Category Archives: Human Behaviour

Patterns in human behaviour – why we are all more similar than we think

4 Tips for raising happy, emotionally healthy children

 

parents photo

4 Tips for raising happy, emotionally healthy children

It can be tough raising happy, emotionally healthy children in a world that is so full of emotionally unhealthy people. Children spend at least twelve years in an educational system that is sadly, ill-prepared for teaching our children how to manage their emotions effectively and how to deal with stress. In a world so sorely lacking in good advice and positive role models for children, the onus falls on parents more than ever to equip their children with effective mental skills and strategies to encourage resilience and staying power when the going gets tough.

Here are a few tips on how to better equip your children to navigate through their emotional world and cultivate mental and emotional strength.

Encourage emotional expression

Helping children to identify their emotions without judging the emotion as good or bad is a healthy way to teach children to own their feelings and be self aware. Emotion is a normal part of life and allowing children to express them helps children to accept and deal with their emotions rather than suppressing them. When children are taught to suppress emotions (eg. boys don’t cry, be a big girl now…) this suppression can lead to anxiety, depression and possible panic attacks. A panic attack occurs when a child denies their emotions – the emotion gets pushed down and the body is forced to ‘push it out’ on a physical level – that energy has to be released some how. Identify and label emotions.

Exhibit pro-social modelling

Be a positive role model and let your children see how you deal with your emotions. Children learn by observation and they will watch how you deal with your own anger, frustration and sadness. Some parents try to hide their emotions from their children but this is a bad idea as you are depriving your children of the chance to see what you do with your emotions. Let them see you sad or angry and show them how to deal with these emotions appropriately. Talk it over with someone, get some fresh air or exercise – whatever you do, make sure your children sometimes see how you deal with your emotional landscape – this is very valuable learning for them.

Teach psychological flexibility

It’s not so much what happens to us but rather how we perceive what happens to us that can make or break us. Bad things happen, yes and there is no way to make something bad seem good but the story we tell ourself can lessen the distress we feel. For example, if we fail at something, we could start an internal dialogue that goes something like this, “Nothing ever goes right for me. This just shows what a loser I am. What’s the point of even trying? I just fail at everything”. OR we could tell ourselves this story instead, “I failed and it sucks but that doesn’t mean I am a failure – it’s just that what I tried didn’t work.” The second self-talk dialogue will lead to a lot less stress than the first one. This is the beauty of psychological flexibility. There is ALWAYS more than one way to look at a situation. Thoughts lead to feelings and then behaviour. Ensure you teach your children to manage their thinking process and not catastrophise.

Preserve self esteem

Never tell your children that they are stupid. Always separate the behaviour from the child. What they did may not be ideal but never label the child as “bad, stupid, fat or lazy”. Love your children unconditionally. Your love for them should never depend upon achievement of any kind. Teach them that they are fundamentally valuable just as they are. Never compare them to others – each child has their own individual strengths. Learn to love your children just as they are. If you feel disappointment on any level – question whether it is your issue rather than your child’s issue. For instance, if your child doesn’t seem to have many friends, do not make an issue of it if they seem happy enough. If you imply that they should have more friends, you may inadvertently leave them feeling inadequate. Always check whether the issue is your own before addressing it with your child.

Parenting unfortunately does not come with an instruction manual and no parent gets through without making mistakes. Being informed is a great way though to try avoid some of the more common mistakes.

Mandy X

 

 

 

The Bystander Effect

  bystander effect

The Bystander Effect

The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation.

If you witnessed an emergency happening right before your eyes,  would you help? We’d all like to believe that this is t, psychologists suggest that whether or not you intervene might depend upon the number of other witnesses present.

Understanding the Effect

The term bystander effect refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress.

 

When an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses. Being part of a large crowd makes it so no single person has to take responsibility for an action (or inaction).

In a series of classic studies, researchers Bibb Latane and John Darley  found that the amount of time it takes the participant to take action and seek help varies depending on how many other observers are in the room. In one experiment, subjects were placed in one of three treatment conditions: alone in a room, with two other participants or with two confederates who pretended to be normal participants.

