Cognitive Diary Training Example: Husband Gives the Silent Treatment
EVENT: When I try to talk to my husband about problems in our relationship he won't respond
EMOTIONS: rejected, agitation, hurt
DISTRESS RATING: 8--High level of distress
THOUGHTS: "My husband doesn't respond to me when I tell him he's not attentive enough. He must not really love me. I'm just asking for a simple thing and he doesn't even try. I told him that if he doesn't care about me then he can just do whatever he wants and we'll just be roommates--he's probably having an affair anyway. But he just acts as if nothing is wrong.”
CAN YOU IDENTIFY THE IRRATIONAL THINKING IN THIS EXAMPLE? There are at least 3 irrational beliefs.
HOW CAN YOU CHANGE THE THINKING? What is another way of thinking about the situation that won't cause the feelings of rejection, agitation, and hurt?
Where did the self-esteem movement go wrong? Why does artificially trying to inflate childrens' self-esteem (giving every child a trophy) cause entitlement and laziness? If children feel better about themselves, shouldn't they be more motivated to succeed, not less?
The problem is that the self-esteem movement took a concept that was meant to help people with abnormally low self-esteem that interfered with life functioning and applied it to normally functioning people. Their idea was that if low self-esteem is associated with depression, then it must be bad and the opposite must be good: we need to get rid of low self-esteem wherever we find it.
This is the problem with extreme thinking—it assumes that the opposite of bad must be good when the opposite of bad is sometimes also bad.
January 28, 2016
Passive-Aggressive Example: Why Does My Husband Want a "Reward" for Hurting Me?
Question: Best article on passive/aggressive. Wish I read this 27 years ago. Didn't know what I have been dealing with. Why does my husband want a "reward" of seeing me hurt, upset, put down? Is this sick behavior learned from watching his parents? Will he ever "want" to treat me nice? Or is he incapable? I just want a husband who loves me and acts like it. I have been telling him for years his behavior is emotionally abusive, but he cant seem to stop. Why? Why is his reward to see me unhappy?
At the age of 19 when I first learned about Maslow's concept of self-actualization in Psych 101, I thought, “It must be pretty boring to be self-actualized.” Under the mistaken impression that complete acceptance of the self and the world corresponded with a lack of passion to change the world, I wanted no part of self-actualization. At the same time, however, being at peace with the self intrigued me. And so began my search which led to a study of psychology, training in the martial arts and tai chi, and finally, an understanding of mindful awareness (to me—a synonym for self-actualization).
In the same way as I did, sometimes people get the impression that mindfulness is passive, mindless acceptance. They equate it with “blissing out”--a euphoric, contented state in which consciousness of the surrounding world is lost. This feel-good internal state, similar to some drug highs, is pursued as a way of escaping from the world and is erroneously considered happiness by some: “As long as I'm happy, who cares about anything else?”
January 20, 2016
When Health Policies Run Amok and Good Parenting Causes Problems: Peanut Allergies
You may have heard that peanut allergies in children are on the rise. The U.S. and the U.K. developed health policies to protect children from this life-threatening allergy. Good parents followed the public health policies recommending the avoidance of peanuts in the first years of life. But peanut allergies continued to increase at alarming rates--doubling in the last 10 years in Western countries.
Everything from chemical toxins to caesarean sections to vaccinations and genetically modified foods were blamed for the increase. The more public health tried to eliminate the problem by advocating avoidance of peanuts in the early years of life, the more it increased.
Finally, we have some answers that many people with common sense had already reached!
January 13, 2016
What Are Reasonable Goals?
Goals need to be carefully assessed to determine they are what you want to do, not what you should do. Unreasonable goals cause increased stress. By eliminating the “should” goals, you are more likely to develop reasonable goals.
Some people believe we have to have “shoulds” so as to do what is required of us. But that is a dismal view of humanity because it implies people only do what is necessary because they must. In contrast, I think that most “shoulds” are either unnecessary or have an underlying desire. For instance, a parent might believe that he should make breakfast every morning for his children. However, this may actually be a desire: “I want my children to eat a healthy breakfast.”
When you think of something as a demand it feels more stressful. When you think of it as a desire you feel better about yourself. Try it out. Take a should and reword it into a desire and see how it feels when you say it out loud: “I have to make breakfast for my kids” vs. “I like making breakfast for my kids because I know it starts out their day in a healthy way.” Usually the body feels different physically just by thinking of something in a different way.
January 8, 2016
The Physical Toll on Empathetic Parents and How to Find Balance
I once asked a client, “Would you rather be an emotionally sensitive person and have an anxiety disorder or would you rather be less compassionate and concerned about others?” Understanding that being emotionally empathic may come at a cost she preferred to be as she is. Such is true of most empathetic people—caring deeply about others, they are willing to sacrifice their own physical well-being even if they have a choice.
