Tag Archives: empathy

Being Kind To Others Elevates Your Wellbeing, Research Finds

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-3-11-46-pmNovember 1, 2016

This small but useful study from Oxford researchers underscores our human interconnectedness; and that doing something positive for others enhances our own happiness. In a review of 400 published studies about the relationship between kindness and happiness, the researchers found that being kind did have a modest, but noticeable impact on the person’s happiness. 

Although the review of the 400 studies found that the effect is lower than some pop-psychology articles have claimed, the researches pointed out that future research might help identify which kind acts are most effective at boosting happiness. They noted that existing research does not distinguish between kindness to family and friends versus strangers and, taking this into account, targeted kindness rather than indiscriminate kindness may have a greater effect on happiness.

The study’s lead author Oliver Scott Curry pointed out that “Our review suggests that performing acts of kindness will not change your life, but might help nudge it in the right direction. We recommend further research is done to compare the effects of being kind to family and friends as opposed to strangers. This is an area about which we know surprisingly little at the moment.”

Nevertheless, this brings to my mind the teachings from most spiritual and philosophical traditions, which describe the greater joy and happiness one experiences when doing something positively for others; when giving to others. For example, this from the Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927):

“A person who, alone, has seen something beautiful, who has heard something harmonious, who has tasted something delicious, who has smelt something fragrant, may have enjoyed it, but not completely. The complete joy is in sharing one’s joy with others. For the selfish one who enjoys himself and does not care for others, whether he enjoys things of the earth or things of heaven, his enjoyment is not complete.” 

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More Evidence: Literary Fiction Increases Your Emotional Capacities

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-19-20-pmOctober 4, 2016

In a previous essay I argued that reading serious literature – not popular fiction – helps your “evolve” and deepen your self-awareness and emotional capacities; and I cited some research that provided evidence of just that. Now, a new study underscores and adds to those findings and observations.

In my earlier article I wrote, “Delving into serious fiction engages you in the core human issues that everyone grapples with, consciously or unconsciously. The prime one is the question of, “What’s the meaning of life; of my life? And, related issues concerning moral judgment, the impact of social conventions, conflicting paths in life, and so on.”

Related to that, I cited research reported in the New York Times: That reading serious fiction has a demonstrable impact on increasing empathy, social awareness and emotional sensitivity. The study found not only that reading serious fiction increased reader’s emotional awareness and empathy, but that pop fiction did not have the same effect. In my view, those findings illustrate an essential part of becoming more fully human.

And now, a new study has found that reading literary fiction appears to be associated with superior emotion recognition skills. This study found that participants who recognized and were familiar with authors of literary fiction tended to perform better on an emotional recognition test. This association held even after statistically accounting for the influence of other factors that might be connected to both emotion skills and reading more literary fiction, such as past educational attainment, gender and age.

The method of the study is described here, and was published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics.

The authors then conducted a second study involving over 300 more participants. It also included a measure of participants’ self-reported empathy levels. This was to check that it’s not simply that people with more empathy are more attracted to literary fiction and also tend to do better at the emotion recognition test. Again, participants who recognized more literary fiction authors also tended to perform better on the emotion test. Moreover, this association remained even after controlling for the influence of differences in participants’ empathy levels.

The authors say they believe the apparent link between reading more literary fiction and better emotion recognition skills emerges because “the implied (rather than explicit) socio-cognitive complexity, or roundness of characters, in literary fiction prompts readers to make, adjust, and consider multiple interpretations of characters’ mental states.”

So – find a good novel or short story by a writer of serious fiction, and read on!

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The Impact Of Long-Term Resentment Among Family Members

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

Credit: CPD Archive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Lionbridge

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

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Even Short Periods of Meditation Will Reduce Racial Prejudice

Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 6.01.45 PMNovember 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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Can Empathy Modify Someone’s Political Views?

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 11.03.44 AMNovember 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Showing Gratitude Strengthens Marriage Relationships

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 10.33.52 AMOctober 27, 2015

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

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

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

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

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How Good Leaders Help People Change And Grow

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

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

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

They write: Continue reading

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Money, Gratitude, Happiness: Are They Linked?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: CPD Archive

 

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A True Test of Empathy Towards Others

Screen shot 2015-04-07 at 10.44.38 AMApril 7, 2015

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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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

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A Sense Of Fairness: Part of Human Evolution

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September 23, 2014

Research has been honing in on establishing that a sense of fairness among humans evolved naturally. This new study reveals that an important element of fairness is a willingness to sacrifice personal gain in the service of long-term cooperation with others. This is something some of our politicians should heed and absorb.

In essence, the researchers found that giving up an outcome that benefits you in order to gain long-term benefits from the relationship requires not only an ability to think about the future, but also the self-control to turn down a reward. Only a few species are able to make the leap to this second step, which leads to a true sense of fairness — that is, a willingness to give up a benefit in order to reach equal outcomes and stabilize valuable, long-term cooperative relationships. It’s been found only in humans and their closest relatives, the apes.

This study, from Georgia State University and Emory University, and published in the journal Science, looked at how responses to inequality evolved, through studies of primates. “This sense of fairness is the basis of lots of things in human society, from wage discrimination to international politics,” according to Sarah Brosnan of Georgia State. “What we’re interested in is why humans aren’t happy with what we have, even if it’s good enough, if someone else has more. If you are cooperating with someone who takes more of the benefits accrued, they will do better than you, at your expense. Therefore, we began to explore whether responses to inequity were common in other cooperative species.”