As the participants sat filling out questionnaires, smoke began to fill the room. When participants were alone, 75% reported the smoke to the experimenters. In contrast, just 38% of participants in a room with two other people reported the smoke. In the final group, the two confederates in the experiment noted the smoke and then ignored it, which resulted in only 10% of the participants reporting the smoke.

 

Additional experiments by Latane and Rodin (1969) found that while 70 percent would help a woman in distress when they were the only witness, only about 40 percent offered assistance when other people were also present.

Example of the Bystander Effect

The most frequently cited example of the bystander effect in introductory psychology textbooks is the brutal murder of a young woman named Catherine “Kitty” Genovese.

 

On Friday, March 13, 1964, 28-year-old Genovese was returning home from work. As she approached her apartment entrance, she was attacked and stabbed by a man later identified as Winston Moseley.

Despite Genovese’s repeated calls for help, none of the dozen or so people in the nearby apartment building who heard her cries called the police to report the incident. The attack first began at 3:20 AM, but it was not until 3:50 AM that someone first contacted police.

Initially reported in a 1964 New York Times article, the story sensationalized the case and reported a number of factual inaccuracies. While frequently cited in psychology textbooks, an article in the September 2007 issue of American Psychologist concluded that the story is largely misrepresented mostly due to the inaccuracies repeatedly published in newspaper articles and psychology textbooks.

While Genovese’s case has been subject to numerous misrepresentations and inaccuracies, there have been numerous other cases reported in recent years.

 

The bystander effect can clearly have a powerful impact on social behavior, but why exactly does it happen? Why don’t we help when we are part of a crowd?

Explanations for the Bystander Effect

There are two major factors that contribute to the bystander effect.

First, the presence of other people creates a diffusion of responsibility. Because there are other observers, individuals do not feel as much pressure to take action, since the responsibility to take action is thought to be shared among all of those present.

The second reason is the need to behave in correct and socially acceptable ways. When other observers fail to react, individuals often take this as a signal that a response is not needed or not appropriate. Other researchers have found that onlookers are less likely to intervene if the situation is ambiguous. In the case of Kitty Genovese, many of the 38 witnesses reported that they believed that they were witnessing a “lover’s quarrel,” and did not realize that the young woman was actually being murdered.

Characteristics of the situation can play a role. During a crisis, things are often chaotic and the situation is not always crystal clear. Onlookers might wonder exactly what is happening. During such chaotic moments, people often look to others in the group to determine what is appropriate. When people look at the crowd and see that no one else is reacting, it sends a signal that perhaps no action is needed.

Can You Prevent the Bystander Effect?

So what can you do to avoid falling into this trap of inaction? Some psychologists suggest that simply being aware of this tendency is perhaps the greatest way to break the cycle. When faced with a situation that requires action, understanding how the bystander effect might be holding you back and consciously taking steps to overcome it can help. However, this does not mean you should place yourself in danger.

But what if you are the person in need of assistance? How can you inspire people to lend a hand? One often-recommended tactic is to single out one person from the crowd. Make eye contact and ask that individual specifically for help. By personalizing and individualizing your request, it becomes much harder for people to turn you down.

 

Mandy X

Sources:

https://www.verywell.com/what-is-diffusion-of-responsibility-2795095

Darley, J. M. & Latané, B. (1969). Bystander “apathy.” American Scientist, 57, 244-268.

Latané, B. and Darley, J. M. (1970) The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn’t he help?Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Manning, R., Levine, M. & Collins, A. (2007). The Kitty Genovese murder and the social psychology of helping: The parable of the 38 witnesses. American Psychologist, 2007;62(6): 555-562.

Soloman, L.Z, Solomon, H., & Stone, R. (1978). Helping as a function of number of bystanders and ambiguity of emergency. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4, 318-321.

