Tag Archives: emotions

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. 🙂 )

6 Fascinating Things to Understand About the Mind (and PTSD)

by Kassandra Lamb

I started out today with the goal of writing about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Then I realized I needed to start elsewhere, with a bit of an explanation of how the human mind really works. So this is Part 1 of a two (maybe three) part series on the mind and PTSD.

Freud

Sigmund Freud (public domain)

Sigmund Freud introduced the concepts of the conscious mind and the unconscious mind in the early 1900s. His theory was quite controversial in its day and for quite a few decades afterwards. But a century after its introduction, most of us accept that there is stuff going on in our brains that we’re not currently aware of consciously.

But what exactly are these things called a conscious or unconscious mind (or the term often used by lay people–the subconscious mind)?

They aren’t really things at all. These aren’t actual places in the physical brain. There is no barrier somewhere in there that separates what is conscious from what is unconscious. Indeed, information flows back and forth between the two states of awareness all the time.

Here are six pieces of information one needs to know to understand the workings of our conscious/unconscious minds. I find them fascinating and hope that you do too.

NUMBER 1: Limited Time and Space
What we think of as our conscious minds, memory experts would call our working memories. Whatever one is thinking about at any given moment is in his/her working memory.

brain scan of working memory at work

The active parts of the brain during working memory tasks. (public domain)

Unfortunately, working memory is a pretty small space. There’s only room for about five to nine “chunks” of information at any given time. And unless one is actively focused on/thinking about a particular piece of info, it will drop out of working memory in about ten seconds or so.

Makes you wonder how we humans ever accomplish anything intellectual, doesn’t it?

NUMBER 2: Attention
If we pay attention to something, we can hold it in working memory (aka our conscious awareness) much longer. And if we are not focused on something (some verbal thought, piece of information, feeling, mental image, etc.), it will fade into the background (i.e., slide back into the unconscious mind), crowded out of working memory by whatever we are paying attention to at that moment.

Most information stored in our brains is available to our conscious minds IF the right memory cue comes along to bring it to the surface. But some things can get buried pretty deep in the unconscious, either due to lack of attention for a long time or to active pushing aside by our defenses (more on this next week).

Have you ever had the experience of something triggering a very old memory and you think, Gee, I haven’t thought about that in years?

NUMBER 3: Connections
The third thing to understand is that our minds automatically make a lot of connections between various things. This is called conditioned learning.

Ivan Pavlov

Personally, I think Ivan’s a lot cuter than Sigmund. (public domain)

Anyone who’s ever taken a psychology class has heard about Ivan Pavlov, the Russian physiologist who first had the Eureka moment regarding conditioning. He was studying the rate of salivation in dogs when presented with food, but after a while, he noticed that the dogs in his lab were salivating before the food was presented. They’d start slobbering in response to the sight of the equipment used to measure their drool, or to the lab attendant’s footsteps coming to get them out of their cages.

The dogs’ brains had learned to associate these other sights and sounds with the fact that they were about to be fed. And a biological phenomenon over which the dogs had no conscious control, salivating, occurred whenever they experienced these cues.

It’s imperative to our survival and sanity that our brains make all these little connections. They make life so much easier.

A moment ago, I scratched my hand without thinking about it. I hadn’t even noticed consciously that the hand had an itch until I was scratching it. And even then I might not have noticed if I hadn’t been casting about for an example of unconscious connections.

Without these learned associations, I wouldn’t have automatically scratched that little itch. The itch would have had to build until it was so annoying that I became consciously aware of it. Then I would have to stop and think and ask myself what has helped make something stop itching in the past. Oh yes, scratching the itchy spot usually helps.

Humans would have long since died off if they had to give that much conscious thought to every little need. There would be no time nor space in their working memories to solve problems or invent things.

NUMBER 4: The Form Our Thoughts Take
Neural impulses are firing in various parts of our brains all the time, but once we develop a fair amount of active language (usually by age 4 or 5), we tend to be most aware of our verbal thoughts. In other words, we consciously think in language most of the time.

