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How To Ace Thanksgiving

As wine is poured and clashing     personalities take their place at the table, controversial issues can hijack conversation.

Like any holiday that brings far-flung family members into close proximity for extended periods of time, Thanksgiving can be a fraught and imperfect occasion, despite our best efforts. Old grudges simmer quietly between relatives, wine flows too quickly, extroverts dominate the room and conversations veer into dangerous political territory (Trump, Trudeau, #MeToo, climate change, and on and on). Meltdowns happen, with no child or adult spared.

This Thanksgiving, experts from various fields offer their best practices for getting through dinner unscathed – from an apology ace who walks people through testy family reunions, to a skilled debater adept at arguing without rage, to a gratitude guru on feeling this emotion more deeply, in the moment, over stuffing. Above all else, the experts remind, you’re here to share a meal, not dissect your dysfunctional family (that you can do later, at home).

THE INTROVERTS AT YOUR TABLE

Marsha Pinto, creator of Softest Voices, an organization that helps introverted youth, said people bring vastly different conversational styles to the family table. Extroverts tell stories and introverts listen; both skills are valuable.

“With this highly social holiday, remember that each person shares themselves socially in different way,” said Pinto, who is from Markham, Ont. “If not for the introverts, the extroverts would have no one to listen to them. If not for the extroverts, it would be a rather quiet Thanksgiving dinner.”

Pinto said she’s had many quieter children and teenagers write to her complaining they feel pressed by parents to speak eloquently at family gatherings. “Just because a kid is quiet, it doesn’t mean they have nothing to say or know nothing,” Pinto said. “It means they are thinking of what to say and absorbing what is said by others.”

Pinto suggested families not put introverted children on the spot in front of distant relatives; instead, engage them in one-on-one conversation away from the more boisterous group.

POLITICS OVER TURKEY

As wine is poured and clashing personalities take their place at the table, controversial issues can hijack conversation. Debra Miko, Calgary-based president of the Canadian Student Debating Federation, said the most challenging aspect of debating is understanding where others are coming from, even if you vehemently disagree with their world view. “Remember that a 25-year-old will have different values and priorities than grandma or grandpa,” Miko said.

Resist the urge to get personal. Instead, listen closely and then query, Miko said. “Be open to exploring issues rather than trying to force family and friends to agree with you. Try, ‘It’s interesting that you saw it from that perspective – not quite the way I had interpreted it. Can you elaborate?’”

If you happen to be wrong, take the high road. “It’s okay to lose an argument,” Miko said. “My son, a former high school Team Canada debating member used to tell me, ‘A loss is a learn.’”

QUELLING TABLE-SIDE ERUPTIONS

Discord is often unavoidable at sizable family gatherings, although what you do with it is up to you, according to Darcy Pennock, Edmonton-based director of Verbal Judo Canada, which provides conflict-management training for government, corporations and law-enforcement agencies.

Start by taking a breath, Pennock said. “Whether something is slowly building or appears to erupt spontaneously, take some deep yoga breaths that slow your heart rate and prevent your body from being ‘high-jacked’ by your emotions.”

Although it may seem hard to tap into in the heat of the moment, empathy is the fastest peacemaker. “Empathy is essential for absorbing tension and calming people down,” Pennock said.

He recommends modifying one’s “delivery style” so it relays compassion, not combativeness. “A concerned, listening look on your face and open, non-threatening body language sends the right message,” Pennock said. “Acknowledge their emotions with phrases such as, ‘I can see you’re frustrated.’ Follow this with open-ended questions. These techniques help us strengthen relationships during times of conflict, not destroy them.”

turkey

Pennock recalled one family gathering at which he pacified 89-year-old Grandma Betty. Pennock’s nephew was lamenting how little free time he and his wife have amid hockey practice for their two children. Grandma Betty shot back with: “You spoil your kids. We never ran around with our kids like parents do today.” Uncomfortable silence ensued, so Pennock took a deep breath and interjected, not with a rebuke but with grace. He raised his own years playing hockey as a boy: What he remembered most was Grandma Betty or his father watching from the stands. “The conversation shifted to happy hockey memories,” Pennock said, and Grandma Betty’s parenting insult was diffused.

BEYOND SORRY, NOT SORRY

Every family has its sore spots. For feuding relatives who bristle at the thought of being in close quarters this Thanksgiving, the time to try and resolve matters is now, not in real time, urged Jennifer Thomas, a psychologist who co-authored the book When Sorry Isn’t Enough: Making Things Right With Those You Love with Gary Chapman.

