One of my favorite books, by Dr. Eric Berne, discusses in detail three ego states people transition throughout their daily experiences. These ego states are simplified as adult ego state, parent ego state and the child ego state. For clarity, I will define each of these states as their definitions bare importance for the title of this post.
The adult ego state can be defined as an objective state of consciousness. It is in this mind state that we can see things for what they are, without any assigned meanings or interpretations, (think Data from star trek). The parent ego state can be defined as a moralistic state of consciousness, it is from this state of consciousness that we pass judgement on the behaviors of ourselves and others. Finally, the child ego state can be defined as primal/emotional state of consciousness. It is from this state that we seek to get our emotional needs of acceptance, recognition, love, respect and autonomy met.
Now, you may be asking yourself, what does all this have to do with handling hostility? Simple, the best way to handle hostility is from the adult ego state. This is because, in this mindset, you are not taking things personally, you have both your parent and child ego states in check and you win. The aggressor is not successful in getting you upset and gives up.
This video, shows the me using demonstrating the adult mindset in action.
Now getting yourself in the adult ego state is easier said than done, even If you know you will be dealing with hostility in a future interaction. While I respect and deeply appreciate the work of Dr. Berne, nothing compares to cognitive behavioral therapy. This is because the best way to handle hostility comes from a revaluation and reordering of your belief system. For example, if you know you are headed into a hostile situation, it would be a great time to challenge your beliefs regarding your interactions with others.
If done properly, you will always arrive at an objective belief that states something to the effect that while hostility from others is not preferred, you can choose to not take it personally and focus on more healthier relationships. The process of addressing your beliefs forces you to simultaneously address your beliefs about morals and values (parent ego state) and how you get your emotional needs met, (child ego state.)
The strange thing about the parent ego state is that is that it is often wrong and only right when you encounter someone who shares the same morals and values with you. A popular example would be religion, specifically, religious rules on human behavior. Your morals are often going to be validated by someone of the same faith as you, while disregarded by someone else who does not share your faith. An objective reevaluation of your belief system will reveal that if someone’s behavior does not involve harm to someone else, then there are no issues. Further, even if someone’s behavior does involve harm to another person, the best course of action is to aid the person harmed, rather than attack the person doing the harming.
Most of the clients I treat for anger management describe themselves as terrible people. Furthermore, they are often described as bullies by their family members and those who are close to them. Typically such a description will come from a spouse who will call in to schedule an appointment on their behalf.
In getting to know these clients, overwhelmingly men, I find that they are typically overwhelmingly nice. To a point where they are inconsistent in setting for themselves healthy boundaries with other people. In close relationships this becomes a problem as the person seldom addresses naturally occurring conflicts with the other person or persons. This leads to stuffing of feelings and chronic pretentiousness in the relationship, until the person can no longer keep his feelings bottled up, the next stage is the angry outburst. In severe cases, particular crisis fueled episodes, the angry person habitually engages in bouts of angry outbursts with strangers.
To others who witness these outbursts, based on their feelings of confusion and feelings of being upset, they come to see the “angry” person as a bully or mentally unstable at worst. Meanwhile the person who engaged in the angry outburst is burdened by feelings of guilt and shame and will typically resolve to double down on his commitment to being the nicest person possible. Unfortunately this plays out as the person failing to exercise assertiveness skills leading to little or no boundaries being set. This then sets the stage for a new cycle where the person habitually stuffs his feelings, bottles up resentment before deciding that he can no longer put up with perceived disrespect. For people in close relationships with these people, it could feel that the angry outbursts are unpredictable, when it fact they are very predictable.
At the beginning of therapy for poor anger management, the person is first introduced to exercises for recognizing his difficult feelings. He is then introduced to cognitive strategies for recognizing and responding appropriately to his difficult feelings.
The core of addressing poor anger management skills is to address the core beliefs of the chronically “angry” person which influence his episodes of anger. For example, with someone who has difficulty exercising healthy boundaries in his relationships with others, it will be important to determine what beliefs he holds unto which prevent him from setting healthy boundaries.
