Anger Management – Part 2

Anger is the feeling we have that tells us that something is wrong. That wrong could be a threat, an inefficient thing or a situation of powerlessness. This feeling can prompt several different responses, a spectrum of inaction (passive, passive aggression) to action (assertive, aggression, getting out).

Last time [link] we looked at understanding anger – what is the feeling for and how do we judge what it is trying to tell us.

In this post we look at our responses to anger.

In the next post [link], we will look at what you can do when you realise your anger is not helping you.

Responses to Anger

Belo is a diagram model that helps understand anger responses. As the threat approaches (crossing boundaries) we should have an escalating response to that threat.

A series of responses to anger
Understanding the Anger Responses

Passive

Passive means no direct action is taken. This phase is preparing for a worsening of the event and induces mild stress to the self.

Generally we have a passive response when we feel that it will take more energy to fix the problem than the problem deserves, or that the problem will leave on its own, or that we just simply can’t actually do anything that would have a positive outcome.

Passive - Dog submitting to the more powerful wolf
Passive – Dog submitting to the more powerful wolf

Passive Aggressive

Passive aggressive also means no direct action is taken to the perceived threat, however indirect action is present. This phase is trying to non-directly tackle the problem or vent off stress to manage the self.

Either a perceived power imbalance between you and the threat exists (eg the boss is telling you to do a rotten job) or the effort required to fix the problem (quitting) seems worse than putting up with the problem or there is some other reason not to directly address the perceived threat. Yet the stress has built to the point where something needs to be done. This introduced the idea of venting.

Sabotage

When we feel powerless against the problem, we will find ways to demonstrate power in some way, even if that is going to penalise us later. We will do the task poorly, or promise to do the task and not do so, or undermine the thing in some other way. This gorilla tactic is about non-direct confrontation to prove that we have a say, even though we don’t.

Wooden shoe called sabot, the origin of the word sabotage
Sabot – a wooden shoe. The origin of the word “Sabotage” from “saboter” – to walk noisily, to make damage.

Transfer

So I can’t yell at the boss, because the consequence of that would be me losing my job and I really need my job. I can, however, take it out on Alex, who has done something that I can justify venting my aggression at. Alex, of course, doesn’t feel they deserve this. And they are right, because the thing that I am actually upset with isn’t anything to do with Alex, and the excuse of my aggression is a flimsy lie to justify my action. I have transferred my anger at my boss to an innocent bystander.

Scared child
Transferred anger – Sometimes we miss the harm we do

Often we take out work aggression on family, or family aggression on friends. A key element of who we pick to transfer our anger to is that they seem less powerful than the source of the anger, and we feel that we have a safer venting ability with them – that is, the consequence to our action will be less. We either hope that the victim of theis transferred aggression will understand, or feel sufficiently powerless that they will just put up with it.

Debrief

Debriefing is about talking about the problem to anyone and everyone. This is actually somewhat useful as a mechanism as it increases the chances of finding a solution that we haven’t thought of. There is also a chance that someone that we grumble to will directly fix the problem for us.

Two people talking
Talking can be useful – to vent, to solve, to get help

Often, though, we aren’t looking for solutions, we are looking to vent our frustrations in a non-aggressive way. We are not receptive to solutions, only sympathy.

When we grumble to someone else and they fix our problem for us, we learn that we can’t fix the problem ourselves. Instead when next we have a problem, we grumble yet again. When this doesn’t work, we feel trapped and helpless. We have accidentally taught ourselves learned helplessness.

Self Harm

When we can’t grumble, don’t dare transfer aggression, or do a gorilla tactic to sabotage the problem, we may find ourselves trying to release stress in another way. We can’t direct the damage out there, so we internalise it.

Self harm can be done in a number of ways. It can be substance abuse, diet abuse, tissue damage, social harm, financial harm and so on. The common element to all of these is it is bad for the self.

Drug Paraphernalia
Self harm – substance abuse

This harm expresses or relieves the internal pain in an external way that isn’t supposed to affect another. The worse the self harm, the more it indicates the stress that the self is under such that this is the way to vent that strain.

On the one hand this is a useful way to relieve the stress before it becomes explosively bad – suicide or murder – but on the other hand it delays actually solving the problem such that self harm is not needed. One should not stop self harming if the trigger problem still exists and no ameliorating actions have been put in place. Also note, this is not black and white – go see a professional and get good advice about your situation, how to reduce the problem and how to reduce your self harm.

Assertive

Being assertive is all about having the confidence to be forceful and powerful in your position and pushing a solution forwards in a non-aggressive way.

This should be the first method of resolving the problem use employ.

If the cause of your anger is another person, then surely they should be intelligent, capable and willing to resolve the problem with you. This “surely” has a number of assumptions built into it – assuming the other person has the capacity to understand the problem, the insight to recognise their share of the responsibility of the problem and the willingness to do something about the problem.

Businessman closing powerful fist
Being Firm – Personal power helps being assertive, be confident with what you are and can do

When this assumption is correct, then working with the other person to resolve the problem is relatively simple and effective. However the other person may not be as willing as you are to take on their share of the burden, or willing to acknowledge how big of a problem there really is, leaving you to be the one to shoulder the solution and the consequences of it.

Assertiveness is used to not allow the other person to shirk their responsibility. Clearly you need to have a good idea about what is your responsibility and what isn’t, what you should do and what you shouldn’t, and what you are willing to accept and what you aren’t. Knowing these things allows you to more confidently confront the other person and push your agenda forwards.

