Tag Archives: anger

Resolving Conflict Effectively (an encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m up to my eyeballs in editing so I thought I’d re-run a post from two years ago that seems appropriate right now. With so much rancor and conflict in our society these days, it would behoove us to learn how to dig beneath the surface to find common ground and positive solutions.

Here’s one of the ways we can do that effectively…

I first learned of this model in a video in graduate school many (many, many) years ago. It’s stuck with me ever since. I, in turn, taught it to my psychology students. They often came back with reports of how well it worked with bosses, boyfriends/girlfriends, parents, etc. I think it is the absolute best approach to conflict resolution.

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0)

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. This may be the case in the wild but humans should be able to rise above that and find mutually satisfying solutions. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia)

First, let’s realize what conflict is all about. It occurs when two beings assume that their needs/desires are mutually exclusive of the other’s needs/desires. “If you get what you want, then I won’t get what I want” is the underlying belief. But often, if we can stop fighting long enough to analyze the situation more carefully, we will discover that there is a solution that meets both parties’ needs.

This process makes that possible.

Here are the four steps (then I’ll give an example):

  • DISENGAGE: This is the old “count to ten” adage. Separate yourself physically from the other person and take as long as it takes for both of you to calm down.
  • EMPATHIZE: This is more than just acknowledging the other person’s feelings. It’s truly putting yourself in their shoes and realizing how you would feel (in most cases, we discover we would feel the same as they do).
  • NEEDS ASSESSMENT: What does each party REALLY need? This requires digging beneath the surface. What the person is asking for/demanding may not be what they really need. Often it is what they think will satisfy their needs, when something else will also do so, and perhaps better.
  • SOLUTION: Look for a solution that satisfies each party’s needs COMPLETELY. Often we are told that in order to resolve conflict, we have to compromise, i.e., each party gives up something to get part of what they want. Well, sometimes that’s true. Most times, however, there is a solution available that gives both parties all of what they want. But we have to look for it.

The first step is the easiest of them. Steps 2 and 3 are harder, especially if you do them right and really dig beneath the surface. But if those steps are done properly, often step 4 isn’t all that hard.

Here’s the example I used with my psychology classes. For anyone who ever dated, it will strike a chord. Most of us have been there, on one side of the dispute or the other.

Jane and Phil, both full-time college students with part-time jobs, have been dating for several months and have committed to an exclusive relationship. More and more often lately, they have been fighting over how much time Phil is willing to spend with Jane.

Jane says: “I feel like you don’t appreciate me. You want me when you want me, but the rest of the time you expect me to sit on a shelf, waiting for your phone call. I feel like you don’t love me as much as I love you.”

Phil replies: “I do love you, but that doesn’t mean we have to be joined at the hip. I need some time to myself sometimes, and time to hang out with the guys. I’m starting to feel smothered here.”

My students had little trouble coming up with a way for them to Disengage. Their best suggestion was that Phil and Jane should take a day or two off from each other, and then make a date to sit down and talk about the problem when they were both calm, rather than when emotions were already running high.

young couple sitting apart on bench

photo by Elizabeth Ashley Jerman CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

When I’d ask about the Empathize step, I’d almost always get this response: “That’s easy too. Phil is feeling smothered and Jane is feeling neglected.”

“No,” I told them. “That’s not good enough. They each have to step into the other’s shoes. Phil needs to imagine how he would feel if half the time he wanted to get together with Jane she said she’d rather be doing something else.”

The students admitted that he would probably feel hurt and neglected.

It’s a little tougher to get Jane to empathize with Phil. The question for her is: “How would you feel if Phil wanted to be with you every waking moment, even when you want to wash your hair or when a friend calls for a heart-to-heart talk?”

I’d ask the class: “Ladies, have you ever had a boyfriend who was clingy and always wanted to be with you?” At least half the female students would raise their hands (as would I since I did indeed have a boyfriend like that once upon a time).

“Drove you crazy after a while, didn’t it?” I’d ask. They’d all nod. “Jane has to imagine this scenario and realize she’d feel smothered too.”

Now for the toughest step in the model, the Needs Assessment!

Phil is relatively easy. He has stated his need–for more alone time and time with his friends (assuming he isn’t intimacy-phobic and just using this as an excuse…hmm, another good idea for a blog post. *stops to jot that down*)

Jane is tougher. On the surface she’s saying she needs more time with him, but look again at her words about her feelings. She feels unappreciated and wonders if he loves her as much as she loves him. So is it more time with him that she really needs?

There would always be a pregnant pause in the classroom at this point. Then someone would get it. “She needs reassurance that he loves her.”

“Bingo! Now for the Solution. How can Phil give her that reassurance without spending more time with her? Because that does not meet his needs.”

The ideas would fly around the room. “Text ‘I love u’ or ‘thinking of u’ several times a day.” “Buy her flowers.” “Leave her little notes to find, like in her textbooks or on the windshield of her car.” (That one is my favorite!)

Jane might even be content with less of Phil’s time, if he’s giving her these reassurances of his affection.

This process works like a charm most of the time. If you remember to use it (which I often don’t, sadly).

What do you think of it? How do you tend to deal with conflict?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist/college professor turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Inner Beauty vs. the Ugliest of Emotions

by Kassandra Lamb

The-Beauty-of-a-Woman-BlogFest-V1-2

This post is part of the 2017 Beauty of a Woman Blogfest, sponsored by the wonderful August McLaughlin. Please go to her site to see the other great posts in this wonderful event—some are funny, some are serious, all are entertaining and informative.

Physical beauty has little to do with attractiveness for me. I’m much more focused on inner beauty. And inner beauty is emotional (and is reflected in the person’s body language). Is the person warm and kind and seems comfortable in their own skin, or are they tense and frowning?

As a psychologist, I am intimately acquainted with emotions. And I know that almost all of them have some value.

Fear tells us when our safety or our ability to get our needs met is being threatened. Anger gives us the courage to stand and fight against such threats. Joy, love and excitement tell us that our needs are currently being met, encouraging us to seek similar situations to those currently happening.

Even guilt and shame serve a purpose by providing a moral compass for our behavior.

But jealousy? I’m sorry, it’s just ugly and has no socially redeeming value.

Recently I’ve had two friends complain about jealousy. One, a male, said, “Why are women so conniving and competitive and jealous?” The other, a girlfriend, simply said, “Why are men so jealous?”

Their comments inspired this post for BOAW. Because honestly, I haven’t personally found women all that jealous or competitive or conniving.

Perhaps that’s because I’m not particularly physically beautiful. Oh don’t get me wrong, I don’t break mirrors. I’m a reasonably attractive woman, but I’m no beauty.

I’ve also rarely encountered jealousy in men. As I think about the issue, I’m concluding that this is because I tend to hang out with fairly confident people.

Jealousy is not a gender-specific trait. It has absolutely nothing to do with being male or female. Rather it has a lot to do with being insecure!

One avenue that insecure people may take is to put down, compete with, and feel jealousy or envy (jealousy’s kissing cousin) toward those they perceive as better than themselves. (See my recent post on healthy vs. unhealthy competitiveness.)

This is incredibly self-defeating, a total waste of psychic (and sometimes physical) energy.

But wait, let me break down jealousy a bit more. It actually has two emotional components—fear and anger.

We feel jealous when we fear that someone is threatening our ability to get our needs met. We then experience anger regarding this threat.

If we want to be mentally sane individuals, our first task when we feel jealous is to assess if the threat is real. Is there a REAL risk that someone might steal away the affections of someone important to us?

