Thursday, November 20, 2008

Assertion Questionnaire

This Assertion Questionnaire was developed by Dr. Peter Lewinsohn along with his colleagues Drs. Munoz, Youngren, and Zeiss as part of their work relating depression to a person’s lack of specific social skills, such as assertiveness. The questions on the scale measure both how assertive you are and how comfortable you are with your assertiveness in certain situations.

Assertion is an area of social skill behavior that often causes people difficulty in dealing with others. Assertiveness involves defending ourselves and expressing what we are thinking and feeling. To some, the idea of assertiveness is very negative. They consider assertiveness the same as being obnoxious and demanding. without regard to the feelings of others. Psychologists, however, see assertiveness in a much broader and more positive way. as a healthy means of open expression. Certainly some of the things that a person may express openly can be seen as negative, but being assertive also means being able to share the positive parts of ourselves, our hopes and fears, our affection and concern for others. In this light, assertiveness becomes a very important part of a close, two-way relationship wherein each person trusts the other to be honest and open.

Psychologist Dr. Peter Lewinsohn also sees assertiveness on a very practical level. Dr. Lewinsohn states in his book Control Your Depression,

It [assertiveness] helps avoid or prevent aversive encounters with others; no
one can take advantage of someone who is properly assertive. Second, those who
are appropriately assertive are likely to get more positive feelings from other
people; they express more positive feelings and they receive them in return. . .
.Finally, those who are more appropriately assertive feel better understood by
others.... People can’t know how you feel and show their caring unless you
take the first step of expressing your own thoughts and feelings.
Go over the list of questions twice. First, rate each item using the Frequency Scale ("F" Column). Rate each on how often it has occurred during the past month. Second, rate how comfortable you were when each situation happened, or how comfortable you would be if it were to happen. For this rating, use the Comfort Scale ("C" Column).

As Dr. Lewinsohn points out, there are no right or wrong answers to the items on this questionnaire — its primary purpose is to provide you with information about yourself.

Frequency Scale
Indicate how often each of these events occurred by marking the Frequency Column,
using the following scale:
1 = This has not happened in the past 30 days
2 = This has happened a few times (1 to 6 times) in the past 30 days
3 = This has happened often (7 times or more) in the past 30 days

Comfort Scale
Indicate how you feel about each of these events by marking the Comfort Column, using the following scale:
1 = I felt very uncomfortable or upset when this happened
2 = I felt somewhat uncomfortable or upset when this happened
3 = I felt neutral when this happened (neither comfortable nor uncomfortable; neither good nor upset)
4 = I felt fairly comfortable or good when this happened
5 = I felt very comfortable or good when this happened

Important: If an event has not happened during the past month, then rate it according to how you think you would fed if it happened. If an event happened more than once in the past month, rate roughly how you felt about it on the average.

1. Turning down a person’s request to borrow my car
F= C=
2. Asking a favor of someone
F= C=
3. Resisting sales pressure
F= C=
4. Admitting fear and requesting consideration
F= C=
5. Telling a person I am intimately involved with that he/she has said or done something that bothers me
F= C=
6. Admitting ignorance in an area being discussed
F= C=
7. Turning down a friend’s request to borrow money
F= C=
8. Turning off a talkative friend
F= C=
9. Asking for constructive criticism
F= C=
10. Asking for clarification when I am confused about what someone has said
F= C=
11. Asking whether I have offended someone
F= C=
12. Telling a person of the opposite sex that I like him/her
F= C=
13. Telling a person of the same sex that I like him/her
F= C=
14. Requesting expected service when it hasn’t been offered (e.g., in a restaurant)
F= C=
15. Discussing openly with a person his/her criticism of my behavior
F= C=
16. Returning defective items (e.g., at a store or restaurant)
F= C=
17. Expressing an opinion that differs from that of a person I am talking with
F= C=
18. Resisting sexual overtures when I am not interested
F= C=
19. Telling someone how I feel if he/she has done something that is unfair to me
F= C=
20. Turning down a social invitation from someone I don’t particularly like
F= C=
21. Resisting pressure to drink alcohol
F= C=
22. Resisting an unfair demand from a person who is important to me
F= C=
23. Requesting the return of borrowed items
F= C=
24. Telling a friend or co-worker when he/she says or does something that bothers me
F= C=
25. Asking a person who is annoying me in a public situation to stop (e.g., smoking on a bus)
F= C=
26. Criticizing a friend
F= C=
27. Criticizing my spouse
F= C=
28. Asking someone for help or advice
F= C=
29. Expressing my love to someone
F= C=
30. Asking to borrow something
F= C=
31. Giving my opinion when a group is discussing an important matter
F= C=
32. Taking a definite stand on a controversial issue
F= C=
33. When two friends are arguing, supporting the one I agree with
F= C=
34. Expressing my opinion to someone I don’t know very well
F= C=
35. Interrupting someone to ask him/her to repeat something I didn’t hear clearly
F= C=
36. Contradicting someone when I think I might hurt him/her by doing so
F= C=
37. Telling someone that he/she has disappointed me or let me down
F= C=
38. Asking someone to leave me alone
F= C=
39. Telling a friend or co-worker that he/she has done a good job
F= C=
40. Telling someone he/she has made a good point in a discussion
F= C=
41. Telling someone I have enjoyed talking with him/her
F= C=
42. Complimenting someone on his/her skill or creativity
F= C=