It is important to remember that you are supposed to be working collaboratively with the other person towards a solution rather than finding ways to blame the other person for everything that has gone wrong. There is a big difference between recognising an error and finding fault in a person.

“When you did this thing, the result was bad” versus “you are bad for doing this thing”.

If you are too passive in your approach, you permit the other person to make the problem yours and therefore the solution yours to do. If you are too aggressive, the other person may try to resist you or will leave out of fear. Assertive is that bit in between being passive and being aggressive (not to be mistaken for the passive aggressive phase) where you stand up for yourself but are also willing to acknowledge that you can change things too.

Beware of losing focus on the problem. If the other person is manipulative they will seek to find fault in you about things that are not relevant to this problem to distract from the things they have done that have contributed to this problem. So while it is important to recognise that you will need to make some changes to resolve this problem, it must be focused on this problem and balanced with what the other person has done and will do about this problem.

I’ll write a post about more on this soon.

When the cause of the problem is a non-animal, such as a defective item, then calming down and finding a logical solution to the problem is highly effective. For example, computers don’t respond well to violence. They just break or ignore your swearing. However a logical solution will exist- replace a part, try a different command, re-install the program, upgrade the machine etc.

If none of these work, then consider a new plan. For example, I may be frustrated that it will just take too long to get from this part of my holiday plan to a thing that I want to see. No logical solution will fix that – some things are just not feasible. So either I need to sacrifice some of my holiday elsewhere to make this work, or give up seeing this side line thing.

Aggression

Aggression is the solution to solving problems when we can’t reason with the cause of the problem, or can’t find a reasonable solution. It is a solution that either threatens to use or actually does use violence.

Aggression should be the last ditch effort to solve a problem, or a solution born of desperation.

Fists
Aggression is the use or threat of violence to force your agenda forwards

Direct Physical Threats

Previously I talked about a dangerous dog attacking. Passive won’t work – I’ll get bitten. Passive aggressive won’t work – I’ll get bitten. Assertiveness won’t work – I’ll get bitten. Aggression is my solution.

There are stages to aggression.

Posturing

The first part of aggression is looking like we are ready to do violence. This means seeming bigger (standing taller, hands on hips and elbows out, puffing out the cheeks slightly), sounding more menacing (deepening the voice, being louder), using threatening body language (raising a hand, looming over another, getting into their personal space) and some other body language means to communicate that you are not only ready for violence, but that you will win.

Woman standing with hands on hips, showing domination
Powerful stance postures dominance

If this bit is done successfully, the fight is over before it begins and you won.

Vocal Threats

Using the dangerous dog example, using my angry voice I scream at the dog. This comes out more as a roar than a high pitched scream. The roar indicates ability to do harm, the high pitched scream indicates being a victim. This is still about bluff.

Humans respond more to promises of harm. If the other person believes they will be hurt and tunes into that future pain, they may rethink their action. This is about bluffing the person into believing the fight is not worth their effort, that they will experience more harm than the good they are hoping to achieve.

Again, if this bit is done successfully, the fight is over before it begins.

Demonstrations of Violence

Demonstrating violence on things around you show your ability to do harm if needed. This can be foot stomping, banging on things, breaking an item near you, slamming doors or knocking furniture over. This shows not only a willingness to create damage, but an ability to do so as well.

Broken plates and cups
Local destruction and noise can scare the danger away

Violence

As a worst case scenario, you are in for a fight. You have not managed to fend the dangerous dog off with threats of violence and it is actively trying to bite you. Now you need to use your body to minimise harm to yourself and cause harm to another. There are excellent self defence courses you can go to in order to learn the most effective ways to remain safe, do escalating damage to another and stay within the legal limits of the law for self defence.

I am certainly not going to cover that here.

Bengal tiger fight
Bengal tiger fight

Indirect Threats

If the threat of direct physical violence to you is not present – there is no dangerous dog or human – then aggression is not your solution. But it may feel like it is.

We often substitute a feeling of powerlessness with aggression. If a bit of effort doesn’t resolve the problem, then more surely will. We want to escalate the effort until the thing is fixed. Consider trying to get a thumb tack into the wall. If the wall is harder than expected, then the thumb tack doesn’t go in by just pushing it, so we want to get a bigger thing, like a hammer, to hit it in. If that doesn’t work, we reach for a bigger hammer.

Often the solution isn’t try harder. It is try smarter. The smarter idea for the thumb tack is not to use a sledge hammer (you’ll just squish the thumb tack), it is to instead pre-drill the wall. Perhaps a thumb tack isn’t the solution you should be using on this wall.

Working with government agencies can be a nightmare of red tape and powerlessness. We think the solution should be simple, but we have to fill in form after form after form. We do all the things we are told, despite the contradictions, and still get nowhere or are told we are ineligible.  We have tried to be passive (comply with the forms), assertive (work with the front desk staff) and now we feel aggression is our best answer.

It isn’t.

The temptation is to yell, be belligerent and create a problem.

The actual solution is that you need a new plan. A bigger hammer won’t solve the thumb tack in the wall. Instead, using a smarter tool or change the thumb tack. In this case, go to the complaints line and then the should that not work ombudsman. Becoming aggressive to the front desk staff just won’t work.

