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Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Speaking Your Truth

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 by Dr. Ilona L. Tobin

Heather, a baker for a catering company, began having issues with one of her co-workers after he bulldozed over her experience and capability in the kitchen. After her resentment had built up to a nearly unmanageable level, she called for a meeting, during which she explained to him how she was feeling.
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Ilona Tobin has been a psychologist and a marriage and family therapist for more than 25 years in Birmingham, Michigan. For more information, please visit her listing on the Therapist Directory.

Put No One Out of Your Heart

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011 by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

What is an open heart?
The Practice
Put no one out of your heart.
Why?

We all know people who are, ah, . . . challenging. It could be a critical parent, a bossy supervisor, a relative who has you walking on eggshells, a nice but flaky friend, a co-worker who just doesn’t like you, a partner who won’t keep his or her agreements, or a politician you dislike. Right now I’m thinking of a neighbor who refused to pay his share of a fence between us.

As Jean-Paul Sartre put it: “Hell is other people.”

Sure, that’s overstated. But still, most of a person’s hurts, disappointments, and irritations typically arise in reactions to other people.

Ironically, in order for good relationships to be so nurturing to us as human beings – who have evolved to be the most intimately relational animals on the planet – you must be so linked to others that some of them can really rattle you!

So what can you do?

Let’s suppose you’ve tried to make things better – such as taking the high road yourself and perhaps also trying to talk things out, pin down reasonable agreements, set boundaries, etc. – but the results have been partial or nonexistent.

At this point, it’s natural to close off to the other person, often accompanied by feelings of apprehension, resentment, or disdain. While the brain definitely evolved to care about “us,” it also evolved to separate from, fear, exploit, and attack “them” – and those ancient, neural mechanisms can quickly grab hold of you.

But what are the results? Closing off doesn’t feel good. (more…)

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Dr. Hanson is a neuropsychologist in San Rafael, California. His practice includes adults, couples, families, and children, as well as psychological assessments of children and adults related to temperament, school performance, and educational and vocational planning. For more information, please visit his listing on the Therapist Directory

Drop The Case

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

Who are you prosecuting?
The Practice
Drop the case.
Why?

Lately I’ve been thinking about a kind of “case” that’s been running in my mind about someone in my extended family. The case is a combination of feeling hurt and mistreated, critique of the other person, irritation with others who haven’t supported me, views about what should happen that hasn’t, and implicit taking-things-personally.

In other words, the usual mess.

It’s not that I have not been mistreated – actually, I have been – nor that my analysis of things is inaccurate (others agree that what I see does in fact exist). The problem is that my case is saturated with negative emotions like anger, biased toward my own viewpoint, and full of me-me-me. Every time I think of it I start getting worked up, adding to the bad effects of chronic stress. It creates awkwardness with others, since even though they support me, they’re naturally leery of getting sucked into my strong feelings or into my conflict with the other person. It makes me look bad, too cranked up about things in the past. And it primes me for overreactions when I see the person in question. Yes, I practice with this stuff arising in my mind and generally don’t act it out, but it’s still a burden.

I think my own experience of case-making – and its costs – are true in general. In couples in trouble, one or both people usually have a detailed Bill of Particulars against the other person. At larger scales, different social or political groups have scathing indictments of the other side.

How about you? Think of someone you feel wronged by: can you find case against that person in your mind? What’s it feel like to go into that case? What does it cost you? And others?

The key – often not easy – is to be open to your feelings (e.g., hurt, anger), to see the truth of things, and to take appropriate action . . . while not getting caught up in your case about it all. (more…)

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Dr. Hanson is a neuropsychologist in San Rafael, California. His practice includes adults, couples, families, and children, as well as psychological assessments of children and adults related to temperament, school performance, and educational and vocational planning. For more information, please visit his listing on the Therapist Directory

Tune Into Others

Thursday, June 30th, 2011 by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

What Are They Feeling?
The Practice
Tune into others.
Why?

Imagine a world in which people interacted with each other like ants or fish. Imagine a day at work like this, or in your family, aware of the surface behavior of the people around you but oblivious to their inner life while they remain unmoved by your own.

