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My Election Choice

 

Almost there.  End of Election Day 2016.  In seriously considering how to be a good citizen in this election, I came across a sure fire one.  It’s research based, and all respected professionals agree with this one.

Communication in love = improved relationships.  

Yeah, that’s right.  I suckered you into reading this.  But why stop now?  This is good stuff!  

I’ve seen a lot of head-shaking and apathy this election season.  As a mental health specialist, I have been watching the behavioral and relational patterns of interactions, whether from leaders at a podium or the lay person on the street.  I actually DO see some really good communication patterns in some people who exhibit characteristics that follow.  But as I wrote about in a blog post entitled “Effective Communication” a few years back (right before the last election), the examples many of us see reflect abysmal communication styles.  Well, at least if we want to be respectful.  IF you’re attempting to minimize, disrespect, and emotionally distance, fair WARNING: do not read and apply the following.    

PAA

Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive Communication styles have very clear results in various settings (in case you are wondering, passive-aggression can often be placed as a subtype under aggressive).  Assertive communication is based on mutual respect, regardless of how much you disagree with the other person.  Abusive language or behavior are out of the question.  Assertiveness always involves respect.  You may strongly state a point or quietly listen, but finding an assertive sweet spot is key- speaking the truth in love, and sometimes learning to just close the mouth.  

Check out the Mayo Clinic’s thoughts on this one, or for organizational settings, look at Daniel Ames’ research at Columbia Business School.  

Turning Towards

The famous marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, found that turning towards a partner (which is not passive/casual agreement, but a positive stance of staying invested in one’s spouse), is significantly correlated with couples who stay together versus divorce.  This means that in every “bid” that’s made for attention or connection, the masters of marriage turn towards the other person most of the time.  I think there’s a lot to learn by studying successful couples’ interactions- after all, these are the people who are able to somehow stick with the same person for YEARS!!

Distress/Uncertainty Tolerance

Distress Tolerance is the ability to manage high levels of upset (distress), while staying grounded.  Intolerance of uncertainty (IU), seen especially in OCD and anxiety disorders, can be successfully redirected by developing Tolerance for Uncertainty.  Maybe the most common misconception with these are similar to misunderstanding forgiveness: to forgive doesn’t mean to just smile and approve.  These all involve character-building at a deep level of maturity where a person can still hold to what is true, while at the same time having peace when the world around seems (or is) out of control.  

Understanding

Back to Gottman.  He joined up with Anatol Rapoport to form an amazing Conflict Blueprint.  It involves working hard to really “get” what the other person is saying, and it recognizes underlying longings- and respects them- in the other person.  READ: NOT the same as adopting their perspective.  Furthermore, Softened Startup entails bringing something of significance and/or pain to another’s awareness, while staying gentle and guarding against criticism, blame, and shame.  

These things are actually really simple.  But they take discipline and deeper metamorphosis to bring about in daily life.  What can you do when all around you people communicate with disrespect and contempt?  Be a difference maker by communicating in love.  

That’s my election choice.  What’s yours?

Sincerely,

Justin K. Hughes

What A Year Off From Social Media Taught Me

This post has been updated and moved to my professional website.  You can find it here: www.justinkhughes.com.

Sex Sells (And How I Survived The Ebola Scare Of Dallas)

doctorWhile purchasing my Kung Pao Chicken with steamed rice yesterday, the young lady at the counter put on gloves to handle money (she normally doesn’t).  Though I always appreciate an extra measure of hygiene, she stated she was nervous about Ebola.  This week, the nation discovered that the first U.S. case of naturally occurring Ebola showed up in a patient at a hospital in Dallas.  Panic for some has ensued concerning Ebola- much more than other riskier conditions.  But why?

Let’s look at the numbers.  Tens of thousands of people die every flu-season from influenza in the U.S.  This number has peaked at 49,000 people per year, according to the CDC.  0 have died in the US from Ebola so far (as of October 3rd, 2014).  Zero.  Just over 3,300 people have died from Ebola- over the span of 50 years!  Don’t get me wrong, Ebola poses a significant threat and is not the same as the flu, but does it deserve some of the extreme responses it’s getting?  Is it reasonable for parts of Dallas to become a zoo?  Unfortunately, some media outlets are using fear to make a buck.  And people all over social media are blowing up posts of doom and gloom.  We all know the saying, “Sex Sells.”  But what does that have to do with Ebola?  A lot, I assure you.

I work regularly with disorders such as Panic, PTSD, OCD, Addiction, and Phobias.  The reasons a person experiences these problems is multi-faceted.  However, one of the commonalities of each is that they are “disorders of the limbic system.”

Neuroscience has offered some great insights into brain functioning in recent years.  Our Limbic System is a section of the lower rear brain where much of our protective instincts, sexual drive, and hunger drive is thought to originate.  This is different from the Prefrontal Cortex, which is where our “executive” functioning comes in- using self-control, deciding how to approach situations- rational thought.  Of course both are important (these are simplistic definitions).  If something triggers our fight/flight/freeze response, it is mostly originating in the limbic system.  These responses can help us gear-up for survival and protection (think: Bear Grylls).  Many problems that occur in life are ones born out of managing our limbic system: fear, anger, difficulty controlling desires, and an inability to regulate emotions.