There are times to tactically lose your shit. That is, snap a bit, look dangerous, clearly regain control of yourself and be reasonable again. This shows the other person that you are pissed off, but trying to be reasonable. Now is the time to say something like “I get that you can’t help me, and I know you want to, and clearly this should be a reasonable thing. So, what can I do now? Where further can I take this?”

Sometimes it is important to relay to the other person just how angry you are. However if they fear you, you are probably not going to get what you want. Instead it is about appropriate levels of display. There is a huge difference between a clear and crisp swear word, a pause and a retry versus knocking the staff members monitor off the table. Don’t do the latter.

Next time

In the next article [link], we will look at what you can do to manage how you feel.

Anger Management – Part 1

Anger is the feeling we have that tells us that something is wrong. That wrong could be a threat, an inefficient thing or a situation of powerlessness. This feeling can prompt several different responses, a spectrum of inaction (passive, passive aggression) to action (assertive, aggression, getting out).

We have looked at how to help an angry person (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

This post series is about how to manage your own anger, which on the one hand is easier because it is you, and on the other hand is harder, because it is you.

First we will understand what the feeling of anger is about and how to measure it.

In the next post [link], we will work on understanding what our responses to anger are likely to be and how they are useful to us.

Lastly [link], we will look at how you can change your anger and manage it when you realise the automatic feeling and response aren’t useful to your situation.

Understanding Anger

Humans have a range of emotions that help us to identify a situation and come up with a valid response. It takes far too long to manual perceive everything around you and manually process what it means and then manually go through your decision tree of actions to remain safe in a timely manner. We use feelings to automate a lot of this process and prepare the body for calm, flight or fight.

Angry child's face
Anger

The Anger feeling is triggered when our feeling assessment part of our brain (mostly thalamus, hypothalamus and amygdala) recognises a situation that indicates that something is wrong and to our detriment. You don’t get angry when you win a door prize of $100, but you do get angry when someone tries to take that $100 away.

Impact – judging threat, consequence and boundaries

Something that goes wrong that has little impact upon you will only prompt a small reaction, while that same thing that goes wrong that has a big impact upon you will have a stronger reaction. The impact of a the event is based on our perception of the threat and the strength of the consequences that event has.

Because the feeling of anger is based on our perception of the event rather than the reality of the event, how we interpret the situation and its consequences is key to how angry we get. Anger is personal rather than objective. The same event can affect different people in different ways.

We all have boundaries which vary from situation to situation. They may be physical boundaries, emotional boundaries, social boundaries, conceptual boundaries, intellectual boundaries and so on. Boundaries indicate the edge of where someone or something else affects you, and each progressive stage of affect until it is actually you that is harmed.

If someone is far distant they are not a factor to your safety. As they cross your first boundary line, you become aware of them and their potential threat, as they come closer you become more ready to act depending on who they are and what they represent to you. If they are a trusted loved one, those boundary lines are much closer, if they are a dangerous looking stranger, those boundaries are further away.

Each progression past each boundary that heightens threat increases our anger level if the perceived outcome is negative.

Powerlessness

In therapy, power is defined as the capacity one has to affect change. If we perceive ourselves to have a great deal of capacity to affect the change we want, we feel powerful. If not, we feel powerless.

Man standing in front of tanks in Tienanmen Square - a depiction of power
Man vs Tank – an interesting depiction of power

Once an event has occurred that affects us, we feel the need to address it. If we can do so without much effort or risk, then we feel we have sufficient resources  and ability – capacity – to fix the problem. While we often don’t feel powerful per se, we do note the absence of power – that is, when we can’t fix the problem.

Power is a strange concept. Every time we succeed at a task, we generally dismiss it as easy and not really worthy of notice – we minimise successes. If we have put a huge amount of effort into it, then we can feel accomplished and powerful.

We supplement our effort with anger. This form of anger is often secondary to the initial event as it has to do far more with ongoing consequences to the event than the initial reaction to it. More on that later. However it is important to note that the more powerless we feel to an event, the more it angers us and the more we want to be aggressive to compensate.

Culture

Different cultures have different ways to display anger, defining suitable methods of addressing things that provoke anger and what is a transgression of a boundary that should prompt you to be angry.

Some cultures include displays of mock aggression to symbolise social stature, or actual aggression to enforce social stature.

Respect is a concept that can either mean authority, recognition of capability or fear. If the definition you are using is recognition of fear, then you will use aggression to try to inspire respect from another person. For the person who sees respect as recognition of capability, they may fear you and disrespect you. Culture can have a strong foundational part of which definition of respect someone uses.

Treating another human as equal to you is a relatively new concept that is slowly propagating around the globe. There are cultures who still view “others” as lesser, or a part of that countries population as lesser. Each country has a sub-culture that suppresses another group. If you find that you are easily angered at someone for who you identify them as rather than what that person is actually doing, then you are practicing cultural suppression – an ism of some kind. Racism, sexism, ethnicism etc. You see that group as less than you, or a threat to you. This ism often ties into subcultural stereotypes and the disgust emotion.

Stressors and Compound Anger

In physics, stress is a force applied to a material and the effect that force has on a material. In psychological stress, the person feels a force acting upon them – work, arguments, hunger – and experiences that effect as stress. Some ongoing low level stress is good for us, and occasional large amounts of stress are also beneficial, so long as that force applying the stress doesn’t break us or last for too long.

Person being handed a phone, list, pen and writing pad indicating stress
Too many stressors

The more stress we feel, the shorter our fuse is with anger and the more prone we are to react with aggression. Suppressing the aggressive reaction to anger is stressful and so compounds our shorter fuse and our aggressive response.