Visual images also play a role. We may consciously call up an internal vision of something that happened in the past, or of a place we’re planning to go.

This morning, I accidentally drove past the post office, where I had planned to mail some letters. No problem, I thought as I visualized the big blue mailbox in front of my grocery store. I can mail them at the store. (My next errand.)

wedding day

I can recall being hot but I can’t feel it again consciously.

Memories of other things we’ve sensed may come into our conscious awareness as well, but most likely those thoughts will be verbal. When I think about my wedding day, during one of the hottest Augusts in Maryland’s history, I remember that it was hot. But I don’t actually feel that heat again. Likewise, I can recall that I felt both scared and excited that day. But I’m thinking about those feelings, not actually re-experiencing them.

The visceral sensations associated with memories and previous feelings are not all that accessible via our conscious minds.

Which brings us to…

NUMBER 5: Where Things Are Stored
First, let me point out that information tends to be stored in the part of the brain where it was first processed (or later, where it was re-processed; more on this next time). There’s a long biological explanation for that, which I think we’ll skip. Please just take my word for this little tidbit.

There’s a lot of stuff constantly being processed and stored in various parts of our brains, but to keep this simple I’m going to focus on the functions of three parts of the brain.

For most people (all right-handed ones and some left-handed ones), language functions occur in the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex. (The cerebral cortex is the outer layer and the highest level of the brain, where actual rational thinking occurs, among other things.)

The cerebral cortex hard at work.

The cerebral cortex hard at work.

Visual perception (i.e., the processing of what we see) and sound modulation processing (i.e., tone of voice, etc.) occur mostly in the right hemisphere.

So if someone says, “Now don’t you look lovely tonight, my dear,” in a mildly sarcastic voice with a slight sneer on their face, your left hemisphere processes the words themselves. But your right hemisphere sends out a “snark alert” after interpreting the body language and tone.

But here’s the thing–sometimes those interpretations of visual and auditory info don’t make it into the conscious mind, because that information is being processed in the right hemisphere and we are more prone to be aware of our verbal left hemisphere’s thoughts. If at that moment when the subtly snarky comment is being processed, we’re thinking, “Gee, I’m glad I wore this outfit tonight,” that thought may crowd the interpretation of the body language and tone of voice out of conscious awareness.

But they’ve still registered in the right hemisphere. That part of our brain knows we’ve just been dissed, even if our conscious mind is oblivious. (And the memory of that event is mostly stored in the right hemisphere–the images, tone of voice, etc.)

Okay, let’s look at where emotions tend to be processed and stored. Research indicates that our positive emotions–joy, pride, anticipation–tend to be processed mostly in the left hemisphere, while the negative ones–fear, anger, disappointment, sadness–are mostly in the right hemisphere.

Do you see where this is going? You walk away from that person assuming you’ve been complimented when in reality you’re feeling hurt and belittled, and you don’t even know you’re having those feelings, because none of that ever made it into conscious awareness. So you end up being in a bad mood or maybe you pick a fight with your mate, accusing him or her of never appreciating how you look.

And you’re totally oblivious to the fact that your mood and behavior have been affected by the jerk with a smirk on his face.

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, Wikimedia Commons)

This brings us to one more part of the brain that is important to understanding the conscious vs. unconscious mind. The cerebellum is a section of the brain at the lower back part of your head. It is not part of the cerebral cortex, so it is completely outside of conscious awareness and pretty much beyond the reach of logical thought processes.

Research indicates that all those learned associations I mentioned earlier are stored in the cerebellum. So they operate outside of conscious awareness.

Which brings us to the part of this that relates to PTSD.

NUMBER 6: Memories, Old Associations and Feelings Can Be Triggered Without Our Conscious Awareness
Let’s go back to the jerk with a smirk for a moment. I didn’t make that example up. That really happened to me. The host of a professional gathering met me at the door with that greeting.

My conscious mind (left hemisphere) was preening at the compliment but unconsciously, my right hemisphere picked up on the implied slam that I usually looked like crap.

