Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The only person you can change... is you!

Is that a revelation to any of you? I think at one point in time in my life it was a revelation to me. How much daily energy do we spend trying to overtly or covertly change those around us? A friend, a boyfriend, a family member, a wife? Why? Why do we exert so much of our precious energy trying to change everyone else around us... except for ourselves? How can we take self-responsibility in our own lives and leave the change and growth of others up to those individuals? So many questions. Maybe this article will have some answers.

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. (on PsychCentral)

One of life’s hardest lessons to learn is that you can only change yourself.

Some people spend inordinate amounts of time and energy upset, angry, or frustrated by other people’s thoughts and behaviors.

But to what end? You can rail against the rain or feel sanguine about the snow, but there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. Why should we, by default, believe we can change another person’s — an independent, thinking self just like us — behaviors and thoughts with just a few choice words? If you think about it for a minute, it sounds kind of ridiculous.

Yet we don’t think about it when we have an emotional reaction to someone else’s behavior or words. We say things like, “How could they say such a thing!” or “How can anyone be so rude!?” or “Don’t they know how much they hurt me? Why do they do that?!”

We often react in this way because our emotions are a part of most people’s innate decision-making skills. We react and respond emotionally to emotional needs of our own, rather than in a logical, rational manner. So when someone touches one of these emotional needs, we can respond in a way that may not make a whole lot of sense to an outside observer.

What you can do, just once, is to make a polite request for another to stop the behavior that you find frustrating, annoying or disturbing. But that’s it, just once (or maybe twice, if you feel the person really didn’t hear or understand the initial request). After that, you just become a nag and will be ignored. Repeating something over and over again doesn’t suddenly make people more aware of themselves, it just makes them aware of how annoying you can be.

There’s no magic to stopping trying to change other people’s behavior. Catch your thoughts (by writing them down in a journal or blog, for instance) when you find yourself saying something like, “I wish she wouldn’t do..” or “I can’t believe he thinks that…” — things like that. Making a note of it, mental or otherwise, allows you to pause your automatic thinking before you jump to the next step in your response (which is usually to say something to the person).

If you’ve already said something, now’s the time to stop and go no further. Unless you’re the other person’s parent, they’ve probably already heard it and may have even tried stopping the behavior. Hearing it again isn’t going to suddenly change their behavior.

People can spend weeks, months and in some cases years in psychotherapy working on changing their thoughts or behaviors. That’s because such change often takes that long to understand, practice, and then implement. Behaviors most important to others are also likely behaviors that are important to ourselves and not readily changed, even if we wanted to. They sometimes are integrated part of another’s personality or way of thinking about and looking at the entire world.

So save yourself some frustration today and try to learn to stop trying to change others. Focus instead on changing your own faults and you may find yourself living a happier and more peaceful life.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

But it wasn't my fault!

How many times have you heard this? How many times have you said this? Be honest now... it could have been some variation on that theme to sugar coat it... but we have all said it! Why do people play the blame game? Here is an excellent article by Keith Ferrazzi on this topic.

Whom do we blame when we fail? The short answer is "everyone but ourselves." Extensive research in psychology (Jones & Harris 1967, Ross 1977) has shown that when we fail, we tend to attribute the cause of our failure to reasons outside of ourselves: The market was weak. The inputs were poor. The weather was bad.

Think about it. When was the last time you failed to complete something on time at work - and why? Most people will list reasons that seem to be completely beyond their control. But now consider the last time a colleague or a subordinate (or family member or friend) failed to deliver on a project. Whom did you blame then? Well, if you're like most people, you blamed the colleague or subordinate.

This phenomenon, dubbed the Fundamental Attribution Error, is a pervasive bias that affects all of us to some degree, but why? Psychologists would argue that in our attempt to preserve our self-respect and self-esteem that we internalize our successes and externalize our failures. In other words, we like to like ourselves! Seems innocent enough, maybe even healthy, right? The problem is when "liking ourselves" turns into complacency, and we stop seeing room for improvement. Clearly there are times when we are to blame for our failures.

So how do we sort through our bias to narrow in on that slippery but useful thing we call "reality?" That's where peers come in. Since they're biased in the opposite way that we are, they're a neat check to our own perspective. That is, if we consistently internalize our successes, others will consistently externalize them, and the reverse with failure. Presto!: We compare notes, and start to get a more nuanced picture of what's contributing to our downfalls - and as importantly, of what'll deliver the most and the richest success.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Among Veterans, another cause of D.V. is cited

This is an important article on a vital topic. I have worked both with Veterans, and with Domestic Violence offenders. Both populations are both challenging and rewarding to work with. I heard many stories of returning Vets struggling to reintegrate themselves into their worlds while also struggling to manage their increased inner rage and irritability--possibly brought to the surface by PTSD. In the article below (from Psych Central) new research suggests the risk of domestic violence will rise as increasing number of veterans are diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"The consequences (of PTSD and domestic violence) on families and children in communities across the United States are an emerging concern says Monica Matthieu, Ph.D., an expert on veteran mental health and an assistant professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis.

'Treatments for domestic violence are very different than those for PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has mental health services and treatments for PTSD, yet these services need to be combined with the specialized domestic violence intervention programs offered by community agencies for those veterans engaging in battering behavior against intimate partners and families.'

Matthieu and Peter Hovmand, Ph.D., domestic violence expert and assistant professor of social work at Washington University, are merging their research interests and are working to design community prevention strategies to address this emerging public health problem.

'The increasing prevalence of traumatic brain injury and substance use disorders along with PTSD among veterans poses some unique challenges to existing community responses to domestic violence' says Hovmand.

'Community responses to domestic violence must be adapted to respond to the increasing number of veterans with PTSD. This includes veterans with young families and older veterans with chronic mental health issues.'

Even as the demographic of the veteran population changes as World War II veterans reach their 80s and 90s and young veterans completing tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, the numbers of living veterans who have served in the United States military is staggering. Current estimates indicate that there are 23,816,000 veterans.

Matthieu says there are evidence-based psychological treatment programs that can be a great resource for clinicians to learn how to identify and treat PTSD symptoms. However, identifying battering behaviors among veterans with active PTSD symptoms may be difficult and may require consultation and referral to domestic violence experts.

Research in the VA shows that male veterans with PTSD are two to three times more likely than veterans without PTSD to engage in intimate partner violence and more likely to be involved in the legal system.

'Community violence prevention agencies and services need to be included in a veteran’s treatment plan to address the battering behaviors,' says Hovmand.

.Veterans need to have multiple providers coordinating the care that is available to them, with each provider working on one treatment goal. Coordinated community response efforts such as this bring together law enforcement, the courts, social service agencies, community activists and advocates for women to address the problem of domestic violence. These efforts increase victim safety and offender accountability by encouraging interorganizational exchanges and communication'."