The research was summarized in Science Daily: (Researchers) found that Continue reading

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Humble Leaders Support Greater Employee Innovation and Engagement

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Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, says humility is one of the traits he’s looking for in new hires. A new study by Catalyst supports this, finding it a critical leadership factor. Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib’s Harvard Business Review Blog describes these new findings, which indicate that altruism makes employees more innovative and engaged – especially when working with employees from diverse backgrounds, which is increasingly common. The authors write:

In a global marketplace where problems are increasingly complex, no one person will ever have all the answers. That’s why Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, says…“Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.” And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock—it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.”

recent Catalyst study backs this up, showing that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included. In a survey of more than 1500 workers from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico, and the U.S., we found that when employees observed altruistic or selfless behavior in their managers — a style characterized by 1) acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes); 2) empowering followers to learn and develop; 3) acts of courage, such as taking personal risks for the greater good; and 4) holding employees responsible for results — they were more likely to report feeling included in their work teams. This was true for both women and men.

Employees who perceived altruistic behavior from their managers also reported being more innovative, suggesting new product ideas and ways of doing work better. Moreover, they were more likely to report engaging in team citizenship behavior, going beyond the call of duty, picking up the slack for an absent colleague — all indirect effects of feeling more included in their workgroups.

For the full article, click here.

 

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Why Empathy Triggers Physical Pain

Screen shot 2014-03-11 at 11.28.22 AMEvidence from empirical research continues to demonstrate that we are one organism, interconnected with our environment. Our consciousness and physical structure are one entity, and our whole being is, in turn, interwoven with our “external” experiences. Much research using MRIs has already shown a core aspect of this — that our brains and consciousness react to the emotional experiences of others: the “mirror neurons” that activate when we experience another’s emotional state. This latest study, published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience provides another dimension of this link. In essence, it found that social pain we experience in others (we can call that empathy or compassion) and in ourselves triggers physical pain.

It’s good to see Western science demonstrate and confirm the perspective that’s been part of Eastern and mystical traditions. Researchers in the current study found that when a person experiences social pain in another, a region of the brain associated with physical pain is aroused. In two separate experiments, researchers found that that both situations activated that brain region that processes physical pain. As in other studies, brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The research was summarized in Medical News Today. It joins with findings from a previous study that when a spouse experiences chronic pain, the other spouse may be affected by lack of sleep and may develop health problems.

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Six Traits Common To Empathic People

Screen shot 2014-02-04 at 11.37.48 AMAs the impact of empathy and compassion upon social and personal wellbeing receives more public attention, it’s good to see accumulating research that documents it. A recent article by the sociologist and empathy researcher Roman Krznaric, “Six Habits of Highly Empathic People,” describes six attitudes and behavior common among empathic people. They illustrate, as well, how those patterns can be cultivated by most anyone. The article was published in  Greater Good, from the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, which “studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.”

Krznaric writes, “…empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation. (Research) reveals how we can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us.”

The six habits he describes are, in essence: curiosity about strangers; searching for commonalities beneath differences and prejudices; envisioning oneself in the life of another; two-way openness — giving and receiving; active engagement with some purpose larger than yourself; and putting yourself in the mindset of those whom you disagree with. To me, this last feature is similar to the third, but all are practices that build positive emotional connection with others and are worth cultivating.

For the full article, click here.

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As Sexual Relationships Change, So Do Families

Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 12.29.20 PMMy ongoing writing project aims to recast what we think describes and supports a psychologically healthy life in today’s world — one of interconnection, uncertainty and rapid change technologically, culturally and socially. In my view we need to reformulate and describe the emotional attitudes, mental perspectives, values and conduct that will support career success, internal well-being and also contribute to the common good, all within the context of our changed — and changing — world. Doing so includes combining new thinking and empirical research that joins Western and Eastern perspectives about human growth, development and “evolution,” psychologically and spiritually.

One major part of this transformation includes rethinking psychologically healthy relationships in general, but also within one’s sexual and romantic relationships. A recent New York Times special section, by Natalie Angier, focused on the changing notions of “family.” I think those articles portray the implications for families of an ongoing shift in how people conduct their intimate relationships. That is, how what people seek and want in their sexual and romantic lives is affecting family life; what “family” really means. This New York Times special section is right on target about that.

From the Times article: “Families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago — than even half a year ago.” And, “Researchers who study the structure and evolution of the American family express unsullied astonishment at how rapidly the family has changed in recent years, the transformations often exceeding or capsizing those same experts’ predictions of just a few journal articles ago.” For the full series of articles, click here.

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The Impact of Child Abuse Extends Well Into Adulthood

Screen shot 2013-11-05 at 9.59.07 AMThe words “child abuse” are likely to conjure up horror stories that appear from time to time – physical beatings, a child locked in a closet or tied up for long periods; or the unimaginable – like Ariel Castro’s imprisonment of young girls. But in fact, abuse takes many forms, beyond the physical. Recent research finds that its impact is long lasting. It extends far into adulthood, where it affects both physical and mental health. As Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

But this same study, combined with the findings of some other recent research, contains hopeful signs for healing and healthy growth following early abuse.

First, consider some less visible forms of abuse, beyond the physical, that can create lasting consequences. For example, parental neglect; indifference to the child’s needs or temperament; outright humiliation; deliberate denigration. All may be fueled by the parent’s own self-hatred, jealousy, or narcissism.

Examples range from the parent who leaves a child in the car or home alone for hours. Or the parent who rebuffs the child who excitedly says, “look at my new drawing!” or “see what I wrote for this school project!” and who receives a curt, “Don’t bother me now. I’ve got to finish up this report.” Or the parent who consistently and vocally praises one child, while ignoring or criticizing the child’s sibling. And there’s the classic, “You’ll never amount to anything!” Or, why can’t you be more like your sister/brother?”

I’ve heard them all, and more. All take a toll, and this new research study confirms that abuse has a long shelf life. It takes a continuing toll on both physical and mental health well into adulthood. Continue reading

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Health Effects of Childhood Abuse and Lack of Love Extend Into Adulthood

Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 2.31.03 PMThere are many forms of childhood abuse, including overt physical abuse, indifference, humiliation, neglect, denigration…

Certainly, all take a toll upon the developing child. And now, new research finds that early abuse takes a continuing, lasting toll on physical and mental health as those children grow into adults. The effects permeate one’s entire mind-body system.

As Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The UCLA study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined the effects of abuse and lack of parental affection across the body’s entire regulatory system. It found strong links between negative early life experiences and health, across the board. According to the researchers, the findings also suggest that a loving parental figure may provide protection: “It is well recognized that providing children in adverse circumstances with a nurturing relationship is beneficial for their overall wellbeing. Our findings suggest that a loving relationship may also prevent the rise in biomarkers indicative of disease risk across numerous physiological systems.”

In a summary of the research published in Science News, Judith E. Carroll, a research scientist at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA and the study’s lead author, stated, “If the child has love from parental figures they may be more protected from the impact of abuse on adult biological risk for health problems than those who don’t have that loving adult in their life.” That is, the researchers found a significant link between childhood abuse and multisystem health risks in adulthood. But those who reported higher amounts of parental warmth and affection in their childhood had lower multisystem health risks. The researchers also found a significant interaction of abuse and warmth, so that individuals reporting low levels of love and affection and high levels of abuse in childhood had the highest multisystem risk in adulthood. Their findings suggest that parental warmth and affection protect one against the harmful effects of toxic childhood stress.

A description of how the study was conducted and its data are found in the this research abstract.

 

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More Research Finds Humans Are Hardwired For Empathy and Connection

Screen shot 2013-09-28 at 9.01.15 AMResearch evidence continues to mount that humans are hardwired for empathy and connection. Despite our surface differences and conflicts, both minor and major, we are one, beneath those differences, like organs of the same body. But we haven’t evolved enough quite yet to enact that truth. The latest research, from a University of Virginia study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscienceindicates that we experience people who we become close to as, essentially, our own selves.

“With familiarity, other people become part of ourselves,” said lead researcher James Coan. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans (fMRIs), the study found find that “Our self comes to include the people we feel close to.” He added, “The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat.”

“It’s essentially a breakdown of self and other; our self comes to include the people we become close to,” Coan said. “If a friend is under threat, it becomes the same as if we ourselves are under threat. We can understand the pain or difficulty they may be going through in the same way we understand our own pain.” And, “A threat to ourselves is a threat to our resources,” he said. “Threats can take things away from us. But when we develop friendships, people we can trust and rely on who in essence become we, then our resources are expanded, we gain. Your goal becomes my goal.”

The research underscores that humans need to have friends and allies who they can side with and see as being the same as themselves. And, as people spend more time together, they become more similar.

In my view, that indicates that our essential “sameness” emerges as we become familiar with people whom we initially experience as “different,” or threatening. Hopefully, we will continue to evolve in that directions before fear of “the other” and self-interest destroy us.

The research summary in Science News describes how the research was conducted: Continue reading

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J. D. Salinger — New “Revelations” Miss the Vision Within His Glass Family Stories

Screen shot 2013-09-10 at 11.59.18 AMThe new book and documentary about J. D. Salinger by Shane Salerno and David Shields promote themselves as revealing substantial new information about Salinger’s writings and his famous reclusiveness. I think the most intriguing information from it is confirmation that several new works from Salinger will be published in the next few years. However, I think this new project misses the point about his writings and their meaning, as have previous critics over the years — including Mailer, Updike and others. They seem fixed on interpreting his work and life as indicating withdrawal and detachment from the world. However, quite the opposite is reflected in reading his Glass family stories. Contained within them is a vision of engaged connection and love — that’s his overriding theme, within an acknowledgement of our human flaws and failings (including his own.) No wonder Salinger disengaged from responding and replying to those who tried to interpret him within a Hemingway-esqe framework.

Now, in a very thoughtful and insightful piece about Salinger’s vision contained within his Glass stories, beyond the Catcher In The Rye, Andrew Romano presents a more accurate understanding of Salinger’s work. He writes in The Daily Beast, “Neither Mailer nor any of his fellow travelers seemed to notice that Salinger was trying to accomplish something different than what he was after when the Glass series began in the late 1940s.” And, “By the time Franny and Zooey came out in 1961, followed by Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction in 1963, Salinger’s style had changed. Gone was the idiomatic cool, the chic minimalism, and the formal shapeliness of “Bananafish”; in its place was something shaggier, more digressive, more self-conscious, and more explicitly spiritual.”

Romano’s essay is well-worth reading and reflecting upon. Click here for the entire piece.

 

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Wealth, Entitlement and An Inflated Self

Screen shot 2013-09-03 at 9.55.27 AMResearchers at Berkeley have found that higher social class is associated with an increased sense of entitlement and narcissism. This is another study in the realm of “demonstrating the obvious,” but that’s good, because it gives research data underpinnings to clinical observations. The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, also found that promoting values that reflect a sense of equality with others had a diminishing affect on their narcissism. And that’s especially interesting because it links with other studies that find that empathy and compassion are innate; we’re “hardwired” that way, as this recent study finds, for example. But that capacity can be dulled or diminished by socially conditioned values and rewards, which then shape our conscious sense of self. We then define ourselves in ways that limit and constrict our sense of who we’re capable of being.

The current study about social class and narcissism was summarized by Eric W. Dolan in The Raw Story:

Climbing the economic ladder can influence basic psychological processes within an individual. According to a new study , wealth tends to increase a person’s sense of entitlement, which in turn can lead to narcissistic behaviors. Continue reading

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Having Power Diminishes Your Empathy For Others

Screen shot 2013-08-13 at 10.51.47 AMSeveral research studies have shown that increasing power in an organization (or in any kind of relationship) tends to diminish capacity for empathy, compassion, and seeing another person’s perspective. This is especially damaging to effective leadership of people subordinate to those in power. Studies have shown that increased power diminishes activity of your “mirror neurons,” which provide the sense of connection with another person’s experience, and fuels empathy. Here’s the latest study that sheds more light on what happens. It shows the need for helping leaders develop and strengthen their capacity to connect with others’ reality and experience, which helps counter the tendency towards self-absorption in one’s own perspective, when one is in a higher-power status.

