by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Clinical and Sport Psychologist
March 17, 2017
In Praise of Specific Praise
Most people know the value of praise, but few people provide it effectively. Providing specific praise can enhance performance and productivity at work. It can improve the quality of personal relationships. It can teach children how to navigate life successfully.
“Great job!” or “I liked your presentation” may be easy praise to give but it is not as effective as specific praise. Instead, “You really helped the team by providing those statistics for the presentation” is more likely to make an impact. A person receiving such praise will not only know their work was appreciated but will know that they were noticed—it's not just empty flattery.
March 15, 2017
Why Are People Mean? When You Love a Narcissist
When you love a narcissist, you can't compete with their first love—themselves. The constant need for admiration and attention can fatigue even the heartiest of souls. However, that is not the biggest problem for those who are in love with a narcissist.
The most serious issue for relationships is that a narcissist can be quite hurtful due to their lack of empathy and indifference to other people's concerns, needs, or wishes. As a result, they often come across as “mean” people. Not that they intend to hurt others—they just find themselves and their desires or interests more important.
T.S. Eiott said it well:
“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm—but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”
March 10, 2017
Don't Assume You Know What Others Are Thinking and Feeling
It is hard not to project your thoughts and feelings on to other people. I find myself doing it even with my cats: “Beef doesn't seem appetizing to me in the morning so I'm going to feed you the chicken.” What does how I feel about what I eat have to do with my cats' food? Nothing. But, if you buy food for a pet, have you noticed all the choices? Cats are carnivores so why do they create food with carrots and rice in it? Because it sounds good to the human: “'White chicken with carrots in gravy'—oh, yum, a nice chicken stew, I think my cats would enjoy that.”
Or, how about mothers instructing their children “Put on a coat” because the mother feels cold and assumes the child will be cold, too? “Don't argue with me! Just put on a coat.”
March 6, 2017
Why Dieting May Be Painful and What You Can Do About It
It's commonly known that many people tend to eat when stressed. How often do you see a movie or TV show and someone reaches for a carton of ice cream when dealing with a distressing situation? For some people, stressed eating may create a disordered relationship with food which becomes difficult to reverse. Why is that?
Why does stress make it difficult to lose weight?
One answer may have to do with the experience of pain. Researchers found that when healthy people fast for 24 hours their sensitivity to pain increases (Pollatos et al., 2012). Although this study examined fasting, some people may be even more sensitive to the pains of hunger and experience increased pain with minor deprivation.
March 2, 2017
Do Not Go Gentle: Mental Decline and Aging
As people age, a primary fear is the loss of mental capacity. Most people eventually come to terms with the physical decline in health and abilities. But mental decline causes greater isolation and feelings of loneliness because mental abilities are our lifeline of connection to others. So, finding ways to reduce mental decline is an important factor in improving well-being as we age.
Although previous research has shown that elderly who engage in social activity show less mental decline, the key may not be the social interaction itself. It was thought that social contact provided emotional support reducing stress that can affect mental abilities. Or, that socially engaged people often participate in mentally challenging activities, such as card games, keeping the mind active.
However, reducing mental decline as we age is more complex than that and is impacted by several factors: Read more...
February 27, 2017
Be Careful Accusing Someone of Lying
Even though forensic psychologists have developed elaborate procedures to improve the ability to determine truth to aid in criminal prosecution, there is still much room for error. If one of the most motivated areas of research to determine lying can't reliably assess the truth, shouldn't you be careful before accusing someone of lying?
Even with training, social-workers only increased their detection abilities to 77% while police officers were in the 50-60% range (Akehurst et al., 2004). While 77% may seem high, it still means these professionals are wrong 30-40% of the time. Yet, even when wrong, they were confident in their assessment. Such confidence is the crux of the matter—when a person is confident, they are more likely to make accusations.
February 23, 2017
Why People with Depression Avoid Positive Experiences: or, It's Impossible to Pull Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps
“Look at the positive.”
“Do something that is fun.”