“Around the family meal (or even off in another room during the gathering) is not the time to hammer out situations that caused hurt feelings in the past,” Thomas said. “It’s really something that should be done a week or a month before the holiday. You’re going to be together for the whole day.”

Thomas recommended reaching out in person or over the phone; this conveys more commitment than a text or e-mail. Then, use the holiday meal as an opportunity to repair trust. “Go in with a mindset of giving compliments. Tell the host, ‘I think you’re really great at making people feel welcome. Thank you for having us over,'” Thomas said. “Offering to help out can also help rebuild relationships and show that we’re willing to roll up our shirt sleeves and make it easier for them. It also can be a way of keeping us busy so that we don’t reach for the alcohol, which can be a landmine, or get into arguments.”

THE GRATITUDE PUSH

Gratitude is the order of the day at Thanksgiving. But kitchen pandemonium, testy adults and children running underfoot can make it nearly impossible to summon authentic gratitude. Amid the chaos, rituals of giving thanks around the table can feel forced and abrupt, said Diana Butler Bass, author of the 2018 book Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks. “People pressure themselves by insisting that family members or guests recite what they are thankful for in advance of the meal,” Bass said. “Although well intended, it sometimes feels more like a turkey hostage situation than genuine gratitude.”

Bass offers a depressurized alternative to traditional, around-the-table thanks. “Well before you begin eating, ask guests to write what they are thankful for on slips of paper and place those slips in a ‘gratitude jar’ on the table. Throughout the meal, when conversation lags or between courses, have different people pull a slip out and read it aloud to the group,” Bass said. “It’s a nice way to keep one extroverted guest from monopolizing conversation, involve children in a gratitude practice and spread thanks across dinner.”

ZOSIA BIELSKI     OCTOBER 7, 2019
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The 11 Life Lessons

The 11 Life Lessons It Turns Out I’ve Taught My Six Kids

On my 46th birthday recently, my (mostly adult) kids wrote out a list of lessons I’d taught each of them in their lives so far. Each wrote their own list, and my wife Eva sweetly put them together in a notebook.

As I read through them, I felt like crying. It’s so incredibly touching that they appreciate what I’ve been trying to pass on to them, things I’ve been learning and want them to understand.

As a father, there are few things more meaningful than to see how you’ve helped your kids through your example and talks over the years. We have a mixed family of 6 kids, aging from 13 years old to 26 years, and all of them are wonderful human beings.

It turns out, there were some lessons that all or most of the kids put on their list, which I’m going to share with you here. These lessons they had in common made me wonder if these were the more powerful lessons, or if they were simply the ones I talked about the most. 🙂

So here they are, roughly ordered in how frequently they showed up on my kids’ lists:

  1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and it’s okay to fail. This was tied (with the next one) as the most common lesson on their lists — it made all their lists, I think. I really love that this lesson hit home with them.
  2. Have empathy & try to see things from others’ perspectives. This was the other lesson on all their lists, and again, it’s beautiful that they all took this to heart. I’ve tried to show them this through my actions, though of course I’m not at all perfect.
  3. Push out of your comfort zone. This is another one I’ve tried to teach by example, from running several marathons and an ultramarathon to doing things that scare me, like speaking on stage or writing books. This lesson is so important to me that
  4. Don’t spend more than you have. This is such a simple idea, but one that is rarely followed. I’m glad my kids are starting out with this mindset — live within your means, save as much as you can.
  5. Appreciate what you have & enjoy where you are right now. I love this one. It’s something that I try to embody, but also remind them when they are thinking about what they don’t have. Each time we’re stuck in complaint, it’s an opportunity to wake up to the beauty that’s in front of us.
  6. Sadness is a part of life, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling it. Despite what I said in the previous item, it’s OK to feel sadness, pain, grief, frustration, anxiety, anger. In fact, most of us never want to feel those things, so we’ll do whatever we can to ignore them or get away from the feelings. Instead, I try to actually feel those things, as an experience. It teaches me about struggle — if we’re not willing to face our own struggles, how can we be there for others when they struggle?
  7. Don’t give up just because something gets hard. As new adults, our four oldest kids are facing various struggles in new ways. This is part of growth, of course, but struggles never feel good. My job as dad has been to encourage them not to give up just because it’s hard — to keep going, and to use the struggle to grow.
  8. But don’t overwork yourself. That said, I’m not a fan of overwork. I believe the brain doesn’t function well if you keep studying or working past the point of exhaustion, so I try to teach them about taking breaks, resting, going outside and moving.
  9. It’s okay to be weird in public. Have fun. I’m not sure why several of them had this on the list — they must have learned to be weird from someone else? OK, in truth, they might have gotten it from my tendency to dance and skip with them while we’re out walking around in a city, or to encourage us all to do weird things as a group, no matter what other people might think.
  10. Your reality is a reflection of the narrative you tell yourself. This is something I learned late in life, and I’m glad my kids are learning this. The good news is that you can learn to drop that narrative, if it leads to suffering. What would this moment be like without a narrative? Beautiful and free.
  11. Make people laugh. It makes their day brighter. I’m so happy they picked up this important lesson from me! With my kids, I’m mostly always joking, except for when I get (too) serious about teaching them an important lesson. The rest of the time, I try to take a lighthearted approach.

