My 5 Tips on Managing Overwhelm

1. Monitor your feelings of overwhelm. With practice you will be able to recognize smaller and smaller amounts of an overwhelmed feeling. Practice noticing how intense your feeling of overwhelm can get. How quickly do you escalate to this maximum intensity? Notice at what level of intensity the feelings of overwhelm start to become particularly difficult or toxic. Notice if there is any amount of the feeling of overwhelm that acts as a motivating or action inducing force.

2. As soon you notice a feeling of overwhelm that is edging close to or already in the excessive range, exit the activity at hand and take a brief break. During this mini-break do something physical – take deep breaths, stretch, or actively engage one of your senses – and get out of your head. Focus on the physical act rather than going through the motions of the act while you are still thinking. In other words, take a break from the thinking that is going along with the feelings of overwhelm.

3. Following this break, rewind and locate the issue that ignited the feelings of overwhelm. Take some time to truly identify the trigger – it is not always the obvious one. For example, you may become overwhelmed as you tackle a presentation for work. It may be tempting to link your feelings of overwhelm with the workload of the presentation but it may be that your feelings of overwhelm are linked to the act of giving the presentation, or with the fact that you are working alone.

4. Once you have a sense of the trigger, break the trigger down into manageable chunks. Create a timeline for completing the chunks, leaving enough wiggle room so that you accommodate unexpected developments. If your feelings of overwhelm creep back in, refocus your attention on the trigger break-down and on the timeline – in other words let the planning you did help calm and reign in your feelings of overwhelm.

5. If the overwhelm arises at a time when you cannot take a break or the trigger is one that cannot be broken down into smaller amounts, then practice calming your overwhelm by focusing your thoughts and attention on the big picture of your life or of life in general. Odds are that whatever is triggering your overwhelm pales when you focus on the big picture of what truly matters and holds meaning.

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My Five Tips on Being Healthy with Compassion

1. Compassion and feeling sorry for someone are not the same. Compassion includes recognizing someone’s distress, regarding the distress as valid, and having an inclination to be of assistance. Feeling sorry for someone has more to do with empathy and sympathy – it is the act of feeling the same (similar) emotion(s). Compassion has an almost invigorating, uplifting by-product while feeling sorry, empathy or sympathy for someone can lead to you becoming stuck in the other’s hurt and pain (even if those are not your true emotions).

2. Compassion for others needs to be tethered into compassion for yourself – this is not to say that the two need to be the exact same, it is fine if you have a dose more compassion for others than for yourself. But, having compassion for yourself will allow you to notice when your compassion for another is putting you at risk for an unhealthy relationship or mistreatment. In other words having compassion for yourself (i.e. the distress you are experiencing by being exposed to another person’s distress) will help you disengage from the situation before you become damaged by the distress.

3. You need to take breaks from compassion –otherwise you can be at risk for compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a term used to describe the damage that a helper (i.e. someone who is expressing compassion to someone else) can sustain if the amount of distress she/he is exposed to exceeds her/his psychological resources, reserves. Even though the helper is not the one who is personally experiencing the distress, being too close for too long can lead to damage – think of the sun, we all need to receive sunlight in order to be healthy, but too much sun for too long leads to dangerous sunburns, dehydration or worse.

4. Practice intellectual compassion – as the name implies, intellectual compassion does not include the emotional experience of compassion rather it remains on a logical level. Switching from emotional to intellectual compassion can be a way to conserve some of your emotional energy without losing your care and concern for the other.

 5. Build your emotional/psychological reserves. Making your psychological resilience, your emotional immune system a priority by investing time and energy into activities that truly nurture your personality/spirit/soul/self helps you prepare for the times when you express compassion. The analogy of a bank account is a helpful image – stockpile funds so that when the rainy day comes, you have high doses of compassion to extend.

An encouraging quote

“A person of … [humanity and reverence] brings the good of others to completion.” ~ Dacher Keltner

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My five tips on how to handle a conversational bully

1. Keep yourself focused on your priority. When talking to a conversational bully (someone who behaves like a bully during conversations you have with her/him) it is easy to focus on the hurt the bulling inflicts or the anger the bulling triggers; but before becoming sucked up in these emotions asks yourself what is the main priority of this conversation. Is the point of this conversation to get or give information, is it to further progress toward a goal, is to foster the relationship or is it to express yourself? By keeping your eyes on the prize you can more easily decide how to respond to the conversational bully. For example, if the main priority is to give information, then regardless of how the conversational bully is acting – give your information and exit the dialogue.