Parents who are empathetic have better relationships with their children. In addition, children of such parents are less likely to have depression or aggressive behavior and have a greater ability to empathize and manage their emotions in healthy ways. They also have lower levels of inflammation indicating they are likely to be more physically healthy. The parents experience psychological benefits likely due to feeling good about their parenting and having a sense of satisfaction and pride. However, the physical cost is greater for these parents. They show signs of chronic inflammation which may result in more stress-related illnesses (Manczak et al., 2015).
January 5, 2016
Selfies: A Sign of Low Self-esteem? Think Again
Culture often determines mental illness. If the majority of people experienced mania, it would not be considered abnormal. Instead, it would be the natural functioning of human beings. So, when 98% of our youth post selfies, why do we see it as a potential problem? Researchers look at this phenomena with the viewpoint that many had when rock and roll first burst onto the scene. It was new, loud, and different, and therefore, unnatural. Older adults viewed rock and roll as perverse, as the destruction of the youth and society.
January 4, 2016
Is It True that Parents are Less Happy than Non-parents?
You may have heard reports in the media stating that non-parents are happier than parents. However, that is a simplification of the true nature of this question. The answer is much more complex and depends on a number of factors (Nelson et al., 2014).
1) Child problems. When parents experience more frustration or worry related to their children they report lower levels of happiness. Such negative emotions may be particularly associated with problems the child may have or if the child has a more difficult personality style.
2) Strain. Under certain conditions children cause increased strain including physical, financial, and marital. For instance, younger children and children with problems may increase sleep disturbance in parents causing greater fatigue. In addition, parents may have less quality time for one another and more conflict due to disagreements over children.
January 2, 2016
Helping Children Achieve Their Potential
Parents have good intentions and want to help their children become the best they can be. However, indiscriminate praise is not the way to help children. In the video “How To Help Every Child Fulfil Their Potential” Carol Dweck explains how praising intelligence creates a fixed mindset in children which causes a pattern of avoidant behavior. Children with a fixed mindset wish to avoid mistakes and do not seek out challenges due to fear of failure.
January 1, 2016
How to Succeed at Goals (or Why Goals Fail)
When people first make goals, they visualize success. When you initially develop your New Year's goals, whether it is days or hours in advance, you think about what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it. You envision succeeding. No one sets goals thinking "I can't do that." They set them with hope and a picture of what success looks like.
When people fail at achieving goals, what has usually changed is the internal image. Instead of imagining success, they are visualizing failure. “This is too hard—I can't do this.” Think of the last time you didn't achieve a goal you set--somehow your image became negative.
December 28, 2015
Reflecting on a Time of Change for Me
I haven't written much lately because I have been busy wrapping up my old life to start a new life. Recently, I retired from my clinical practice which also involved selling my home and moving to another part of the state. Having grown up and lived in the suburbs of a large metropolitan area, I will now be adjusting to living on forty acres in a very rural area. Instead of a clinical practice, I will be able to focus more on my writing and app development.
Although this change in my life is by choice and something I am looking forward to, change involves loss. I will miss the direct contact I have with clients. I will miss the tears and the laughter. I will miss sharing their successes and commiserating over their losses. Read more...
December 22, 2015
Cognitive Diary Training Example: Back-stabbing Doctor
EVENT: Colleague is passive-aggressive in front of the residents.
EMOTIONS: frustration, hurt, distress
DISTRESS RATING: 9--Feeling desperate
THOUGHTS: "A doctor I work with feels I am "too proud" and independent in my work. He dislikes my personality, and that's ok--we don't have to be buddies. But he has taken to telling each new group of residents that there is no point discussing anything with me because I am overbearing. He tells them they should just avoid discussion and agree with me. When I present an assessment in rounds he covers his eyes and bows his head. After he leaves, if I need to speak to one of the residents about a patient having problems, I can see them bracing themselves as I approach or rolling their eyes even though we may have never yet spoken to each other! I am viewed as a competant and compassionate doctor by families and co-workers, but this treatment is distracting and disheartening. It is making it difficult to provide safe care, to the point that I have considered leaving my practice.”
CAN YOU IDENTIFY THE IRRATIONAL THINKING IN THIS EXAMPLE? There are at least 3 irrational beliefs.
HOW CAN YOU CHANGE THE THINKING? What is another way of thinking about the situation that won't cause the feelings of frustration, hurt, and distress?
Question: A doctor I work with feels I am "too proud" and independent in my work. He dislikes my personality, and that's ok--we don't have to be buddies. But he has taken to telling each new group of residents that there is no point discussing anything with me because I am overbearing. He tells them they should just avoid discussion and agree with me. When I present an assessment in rounds he covers his eyes and bows his head. After he leaves, if I need to speak to one of the residents about a patient having problems, I can see them bracing themselves as I approach or rolling their eyes even though we may have never yet spoken to each other! I am viewed as a competant and compassionate doctor by families and co-workers, but this treatment is distracting and disheartening. It is making it difficult to provide safe care, to the point that I have considered leaving my practice.
No matter what, people will have conflict. Two people will never have the same exact needs as one another. One person is too hot; one person is too cold. One person likes Chinese food; one person likes Italian. One person spends more; one person is thrifty. Some differences may cause more conflict than others but differences always exists.