Jealousy is only a “helpful” emotion if it is truly warning us of an actual threat. If it is mainly our own insecurity talking, we need to deal with that within ourselves. We need to work on improving our own self-esteem so that we do not feel so easily threatened.

two birds fighting

I saw you coming on to that canary! (photo by Jen Smith CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia-Commons)

Once we’ve determined that the threat seems to be real, we need to assess where we can legitimately aim our anger about that threat. Should we direct it at the person important to us? Is he or she ACTUALLY showing an interest in someone else? Or is that someone else ACTUALLY attempting to steal his/her affections?

Let me give you two examples from my own life. I don’t always get it right, but these two times, I did.

Example One:
In my early twenties, I dated a guy who had a nasty habit. He had to comment on the attractiveness of every female who crossed his path. This behavior didn’t surface until we were supposedly dating exclusively.

More and more frequently, he would make references to the attractiveness of women passing by on the street, in very personal terms. “Hmm, I wouldn’t mind coming home to her” was one of his milder comments.

Of course these comments hurt. They made me feel jealous, scared that he would someday find one of these women preferable to me.

It all came to a head one day when a woman passing by, who happened to be a bit on the plain side, prompted him to comment that he wouldn’t “f**k” her unless he could put a bag over her head. This brought home to me the absurdity of his behavior. This woman was oblivious to his presence, so it certainly wasn’t her fault that he was commenting on her attractiveness or lack thereof.

HE was the problem. HE deserved my wrath, not the women he ogled on a regular basis. So I dumped him.

Example Two:
My husband and I had been married just a few years when he told me about a woman at work who was going through a rough divorce. “Why do women confide in me about this stuff?” he asked.

“Because you’re a nice guy, and a good listener,” I replied.

A few weeks later, he came home from work more than a little agitated. He reported that this woman (we’ll call her Jezebel 😉 ) had asked him if he was, quote, “getting enough,” and did he want to go out for a “nooner.”

My sweet husband was concerned that Jezebel was fragile due to her recent divorce. He wanted my advice on how to gently let her know that while he was willing to listen to her woes, he wasn’t interested in having an affair with her.

Can you imagine the array of feelings I was experiencing? I quickly attempted to evaluate the situation. One, I figured if he was telling me about all this, then he wasn’t the least bit tempted by this woman.

So I had no reason to be afraid, and, two, no way did he deserve my anger.

This is the most common mistake people make with jealousy. They direct the anger over the threat toward their loved one, rather than toward the one who is actually presenting the threat. Which can all too often lead to the very thing they’re afraid of, a disruption in that important relationship.

Once I was clear that my anger should be directed at Jezebel, for daring to step into my territory and try to take my man, I had to decide what to do with that anger. First, I put my therapist hat on and responded to my husband’s desire to be a nice guy. I suggested several possible approaches he could use to back her off gently.

“And if none of those things work,” I then said, “you can tell her that if she doesn’t leave you alone, your wife will come down to the office and rip her eyes out!”

My husband gave me a very startled look. “The first few suggestions were the therapist talking,” I said. “Now your wife is talking. Tell her to find her own man. You’re taken!”

I felt much better after that. 🙂

Getting back to more recent events, my male friend’s relationship ended over his girlfriend’s jealousy. She freaked out because she saw another woman as her competition (even though he wasn’t interested in that woman) and she put him in a damned-if-he-did-damned-if-he-didn’t position. So he decided to opt out of the relationship, and I couldn’t blame him.

But I did try to set him straight about the gender thing.

What are your thoughts? Have you seen more jealousy in men or in women? How have you dealt with the fear and anger of jealousy?

To read some other wonderful posts about the Beauty of a Woman, click over to August’s site and see the list of funny, entertaining, interesting, serious posts.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

7 Things White People Can Do – Because Enough Is Enough!

by Kassandra Lamb

I’ve thought of a dozen different ways to start this post. They all seemed either inadequate, or too much about me, or too controversial.

So I’m just going to say it:

It’s not okay that bad cops are harassing and killing people just because of the color of their skin, and it’s not okay that anyone is shooting at police officers just because of the uniform they wear.

Furthermore, it is not okay that anyone has to be anxious every time they or their loved ones leave their homes, afraid some police officer will misinterpret their actions as threatening, or some bully cop will try to find an excuse to harass or even kill them.

Ironically, what brought on this rant from me wasn’t the latest shooting of a blatantly innocent man, lying on his back with his empty hands high in the air. I started writing this post before that happened, because of a newsletter I received from a young lawyer named Rachel, from whom I took a webinar a few years back.

Until last week, I didn’t know much about her personally, hadn’t really given any thought to what race she was. I just knew that she gave good legal and business advice.

Last week, her newsletter deviated from its normal format to tell a story of something that happened to her last May. I’m going to summarize the event but I suggest hopping over to her blog and reading the whole story (click here). It will give you a much better idea of what black people all too often encounter in interactions with certain police officers.

Rachel was on her way home from work one day, when she entered the EZ Pass booth at a toll plaza, slowing her car appropriately but not stopping, because that’s not required if you have an EZ Pass.

Then a man in a uniform stepped between the booths and in front of her car. She stopped.

The setting sun was in her eyes so she couldn’t see clearly, but she thought he was motioning her through, so once he had stepped out of the way, she eased her foot off the brake and let her car start rolling forward.

The officer made another, wilder gesture that again she couldn’t make out, and again she thought he was waving her through. At that point he started screaming at her, in language that was “the epitome of disrespectful.”

EZ Pass lanes on highway

Since when does driving slowly through an EZ-Pass lane justify lethal force. Oh wait, she was DWB — driving while black!  (photo by Otto Yamamoto from NY, NY, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

He told her he could’ve shot her for threatening his life (rolling slowly through a toll booth after an officer has stepped out of the way is threatening his life?) And other police have “killed people for similar actions.”

Her attempts to explain about the sun in her eyes and misunderstanding his gestures were met with more screaming and threats – to take away her car, to arrest her. She kept her cool, even though she was royally pissed inside (as I would certainly be), and eventually he let her go on her way.

She had a colleague in the car with her. I can’t help but wonder if she might have been arrested, if there hadn’t been a witness present.

But for me the most revealing part of her story is that she didn’t tell anyone but her husband on the day that this occurred, because:

Encounters like this are so commonplace in black communities that it’s not really news. You just accept this as part of your life. I’ve accepted it as part of my life. (rodgerscollective.com, © 2016)

When I read that, I actually sucked in my breath. It’s part of life?

And I couldn’t help wondering how many times my black friends have experienced something like this, and didn’t bother to share it with me or their other friends, because it’s “just part of life.”

This is not OK!

Now back to last week’s shooting in Miami. Apparently, the police officer involved now claims he was not shooting at the black man lying on the ground. He was shooting at the 26-year-old, non-verbal, autistic man next to him and missed. Because he thought the autistic man had a weapon.

Meanwhile, on the cell phone video recorded by a bystander, you can hear the black man yelling “It’s a toy truck. He’s got a toy truck.”

What doesn’t jive about this cop’s story is the fact that both men were then handcuffed.

And Mr. Kinsey, who had been patted down and had no weapon and who had repeatedly identified himself as a behavioral therapist working for a nearby group home,  was left on the sidewalk, handcuffed and bleeding in the hot Miami sun, until paramedics arrived.

If he was the supposed victim of this non-crime, why was he treated that way? I seriously doubt they would have treated a white man that way.

And is it OKAY that the officer was shooting at an unarmed autistic man? And he just happened to be a poor shot?