As the evening progressed, I found myself feeling more and more insecure and self-conscious–not a normal reaction for me. I’m pretty secure in my ability to get along with people and be well-liked. But that evening, I found myself stumbling in conversations and even becoming physically clumsy.

mirror

For some reason, looking in the mirror often helps me connect with my unconscious mind (photo by Surii, CC-BY 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

I finally took myself off to the ladies’ room to have a little chat with myself. Looking in the mirror, I thought, “What’s wrong with me? I haven’t felt this awkward since middle school.”

Sometimes when you ask your unconscious mind a direct question, it gives a direct answer, if you’re paying attention. I immediately flashed to a mental image of that scene at the door. Only this time I heard the tone and saw the sneer on a conscious level.

A little background info here. I was what my mother politely called a “late bloomer,” and my classmates in middle school, being the delightfully civilized creatures that they were, teased me unmercifully about my nonexistent figure and overall gawky appearance.

The host’s tone and sneer had triggered an association (via my cerebellum) to those middle school memories and the self-conscious feelings from that time in my life (stored in the right hemisphere). All this happened outside of my conscious awareness and created a totally out of character reaction, both in my emotions and behavior.

Knowing the man as I did, I suspected he’d done it on purpose. This guy, a colleague I could barely tolerate, liked to mess with people’s heads.

I slapped on a big smile and went back into the room where the event was being held. Sailing past him, head held high, I paused briefly to thank him for hosting such a successful gathering, with a hint of sarcasm in my tone. He gave me a strange look. I hope that I successfully hid my own smirk.

Next time – how all this explains PTSD symptoms.

How about you? Has anything like that ever happened to you, where you acted out of character without understanding why? Do you find the human mind as fascinating as I do?

Please take a moment to check out my new release, Book 1 in a new series about a young woman who trains service dogs for combat veterans with PTSD.

ToKillALabrador FINALTo Kill A Labrador, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery

Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha) likes to think of herself as a normal person, even though she has a rather abnormal vocation. She trains service dogs for combat veterans with PTSD. Then the ex-Marine owner of her first trainee is accused of murdering his wife, and Marcia gets sucked into an even more abnormal avocation–amateur sleuth.

Called in to dog-sit the Labrador service dog, Buddy, she’s outraged that his veteran owner is being presumed guilty until proven innocent. With Buddy’s help, she tries to uncover the real killer.

Even after the hunky local sheriff politely tells her to butt out, Marcia keeps poking around. Until the killer finally pokes back.

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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. 🙂 )

10 Ways to Make Your Imperfect Holiday a Happy One (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

Since I’m traveling today, on my way to visit my son and family, I thought I’d re-run one of my more popular posts. (The mp blog will be on hiatus until January 12th)