Scoring the Questionnaire
To find your Assertion Frequency score, add up the numbers you’ve placed in the "frequency" column. Enter your Total Frequency Score here: F = ____

To compute your Assertion Comfort score, add up the numbers you’ve placed in "comfort" column. Enter your Total Comfort Score here: C = ____

Interpreting Your Score
Most people score within the following ranges:

Assertion Frequency: 61-81
Assertion Comfort: 102-137
This means that the typical individual has had most of the listed situations occur at least a few times during the past month. Further, this typical person probably feels at least fairly comfortable with being assertive in several of the situations and neutral to somewhat uncomfortable in some others. If you scored higher than these average scores, you probably know when you’re being appropriately assertive (and would very likely write us a letter telling us that we’re wrong if we said anything different about you).

If you scored near the bottom of the average ranges, it may just have been an unusually nonassertive month for you. Next month may find you acting (and scoring) more assertively, particularly now that you’re thinking about it.

If you scored way below the average ranges, however, lack of assertiveness and discomfort with being assertive may be a real problem and major concern for you. No doubt you spend a lot of time wishing you could tell people how you feel; in fact, you may feel at times like the guy who gets sand kicked into his face at the beach and just lies there and takes it. Unfortunately, no comic-book strength gimmick is going to help you become more assertive. One step, only a first one of several, is taking this test, reading this discussion, and thinking about whether lack of assertiveness is a problem for you. The next step is to move a little closer to doing something about the problem if it indeed does exist for you. A trusted friend may be able to serve as a good listener and help direct you toward more assertive behavior. Some counseling programs dealing with assertiveness training may now be worth the emotional risk. It’s not going to be easy. You’re going to have to be more assertlve m order to work on becoming more assertive. Such a bind is a major reason why professional help in assertiveness training is most often the best way to go.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Men and Grief

Do men grieve differently than women? Are they "emotionally unavailable" as some women charge?

In a book by Dr. William Worden, he believes that when we experience extreme loss, we tend to go through three stages in the healing process. In phase 1, people often retreat from the world that is familiar to them. This may include friends, family, and work. Phase 2 occurs when the person begins to grapple with the realities of the loss and begin dealing with the pain of the loss. Phase 3 is the process of putting one's life back together as the pain gradually begins to subside.

Is it possible that men and women experience these phases of grief differently? Some professionals seem to think so. It seems that both men and women are similar during the first phase. Both genders experience a numbness that blocks out everyday activities. This is often accompanied by anxiety, shock, denial or confusion.

Psychologists think this reaction is the brain's attempt to struggle with the reality of what has happened. We are social creatures and often define ourselves by those who are in our lives. When these connections are broken, we feel a vacuum and an emptiness in our lives that is disorienting.
The last phase tends to favor men because it is the time for "getting on with life." Men are born to reorganize and restructure things. This is what they tend to do best. This is usually the end point of intensive grieving where personal adjustments are made to a new life. A person in this phase may set new goals, explore new areas of life and maybe even take on a new identify.

The middle phase is where men and women differ the most. It deals with the expression of grief: talking, crying, confronting. It is that lonely place where the person must feel the pain while beginning to detach from the lost love. Culturally and physically, women are more suited to do this phase more effectively.

In another book, Carol Staudacher suggests that men have developed four separate ways of dealing with phase two grief. These coping styles are seen by peers as helpful and natural. They make the way through phase two more tolerable.