Perception vs reality

 

perception photo

Perception vs reality

Think of your perception of reality as your ‘map’. Think of reality as the ‘territory’. Perception vs reality is an important factor in how we live our lives and how successful we are at picking up on what is really going on. Over the years I have listened to many people’s stories, especially all the ways things can go wrong.Our parents teach us what they have learned. Along with this information, comes biases, prejudices and faulty assumptions which leads to our maps not quite fitting the territory. Our perceptions are ultimately distorted and stop fitting reality and this is where many problems come in.

We look for evidence that confirm our beliefs about the world and this, in turn, reinforces our perceptions and distorts what we see. I have seen many clients whose map is so far removed from the territory that they no longer actively engage with the world in a productive way that makes sense. People with severe anxiety and depression often have distorted maps and this causes them to only focus on certain negative aspects of reality in order to make sense of their thoughts and perceptions.

When it comes to perception vs reality, always look for the evidence in reality that supports your thinking/perceptions. This is one way to avoid upsetting and unhelpful thinking from getting the better of us. Cognitive behavioural therapy regularly refers to unhelpful thinking styles that tend to add to our stress. Thoughts such as: black and white (all or nothing) thinking, personalising (blaming ourselves for things that have nothing to do with us), catastrophising, emotional reasoning (I feel upset therefore something MUST be wrong), mind reading (thinking we know what others are thinking) and so on.

We have a lot of flexibility in the thoughts we want to choose to make sense of reality. Make sure you choose these thoughts wisely – ones that are reasonable, based on evidence as much as possible (rather than assumptions) and provide you with positive feelings.

Mandy X

PS. In times of distress, check what you have been telling yourself (your perceptions and thoughts of the reality) and always ask yourself “What can I tell myself that will make me feel better about this situation?” Always look for alternative ways to look at something – they are always there.

How Thinking affects brain chemistry

 

brain photo

How Thinking affects brain chemistry

 

It’s been proven over and over again that just thinking about something causes your brain to release neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that allow it to communicate with parts of itself and your nervous system. Neurotransmitters control virtually all of your body’s functions, from hormones to digestion to feeling happy, sad, or stressed.

Studies have shown that thoughts alone can improve vision, fitness, and strength. The placebo effect, as observed with fake operations and sham drugs for example, works because of the power of thought. Expectancies and learned associations have been shown to change brain chemistry and circuitry which results in real physiological and cognitive outcomes, such as less fatigue, lower immune system reaction, elevated hormone levels, and reduced anxiety.

According to Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist, founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom,  humans are evolutionarily wired with a negativity bias. In other words, our minds naturally focus on the bad and discard the good. This is because it was much more important for our ancestors to avoid threats than to collect rewards: An individual who successfully avoided a threat would wake up the next morning and have another opportunity to collect a reward, but an individual who didn’t avoid the threat would have no such opportunity.

Thus, the human brain evolved to focus on threats. Millennials are no stranger to stress and depression, especially when it’s work related—a recent study reported that around 20 percent of Millennials sought out help or advice in the workplace for depression—a higher percentage than any other generation. According to the Status of Women in the States report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Millennial women ages 18-34 report an average of 4.9 days of poor mental health per month, while Millennial men report an average of 3.6 poor mental health days. Our brains are highly attuned to stress, even when such stress is of the mundane variety and not at all life threatening.

“Negative stimuli produce more neural activity than do equally intense (e.g., loud, bright) positive ones, Hanson writes on his website. “They are also perceived more easily and quickly. For example, people in studies can identify angry faces faster than happy ones; even if they are shown these images so quickly (just a tenth of a second or so) that they cannot have any conscious recognition of them, the ancient fight-or-flight limbic system of the brain will still get activated by the angry faces.”

Hanson describes the brain as like “Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” While some individuals may be inherently more optimistic than others, it’s generally true that in order for positive experiences to “stick” in our brains as well as negative ones do, these positive experiences need to be held in our consciousness for a longer period of time.