Merry Christmas, Everyone!!

~~~~~~~~~

This time of year is supposed to be joyful – full of good food, time spent with family, tinsel and bright lights and lots of packages under the tree.

We tend to have high expectations for the season, and also to feel that we have to meet others’ expectations so that everyone has a fabulous holiday! The reality sometimes falls short, and all too often in our attempts to make the holidays perfect, we end up short – as in short-tempered, and major stressed out!

Maybe we need to loosen up on some of those expectations… and prioritize what’s most important for ourselves and our families. First, let’s break things down a bit. We have gifts, decorations, food and family (I refer to Christmas below, but the same ideas apply to other holidays of the season.)

(This is actually a shopping mall in Canada; photo by Benson Kua, from Wikimedia Commons)

A shopping mall in Toronto, Canada (photo by Benson Kua, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

GIFTS: Some people (like me) love to shop; other’s loathe the process. If you fall into the latter category the first thing you can do is…

1. CULL THE GIFT LIST. Do you have people on your list for whom you have no idea what they want or like? Then you probably don’t know or like them well enough to be spending money on them. Are there relatives on the list with whom you exchange token gifts, neither party really caring whether the other likes what they get?

See if you can get them off the list without offending them. Suggest that you not exchange gifts, just enjoy each others’ company. (They may very well agree with great relief.) Or buy them something inexpensive and consumable, and repeat next year. You don’t have to be creative when nobody cares. (My mother-in-law got scented hand lotion from me every year. She was fine with that.) Suggest your extended family draw names and each person gets, and gives, just one gift.

2. SHOP EARLY. Whether you love or hate shopping, this is good advice. Yes, there are great bargains closer to Christmas but there’s also a lot more pressure. And these days, retailers often have sales going off and on throughout the fall.

Christmas shopping tends to bring out the procrastinator in many of us. It feels like such an overwhelming task. But the longer we put it off, the worse it will be. On the flip side, the sooner you start, the less pressured and the more fun it can be.

My brother and I begin in October with an all-day shopping trip. I love to shop; he’s not that keen on it. But we make it a fun outing. And because it’s only October, we know we have lots of time to find those items that don’t jump into our cart that day.

Get started early and get done early. You will be the envy of all your friends, and so, so much more relaxed as the holidays draw nearer.

3. DO YOU HATE TO WRAP? Or do you love it? If you love it (as I do) starting early on your shopping means you have plenty of time to enjoy the wrapping process. I make it part of my evening routine as I watch TV. Wrapping three or four packages a night, I’ve got it done in no time. And it gets me in the holiday spirit!

tow of red gift bags

Photo by Melinda & Cristiano, CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr/Wikimedia

But if you hate it, I have two words for you…

Gift Bags!!! For a buck or two apiece, your wrapping is done!

DECORATIONS:

4. DECORATE FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY, NOT THE WORLD. Unless you totally get off on decorating (I know a couple people who do), keep it simple. Ask yourself what is most important for you and yours?

For years I struggled with those #%@&* outside lights, stringing them over trees and bushes and freezing my tuckus off in the process. Today, the inside of my house is a Christmas wonderland, because I enjoy putting up those decorations. But outside, there’s a wreath on the front door and a pre-lit table tree in the dining room window. That’s all my neighbors are getting from me.

And you know what? None of them have complained.

5. MAKE IT A FAMILY AFFAIR. When I was a kid, my father was in charge of decorating the tree. He was meticulous. All the ornaments had to be balanced, the tree totally symmetrical. (He was an engineer.) He would carefully put one strand of tinsel on each branch.

449px-Christmas_Tree_(1) pub domain wiki

A slightly off-kilter tree, but still gorgeous! (public domain–Wikimedia)

He made my mother nuts!! And my brother and I fled to our rooms until the tree was done.

The blinkin’ tree doesn’t have to be perfect. Get the whole gang involved and it will be done in no time. And if you must have symmetry, you can move a few ornaments after everyone else is in bed.

FOOD: If you love to cook, go for it. If it’s not so much your thing (like me), look for ways to keep it simple.

6. PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME. I learned this from my grandma. Every year, she came over to our house on Christmas Eve. She made the dressing that night, and prepped the turkey. The next morning, Mr. Turkey just needed to be transferred from the fridge to the oven.

7. IS THAT BIG MEAL REALLY WHAT YOU WANT? Again, ask yourself what really matters. You just had a big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Is it crucial that you have another one a month later?