It could be a belief about how he communicates with others, or it could be a belief about how he sees himself, these are just two examples of a variety of possible beliefs a person could hold unto. For example, I once had a client share with me that he viewed expressing his disagreement at work and at home as a form of complaining. He then further stated that he saw complaining as a form of being weak minded.
Whatever belief he is holding unto, is going to be an irrational belief. Put simply, irrational beliefs are beliefs which are not true, but feel true to the person who holds unto them. For example, a belief which states that “no one should curse at me,” is a belief which feels true, because people generally don’t like to be cursed at, but is an irrational belief because we have no control over the words of others.
Once an irrational belief has been identified, a healthier alternative is chosen for the person to adopt, along with cognitive behavioral strategies for internalizing the new belief. The process of practicing new beliefs produces a paradigm shift in how the person’s sees the world around him and subsequently how he interacts with others.
For those who are successful in adopting and implementing new healthier beliefs, family members and others close to them come to see them as more genuine, confident and compassionate.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
If you suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, (OCD) and you are experiencing difficulty in getting yourself to adapt healthier behaviors in your life, there are no easy solutions. However, there is a solution, the solution is three part, defining what the problematic behavior is and picking an alternative and healthier behavior, understanding the genesis of the problematic behavior and learning and practicing how to get past your difficult emotions so you can practice your new behavior.
Defining what the problem is.
Let’s say you have a ritual with touching door knobs three times before entering any room. This is a problematic behavior because it is an oddity and people around you are bound to notice. Furthermore, the stressful urge that pushes you to engage in this behavior puts you in an anxious and stressful mood any time you enter any room, especially a room with a person or persons that you are required to engage with. Furthermore, it is also problematic as the obsession with performing this ritual prevents you from being present with others. So it stands to reason that the solution for this problem would be the opposite of what you are doing which would be two part, first that you no longer go through the awkward ritual of touching door knobs three times before you enter any room. Secondly, that you relive yourself from the strong mental urges to engage in such a ritual.
Understanding the Genesis of the problem.
From my experience in treating obsessive compulsive disorders, a commonality is usually a stressful childhood. The sufferer’s childhood was either blatantly abusive, such as physical abuse or covertly abusive, such as emotional abuse. Usually when someone suffering from OCD or any other type of mental health issues insists that they had a great childhood, they often will immediately contradict themselves in reporting on stories and experiences that the average person would consider to be terrible. Regardless, when an adult or child is chronically exposed to a stressful situation for which they lack the cognitive skills to properly address, the consequence that follows is usually the development of some type of mental health illness. Clinical evidence of this can be attributed to a research study where University of Berkeley researches showed that chronic exposure to stress leads to long term changes in the brain which the researches argue predisposes people to mental illness. Regardless, from a place of understanding and forgiveness, it is beneficial to explore any and all past traumas, big and small and understand how they have shaped you and influenced your problematic behaviors.
Practicing how to get past your difficult emotions.
So now you have defined what the problematic behavior is, and you have successfully explored how you came about developing this maladaptive behavior, there remains one major problem. This problem is getting past your strong urges and feelings of anxiety to engage in the problematic behavior in this first place. OCD is the result of brain damage, primarily to the basal ganglia. While biological infections have been known to cause damage to the basal ganglia, a common cause for such a damage would be atypical neurological wiring. Such atypical wiring can be attributed how a person lacking the cognitive skills to deal with a prolonged stressful situation, adapts with unhealthy behaviors which work in the short term.
A good example would be learning to read others for signs of anger, irritation or moodiness. This leads to a belief fallacy that the person can control others based on their astute observations of others and it also leads to an underdevelopment in assertiveness skills, in which the person unintentionally recreates familial stress in their lives by walking on egg shells around others and getting into personal relationships with difficult people. In most cases, people who suffer from OCD report a false feeling of having control over the situation when they engage in their rituals.