2. Do not engage in a debate about the content of what the conversational bully is saying. Generally the content of the bully’s words is not accurate, but if you try to defend yourself against these untruths you entered the bully’s game, which is exactly what the bullying individual wants. So a smarter strategy is to ignore the content of what is being said.

3. If you want or need to assert a boundary then assert the boundary about the general behaviors – acting like a bully – not about the specific words that were said. Someone who behaves like a bully is often a skillful conversationalist and can twist words, deny that certain words were said, etc…. You will walk away feeling stronger if you calmly, clearly assert your boundary and the consequence if the boundary is violated. Keep in mind that the purpose of the boundary is far less for the conversational bully to actually respect the boundary (generally if the person who is bullying is interested in interpersonal boundaries he/she would not be bullying to begin with) but for you to have a game plan, to be empowered and have a clear sense of how to assert yourself. In other words the boundary is for you – so assert it, remember it and follow through on it; because the odds are wildly high that the person who is bullying will bulldoze right through your boundary.

4. One type of boundary that is helpful to identify is just how much of the bullying behaviors you can tolerate. This is not the same as saying the bullying is acceptable. Bullying is never acceptable, the question is how much can you ignore before the bullying words start to distress, hurt or damage you. It is important to be genuine with yourself on this – not everyone is the same; some people are not fazed by bullying words, some people have a thick skin for a certain amount of time and then become worn down while others struggle to not be hurt by off-hand comments let alone bullying words. Once you have a sense of how much you can ignore, how much you can tolerate – identify how you can and will end or exit the conversation if and when it surpasses your identified maximum level of bullying words. Keep in mind that you can always walk away and simply leave. If it is possible state that you are leaving but if you can’t then simply go. Many people feel that walking out of a conversation is a rude and inappropriate thing to do and while there is truth to this it is fundamental to keep in mind that by bullying, the other person has violated conversational norms and so it is pointless for you to be following them, when doing so puts you at risk.

5. Another way to help yourself navigate a conversational bully is to identify who within your social group is an influential and mature person – someone the bullying individual will regard as influential and someone who is mature enough not to join in or approve of the bullying behaviors. This can be someone who is influential due to power (like a supervisor, boss or coach), or it can be someone who has social influence (a well-liked, respected or ‘popular’ person). Once the bullying starts engage this influential and mature person into the conversation – odds are the presence of this individual will lead to a quieting of the bullying behaviors. If you feel comfortable seek out the influential and mature person, in private, and discuss the situation with her/him. Request that this individual not discuss the situation with the bulling person but rather take you under her/his wing for a bit. Ask her/him to interact with you, essentially display that she/he likes you, approves of you – make sure that these behaviors happen in a way so that the conversational bully is aware. Your alignment with someone that the bullying individual deems to be influential will most likely move you off the ‘can be bullied’ list, since your social status has been elevated.

My 5 Tips on Distinguishing Pity from Compassion

Both compassion and pity recognize and validate someone’s (or your own) distress, pain, difficulties. These initial similarities lead many people to consider pity and compassion to be one and the same. In an effort to steer clear of pity, people inadvertently deny themselves compassion, which is both a healing and propelling emotion.

1. After recognizing and validating distress, pity parks itself and shines a spotlight on the distress – drawing everyone’s attention to the distress, not allowing there to be any other focus.

2. Compassion moves from the recognition and validation phase into a soothing stance (i.e. soothing the distress) and then concludes with an inclination for action – action that will somehow end the distress.

3. Due to this inclination for action (note that the actual action is not an inherent part of compassion), compassion opens an individual up to be proactive – unlike pity which sucks someone’s agency into a black hole of inaction.

4. Pity has a tendency to repel people, which is quite unfortunate since someone in distress needs support from others, pity can even repel someone from themselves. While compassion tends to attract people – just think for a second would you rather spend time with your friend who pities him/herself or with your friend who strives to express compassion to self and others?

5. Overtime pity will tend to overemphasize, even exaggerate the difficulties (generally in an effort to get support, help, etc…) while compassion will have a far more accurate account of the pain. This more accurate accounting enables the pain, distress, difficulty to become only a part of the person versus becoming the majority (or all) of the person’s identity.