A few years ago, my family was facing some stressors around the holidays that made us want to simplify things as much as possible. We decided we would have a cold buffet for Christmas dinner, for just that year. I baked two turkey rolls the day before and my daughter-in-law and I made or bought various salads. I was sure it would be a letdown not to have the traditional big Christmas dinner.

Guess what? We didn’t miss the traditional dinner one bit! The meal was just as tasty, and so much less stressful. Instead of spending inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen prepping and then cleaning up from a big meal, we spent that time balancing plates on our laps and laughing and talking as we enjoyed each other’s company. We’ve been doing Christmas dinner that way ever since!

FAMILY: This is, after all, the heart of Christmas, being with family. But how do we define our families?

8. SPEND CHRISTMAS DAY WITH THE PEOPLE WHO MATTER THE MOST. One of the mistakes I sometimes see people making on Christmas is that they spread themselves too thin. Christmases were special for me as a kid because they were relaxed. We opened our stockings, then had a leisurely breakfast. We opened our presents, then had a leisurely dinner.

Christmas with the extended family.

Christmas with the extended family, on 12/26. We’re having a ball, can’t ya tell? 😉

We went to visit the extended family the day after Christmas, or the following weekend. We saw everybody eventually, but NOT on Christmas Day!

The first year I was married, my husband and I tried to keep everybody happy. We got up extra early to exchange our own presents, then went to my parents’ house for brunch. Then we jumped in the car and drove for two hours to have Christmas dinner with his family.

Never again!

9. WHAT IS YOUR FAMILY OF CHOICE? If you don’t like your biological family, do NOT spend the most precious day of the year with them. Politely tell them that you want to spend Christmas with just your spouse and your children. If you’re not married, it’s okay to make your close friends your family of choice. If it feels too hurtful to say no to your biological family on December 25th, then designate another day–perhaps Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas–as your “family of choice” Christmas.

Last but definitely not least…

10. BE JOYFUL. The bottom line here is that this is a joyful holiday! So do your best to set it up so it is fun and relaxing for you and those who are most important to you!

Any other ideas for simplifying Christmas preparations and minimizing holiday stress? (Note: since I am traveling, it may b e a couple of days before I respond to comments.)

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. 🙂 )

“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. 🙂 )

5 Common Myths About Emotions (that we can use as authors)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m over at Jami Gold’s blog today talking about myths about emotions and how writers can tell better stories by understanding these misconceptions. Please hop over there and check it out!

But first join me in saying a huge Thank You to veterans!!

image by Moeez CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons

Happy Veterans Day!! (image by Moeez CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons)

5 Common Myths about Emotions

Homo sapiens have been sentient beings for thousands of years, and still we do not truly understand our own emotions. Yet we are fascinated by them.

Because, like it or not, emotions rule our lives. We all strive for happiness, and feel an array of emotions–anger, fear, sadness–when life thwarts those efforts.

Why do readers read? Some read solely to escape the emotional roller coaster of real life, but others seek to absorb themselves in the emotional lives of the characters so that they can better understand and live their own lives.

By understanding the misconceptions about emotions that we humans tend to believe out of ignorance or cling to out of denial, we can write better stories. By challenging these misconceptions and digging a little deeper into the human emotional experience, we can write enlightening and inspiring stories!

Read More…

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. 🙂 )

Achoo, I Think I’m Coming Down with a Depression

by Kassandra Lamb

Hapci-frDepression is considered to be the “common cold” of mental disorders because it is, well, so common. All of us get at least a little depressed at times.

If you’re thinking, Not me; I never get depressed, then you may have some misconceptions about depression. You don’t have to be extremely sad or down to be considered depressed.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders–the bible of mental health professionals–the mandatory symptom required for a diagnosis of depression is a “depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day” OR “markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities.”

In other words, not wanting to do the things you normally want to do is depression.

During the summer of 2002, I spent most of almost every day on my back deck reading mysteries. I had cut my psychotherapy practice back to just a few clients, in anticipation of retiring the following year, and I was only teaching one summer class.