I love my kids with all my heart, and it has been a privilege to be their dad. I take 10% of the credit and give the rest to their moms, grandparents, and themselves.

Btw, you can read Chloe’s full list in her blog post.

dad kids

Also … from them, I’ve learned some lessons that are just as important:

  • Kids deserve to be heard, to be listened to, to be respected. I started out as a dad with the idea that what I say goes, and they just need to listen to me! But over the years, I’ve learned to listen to them, and treat them as I’d want to be treated.
  • Kids have tender hearts that hurt when you aren’t kind to them. As a young dad, my frustrations and insecurities led me to angry bursts of scolding, yelling, spanking. I’ve grown since then, but more importantly, I’ve learned to see the tenderness of their hearts, and how it hurts to be yelled at by someone they trust and love so much. I am much more gentle with those hearts these days.
  • I should relax and not take myself so seriously. Whenever I think too much of myself, my kids humble me. Whenever I get too serious, my kids laugh at me. I love that playful reminder to loosen up.
  • Dads are goofy, dorky, uncool. And that’s how we should be. I sometimes harbor the notion that I can be a “cool” dad. When I try to break out newish slang or reference a meme, my kids will tease me about it. When I break out a joke or pun that I think is hilarious, they’ll laugh while rolling their eyes and calling it a “dad joke.” So I’ve learned just to embrace my uncoolness, and be myself with them.
  • All they need is love. There are lots of things to stress out about as parents, and nowadays we tend to obsess about getting everything right with our kids. But really, we’re stressing about it too much. All the details are just details — there’s only one thing that really matters. They want you to love them. And to receive their love. That’s all. Feed them, clothe them, shelter them, educate them, sure … but beyond that, they just want you to love them. Drop everything that gets in the way of that and let it come out as simply and clearly as you can.

 

BY LEO BABAUTA
source: zenhabits.net


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Nerd Alert: Reading is Good For Your Health

Clients who seek solace by pouring their hearts out in Alison Kerr Courtney’s office don’t get rewarded with a Xanax or Prozac prescription. Instead, they walk away with a reading list.

The founder of  BiblioRemedy isn’t a licensed therapist, nor is she currently an English teacher, although she did work as one for 10 years in France, and has spent years shelving books at the library and in bookstores.

Courtney is a kind of book whisperer.

For as long as she can remember she’s had a knack for matching people with books that fit with their intellectual interests. But some clients want more when they make an appointment with her at her office in Lexington, Kentucky.

What they seek is a kind of bibliotherapy. It’s a growing trend where people tell empathetic listeners like Courtney their goals or problems. Courtney then suggests books that can help them clarify their goals, work through an emotional issue, or may even help them turn a page to start a newer, healthier life chapter.

“I’ve had clients dealing with grief issues, for example. I pair them up with books I think will most help in their specific situation,” Courtney said.

A recent client dealing with grief told Courtney how much her recommendations helped. Typically Courtney suggests five to seven books. The client said she read every one, except for the ones dealing specifically with grief.

“Not everyone is ready for certain books, and that’s OK,” she said. “They may get there eventually and the other books may help with that process.”

Books can literally change your life and they don’t all have to come from the self-help shelf to work.

Fiction may actually be more powerful, according to a new study running in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Books such as Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” or “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” or Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” may teach you about complicated topics such as racism, poverty, teen angst, bullying, sexual orientation or other issues, but they may do even more. They could help you know your own heart and others’.