This plays into one of our responses to anger – passive aggression / transference. More on that later in Part 2 [Link].

Primary and Secondary Anger

When anger is informing you that something is wrong and needs to be addressed in the absence of other strong feelings such as fear or disgust, then it is the primary feeling. The trigger may need to be addressed or monitored (more on this later).

Often anger is secondary to an initial emotion. This is common in some subcultures where feelings are represented by either good or anger. Feel happy? Translate to good. Feel comfortable? Translate to good. Feel surprised? Translate to anger. Feel disgusted? Translate to anger. Feel scared? Translate to anger. Feel sad? Translate to anger.

Disgust expression then triggers anger
Disgust can often trigger anger

Sometimes the correct fear response is aggression – if I a see a big nasty dog coming to bite me, I should swell up, raise my voice and scare the dog so it doesn’t bite me. I need to be ready to fight the  beast if this fails or face the consequence of being harmed by it. This aggressive fear response is going to trigger anger as a secondary feeling. After the event, where the dog has been fended off, I will continue to feel anger because I was scared and had to defend myself. I may look for reasons to feel angry to justify my secondary emotion.

Often the anger I feel towards a thing isn’t well balanced. If that is the case, then it may be that my anger towards this thing is secondary to a problem I have somewhere else.

 

Physical attributes

An integral part of the DSM IV TR states that before you give a psychiatric diagnosis, the diagnostician rules out the possibility of alternate causes of psychiatric disorder. For example, a damaged thyroid gland may create mood instability. This doesn’t mean the person can be diagnosed with a mood disorder, but rather the diagnosis should be some kind of thyroid related diagnosis.


Socioeconomics and lifestyle can lead to three common activities that lead toward behaviours that can be confused for psychiatric symptoms: Sleep deprivation, mal-nutrition and drugs misuse.


Sufficient sleep deprivation can lead to hallucinations, low concentration, confused diet, micro-sleeps and many other symptoms. Sleep deprivation can be caused by many factors, some of which can be psychiatric disorder, some can be drug induced, some can be poor diet and there are a host of living situations, stress, and biological sources. However, if you find that sleep deprivation is a significant part of your current situation, consider what may be contributing to your sleep deprivation, rectify that and see if some of your more concerning symptoms clear up.


Mal-nutrition is far more common in the Western world than many people think. If your diet does not consistently contain a variety for fruit, vegetables, grains and occasional meat, then your diet may be significantly out of balance. Consider this analogy to understand why a varied, nutritious diet is important to mental health. If you consider that your body is a complex biological machine, made of many small machines (cells), which build and maintain your body. If important nutrients are not regularly supplied to your body, then your cells cannot maintain necessarily health. It’s like the car repair shop running out of welding rods and not being able to weld new pieces of metal to your rusted out car door. It just doesn’t work. Or another thing to consider is how well will your engine run if it runs out of oil and you don’t add more? Your mind is a finely tuned engine which needs a variety of vitamins, nutrients and proteins to work properly.


Drugs change the functioning of how your cells work. Sometimes we want this change, such as when we are trying to help our white cells identify foreign inimical biology to kill. When the function is how you think, you want to be very careful about what changes in function you are introducing. Most illegal drugs create unwanted long term changes in cell functioning, leading to mental processes that are not what you had hoped for when you took the drug. Drugs that many don’t consider seriously include nicotine, caffeine and alcohol. All three directly change your behaviour. For example, caffeine changes your mood, alters your concentration (increased to begin with, then decreased after a few hours for many hours).


Society does not help us to recognise when we are abusing these drugs. Nicotine is currently in the bad books, so most people believe any nicotine consumption is bad. On average, that is true, however for altering blood pressure and a few other conditions, nicotine is quite useful. I highly recommend that you check with a health professional rather than take my word for it, however. If you are drinking more than 4 cups of coffee a day, then you are probably abusing it. Similarly, if you drink more than 1 standard drink of alcohol a day, then you are probably abusing alcohol as well. I would suggest that the best way you can test yourself for drug addiction is to consider how much your current life would be inconvenienced if you were to stop right now and not use any of the substance for 30 days. If your response includes an expletive or serious consideration of how hard that is going to be, then you are probably addicted and abusing the substance.


Consider that 20% of the population of Australia who smoke cigarettes are people diagnosed with a psychiatric condition. Those 20% of the population consume almost half of the nicotine, which is a disproportionate amount. Again, people with a psychiatric diagnosis consumer approximately five times more caffeine than people without. One of the reasons considered for this is that both caffeine and nicotine have short term benefits to concentration, and nicotine has short term calmative effects, which can often combat the negative effects of medication or stress.


If you find that your life is out of control, by all means get some help as soon as possible, which may include a prescription of medication. Be wary of just ignoring medical advice, however feel free to question your practitioner. If your diagnostician does not consider physical causes to your experience, then perhaps remind them or consider controlling and compensating for these, or other, physical factors.

The Thriving Framework

Thriving
How does thriving feel to you? Or, how should it feel?
 
Defining the Thriving Framework
The Thriving Framework is a heuristics for achieving a State of Thriving. It takes advantage of person centred planning, personal empowerment, the right for people to choose their own destinies and methods of achieving these destinies.  It does not require people to admit to some ill, being faulty, broken or helpless.
 