From the study, summarized in Digital Journal:

Researchers have some new insights into how power diminishes a person’s capacity for empathy. According to scientists, a sense of power shuts down a part of the brain that helps us connect with others. For their study that builds on past information about how the brain operates, the researchers found that even the smallest bit of power – for instance from a job promotion or more money – can shut down our ability to empathize with others. Continue reading
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Train Your Brain To Become More Compassionate

Screen shot 2013-06-01 at 4.36.21 PMThis isn’t new, but it’s good to see accumulating research demonstrate that we are able to alter our consciousness, attitudes and behavior in positive directions. This research, published in the journal Psychological Science, and conducted at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, examined whether training adults in compassion can result in greater altruistic behavior and related changes in neural systems underlying compassion. It found that it does.

“Our fundamental question was, ‘Can compassion be trained and learned in adults? Can we become more caring if we practice that mindset?'” says Helen Weng, lead author of the study. “Our evidence points to yes.” In the study, the investigators trained young adults to engage in compassion meditation, a Buddhist practice to increase caring feelings for people who are suffering. In the meditation, participants envisioned a time when someone has suffered and then practiced wishing that his or her suffering was relieved. They repeated phrases to help them focus on compassion such as, “May you be free from suffering. May you have joy and ease.”

Participants practiced with different categories of people. They began with a loved one, someone whom they easily felt compassion for, like a friend or family member. Then, they practiced compassion for themselves and, then, a stranger. Finally, they practiced compassion for someone they actively had conflict with called the “difficult person,” such as a troublesome coworker or roommate. “It’s kind of like weight training,” Weng says. “Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”

I’ve found this to be true, clinically, with psychotherapy patients, and also with others to whom I’ve recommended some exercises that help expand and enhance their experience of empathy and compassion. That is, Continue reading

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The Psychopath’s Brain — How It’s “Wired” Differently

Screen shot 2013-05-11 at 5.25.31 PMIn recent years several research studies have found that the brains of people described as “psychopaths,” who behave in ways that most would find horrendous — torturing, murdering, or simply cheating people for their own gain, regardless of how it hurts others — seem to be “wired” differently from most people. Their brain functions appear to diminish the capacity for empathy, remorse or judgement about the consequences of their actions. In effect, they aren’t able to feel concern for others, or to demonstrate it when acting on aggressive emotion or desires. And that makes such people particularly dangerous, even though on the surface they may feign “normalcy” and even know how to behave in ways that appear socially engaged — even charming — think Ted Bundy, or currently, Ariel Castro, the Cleveland kidnap and torture suspect.

The most recent study sheds more light on how this occurs.. Previous research has found dysfunction of specific brain regions, such as the amygdala, associated with emotions, fear and aggression, and the orbitofrontal cortex, the region which deals with decision making. Continue reading

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Does Meditation Make You More Politically Liberal?

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 10.11.16 AMA new research study finds that people become more politically liberal following meditation or other spiritually oriented experiences. The findings concerning political orientation can be questioned because of how the researchers constructed the study, but I think they reveal something of broader significance: that meditation and developing one’s inner life has a transformative effect upon emotions, mental perspectives and behavior, in general. And that can lead to politically liberal positions in our current political culture.

First, the research findings: In a series of studies, researchers at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management initially assessed people’s differences regarding their “religious” vs. “spiritual” orientations. The researchers defined “spirituality” in terms of direct experience of self-transcendence and the feeling that we’re all connected. In contrast, “religiousness” was defined as a code of conduct that’s part of a tradition.

In my view, the two definitions are not at all mutually exclusive, and that contaminates, somewhat, the findings associating political conservatism with religiousness, and spirituality with political liberalism. The researchers explained those in terms of underlying values, that conservatism and religiousness both emphasize the importance of tradition, while liberalism and spirituality both emphasize the importance of equality and social harmony.

The Key Finding
When participants in the study meditated they subsequently reported significantly higher levels of spirituality, and they expressed more liberal political attitudes. That is, meditation led both liberals andconservatives to endorse more liberal political positions. Continue reading

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Baby Boomer At Midlife? Why Your Relationship May Not Survive

Whether you’re entering a new relationship or hoping to resurrect your existing — but flagging — relationship, the upheavals and changes of midlife can make anyone pretty apprehensive about what lies ahead. Thats particularly true for many of the 78 million baby boomers who face a long stretch of middle years with greater health, new desires for personal growth, but no so much certainty about what keeps a love relationship alive for the long run.

I think what helps support a long-term, positive relationship through midlife is not so much finding the righttechniques– for good communication, compromise, and so forth. We know how many of those are available in all the self-help books crowding bookstore shelves. Instead, its building your relationship’sspiritualcore. By that I mean your sense of purpose and life goals as a couple; and dealing with how your values and ideals change and evolve over the years. The challenge is whether these and other spiritual dimensions remain in synch over your years together.

In this post I describe a path that can help build (or resuscitate) your relationship’s spiritual connection. Continue reading

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The GoodMakers Street Team — A Mother Watches Young Activists Empower Global Change

The following is a guest blog by Tilo Ponder, a Los Angeles based Writer/Producer of documentary films. �Tilo Ponder has spent her career as a catalyst for dynamic and integrated campaigns across all media, working with major�entertainment and consumer brands in her 20+ years of working in�the advertising agency world. Given the chance to parlay that experience into a more purposeful existence, she co-founded GoodMakers Films. �Tilo’s intense passion is�a driving force behind�GoodMakers Films,�a�non-profit organization which creates�dynamic�promotional�documentaries that empower charities to get their message�out to a�global audience. �tilo@goodmakersfilms.org