As the grandmother of an autistic boy who is still fairly nonverbal at age 8, this scares the crap out of me! My grandson would be incapable of following a police officer’s orders because he wouldn’t understand what was going on

But all the noise and negative energy would overwhelm him and he might very well go into a meltdown. And if he’s still nonverbal as an adult…

What would a cop do if instead of dropping the toy truck, he started screaming at the top of his lungs because he was overwhelmed and scared? In today’s culture, that cop might very well shoot my grandson because he wasn’t following orders and he seemed to be a threat.

I understand that cops need to be cautious, that they are putting their lives on the line, and often have to make snap decisions (and I think they should be paid much, much more than they are). But under these circumstances, while I can certainly understand drawing their weapon and approaching with care, I can’t understand why they didn’t try to get close enough to see what the guy was actually holding before they started shooting!

I’m convinced that nothing is going to turn the tide with this shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later culture until WHITE PEOPLE start doing something about it.

We say “Oh my! That’s terrible.” And then forget about it until the next time.

We need to do more than that! First, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of our black friends and neighbors and imagine what it’s like to be a little nervous every time you leave the house, to feel your throat close with fear if a cop pulls you over while driving.

And to fear for your loved ones’ lives every time they are out in the world (and now those of us with autistic loved ones will be feeling that fear too!)

Secondly, we need to pressure our local governments and police departments to make changes, before the next person dies! Here are some things we can actually DO that will make a difference:

1. Encourage and support black people who have experiences like Rachel’s to report them to that officer’s superiors.

And by this I don’t mean, saying “Hey, you should report that.”

I suspect most blacks are wary of reporting such events. They don’t really want to draw attention to themselves, and maybe become more of a target. Not an unrealistic fear considering the tendency for some police departments to close racks and protect their own.

So offer to go with your friend, in person, and be their witness (and respect their wishes if they choose not to report it). Once there, use your privilege (sad but true, you may get further than your black friend might) to insist on talking to the highest ranking person available at the police department. Follow up with a letter to that person summarizing the meeting and send a copy of that letter to the mayor of your city, the county executive of your county, and/or the governor of your state.

2. Write to or go visit your local police department’s chief of police or sheriff and ask what measures are in place to identify and deal with overly-aggressive officers or deputies.

It’s really not that hard to identify them BEFORE they’ve shot someone. I have heard from good cops that the easiest way to do this is to look at how often, when this officer arrests people, the other charges are accompanied by a resisting arrest charge.

Frequent resisting arrest charges can mean this officer tends to use verbally aggressive tactics and/or excessive physical force.

3. Follow up with these law enforcement authorities suggesting implementation of mandatory anger management counseling and additional training in deescalation tactics for officers who are accused of using excessive force or who have filed a higher than average number of resisting arrest charges.

And if these officers do not change their ways, insist that they be removed from the police force. Better that we have too few cops on the streets, than we have even a few cops who are hurting, harassing and killing innocent people – and giving all cops a bad name, which paints a target on the backs of their uniforms!!

4. If you get stonewalled, and most definitely if you are threatened because of your efforts to bring about these changes, go to the local press and tell them your story.

Going public makes it very hard for the bad cops and those who might be trying to cover up for them to retaliate. (Note: I am not anti-cop; just anti bad cops. To paraphrase a cliché from the 1960s, some of my closest friends are police or former officers.)

If you’re a white person and wondering at this point, why you need to do these things, here’s why. Sadly, those authorities are more likely to take you seriously and those who might retaliate against a black complainant will think twice before doing so when their white friends are standing by them.

And yes, folks, it is that serious! People are getting shot out there. Everyday people like you and me, who are driving home from work or escorting their autistic charge back to his group home. And good cops are getting killed because of the actions of the bad ones.

5. Pressure your local and state governments to provide better funding for police departments so they can implement these programs and can also attract more high-quality officers.

6. Keep the pressure on until the bad cops have been weeded out and the good cops can once again feel like they are part of the community they serve, not its enemy.

7. And finally, stop expecting black people to not get angry and talk back when they are being harassed by a cop. It may not be the smartest thing for them to do, but it is certainly a natural reaction. Wouldn’t you be pissed if you were minding your own business, and suddenly a police officer is yelling in your ear and threatening to shoot you?
Please, take action to make these changes happen! Enough people have died senselessly. Enough families have been shattered.

Enough is enough!

(I do suggest you click on Rachel’s blog and read her entire story of the event. It will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.)

Do I Look Like a Threat?

Can you think of anything else that we – black and white people, all people – can do in our communities to change them to the safe places they should be?

(Note: Please keep the conversation civil and constructive. Any blatantly bigoted or obnoxious rants will be deleted as will any vitriol against all police officers.)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Mind & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Part 2

by Kassandra Lamb

PTSD brain

public domain, Wikimedia Commons

There are still some aspects of PTSD that we psychologists can’t fully explain, but there’s a lot that we do now understand. And our more recent discoveries about the brain, that offer those explanations, give me confidence that someday we will have all the explanations.

Here’s a short list of the most common symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

  1.  Experienced an event that involved a significant threat to the physical integrity of self or others.
  2.  Recurrent and intrusive thoughts or images of the event and/or flashbacks (acting or feeling as if the event was reoccurring).
  3.  Recurrent nightmares, insomnia.
  4.  Intense distress and physiological arousal when exposed to internal or external cues (triggers) that symbolize or resemble some aspect of the event; avoidance of those triggers.
  5.  Anxiety attacks and/or outbursts of anger.
  6.  Hypervigilance and exaggerated startle response.
  7.  Depression and/or irritability (an early symptom of mild to moderate depression).
  8.  Difficulty concentrating, memory problems.
  9.  Numbing of feelings and/or general responsiveness.
  10.  Inability to recall important aspects of the event (dissociative amnesia).
  11.  Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.

PTSD is the only psychological disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the bible of mental health professionals) where the cause of the disorder is listed as one of its criteria for diagnosis. The person has to experience a traumatic event, and it’s not hard to figure out how something that overwhelming would cause intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares.

But why #4 and #5? Why such an intense physical and emotional reaction to some minor reminder, that can even lead to a full-blown anxiety attack? Let me repeat the definition of trauma from a previous post: an event so emotionally overwhelming that it cannot be processed emotionally or cognitively at the time that it happens.

The emotions of that event have not yet been processed. They’re stored in the brain in their raw and still quite intense form.

revolving brain

The two hemispheres of the brain color-coded as red; the cerebellum as beige (animated image by -Database Center for Life Science CC-BY-SA-2.1-Japan via Wikimedia Commons)

Also, think back to last week’s post about where things are stored in the brain and what parts of the brain are and are not easily accessed consciously. Negative emotions, mental images, and learned associations are all stored in relatively inaccessible places–in either the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex or the cerebellum.

So it’s difficult sometimes to intentionally bring these memories and emotions back into conscious awareness so that they can be processed and put to rest. But because of learned associations with those “internal and external cues,” it’s all too easy for the intense emotions from the traumatic event to get triggered in day-to-day life.

How does this work? Let me give you an example.

One of my clients experienced a trauma during her childhood while she was standing across the room from a large fan. (For the sake of confidentiality, I won’t go into details.) Later in adulthood, she became phobic of fans. Whenever she saw a moving fan blade, she would have a full-blown, run-screaming-from-the-room anxiety attack. But she had no idea consciously why she had these attacks over something as dumb as a fan (The fan itself had nothing to do with the traumatic event; it was just present in the room.)

