I saw a YouTube video clip of a reporter being threatened by a congressman. The congressman became angered by the reporter asking him questions about an ongoing investigation into his campaign finances, and threatened to throw the reporter of a balcony.
The next news clip showed the reporter on a cable news show describing the incident in the most passive manner he could. For example, when asked for his version of the story, he began by stating that the congressman “seemed angry.”
I am strong advocate for tact, but there is a thin line between being tactful and being fearful. My intention is not to blame the reporter here for being threatened, but how many people can relate to being part of a bullyish workplace culture? Where you are expected to conform to a culture of tolerating disrespect and bullying from others for the sake of not getting your pay check disrupted?
That kind of stress builds up and over time it creates health issues for others. I wouldn’t be surprised if the reporter was encouraged to take a passive stance on the issue by his employers, for fear of being denied access to the congressman and other politicians. Sadly, but that kind of conformity is irrational and humiliating.
So why do people do it? Why do people conform to certain standards that go against their best interest? The reality is that most of us have been conditioned from an early age to follow the leadership of certain members of authority regardless of how immoral or unethical that leadership is, with the promise that after all is said and done, we will be rewarded with______.
What if you came to believe that there is no reward from being a blind follower? What if you came to believe that you can create your own reality where you can advocate for yourself without detriment to your ability to provide for yourself? As a soldier I once had a senior officer come into my supply shop to bully me into giving supplies without signing them out. I always told him no. Then one day he took the direct route and pointed to the rank on his collar and asked me if I knew what that meant. I then invited him into my office where I was candid with him. I politely asked him not to harass and intimidated again, or I would file a formal complaint. He apologized and it never happened again.
Conformity is overrated, people then to put their trust in others while conveniently forgetting that there are no guarantees in life, which only calls for us to do the best we can without over thinking consequences.
Regardless of the obstacles we face, we have the ability to create our own realities, so if you want a workplace culture where you are treated with respect and dignity, you can make that your reality. In this previous post, I discuss how two types of thinking patterns shape our reality.
This is a follow up post to my recent post about the costs of workplace bullying, more specifically the relationship between workplace bullying, depression and heart disease. Our thoughts influence our realities, change your thoughts and you will find your self engaging in different behaviors which influence different outcomes. However, sometimes our emotions stemming from irrational thoughts regarding our expectations not being met, can be so strong that the process of changing our thoughts can seem a daunting task.
In this post, I will introduce to you the reader to three primary strategies for creating emotional distance and bringing yourself to a place of calm in order to explore other options.
Keeping in mind that during times of extreme stress, people have difficulty maintaining calm in order to recognize and respond effectively to difficult situations, the first measure would be how to maintain calm during times of extreme stress.
The first strategy to learn is mediation, studies such as this one have shown meditation to be effective in coping with and overcoming emotional stress and pain. Another study demonstrated through mri scans that people who meditate have higher cortical gyrification ( a folding of the cerebral cortex believed to be associated with faster information processing). The key part of meditation which makes it effective in dealing with emotional stress is the process of developing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the process of developing more consciousness towards your interpretations of events and your feelings without overreacting. In short, you train your mind towards being calm during periods of discomfort. Rather than embrace the mindset that you should always be comfortable, you transition into the mindset that episodes of discomfort are a learning experience. You should begin practicing meditation, once every day, beginning with five minutes and the goal to building yourself to sixty plus minutes a day. In this post, I discuss the specifics of this strategy.
#2 Doing Nothing
This strategy is a follow up to the meditation strategy. In this post I discuss a real life scenario where I have used the “doing nothing” strategy to my benefits, when I found myself on the receiving end of work place bullying.
The “doing nothing” strategy follows the cognitive behavioral principle of A+B =C. This means that an activating event plus a behavioral response equals a natural and logical consequence. So in response to passive aggressive bullying tactics, doing nothing is your best initial response as bullying tactics depend on the over reaction of the target in sustaining the bullying long term, until the desired goal is accomplished.