Achieving a State of Thriving is the end goal which is defined by individual people as their destination at the end of their progress through the framework.While the emotional experience of most people who have reached this stage is similar (safe, satisfied, confident, content, empowered, capable etc), the specific context will vary widely and the string of goals needed to achieve this state will be individualised such that the journey through the framework will be the individual persons, not anyone else’s.



Defining the State of Thriving
Thriving is a state of doing well, being well and succeeding at all of the important things in your life. If life were a game, it may defined as winning. Thriving does not mean that your life is over, only that you now have abundant resources to do what you want, how you want and as you want. People who are thriving are generally happy, are not struggling often, have most of what they want, have all of what they need and are generally fully integrated into society in such a way that they feel both wanted by and useful to society.


The State of Thriving is made up of two components. The Feeling of Thriving and the Context of Thriving.


Separating the Feeling and the Context
The State of Thriving is defined as the context you would fine yourself in to achieve the feeling of doing well and having “made it”. Core to thriving is feeling like you are thriving. Their is no point to living prosperously if you are miserable.


The Context of Thriving allows you to define the most likely situation that you are going to find yourself thriving in and the components of this context act as the elements of your goals. The goals create a flexible path for you to journey over from where you are now to where you wish to be such that you are thriving.


An emotion that I may identify as being part of my thriving might be safety. To understand why this is important I need to look at how safety plays a part in my current and past experience. For this example, it is because I have moved houses many times and could not rely on my home being home. To achieve the feeling of safety does not mean bars on the window, or a security force, or that I think I am being followed. To achieve a feeling of safety I want my own home, which can’t be taken I can not loose. In this example, the feeling is safety and the context in which I will feel safe is security in housing. If I do not recognise both components to this sub goal, then I may very well attempt to achieve the wrong thing and find myself escorted by safety professionals who do not actually address my feelings of fear at loosing my home.


The Spectrum of Thriving
Thriving is the end point on a spectrum of well being. In this case I define well being as how well my being is. My spectrum looks like this:


Death – Existing –  Surviving – Coping – Achieving – Thriving


The size of the steps between each of these increases exponentially. 


Death is the end of life, it is clinical death.


Existing is moving through life without feeling, without thought or personal power. It is close to death in that you can not or will not act and life just passes you by. Some people may wish to put this in a separate spectrum, but I feel it is the state of being just passed death. It can be placed alongside Surviving. People who  are Existing do not feel a future that is different is possible and often have no motivation to change. People in this stage may feel that they are not worth goodness or positivity. Self esteem is the main challenge, followed by motivation.


Surviving is that state of managing minute by minute, or hour by hour, or day by day the meager resources you have so that you have control over your destiny. This is the point where you can act to prolong the event horizon (the point where you can no longer influence) of your destiny. People who find themselves in this state are generally worried about personal safety, housing, food, paying the next bill and just making it through the day.


Coping is easy to mistake as Surviving, however it generally means you are managing to succeed at Surviving and are further away from slipping down to Existing or Death. Often people who are coping have a plan for a week or two and the resources to influence that. The focus is less on the immediate now and more on goals for the future. A person who is Coping can actually make plans for more than today because, on the one hand, they can see a future is possible, and on the other hand, they have command of enough resources that they can start to make future plans. This shift in controlling resources is the primary distinction between surviving and coping.


This is the beginning point of where discussing the Thriving Framework makes sense. Before this, it is too vague to make sense since it does not answer the immediate needs.


Achieving is the making progress in plans made towards Thriving. Often people feel capable and accomplished during this part of the journey. It is easy to feel that this is the whole point to life and just to stay in this aspect of the Thriving Framework. It is particularly appealing to those who have spent some time Existing, Surviving or Coping. Some people may become disillusioned with Achieving if they spend their whole lives Achieving and never quite accomplishing Thriving. Generally people who are Achieving have very few supports as they are managing this stage on their own.


Thriving is the end goal of the Thriving Framework. It means having achieved the majority of the Context Goals and feeling like you are Thriving. If you have achieved the Context Goals and do not have a feeling of Thriving, then it is important to go back and look at what you want to feel and what you may need to change to achieve this.


If the stage of Thriving can never be achieved, why aim for it? It must be achievable. This does not mean that the early Thriving Goal should be practical or achievable. When first working with your own or someone else’s goals, allow for unrealistic goals. This helps you to determine the governing emotions behind the unrealistic goals. From their you can work out how else to achieve these goals that is practical. The person on the journey through the Thriving Framework must choose and own these goals and this journey, otherwise you achieve nothing.



Depression and Catatonia

Sometimes we are reluctant to act because we are no longer certain what is right to do and we fear the consequences of doing wrong, so we focus on the little that must be right. Sometimes we have no energy to act so we focus our energy on what must be done. Sometimes the hurt of peering out from beyond our walls of safety is too much so we only venture out to do the minimum. This is often called depression. Our actions are depressed and we look like we are achieving very little.


Sometimes we can no longer be certain that anything is right, or have so little energy it is a struggle to breath, or the pain is so much that we do not venture beyond our walls. This can be described as psychotic catatonia.


In general there is a turmoil behind your eyes, in your mind, that is taking up a lot of thinking and feeling space. Something has change your tolerances so that wrong is more important, or sensory/emotional input is too high, and it saps our energy. Sometimes we forget to eat, or we eat all of the wrong things and run out of nutrients. 