Although commonly heard by those with depression, messages such as these have little impact on depression. And then the very unhelpful follow-up (whether thought or said) is frequently: “You're not really trying.”
Let's look at these messages from a purely physical point of view. What if a person with chronic pain was given these same messages? Do you think it would help? That if only they would try to be more positive, they wouldn't hurt so much?
February 22, 2017
Happy Friends Can Improve Your Health
Clearly, the research shows that happier people are healthier. It makes sense that if you are happier, you are more likely to take better care of yourself which increases health outcomes. But this fact can be discouraging for people who are not happy and can create an ever-downward spiral: unhappiness contributes to poor health and poor health further decreases happiness.
However, there is some good news for unhappy people: did you know that having a happy partner can improve your health? This is true even if you are not happy yourself (Chopik and O'Brien, 2017).
February 17, 2017
Perspective, Empathy, and Forgiveness
Forgiveness is the most precious but arduous gift a person can give to another. We struggle with forgiveness because we are in pain, we are angry that someone caused that pain, we want them to hurt as much as we do but we believe they don't feel regret, guilt or shame.
Yet, in many situations the struggle with forgiveness is due to an overestimation of the intent of the offender and an underestimation of their desire to be forgiven (Adams and Inesi, 2016). When a person is hurt by another, the tendency is to believe that the other person did it deliberately and doesn't care about the pain they caused.
However, in many situations that assumption is not true. Frequently, the transgressor didn't intend to cause pain and desires to be forgiven. Forgiveness is a requirement of healthy relationships because none of us are perfect and each of us is likely to be in the role of an offender and of a victim at different points in a relationship.
February 13, 2017
When Anxiety is Caused by Mindfulness Practice
Some people need to keep moving, thinking, even worrying to prevent awareness of certain thoughts, emotions, or images buried in their subconscious. When they slow down, when they relax, they are less on guard which gives these thoughts or images purchase in their minds.
And it's not always the initial thoughts or images but what they represent and the meaning the person attributes to them. For instance, a person who suffered horrific childhood abuse may judge her or himself harshly and even engage in self-blame. So the avoidance is of their self-criticism and the ongoing injury to their self-concept.
Or, for others it may be the fear of becoming lost in the emotion, feeling overwhelmed and unable to tolerate the intensity of the negative emotions. Read more...
February 10, 2017
50 RULES OF LIFE
Rule 18: Perspective--Choose to See the Whole Elephant
The inability to change perspective is a frequent cause of conflict. People become so focused on the rightness of their view of the world that they cannot see the value of other views. Yet, most people are often just looking at a narrow slice of a very complex picture.
Perspective is shaped by our expectations and the details we notice. Learning to let go of expectations can help expand our knowledge of the world and our ability to understand others. By doing so, we become more open to ideas and differences which is likely to reduce conflict.
A fable from India illustrates how perspective can be accurate, but inaccurate, at the same time depending upon the specifics observed. Read more...
February 7, 2017
How Something Tastes is Influenced By Your Thinking
For most people, the taste of good food or drink is rewarding. And as with anything that is pleasurable, we tend to make choices based on what is most rewarding. However, did you know that the specific food or drink that stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain the most is influenced by how you think about those items (van Rijn, et al., 2017)?
For example, most people have a preference for either Pepsi or Coke—the pleasure region of the brain responds when drinking their preferred beverage. However, when they are given blind taste tests, the brain's reaction shows no preference of one over the other. Therefore, our taste preferences and even the physiological reaction of the brain is affected by how we think. Flavor is enhanced by how you think of the product.
Why is this important? Read more...
February 1, 2017
Assertion 101: The Importance of Eye Contact
Although most people are aware, at least at a subconscious level, of the importance of eye contact when communicating, many people still have trouble with this critical component of being assertive. This issue may even be more pressing today with everyone attached to their mobile devices. I have noticed so many conversations in which people are looking at their device rather than the person they are talking with.
Yet, it is still true that if you want to be effective in your communication (i.e. “Win friends and influence people”) you need this basic non-verbal behavior. As simple as it sounds, it can still be difficult for several reasons: Read more...