The memory of trauma was stored–as images and raw emotions–in her right hemisphere. The learned association (classical conditioning a la Pavlov’s slobbering dogs) between the sight of that fan and those intense emotions was stored in her cerebellum.

The neural impulses that were triggered whenever she saw a fan would look like a big V on the right side of her brain–the image of the fan in the here and now is processed in the right hemisphere, the neural impulse zips down and back to her cerebellum to the learned association, then is flung back up to the right hemisphere to stir up that old memory and its associated feelings.

Voila, anxiety attack. And with little or no awareness in the conscious mind of what was going on (because it tends to be focused mostly on left hemisphere activity, i.e. verbal thoughts).

angry woman

(photo by Lisa Brewster CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

Intense anger can also occur with PTSD. This anger is a leftover feeling from the traumatic event. Whenever we feel threatened, anger is part of our response, even if it is trumped by fear at the time. Later, when we are once again in a safe environment, that anger can surface. And it can come out in ways that make it appear (even to the person feeling it) to be about here-and-now events, when it’s really about the past. This can be very destructive to relationships.

I think #6 and #7 are fairly self-explanatory. If something really scary has taken you by surprise in the past, you’re likely to be more on guard all the time, and startle more easily. And struggling with all this would certainly be depressing.

 

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

Up to this point, we have been talking about the intrusive symptoms of PTSD–the ways that this disorder intrudes into and disrupts the person’s life. Numbers 8 through 11 refer to the dissociative symptoms.

The human psyche, like the rest of our internal systems, is designed to help us survive. If something is too emotionally overwhelming, the psyche strives to block it out of awareness.

It may do this by suppressing the feelings, but often it’s not able to just suppress the specific feelings related to the trauma. So all feelings become numbed out to some degree. In the extreme, all or part of the memory of the event may be blocked out. But again this blocking of memory may be more generalized, making it hard to concentrate and remember things in general.

I’ve had several clients who had memory and/or concentration problems that interfered with their schoolwork or jobs. But once certain traumatic events (that their minds were working overtime to suppress) had been processed, they rather suddenly went from C to A students or could now easily remember things (like people’s names) that they’d had great difficulty with in the past.

image by Khaydock, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

image by Khaydock, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

(Note: How the mind blocks out feelings and/or memories is one of those things we don’t yet have an explanation for, but lots of scientific research confirms that this does happen.)

Sometimes that numbing of feelings makes it hard for the person to connect with others. Also, the experiences they’ve had may leave them feeling irrevocably different from most people. Group therapy and support groups are particularly helpful for this symptom, as well as the others.

Besides group support, the most effective therapies for PTSD are the ones that help the person finally process the memories and feelings related to the trauma. Depending on the trauma (and the therapeutic approach used), this can take some time, and it can be painful to relive those feelings. But releasing the emotional charge on those events and putting their meaning into perspective allows the person to move from trauma survivor to getting on with living and thriving.

And here’s an interesting tidbit from the scientific research. In last week’s post, I talked about how memories are stored where they are first processed. Research has found that traumatic memories are stored in the cerebral cortex right next to the emotional parts of the brain (called the limbic system). But after therapy, when those memories have been re-processed, they are now stored further out in the cerebral cortex, away from the emotional limbic system. Concrete proof that the feelings have truly been discharged and the experience of that memory has been changed!

Any thoughts on all this? Do you know someone who suffers from PTSD, or have you struggled with this disorder?

PTSD is on my mind these days because of my new series, About a young woman who trains service dogs for PTSD sufferers. Please take a moment to check out Book 1 in the series, To Kill A Labrador.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

“Control Yourself!”

by Kassandra Lamb

Note: In light of the events in Paris Friday evening, I considered changing this post, which had already been written and uploaded. But I decided to leave it alone, as the topic is relevant. We are all reeling emotionally a bit right now. I will write a post soon on coping with the reality of terrorism. But for now, here is the original post scheduled for today…

Road rage, mass shootings, domestic violence… Self-control is highly valued in U.S. society, and yet we seem to be more out of control than ever.

Maybe that’s because we’re going about it all wrong.**

Now I’m not saying this is a simple issue–it’s not. A lot of different factors play into the escalating violence, but one of them is how we attempt to control our emotions.

We often try to do this by suppressing them, and this doesn’t work well over the long haul. Those feelings don’t go away; they just go underground.

The word emotion comes from the ancient Roman word, exmovere, which means “energy that moves.” Those Romans were wise beyond their century, because that is exactly what emotions are: energy that has to move. It has to move up and out of your system in order to dissipate. If you try to stuff it down in your subconscious mind, well, “energy that moves” just doesn’t stuff too well.

(by Jens Bludau CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(by Jens Bludau CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Suppressed emotions tend to act like volcanic pressure–they build up to a lava-hot temperature and then spew out of every available crevice.

(**Note: this post is the follow-up to my guest post on misconceptions about emotions over at Jami Gold’s blog last week.)

 

There are three things that have to occur for an emotion to go away:

1. The emotion needs to be acknowledged for what it’s REALLY about. This is tougher than it sounds because sometimes, often even, we don’t know the real reason! The emotion may have been generated by an unconscious reaction to something in the environment that never even registered consciously, such as a subtle edge of derision in someone’s tone of voice. Or the reason may be forgotten because you didn’t act on it at the time.

Remember the adage for couples, to never go to bed angry with each other. This is why. By morning, you may have forgotten why you are angry, but the anger is still in there unresolved. Now it will come out indirectly and most likely in inappropriate ways.

by Nasrulla Adnan (Nattu) from Malé, Maldives CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

by Nasrulla Adnan (Nattu) from Malé, Maldives CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

So when you find yourself tempted to stuff a feeling down, stop and ask yourself WHY you are feeling that way. Try to identify WHEN you started feeling that way. See if you can track it back to its source so that you’re aware of its true cause. Then…

2. The situation causing the emotion needs to be resolved. I don’t think most people would even say that this sounds easy. Lots of emotionally-charged situations are complicated and it’s not that simple to just “resolve” them.

But keep in mind that changing the situation or the people who are the source of the emotion is not the only option. Sometimes we can just get away from the situation/person. Or we may be able to shift our attitude toward the problem in a way that makes us feel better about it.

When I changed careers from psychotherapist to college professor, I found myself feeling very anxious for no apparent reason. Sure this was a new challenge, but I had taught the occasional non-credit course before, so why was I on the verge of panic? Then I noticed that I wasn’t all that anxious when going into a classroom to face students. It was mainly nervousness whenever I thought about my department chair.

I figured out that this was mostly because I was no longer self-employed. I had gotten used to being able to do things my own way with no one looking over my shoulder. To make matters worse, I was adjunct faculty, which meant the department chair could just not rehire me for the next semester if he didn’t like me or my teaching style. I no longer felt in charge of my ability to make a living, and that was pretty scary.

That first semester I discovered two things. One, I loved teaching, and two, the anxiety wasn’t dissipating all that much. I didn’t want to quit, so I reframed my attitude. I lived in the Baltimore area at the time and there were about 50 colleges or universities within commuting distance.

I told myself that I was still self-employed, that I was a “contractor” contracting out my services as a teacher to schools (which was technically true). If I didn’t like a particular school or a department chair gave me a hard time, Well, I’d just go elsewhere.

Poof, most of the anxiety evaporated. I now felt in control of my fate again.