When my 21-year-old daughter suddenly left�NYU Tisch a year and a half ago and came home to Los Angeles, she didn�t really know what she was returning to do — only that she was deeply concerned about how rapidly the deteriorating economy was impacting the world around her. She reported that her college friends were feeling anxious and depressed, some of them dropping out of school as their parents, who had lost their jobs, were unable to keep up with tuition payments.� In our home, we were scrambling to keep everything going, but were committed to keeping our daughter in college, no matter what.� My husband is a�freelance commercial director, I was at an ad agency heading up production and also running our own production company. Add to this, managing investment properties in other states, shuttling our 5-year-old son to pre-school and sports activities, while also supporting an 18-year-old daughter living in Scotland and a 2-hour daily work commute — our lives were jam-packed, but worked somehow.Our daughter�s announcement that she was taking a �semester break� created unrest and an ominous feeling that a small piece of our intricately maneuvered lives were being un-wedged in a dangerous way. I secretly wondered why she couldn�t just stay put.� Having tucked her away at a good college, I had assumed that she’d be set for 4-5 years, and that afterwards she�d be on her way to a prosperous career.� I challenged her assertions that her generation was apathetic and directionless, citing how it was her generation that only a year earlier ensured our nation�s first black president because of their passionate involvement in the final days of the campaign.� My daughter�agreed on that point, but added that after so much build up to��change� and the subsequent downfall of a global economy, her�generation had even less to believe in than before.

Given that, I wasn�t prepared for what followed. Continue reading

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Here’s How You Can Evolve Within Your Lifetime

You may not think that you can consciously direct your own evolution. But there’s increasing evidence that you’re able to evolve your conscious being – the driver of yourpersonality,cognitivecapacities, emotions and actions.

Of course we normally think of evolution in terms of physical changes over eons – though some recent observations raises the possibility that some evolution is occurring right now, perhaps spurred by need or desire. For example, the noted nature writer and photographer Boyd Norton recently caught onthis video a baboon that suddenly began walking and running upright. And the Moken people of Southeast Asia, who live off the sea, are able to evolve thecapacity of their eyes to have superior vision underwater, by maximally constricting the pupil to achieve superior vision. This is something other humans are unable to do.

But even more interesting, I think, is the prospect of being able to evolve your whole person in specific new, healthy directions. I’ve often heard mypsychotherapy patients as well as my corporate executive clients ask – or lament – why they don’t think they can change, or grow.

Here, I’ll describe some of the evidence that conscious evolution is possible, and a part of buildingpsychological health; and then show five steps you can take to evolve yourself.

Much research indicates that the capacity for self-evolution — of your personality, mental capacities, relationships and actions in the world — is based on conscious intent.
That is, shaping your being is an art form – the way an artist develops, evolves and creates a painting; or a composer creates music. You can make your conscious being and all that emanates from it a work of art. Continue reading

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Obama’s Call to “Win the Future” Requires a New Definition of “Success”

When President Obama urged Americans to “win the future” in his recent SOTU address, he called upon the innovative, communal spirit that’s enabled us to “do great things.” Ironically, that part of his message exposes a glaring contradiction: How we’ve defined achieving “success” in our lives has become outmoded and maladaptive in our 21st Century world. To meet the challenges of our “Sputnik moment,” we need to revamp our thinking about what success is, as well as what psychological orientation is necessary to achieve it.

Consider this: The old, conventional view of a successful life is mostly defined by financial and self-interested criteria — getting, consuming and possessing for oneself. As Ronald Reagan once said about pursuing the “American dream” everyone “...wants to see an America in which people can get rich.”

But as President Obama pointed out in his address, “That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful.” The reality of today’s interconnected, highly interdependent world, greed is not good. It’s psychologically unhealthy; it undermines the values, mindset and actions people need to strengthen in order to meet the challenges we face as individuals and as a nation.

That is, our security, success and well-being now require strengthening communal values and behavior; working towards common goals, the common good. Acting on self-interest alone, especially in the pursuit of personal power, steady career advancement and money Continue reading

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Psychological Health In Today’s World Needs A Redefinition

This post continues what I wrote about in In myprevious post –that we lack a clear, relevant description of what psychologicalhealth is, in today’s world; and, how you can build it. Here, I describe more about what a psychologically health life looks like – what it’s criteria are — in your relationships, your work, and in your role as a “future ancestor.”

To begin with, I want to emphasize that psychological health isn’t the same as the absence of mental or emotional disorders. For example, you can’t say that a happy person is someone who’s not depressed. Many people have consulted me who aren’t depressed by clinical criteria, but they aren’t happy with their work, relationships or their overall lives, either.

Moreover, self-awareness isn’t equivalent to health. It’s a necessary underpinning, but it’s not enough. Therapists often help their patients deepen self-awareness about the roots of their conflicts, only to wonder why they remain the same. Psychiatrist Richard Friedman described that dilemma in a recentNew York Times article in which he illustrated the puzzlement practitioners experience when they are confronted with the limitation of awareness, alone.

To the extent there’s a conventional view of psychologically health at all, it’s mostly equated with good life-management and coping skills. That is, managingstress in your work and personal life, and coping with — if not resolving — whatever emotional conflicts you brought with you into adulthood.

A less visible view of psychological health also exists: Successful adaptation to and embracing of the dominant values, behavior and attitudes of the society or milieu you’re a part of. The problem here is that such socially-conditioned norms have also embodied greed, self-absorption, domination, destructiveness, and divisiveness. They’ve been equated with “success” in adult life.

The upshot is that you can be well-adapted to dominant attitudes and behavior that are, themselves, psychologically unhealthy. So you may be “well-adjusted” to an unhealthy life.

We’ve been witnessing the fruits of that form of “health” throughout our society in recent years, in the form of Continue reading

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What Is Psychological Health In Today’s World?

The aftermath of the Tucson shootings is likely to spawn new discussion about serious mental illness and its legal implications. Coincidentally, the mental health establishment has been debating what to include or exclude as a mental and emotional disorder, for the forthcoming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. For example, one controversy is whether to remove narcissism as a bonafide disorder.

In contrast to discussion about mental disorders, I think we’ve neglected its flip side: What constitutes psychological health in today’s world? What does it look like? And how can you promote it in your own life, your children and in society?

