and conversation.” That, in turn, results in less effective solutions to complex business problems that the team is facing. In short, less wise decision-making.

According to the study’s lead author, Adam Galinsky, leaders who are able to see the world from others’ points of view produce better outcomes. “Effective leadership is like a successful car ride. To go places, you need gas and acceleration — power is a psychological accelerator. But you also need a good steering wheel so you don’t crash as you speed down the highway — perspective-taking is that psychological steering wheel. When you anchor too heavily onto your own perspective, and don’t take into account the viewpoints of others you are bound to crash.”

Galinsky’s findings are especially visible among leaders who Continue reading


Do Couples Prefer Conflict Over Shared Power?


January 20, 2015

Want a fast track to divorce? Paul and Kim can show you the way. Like many couples, they jockey around for power, control and “winning” arguments when there’s conflict. And their intimacy fades, as a result. Even when one of them apologizes for their role in the conflict, nothing changes. Neither of them realizes that they hold the key to turning things around before it’s too late. New research and observations from therapy show how that’s possible.

A typical situation of theirs: Married about 15 years, they’re on a long road trip to a vacation at the beach with their kids. They’re already locked in combat, having arguing over how much time to spend on a stopover visit to one set of in-laws. They fought until one of them just gave in and acquiesced to the other one’s wishes. That’s how they tend to “resolve” conflict. As they drove along the crowded highways they hunkered down into a mixture of sullenness and half-hearted efforts to change the subject. But the residue of their fight hung in the air, like dark clouds threatening rain at any moment.

Both know that “winning” doesn’t improve their relationship, but their conflicts often end with one “giving in” to the other, but then remaining angry and resentful. The “winner” feels smug with power, but also realizes that’s not a path towards a lasting, positive relationship. Both tend to turn inward and shut down regarding their feelings. Doing so has diminished their intimacy. They know they’re adding another brick in the wall, and that they could be headed down a path to a chronic, adversarial relationship or eventual divorce.

Periodically, new research and clinical insights pinpoint what it takes to reverse course Continue reading


Why A Family Tradition Had To End…And The Life Lesson It Taught

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January 13, 2015

After the holidays, discarded Christmas trees appear on the streets of my neighborhood. They’re left curbside, awaiting the special trash pickup. Seeing them, denuded and shorn of their holiday ornaments, I always feel a bit pensive, along with a tinge of humor, as I recall a Christmas tree tradition my then-young children and I had years ago. Each year we’d gather together for a special ritual we had created around putting up, and eventually taking down the Christmas tree.

It had begun when we were still an intact family. And it continued for some years, post-divorce, until, that is, a time came when their flagging interest got my attention. It happened one post-holiday year when I realized that I’d have to do the dismantling part by myself. But instead, I let it just sit there for a very long time, even as the dry tree kept shedding its needles and became, well…a fire hazard.

The back-story: Beginning in my children’s earliest years, and on through my divorce and Continue reading


Post-Holiday Loneliness? It Has Many Sources — Here’s What May Help

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January 5, 2015

I was standing in a bar and watching all the people there
Oh the loneliness in this world well it’s just not fair

 — Brian Wilson, “Love and Mercy”

Holiday seasons often intensify feelings of loneliness for many – even if you’re in a crowded bar, as in Brian Wilson’s song, or in an unfulfilling relationship. Aside from what some people experience during holidays, loneliness can intensify at any point in the year. And it can have different roots for different people.

For example, Anne, a therapy patient, tells me that she’s felt lonely throughout her life. Growing up with an alcoholic mother and sometimes-present father, her intimate relationships have been brief and her friends, few, throughout her adult years. Now in her early 40s, she’s suffered from one physical ailment after another.

Another patient, Brian, has an active social life with friends and business associates, as well as a long-term marriage and an extended family. Despite this apparently full relationship life, he speaks of feeling lonely “right in the midst of everyone around me…something always feels missing.” Brian, too, suffers from frequent illnesses and allergies.

That both have physical complaints isn’t surprising, since our mind/body/spirit are all one. Each “part” affects each other “part.” In fact, some new research underscores this. It finds that loneliness can weaken your immune system, which then sets the stage for a range of physical illnesses. Continue reading


Meditation Changes Key Regions Of The Brain, Research Finds


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December 23, 2014

Here’s one more study that shows the powerful impact of meditation has upon regions of the brain associated with stress, empathy and sense of self. And in just eight weeks.

This new research conducted by Harvard researchers found measurable changes in the brain after an eight-week program. A report of the study from the Harvard Gazette, to be published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, pointed out that the study is the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter.

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.