Attachment Part II

1. What matters most (in terms of attachment) to a young child is the perceived ability of his or her caregiver to be a source of safety. A child needs to know that his or her parent(s) is available and able to – in a good-enough manner – meet and soothe both his or her physical and emotional needs.

2. If on the whole the child’s needs are met in a calming, safe, soothing and attuned manner then the child develops what is called a, “secure attachment”. The child learns that he or she can and will be safe in the world, that he or she can explore, can interact with the world and tolerate the experiences he or she will have. This deep sense of safety and security is much more of a gut sense, a, “felt security” than it is a logical or verbal understanding or belief. In other words this is something that arises out of experience not out of logical thought or rationalizations.

3. A parent provides his/her child with a safe and secure attachment when the parent focuses fully and completely upon the child, as if the parent is a mirror to the little one’s internal world. The central message communicated by fully attuned parents (communicated both in verbal and non-verbal ways) radiates with unwavering love and expresses belief in the child’s unconditional worth; there is an implicit understanding that the child is a distinct and separate being whose emotions & thoughts are valid, matter and can be in direct opposition to the parent’s. Such attachment allows the child to learn that he or she can be tolerated as he or she is and that even when in trouble, when being disciplined, receiving consequences, etc… his or her internal worth and autonomy are not in question or diminished.

4. A poetic way of understanding attachment is to think of the by-gone maritime days when wooden ships sailed the open sea. When these ships were close to land and a storm arose, the ships were often in danger of being dashed against the shore – and if it was a craggy shoreline, the ship, cargo and sailors were in danger of being obliterated. In these situations, ships would look for safe harbors: bays that would allow the ship easy entrance and provide protection from the dangers of the storm. Lighthouses also functioned in such a protective fashion, sending out beacons of light to either warn the ships of the coastline or guide the ships into harbor.

5. Every child needs an adult to be such a safe haven, such a beacon of guidance and light. When the child receives a, “good enough” amount of attunement as well as repair (every relationship – including a parent, child relationship – has moments where the bond is ruptured; this is a normal part of relationships and matters less than how the rupture is repaired and healed), then the child will be able to enter the world with the ability to have a healthy relationship with him or herself and a healthy relationship with others.

 

Understanding Attachment Part I

1. Attachment is an innate process by which a new-born enhances his or her chances of survival by responding to any threat or insecurity by seeking out, monitoring the behaviors of and aiming to maintain closeness to his or her protective caregiver (called the attachment figure, aka Mom or Dad).

2. You can observe this process in a little baby that will cry if and when his or her attachment figure (Mom or Dad) leaves the room or goes out of sight. When the attachment figure (Mom or Dad) returns and engages with the baby – the baby will usually settle and calm back down.

3. This biological drive to maintain closeness increases the chances that the little child will receive enough food, clothing, physical touch and care to grow and thrive.

4. In time this process of honing in on and doing whatever it takes to ensure the presence of the attachment figure (Mom or Dad) applies not only to the physical needs of the child, but also to emotional needs.

5. What this means is that when a child is under stress, in danger or under duress he or she will seek out and flee to the attachment figure (Mom or Dad) for safety: “Attachment is the interactive regulation of emotion…[it is] to seek the ‘safe haven’ of a stronger or wiser other when we are threatened with danger” (Wallin, 2007, p. 301).

The 5 Factors of Personality, The “Big Five”

Just like temperament is made up of basic dimensions or building blocks, it turns out that personality is also comprised of basic dimensions. (Remember that temperament is a foundational component for personality.) There are five basic dimensions of personality and while the research clearly supports these five basic elements, there is still discussion about what exactly these elements, called factors, encompass. Each of these factors lies on a continuum (think of volume or a temperature scale) meaning that there are varying amounts you can have of each factor – in other words we all have aspects of these five factors, but it is the degree of each and the constellation of the factors that make up your unique personality. Here are the factors and a brief description of each (Source: Carver &Scheier):

1. Extraversion – This refers to assertiveness, an openness to express impulses and can include a kind of dominance or confident assurance. There can also be a quality of happiness or sociability in this factor as well. Adjectives for this trait are: gregarious, outspoken, energetic, happy, bold, forceful, talkative and spontaneous; with the following words being antonyms: seclusive, timid, submissive, unassured, silent as well as inhibited.