These questions loom large because the most psychologically healthy people and societies will be best equipped to create and sustain well-being, security and success in the tumultuous road we’re now traveling on.

Take a look: At the start of this second decade of the 21st Century our lives and institutions are reeling, trying to cope with an interconnected, unpredictable world turned upside down by the events of the first decade: terrorism that’s come home to roost; economic meltdown at home and abroad; rapid rise of previously “underdeveloped” nations; and in our social and political spheres, the rise of hatred, bigotry and intolerance, as Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupik commented on following the Tucson shootings. This upheaval has fueled what I described in recent posts a “social psychosis” that’s locked in conflict with a societal need to serve the common good.

The problem is that we know what severe mental illness as well as “garden variety” neurotic conflicts look like in daily life. Those have become more prevalent in the current climate. But what we think of as psychological health is pretty vague. Moreover, it’s a 20th Century view that doesn’t fit in the new world environment.

That is, psychological health has been pretty much defined as successful resolution and management of childhood traumas and conflicts; coping with stress and adapting to the world around you, as an adult. The problem is, that view has assumed a relatively stable and static world. One in which you can anticipate the kinds of changes or events that might occur. And when they do, a healthy, resilient person could bounce back to the previous equilibrium that existed. But today, there’s no longer any equilibrium to return to. Psychological health requires living with disequilibrium. Continue reading

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How Does Volunteerism Affect The Volunteer?

During our increasingly stretched-out holiday season, it’s easy to feel a bit cynical about people who suddenly want to do some volunteering. The staff of service organizations often wince at the prospect of receiving more offers of help than they actually need. “Where were you therest of the year?” they mutter silently.

To be fair, many people are not just a once- or twice-a-year volunteer. In fact, volunteering one’s time, service and expertise ison the rise among all age groups. For many, it’s an integral part of their lives, an expression of their core values. That’s raised a question in my mind: Does volunteering time and service impact the life of thevolunteer? And if so, how?

In recent years, I’ve researched this a bit through seminars we’ve held at the Center for Progressive Development for volunteers interested in exploring how their volunteering affects their personal and professional lives.

We’ve found that volunteer activity often reshapes or redirects people’s values, perspectives and even their life goals in several ways. It can spur new growth and awareness, both spiritually and emotionally. Sometimes the changes are slight, but clear — like the person who committed herself to ongoing work with a mission that she had initially chosen at random, in response to her company’s suggestion to employees that they consider volunteer service.

In other cases, the impact of volunteer work is more dramatic: changing the company one works for, or, asone man did, changing his Continue reading

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Is Serving The Common Good An “Un-American” Activity?

One likely spin-off from the recent election will be a creeping redefinition of programs and policies that serve the common good as “un-American.” Some of the Tea Party’s most vocal members, including Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann, and others have already suggested having a “conversation” about privatizing or phasing out medicare, social security and even abolishing the Department of Education.

So I’d like to move the “conversation” along and state outright that, yes, promoting the common good is, indeed, un-American. And, that recognizing it as such is a good thing. Here’s why: The Republican/Tea Party’s stated vision for “taking America back” is a doctrine of extreme self-interest and greed. It both reflects and fuels what I described in a recent post as a “social psychosis” in personal and public life.

This “pro-American” vision is maladaptive to the realities of today’s world and our own changing society. Self-interest and the pursuit of individual power are twin agents for subversively undermining a healthy, thriving society. But that vision is likely to be with us for some time, with potentially devastating consequences.

However, there’s also a rising shift towards serving the larger common good throughout our society. I described the evidence for this in a subsequent post. And it is, indeed, un-American, with respect to the extreme Republican/Tea Party doctrine.

That is, serving the common good goes against grain of thinking that Continue reading

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How Positive vs. Adversarial Relations Help Solve Problems: Politicians Should Heed New Research

Some interesting new research indicates that when people are faced with solving problems — and those facing the country right now are among the most severe — their “executive functioning” capacities improve after they engage in sociable, positive interactions. But they don’t improve after competitive interactions — those likely to generate adversarial feelings. Politicians would do well to learn from this, as an aid to building the kind of mentality needed for solutions to our current problems. But it’s unlikely that they will.

Here’s what researchers at the University of Michigan found. They looked at the impact of brief episodes of social contact upon the capacity known as executive functioning. That’s the capacity for having an overview of the elements of a situation or problem; seeing how the parts connect, in what relation to each other; and what kinds of actions lead to effective outcomes. Included are the abilities for self-regulation, for staying on task, for focus and keeping relevant information in mind – much like the “memory” in a computer program that holds the information while you’re using it or working with it.

The researchers found that after a period of positive conversation and connection with another person, the participant’s performance on cognitive tasks improved. Performance on these tasks reflected the degree of executive functioning capacity of the participants. However, participants whose interactions were marked by adversarial, competitive engagement did not improve on the performance of those tasks. According to Oscar Ybarra, the lead author of the study, forthcoming in Social Psychological and Personality Science,

“…simply talking to other people, the way you do when you’re making friends, can provide mental benefits…” And, that “…performance boosts come about because some social interactions induce people to try to read others’ minds and take their perspectives on things…trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, there is a boost in executive functioning as a result”

In other words, when people build empathy towards each other — seeing the other’s perspective from the “inside” of the other person’s world, so to speak, their capacity for more effective thinking and problem solving increases. If only our politicians could recognize that reality and use it to create the collaborations that enhance their own brain-power for finding compromise-based solutions, rather than perpetuating adversarialness, all of us would benefiit. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear very likely now, in the aftermath of this week’s election.

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A “Social Psychosis” Rises In Our Culture

Much of the ongoing debate in political, business and social/cultural arenas is rooted in an underlying disagreement about what best serves national interests and individual lives. Is it promoting the common good, or serving self-interest?

As interdependence and interconnection on this planet become ever-more apparent, new challenges and conflicts arise for personal life, the role of government and the conduct of business leadership. In response to these new realities, people’s attitudes and behavior are shifting more towards serving the larger common good; now necessary for successful, flexible and psychologically resilient functioning.