Doing nothing does not mean that you play the role of the passive scapegoat. Doing nothing means that you don’t respond to bullying with retaliating tactics of your own. It only makes the situation more unbearable and difficult for you. All bullying starts off with passive teasers, in which the perpetrator is gauging your triggers for overreaction. What works for me, is to pick my battles and do nothing until the instigators have crossed a line which warrants a measured, respectful and assertive response.
Think off it as self defense. If you were on the street, it would not be wise to respond to nasty glares and insults from a stranger, but in the event that stranger were to place hands on you, you should be prepared to protect yourself. It is also important to note that when I have initiated the “doing nothing” response, it took a lot of work. I documented my observations and when it came to my work I made certain that I was as thorough as I could have been, which it difficult for myself to get scapegoat-ed.
#3 Set Firm Boundaries
Not only have I been the recipient of work place bullying, but I have also witnessed other people experience work place bullying in real time. The biggest mistake most people on the receiving end of bullying make is to kiss up to their aggressors. This maladaptive tactic only speeds up the worsening of the process.
You see bullying is irrational behavior most people initiate out of perceived bias against the target. This means that the person on the receiving end, has done nothing to deserve such harassment. So pandering to the bully only enables the bullying. When I work with kids who are getting bullied, the first assignment I give to them is to stop associating with those who treat them badly. Time after time, children who have followed through with this tactic report that the bullying stopped. Why? Because they stopped placing themselves in situations where they made it easy for the bullies to harass them. This means that kids who were on a mission to bully the client, had to work a lot harder by going out of their way to seek out their target to bully.
In the workplace environment, you make it harder for your harassers to bully you by setting up and maintaining firm boundaries. If you need any help with them, simply look to your company’s standard of operating procedures. Then make sure you follow everything by the book, and hold anyone who works with you to standard in following the same rules. If a supervisor were to insist that you bend the rules for a favor, you request that they follow company protocol in getting the rule changed and then you document the interaction between you and the supervisor.
#Bonus: Find Your Tribe.
Business is about relationships, so if you are worried that employing these strategies wouldn’t make you any friends at work, you are probably right. Instead these strategies are designed to create enough emotional breathing room for you to access your working brain and explore other options. Such as a work cultural environment where you can thrive.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Consider this scenario, you have been written up on the job for a miscellaneous issue. Furthermore you have been given an action plan to complete promising your due diligence in not making whatever error you made that earned you the write up. It sounds cut and dry right?
Well what if at the same this that this is going on, you have come to notice that your co workers are no longer speaking with you. Perhaps your office or cubicle has been moved to a different location farther from the main group of people you typically work with. Also, what if on more than one occasion you have been accused of incompetence and negligence and openly berated in front of others?
This scenario can be described as workplace bullying or put more appropriately workplace mobbing. Workplace bullying occurs when standards and procedures are used as a weapon in intimidating and or attempting to end the employment of an employee. Typically workplace bullying occurs on a one on one basis, think supervisor and employee. However on a more sophisticated scale, workplace bullying occurs when an individual is constantly on the receiving end of barrages of criticism from multiple individuals in a workplace environment with one or two people playing lead roles in the bullying.
The idea is to emotionally break down the individual, who is the target of the bullying to accomplish one of two goals. With one goal being to have that employee become more fearful and submissive and the other goal to end the employee’s employment. It is common knowledge that when people are worried about making mistakes, they make more mistakes than usual. So if as a supervisor, I write someone up, over a situation that could have been assertively and compassionately discussed, I am merely documenting my process to justify the person’s removal. Often times with bullying it looks really legitimate on paper, as most people develop maladaptive behaviors to cope with the manufactured stress being projected unto them.