We owned a horse farm at the time, and there were ALWAYS projects that needed doing. Normally I loved projects! And I loved riding horses.

My horse farm in Maryland -- I still miss it (but not the icy winters!)

My horse farm in Maryland required a lot of upkeep. But I loved it! Still miss it (not the icy winters, however 🙂 )

But that summer I only did the projects that were absolutely necessary, and I had to push myself to do those. I rode maybe once every two weeks, and again, had to push myself to do so. My main trail horse ended up foundering, a disease that can be caused, in part, by inadequate exercise!

In September, I went to my doctor–who’d known me for years–for my yearly check-up. I told him how I’d spent the summer. He gave me a worried look. “Kass, you’re depressed.”

I’m pretty sure my mouth was hanging open at that point. And yet I knew he was right. How could I have lounged around all summer on my deck without realizing that I was depressed?

Because I hadn’t felt down or sad. I just didn’t want to do anything–which was totally not me. Usually I was full of energy and couldn’t wait to dive into projects.

Another misconception about depression is that it means there is something seriously wrong with you. Nope, normal human beings get depressed on a regular basis. (“Common cold,” remember.)

Depression can be caused by biological and/or psychological factors. People who chronically struggle with depression often have some biological factors operating against them. They may have inherited a tendency toward depression or bipolar disorder or may suffer from hormonal imbalances that affect mood.

The psychological factors can come from a variety of losses, from changes in one’s routine to the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. They can also be related to things from our past that we haven’t yet resolved.

My depression that summer was a combination of biological events. I have a mild case of bipolar disorder (inherited from my father), and I was entering peri-menopause, the period before true menopause when the hormones are all over the place. Often when the depression is more a matter of loss of interest in normal activities rather than a blatantly down mood, it’s biological in nature.

A psychiatrist friend of mine once commented that depression is a disease of fatigue. That is so true!

-Avoid_fatigue_-_Eat_a_lunch_that_packs_a_punch-_-_NARA_-_513896 pub domainAs I’ve aged, I’ve really seen this. Anything that makes me tired puts me at risk of becoming depressed–allergies, a slowed metabolism from a flaky thyroid gland, side effects of medications. You name it–if it slows me down, it depresses me.

So what can we do about this common cold of mental disorders? If it’s related to a loss, we may need to acknowledge the loss and let ourselves grieve (not as easy as it sounds; more on how to do this in our 11/17 post next month). If it’s more biologically caused, we may need medication to combat this.

But keeping the fatigue factor in mind, there are other things we can do. Getting enough sleep eating right, for example. I find that regular exercise also helps to combat the depression. Anything that is a natural stimulant to our system can help.

I’ve had depression on the mind lately because of the book I’ve been writing and editing–Suicidal Suspicions. I worried that it was too dark and, well, depressing. My early readers have reassured me that it isn’t. They tell me that the mystery, subplots, and moments of humor in the story keep it from becoming too heavy.

I hope you agree. Today is its official launch day! And it’s the last day that you can get it for $1.99 (tomorrow it goes up to $3.99).

SuicidalSuspicions FINALSUICIDAL SUSPICIONS, A Kate Huntington Mystery, Book 8

Psychotherapist Kate Huntington is rocked to the core when one of her clients commits suicide. How can this be? The woman, who suffered from bipolar disorder, had been swinging toward a manic state. The client’s family is threatening to sue for malpractice, and Kate can’t fault them since she blames herself. How could she have missed the signs?

Searching for answers for herself and the grieving parents, Kate discovers some details that don’t quite fit. Is it possible the client didn’t take her own life, or is that just wishful thinking? Questioning her professional judgement, and at times her own sanity, she feels compelled to investigate. What she finds stirs up her old ambivalence about the Catholic Church. Is her client’s death somehow related to her childhood parish?

When she senses that someone is following her, she wonders if she is truly losing it. Or is she getting dangerously close to someone’s secrets?

AVAILABLE NOW on Amazon US   Amazon UK   Amazon Canada   Amazon Australia   NOOK   KOBO    APPLE

ALSO PLEASE STOP BACK SATURDAY FOR OUR HALLOWEEN POST (AND THE LAUNCH OF KIRSTEN WEISS’S NEW BOOK)!!

KWeiss_Hermetic_5_25x8_5 72 dpi(Psst! It’s available for PREORDER NOW at AMAZON and KOBO ~ coming soon to B&N)

The Hermetic Detective, A Riga Hayworth Paranormal Mystery

A Monstrous Assassin. A Metaphysical Detective.

Housebound with five-month-old twins, Riga Hayworth just wants to get back in the metaphysical detecting game. But when she’s called to help an elderly woman, haunted and alone, a deadly threat follows Riga home. Can Riga prevent a tragedy and protect her family?