However, these shifts clash with a long-prevailing ideology, that the primary pursuit ofself-interest best serves the public interest and personal success. That ideology has also prevailed in our views of adult psychological health and maturity. In essence, the pursuit of greed, self-centeredness and materialism have become the holy trinity of public and private conduct. And it’s generating a growing “social psychosis.”

That is, the benefits of self-interest in personal lives and public policy supposedly trump any that accrue from serving the common good; the latter would undermine the former, if put into practice. For example, the argument against helping the unemployed, extending health insurance for all Americans or addressing climate change is that they would hurt the economy and therefore negatively impact your well-being and life success.

To question or critique this ideology might even be called “un-American.” That would be correct; a good thing, actually, because the values and conduct that seem to have “worked” for so long now falter in today’s rapidly changing world. No longer do they ensure long-term success, well-being or security. Several observers have written about the faltering of the old system in today’s world. For example, Jeff Jarvis of CUNY, who haswritten about a

…great restructuring’ of the economy and society, starting with a fundamental change in our relationships — how we are linked and intertwined and how we act.

Or Umair Haque, who has been describing

…the new principles of a new economy, built around stewardship, trusteeship, guardianship, leadership, partnership.

in his Harvard Business Schoolblog posts.

The Social Psychosis Backlash
The reaction to the growing interconnection is a creeping “social psychosis.” Like the frog in the pot of water who doesn’t notice the slowly rising temperature Continue reading

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Reasons Behind The Need To Portray Obama As Anti-American

Newt Gingrichs recent comments alleging that Obama’s is driven by “Kenyan anti-colonial” attitudes, when combined with increasingly bizarre statements from Tea Party candidates, suggest something that isnt apparent on the surface: That were witnessing the last gasp of a dying, descending set of attitudes and values regarding individual and public policy, including what it is to be an American.

I think these kinds of statements reflect growing desperation about sweeping changes in our society. That is, the country is steadily shifting towards a diverse population, and acceptance of that diversity. And, towards growing recognition of the need to serve the larger common good; that were all in the same boat in this globalized world, and we will stand or fall together, as President Obama recently stated.

But it just doesn’t look like that shift is happening at present, because the period we’re living through is one of a growing but temporary backlash against those changes, from people who view them with fears and a sense of loss. They should be understood, but not condoned or excused.

A good illustration of the reactionary thinking in response to steadily growing social change is the essay that Gingrich based his comments on A Forbes cover story on How Obama Thinks by Dinesh DSouza. A Columbia Journalism Review article by Ryan Chittum calls it a shameful piece on Obama as the Other, and The worst kind of smear journalism.

Chittum writes, How Obama Thinks is a gross piece of innuendoa fact-twisting, error-laden piece of paranoia. Forbes for some reason gives Dinesh DSouza the cover and lots of space to froth about the notion popular in the right-wing fever swamps that Obama is an other; that he doesnt think like an American, that his actions benefit foreigners rather than Amurricans. Its too kind to call this innuendo. Its far too overt for that.

DSouzas distortions and lies are clearly designed to make Obama appear to be anti-American, and anti-white; someone different from us whos bent on carrying out the African tribal mission of his father (whom he met one time, briefly, at age 10). Chittums analysis and dissection of DSouzas story is worth reading. Heres the full article from the Columbia Journalism Review.

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Why Some Believe Obama is a Muslim – New Research

Here’s some interesting new research from a study of the psychology behind smear campaigns, led by Michigan State. It examined the rising numbers of people who believe the falsehood that President Obama is a Muslim. The findings indicate that people are more likely to accept such false representations, both consciously and unconsciously, when they are reminded of ways in which Obama is different from them — whether from racial, social class or other differences, according to Spee Kosloff and his colleagues from several other universities, who conducted the study.

“Careless or biased media outlets are largely responsible for the propagation of these falsehoods, which catch on like wildfire,” said Kosloff. ”And then social differences can motivate acceptance of these lies.”

“When people are unsatisfied with the president — whether it’s the way he’s handling the economy, health care or Afghanistan — our research suggests that this only fuels their readiness to accept untrue rumors,” Kosloff said. ”As his job rating goes down, suggesting that people feel like he’s not ideologically on their side, we see an increase in this irrational belief that he’s a Muslim,” he added. “Unfortunately, in America, many people dislike Muslims so they’ll label Obama as Muslim when they feel different from him.”

The findings are reported in the American Psychological Association’sJournal of Experimental Psychology: General. The acceptance of falsehoods is particularly relevant because a Pew Research Center poll in August found that 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim — up from 11 percent in March 2009 — even though he’s a practicing Christian.

A complete summary of the research is available in Science Daily.

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For A Healthy Life In Today’s World: Reboot and Remix – Part 1

There’s an old saying that if you want to see into your future, just look into a mirror. That is, how you live your life each day — through your choices, your values and behavior — shapes and determines who you will be in the future.

Many people today don’t like what they see when they look into that mirror. Especially when so much feels out of control: Economic decline with no end in sight; social and political changes that can feel frightening, even threatening; career uncertainty; relationships unraveling under stress; climate disasters, both man-made and natural. All of these events impact your mental health and overall well being, as research and survey data show: Emotional, physical and social symptoms are rising, such depression and anxiety, obesity, demagoguery from media personalities like Glen Beck, emotional disturbance in the workplace…the list goes on.

All of that can make you feel frozen in today’s world. How can you find a psychologically healthy path into the future, in the midst of such confusion and turmoil? And, within a cultural and political environment that feeds self-serving, shortsighted behavior?

I’ve been addressing the impact of living in our new world upon people’s emotional health on my posts for this blog, Progressive Impact.In this post, I suggest three ways to “reboot” you life in positive ways, within today’s unpredictable, interdependent and often scary world.

Wake Up!