2. Agreeableness – This factor includes aspects of warmth, likeability, having a nurturing as well as emotionally supportive side but can also include docile compliance. Those who are low in this factor tend to show hostility, opposition or antagonistic traits. Adjectives for this trait are: friendly, warm, kind, polite, good-natured and considerate; some antonyms are: jealous, spiteful, touchy, complaining, rude, irritable, unkind, unfriendly as well as cold.

3. Will to Achieve – Conscientiousness is the more common name for this trait, but most of us think of conscientiousness as having to do with social relationships; so will to achieve is a more descriptive label. This factor encompasses having will, responsibility, planning, persistence, purposeful striving towards a goal, constraint i.e. being conscientious of one’s goal and not letting oneself veer off of course. Adjectives for this trait are: neat, persevering, planful, careful, cautious, serious, thorough as well as hardworking with antonyms being: rash, frivolous, irresponsible, careless and lazy.

4. Neuroticism or Emotionality – Experiencing anxiety is the core feature of this factor. Making the following adjectives rather guessable: concerned, nervous, fearful, excitable, tense as well as high strong; with antonyms being: calm, composed, relaxed and poised.

5. Intellect or Culture – Adjectives for this trait are: knowledgeable, perceptive, imaginative, verbal, original, intellectual, polished, curious and creative; antonyms for this factor are: simple, unreflective, crude, uncurious as well as uncreative.

Understanding Temperament Part II

1. Temperament has nine dimensions to it, which are:

Activity Level – The ratio of time spent being active versus inactive i.e. playing versus resting.

Rhythmicity – How regular a child is with her or his bodily functions i.e. sleeping, waking, hunger and eliminating waste.

Distractibility – How much the child will alter her or his behaviors due to new environmental stimuli i.e. will a child stop crying when a unique noise is made or toy is given.

Approach/Withdrawal – Does a child approach or withdraw from a new object, person, situation, food, etc….

Adaptability – How easy is it for a child to adapt to changes in her or his world i.e. sleeping or eating in a new place?

Attention Span and Persistence – For how long does a child stay engaged with an activity before switching to another one? How much persistence will a child show in order to stay with the activity?

Intensity of Reaction – What is the energy level of the child’s responses, such as crying, talking, laughing and moving about i.e. does the child laugh quietly, loudly, super loud, or normally?

Threshold of Responsiveness – How much intensity is needed in order to get a response or reaction out of the child? Will the child react to a quiet whisper, normal volume or do you need to be loud?

Quality of Mood – Is the child more apt to be upbeat, joyful, friendly or unpleasant, unfriendly, downcast?

 

2. Research has shown that these dimensions cluster into three typical types of children: the easy child, difficult child and slow-to-warm-up child. Keep in mind that these are not clear cut categories and some children do not fall into any of the three types. It is also important to know that no one style is better or worse than the other. Each style is simply a different way of navigating and interacting with the world. How the child’s parent(s) and environment understand and react to the child’s temperament is the pivotal part.

 

3. Easy Child – This child quickly establishes a regular routine with regards to sleeping and feeding. The child tends to be on the cheerful side of life; she or he is pleasant, easy to be around, smiles easily and often and can interact warmly with strangers. Finally, this child has a mild or moderate level of intensity and adapts readily to new experiences.

 

4. Difficult Child – This child is irregular in daily routines, having little to no consistency with regards to sleeping and feeding. The child tends to be irritable, is usually in a negative mood and tends to cry as well as have temper tantrums frequently and with little provoking. Finally, this child has a high level of intensity and is slow to adapt, withdraws from new experiences/people and takes a while to accept these new experiences/people.

 

5. Slow-to-Warm-Up Child – This child lies in between the easy and difficult child. The child is more inactive than either the easy or difficult child, has mildly positive or negative reactions to new experiences/people, is more low-key, has a negative mood and is slow to adjust. When given extra effort the child can and does engage and adapt.

Understanding Temperament

1. Temperament refers to a child’s basic orientation to emotion, attention, motor activity and arousal as well as the child’s basic ability to modify these orientations.

 

2. Temperament is an underlying part of any child’s personality and therefore influences how a child learns, reacts to danger, opportunities, challenges, new experiences, etc….

 

3. A large part of a child’s temperament is due to her or his genetic inheritance.

 

4. But the manner in which a child is parented modifies a child’s basic temperament and teaches the child how to manage her or his basic orientations.

 

5. The younger a child is the more prominent her or his temperament style will be because the child has had little modifying experiences i.e. learning and parenting.