“The alarm bell of your brain — the amygdala (you’ve got two of these little almond-shaped regions, one on either side of your head) — uses about two-thirds of its neurons to look for bad news: it’s primed to go negative,” writes Hanson. “Once it sounds the alarm, negative events and experiences get quickly stored in memory — in contrast to positive events and experiences, which usually need to be held in awareness for a dozen or more seconds to transfer from short-term memory buffers to long-term storage.”

How negative thinking changes the brain

The more that an individual’s thought patterns trend negative and slip into rumination—continually turning over a situation in one’s mind and focusing on its negative aspects—the easier it becomes to return automatically to these thought patterns.

That’s not so great for our health. According to a blog post on Psychology Today, ruminating can damage the neural structures that regulate emotions, memory, and feelings. Even when our stress and worry is completely hypothetical and not based on any real or current situation, the amygdala and the thalamus (which helps communicate sensory and motor signals) aren’t able to differentiate this hypothetical stress from the kind that actually needs to be listened to.

Cortisol, a stress hormone, breaks down the hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps form new memories. Most people experience a peak of cortisol in the morning, but it can also spike throughout the day in response to stress. The more cortisol that’s released in response to negative experiences and thoughts, the more difficult it can become, over time, to form new positive memories.

In neuroscience, the expression “neurons that fire together, wire together” describes “experience-dependent neuroplasticity”—essentially, the concept that our brains are shaped by our thoughts and experiences. According to Hanson, the synapses in our brains that fire frequently become more sensitive. Our experiences and thoughts can lead to the growth of new synapses and even change our genes, altering the very structure of our brain. Or, as Hanson writes, “the brain takes its shape from what the mind rests upon.”

If you’re prone to negative thinking, this might seem disheartening. It’s easy to assume that we have no control over our thoughts. After all, they often pop up out of nowhere, and when rumination takes hold, it can be difficult to break its grip (I would know, I’m an accomplished ruminator). But the good news—and the basis of much of Hanson’s work—is that it ispossible to change our thought patterns and even “hardwire happiness” into our brains (which is the title of Hanson’s 2013 book).

If I were to put you into an MRI scanner—a huge donut-shaped magnet that can take a video of the neural changes happening in your brain—and flash the word “NO” for less than one second, you’d see a sudden release of dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. These chemicals immediately interrupt the normal functioning of your brain, impairing logic, reason, language processing, and communication.

In fact, just seeing a list of negative words for a few seconds will make a highly anxious or depressed person feel worse, and the more you ruminate on them, the more you can actually damage key structures that regulate your memory, feelings, and emotions.[1] You’ll disrupt your sleep, your appetite, and your ability to experience long-termhappiness and satisfaction.

If you vocalize your negativity, or even slightly frown when you say “no,” more stress chemicals will be released, not only in your brain, but in the listener’s brain as well.[2] The listener will experience increased anxiety and irritability, thus undermining cooperation and trust. In fact, just hanging around negative people will make you more prejudiced toward others![3]

Any form of negative rumination—for example, worrying about your financial future or health—will stimulate the release of destructive neurochemicals. And the same holds true for children: the more negative thoughts they have, the more likely they are to experience emotional turmoil.[4] But if you teach them to think positively, you can turn their lives around.[5]

Negative thinking is also self perpetuating, and the more you engage in negative dialogue—at home or at work—the more difficult it becomes to stop.[6] But negative words, spoken with anger, do even more damage. They send alarm messages through the brain, interfering with the decision making centers in the frontal lobe, and this increases a person’s propensity to act irrationally.

Fear-provoking words—like poverty, illness, and death—also stimulate the brain in negative ways.  And even if these fearful thoughts are not real, other parts of your brain (like the thalamus and amygdala) react to negative fantasies as though they were actual threats occurring in the outside world. Curiously, we seem to be hardwired to worry—perhaps an artifact of old memories carried over from ancestral times when there were countless threats to our survival.[7]

In order to interrupt this natural propensity to worry, several steps can be taken. First, ask yourself this question:  “Is the situation really a threat to my personal survival?” Usually it isn’t, and the faster you can interrupt the amygdala’s reaction to an imagined threat, the quicker you can take action to solve the problem. You’ll also reduce the possibility of burning a permanent negative memory into our brain.[8]

After you have identified the negative thought (which often operates just below the level of everyday consciousness), your can reframe it by choosing to focus on positive words and images. The result: anxiety and depression decreases and the number of unconscious negative thoughts decline.