January 26, 2017
Shouldn't Mindfulness Be Free?
Everyday I get more and more notices of mindfulness training. On one hand, it seems like a positive thing because mindfulness is physically and psychologically healthy so as more people become mindful it can be beneficial to us all. On the other hand, though, I am troubled by the cost of mindfulness training. I'm also astounded by the willingness of people to pay $10 monthly subscriptions to access relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness audios.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by this--people tend to believe something that is free can't possibly be good. Or, that if it is free there must be a catch. Also, people are more likely to follow-through if they have to pay for something. Although I wonder how true that is--people pay for gym memberships thinking it will keep them motivated and yet that seldom occurs.
January 25, 2017
Risk is a Matter of Perception: What is Risk to You?
Recently, a woman said to me when learning what I do, “I wish I could start my own business.” When I asked “Why don't you?” she responded, “Oh, no, that's too risky.” When I asked, “What's the worst that can happen?” she viewed the worst possibility as losing everything and being homeless.
Thinking about that exchange I realized that I think it is too risky not to pursue my dreams. I don't want to take the risk of being old and gray reminiscing, “I wish I had done that.”
Sure, risks I have taken sometimes cost me money or time or even caused physical injuries (karate) but the bigger risk that always looms before me is having wasted my life. Whenever I am faced with a decision and potential risk, I ask myself, “Will you regret not having tried?”
But this also made me think that people have different definitions of risk. Each person has different dreams, desires, and goals so risk becomes defined by their personal agenda.
January 24, 2017
Can a Gratitude List Make a Difference in Your Life?
We often hear about how keeping a list of things for which we are grateful can improve our well-being and health. Can such a simple activity make a difference? The answer is “yes” but not any more of a difference than other psychological techniques (Davis, et al., 2016). So perhaps it is just a matter of preference. Also, simple gratitude is not an effective technique for anxiety (read PsychNote: It's Not as Simple as Being Grateful
Why is a happiness list effective?
The most effective treatments are those people are willing to do routinely. Writing a gratitude list is often enthusiastically embraced by people for several reasons:
. Most people can understand the concept and it doesn't take much time to do.
January 20, 2017
New Article: Are You Passive-Aggressive and Want to Change?
Most of us are passive-aggressive (PA) at times. Although much of the communication literature tells us we should be direct and assertive, I've always told my clients there is a time and place for different communication styles. For instance, if you've had your car in to a repair shop several times for the same problem and they want to charge you for fixing it again, being verbally aggressive might accomplish your agenda. Or, if you are confronted by an irrational angry person, a self-protective passive response of walking away may be best.
I've always taught that the communication style you choose should be based on the outcome you want. For instance, with the mechanic you might not care about your long-term relationship—you just want your car fixed, so an aggressive stance may work. But aggression is not a good choice in a relationship you care about.
The same is true of PA communication. It is generally not a good choice for relationships that are important to you. Notice that I'm referring to “choice.” Most people act without thinking. They have long-standing behavior patterns and may not even be aware of their own PA behavior. But it is a choice to continue to engage in these patterns of behavior.
Although most people readily acknowledge they don't like being on the receiving end of PA behavior because it is so frustrating and unpleasant, many people are slow to label their own PA behavior. Instead they often justify their actions by focusing completely on the other person's behavior. Yet, sometimes when people read about others' PA behavior, they begin to recognize their own behavior.
If communication problems are interfering with your relationships, it might be a good idea to examine whether you have PA behavior. By recognizing when you are PA you can change your pattern and develop better relationships. The following can help you more thoroughly examine your behavior and create a plan to change. Many PA behaviors are unintentional but they are still hurtful to the relationship. Other PA behaviors may be deliberately calculated to hurt the other person.
Those who are PA and want to change are usually unintentionally PA. In other words, they are not trying to maliciously cause problems for others and/or don't care about how they hurt others. Sometimes they may even have good intentions such as not wanting to hurt someone's feelings or cause a problem. But instead of direct communication about problems they engage in PA behavior. So the following focuses mainly on the unintentional type of passive-aggressiveness. Read more...