“People who read fiction may understand people better than others,” said Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychology professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. He’s also an award-winning novelist. “A work of fiction is a piece of consciousness that can pass from one mind to another and that reader can make it their own.”

Books can work as a kind of “moral laboratory” as the scholar Jemeljan Hakemulder calls it, or they can act like the mind’s “flight simulator,” as Oatley describes it.

Reading can help you safely test how you feel about certain issues or people, without your having to experience something directly.

Oatley believes the novels that help people best are the ones that “help us understand the characters from the inside,” rather than more plot-driven novels.

That means we can learn from a book that’s a part of the literary cannon, such as Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway,” equally as well as we can learn from popular fiction such as “Harry Potter.”
Spending quality time with these characters as you relax on the beach or sit propped up on bed pillows is more than mere escapism. Reading these books may enhance your emotional intelligence.

That means reading books could improve your love life, your family life, your relationships at work.
That’s because as you learn about Mrs. Dalloway’s worries as she shops for flowers or you witness Harry Potter struggle to control his powers in front of his neglectful muggle family, you contrast that experience with your own.

The characters’ experiences “can be internalized to augment everyday cognition,” according to the study.

In other words, as you read, you think, “‘This person does this and it reminds me of this person I know,’ and when you think deeply in that way, you get better at empathizing with others,” Oatley said. Even if you may never throw the perfect London party or you never meet a moody teenage wizard.

Lab tests seem to show this.

People who have been reading fiction test higher for empathy. Other brain studies of people who listen to a story with intense emotion show a physical response. Their heart rate changes and brain scans show the area that corresponds with emotion lights up, as if the person was experiencing that emotion personally.

Earlier studies have shown that reading can actually develop neural networks in your brain that can help you understand even more complex thought.

Even if you are not a big reader, there’s still hope.

Past studies have shown serial television programs that are character driven such as “The West Wing” or ” The Good Wife” also “can help you better understand what we human beings are up to,” Oatley said. Other studies have shown watching character-driven sitcoms can lessen a viewers’ prejudice.
Natalie Phillips, an assistant professor of English at Michigan State University, said this current study about fiction is exciting and seems to fit with some of the early data she’s gotten from her own lab tests on readers.

Research on this topic, she said, is only the “tip of the proverbial iceberg.” There is still so much more to learn about what fiction can do for us. She does caution that more lab work needs to be done to see if the empathy someone has for a character extends to others beyond the book.

“Because people are feeling something as they read, doesn’t always lead to more positive relationships with someone,” she said. “However, this research marks one of the crucial first steps in that direction toward understanding the intricate cognitive processes involved in literary reading.”

Oatley believes reading can help our emotional development in large part because humans are highly social creatures.

You can be as smart as Sherlock, but to get along well in this life, you really do need to understand people emotionally. And you can’t be as emotionally unavailable as Mr. Darcy throughout much of “Pride and Prejudice.” You have to learn the lesson Jane Austen is trying to teach with that book, Oatley said: To love people, you really have to know them. Perhaps you can do that best by living by the book.

“People say you only get one life,” Oatley said. “But I say read fiction and you can live many lives in one.”

By Jen Christensen, CNN         Tue April 25, 2017
source: www.cnn.com


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How to Listen with All Four of Your Ears

New research shows how to get your ears to listen through all their channels.

When we think about communication, we generally divide it into two categories—verbal and nonverbal behavior. But, according to the “four ear” model of communication, we speak and listen through four separate channels. The question is, when you communicate through one of those channels, what will your listener hear? A new study that used behavioral neuroscience to investigate the factors that influence how your message is received focused on the role of the hormonal neurotransmitter, oxytocin. Although it’s based in neuroscience, this study provides an understanding of how to make sure your listeners actually hear what you want them to hear.

University of Munich’s Michaela Pfundmair and colleagues (2016) based their work on the four-ear model theory, which proposes that each verbal message contains four different dimensions of communication:

  1. Factual content: Actual, specific, “mere” information.
  2. Self-revelation: Information about yourself that you wish to share with the other person.
  3. Relationship: Terms that express how you feel about the other person and about your relationship with that person.
  4. Appeal: A request that you are making of the other person.