One coping style is to remain silent. Men tend to keep their pain to themselves and seem, on the surface, to not have a need for talking about their emotional pain. The advantage of this technique is that it keeps men from being more vulnerable than they already are in phase two. This form of self-protection allows men to find a place to heal without further wounding.

Another copying style for phase two is called "Engaging in Secret Grief." The pain stays inside and seldom is shared with others. Men may engage in insignificant behaviors such as pulling weeds or driving aimlessly for long periods of time. This time of solitude buys time to feel pain without outside interference.

Unsurprisingly, men also in some type of activity for making sense out of their lives. They may get more involved in sports or other physical exertions as an attempt to bring some semblance of control to a life that feels out of control. Men are generally reinforced for using this phase two technique because others see them as confident and brave in a difficult time.

Finally, a fourth option many men choose is to become obsessed with filling their time. From waking to sleep, each minute is filled with as few gaps as possible. This burst of energy is often troubling to women because it appears men are denying their feelings and trying to avoid dealing with the grief.

What is important is that each gender must deal with their own grief by using their individual strengths. This means that neither gender has a monopoly on what is right or wrong about how to grieve. One type is not necessarily more effective than another. We need to respect these differences in how each of us handles the pain and suffering that accompanies loss.

We also know that another difference between men and women is that women often take longer to resolve their grief. Generally, they take about two years while men take about six months to finalize the grief process.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Anticipation of Pain

A study done in 1999 by researchers in England and Canada shows how the brain reacts to pain by showing that the fear of pain is worse than the pain itself. Many of us have learned that anticipating physical or emotional pain can actually make the pain worse. People who worry about having panic attacks are almost certain to have them and the more they worry the worse the attacks are. Similarly, waiting in the dentist’s chair for the drilling to begin can be excruciating for some people. Then, the sound of the highspeed drill can send them over the edge.

The researchers built a "pain machine" that could deliver pain to a person without actually causing harm. It might be noted that the head researcher tried the machine on himself before using it with the research subjects.

When a participant was hooked up to the pain machine, a light came on before the pain was delivered. The light-pain combination was delivered randomly so that the person didn’t know when the light would come on. However, the subject did know that when the light came on, the pain was soon to follow.

The scientists monitored brain activity as the light-pain combination was delivered. What they found was that one part of the brain was activated when the light came on and another part when the pain was actually felt. These two brain areas were very close to each other.

The anticipation of pain caused the brain to respond and may prove that the anticipation of pain is worse than the pain itself. This anticipation is often accompanied by automatic physical reactions such as rapid heart beat, muscle tension, rapid breathing and a racing mind. These reactions often makes the pain worse. Studies have shown that if a person relaxes as a response to pain anticipation, the pain is actually less intense.

What makes this even more interesting is that previous research has shown us that we often become aware of something unconsciously before the awareness hits our consciousness. That means there may be times we will "feel" the anticipation of the pain before it happens but do so at a low level of awareness — the "gut level feeling."

The reason certain medications such as narcotics, alcohol and antidepressants seem to reduce pain is not that they act directly on the pain. By reducing awareness of it and damping the sympathetic nervous system, we just don’t feel the pain as badly.

So what can you do if you have a dental appointment coming up? Or maybe you experience anxiety in closed places. You can check out our blogs on stress management.

These skills are excellent tools for managing pain and stress. You may want to begin with the introduction to stress management. The skills you will need to learn are Natural Breathing, Muscle Relaxation and Mind Calming. As with all skills, how well you can do them will depend on well they work. Some people try to use these skills only when they are in a stressful situation. This is too late — sort of like trying to learn how to swim after falling out of the boat.

Practice these skill now, so that when you need them, you can manage your pain more effectively. Doing so will also increase your self-confidence and well-being.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Using 10% of Your Brain

Have you ever heard that you only use 10% of your brain? Do you think smarter people use more of their brain? We are all familiar with geniuses like Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. Child prodigies also amaze us. Mozart could read and write music, play the keyboard and violin when he was only five years old. Savants are people whose brains can do seemingly impossible mathematical calculations at breakneck speeds — like figuring out cube roots faster than the rest of us can do on a calculator. If science could only figure out how the rest of us can use that unused portion of our brain, then maybe all of us could have superhuman mental powers.