3. The emotion needs to be vented in some fashion. Sometimes this occurs as we are resolving the situation (since the cause of the emotions is getting fixed in some way). But sometimes we still need to “let off steam.” This does NOT necessarily mean that we have to vent the emotion AT the person who caused it, however. That isn’t always a great idea. Marriages have ended and jobs have been lost over inappropriate venting.

There are a variety of ways to do indirect venting. You can write a letter to the person, then tear it up, or you can talk it out with a friend who can be trusted to keep your confidences.

Just don't let anyone catch you talking to the man in the empty chair ;) (photo by Fred J, CC-BY-SA 1.0 Wikimedia)

Just don’t let anyone catch you talking to the man in the empty chair 😉 (photo by Fred J, CC-BY-SA 1.0 Wikimedia)

Or you can talk to yourself, pretending that you are confronting that person (either in your head or out loud, as long as there’s no one around to think you are losing it).

I realized that one factor in my angst about teaching was that my department chair had acted kind of strange the day he hired me. And he continued to act that way. My assumption was that he didn’t like me very much.

Finally it dawned on me that he wasn’t real sure how to take me. (I’m a rather intense person.) And that made him tense and awkward around me. When I got it that this was his issue, not mine, I got a little pissed. But I wasn’t about to confront him. He wasn’t mistreating me; he was just a little weird around me. A confrontation would have made it far worse, assuming that he didn’t outright fire me.

So I pretended he was sitting in a chair in my kitchen. (I started this imaginary conversation in his office, but that was too intimidating, so I moved it. Hey, it’s my imaginary conversation!) I told him I was annoyed that he had made me uncomfortable because he was uncomfortable. Of course, people in your imagination always act the way you want them to, so he apologized. (In real life, he would have thought I was nuts.)

The rest of the anxiety dissipated, and the next time I crossed paths with the man, I noticed that I no longer felt uncomfortable around him.

I taught at that school for nine years and loved every minute of it.

There’s no getting away from our emotions, and as already mentioned, stuffing them down doesn’t really work (we just think it does). But those pesky feelings can be fairly manageable if we can remember these three steps: sort it out, resolve it, vent it.

How about you? How good are you at “controlling” your emotions? Or are you just stuffing them?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington mystery series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Best Way to Resolve Conflict

by Kassandra Lamb

A couple weeks ago, I posted about how to handle bullies, those who promote conflict for its own sake to make themselves feel better about themselves.

But what about more everyday conflicts? What’s the best way to handle all those times when we find ourselves locking horns with someone who has no more desire to fight than we do?

I saw this approach to handling conflict in a video in graduate school many (many, many) years ago. It’s stuck with me ever since. I, in turn, taught it to my psychology students. They often came back with reports of how well it worked with bosses, boyfriends/girlfriends, parents, etc. I think it is the absolute best approach to conflict resolution.

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0)

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia)

First, let’s realize what conflict is all about. It occurs when two beings assume that their needs/desires are mutually exclusive of the other’s needs/desires. “If you get what you want, then I won’t get what I want” is the underlying belief. But often, if we can stop fighting long enough to analyze the situation more carefully, we will discover that there is a solution that meets both parties’ needs.

This process makes that possible.

Here are the four steps, then I’ll give an example.

  • DISENGAGE:  This is the old “count to ten” adage. Separate yourself physically from the other person and take as long as it takes for both of you to calm down.
  • EMPATHIZE: This is more than just acknowledging the other person’s feelings. It’s truly putting yourself in their shoes and realizing how you would feel (in most cases, we discover we would feel the same as they do).
  • NEEDS ASSESSMENT: What does each party REALLY need? This requires digging beneath the surface. What the person is asking for/demanding may not be what they really need. Often it is what they think will satisfy their needs, when something else will also do so, and perhaps better.
  • SOLUTION: Look for a solution that satisfies each party’s needs COMPLETELY. Often we are told that in order to resolve conflict, we have to compromise, i.e., each party gives up something to get part of what they want. Well, sometimes that’s true. Most times, however, there is a solution available that gives both parties all of what they want. But we have to look for it.

The first step is the easiest of them. Steps 2 and 3 are harder, especially if you do them right and really dig beneath the surface. But if those steps are done properly, often step 4 isn’t all that hard.

Here’s the example I used with my psychology classes. For anyone who ever dated, it will strike a chord. Most of us have been there, on one side of the dispute or the other.

Jane and Phil, both full-time college students with part-time jobs, have been dating for several months and have committed to an exclusive relationship. More and more often lately, they have been fighting over how much time Phil is willing to spend with Jane.

Jane says: “I feel like you don’t appreciate me. You want me when you want me, but the rest of the time you expect me to sit on a shelf, waiting for your phone call. I feel like you don’t love me as much as I love you.”

Phil replies: “I do love you, but that doesn’t mean we have to be joined at the hip. I need some time to myself sometimes, and time to hang out with the guys. I’m starting to feel smothered here.”

My students had little trouble coming up with a way for them to Disengage. Their best suggestion was that Phil and Jane should take a day or two off from each other, and then make a date to sit down and talk about the problem when they were both calm, rather than when emotions were already running high.

young couple sitting apart on bench

photo by Elizabeth Ashley Jerman CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

When I’d ask about the Empathize step, I’d almost always get this response: “That’s easy too. Phil is feeling smothered and Jane is feeling neglected.”

“No,” I told them. “That’s not good enough. They each have to step into the other’s shoes. Phil needs to imagine how he would feel if half the time he wanted to get together with Jane she said she’d rather be doing something else.”

The students admitted that he would probably feel neglected.

It’s a little tougher to get Jane to empathize with Phil. The question for her is: “How would you feel if Phil wanted to be with you every waking moment, even when you want to wash your hair or when a friend calls for a heart-to-heart talk?”

I’d ask the class: “Ladies, have you ever had a boyfriend who was clingy and always wanted to be with you?” At least half the female students would raise their hands (as would I since I did indeed have a couple boyfriends like that).

“Drove you crazy after a while, didn’t it?” I’d ask. They’d all nod. “Jane has to imagine this scenario and realize she’d feel smothered too.”

Now for the toughest step in the model, the Needs Assessment!

Phil is relatively easy. He has stated his need–for more alone time and time with his friends (assuming he isn’t intimacy-phobic and just using this as an excuse…hmm, another good idea for a blog post. *stops to jot that down*)

Jane is tougher. On the surface she’s saying she needs more time with him, but look again at her words about her feelings. She feels unappreciated and wonders if he loves her as much as she loves him. So is it more time with him that she really needs?

There would always be a pregnant pause in the classroom at this point. Then someone would get it. “She needs reassurance that he loves her.”

“Bingo! Now for the Solution. How can Phil give her that reassurance without spending more time with her? Because that does not meet his needs.”

The ideas would fly around the room. “Text ‘I love u’ or ‘thinking of u’ several times a day.” “Buy her flowers.” “Leave her little notes to find, like in her textbooks or on the windshield of her car.” (That one is my favorite!)

Jane might even be content with less of Phil’s time, if he’s giving her these reassurances of his affection.

This process works like a charm most of the time. If you remember to use it (which I often don’t, sadly).

What do you think of it? How do you tend to deal with disputes?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist/college professor turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

BULLIES

by Kassandra Lamb

Bullies have been on my mind lately for two reasons. One, they play a role in both of the stories I’ve been working on lately, one of which is releasing today (more on that in a moment).

Two, a friend of mine has been dealing with one lately–a forty-something adolescent who thinks it’s okay to disturb the peace in the neighborhood and harass those neighbors who object to his behavior.

Wikibully (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Wikibully (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

What motivates bullies?