The Hermetic Detective is the seventh and final book in the Riga Hayworth series of paranormal mystery novels. Buy this book to finish the epic series today.

 

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and has started a new cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries (coming soon).

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. 🙂 )

Happiness Is an Inside Job (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

(Note: I first posted this at the beginning of 2014. I’m re-posting it while I’m on vacation, with an update.)

The beginning of a new year is a time to look at where we’ve been over the last twelve months, and where we’re going during the next twelve. Was it a good year? Were we happy? If not, what will we do differently in the coming year?

Because happiness is the bottom line!

pciture of a happy man

(photo by Geo Pradeep–self-portrait of a happy man)

During my career as a psychotherapist I saw far too many people who were waiting to live, waiting to be happy, until they had achieved a certain goal. “Once I make X amount of money/become vice president of my company/raise brilliant, well-adjusted kids, etc. then I can be happy.” But life is not just about the final destination when we’ve achieved our goals; it’s also about the journey.

Those years of helping others figure out why they were unhappy and what they needed to do about it taught me that happiness is an inside job. Don’t get me wrong. Achieving our goals, obtaining a certain level of success–in whatever way we define it–is important too. But that alone will not make one happy.

The happiness or unhappiness caused by external things is fleeting. Ongoing happiness comes from within and is strongly influenced by two things. One is self-esteem–whether or not we feel worthy of being happy. I plan to address this topic next week.

Today I want to focus on the other factor–taking responsibility for our own happiness and making a point of doing what we want to be doing on a daily basis. This is the one that was out of kilter in my life a couple years ago.

I used to be really good about stopping every few hours and asking myself what I really wanted to be doing at that point in time. Note: I am not advocating shirking one’s responsibilities. What I ‘had’ to do was always factored in there, but I would try to balance it with periods of time each day when I was doing what I really wanted to be doing, i.e., what made me happy in that moment.

Another way of putting all this is that while we need to plan for and work toward our future goals, we also need to live in the present. But in 2013, I got caught up in living for the future. I kept thinking that if I could just work really hard today, I’d get enough of the pesky ‘haftas’ out of the way that I could have fun tomorrow. Sadly, the next day would have it’s own list of pesky ‘haftas’ and I’d find myself working long and hard again that day, and the next day and the next.

As 2013 was winding down and I finally got a major goal accomplished, it dawned on me that I’d spent an entire year of my life waiting to be happy. I know better!

Last year, I made a New Year’s resolution that I’d do a better job of time management, so I would have adequate time to write and edit–the parts of my job as an author that I really enjoy. I was fairly successful at doing that. I finished a novel and a short story, got both polished and published, and wrote the first draft of a novella. However, I worked 12 to15-hour days, 6 to 7 days a week to do it. I was so focused on the goals I’d set for myself in my writing career that I stopped focusing on being happy.

So this year (2014) I’m going to back off a bit on those goals. They’re still important and I’ll get them done. But I’m not going to be able to hustle for a few days or weeks or even months and get them all done and then I can relax and be happy. There will always be a new list of ‘haftas’ related to those goals, so I need to take some time to be happy, to stop and smell the roses more often along the way.

2014’s resolution: focus on one goal at a time, spend a reasonable amount of time each week working toward that goal, and every day spend some time doing exactly what I want to do that will make me happy that day.

picute of a rose

STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES!!

There’s a reason why sayings like “today is the first day of the rest of your life” and “stop and smell the roses” have become clichés.There’s truth in them.

Update:  I did much better in 2014, and 2015 has been a great year so far!!

How about you? What are you going to do “the rest of your life” to make yourself happy? What’s your favorite way to “stop and smell the roses” along the way?

(Note: because I’m traveling I won’t be online every day, so it may be a day or two before I respond to your comments.)

Also, I have my new book available for preorder. With two quick clicks now, it’s ordered and it will pop up on your ereader when it’s released on October 27th.

It’s on sale for a reduced price during the preorder period. Just $1.99 (goes up to $3.99 after the release).

SuicidalSuspicions FINALSUICIDAL SUSPICIONS, A Kate Huntington Mystery, Book 8