In this report, titled “Offsetting the Pain from Workplace Bullying,” authored by the Workplace Bullying Institute, an online survey revealed that 24.5% of respondents engaged in positive behaviors in response to workplace bullying. An example for positive behaviors would be prayer, meditating, and daily exercising. Compared to 9.9% of respondents who engaged in displaced behaviors, such as going home to fight with loved ones, 32.3% of respondents who engaged in self destructive behaviors, such as overeating and drug use and 33.4% of respondents who responded to workplace bullying via social withdrawal.
The report concludes that the initial response to work place bullying is rarely a rational and conscious one. The reports further states that if it were a rational response, all the responses given would have been of positive behaviors.
This makes sense considering that research studies have shown that people who experience chronic stress become stuck in a pattern of reactivity due to our hard wiring for fight or flight in response to feeling threatened.
In another study, based on a sample of male and female hospital employees, researchers reported that incidences of bullying in the workplace were negatively correlated with mental health. More specifically, researchers reported that one in six people who experienced workplace bullying were likely to develop depression and cardiovascular disease. Although they did note that the likelihood of cardiovascular disease was linked to overweight issues in the participants of the study. However it is important to note that just like the last study, overeating was identified as a self destructive behavior, in which 32.3% of responders reportedly engaged in. It is also important to note that when people engage in self destructive behaviors, they usually do so in an effort to escape difficult issues, such as depression.
This year a psychiatrist, Dr. Angelos Halaris proposed that a new field be created and further proposed that it be named psychocardiology. His proposal came from a research study he spearheaded where he and his team discovered an inflammatory biomarker labeled interleukin-6, (associated with cardiovascular disease) in higher quantities in the blood stream of most of the depressed people they tested.
I am a big believer that our thoughts and feelings influence our physical health, and it could very well be that depressed people experience more stress which leads to the production of hormones that in the long term have negative side effects on the heart and overall well being of the depressed person.
We are social creatures, and besides the wounding of our egos when dealing with rejection, the situation becomes more alarming when we perceive that our “only” ability to get our basic needs met, is threatened due to perceived threats from reoccurring social conflicts in the workplace. This is the bad news, however the good news is that if you have ever been on the receiving end of workplace conflict, you can learn to bring it to an end.
Tomorrow, I will post on three cognitive strategies which people who are currently experiencing any perceived bullying or chronic social conflict in the workplace, can practice. The practicing of these strategies are designed to create emotional space and calm within the person so that through clarity, he or she can consider effective alternatives towards bringing the conflicts to an end.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
“You don’t need validation from anybody to solve your problems ”
Ⅰ. Your plan for success involves how someone in a position of authority is going to recognize your hard work and reward you.
Ⅱ. You feel cheated when you have not been recognized or rewarded for your achievements.
Ⅲ. You have no clear vision for where you want to be, or what you want to be doing with your life in the next five years.
During my Masters program, I worked as a caseworker at a juvenile prison. Everything I learned in class and from research, I put to practice the next day I worked. I had a vision of myself as a competent professional, who was knowledgeable and able to help most people who approached me for help. I wasn’t terribly concerned about finding employment, (granted I was already employed) I just wanted to be really good at what I did.
Ⅱ. Make a list of your own issues, you need to start addressing.
The standards of living is the same for everyone, no one is more responsible for your well being and that of your children (if you have any) than you. This might seem like a strange concept to some, but then again if you find this concept strange it may not entirely be your fault. Through mass media, there seems to be this push for people to adopt a cultural mindset that grown men and women shouldn’t be entirely responsible for their well being. Issues ranging from health care provision for a person’s family to educating one’s child seem to no longer be considered a person’s responsibility but that of the government at large. The truth is, your issues are your responsibilities and no one else’s. The good news, is that if you are able to read and comprehend this post, you are capable of coming up with answers to your problems.
Ⅲ. Start coming up with reasonable plans on how to begin addressing your identified issues.
