Friday, June 18, 2010

Psychotherapy Friday: Assertiveness

Today's Topic: Assertiveness
Most people would prefer to be assertive rather than passive or aggressive. However, these same people often don't act assertively with friends, co-workers, or family. Why this disconnect? Before I explain the inconsistency, let's start with the definition of assertive behavior.

Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings, opinions, beliefs, and needs directly, openly, and honestly, while not violating the personal rights of others.

Why do people not act assertively?
There are many reasons. The main reasons I hear from passive people are fear of not being liked or fear of being too aggressive. As for aggressive people, they believe that if they are not aggressive they won’t achieve their goals or be respected.

So why act assertively?
Why not be passive and avoid confrontation? Why not be aggressive and get your way? Because assertiveness is the only method of communication that values all people equally. Passivity lowers the self in relation to others, and says, "I am not good enough to speak up to others." Aggression inflates the self in relation to others, and says, "I am better than them, so I’ll get what I want!" Assertiveness considers the self equal to others, and says, "I can state my opinions and needs while still respecting others."

How do I act assertively?
One of the most important parts of being assertive is being firm. This is done by the words you choose, the way you say them, and your body language. Let's take an example: Mary's boss is asking her to work unpaid overtime for the third time this week. However, Mary needs rest after a busy week at work. Here are the three different ways that Mary could handle this:

Passive Mary: (Eyes to the ground, slumped shoulders, and soft voice) "I guess I can work the overtime. No, really, it's no problem."

Aggressive Mary: (Glaring at boss, raised voice) "Of course I can't work the overtime! Why would you ask me that? I can't believe this place!"

Assertive Mary: (Maintaining eye contact, firm voice, squared shoulders) "I'm sorry but I can't work overtime again. If it were paid I would consider it, but I need to go home tonight."

Take the time to learn how to act assertively. Ask a friend or family member if you can practice with them, or simply practice in front of the mirror. Start slowly—after all, it takes time for those around you to learn how to respond to your newfound assertiveness!

Additional Resources
The Mayo Clinic
The State University of New York at Buffalo
Mental Help

Monday, June 14, 2010

He's Just Not That Into You

Dear Jocelyn,

I have a guy friend who I've known for a really long time. We've had some rough patches where he had feelings for me and I didn't return them and vice versa, but we made sure that our friendship lasted through it. Things started falling apart within the past year when I started realizing that I was always the one to initiate conversation and plan times to hang out. I got really mad at him and told him how I felt. I asked him if he even wanted to be friends anymore. He said that he wanted to be friends that hang out and keep in touch on a regular basis, but since he never tries to talk to me first, I feel like he was lying. Even though we always have a really good time when we do hang out, I still feel like if I didn't make an effort to see him, I never would. Part of me thinks that he just still has a lot of growing up to do and that I should give him a break since he hasn't really done anything to me, but on the other hand, I'm sick of making excuses for him.

Just the other day I saw him and I didn't go up to talk to him because I was so angry. He didn't come over to talk to me either, but he kept looking at me like, "Why aren't you talking to me?" When he was about to leave, we made eye contact and he yelled across the room and said “Hi” and asked me how I was. I made it obvious that I didn't want to talk him and I'm pretty sure that he understood. I hated being rude to him, but I don't want to have to seek him out anymore to tell him how I feel. Should I continue to ignore him and drop the friendship if he doesn't make any effort to talk to me? This is someone I've know all my life and it's really hard to think about never talking to him again, but I want to do what is best for me.
     -Hurting Friend

Dear Hurting,
It's hard to tell from your letter that you two are friends, considering the pain and anger you described. While I think any friendship you have had for your whole life is worth fighting for, this friend sounds like he's perhaps moving on. You described feelings of confusion over his words and his actions, so let me give you a simple rule: People do what they want to do. Although your friend stated that he wants to spend time with you, if he really wanted to, his actions would demonstrate that. There could be valid reasons why he is not initiating time with you, but it is not your responsibility to find them out. It is his job to work through those and take the appropriate action. All you can do is respond to what he is doing—which is nothing.

Since you've already shared with him how his actions make you feel, I recommend simply not initiating friendship with him anymore. You expressed some anger in your letter, which I think stems from your hurt over his lack of consistency between words and actions. Understand that he is probably not being intentionally malicious; he is just immature. There is no need to act angry or rude toward him—simply show him the consequences of his actions by not spending any more time on pursuing a friendship with him. You should be polite and civil to him, just like you would any other acquaintance. It is now up to him to show you whether he values your friendship anymore. Take the time you’ve been spending to ponder his actions, and use it to make new friends. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

Psychotherapy Friday: Automatic Thoughts

Today's Topic: Automatic Thoughts
Automatic thoughts are those paradigms we have of the world, or ways we see others that we are not even conscious of. They influence our reactions to happy news, sad news, stress, etc. For example, if you hear news of a friend becoming pregnant, you might have different reactions based on your worldview. You might be overjoyed, because you think of pregnancy as a good thing. Or perhaps you feel sad for her, if you consider children to be difficult.

Listed below are ten common Automatic Thoughts with examples. Each is paired with a truthful statement the person could tell himself to avoid negative thinking:

1) All-or-Nothing Thinking: John recently applied for a promotion in his firm. The job went to another employee with more experience. John wanted this job badly and now feels that he will never be promoted. He feels that he is a total failure in his career.
     a. Truth: You can be successful even if you don’t reach a particular goal.

2) Overgeneralization: Linda is lonely and often spends most of her time at home. Her friends sometimes ask her to come out for dinner and meet new people. Linda feels that it is useless to try to meet people. No one could really like her. People are all mean and superficial anyway.
     a. Truth: No two people are the same; some are mean, and some are nice. Be sure not to make generalizations about people.