I’ve wondered about that ever since first grade, when I was playing on the school playground by myself one day and an older girl–probably a fourth or fifth grader–came at me out of the blue and shoved me to the ground.

I wasn’t hurt and she walked away again as quickly as she’d come, so I didn’t even have time to feel scared. I was mainly just shook up. But I can still see her angry, sneering face in my mind’s eye, after all these decades.

I was amazed that some stranger wanted to do that to me. And I still am.

The other thing that amazes me is the frequent response to bullying expressed by those in authority–that the parties involved should “work it out amongst themselves.” This shows a total ignorance of how bullies operate. They count on others abiding by the rules, as they blatantly break them.

Here’s the dictionary definition of bullying: using superior strength, influence or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

Let me put on my psychologist hat for a moment and try to explain the motivation of bullies. They are insecure people who have figured out that they feel better about themselves when they are lording it over others. The problem is that their insecurities run very deep. So like a drug, this “fix” of power through intimidation of others only feels good for a brief time. Then their insecurities come roaring back, and they have to compensate again and again by bullying somebody.

Trying to “work it out” with them is often viewed as a sign of weakness, and eggs them on instead. (If you’re thinking “That doesn’t make any sense,” then congratulations, you do not think like a bully!)

This was my friend’s experience (we’ll call him Bill) when he confronted the neighbor who was racing his unlicensed four-wheelers, with no mufflers, on the vacant lots and streets of their rural neighborhood. Bill’s complaints about the noise, exhaust fumes and potential fire hazard (flames were coming out of the exhaust pipes while being driven through winter-dry underbrush), were met with the proclamation that the neighbor (we’ll call him Jack) “would ride wherever and whenever he damned well pleased.”

Jack then started intentionally riding around in circles on the lot next to Bill’s house for hours on the weekends.

So Bill bought the lot (he been thinking about doing so for other reasons anyway).

Jack reacted poorly to the new fence and “no trespassing” signs on the property. He intentionally ran into the fence, yelled at and shoved Bill. Jack then raced his unlicensed vehicles up and down the paved, county road in front of Bill’s house and on the other vacant lots beyond the one Bill had bought.

Other neighbors gathered and were flabbergasted by this man’s childish behavior. Bill took pictures of these events and then called the county sheriff’s department.

The sad part of the story was the deputies’ response. These were not bad cops. They were trying to do their jobs as they thought best. Which is the saddest part of all. This is a typical response by authorities to bullies, unless and until the victim is seriously hurt. And this response allows bullies to continue to do their thing.

To the report of the shove: “Did he knock you down? Were you hurt?”
“No.”
“Well, then we can’t do anything.”

(Note: Bill is 66 years old; Jack is in his mid 40s. So it’s okay for people to intentionally shove senior citizens as long as they aren’t hurt?)

To the report of him riding his unlicensed vehicles on county roads: “We have to see it ourselves in order to ticket him.” This, despite the fact that Bill had pictures; the deputies wouldn’t even look at them.

To the report of Jack running into his fence and intentionally tearing up the property just beyond it: They pointed out to the neighbor that he had no right to damage others’ property.

Then they told my friend he should “work this out” with his neighbor. Bill’s response was that this had already been attempted and they were now long past that point.

Bill persisted and finally the officers went to talk to the neighbor. Jack has been marginally less obnoxious since then.

Say no to bullying (image by Andrevruas CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Say no to bullying (image by Andrevruas CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Again, I’m not trying to paint the deputies as bad cops. I suspect they thought they were handling the situation appropriately.

But these attitudes have to change if we are going to put a stop to bullying in our society. We need to “Just Say No” to bullies. In other words, those in a position to do so need to stand up to bullies and make them cut it out!

This is for the bullies’ sake as well as the victims. Until a bully learns that s/he can’t deal with insecurity by being a bully, they won’t even try to deal with it any other way.

Here are some tips for how to handle bullies.

How to advise a child who is being bullied or who witnesses bullying:
1.  Calmly walk away if you can. Tell someone. Parents, teachers, coaches. Keep telling people until someone listens and takes action.

2.  Know that you are not a wimp, sissy, weakling or loser no matter what the bullies say. Don’t let insecure bullies define who you are!

3.  If you are being physically attacked, yell and make as much noise as possible. Bullies don’t like to get caught.

4.  If you are being verbally attacked, walk away. Don’t hit the bully no matter how tempting it may be. Some bullies intentionally egg others into violence, then report them to school authorities as if they were the innocent victim. Report their verbal bullying to teachers, etc.

5.  If you witness bullying, don’t laugh. That just eggs the bullies on and it isn’t TV or a movie– a real person is being hurt, either emotionally, physically or both. Indeed, don’t stick around at all; don’t give the bully an audience. Instead, go find an adult to intervene.

For adults encountering an adult bully:
1.  Don’t show your fear. Try to maintain a demeanor of calm and confidence.

2.  Get away from them if you can, without significantly compromising your own needs, rights and desires. Ignoring a bully sometimes takes the wind out of his sails.

3.  If you stand up to them (my preference), do it quickly, calmly and firmly.

4.  Give them an out to save face if possible. Don’t back them into a corner if you can help it.

5.  Try reverse psychology. Ask them to do the exact opposite of what you want. You want them to go away, so invite them to sit down and talk things over.

6.  Call the authorities and keep pushing until you get results.

Adults dealing with grown-up bullies is the subject of my new novella, Ten-Gallon Tensions in Texas, which officially releases today. It is just 99 cents for today and tomorrow only! It goes up to $1.99 on 3/25/15.

Please check it out and then talk to me in the comments. Have you ever been bullied? What strategies for dealing with bullies have you found effective?

cover of Ten-Gallon Tensions in TexasTen-Gallon Tensions in Texas, A Kate on Vacation Mystery

Town secrets, an old nemesis, a corpse–what else will show up at Skip’s high school reunion in Texas?

When Kate and her husband arrive in his hometown for the event, they discover that new disputes have been heaped on top of old animosities. Tempers flare, fists fly, and before the evening is out, Skip stumbles upon a dead body.

Fortunately the town’s sheriff is an old buddy of his, but will that keep him from becoming a prime suspect? Trying to uncover the real murderer leads Kate and Skip to uncover long- buried secrets instead, and their names just might end up on the killer’s must-die list.

Also, the 1st two books in the series, An Unsaintly Season in St. Augustine and Cruel Capers on the Caribbean, will be 99 cents through the end of the March.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and the Kate on Vacation mysteries.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Forgiving My Body — #BOAW2015

by Kassandra Lamb

This post is part of The Beauty of a Woman Blog Fest, sponsored by the marvelous August McLaughlin. After you read this, hop on over to her site for some other great BOAW2015 posts–some that are funny, some that are serious, some that are some of both. And there are prizes! Woot!!

BOAW2015 logo

logo by Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson

Why is it that we so often fail to appreciate what we have until we lose it?

Unlike way too many women in our society, I have always had a fairly decent body image. I know I’m no beauty but I haven’t broken a mirror yet.

The fact that I didn’t disliked my body was borderline miraculous since I didn’t like my inner self all that much during my high school and college years. But in my youth, I took my health and my natural slenderness for granted.

After a round of therapy in my early twenties, I learned to love myself. But I still tended to take my body for granted.

Me at 30, with my 3-year-old son.

Me at 30, with my 3-year-old son.

I was blessed with a high metabolic rate that gave me lots of energy and allowed me to eat just about anything without worrying too much about my weight. Occasionally, I’d get close to my “panic weight” and I would go on a moderate weight-loss diet for a week or two and get it back down.