To date the best approach I have found is to research someone who has experienced and successfully solved the same problems you are currently experiencing, such as finding love, building wealth, parenting, career, etc, and the list goes on. Granted while everyone is unique and you will seldom find the perfect out of the box approach, you can always work with a professional like myself to develop and implement the plan that works just right for you.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC a professional counseling private practice.
From time to time I encounter an article or a post on the alleged benefits of anger and why people should get angry under certain circumstances. In this post, my mission is to inform you that on the contrary, you should strive to never get angry and here’s why;
Anger in my professional opinion is a useless emotion, it’s probably the default emotion that comes with just having a reptilian brain in regards to dealing with frustration (cognitive exhaustion) and resorting to self defense. However with the manual override that the cerebral cortex provides us, anger has become obsolete.
Understandably, people sometimes express skepticism when I state that anger is a useless emotion, this is because ego centrism to varying degrees is ubiquitous across all cultures. We make the mistake of externalizing our expectations towards the world around us, instead of internalizing expectations and externalizing preferences.
Here are three reasons why anger is obsolete.
Anger is Never a Solution.
Think about it, what good has anger ever served you? Take for example, in a relationship with your spouse or domestic partner, does getting angry help strengthen the relationship or bring you two closer to separation? Some times when I meet with a couple for the first time, both partners present with such anger towards each other that they begin competing in airing out each other’s dirty laundry. If things get really hostile, I will ask if they are paying me to learn tools on how to properly address issues in their relationship, or if they are seeking validation from me on why they should split up.
Often times when we get angry at someone or a situation, what we are really experiencing is cognitive exhaustion. The experience of cognitive exhaustion usually leads to two options, the first being to stop, rest and collect your thoughts and the second being to throw a tantrum.
If you have ever witnessed a two year old trying to tie his shoelace for the first time, you can probably attest to the tantrums which soon follow after several unsuccessful attempts. Good parents then help the child reach a state of calm before showing that child a technique for learning to tie his shoelace.
When we have adequate knowledge or tools for which to address our problems, we don’t get angry.
Anger is Never Useful for Self Defense.
If you have ever being mugged at gun point, knife point, or even threatened by a dog or wild animal, you can probably agree that getting angry at the time was the farthest thing from your mind. You probably simply wanted to survive the ordeal.
When your life is truly threatened, your mind immediately transitions in a problem solving mode. This means you will resort to any sensible bit of information you can think of, which increases the likelihood of you surviving the incident. If you have ever seen YouTube videos of people successfully defending themselves against an aggressor, I am willing to bet it’s because that person already had some sort of training, (if not extensive) on self defense. So in that instance they resorted to their knowledge to protect themselves.
Anger is not Inspirational
There is nothing inspirational about anger, I think people who believe anger to be inspirational get confused because of the surge of adrenaline going through their system when they get angry. Earlier on I wrote that anger is a default emotion that was originally programmed into the reptilian brain, this makes more sense when you realize that a surge of adrenaline helps you take off in flight or put up a last ditch effort to fight for your life. However adrenaline surges should never be confused with inspiration.
Inspiration comes from the belief or realization that a belief you hold, or something you have earnestly hoped for is about to be realized. When people become inspired it’s because they are being spiritually pulled in by a singular or shared vision of something they desire and not from a sense of anger of something they do not desire.
A revised copy of my book, Anger Management 101- Taming the Beast Within is about to be released and prior to announcing the launch date, I plan on offering subscribers to this blog, the book at a discounted price for a limited time. I will provide further information when my publisher and I finalize arrangements.
Please share this post with anyone you believe will benefit from reading it.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC, a professional counseling private practice.
My first job coming out of the military, I had an interesting supervisor. Every Monday morning she would place some candy and snacks on the desks of select workers and I found myself being one of the few whose desk she would skip.
Some of those whose desks where skipped, would become distressed for the rest of the week. The actions of my supervisor where surprisingly powerful. It was like she was trying to send a message to certain caseworkers.
“You ticked me of last week, because of X, Y and Z and you need to be aware of your every move this week, cause I am gonna get you.”