Memory plays a key part to recovering from this. We can look to our past and compare it to our present to discover what the external source is for our changed tolerance and try to do something about that. We can look at what we are eating and get back to what we remember was good and return to that diet. We can remember that this state of affairs began at some point, that it wasn’t always like this, and so it won’t always be like this because every beginning has an end. Thus, even when we can’t act against whatever it is that has prompted this, we can wait until it stops affecting us.


Catatonia is harder. Generally this is just a waiting game because your inability to act negates your ability to change the situation and yourself. Instead of physical actions, the change must be internal. Find out what about you is negating your ability to physically act. Work on changing this.There will most likely be a great fear regarding the consequences of what this change will do to you and you may fear death of body or persona. I’m sorry, but if you have hit catatonia, you are already dying. It is better to change than to lose everything. Consider how much you will keep by making this change and hold on to that as a good reason to make the change.


Start with small physical actions – move a toe, move a finger, consciously blink or move your eye. The more you do, the easier it gets. When you are ready, speak. Speak about what needs to change in your environment to help you survive. This may be uncovering a secret, or asking for something selfish, or pushing someone or something away. The faster those around you know, the faster your environment can support the change you have made, the faster you can get back to living.


Feel free to contribute further ideas to how to escape from depression and catatonia below. Feel free to add other types of these conditions.

Doing to find the being

Often when we don’t know who we are, we flail around trying to do lots of things, hoping that one of them will feel right and define us. The problem is that most of the things we do feel wrong, so we mistakenly think that we are wrong. We forget that the flailing around is an experiment to help us discover what we are, and thus what we aren’t.The ones that feel wrong should be celebrated as yet another step towards discovering who we are.


Another tactic is to step back and ponder who we would like to be. Sometimes this can help us work out who we are, since who we are isn’t going to want to be something completely abstract from who we are. I appreciate that this idea seems a bit odd, but lets go with it a bit further. I am not suggesting that you carry out your hypothetical, but rather that you use the hypothetical to explore yourself. Someone who wants to be a mass murderer, as an extreme, can learn something about themselves from this desire. Why do you wish to create carnage and mayhem? Do you wish to murder specific people or random people? Why? What do these urges tell you about yourself? Often we seek to do violence because we feel helpless about something, and the violence is like a pressure relief valve to save ourselves or put of inevitable doom. Or there may be hatred involved, in which case who do we really hate and what can we do about it? If these people were ‘gone’, how would this change your world? What does this change tell you about you and where you are now?


Another thing we may wish to be is a benefactor of mankind. Why do we wish to be a benefactor? What does this change? What form of benefactor do you wish to be and how would you feel if you were to achieve this? Does this feeling tell you anything about how you are feeling or wanting to feel now? Are there other ways to feel this?


Perhaps a far less extreme becoming would also help. Perhaps you will identify that you would like to get a nice job. What is it about the job that you want? What does the job provide for you that you don’t currently have? How are you defining nice? What would stop the job from being nice? What change does having a job provide you compared to now? Things that you may get from having a nice job is: money, social contact, structure, an excuse to get away from home, a feeling of purpose, ontological security, completion of a definition of self as a worker, your parents of your back and so on. If we don’t look at why we want the job, how do we know what we need the job to do to feel success? Of, for example, we get a job that doesn’t pay enough and is in a field we don’t like that our parents don’t support, we may feel that we have failed in getting a nice job, which we may then transfer as a feeling of us being the failure.


Three major things to take away from this:
1) Doing things to discover who we are often lead to us discovering who we are not, and that is success
2) Pausing to consider what we want can help uncover who we are
3) Once we know what we want and why, we can begin to choose to do things because of who we are

There is no dark side

Popularly emotions are described as good (joy, love, hope) and bad (anger, sadness, nastiness). Emotions are not good or bad, they are informative. The only “bad” emotion is one that is either too strong or too weak to be useful, while the only “good” emotion is one that informs you correctly about the situation you perceive. It is not the emotion, in general, that is good or bad, it is the situation that generated that emotion that is good or bad.

Emotions can be split into three major types:
1) Basic / Primary
2) Simple
3) Complex

Basic or Primary emotions have been studied around the world to try to get to the biological response that all humans have in common. The studies have attempted to take out cultural bias, age of the person (for the most part), and time in human history. On average the basic emotions are described as between 5 and 8 different basic emotions. For this article, I am going to use 6 – Anger, Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Surprise and Fear.

You may notice that only one of these is seen traditionally as “good” while the other five are traditionally seen as “bad”. This type cast is because on average we like to feel “joy” while we don’t like to feel any of the other five basic emotions. If I could choose which basic emotion I was feeling, “joy” certainly would be the one I pick.

Liking our emotions isn’t really what our emotions are for though. Our emotions are here to inform us about the world we perceive. “Perceive” is the key word here, as it isn’t what we sense at all. Our senses give us raw data about the world we live in, in a timely sense, which has no bearing on the past or future. This raw sensory information is filtered, passed through a pattern recognition section of our brain (which is generated via our past experiences) to create a prediction for what is coming such that we can act now to survive.

As a slight aside, consider that everything you see and hear right now is in the past. You can not sense the present as by the time the information gets to your body (let alone your brain), the thing that has occurred has already occurred, it isn’t occurring. We are always slightly behind what is going on. If we try to catch a falling ball based on the assumption that what we are sensing is happening now, we will never catch the ball because the place we move our hand to the ball has already passed. To catch that ball, we need to predict where the ball will be, not know where it has been. Then we can move our hand to where the ball will be and catch the not yet occurring event.