A case in point, with panic disorder, a client will feel overwhelming physical and/or mental duress, and their anxiety will shoot through the roof for a short period of time- all in the absence of a threat to their immediate well-being.  In counseling, my job is to help clients find hope and experience freedom in the midst of this.  And this goes contrary to being controlled by the limbic system.

Back to Ebola.  How do we handle a threat such as this?  We face it for what it is.  One of the most important things in mental health is to tell ourselves the truth.  If we face reality for what it is- good, bad, and ugly- we will respond soberly.  And this gives us a better ability to confront threats for what they are: to make smart decisions about health and contamination, research options available and new possibilities, accept what can’t be changed, and find peace in the midst of suffering.  Then we can evaluate what is or is not a threat- realistically.  This is a powerful counter for limbic system disorders.

But wait, that doesn’t sell.  It doesn’t grab people’s attention.  To stay rational and at peace, we usually have to go counter-cultural to messages around us.  Many people get rich every day playing off of people’s limbic system reactions (remember, sex sells).  If we can market to the brain’s “pleasure center,” people will crave more.  If we can rouse fear, attention will be won.  If we can play off of a sense of not being good enough without the newest gadget, any product can be sold.

Messages swirl around us at all times, including mixed messages about Ebola.  How will you handle it?  How will you respond?  Sex sells.  Fear sells.  But you get to choose what you buy.

Yours Truly,

Justin

What is Love?

For many, a popular electronic song of the 90’s came to mind when you saw that title.  I certainly hope so.  It’s an amazing song.  It’s also an amazing question.  What is love, really?  I love my parents; I love fall weather; I love guitar; I love burgers.  But what does it mean?  The ancient Greeks had multiple words for love, so we will “Greek-out” in exploring multiple definitions of this simple word. 

Let’s start with the definition that’s maybe the most commonly used (and abused)- eros.  The English word “erotic” comes from this word.  Defined as romantic and/or sexual love, it comes and goes quickly.  This is usually what is meant when someone says they are “in love.”  It is passionate, intense, and usually finds itself in short bursts; it is not maintained at a constant rate. 

Phileo is the concept of “brotherly love,” or love between friends.  This entails taking special interest in someone and building a connection.  There is commonly enjoyment that is experienced with phileo.   As it grows, it often develops into loyalty.  It is love based on give-and-take.

The third word we will explore is storge.  Translated as ‘affection,’ it is based on familiarity and the natural flow of roles- as found in a family.  Present in close relationships, it can be easy to expect this as a way of life.  Storge may take the form of a hug when you leave the house, an “I love you” at the end of a phone call, or helping complete a task for someone.  This acceptance of others does not require passion or excitement.  Another way to look at it is “motherly love.”

The last word is agape.  Unconditional at its core, this love gives and expects nothing in return.  Regardless of the circumstance or reason, this is a love that, well, loves- despite feelings or reasons to the contrary.  In the Bible, when it says “God is love,” (in 1 John 1:8) this is the word that’s being used.  In Matthew 5:44, “love your enemies” is agape love; it is freely given, not under compulsion or fear- but chosen. 
 

What is love?  What definition do you use when you say “love”?  Which one do you want to use?  This post is intentionally different from the rest in that I usually give a takeaway application.  This time, I leave the application to you.  In the midst of Black FridayCyber Monday, Christmas shopping, end of the year company goals, determining tax deductions, and the like, will you take a second to ponder these meanings and how they are relevant to you?  May you be blessed in this season.  

Yours truly,

Justin

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Intensity vs. Intimacy

Possibly the simplest definition of intimacy is this: knowing another and being known.  Intensity is defined as strength, power, or force- in relationship terms, it’s getting a surge of whatever makes a person feel good.  Intimacy is developed over time, with patience, with love, with understanding, with compassion, with sacrifice.  Intensity happens quickly and fades quickly- it is not long lasting.  Those that trade it for intimacy will find themselves dissatisfied and using people like objects.

The implications of this are profound.  It has changed the way I look at relationships.  I have been a “thrill-seeker.”  Oh no, you never would see me cliff-diving, jumping out of airplanes, or swimming with sharks.  I learned to seek intensity in subtle ways- especially with people.  I would feed off of the praise of others; I would pursue the “high” of new connections; I would live for recognition.  I became aware of this through support, seeing my own counselor, and study.  You see, I made a major error- I substituted intensity for intimacy.

They are not the same thing.