Regardless, having become armed with the knowledge of how their daily behavior influences their neurological wiring, most suffers from OCD become motivated towards practicing their alternative and desired behavior in response to emotional urges to engages in old rituals. For best results I would recommend OCD suffers to work with an experienced cognitive behavioral therapist.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
The number one obstacle for people accomplishing any measure of change in their lives is the belief that they should be comfortable. The problem with always feeling comfortable is that it takes away your will to strive for any measure of accomplishment, in getting your needs and values met. When you are comfortable, you no longer have a sense of urgency to address challenges in your life and make the necessary changes. This is not to suggest that you must always be in a state of urgency to accomplish change in your life, but it does mean that if there any changes you want to make in your life, it is a mistake to wait to get to a state of comfort before you begin practicing change. If you wait to get to a place of comfort, you will simply revert back to old behaviors.
Feelings of discomfort are actually an evolution advantage; in that they motivate us towards taking action. For example, a hungry stomach will motivate you to get some food for yourself, however if you are surrounded by delicious junk food which influences your health for the worse, once you have satisfied your hunger with the junk food, you become less motivated towards acquiring and preparing for yourself healthier foods that will benefit your health. This is because the latter is more time consuming and requires significant effort.
In order to exercise the change, you need in your life, you will need to adopt a mindset where you come to appreciate all feelings and sensations as helpful. This means that even when you experience feelings of discomfort, you come to see these feelings as messages from your brain and body. These messages can be about things either going your way or things not going your way. When greeted with feelings that communicate any measure or severity of discomfort, ask yourself why you feel this way and then make a commitment to attend to the message without seeking to alleviate yourself from the discomfort. Often times this commitment can be made in writings. Over time, you will become more tolerable of uncomfortable feelings and more skilled at attending to the daily challenges in your life which require you to exercise change.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
The key attribute towards anger management is your ability to be emotionally resilient. Emotional resiliency means your ability to experience intense negative and anger provoking feelings with an attitude of receptiveness. As opposed to an attitude of re-activity where any experience of discomfort is met with an immediate action geared towards relieving a person’s self from feelings of discomfort.
Most people reading this would perceive reactivity to be an overt overreaction to feeling upset, such as screaming or resorting to physical aggression. While they would be right in their perception, reactivity is often very subtle and seldom recognized as reactivity even by the person being reactive.
An example would be a person feeling hurt and another person’s actions, quietly resolving to resort to retaliation through passive aggressive tactics. Another example would be a person feeling hurt by disappointment and quietly resorting to a place a shame. These subtle types of reactivity often result into the person engaging in some form of behavior that results in detrimental consequences for themselves and sometimes others around them.
In previous posts, I have discussed that the primary trigger for anger is a set of irrational expectations in regards to people, places and things. Therefore, emotional resiliency would mean that in order to be able to manage difficult feelings, all expectations in regards to how you want objective reality to be, have to abandoned. Instead you will find that your experiences with negative feelings would be easier to manage and receive if you replaced your expectations of people, places and things with preferences.
With preferences, you will find that yourself becoming more flexible and tolerant towards situations not going your way. This does not mean that you will become a doormat and habitually take abuse, instead it means that after receiving your difficult feelings, you are better able to set your difficult feelings to the side and engage in problem solving from a place of clarity.
The process of emotional resiliency is easier said than done, but it is a rewarding process.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach
So you have heard this many times before, when reporting about someone’s hostile interactions with you, you are advised not to take it personally. It’s good advice but how do you get there? As social, thinking and feeling beings, when we interact with others we come to seek feedback that mirrors our desires in the conversation. This leads to frustration when in return for our engagement in a conversation we receive hostile words and gestures.
The best way to understand this phenomenon is to visit this site and have a conversation with the Artificial Intelligence software called A.L.I.C.E. Having a conversation with the free to use A.I can be very frustrating if you came to the site with big expectations. By the third line into the conversation the A.I goes completely off topic, and then doesn’t return back to the conversation at hand. When you try to steer the conversation on a particular direction, the A.I responds to you as if this were the topic you both agreed to discuss. At times, the A.I might respond to you with provocative words like, “Whoa!” or insulting statements like, “You are an idiot.”