January 17, 2017
Managing Adversity Improves the Outcome of Happiness
The greatest benefit from positive emotions occurs when we learn to manage negative emotions. In a research study examining the relationship between happiness and GPA researchers found the expected outcome that happier college students had higher grades. They also found that happiness tended to increase over the course of college as students learned how to manage stress and other negative emotions. Read more...
January 12, 2017
Evaluating Psychological Information in the Information Age
A problem frequently discussed today is how much inaccurate information we consume on a daily basis. Certainly, most of us know to question information that comes from the neighborhood gossip. But what about information from what we believe to be reliable news sources? We will never stop the proliferation of false information but we can become better consumers of information.
Waiting in a doctor's office I picked up a popular women's magazine and was confronted with another misrepresentation of psychological research. It said “studies show that having unused vacation days makes you less likely to get a raise” and concluded with “so force yourself (to take a vacation) and you may just come back to a bigger paycheck.” Other than the obvious fluff this article illustrates some of the problems with the reporting of psychological information. Read more...
January 11, 2017
Self-injurious Behaviors Do Not Provide Relief From Negative Emotions
The prevailing theory for why individuals engage in cutting and other self-injurious behaviors has been that it decreases negative emotions. However, most research has been retrospective which means that a person may be questioned days after the behavior occurred. It is commonly known in psychology that long-term memory can be distorted. Thus, retrospective research more accurately describes what people believe about why they cut themselves, not what actually occurs.
A recent study of hospitalized patients with Borderline Personality Disorder sows doubt on this theory. Instead of relying on long-term memory, the patients carried a tablet which prompted them 10 times a day to answer a few questions about their emotions. In such a way, more immediate emotions could be determined following episodes of self-injurious behavior. The outcome of the study showed that instead of a decrease in negative emotions an increase in these emotions occurred. Read more...
January 10, 2017
Perception of Family Criticism Impedes Recovery from Panic Disorder
Clinical treatment often varies from research protocols. When participants are selected for research the process usually involves meeting criteria such as no co-existing conditions. As a therapist I've frequently felt frustrated that my clients did not recover as quickly as the research showed with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). However, I also recognized that most of the time the clients who sought me out as a CBT specialist with anxiety disorders didn't meet the criteria for a simple condition but presented with much more complex situations.
In particular, many of them experienced childhood trauma as well as current criticism or abuse by their families of origin. Frequently, such a history created a self-fulfilling prophecy focused on me or on those current family members who were trying to be supportive. In other words, their past history taught them to expect criticism which meant they were more likely to perceive criticism even when it was not present. This perception created another hurdle that therapy had to overcome. Read more...
January 9, 2017
Reality TV Distorts Beliefs About Others
Although reality TV production companies may film hours of social interaction, the show is only only likely to be successful in ratings if it emphasizes the scenes of conflict, emotion, and negative behavior because viewers enjoy the voyeurism. However, entertainment is not the only outcome of this genre. Research shows that the type of reality TV depicting people living their so-called “real” lives can have a distorted negative impact on how people view others (Riddle and Simone, 2013):
1) Negative views of women
. Those who watch reality TV are more likely to believe that women engage more frequently than men in negative relationship behaviors such as verbal aggression and gossip. Read more...
January 5, 2017
Convincing Yourself to Forgive When It Seems Unfair
“Why do I have to do the work to forgive? It's so unfair!”
People struggle with forgiveness. When they have been hurt and betrayed they want the transgressor to have to suffer or at least feel bad for the offense. Frequently, however, that sort of satisfaction does not occur. Instead, they are told they need to forgive. They feel burdened not only with the suffering but also with the effort involved in trying to forgive.
Even though you might know that holding a grudge, resentment, or anger only hurts your psychological and physical well-being it still may seem hard to convince yourself to take the steps to forgiveness. How can you begin to let go? Read more...