Psychotherapist Kate Huntington is rocked to the core when one of her favorite clients commits suicide. How can this be? The woman, who suffered from bipolar disorder, had been swinging toward a manic state. The client’s family blames Kate and they’re threatening to sue for malpractice. She can’t fault them since she blames herself. How could she have missed the signs?

Searching for answers for herself and the grieving parents, Kate discovers some details that don’t quite fit. Is it possible the client didn’t take her own life, or is that just wishful thinking? Questioning her professional judgement, and at times her own sanity, she feels compelled to investigate. What she finds stirs up her decades-old ambivalence about the Catholic Church. Is her client’s death somehow related to her childhood parish?

When she senses that someone is following her, she wonders if she is truly losing it. Or is she getting dangerously close to someone’s secrets?

PREORDER NOW on Amazon US   Amazon UK   Amazon Canada   Amazon Australia   NOOK   KOBO   APPLE

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and has started a new cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries (coming soon).

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. 🙂 )

Is It About The WHODUNNIT Or The WHO? (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m in editing hell at the moment, so I thought it would be a good time to offer up an encore presentation of a previous post. Indeed, this was the very first post I wrote here on the misterio press blog.

64px-Fingerprint_(PSF)Is it the whodunnit or the who?

In the last afternoon session at a mystery writers’ conference, I was drifting a bit as the long day was catching up with me, when the presenter’s statement jolted me wide awake.

“Mysteries are not about the mystery. They’re about the characters.”

My first thought: Say what?
Second thought: Dang, he’s right.

“Two weeks after the reader has finished a mystery,” the presenter continued, “they’ve forgotten most of the plot. But if it was a good story, they remember the characters.”

I knew, as a mystery reader, that this rang true.

But why is it true? my inquisitive, analytical little mind asked. I’m not sure I have the definitive answer to that question, but here are my thoughts.

People walking on sidewalk

photo by Linda Bartlett, public domain, Wikimedia Commons

We are surrounded by two things every day. One, we are surrounded by ordinary people–butchers, bakers and candlestick makers (maybe not so many of them anymore), doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs (yes, I actually do know an Indian chief).

Two, unfortunately in American society today, we are also surrounded by violence.

I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, which hovers around #12 on the list of worst crime cities in the country (after the recent riots, it may make it back into the top ten). When in Maryland visiting friends and family, my husband and I refer to the local Baltimore news broadcast as the “litany of murders.”

Okay, before you decide to click over to some less depressing blog, I am going to lighten up here.

So why in the world are murder mysteries and thrillers in the top three genres in fiction? (And they’ve been there for a long time!)

Cover of Black Mask magazine featuring the Maltese Falcon

Sept, 1929 issue of Black Mask magazine

Why do we turn to murder–that depressing, gruesome thing we hear about every night on the evening news–when we want to relax and be entertained?

Because we, as ordinary people, are fascinated by the idea of extraordinary things happening to other ordinary people like us. We want to see how the characters deal with the murder. If we find the characters engaging, if we can relate to them, then we are hooked.

When the everyday-person, could-be-you- or-me protagonist in a mystery is brave and daring, we are empowered. When s/he is scared, we swallow a lump in our own throats. When s/he is sad, our eyes tear up.

We project ourselves into these ordinary people who are struggling with out-of-the-ordinary situations. We are proud of their successes, mournful for their losses, terrified by the risks they must take, and relieved beyond measure when they are okay in the end.

We can experience these emotions and live through these experiences vicariously, without the real-life repercussions of such events. And often we grow a little and are strengthened, as the characters we have become immersed in are challenged and must grow or die.

In the past, when people have asked me why I love to read mysteries, I have said, “Because they are as far away from my own life as I can get. They are great escapes.” This is true, since I’m not in the habit of stumbling over dead bodies.

But I now realize that this statement is not the whole truth. I love mysteries because they are about people like me, but in situations unlike those I normally encounter in daily life. I love to see how these people (i.e., me) deal with the challenges of extraordinary events.

These are my thoughts. What are yours? Why do you love mysteries? Do you agree or disagree that they are mainly about the characters?

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. 🙂 )

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.

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