For the current study, magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of 16 study participants Continue reading


Both Too Much And Too Little Power Are Linked With Mental Illness

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December 16, 2014

Too often, the mental health field overlooks the significant role that social conditioning plays in the development of emotional disturbance…or psychological health. Social status, perceived or real power and how they are valued by society can accentuate existing pathology or stimulate pathological attitudes and behavior. A new study by the University of California at Berkeley found new evidence of how that happens.

This study of 600 young men and women concluded that one’s perceived social status — or lack thereof — is at the heart of a wide range of mental illnesses. And, that the findings make a strong case for assessing such traits as “ruthless ambition,” “discomfort with leadership” and “hubristic pride” to understand psychopathologies. “People prone to depression or anxiety reported feeling little sense of pride in their accomplishments and little sense of power,” said senior author Sheri Johnson said. “In contrast, people at risk for mania tended to report high levels of pride and an emphasis on the pursuit of power despite interpersonal costs.” The study was published in the journal Psychology and Psychotherapy:Theory, Research and Practice.

Studies have long established that feelings of powerlessness and helplessness weaken the immune system, making one more vulnerable to physical and mental ailments. Conversely, an inflated sense of power is among the behaviors associated with bipolar disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, which can be both personally and socially corrosive.

The summary provided by Berkeley pointed out that Donald Trump’s ego may be the size of his financial empire, but that doesn’t mean he’s the picture of mental health. The same can be said about the self-esteem of people who are living from paycheck to paycheck, or unemployed. Continue reading


Research Confirms That Men Are Idiots

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December 9, 2014

Although I am a man, I’m also a believer in scientific truth. Therefore, I am obligated to report this interesting study, winner of the Darwin Award, regarding sex differences in idiotic behavior. Researchers tested “male idiot theory” (MIT): That many of the differences in risk-seeking behavior may be explained by the observation that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things.

The research, reported in the British Medical Journal, reviewed data on idiotic behaviors, as demonstrated by winners of the Darwin Award over a 20 year period, and they noted the sex of the winner. Worthy candidates include a man stealing a ride home by hitching a shopping trolley to the back of a train, only to be dragged two miles to his death before the train was able to stop; and the terrorist who posted a letter bomb with insufficient postage stamps and who, on its return, unthinkingly opened his own letter.

Males made up 88.7% of Darwin Award winners, and this sex difference is highly statistically significant, say the authors. They report that this finding is entirely consistent with male idiot theory (MIT) and supports the hypothesis that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things.

However, this study has limitations, add the authors. For example, women may be more likely to nominate men for a Darwin Award or the sex difference may reflect differences in alcohol use between men and women. Despite this, it is puzzling that males are willing to take such unnecessary risks — simply as a rite of passage, in pursuit of male social esteem, or solely in exchange for “bragging rights,” say the authors.

They believe male idiot theory deserves further investigation, and, “with the festive season upon us, we intend to follow up with observational field studies and an experimental study — males and females, with and without alcohol — in a semi-naturalistic Christmas party setting,” they conclude.

Image credit:



The Lasting Damage From Childhood Psychological Abuse


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December 2, 2014

The findings of a recent study from the American Psychological Association are right on target: “Given the prevalence of childhood psychological abuse and the severity of harm to young victims, it should be at the forefront of mental health.” The study confirms that childhood psychological abuse has lasting, significant damage, equal to or exceeding the long-term consequences of physical abuse.

Psychological abuse is less visible than the examples of physical abuse that often appear in the media. That can keep one’s awareness of it under the radar, but there are many forms of psychological abuse that parents subject their children to. Among them are:

  • Indifference — to the child’s needs or temperament, which may be different from his or her siblings.
  • Humiliation – when the child fails at a task or misunderstands instructions.
  • Denigration – negative description of something the child achieves or expresses interest in.
  • Neglect – failing to provide essential emotional support or recognition of the child’s needs.
  • Unrelenting pressure — to serve parental expectations, often accompanied by negative comparisons of the child to others who “follow the program.”

Any of the forms of psychological abuse may be fueled by the parent’s own self-hatred, jealousy, narcissism or other pathology. Some illustrations:

The child runs to the parent, saying, “Look at my new drawing!” or “See what I did for this school project!” and receives a curt, dismissive, “Don’t bother me now. I’m working on something important.” Failure to take a brief moment’s interruption for the child, will have negative emotional impact, and can accumulate.

The parent who consistently and vocally praises one child, while ignoring or criticizing the child’s sibling. For example “Wow, what you did is amazing! You are so talented!” But to the child’s sibling, regarding something similar, perhaps a flat “That’s nice.” And sometimes the parent may give both responses in the presence of the both siblings. An observer could see the crestfallen expression in the face of the second child.