3) Mental Filter: Mary is having a bad day. As she drives home, a kind gentleman waves her to go ahead of him as she merges into traffic. Later in her trip, another driver cuts her off. She grumbles to herself that there is nothing but rude and insensitive people in her city.
     a. Truth: We need to notice the good in people, and try to let go of the bad.

4) Disqualifying the Positive: Rhonda just had her portrait made. Her friend tells her how beautiful she looks. Rhonda brushes aside the compliment by saying that the photographer must have touched up the picture. She never looks that good in real life, she thinks.
     a. Truth: Notice the good! If someone compliments you, just accept it.

5) Jumping to Conclusions: Chuck is waiting for his date at a restaurant. She’s now 20 minutes late. Chuck laments to himself that he must have done something wrong and now she has stood him up. Meanwhile, across town, his date is stuck in traffic.
     a. Truth: When something goes wrong, don’t necessarily assume it is your fault. Things happen—assume the best.

6) Magnification and Minimization: Scott is playing football. He bungles a play that he’s been practicing for weeks. He later scores the winning touchdown. His teammates compliment him. He tells them he should have played better—the touchdown was just dumb luck.
     a. Truth: You are just as responsible for the good stuff that happens as for the bad stuff! Focus on the good!

7) Emotional Reasoning: Laura looks around her untidy house and feels overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning. She feels that it’s hopeless to even try to clean.
     a. Truth: Try to not become overwhelmed by emotions. Think to yourself, “Is this really hopeless? Or will it just take a while?” Make an effort to view the situation objectively.

8) Should Statements: David is sitting in his doctor’s waiting room. His doctor is running late. David sits stewing, thinking, “With how much I’m paying him, he should be on time. He ought to have more consideration.” He ends up feeling bitter and resentful.
     a. Truth: Things happen to people that are sometimes unavoidable. As in #5, assume the best! Assume he has a good reason for being late.

9) Labeling and Mislabeling: Donna just cheated on her diet. “I’m a fat, lazy pig,” she thinks.
     a. Truth: We all make mistakes. Focus on the action, and not the person. “I should not have eaten that food, but I can still accomplish my weight goals.

10) Personalization: Jean’s son is doing poorly in school. She feels that she must be a bad mother. She feels that it’s all her fault that he isn’t studying.
     a. We can only control our own behavior. While we can have influence on others, if someone else is doing badly, it isn’t our fault.

Next time you have a negative reaction to news or an event, ask yourself if your thinking fits one of the above examples. Then challenge that thinking, and consider other ways of looking at the situation.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Workplace Honesty

Dear Jocelyn,
My office is very relaxed in terms of employees working regular hours. It is not uncommon to arrive late and then make up the time by staying late. On Fridays it is rare that anyone is around after about 4 pm. With the absence of a time clock and no one really holding employees accountable for working the appropriate number of hours a week, it is easy to fall into a relaxed work ethic. Is it really that dishonest to work a little less than expected?
     - Cheating the Clock

Dear Cheating,
While honesty is certainly important in the workplace, I do not believe it to be dishonest to work at a relaxed pace as long as you meet your employer’s expectations. Many employers are not concerned that their employees work exactly 40 hours per week; rather, they are concerned about employee productivity. If you have a set amount of work each week (i.e. finish x, y, z, and nothing else), then if you finish early, you have satisfied your obligations. If you have ongoing work, then you should find out if your supervisor is satisfied with the amount of work you do each week.

A relaxed work environment might just be one of the side perks of your workplace.  Don't feel guilty about working hard and leaving early.  As long as your boss is satisfied, you are not cheating him.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Psychotherapy Friday: Anger Management

Today's Topic: Anger Management

Anger management is important for everyone to learn. Whether you are quick or slow tempered, aggressive or passive, outspoken or shy, you will experience anger during life and need to know how to deal with it. Many people assume that if they do not express their anger in an aggressive or outspoken manner, they do not have problems with anger management. This is not true—you might simply be stuffing the anger deep inside, where it can come out in different forms later.

To understand anger management, one must understand anger. Anger is simply an emotion – it is not necessarily good or bad. It can indicate to us when something is not right. If someone walks up to me and punches me, I will become angry, because it was not right for the person to strike me. Anger can tell us that something is wrong, even when we can't figure out exactly what it is. Anger management does not work to necessarily reduce anger; it works to express anger in an appropriate manner.

To express anger appropriately, remember these guidelines:
1) Count to ten before saying or doing anything: Anger can cloud your judgment. Something that seemed like a "good idea at the time" can wind up with bad consequences (for example, yelling at someone or breaking dishes). Count to ten slowly while breathing deeply. This will allow your body time to reduce the adrenaline that contributes to the feeling of anger.

2) If you have a tendency to be outspoken, be quiet. If you have a tendency to be quiet, speak up! Those who are naturally outspoken usually need more time to think about their words. Those who are quiet tend to keep to themself what they want to say, and tend to regret not speaking up.

3) Determine whether anger is really the emotion you are feeling: Often, people think they are angry when they really feel sad, hurt, or upset. Anger can be a more acceptable emotion to feel (especially for men), and can mask the true emotion.

4) Figure out where the anger stems from: There are times that you become angry when that is not the proper response to the situation. For example, if you are single and a friend announces they are getting married, the proper response is happiness. If you feel anger, that probably comes from a deeper issue that you haven't resolved. Are you hurt that they are getting married, not you? Do you view yourself as someone "more deserving" of marriage than your friend? If so, acknowledge these issues and work on them.

Obviously different situations call for different responses. For example, if you are punched in the face, you probably do not have time to count to ten, ponder your motives for anger, and wonder if you are simply sad instead of angry. But instead of punching back, you can take the opportunity to leave the situation before doing something you will regret.

What are some ways you deal with anger?