Out of those she marked for passive aggressive harassment, I was one of the few who didn’t care. But for the wrong reasons. I was fresh out of the army, with money saved up from a recent deployment to Kuwait and single with no children.
Unlike most of my co workers, I didn’t have to worry about mouths to feed and for those who had children to provide for, it made a simple gesture such as not placing candy on a caseworker’s desk powerful and mean spirited.
Some of my fellow caseworkers who did not receive their candy for the week had such a bad case of anxiety that it became a case of self fulfilling prophecy. By Wednesday, they had already found themselves in some type of conflict with another caseworker, in which they were clearly at fault. Which led them right into the lioness’s den, for the dreaded write up.
I never got written up, and I never changed my nonchalant attitude towards my supervisor and her lieutenants.
Truth be told, had I been a father back then and very dependent on my work paycheck. I too would have struggled with anxiety over not receiving candy on my desk.
But there’s good news. If you have ever found your self in a situation where you have been forced to put up with the pettiness of a supervisor, I am going to introduce you to four ways to respond to passive aggressive behavior by a work boss or supervisor.
1.) Do Nothing.
Really, this works. If your boss has obviously in engaged in passive aggressive behavior, such as recognizing certain co workers for their work on a project that you took part in, and did not recognize you -do nothing. Or perhaps invited some coworkers to a his son’s birthday party and not you- do nothing.
If you have ever taken the time to notice, most passive aggressive behavior involves rejection on some level. It works on most people because we are innately predisposed to feel hurt and fear by rejection. Popular evolutionary psychological theory states that our ancestors increased their chances of survival by living and working together in small groups, and that being kicked out of the group spelled a death sentence since the outside world was so harsh.
The fear and anxiety we experience even from small forms of rejection is really our lizard brain fearing the worst if we get kicked out of the community. Translated into today’s terms that would mean loss of income. But really, when we act out on our fears in the work place, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, because we become irritable, less communicative and more prone to making mistakes.
Doing nothing puts your brain at ease, doing nothing means that you accept that your boss or supervisor has made a decision you do not like, and you choose to assign no meaning to the decision or action, despite the obvious.
Doing nothing means you come to the belief that you are mentally capable of adequately dealing with any challenges life throws your way, and realizing that your boss’s feelings towards you cannot make or break your life.
2.) Adopt a Logical Perspective.
On a Monday morning, a female coworker confided with me in the parking lot about her dread for Monday mornings. She had become so afraid that there would be no candy on her desk and she had grown accustomed to working hard all week long just to get in our supervisor’s good graces. She was crying, and between bouts of tears she would mutter how stupid she felt.
Struggling to come up with some answers, I asked her.
“If she was that eager to fire us, don’t you think she would have fired us by now?” My co worker reminded me that we worked for the state, to which I reminded her that supervisors could only fire you after the third write up, and to date she had received five. Then I said:
“I really think this is about power and control through intimidation and nothing else.” My coworker nor any of the non candy recipients never got fired. (As far as I know -during my employment with this agency).
Adopting a logical perspective helps you put things into perspective, and increases the ease in which you can practice doing nothing in response of passive aggressive behavior.
3.) Embrace Your Difficult Feelings.
I am not going to lie, my feelings were hurt when I didn’t receive candy on my desk. My “I don’t care” and all business attitude was my way to avoid dealing with hurt. It was a defensive strategy that had served me well in the military. However, it was not healthy.
Embracing your most difficult of feelings allows you to come up with answers to your challenges. I for one strongly believe that we are all capable of solving our problems, once we become both optimistic and brutally honest with our selves.
Embracing difficult feelings is a paradoxical approach because it makes it easier for the mind to quickly get past the hurt and pain and adopt a logical perspective.
4.) Be Humble.