The parent who never complements the child, alive in the memory of a grown man who, for example, vividly recalls that when he proudly dressed up for his school prom as a teenager, he received a look-over from one of his parents, who offered just one comment: “Your pants cuffs are too short.”

And then there are the classics:

“You’ll never amount to anything! You’re worthless!”

“You’re nothing but trouble! I wish you were never born!”

“Why can’t you be more like your (sister/brother/a neighbor’s child?)” Continue reading


Negative Relationships at Midlife Can Cause Mental Decline

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November 25, 2014

Hey, midlifers, this is definitely worth noting: New research led by University College London finds that stressful, difficult, or otherwise negative relationships can contribute to mental decline during the middle years of life.

The study was summarized by Reuters, and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study found that those who reported more negative aspects of close relationships also tended to have more rapid cognitive aging. People who reported the most negative aspects of close relationships were also more likely to have symptoms of depression and diabetes than others.

In the Reuters report, the lead author Jing Liao said “Any relationship involves both positive and negative exchanges, especially those close relationships that are most likely to evoke ambivalent sentiments. Negative aspects of close relationships refer to unpleasant social exchanges when the recipient finds the relationship ineffective, intrusive or over-controlling,”

Similarly, “Previous studies…have found that close relationships that involve strain and conflict are associated with poorer executive functioning,” said Margie E. Lachman, director of the Lifespan Initiative on Healthy Aging and Lifespan Lab at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Liao pointed out that “There is evidence that, in general, those with a partner or those who are less socially isolated report better quality of life and live longer…but healthy people are more likely to have a partner and be more socially engaged.”

For Reuter’s full report of the research and how it was conducted, click here.



Meditation and Yoga Enhance Creative Imagination and Positive Emotions

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November 18, 2014

Western empirical science continues to validate the benefits of such Eastern mind-body-spirit practices as meditation and yoga. Such benefits have been well known to practitioners for eons, but the practices and the philosophical perspectives associated with them are now increasingly embraced in the West. Not only because they are beneficial, but also because of confirmation from the kind of research studies that are acceptable to Western thinking.

Two recent examples add to the list: One finds that meditation can promote creative thinking –even of you’ve never meditated before. Findings from the study, conducted at Leiden University and published in Mindfulness, show that meditation can have a long-lasting effect on your thought processes, including the creation of new, imaginative ideas. Interestingly, though, the study found that enhanced creative thinking was associated only with such meditation practices as mindfulness – observing and acknowledging thoughts and emotions that arise; being receptive to them without “following them.” In contrast, an increase of creative thinking was not associated with meditation practices that involve singular concentration on an object.

The other recent study found that yoga practice diminishes anxiety and improves overall mood. This study, led by Boston University researchers and published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, examined brain levels of GABA among participants in a yoga practice of one and a half hours over twelve weeks, compared with other forms of physical movement.

Low levels of GABA are associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety. Continue reading


Abusive Leadership Continues to Harm Employees and Organizations

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November 11, 2014

As if this needed more confirmation, there’s increasing evidence that an unhealthy management culture harms efforts to create a well-functioning team. For example, a new study from Michigan State University finds that abusive managers create tremendous conflict for work teams and damage productivity, not to mention morale and commitment.

I’ve often written about the need to understand unhealthy leadership within the larger context of a company’s management culture — not just as an issue of individual leaders’ personalities or pathologies. For example, I’ve described how unhealthy management and an unhealthy leadership culture are intertwined; and ways that subordinates can deal with them.

This new study, conducted in China and the United States, suggests the toxic effect of nonphysical abuse by a supervisor is much broader than believed. Lead investigator Crystal Farh said supervisors who belittle and ridicule workers not only negatively affect those workers’ attitudes and behaviors, but also cause team members to act in a similar hostile manner toward one another. “That’s the most disturbing finding,” Farh said, “because it’s not just about individual victims now, it’s about creating a context where everybody suffers, regardless of whether you were individually abused or not.”

Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the study pointed out that companies have tended to focus on abused employees and efforts restore self-esteem. That matches my own observations, and underscores the need to address how and why abusive and otherwise unhealthy leaders and leadership cultures arise and thrive to begin with.

The study looked at nonphysical abuse such as verbal mistreatment and demeaning emails. Employees who directly experienced such abuse felt devalued and contributed less to the team. At the same time, the entire team “descended into conflicts,” Farh said, which also reduced worker contributions. “Teams characterized by relationship conflict,” Farh said, “are hostile toward other members, mistreat them, speak to them rudely and experience negative emotions toward them.”