This concept is important in understanding Addiction, Bipolar, Personality Disorders, and just plain ol’ dysfunctional relationship patterns.  For instance, with addiction, a person adapts to the world and copes using a substance or person or thing as if it were a relationship- gaining comfort, support, investing time and energy, and to soothe pain.  I commonly hear addicts say that their addiction became their best friend.  Of course, the problem with relying on an intense “high” to feel better is that our brains weren’t made to sustain constant highs.  Our brains will normalize to constant surges of feel-good intensity (aka, dopamine highs), and then we naturally begin to feel depressed when we don’t have this now “normal” high.  The classic term for this is ‘tolerance.’ 

Healthy relationships don’t run on constant highs.  Hear me out: good, healthy relationships can give the greatest satisfaction and offer wonderful highs.  But this is not all the time.  They require consistency, work, patience, suffering, and perseverance.  This goes way beyond just romantic relationships.  Running after intensity leaves a person “high and dry,” trying to be satisfied in ways they were not created to be fulfilled.  The substitute kills.  The real thing fulfills.
 
Yours truly,
~Justin

Effective Communication

From a counseling perspective, when I study communication between politicians, businesses, and portrayals in the media, I often shake my head.  It’s pretty bleak.  Some of the very same dysfunctional communication that happens in unhappy and unsuccessful relationships is often present in these environments- and shown as an example.

Effective communication, like most anything else of value, takes work and practice.  Unfortunately, a lot of models of communication from environments like those listed above are about winning and being “one-up” from another person.  You will never get very close to another if this is your stance.  True intimacy is knowing someone and being known by them- not putting another down, trying to win, or being “right.”    

When I was a counseling intern, I was struck by a question my supervisor posed to a client in group therapy: “Do you want to win the argument or keep your spouse?”  Good question.  What are our priorities?  It’s a good idea to look at them.  Because whatever you ultimately are seeking will come through in your communication patterns.  Do you truly seek to understand, to know, and to connect?  Or are you trying to win, to defeat, and to be the big-shot?    

  

Here’s a few helpful pointers on assertive and kind communication:

-Mutual respect (their thoughts/feelings matter, and so do yours)

-Reflect (share) what you think you heard

-Strive to understand what the other REALLY means

-Ask lots of questions

-Be concise, if possible

-Say no when it’s called for

-Be direct

-If reasonable, thank the person for sharing

-Let another person know they are important

-To love and care for another requires that you set healthy boundaries

-Ask the other person how you can approach something

-Use “I” statements (saying “you,” especially in conflict, often comes across as blaming)

-Remember you are human– be patient with others as they are, too

 

 

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How Do I Change Somebody?

How do I change somebody?  I often ask this question in my therapy groups at a psychiatric hospital.  Quite insightfully, I actually hear most people respond with, “You can’t.”  That’s right.Image 

Often, it hurts us deeply to see someone struggling, suffering, anguishing- especially if we think we have an answer or solution.  But here is a difficult principle to swallow, but a necessary one: If a functioning adult chooses to be unhealthy or ill, we cannot stop them.  Not accepting this will lead us to get “sick” ourselves and join in the “crazy-making.” 

We can change ourselves, though.  And an effective way to motivate change in others is to influence them.  Think of a difficult relationship you are in or have had.  Then think of it like two gear cogs.  As long as you are engaged with the “craziness,” it continues in both people like gears spinning out of control.  But if one person steps back and changes, it automatically alters the dynamic.  The other person HAS to change if they want to stay engaged with you.  In other words, if you approach something differently than normal, the other person has to do something different- it cannot stay the same- even if the change means that they refuse to be different and you don’t allow yourself to be controlled. 

Five WORST Ways To Job Hunt

Some of your best guesses might be, well, not good ones.  Just because your ideas are intuitive and creative does not mean they will land you a job.  

According to the world’s most popular career manual, What Color Is Your Parachute- 2012 (pp. 58-68), Richard Nelson Bolles identifies a 4-10% rate of success finding a job through an employer’s internet job posting.  At a 7% success rate is mailing/posting your resume to an employer.  Also successful 7% of the time is answering ads in professional journals in your field.  5-24% goes to local newspaper ads.  Finally, going to firms or agencies that search for you only bags a 5-28% rate.  

Finding your passion, what you are good at, and what “makes you tick” are no small tasks.  Seeking out a trained career counselor can be an important first step in figuring out not only your next job, but why you do what you do and finding fulfillment in it.  There are various approaches used, involving everything from career and personality testing to addressing barriers of substance abuse and mental health problems.  

Okay, so what are  the MOST successful ways to land a job?  1)  33% rate of success: ask for leads from friends, family, and staff at career centers.  2) 47% success: Literally show up at a place that interests you and knock on the door.  3)  65%: after locating places of interest through Yellow Pages, etc., call or visit employers in that field and ask if the type of position you do well is hiring.  4)  70%: doing #4 while in a group with other job-hunters.  5)  Finally, at a whopping 86% success rate is doing an inventory of yourself.  

There are no magic bullets.  No quick fixes.  These approaches take work and dedication.  Check out Bolles’ book for more detailed information.  The worst thing you can do is go at this alone!

 

 

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