January 4, 2017
Exposure Treatment of Simple Phobias in Children
In my early career one of the cases that impressed upon me the effectiveness of exposure therapy when anxiety is caught early in childhood was a 10-year-old boy who had a fear of heights and crowds. He had a high degree of motivation to overcome his fear because he felt embarrassed that his younger brother could climb to the top of a old fire observation tower that was in a local public park. (This was in the days when it wouldn't be considered parental neglect to let your child climb a six story open rail tower—see picture)
So we developed a plan: Read more...
January 3, 2017
Encouraging Task Persistence to Help Children Achieve in Life
Educational and career success in middle adulthood can be predicted by persistence at age 13. Task persistence was measured by a teacher's observation that the student was able to concentrate and stick to a task. The ability to persist at a task was shown to be related to higher grades and to completing a higher level of education. In addition, men were more likely to have a higher level of income (Andersson and Bergman, 2011).
Although task persistence can be affected by personality, intelligence, and biological factors (i.e. Attention Deficit Disorder), it can also be influenced by environment. As such, parents can take steps to help increase a child's task persistence. Read more...
January 2, 2017
Cognitive Diary Example: Worried that Someone Dislikes Her
: A co-worker acts like she dislikes me--she doesn't seem very friendly towards me
: confused, distressed, resentful
: 7--Distress, less in control
: What's wrong with me that she doesn't like me? I'm a nice person and didn't do anything to her. I've tried everything--I don't know what else to do. What if I can't make her like me? It is so unfair. Who does she think she is to treat me like this? What a snob!
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 confusion, distress, and resentment?
Tap Here For Answer
January 1, 2017
May You Have a Mindful New Year!
Truly, mindfulness is the only resolution any of us need to make because mindfulness is associated with so many benefits.
Mindfulness reduces stress, depression, anxiety and contributes to overall health.
When we eat mindfully (at a table savoring every bite) we are likely to lose weight.
When we are mindful we are less impulsive so we are more in control of spending, eating, drinking behaviors.
Mindfulness improves relationships because we are more attentive and aware of others. Read more...
December 20, 2016
On the Importance of Healthy Eating When Severely Depressed
Often the last thing a person with depression wants to think about is eating healthy. Either they don't consume enough calories or they eat junk foods. When I've treated those with depression, the focus frequently has been on setting small food-related goals.
The reason this is an important focus is that one of the hallmark symptoms of depression is lack of energy and one of the keys to energy is food. If they don't consume enough calories the depression will only be compounded.
December 15, 2016
New Article: When Your Loved One Refuses Help
One of the most frustrating aspects of living with someone who has a mental illness is when that person refuses to get help. Often, seeing the individual's pain and suffering, the parent or spouse desperately wants to help but feels helpless.
Unfortunately, there's no easy solution. And there's certainly no quick solution which is often why family member's attempts at solving the problem is more likely to cause a deterioration of the situation—they try quick fixes such as telling their family member what to do or giving ultimatums.
The following doesn't offer any magic words to use to convince your loved one to seek help. Instead, it describes a process of understanding your loved one better, improving your relationship, and helping to remove the obstacles to seeking help. Read more...
December 5, 2016
Steps to Reduce Holiday Stress When Encountering Family Demands
Read: A Rational Approach to the Holidays
1) Consider your needs and desires.
Become aware of your needs. Ask yourself what it is that you want. Do
this without censoring your thoughts--allow yourself to consider freely your needs. "If I could
do anything I want without any consequences, what would it be?"
2) Determine the real consequences, not the imagined ones.
Consider that if you did what you want, what the consequences, in reality, would be.
Don't catastrophize. Will your mother truly never speak to you again or will she just be
disappointed? If she truly will never speak to you again, perhaps it's not a healthy relationship
and the holidays are the least of your problems.
December 2, 2016
Persistence, Zest for Life, and Mindfulness
Zest for life is a measure of resilience, a person's will and ability to persist in the face of adversity. Those who are low on this measure are more at-risk for suicide especially when they feel isolated or believe they are a burden to others.
Recent research found that mindfulness can increase the willingness to persist for those with these personality and situational factors when confronted with difficult conditions.