That’s a world without empathy. To me, it sounds like a horror film.

Without empathy, there can be no real love, compassion, kindness, or friendship. Empathic breakdowns shake the foundation of a relationship; just recall a time you felt misunderstood – or even worse, a time when the other person could care less about understanding you. In particular, anyone who is vulnerable (e.g., children, the elderly) has a profound need for empathy, and when it’s a thin soup or missing altogether, that’s very disturbing. In my experience as a therapist, poor empathy is the core problem in most troubled couples or families; without it, nothing good is likely to happen; with it, even the toughest issues can be resolved. (more…)

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Dr. Hanson is a neuropsychologist in San Rafael, California. His practice includes adults, couples, families, and children, as well as psychological assessments of children and adults related to temperament, school performance, and educational and vocational planning. For more information, please visit his listing on the Therapist Directory

See the Person Behind the Eyes

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

Who is behind the mask?
The Practice
See the person behind the eyes.
Why?

Most of us wear a kind of mask, a persona that hides our deepest thoughts and feelings, and presents a polished, controlled face to the world.

To be sure, a persona is a good thing to have. For example, meetings at work, holidays with the in-laws, or a first date are usually not the best time to spill your guts. Just because you’re selective about what you reveal to the world does not mean you’re insincere; phoniness is only when we lie about what’s really going on inside.

Much of the time, we interact mask-to-mask with other people. There’s a place for that. But remember times when someone saw through your mask to the real you, the person back behind your eyes. If you’re like me, those times were both unnerving and wonderful.

Even though it’s scary, everyone longs to be seen, to be known. To have your hopes and fears acknowledged – the ones behind a polite smile or a frown of frustration. To have your true caring seen, as well as your positive intentions and natural goodness. Most intimately of all, to feel that your innermost being – the one to whom things happen, the one strapped to this rollercoaster of a life trying to make sense of it before it ends – has been recognized by someone. (more…)

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Dr. Hanson is a neuropsychologist in San Rafael, California. His practice includes adults, couples, families, and children, as well as psychological assessments of children and adults related to temperament, school performance, and educational and vocational planning. For more information, please visit his listing on the Therapist Directory

Keep Hope Not Fear Alive

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011 by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

This recent series of posts has used the example of Stephen Colbert’s satirical “March to Keep Fear Alive” as a timely illustration of a larger point: humans evolved to be fearful — a major feature of the brain’s negativity bias that helped our ancestors pass on their genes. Consequently, as much research has shown, we’re usually much more affected by negative — by which I mean painful — experiences than by positive ones.

Besides the personal impacts of this bias in the brain, it also makes people, and nations, vulnerable to being manipulated by threats, both real ones and “paper tigers.” Colbert is mocking those who play on fear, since we surely don’t need more efforts to keep fear alive.

Your Brain on Negative
Painful experiences range from subtle discomfort to extreme anguish — and there is a place for them. Sorrow can open the heart, anger can highlight injustices, fear can alert you to real threats, and remorse can help you take the high road next time.

But is there really any shortage of suffering in this world? Look at the faces of others, or your own, in the mirror, and see the marks of weariness, irritation, stress, disappointment, longing and worry. There’s plenty of challenge in life already — including unavoidable illness, loss of loved ones, old age and death — without needing a bias in your brain to give you an extra dose of pain each day.

Yet as my last post explored, your brain evolved exactly such a “negativity bias” in order to help your ancestors pass on their genes — a bias that produces lots of collateral damage today. (more…)

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Dr. Hanson is a neuropsychologist in San Rafael, California. His practice includes adults, couples, families, and children, as well as psychological assessments of children and adults related to temperament, school performance, and educational and vocational planning. For more information, please visit his listing on the Therapist Directory

Balancing Joining and Separating

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

There is a natural balance within us all between the desire for joining and the desire for separation, between the desire for closeness and the desire for distance.

These two great themes – joining and separation – are central to human life. Almost everyone wants both of them, to varying degrees.

People tend to focus a lot on the joining theme, both because relationships are about – uh – joining, and because spiritual practice of any kind is fundamentally about coming into relationship with things.