Some people even think that mental telepathy and other psychic powers come from the other 90% of the brain. Because of this, these folks believe that we all have potential psychic powers. Bookstore shelves are crowded with books purporting to show people how they can use their latent psychic powers by developed the idling part of their brains.

The truth is this notion of using only a small fraction of our brain is a myth. Nevertheless, it is a strong myth because, to most people, the brain is quite mysterious. We all struggle with the stubbornness of our brains to work like we want them to. We forget simple things like someone's name, where we laid our keys, important meetings and multitude of other things we expect our brains to accomplish.

What scientists have discovered is that we use every part of our brain. In other words, all parts are working most of the time. This does not mean all parts of the brain are working all the time. It is true that when we are sleeping or resting, our brain may only be using ten percent of its capacity. That is like a car engine idling at a red light. There is still plenty of unused power that can be called upon when needed.

Moreever, within a twenty-four period, you will probably use all of your brain at some time. The brain is what drives the rest of our body. It has been determined that the brain consumes more energy per weight than any other part of our body. It only accounts for three percent of our body's weight (it weighs about three pounds). Even so, it consumes twenty percent of our body's energy.

Even when we sleep and are unconscious our brain is highly active. Those parts of our brain that control complex thinking and self-awareness are still on and functioning. Even such a simple act as getting a cup of coffee in the morning creates a tremendous outburst of activity within our entire brain in only a few seconds.

With all of our knowledge and continuing research of our brains, scientists are still puzzled about consciousness. No one area of the brain can be found to be responsible for this amazing feat called consciousness. There are also many other mysteries yet to be solved about how our brain works. As someone has said, it's not that we use ten percent of our brain, the real truth is that we only understand about ten percent of how it all works.

For more information on this topic you can go to the University of Washington website

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Emotional Intelligence

The concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI) was originally proposed by psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer in 1990. Over the years the original definition has moved through so many changes that it has lost almost all its meaning. It currently means different things to different people.

What did it originally mean? EI was created to describe someone’s ability to be aware of their own (and others) emotions accurately and then use this information to control their individual actions and thoughts. What this means is that someone with high EI can fully understand emotions by paying attention to them, understanding them and effectively managing them. This ability can then make the person more effective in many areas of life.

Since so much of this deals with a person’s mental ability, the originators of EI believed it was definitely another form of intelligence.

EI consists of four different but related parts that vary from the simple to the complex. The first level includes a person’s ability to accurately perceive emotions in others as well as in him or herself. The next level adds the ability to use this new information to pave the way for more effective thought processes.

The third level would include the ability to understand emotional states in other people. This is often done by being able to deduce how others feel, by listening to clues through their language, and noticing specific body language. Additionally, the person would also understand how they were conveying emotions to others through the signals of speech and body language.

Finally, the highest level of EI occurs when someone can manage their emotions in ways to help them achieve personal goals. People with the highest level of EI are sharply in tune to their own inner states. For example, they tend to be more accurate in detecting variations in their own heartbeat. They can also understand the reasons for what may happen because of their specific emotions. They can often accurately estimate how they feel about any future event that might trigger and emotional response in them.

Research in EI has shown that high levels of EI are often found in people who are more socially competent. They also have better quality relationships. Other people see them as being more sensitive than those with lower EI. People with lower EI scores experience more interpersonal conflicts and often have more behavior problems such as drug and alcohol abuse.
Emotional Intelligence can also affect one’s work relationships. As you can probably guess, managers get more work from employees if they, themselves, possess high EI. They were also rated as better performers by their own supervisors.

Drs. Salovey and Mayer give an example of what we might see and hear from a person with high Emotional Intelligence who uses all four levels of EI. They pretend someone is visiting a friend in the hospital who was brought in because of a car accident.

The first level is the awareness of emotions of self and others. Upon visiting his friend, this imaginary person "surveys the hospital room, the visiting relatives, and his unconscious friend. As he does so, he may wonder, ‘What is each family member feeling?’ Perhaps he perceives the worry and anxiety in their faces." Then he might wonder about his own emotions, Is he feeling guilty because he could have kept his friend from driving away from the party. He might also feel relief because he was not in the car with his friend.

The second level of EI would prompt him to use this information to think clearly and take appropriate action with others in the room. He might inquire about the health of his friend from the hospital staff and talk with family members to see how they are doing. This would be an example of how he would use emotional understanding to expedite his own thoughts.