December 1, 2016
The Stress Hormone and Mental Abilities in Older Adults
As people age, cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and reasoning often decrease but such decline isn't entirely unavoidable. Research has shown that higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, contributes to poorer cognitive functioning.
However, researcher Rosnick and colleagues (2016) showed that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) decreased cortisol levels for those already being treated with anti-depressants for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a condition characterized by excessive worry. Thus, they indicate that adding CBT to pharmacological treatments may improve cognitive functioning.
November 18, 2016
You Have to Be Willing to Set Limits with Disrespectful Adult Children
Frequently, I receive questions from parents of adult children who are “disrespectful.” In most cases the problem occurs due to one of two issues: unreasonable expectations of the parents or fear of setting limits due to possible repercussions.
What can you, as a parent, do about disrespect from adult children?
1) Examine expectations
. First, determine whether your expectations are reasonable. What is your definition of respect? Does respect mean they should do as you want? Does it mean your child should never disagree with you? Do you tolerate the behavior or decisions of your friends but not the same behavior from your child? For instance, if your friend ignores your advice or doesn't visit as frequently as you want or doesn't have the same religious or political beliefs, do you consider that disrespectful? But you hold your child to a different standard?
November 16, 2016
Do You Have Too Much Empathy?
I just discovered why I can't stand literary fiction or TV dramas—you know, the kind with complex characters that describes the pain, suffering, heartbreak, grief as well as the love, joy, and excitement of life. I mean, I already knew that it was related to being a clinical psychologist and being confronted with all those issues multiple times a day. My job was an emotional roller-coaster without having to bring more into my life. Yet, I still wondered what might be wrong with me that, even though I'm a voracious reader, I would rather go to the dentist than read the latest critically acclaimed literary fiction.
However, a research study (Oatley, 2009) sheds some light on my reading preferences. This randomized study divided people into groups and gave them different types of fiction, nonfiction, or nothing at all to read. Then they measured the groups for empathy. What they found is that those who read literary fiction, which requires developing an understanding of the characters' personality and motives, experienced an increase in empathy. Suddenly it made sense why I don't like that type of reading—I have plenty of empathy and want my fiction to allow me to escape from that degree of emotion.
November 3, 2016
Escaping the “Rubber Fence" Family
Family dysfunction comes in many forms and sizes. As a therapist I cringed when I heard people insist how “close” their family is. Not that there is anything wrong with being close. No, it is the forceful insistence of describing their family in such a way. When people adamantly describe their family as “close” it often seems to come from a family demand:
“I always wanted to be an archeologist but it would take me away from my parents. We're very close, you know.”
“That sounds like fun but I can't go. My family is very attached—we have dinner together every week. I need to keep Sundays open for them.”
“My family doesn't think I should take that new job. Even though it pays more and would be interesting, they don't like the idea of all the travel.”
“I can't marry outside of my religion because my family would be disappointed. It doesn't matter how I feel—I don't want to hurt them.”
Families with good relationships do not demand “closeness” of its members although strong ties may exist. A truly “close” family wants all of its members to thrive even if that means being apart, having different beliefs or values, or pursuing a different path in life.
November 2, 2016
It's Not as Simple as Being Grateful
The current fad in psychology is positive psychology. People are told that peace of mind, well-being, and even improved health will come from journaling or expressing gratitude. Can these gratitude interventions be helpful? Certainly, but making it seem that such techniques can treat anxiety and depression may be a disservice to those who are truly suffering.
My concern about the emphasis on gratitude as a treatment for anxiety and depression is that it places a demand on people with mental illness. In other words, it can become another way of dismissing suffering and blaming the sufferer:
“You wouldn't be so depressed if you just expressed more gratitude!”
November 1, 2016
Index to PsychNotes
Index to Articles
The Only Way to Have a Balanced Life is to Do It
I often find myself feeling out of balance. I get so caught up in a project that other things I want to do go by the wayside. When I recognize this I say to myself, “As soon as this is done, I will find more balance.” Or, “As soon as things settle down...” Or, “Tomorrow...”