Into relationship with our own suffering and that of others, and into relationship with the real causes of that suffering. Into relationship with the endlessly changing and thus impermanent nature of existence and experience. Into mindful relationship with the body, with the sense of experience being pleasant or unpleasant or neutral, with all the thoughts and feelings etc, in the mind, and with the qualities and aims of consciousness itself. And – it’s meaningful to you – into relationship with a transcendental Something: God, Buddhanature, the Infinite, unbounded Awareness . . . by whatever name.

But as important as relationship is, it is also important to bow to the other great theme, separation. (more…)

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Dr. Hanson is a neuropsychologist in San Rafael, California. His practice includes adults, couples, families, and children, as well as psychological assessments of children and adults related to temperament, school performance, and educational and vocational planning. For more information, please visit his listing on the Therapist Directory

Shared Meaning

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 by Mel Schwartz, LCSW

We take for granted that our words convey exactly what we intend them to. This is a particularly misinformed assumption. I have observed that upon deeper scrutiny, the words, let alone the concepts, tend not to be received in the way the messenger anticipates. By the time a few sentences have passed, we may have a totally missed communication. How often does we pause and considerately ask the other what they mean by the word they are using?

Although this problem is more glaring in confrontational discourse, it impacts amicable conversations as well. “You don’t know how to be intimate,” she exclaims. He retorts, “I don’t know how to be intimate? You’re so angry and cold who would ever want to be intimate with you?” In the following minutes this couple is off to the races, pushing buttons and hurling invective.

They are arguing around this word intimate. Yet, no one has bothered to share or inquire what the word intimate suggests. She might be referring to emotional intimacy, he might be thinking of sexual intimacy. This is a common disconnect. Yet the problem runs deeper. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are fighting about whether he can or cannot be emotionally intimate. Have they ever discussed the concept of emotional intimacy and reached a shared meaning? This would be most unlikely. (more…)

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Mel Schwartz is a psychotherapist with offices in Westport Ct and NYC. For more information, please visit his listing on the Therapist Directory or his website. This article may not be reprinted, reproduced, or retransmitted in whole or in part without the express written consent of the author.

Say the Hard Thing: How to Have that Difficult Conversation

Friday, October 29th, 2010 by Dr. Ilona L. Tobin

There are no classes in life for beginners,” wrote poet Rainer Maria Rilke. “Right away you are always asked to deal with what is most difficult.”

Saying the hard thing can be one of the most difficult things we ever do. And for many of us, just thinking about doing it can cause worry, fear and stress. The good news is that getting these conversations right has more to do with planning and practice than saying “just the right thing.” And when we dare to broach these hard topics with other people, there are often hidden rewards.
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Ilona Tobin has been a psychologist and a marriage and family therapist for more than 25 years in Birmingham, Michigan. For more information, please visit her listing on the Therapist Directory.

How Did Humans Become Empathic?

Friday, October 8th, 2010 by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

Empathy is unusual in the animal kingdom. So empathy must have had some major survival benefits for it to have evolved. What might those benefits have been?

Empathy seems to have evolved in three major steps.

First, among vertebrates, birds and mammals developed ways of rearing their young, plus forms of pair bonding – sometimes for life. This is very different from the pattern among fish and reptile species, most of which make their way in life alone. Pair bonding and rearing of young organisms increased their survival and was consequently selected for, driving the development of new mental capacities.

As neuroscientists put it, the “computational requirements” of tuning into the signals of newborn little creatures, and of operating as a couple – a sparrow couple, a mountain lion couple, that is – helped drive the enlargement of the brain over millions of years. As we all know, when you are in a relationship with someone – and especially if you are raising a family together – there’s a lot you have to take into account, negotiate, arrange, anticipate, etc. No wonder brains got bigger.

It may be a source of satisfaction to some that monogamous species typically have the largest brains in proportion to bodyweight! (more…)

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Dr. Hanson is a neuropsychologist in San Rafael, California. His practice includes adults, couples, families, and children, as well as psychological assessments of children and adults related to temperament, school performance, and educational and vocational planning. For more information, please visit his listing on the Therapist Directory