As he begins to relate to the other people he might begin to engage the third level of EI by trying to understand their unspoken emotions and those he also felt. He might ask himself questions such as, "What sorts of feelings are common in such a situation?" and "How can these feelings be expected to change over time?" He would understand the shock the family is experiencing because he is aware that this is typical for something so severe and unexpected. He can expect that the family might have to begin dealing with more negative emotions in the near future.

Finally, he can use all this new information to help himself manage his own emotional state — as we teach in The Worry Free Life. If he has one or more of the unhealthy emotions, he can use his five-step procedure for minimizing them. If his painful emotions are healthy, he can use mindfulness to accept them and become stronger. When he has taken care of his own emotional state, he can then comfort the family and act as a compassionate and empathic listener.

You can see that if you are currently at a lower level of Emotional Intelligence, you can learn to gain greater skills for increasing your EI. We have an entire chapter on learning the skills of levels one and two. Other chapters will help you develop your Emotional Intelligence over time so that you can be more capable in your personal and interpersonal life.

This blog was adapted from an article in the journal, American Psychologist (September 2008, Vol. 63, No. 6, 503–517)

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Anger Management

Everyone has heard of anger management. You may have seen all the wacky interaction between Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler in the movie by the same name. Hollywood tends to make movies that people can identify with and the subject of anger is a common one. Anger problems are widespread. Check these examples:
  • 45% of us regularly lose our temper at work.

  • 64% of people working in an office have had office rage.

  • 27% of nurses have been attacked at work.

  • 33% of people are not on speaking terms with their neighbors.

  • 1 in 20 of us has had a fight with the person living next door.

  • Airlines reported 1,486 significant or serious acts of air rage in a year, a 59% increase over the previous year.

  • More than 80% of drivers say they have been involved in road rage incidents; 25% have committed an act of road rage themselves.

  • 71% of Internet users admit to having suffered net rage.

  • 50% of us have reacted to computer problems by hitting our PC, hurling parts of it around, screaming or abusing our colleagues.

The phrase, "anger management" is so common that it is generally accepted as an effective form of therapy for teaching people how to deal with their anger. Unfortunately, this assumption has never been tested scientifically. Anger management classes have been around since the 1980s and are instructional in nature. Some of the techniques use handouts, slogans, advice and sometimes role-playing. The big question here is whether anger management classes really help people.

Part of the problem in gauging effectiveness is that many people who attend anger management classes are ordered by courts to do so. Obviously, the motivation for change is externally imposed which does not bode well for lasting change.

Besides being forced to attend anger management classes, what are some of the other objections to current approaches to anger management? Some instructors tend to downplay the significance of inappropriate displays of anger rather than insisting that anger outbursts are seldom justified. Some of the skills taught don’t have any scientific validation that they are effective over the long run. An example of one such skill is redirecting anger to an inanimate object.

Perhaps one of the major shortcomings in anger management is not dealing with the issue of "behavior generalization." In other words, a person may do very well with his or her anger management skills during the classes. Unfortunately, this does not mean these skills will be effective in the real world as opposed to the virtual world of the classroom.

Some people in the legal system also have difficulty with anger management as a treatment. The National Institute of Justice has serious doubts about the effectiveness of anger management classes for men who batter their spouses. Their report claims that, in the case of spousal battering, anger management rarely addresses all the issues that underly the violent behavior. The legal system often sees how ineffective anger management can be.

One of the major problems facing the traditional anger management approach is the inability of the instructors to distinguish between anger and resentment. Both of these emotions are triggered from something outside of us that violates our sense of right and wrong. However, these emotions are very different from each other. Anger is healthy, resentment is not.

Problems occur when anger gets converted to or overtaken by resentment. Anger is healthy because it propels us to reasonably confront the source of any personal violation. On the other hand, resentment gets us to retaliate towards others. We think that revenge will correct or balance out what someone has done to us.

Anger and confrontation will allow the anger to eventually dissipate. Resentment and retaliation will most likely engage the other person’s resentment and retaliation so that the situation becomes an ongoing, never-ending feud. What most anger management programs don’t recognize is they are often not dealing with anger but rather with resentment. The most effective approach to managing resentment is to use the powerful tools of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).

As we point in chapter three of The Worry Free Life, this distinction between anger and resentment is crucial for dealing with painful emotions. Knowing which emotion we are feeling can help us chose the correct tool for dealing with it.

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