Why is it that conflict can cause serious problems in some relationships but does not seem to affect others? Researchers Gordon and Chen (2015) examined the quality of relationships based upon whether the partners felt understood by the other. They found that conflict is less likely to be harmful to a relationship when the partners feel understood. Read more...
December 10, 2015
Children Prefer Activity
When given the choice, children prefer being active. We worry about the problem of obesity and inactivity in children, yet it appears the problem has more to do with opportunity than with preference. Of course children like to play games, and if their only opportunity is to play sedentary, solitary games that is what they will play. However, when children, especially boys and normal-weight children, have the opportunity to play physically interactive games or similar non-physical games, they will choose the more active games (Sit, et al., 2010). Read more...
December 2, 2015
The Truth about Aging and Dieting
One good thing about aging is that older adults can stick to a diet better than younger adults. One of the more common causes of dieting failure is the use of food to regulate emotions. Older adults are better at managing emotional reactions and less likely to feel bad about themselves due to a diet failure. Instead of becoming discouraged by diet lapses and eating more they tend to control eating better. Instead of “I failed in my diet today. I'll start over tomorrow” they are more likely to think “I'll try to do better for the rest of the day.” Read more...
Some people may be curious as to why this website is
dedicated to the "pursuit of excellence" when I am
constantly warning about the dangers of
perfectionism. To address this question we must
differentiate between the pursuit of excellence and
the need to be perfect. These concepts are not only
different but can be considered antagonistic to one
another. In fact these concepts are so opposed to
one another that excellence can best be attained by
giving up the demands of perfection.
What is Perfectionism? Perfectionism
is the individual's belief that he or she must be
perfect to be acceptable. Perfectionism is black and
white with no gray area. Anything other than perfect
is failure. Perfectionism is an attitude, not
necessarily a behavior. In other words, two people
can engage in the same behavior such as trying to
win an Olympic gold medal but one can be pursuing
excellence and the other is demanding perfection.
The difference lies in the thought process about the
goal or behavior, not in the goal or behavior
itself. Read more...
Listening to the weather forecast one frigid day, I
realized how much we are influenced by the
catastrophic thinking of the media. The weatherman
reported, "The weather has brought more misery
to the St. Louis area." Certainly, the weather was
causing problems that day. An ice storm caused car
doors and locks to be frozen so that people had a
great deal of trouble getting into their cars.
However, I thought, unless someone was in the middle
of nowhere with no cell phone and they were unable
to open their car door because of the ice, this was
not "misery." Instead, I would call it an
"inconvenience." Most of us walked out to our cars
to find that we couldn't open the door, went back
inside a warm house or office, and found some
solution to our problem. Read more...
For many years when my husband and I were first
together I would ask him "When are things going to
get better?" We were dealing with the usual
stressors that couples face: not enough time, not
enough money, and the inevitable random events such
as family conflict, deaths of loved ones, illnesses
and injuries. In addition, for most of our early
years together I was in school and struggling with
the balancing of demands of advanced education,
part-time work, and a family.
But I had the belief that we were working towards
this perfect life that one day would emerge shining
a rainbow of happiness forever over us. My husband,
inclined more toward the practical, just answered my
question of "When are things going to get better?,"
with "Another six months." That answer typically
pacified me for awhile because I thought I could
handle any amount of stress for six months.
However, a point would occur when I once again I
asked my husband "When are things going to get
better?" Once again, he would answer "Another six
months." This scenario occurred fairly routinely
for many years.
However, fortunately during this time I had
experiences that began to teach me about my
expectations of life. In particular, when I was
completing my internship at the Veterans
Administration Medical Center I had the opportunity
to work on the spinal cord injury unit. That
experience forever changed my thinking. In
particular, I was struck by the differences in
attitude among the patients. Read more...
don't have any willpower."
"I can't do it."
Do these statements sound familiar? Too often, our
self-statements about weight management interfere
with our efforts and lead to failure. By changing
how we think about developing a healthy weight we
are able to change the behaviors that can lead to
Not long ago I conducted a little experiment with my
cardio-kickboxing class. After an intense class I
told them to get the heaviest weights they could
curl 8-10 times. I spent a minute telling them to
focus on feeling tired, that they had just worked
out hard and they couldn't do anymore. Then, they
were to curl the weights to exhaustion. Once they
finished, I spent another minute telling them to
focus on having energy, feeling good, feeling
refreshed, and knowing they could do more. Once
again, they lifted the weights to exhaustion. The
results were that out of nine people, only one did
fewer lifts the second time! And typically, when
someone lifts weights to exhaustion they should not
be able to lift as much the second time when it is
only a minute later. Although this was not a
controlled scientific experiment, it was a
demonstration to my class to show how powerful our
thinking can be. What this exercise showed was how
positive thinking overcame the natural exhaustion of
the body and created a self-fulfilling prophecy of
lifting more weight because the participants
believed that they could.