This model suggests that what you communicate to others depends on which message you hope they will receive. If you want to address relationship issues, that’s the dimension you’ll emphasize. You wouldn’t provide a weather report to your intimate partner when you’re trying to get through a conflict about whether your partner loves you as much as you love your them.

What the recipient of your message hears, however, is less clearly determined. Your partner is potentially listening with all four ears and will have to decide which dimension your message is intended to convey. The weather example is perhaps a little extreme, but consider what might happen while trying to overcome a conflict about how you and your partner handle household finances. Your partner might think you’re providing factual information (what’s in your bank account) when instead you’re hoping that the conversation will lead to more openness and better communication about your finances in general.

communication

Another example, taken from the Pfundmair et al study, involves a communication in which you’re trying to send a message containing an appeal, such as seeing if your friend will watch your cat while you’re out of town for a few days. Your recipient can decide to ignore the appeal and instead figure that you’re simply talking about how much you care about your cat (self-revelation). The authors believe that messages intended to communicate an appeal are the most difficult to get across to produce the desired result. They argue that this is because appeals take the most effort to process by recipients: “Its underlying presumption is a concept of communication as social exchange or even unilateral donor action on behalf of the recipient” (p. 63). The appeal message attempts to create an effect. The listener has to decide whether to help realize this effect. As a speaker, you also know that such messages may not lead to that desired result, so you may not communicating them so successfully.

To determine whether people would be more receptive to appeal messages when their empathy is aroused, the researchers augmented the socially responsive channels in participants by giving them intranasal doses of oxytocin. One of this hormone’s primary effects is to increase empathy. If their empathy is aroused, participants should be more willing to accommodate an appeal message.

To examine the effect of oxytocin vs. a placebo on the interpretation of appeal messages, 43 male participants (with an average age of 30) completed a four-ear communication questionnaire. The questionnaire contained 16 scenarios for which participants were asked to rank-order the extent to which they represented one of the four types of messages. One scenario involved asking participants to imagine that a friend told them about having a fight with his girlfriend. The participant had to rank which of four interpretations they thought the statement communicated. In this example, the message could contain factual content (“I had a fight with my girlfriend”), self-revelation (“I’m worried about my relationship”), relationship information (“I feel that I can talk to you about my girlfriend”), or appeal (“Please listen to me and give me advice”).

Across the board, participants who were given oxytocin ranked the appeal dimension as highest of the four possible interpretations. This finding fit with the belief of the authors that messages that communicate appeal are the most likely to lead to social bonding. Although it’s true that appeals require more effort on the part of the listener, by communicating your desire for help, you stimulate the recipient to respond in a more prosocial manner. The oxytocin worked because it primed participants to hear the message as a request for help rather than a statement of fact.

We can’t routinely give our friends and family members oxytocin to help them focus on our appeals, but we can still learn from this study: By making clear that an appeal is an appeal, you can open the channels of reciprocity between you and the people with whom you interact. For example, if you want your partner to help out more with those financial balancing acts at home, instead of saying how much time you’ve spent (information), let your partner know that you’d like some help. When you communicate more clearly, you make it more likely that your partner’s appeal “ear” will be tuned in to that channel.

Similarly, when trying to completely understand what others are saying to us, take the extra effort and judge whether you’re receiving an appeal message that’s disguised as one of the other three dimensions. Having more fulfilling social interactions means that we must all try to communicate, and listen, through all four of our ears.

Fulfillment at Any Age        Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.        @swhitbo        Posted Jan 17, 2017    

References

Pfundmair, M., Lamprecht, F., von Wedemeyer, F. M., & Frey, D. (2016). Your word is my command: Oxytocin facilitates the understanding of appeal in verbal communication. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 7363-66. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.07.213


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Why We Need to Teach Kids Emotional Intelligence

For years, I’ve taught a weekly psychology class to students ranging from 7 to 14 years-old. In this class, I encourage self-reflection, asking kids to identify and express what they think and feel and to consider the thoughts and feelings of others. The results are often surprising. Strong, self-aware statements come out of their mouths that I don’t always expect. “I feel bad about myself in class. I worry I’ll be slower than everyone else.” “I’m angry when my dad won’t take time to help me with my homework. It makes me not want to try anymore.” “I hate it when my friends don’t want to play with me. So, I yell, but that just makes it worse.”