Now switch the ball heading towards us to a saber tooth tiger (mainly because I like saber tooth tigers). We only want to know where the tiger has been such that we can predict where it is likely to be, and for us to not be in those likely places. This keeps us alive instead of dead (when we are right).

To bring this back to emotion, one of the components of how we sort our senses is for our predictions to colour our sensory data with emotion. When we recognise a pattern from the past that hurt us, we predict that pain coming and taint the perceived current experience with the colour of fear. If we did not have that fear, we would not act to avoid the upcoming pain and we would be harmed. Seen in this light, it is clear that fear is working for our protection and safety rather than against it. This makes it “good”, right?

We often concatenate (that is put together and make as one) the situation that is good with the emotion we feel that tells us it is good, or alternately, the situation that is bad and the emotion that we feel that tells it is bad. We then mistakenly try to avoid or create the emotion instead of the situation. My intention here is to separate the emotion from the situation by understanding what the emotion is trying to tell you so that you can now use that source of information to analyse the situation you are in, and make intelligent decisions to act to change that situation into the situation you want, or preserve the situation if it is the situation you want.

As described above, the basic emotions are our biological survival mechanisms. These emotions are what helped each one of your ancestors get old enough to have at least one child, which eventually led to you. They must have done a pretty good job since you are alive to read this (I apologise to any undead who are reading this blog, but I have yet to receive proof of your existence – and technically your ancestors stayed alive long enough to produce you too).

The simple emotions are the culturally generated and acceptable emotions. Not all cultures share the same specific feelings or concepts. For example, razbliuto means the “feeling for someone you used to love but no longer do”, which is a single word in Russian, but is quite complex and poorly understood in English. Simple, but culturally specific. Often their are large amounts of overlap, such as guilt, shame, pity, tiredness and so on. Yet not all cultures express it the same way, or have these feelings triggered by the same stimuli.

Complex emotions involve complexity about what you feel based on what you are stimulated by, combined with distortions due to your past experiences or expected future ones. As I said, it’s complex. For example, the visceral feeling of fear you have in putting your hand in the outside bin to retrieve an item you accidentally threw out, complicated by your aversion to germs and cockroaches and knowing that often they inhabit these areas. Logically there will be germs, there may be cockroaches, but neither of these pose any significant threat to you. Yet if you have fears associated with these, your prediction of their presence creates an intense feeling of frozen fear baring you from retrieving that item, thus you accept that it is gone but kick yourself for being scared and wasting resources. Often you don’t analyse these complex emotions, so instead you just feel awful but don’t know why.

I will go into more depth about the basic six emotions I have hinted at above and throw in shame and guilt in a future blog.

Understanding our experience

When an experience occurs that we do not understand and have nothing to compare it to, we humans slip into a state of survival and change. There are a number of reasons why we can not interpret the experience and many stories we can create to explain the experience. Our need to survive often leaves us vulnerable and looking for help from experts, which can de-localise our power and understanding.


An experience, in this case, can be something such as having an extreme mood (happy, sad, grief, etc), an odd perception (all the humans seem to be carrying demons on their backs, have turned into animals, the earth is actually attracted to us, not us to it, I am being of light and I must light up the dark etc), a survival of extreme pain and fear (persecution, rape, torture, bullying etc) or a physical difficulty (heat attack, diagnosis of terminal disease, kidney failure, vitamin/mineral deficiency/over load etc). Of course, there are so many more experiences that are beyond our prior expectation that we can have that it is impossible to list them all, or even to categorise them.


I am going to deviate the conversation just a little to discuss how we humans process ideas. When I receive a new idea (from someone/book/thought experiment etc), I link it to knowledge that I have via either similarity or contradiction. For example, that new thing is like this other thing, except for this and that. Or it fits between this knowledge I have and that knowledge I have. We create bridges in our knowledge with comparisons.


You can think of our knowledge pool as a jigsaw puzzle. We have pieces that fit together and create areas of knowing and areas of not. We bridge slowly into these ares of not knowing by building pieces of comparison to what we do know, piece by piece into the vacant areas. Often we are afraid of these areas because we feel blind and are not sure of what we know in these areas. We may avoid doing things so we don’t have to populate the blank spots in our knowledge with pieces of jigsaw puzzle that we are unsure of. What if we don’t like the picture of the world that is created with these new pieces?


Experiences expand our world by giving us knowledge, memories, ideas and so on to store. They change our world and our perception of it by increasing the understanding and stories we attribute to events. In effect, knowledge is the story pool we can use to explain how events link together.


What happens when an event happens, or knowledge is gained, that we can not link to any other? It isn’t like anything, and it isn’t opposite to anything, or the existence of this knowledge contradicts a large part of the puzzle we thought was sound. At this point we either become lost, or we reject the knew experience or we are forced to reject prior experiences to accept the new one.


Imagine how much of your thought process can be distracted by this amazing recreation of your knowledge pool. While this is going on, who is paying the bills, cleaning the house, cooking meals, looking after the kids, looking after the parents and so on? Also, how is your internal reorganisation being treated by those who care and love you?


There are two factors I have raised here – survival of self and survival in society.