In case you’re starting to hate me about now, read on…

At age thirty, I became a therapist and started counseling women who were struggling to feel good about themselves and their bodies. I finally realized–intellectually at least–how lucky I was to have both a high metabolism and a healthy attitude toward my body. But emotionally I still didn’t completely get it.

In my late thirties, I developed symptoms that pointed toward early menopause. My doctor ran some tests. It turned out that Graves disease (i.e. a hyperactive thyroid), not menopause, was causing my hot flashes, dizzy spells and muscle fatigue.

For the next three years, I struggled with this disease. Medications had little effect. My endocrinologist recommended having my thyroid removed. I resisted, not wanting to be dependent on synthetic hormones for the rest of my life.

I had more and more problems with muscle fatigue. I would start a project on the horse farm we owned at the time, and halfway through it I’d become so weak I could hardly walk. I was forced to give up the Aikido lessons I loved.

My now over-revved metabolism kept me awake at night, leaving me tired but jittery during the day. I described it at the time as my engine racing but I couldn’t get it to go into gear so I could actually accomplish anything.

For the first time in my life, I hated my body. It had betrayed me. I was still relatively young–just over forty–and yet most women in their fifties had more energy than I did.

Finally I gave in and agreed to the thyroidectomy. This is done via radioactive iodine that gradually destroys the thyroid. For the next six months, as my thyroid tissue diminished, I fluctuated between hypothyroidism (low hormone levels) and what my doctor defined as normal.

But it didn’t feel all that normal to me. Each time the hypothyroid symptoms would become noticeable (weight gain, fatigue, hair falling out), the doctor would increase the dose of my synthetic hormones.

Age 50, at my son's college graduation

Age 50, at my son’s college graduation.

But each time this happened, I gained a few more pounds before things stabilized again. By the time all was said and done, I was 45 pounds overweight. And my “new normal” was a lot less energetic than I was used to being.

Eventually, I came to three realizations. One, slender was a thing of the past. My goal weight is now 15 pounds higher than my “panic” weight was in my youth. Two, I had to adjust to my new energy level if I wanted to enjoy life again. And three, I had to forgive my body, and in order to do that I had to face the anger I felt toward it.

I knew as a therapist that you can’t just talk yourself out of feeling a certain way. Emotions must be acknowledged and vented, no matter how illogical they are, before they will dissipate. So I finally let myself fully admit how pissed I was at my body.

Finally, my anger ran its course and that cleared the way to adjustment. I faced the fact that the reserve tank of energy, that most people can tap into when needed, just wasn’t there for me anymore. I learned to pace myself–to allow recovery time in between demands on my energy.

I grew to be okay with my body again, not necessarily loving it, but not hating it either. For the better part of two decades, I assumed that was as good as it would get–a truce between me and my body.

Only recently have I realized that instead of taking my body for granted, I had started to ignore it, pretending that it wasn’t really “me.”

A year ago I decided that, for health reasons, I needed to lose some of the excess weight. (I had lost weight a few times before but it would gradually creep back up; my body is the poster child for set-point theory.) This time I needed to lose it gradually so my set point would adjust along the way. I doubled my exercise and moderately decreased my calorie intake.

The plan is working. I’ve got ten pounds left to go. And I’m enjoying the increased energy (still not what it used to be) and I’m feeling healthier overall.

But recently I started to feel something else again. And this is the main reason I decided to write this post.

I’m starting to feel connected to my body again. It is part of “me” again. And I realized it always has been, whether I liked it or not. By ignoring it emotionally, I was deadening myself to part of myself.

I feel good about being in my body again. I feel lighter (emotionally as well as physically) and happier.

For many years as a counselor, I preached to my clients that one’s worth does not come from one’s packaging but from what is inside that package. I still believe that, but I’ve come to realize that our physical well-being is definitely tied to our emotional well-being.

It’s all “part of the package”–inside and out!

Have you ever felt betrayed by your body? Were you able to forgive it eventually?

(Don’t forget to check out the other BOAW2015 posts!)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

A Mystery Writer’s Revenge (on Second Thought…)

by Shannon Esposito and Guest Blogger, Sheila Webster Boneham

I first met Sheila when I found the Facebook group called Writers and Other Animals. First of all, the name cracked me up. Then I joined and found it a great little group for writers and readers who love animals. (Here’s the link if you want to check out the group.)

Boneham_portrait_AussieKiss_600wAlong with supporting her fellow mystery writers with this group and her personal blog, Sheila writes nonfiction books about dogs and cats and has three books out in her mystery series: Animals in Focus Mysteries. Busy lady!