At a former employment, I unfortunately found myself caught up in a struggle for power. It was a national corporation and my mentor was fighting to keep his leadership position being taken by another would be in the ranks, who happened to have his own team of proteges. My mentor lost, and while I did keep my job I found myself dealing with big time passive aggressiveness. Such as being moved from my personal office to a shared office and losing a series of perks, that quite frankly had no bearing on my ability to do my job.
I did feel disrespected, and so did a fellow protege, who lost his job after he had lost his temper and chastised our new boss.
Keep in mind that while it is in the human genome to compete for status, our higher intelligence has allowed mankind to understand that privilege is an illusion. The standards of life are the same for all human beings – we are all vulnerable.
So if you have experienced a downgrade in “status” so long as it does not affect your ability to do your work and earn income, embrace your feelings of hurt, adopt a logical perspective, do nothing (don’t react) about the situation and stay humble.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” -Albert Einstein
From time to time when I meet with a new client, they will often inform me that they feel stuck, however the word often used is trapped. When I rephrase it back to them, I usually will substitute “trapped” with “stuck.” This is because the idea of feeling trapped evokes more panic in people than the idea of feeling stuck.
In essence, it’s the same message. They are experiencing a sense of permanence in a miserable situation. The first thing to recognize about being stuck, is that you are not stuck. In fact you have never been stuck, instead you have held steadfast to a set of inflexible beliefs which make it impossible to adapt in a healthy manner to certain circumstances.
The process of becoming unstuck is a simple process to understand but challenging to put into practice. You have to first identify beliefs you hold unto that make it difficult for you to practice change. Here are three common beliefs I have noticed that clients hold unto;
“I should never experience discomfort.”
“I should never fail.”
“I must always be happy.”
The irony about these common beliefs, is that once clients identify them, it turns out that they are not meeting their expectations as is. They are usually already experiencing discomfort, already experiencing some type of failure in their lives and they are almost definitely not happy.
So the first stage is to identify unhealthy core beliefs you steadfastly adhere to and find out how trying to live up to those beliefs have led you to feelings of being stuck . Most clients become more than willing to practice change once the ironies have been pointed out.
The second step is to identify healthier beliefs to replace the unhealthy beliefs you identified about yourself. An easy way to go about doing this would be to create healthy beliefs that are contradictory to the unhealthy beliefs you earlier identified about yourself.
For example, a good replacement for “I should never experience discomfort” would be, “I have the strength to cope with discomfort.” For “I should never fail”, it could be “failures are experiences I should learn from.” The theme of any healthy beliefs shouldn’t be to extinguish any negative feelings, but to increase your resiliency towards negative feelings and negative experiences.
Now before I address the third step, there is something I would like to highlight. The truth is that most of the time we find ourselves in an unfavorably situation we know what steps need to be taken, unfortunately when we think with unhealthy beliefs, we foolishly come to believe in guarantees, and become terrified of not succeeding in change, which leads to doing nothing and subsequently leading to our feelings of being stuck. The only guarantee in life is death.
With that in mind, the third step involves identifying the changes you have been avoiding to make and using your new found healthy beliefs as motivation. For example, what if you wanted to go back to school and learn software coding? However you know that upon registration at the community college you will be required to take a placement exam? Further, you have a deep seeded fear of tests and exams stemming from the ridicules you received from your family and peers over your poor grades as a child. So what is a person to do?
Here’s what you do, you take your identified healthier replacement belief for failure, “failures are experiences I should learn from.” You write this down twenty five times before you go to bed the night before you take the placement exam, (sleep promotes learning), and then you write it down again twenty five times an hour before you take the exam.
This is a repetitive cognitive process that conditions you to think in a manner that increases the likelihood of you performing at your best when engaging in a task that evokes a lot of anxiety in you. But wait.. there’s more. I am currently writing a book that sheds information on the psychology of fear and gives more detailed evidenced based strategies for how anyone can overcome their fears and live their lives.
Thanks for reading this and if you know anyone who could benefit from reading this post, please share this with them.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC, a professional counseling private practice.