Too often, we tend to think of our kids as less sophisticated and incapable of processing or understanding the emotional complexities of their world. We think we’re protecting them by not bringing up the trickier, less pleasant subjects. But I can tell you firsthand that kids absorb a tremendous amount. Pretty much as soon as they’re verbal, children can be taught to identify and communicate their feelings. In a trusted environment where emotions are talked about openly, most kids will speak freely about their feelings and are quick to have empathy for their peers.

With their brains growing at a rapid rate, all children are constantly noticing, reacting, adapting and developing ideas based on their emotional experiences. This leaves me to wonder why we give our child an education in so many subjects, teaching them to sound out words and brush their teeth, and yet we fail to equip them with an emotional education that can dramatically improve the quality of their lives.

When you teach kids emotional intelligence, how to recognize their feelings, understand where they come from and learn how to deal with them, you teach them the most essential skills for their success in life. Research has shown that emotional intelligence or EQ “predicts over 54% of the variation in success (relationships, effectiveness, health, quality of life).” Additional data concludes that “young people with high EQ earn higher grades, stay in school, and make healthier choices.”

At this year’s Wisdom 2.0, I felt inspired by a talk by Dr. Marc Brackett, the Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, who talked at length about the importance of teaching kids to know their emotions. The Center has developed the RULER program for schools. RULER is an acronym that stands for Recognizing emotions in self and others,Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions, Labeling emotions accurately, Expressing emotions appropriately and Regulating emotions effectively. The program has been shown to boost student’s emotional intelligence and social skills, productivity, academic performance, leadership skills and attention, while reducing anxiety, depression and instances of bullying between students. RULER creates an all-around positive environment for both students and teachers, with less burnout on both ends.

ruler

These five RULER principles run parallel in many ways to social intelligence pioneer and author of Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ, Daniel Goleman’s five components of emotional intelligence. You can see how each of these elements would contribute to an individual’s personal success and sense of well-being.

  • Self-awareness. Knowing our own emotions.
  • Self-regulation. Being able to regulate and control how we react to our emotions.
  • Internal motivation.  Having a sense of what’s important in life.
  • Empathy. Understanding the emotions of others.
  • Social skills. Being able to build social connections.

As parents, when we don’t have a healthy way of handling emotions ourselves, we have trouble teaching our kids to handle theirs. That is why the change starts with us. Fortunately, all five components of emotional intelligence can be taught and learned at any age. There are many tools and techniques that can help us and our children start to identify and understand the emotions of ourselves and others. This process begins with recognition, because it’s only when we notice where we’re at that we’re able to shift ourselves to where we want to be.

When we acknowledge the profound influence of emotions in our lives, we inspire a new attitude toward self-awareness and mental health. We can then start to ask broader questions, like how can we create a movement to increase the emotional intelligence of future generations?

One place to start is with mindfulness. Studies have found that a mindfulness  practice can help reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety in children. It can also increase gray matter density in regions of the brain involved in emotional regulation. Another study  of adolescents found that yoga, which can increase mindfulness, helped improve student’s emotional regulation capacity.

On a systemic level, we can help raise the emotional intelligence of future generations by working together to get our schools to implement programs like RULER. On a face-to-face level, as parents, teachers, friends and caretakers, we can open up a dialogue and encourage kids to express what they’re feeling. We can teach them what co-author of Parenting from the Inside Out Dr. Daniel Siegel often refers to as “name it to tame it,” in which children learn that naming their feelings can help them get a hold on them. We can also talk more about our own feelings, being honest and direct about the times when we feel sad, angry or even afraid.

When we mess up or act out with or around our children, instead of trying to sweep it under the rug, we should acknowledge what occurred in us and repair any emotional damage we may have caused. In taking these each of these steps, we create an environment in which our children can continually make sense of their emotions and experiences. This skill set is perhaps the largest predictor of not only their success in life, but more importantly, their happiness.


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Leveling Up Your Emotional Intelligence

Moving from reaction to response to reflection

One of the hallmarks of emotional intelligence is the ability to respond to a situation, rather than react to it. We are at our basest when we react to external situations or events, allowing those experiences to control our behavior. Through the development of self-awareness, we move away from this external orientation toward one that is more interior in nature. As this happens, we become more and more cognizant of our thoughts and feelings, giving us increasing access to our interior landscape.

When we react, we are literally being hijacked by our emotions, or, more to the point, overwhelmed by a physio-emotional response driven by a brain structure called the amygdala. The amygdalae (pl.) are two almond shaped nuclei—a cluster of densely packed neurons—located medially in the temporal lobes of the brain. It is one of the more thoroughly understood regions of the brain, particularly with regard to gender differences. Research shows it to be integral to memory, decision-making and, most importantly for this conversation, emotional reactions.