A similar phenomenon takes place with hostile people, you are engaged in what you determined initially to be a friendly conversation, or perhaps a routine conversation, and you are greeted with hostility. Your initially response might be confusion and anger, at which point you seek retaliation. Regardless of how you choose to respond, keep in mind that your intentions going into that conversation were never the same as the hostile person’s intentions. You intended for a peaceful conversation, and they intended for a hostile confrontation. It really isn’t personal, they were looking to have a hostile encounter with someone, anyone. So then it becomes irrational for you to take hostility personally. In some cases, the hostile person may insist that their hostility towards you is based on something about you that they find offensive. Even if the hostile person believes this, the truth is they were seeking out a hostile confrontation. It was never about you, you just happened to be someone who became available as a target. Furthermore, what keeps the hostile encounter going is your continued input. You working very hard to have a peaceful conversation, while the other person puts in half the effort into provoking you.
Understanding this phenomenon goes a long way in not taking things personal. The solution is simple, you disengage. If you are dealing with someone you have to deal with, you use verbal judo to throw them mentally off balance, state your boundaries and then disengage.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
I once worked with a client who came into work one day and found himself out of a job. The reason? Two co workers he did not get along with, had fabricated a story about him to their office manager and on a knee jerk, the office manager cleaned out his desk, and had my client greeted by security the following morning.
He was confused about the incident for some time until he received a letter of termination in the mail explaining why he had been terminated. It was only after he hired a lawyer to take his company to task that he was rehired along with an apology letter. What brought my client into my office where his mixed feelings about returning to work, especially since the co workers who had made the false allegations about him where still working for the company.
I began by asking him why he was returning to work for the company, a question he could not answer. I then asked him why he would return to an environment where he was obviously poorly regarded. Obviously poorly regarded because if management was willing to fire him over the words of two people, why would they keep those two persons on staff, after it was discovered that they deliberately given false information?
My client then shot back at me about the need to forgive others and move on with one’s life. No doubt this was an auto pilot response, ingrained into his psyche and reinforced throughout his life. Which led to me have a conversation with my client about the true meaning of forgiveness.
Most people believe that forgiveness is about giving someone who has wronged you in some way shape or form, a “free pass”. Nothing could be further from the truth, forgiveness is about not taking things personal. For example, if I get stung by a bee, it would be silly of me to hold grudges against bees, after all the bee was simply following it’s biological directive in response to a stimulus. My choice to not hold a grudge against bees or the specific hive from which the bee came from, doesn’t mean that I am going to take passive stance towards bees, the next time I come into contact with one again. For example, I would educate myself on how to conduct myself around bees in the future and if I found a nest in my home, I would hire a bee expert to come and remove the nest.
In regards to my fellow human beings, when I encounter people who in some way shape or form visit wrong doing unto me, without provocation, to the best extent possibly, I hold them to account for their actions and terminate any personal relationships I have with them.
Most people will claim to forgive if they believe themselves helpless in being able to hold the person to account for their actions or terminate the relationship for their peace of mind. In the case of my client, he felt tethered to the job, because he was not confident in his ability to find employment elsewhere. While he also felt betrayed by his employers and deeply resentful towards his co workers who lied about him. He desperately wanted to be at a place of peace with the incident, but he was torn inside with his refusal to be honest with himself. Instead of admitting his fear of being unemployed, he tried to convince himself that he should forgive his coworkers, which led him to my office.
Regardless of the types of conflicts we experience, it all comes down to ourselves. How willing are we to be honest with ourselves? How willing are we to engage consistently in the difficult task of practicing self discipline? How willing are we to take adopt to changes in our environment, take on necessary risks and live fearlessly?
The more we live up towards becoming the best version of ourselves, the easier it becomes to let go of grudges and resentments.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Are you addicted to chasing chaos? Experiences from our early life experiences have a profound influence on who we become as adults.
In this research paper on childhood trauma published in the journal of infant mental health, the authors discuss the phenomenon of hyper arousal and dissociation as two primary types of symptoms that result from childhood trauma.