Common lore is that it’s harmful to wake up a person who’s sleepwalking, but that’s not true. And when you’re sleepwalking in your life, Continue reading

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Three Essential Pillars Of Health and Resiliency In Today’s World

Upgrade To Career 4.0; Practice Harnicissism;” and Become a Good Ancestor

In a previous post I wrote that a key pathway to psychological health and resiliency in today’s world is learning to “forget yourself.” This post describes ways to do that in three important realms of your life – your work, your personal relationships, and your life “footprint.”

In the earlier post I explained that “forgetting yourself” doesn’t mean neglecting your own legitimate needs or concerns. Rather, it means letting go of our human tendency to overly dwell on ourselves – our own concerns, needs, desires, slights, complaints about others, and so on. Psychological health and resiliency in today’s world grows when you can do that and put your energies in the service of something larger than yourself: problems, needs and challenges that lie beyond your own personal, narrow self-interest.

That may sound like a paradox, but it’s based on a new reality: Today’s world is changing more rapidly than you can imagine and is becoming immensely interdependent, interconnected, unpredictable and unstable. In this new environment you can’t create or sustain a positive, healthy life through the old ways of reactive resiliency, of coping and hoping to rebound.

That is, chronic unhappiness, dysfunction and overt emotional disturbance lie in store for those who remain too locked into thinking about themselves and who use old solutions to achieve success in relationships and at work. For example, trying to achieve power and domination over others, and thinking you can hold on to that. Fearing collaboration and avoiding mutuality with people who are different from yourself, or with whom you have differences. Looking for ways to cope with stress and restore equilibrium or “balance” in your life. And overall, being absorbed by your own conflicts, disappointments and the like. The latter are inevitable, and dwelling on them is a breeding ground for resentment, jealousy, and blame. That’s a dead-end. The consequences are visible in people who are unable to handle career downturn, who experience mounting relationship conflicts and who suffer from a range of psychological problems like depression, boredom, stress, anxiety and self-undermining behavior.

In contrast, positive resiliency in today’s environment is the byproduct when you aim towards common goals, purposes or missions larger than just your own narrow self-interests. That keeps you nimble, flexible, and adaptive to change and unpredictable events that are part of our new era. Then, you’re creating true balance, between your “outer” and “inner” life.

Here are three ways you can move through self-interest. Each describes a shift, or evolution from the older, reactive form of resilience to the new, proactive form:

Upgrade your career to the 4.0 version; Practice “Harnicissism;” and Become a Good Ancestor

Yeah, I know — those descriptions sound odd. Continue reading

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More About Your “Inside-Out” Life

2. Building Your Inner Life

In a previous post, I wrote that your inner life is usually neglected, in contrast to your outer life. I gave some guidelines for identifying and reducing the gaps between your inner and outer life. Thats an important step towards building psychological health and resiliency that works in todays 21st Century world of heightened interconnection and instability.

Here, Ill describe some specific steps you can take to strengthen your inner life and make it the driver of your decisions, choices, and actions within your outer life.

Think of your inner life as something you develop through practice, similar to building stronger muscles, or developing skill in a sport or play a musical instrument. Below are some inner life practices most anyone can do. The more you do, the better, because they reinforce each other.

Fill Your Inner Reservoir

  • Sit quietly, without distraction. Observe your breaths as you breathe slowly, in and out. Count each breath as you exhale, from one to 10; then repeat. Twenty minutes daily is ideal, but if you do only five, thats a good start.

An entry-level meditation-breathing practice, this one builds an emotional shock absorber. It helps maintain centeredness and focus when dealing with your outer life demands and conflicts.

Some forms of meditation are rooted in Eastern and Western religious-philosophical traditions; others in current medical and scientific knowledge about effective stress-reduction. All provide a range of physical and emotional benefits that strengthen your inner life. Ongoing research supported jointly by the Dalai Lama and the U.S.-based Mind And Life Institute shows that meditation produces changes within specific regions of the brain associated with greater internal calm, resilience to stress, and focused concentration.

Amazingly, one study found that the sound Continue reading

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Obama, Empathy And The Supreme Court Nominee

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

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

Nevertheless, as Obama decides who to nominate as Justice Stevens replacement, its like Yogi Berra said: Its dj vu, all over again.

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

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

Baker goes on to say,

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

The dispute became so contentious last year that even Mr. Obamas nominee for the court, Sonia Sotomayor, disavowed the notion of empathy during hearings before her confirmation, saying that judges cant rely on whats in their heart.

In the same vein, Lee Epstein, a constitutional scholar at the Northwestern University School of Law, said in the Times piece, You hear empathy and you dont think impartiality, judicial temperament.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Psychology Of Public Policy

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

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

Here’s what Bernanke said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thoughts On Political Intolerance and Bigotry In Today’s Culture

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

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

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

Mike Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate, has said of Mr. Obamas economic policies: Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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Awakening The Common Good In Our Self-Serving Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It sounds lame, but true: Were sure living through some interesting times.

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Healing Our “Empathy Deficit Disorder”

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Do People Volunteer?

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

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The Casualties of War…Coming Home

Before the murders started, Anthony Marquezs mom dialed his sergeant at FortCarson to warn that her son was poised to kill.

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

He always packed a gun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama should keep using the word “empathy”

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

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

Consider this: In the Bible King Solomon asked God for a heart that listens. Notice that he didnt ask for a head that thinks. Theres a reason: The head repository of the mind is more akin to a processor of information within a logical framework and sequence; like a computer program. It uses reason without context or real world judgment.

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

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

But suppose you cant relate it to your own experience? Thats where empathy is critical, because it means stepping inside the mindset and emotional experience of the other person. With that immersion, you can make more judicious, fair, and wise assessments in relation to your actions — whether towards friend, foe, or someone whos neither.

In the Bible, God grants Solomons request, in the form of wisdom in your heart. Note He didnt say, wisdom in your head. He gave him discernment in administering justice. Further, it was said that the whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom that God had put in his heart.

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

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

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GOP Doesn’t Like Obama’s “Empathy”

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

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