As we mature, moving away from a purely exterior orientation to one that is more interior and balanced, we begin to lay the foundation of emotional regulation. That’s not to say we can’t fall back into reacting to external stimuli. When we do, however, we are more likely to be aware of what’s going on for us, rather than just having a tantrum in the face of not getting our needs or expectations met.

This self-awareness leads us to other-awareness. In other words, we begin to develop sympathy in its truest sense—a commonality of feeling—with others. With this in hand, we are open to developing empathy, where we are not simply sharing feelings with others, but understanding their experience. The resonance created by this understanding and attendant empathy is at the heart of moving from reacting to responding.

compassion

When we are in this matrix of sympathy, empathy and understanding, we are not only with our own feelings, but with the feelings of another person. When that connection extends beyond a single person to a group or the larger community, we move out of the egocentricity of empathy and into the ethno- and geo-centricity of compassion. Exercising compassion demands that we stay inside. By staying inside, and not letting ourselves get pulled off center by the situations or events outside us, we move into an even more subtle level of emotional intelligence—from responding to reflecting.

Exercising compassion means holding space. Reflection, on the other hand, is about holding the space. The subtle difference here is that holding space, from the perspective of Buddhist psychology, is about accepting and allowing for the experience of another person—being with it and being with them. Holding the space, by contrast, means holding the container of experience and staying centered in it so the accepting and allowing of compassion can happen. The former—holding space—is an expression of witnessing the emotional experience of an individual or community. The latter—holding the space—extends beyond witnessing into active participation. Reflection transforms compassionate understanding into an act of authentic tenderness and humanity that raises not only our own level of emotional intelligence, but weaves that ethos into the larger fabric of society, hopefully for the greater good.

Jul 31, 2016  
Michael J Formica MS, MA, EdM


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How to Argue the Right Way

Everyone knows just how taxing a fight with a loved one can be on us emotionally. But new science is showing just how bad arguing is for our physical health. A 20-year study from the University of California, Berkeley, has started to pinpoint some of the negative long-term health effects of arguing. Researchers found that while “outbursts of anger predict cardiovascular problems… shutting down emotionally or ‘stonewalling’ during conflict raises the risk of musculoskeletal ailments such as a bad back or stiff muscles.” These findings come just a couple years after a Dutch study concluded that frequent arguing can lead to premature death. Even though it may feel like arguing is just a part of life, the way we react to conflict and choose to communicate at these stressful moments is actually a matter of life and death.

Fortunately, there are a few very important, highly effective practices we can implement in order to not feel overwhelmed when a conflict arises. All of these practices involve getting to know ourselves and our partner better. When we understand the specific patterns and behaviors that cause us to fly off the handle or completely shut down, we can learn to take pause and take more control over our actions and reactions. We can avoid building cases against our partner and start living more mindfully, thereby removing some of the drama and intensity from our arguments and communication. Here are five key tips for arguing the right way:

1. Be mindful

Practicing mindfulness can help in almost any situation in which we feel triggered emotionally. Mindfulness teaches us to slow down in the moment. Although, this is most challenging in those instances when we’re provoked, it’s essential that we take pause and avoid reacting out of conditioned responses. Instead, we can take a breath (or take a walk or count to 10) in order to calm down, so we can pay attention to what’s going on inside us. When we name the feelings we’re having, we help tame them. Rather than lashing out or ruminating on our thoughts, we can notice that we feel angry or hurt without judgment or justification.

Once we’re in a calmer state, we can choose our responses based on the outcome we desire. As Dr. Pat Love puts it, we can feel the feeling but do the right thing. In addition, practicing patience and compassion toward ourselves helps us do the same with our partner. When we’re operating from a mindful place, we’re better able to tune in to our partner and see the situation from his or her unique perspective.

2. Be open to being wrong

In every relationship, it’s mutually beneficial to be open to the possibility that our perception isn’t necessarily right or wrong but just different. For example, if your partner didn’t call you while he or she was away on a short business trip, you may feel hurt. You may then start to tell yourself stories about why he/she didn’t call. You’ll start to listen to a negative inner dialogue or “critical inner voice” coaching you about what’s going on. “She’s tired of you! She’s happy to get away.” Or, “He doesn’t even think about you. He’s so inconsiderate.” By the time your partner comes home, you may be ready for a fight. However, your partner’s experience is likely very different from yours.