Luckily for us, she found the time to stop by our place. Here are her thoughts on the mystery writer’s favorite form of revenge.

 ~~~~~~~~

Be nice to me or I’ll put you in my book is a popular saying among writers. Mystery writers often add “and kill you” to the end. After all, revenge, served hot or cold, is a powerful motive for murder and mayhem, in life and in fiction.

Taking revenge on the meanies in our lives can certainly be tempting, and more than one writer has done it. I have. At least I started to take revenge in writing, and in the process I learned a few things, or perhaps I remembered things I already knew.

mug with author's revenge saying on itLet me back up to my first mystery, Drop Dead on Recall, which begins at a canine obedience trial. When I started the book, I had just emerged from a very dark pit of online harassment by a nasty little group of people whose agenda still mystifies me. In retrospect, it was a tiny bump in life’s road, but at the time it was all-consuming. In the first draft of my book, a couple of the characters were remarkably similar to the harassers. I even had one of them kill the other one. Ha! Gotcha!

Then came the first revision, after a several-month hiatus from mysteries while I wrote a nonfiction book about dogs. It was good that I had a break from Drop Dead on Recall. When I came back to it, I found that the revenge impulse had weakened considerably. In fact, the characters were no longer very interesting to me, in real “online” life or in my book. So I merged them into a single character known only to me (and my husband, but he’ll never tell). I changed the nature of that character, and by doing so, I changed the book and, I think, myself.

By the final revision of the first book, even I barely remembered the original inspiration for the character in question. In The Money Bird, that character has made a few changes for the better, and as I wrote that second book, I understood that allowing a character I disliked at first to become less loathsome was useful not only to the series, but to me as a person. That character has continued to evolve in Catwalk and in my fourth book-in-progress.

Sheila's Aussie Jay jumping a high jump.

Jay would much rather play than seek revenge.

And I guess along the way my “get even” character has taught me a lesson, too (because our characters become very real as we write them). I’ve realized that letting go of the revenge-by-literary-murder impulse has served me well. Revenge takes time and energy, and icky people just don’t deserve that much of our lives. I still have the urge at times, of course. Who doesn’t? But I’m working it.

Now when I see a t-shirt or mug with that “be nice to me” quote, I mentally attach a different ending. The best revenge, I think, is to forget those who harm us, but that’s never easy and may be impossible. Still, I rather like the ring of, “Be nice to me or I won’t put you in my book.” Or, with the character in my series in mind, maybe I’ll rewrite the saying to, “Be nice to me or I’ll change you in my book and make people like you—but they’ll never know it’s you!”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject of revenge. (And no, I won’t tell you which character it is! You’ll have to read the books to figure it out.)

cover of CatwalkSheila’s newest book, Catwalk, is now available for preorder (due out 10/8/14 from Midnight Ink)

Animal photographer Janet MacPhail is training for her cat Leo’s first feline agility trial when she gets a frantic call about a “cat-napping.” When Janet and her Australian Shepherd Jay set out to track down the missing kitty, they quickly find themselves drawn into the volatile politics of feral cat colonies, endangered wetlands, and a belligerent big-shot land developer

Janet is crazy busy trying to keep up with her mom’s nursing-home romance, her own relationship with Tom and his Labrador Retriever Drake, and the upcoming agility trials with Jay and Leo. But when a body is discovered on the canine competition course, it stops the participants dead in their tracks—and sets Janet on the trail of a killer.

Posted by Sheila Webster Boneham. Sheila writes and plays with her animals at her home in North Carolina. She is the author of the Animals in Focus mysteries. Please visit her website’s Mysteries Page, and/or join her on Facebook or Twitter. Sheila also runs the Writers and Other Animals blog and Facebook group – for readers, writers, and animals of all kinds!

Autographed copies of Drop Dead on Recall, The Money Bird, and Sheila’s nonfiction books, including Rescue Matters, are available from Pomegranate Books. Also available from your favorite bookseller (think Indie!) and online: Paperback and Kindle editions HERE and Audible editions HERE

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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Men Are More Aggressive, Women More Emotional–Actually Not! (an encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

(Part 3 in our encore presentation of my gender differences series; See Part 1: Gender Differences in Relationships here, and Part 2–Men Do, Women Process here.)

Most people assume that men, in general, are more aggressive than women, and that women, in general, are more emotional. In fact, the genders do not differ with regard to their natural tendencies in these areas. You heard me right. These are not true gender differences.

Aggression:

It is true that testosterone, when injected into animals of either gender, immediately makes them more aggressive. This experiment, to the best of my knowledge, has never been done with humans because of ethical and legal issues. But my guess is the results would be the same.

Male Nyalas fighting

It is also true that men have far more testosterone in their bodies than women do. So logic says that men should be more aggressive, and they are, physically, but not when you consider other types of aggression. More on that in a moment.

In the 1970’s, researchers attempted to prove the testosterone/aggression link in humans by looking for a correlation between testosterone levels and violent crime. They compared the levels of this hormone in violent criminals in prison with those of non-violent criminals, i.e., those who committed “white-collar” crimes such as embezzling or insurance fraud. Sure enough, the violent criminals had more testosterone in their bloodstream. There was just one wee little problem with this study. It couldn’t be replicated. Several attempts to repeat the study did not get the same results. Some studies found no differences. Several found that the violent criminals actually had lower levels of testosterone than the nonviolent ones.

Here’s another piece of confusing data. If one just considers physical aggression, elementary-school-aged boys are more aggressive than girls. But guess what? They don’t have all that much testosterone in their systems yet. This hormone is not released in any great quantity until the onset of puberty.

Strasbourg porcelain ca. 1775, in Victoria and Albert Museum, photo by Valerie McGlinchey

There are several kinds of aggression. But first let me define aggression. It is the act of invading another person’s territory, physical or emotional, or of violating their rights. So here are the different types:

Instrumental aggression:
the goal is to get something the person wants or avoid something they don’t want. Examples would be a child grabbing another kid’s toy because they want to play with it, someone intentionally butting in front of you in line, or the little brats above fighting over a bunch of grapes.

Reactive aggression:
the person responds to something they perceive as a hostile act with their own aggression. One kid pushes in front of another in line (instrumental aggression); the other kid hits him (reactive aggression).

Unprovoked aggression: intentionally hurting someone, physically or emotionally, because the act of inflicting pain is pleasurable or rewarding for the aggressor. This ranges from the schoolyard bully to the sadistic rapist or serial killer.

And here is the one that levels the playing field gender-wise. Drum roll, please.

Relational aggression:
using ostracization, spreading rumors, withdrawal of friendship, etc. to punish, manipulate or otherwise intentionally harm others’ social standing.

Studies that only look at physical aggression–be it instrumental, reactive or unprovoked–will most definitely find that boys and men, as a group, exhibit more aggression. But when you include relational aggression, the gender difference disappears.

So despite the whole testosterone issue, level of aggression does not seem to be a true gender difference. What is different is the way girls and boys are socialized to express aggression. “Boys will be boys” while girls are admonished to “play nicely.” So the girls quickly learn to use other tactics to express their aggression.

Now, think about the men whom you know personally. How many of them are truly aggressive, physically, verbally or relationally? Probably just a few. Most men are as uncomfortable with anger and conflict as women are. Fighting is not fun, bottom line.

Now think about the women you know. How many of them are spiteful, or at least rather snarky when gossiping about someone they don’t like. You probably know about as many spiteful women as you know truly aggressive, ready-to-pick-a-fight men. Maybe more.

Emotions:
When writing fiction, the task of making my male characters’ emotional reactions both realistic and believable is sometimes challenging. Why is this challenging?

Because realistic and believable, in this case, are not the same thing. People believe that women are more emotional than men. While in reality, they actually feel the same emotions internally as women do, and at the same level of intensity. They are just socialized not to express them.

Say what?

Yup, you heard me right. Studies that tease apart how men and women actually feel from what they are willing to express find that the feelings are the same. One particularly good study asked both men and women to place themselves in the shoes of the protagonist in hypothetical situations. They were given several scenarios to read and then asked to identify what emotion they would feel if they themselves were in such a scenario, and then to rate the intensity of that feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. After they had done that with all the scenarios, they were asked to go back and describe how they would express those feelings.

Both the men and women identified the same emotions. The anger-provoking scenarios provoked anger; the sad scenarios, sadness; the scary ones, fear; and the you-screwed-up ones, guilt.

The more surprising finding, however, was that there was no significant difference between the genders in the intensity of the feelings!

But, boy, did the differences start to show up when it came to expressing those feelings. That’s where the learned gender roles came into play. These are called display rules–which emotions each gender is or is not allowed to express in any given culture.

Paris, 1940, the day the French army pulled out and the Nazis took over the city.

When I talk about gender differences with my developmental psychology students, I ask the question, “What emotions are women allowed to express in our society?” They list every emotion out there, except anger.

Then I ask, “Guys, what emotions are you allowed to express?” There is a long silence, and then one of the male students will say, “Anger.”

“None of the others?” I ask. They think about it for a minute or two, then the guys all shake their heads.

“What?” I say. “You haven’t heard that women like a sensitive guy? Isn’t it okay for you to cry now?”

At this point, the room usually erupts into a lively discussion. The guys cite examples of times when they’ve let their softer sides show to girlfriends, and it didn’t go all that well. Unless she was a platonic friend. Then it was okay, but not with romantic partners.

And some of the gals will admit that it unnerves them when their guys cry. That they might feel empathy for him at the time, but there is a subtle loss of respect. But more and more, in recent times, the female students tell me that they are more assertive, more comfortable expressing anger. And yet the guys still can’t admit to being scared or sad.

In our society, the gender roles for boys and men are actually more rigid than for females.

Are women still discriminated against in the workplace and a variety of other arenas? Sadly, yes, all too often. But when it comes to gender roles, we are more accepting of females exhibiting masculine roles than we are of males exhibiting feminine ones. Think about the different implications of “tomboy” versus “sissy.” And girls and women have been wearing pants since World War II, but how often do you see a man in a dress?

Times have changed regarding gender roles in our culture, but perhaps not as much as we pretend they’ve changed.

What are your thoughts on all this? What gender differences have you observed in how men and women express anger and other emotions?

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist and college professor turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington Mystery series.)

We blog here at misterio press once a week (usually on Tuesdays), sometimes on serious topics and sometimes just for fun. Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!