Hyper-arousal is a state of heightened awareness as a result of prolong exposure to trauma, where the well being of the person is consistently challenged and threatened. In comparison dissociation is a state of detachment that occurs as a result of prolonged exposure to trauma where the well being of the person is consistently being challenged and threatened. At this point, it is obvious that the symptoms of hyper-arousal and disassociation are based on the personality type of the person exposed to the trauma. I will also add that hyper-arousal and disassociation occur on a spectrum so most people with unresolved trauma will show both types of symptoms
In regards to chasing chaos, people with unresolved childhood trauma will often seek out relationships in their adult years that duplicate the traumatic relationships they experienced in their childhood. Regardless of how well things are going on for them in their personal lives, they will subconsciously seek out high conflict relationships in attempt to solve the problems they have traditionally been unable to solve in previous relationships. This turns out to be a repeat and rinse process where those persons with predominately hyper-arousal symptoms will habitually overreact to conflicts, leading to difficult to manage consequences. Also for those with predominately dissociation symptoms, they will consistently seek out high conflict relationships where they will under react to conflict, leading to difficult to manage consequences.
The solution is to know yourself, and work with a psychotherapist to begin the process of identifying your unhealthy auto pilot thought processes and subsequent behaviors, with the goal of replacing them with healthier alternatives.
A young client relayed to me an experience with bullying. The bully accompanied by a few other peers with one of them armed with a cell phone camera, began poking fun at my client. At first my client tried to ignore him, but then he allowed his anger to get the best of him. This was when he lunged at his tormentor, the fight ended quickly with the bully being the victor. What made matters worse was that everyone who witnessed the incident stated that he (my client) started the fight, which was true.
By the time my client had been brought in by his parents to see me, he was knee deep in a state of helplessness. From his perspective, even when he was most angry he was still helpless in response to being bullied. Even in the adult world, I learn about adult versions of what my client went through. One person being on the receiving end of unfair treatment from others, and decides he is not going to take it anymore and lashes out. The result being a series of natural and logical consequences the person cannot manage.
You see, the real culprit is the belief that anger is somehow a motivator for overcoming unfair treatment from others or life challenges. I have read about this myth of anger in blogs, magazine articles and witnessed it being said in video logs. Anger does not inspire courage, anger is a natural occurring emotion that arises when we have come to believe that our humanity is being disregarded by someone or others. The process of using courage to stand up for one’s self actually comes the belief that you are confidence in practicing necessary acquired skills to stand up for yourself. Such a belief comes from the evidence of you practicing those acquired skills in similar situations.
So when the bully got the best of my client, it was because he was in better shape to do so. Or in the second example, where the person is unable to use his words to state his boundaries, it’s because he lacks the practice of having to assert himself in situations with high conflict.
Anger is a natural occurring emotion, that is most useful for infants and children. This is because all infants and children know are their needs and that their parents and guardians are responsible for getting those needs met. As the child matures, the parents teach him that he is responsible for getting his needs met and managing his emotions. This is where the traits of competency, confidence and courage from acquiring and practicing skills start to emerge.
In this video I discuss my professional opinion on the subject of anger and courage.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl
As a soldier, my company commander upon learning that I had studied psychology in college, demanded to know if I could read his thoughts. He then followed up by asking if I had studied psychology to find out what was wrong with me. This scenario underlies the attitude most people have towards psychotherapy and the field of psychology in general. Given that the origins of psychology came from the medical disease model, most people feel that any recommendation they receive for therapy means that something is wrong with them.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Counseling is a process where you transition from a place of being emotionally stuck to a place of wellness and thriving. Life is a transitional process, cognitive strategies that worked for us in the past, typically no longer apply in the present. While this phenomenon is nothing new to us, what happens when we experience an event which we were not prepared for? An event for which we don’t have a script or blueprint to even make sense of.
The answer is we get stuck, this is because when we experience new challenges for which we were not prepared for, our instinct is to resort to old strategies that have worked for us in other and different situations. Which some times leads to Einstein’s definition of insanity. Which leads to mental health issues such as poor anger management, depression and anxiety. Through therapy, we can come to understand ourselves thoroughly, by examining our beliefs and values. Particularly those instilled in us during our formative years.
We can come to learn about which irrational beliefs hinder our personal happiness, and practice cognitive behavioral strategies for embracing new beliefs and values that help us experience true happiness and thrive.
So it’s not a matter of something being wrong with you to begin with, it a matter of correcting a misunderstanding between you and the your life experiences.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.