When you attack your partner for everything you’ve been imagining, he or she will most likely retaliate, accusing you of being ridiculous, too sensitive, or needy. Unfortunately, a confrontation in which neither person is willing to hear out and empathize with the other tends to have a snowball effect. If instead you own your reactions and present your feelings without blame or righteousness, your partner is more likely to be able to take in your experience and empathize with your feelings.  You can then be open to hearing their experience and seeing how it looked from their perspective.

shouting
whoever shouts loudest, wins

3. Consider why you’re triggered

When something triggers us emotionally, our brains are often flooded with cortisol making us more likely to lash out. If we take a mindful approach to our responses, we can reflect on the sensations, images, feelings and thoughts that we were having in the moment in which we were triggered. For example, if you were to feel extremely pained by your partner’s lack of communication on his or her trip, there may be more to that feeling than just the hurt or disappointment you felt when he or she failed to call you.

Our emotions tend to be heightened when we’re triggered, often because an event from our present provokes feelings from our past. If you felt abandoned or forgotten early in your life, you may have a tendency to react strongly to any perceived rejection in the present. The same goes for your partner. If he or she had to deal with a parent or caretaker who was erratic or temperamental, he or she may grow up feeling on the defense. He or she may react negatively to feedback when there’s a lot of emotion involved.

When we can get ahold of our triggers, and reflect on the early roots of our strong emotional reactions, we can have a clearer perspective on our interactions and react more appropriately in our current lives.

4. Listen to Your Partner

As most of us know, dynamics like these can play out in countless ways, which is why it’s so important to really get to know ourselves and our partner on a deeper level. We can start by understanding why we get triggered and be more sensitive in our communication. To do this, we have to stop making a case and just look at our partner as the person they he or she really is. That means hearing our partner out when he or she has something to say. It means not putting words into our partner’s mouth or assuming what he or she thinks.

When we think we can “mind read,” we tend to pile a lot of our own projections onto what we perceive to be reality. We may assume certain behaviors carry certain meanings that are way off. For instance, you may attribute your partner not calling you to a lack of caring. You may assume you don’t mean much to him or her or imagine that he or she is losing interest. You may worry yourself with thoughts that he or she has met someone else. Without realizing it, we often project our worst fears onto our loved ones, and then react to them as if we know exactly what’s going on in their heads.

Instead of making assumptions, we should approach our loved ones face-to-face and ask them to share their experience. As we listen, we have to remember that our partner is a separate person with a sovereign mind, so it’s likely that his or her perception of the situation won’t match ours exactly. Instead of focusing on any flaws in the communication, we can look for the kernels of truth in what our partner says to us. This doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything, but it does benefit us to try and imagine why our partner perceived it that way. When we stay calm and open-minded within ourselves, we create a safe space for our partner to be able to open up and be honest about his or her experience.

5. Keep calm and tell your story

When we really listen to our partner, communicating both curiosity and empathy, the other person tends to soften and feel more open to us. We can then tell our story, making sure to own our experience by describing it without laying blame. Instead of saying, “You didn’t even reach out to me once. You made me feel like I don’t even matter. You don’t seem to care about me. My whole week was ruined” you could say, “When I didn’t hear from you, I noticed myself feeling less confident. I don’t know how you felt, but I was disappointed not to connect.” Pay attention to what you communicate, not just in the words you say, but your body language and tone. Saying “it’s no big deal,” while giving the cold shoulder is sending the message that it is in fact a big deal.

By being more open and direct, we’re not putting words into the other person’s mouth or provoking our partner to be on the defense. We’re simply telling our truth and expressing what we want directly without blaming, complaining, or being victimized. This act of vulnerability is much more likely to elicit a warm, more compassionate and loving response. By taking each of these steps, our partner is more likely to soften, reciprocate and respond to us in a calm and mindful way. And when one of us gets triggered and has an off moment, the other can help by responding with sensitivity, patience, and honesty. By finding this new way of “arguing,” we give our partner and ourselves a great gift, improving the quality (and even the quantity) of the days of our lives together.

Lisa Firestone Ph.D.    Posted Aug 26, 2016
Read more from Dr. Lisa Firestone at PsychAlive.org
Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, an author,
and the Director of Research and Education for the Glendon Association.