First of all, we will often be forced to choose between reorganising our internal knowledge pool and surviving. If I have to do basic life things to keep surviving and I don’t have the personal resources to spend time in working my knew experience into my knowledge jigsaw puzzle, then I may put the experience off and find some cheap and nasty coping mechanism such that I keep eating, keep my shelter and survive the day, the hour and the minute. Yet sometimes the experience can be so profound that it destabalises your efforts to maintain your life and you must address the experience over and above maintaining that status quo. For example, what if a conclusion you draw from the experience is that those who you thought were protecting and nurturing you have some very sinister and life threatening outcome in store for you? What if you are right? Your survival right now looks more like you have to run away from food, shelter and support. I appreciate to the reader that this may seem fantastic, but there are enough people who realise they are the child in a sexual molestation ring that running away is a very good thing to do. You can’t just assume that your new insight is wrong and bad for you.


The second point I make is the effect your experience has on others. In the year 2000, I decided to change my life path considerably. Many people who socially interacted with me did not like the new me and some actively tried to intervene to bring back the old me. My change was relatively minor – I stopped being a prat and became a nice person. Many of my friends and associates had huge difficulties understanding where I was coming from, why I was acting differently and were quite worried about me. Imagine what they would say if my realisation was more profound than “I have become the person I didn’t want to be”. By profound, I mean life changing.


When we have experienced something extreme, we often find that our social supporters are scared, resist change and often do not understand what is happening to us. Quite frankly, the average Joe is not educated enough or trained in the right areas to know how to help friends who are experiencing a profound life experience. When we do not have the personal resources to process the experience, we outsource – that is, we turn to processionals.


Professionals are trained to minimise risk, categorise behaviour and to treat the categorised behaviour. Behaviour is seen as “abnormal” and put on a spectrum of “no need to act” and “treat”. This is a part of containment, risk management, stabilisation and reputation protection. There are some excellent reasons why this system is in place and some fantastic instances of where it is exactly the right thing to do. It can also quite help people.


When it doesn’t, it is very difficult for the person going through a profound experience to muster up the free personal resources to object to the mis-treatment. By mis-treatment, I do not refer to abuse as such, but a treatment regime that is misapplied. The person often has enough troubles surviving the experience and finding resources to process the change let alone argue against an authoritative professional who is well educated in the diagnosis of difference and oddity.


I would like to see professionals trained more in helping people understand their experience and filling in those blank spots in their knowledge jigsaw such that they can go back to running their lives independently of the professional system. I would like professionals to be trained in ways of retaining maximum personal power rather than de-localised power.I would like to see humanity and dignity returned to the system.


I appreciate that I got a bit ranty towards the end their. My apologies!

Grief and loss – Simply put

Grief comes in all shapes and sizes. Actually grief is just grief, how we deal with it is the real question.


Grief is a response to loss. Simply put, it is adjusting emotional ties to someone or something that is no longer a part of your life, or is no longer in your life the same way. In effect, grief is the process of adjusting to change.


Loss is something that creates a change. For example, a change in your job – such as being fired, quitting your job, missing a promotion, getting a promotion and so on. Each affects your life, creating change. Each change opens new possibilities, as well as closing possibilities. Adjusting to the loss of possibilities- that is adjusting the emotions tied to those losses – is grief.


Loss and grief can be very subtle forces in our life. I recall the time I lost a magnet that I liked when I was a child. On average, it does not affect me unduly, but on occasion, I wonder what has become of my magnet and I grieve for it. I have also lost many other magnets in my life, but these haven’t affected me as I did not form an emotional connection with them.


Emotion is the key behind grief and loss. If you don’t form an emotional connection to the thing or person that changes, then the change does not affect you directly, or indirectly. As such, the change does not trigger a loss. The stronger the emotional tie, the greater the effect to your life and the more you may feel loss.


While all change means loss of some kind, this does not require a focus on that loss. If you focus only on the gains and opportunities that the change can give you, then you do not feel grief. If you only focus on the loss of opportunities, the broken emotions and missed opportunities, then you gain no joy from the change and risk being lost in a cycle of grief.


It is rare that a change evokes only one extreme of emotional consideration. Generally change evokes a mix of perspectives, which can lead to an internal contradiction in how you feel about the change. I can be happy that my grandmother is no longer in pain, but sad that she is no longer part of my life. If I am okay with this mixture of emotions, all well and good. However if I feel that I should not feel happy, because I should be “grieving” and this makes me a “bad person”, then I complicate my adjustment to the change in my life.


In my next blog on grief, I will discuss the most commonly recognised text about grief – the Kübler-Ross five phases of expected loss model.

Neuroplasticity document

The Vermont Recovery page has some interesting articles. This one on Neuroplasticity is quite good. It is a downloadable PDF document.


“Neuroplasticity basically refers to the brain’s natural ability across the lifespan to form
new connections and change its structure in response to experience.  This means the brain can
change itself physically and functionally at any age to compensate for injury and disease and to
adapt to new situations or changes in the environment.”


“Traditionally, the adult brain was considered relatively hard-wired and fixed, a prognosis
that  lowered expectations about the possibility of  curing the alleged brain problems that
underlie psychiatric disorders.  Thus, in the medical world, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder
have been conceptualized as life-long, incurable brain pathologies that a person can learn to
manage, but never completely  resolve.    However, these hypotheses  have always been
problematic, for longitudinal  studies have  demonstrated again and again that  a significant
amount of people diagnosed with schizophrenia completely emerge from psychiatric symptoms
and no longer use medications.
4
  These individuals pose this challenge to neurobiology:  if their
previous symptoms were in fact due to a broken brain, are their brains now fixed?”