Making the association between thoughts and our brain chemistry is crucial in understanding the link between our thinking and our physical and mental health. Thinking rationally and trying to look for positives has far more benefits that many of us realise, or even really understand.

Mandy X

 

Source/References:

 

How Your Thoughts Change Your Brain, Cells, And Genes

http://www.attn.com/stories/2587/what-negative-thinking-does-your-brain

The quickest routes to unhappiness

 

routes to unhappiness

thoughtsonlifeandlove.com

The quickest routes to unhappiness

We can often be our own worst enemies, engaging in behaviours that lead us down routes to unhappiness. Here are the most common ways that we end up unhappy:

Overthinking

The more time you have to worry endlessly about something, the more likely you are to feel unhappy. Rumination tends to lead us to negative thinking and a whole lot of “what if” thinking. If you find yourself going over the same topic in your mind without looking for an active solution – distract yourself. When you are in your mind, you are in enemy territory. Learn to become a better ‘thought manager’. Distinguish between real (the car has broken down) and hypothetical (“what if…”) thinking. Ask yourself if your worry is something you can/can’t control and take action if there is something you can do. Worry in itself is wasted energy. It’s a myth that it keeps you safe and prepared. Life is uncertain – accept it.

Making comparisons

Comparing yourself to others is never a good idea, especially if you compare yourself in a negative way. You don’t really know what is going on in someone else’s life. Stop focusing on them and focus on your own life and where you want to be. The less you focus and compare, the happier you will be – it’s that simple.

Living by too many rules

The more rules you tend to live by, the more anxious and unhappy you are likely to be. The more rules, which often take the form of “if this…then that”, the more often they will be broken – leading to tension and anxiety. We all have ‘rules for living’. One of mine is: If I don’t please others, they won’t like me. This rule for living leads me to agree to do things I often don’t want to do or don’t really have the time for. This leads me to feeling time pressure and I feel less happy as a result. The more flexible you can be in your thinking the better…let the rules go.

Chasing the wrong things

When we feel under threat, we look for immediate ways to self soothe and feel better. This could be alcohol, drugs, shopping, having illicit affairs and so on. This works for a short while but the original threat usually returns and then we turn to the negative unhelpful behaviour once again. Research suggests that the things that tend to make us happy include experiences, friends and family rather than material possessions. Spending time with others, bonding and connecting, releases the chemical oxytocin – a long lasting ‘happy hormone’ that the body releases. Get your priorities straight and have a plan and a direction.

Living with no purpose

Have you set yourself clear short term and long term goals? A little structure in life and a sense of purpose can do wonders for self esteem and confidence, thereby increasing happiness levels. Make sure you have something to work towards and check regularly that you are on track and going in the right direction. Help others, donate to a charity and spread some kindness in the world. It leads to happiness.

Living in the past or the future

Get back to being present in your life. When we live in the past or we live in the future, we aren’t fully engaged with the current moment and this is the moment of ‘power’. Learn to be more mindful and really enjoy where you are – the physical environment around you.

Try This:

Focus on 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Relish the moment.

The above definitely challenge your ability to be happy – make an effort to stop doing them and you might just realise that happiness is possible.

Mandy X

The difference between passive, aggressive and assertive behaviour

passive aggressive assertive

The difference between passive, aggressive and assertive behaviour

Communication Styles

 

 

 

 

Passive

 

 

 

 

 

Assertive

 

 

 

Aggressive

 

 

General Compliant, submissive, talks little, vague non-committal communication, puts self down, praises others

 

“I don’t mind…that’s fine….yes alright”

Actions and expressions fit with words spoken, firm but polite and clear messages, respectful of self and others

 

“That’s a good idea, and how about if we did this too…” or “I can see that, but I’d really like…”

 

Sarcastic, harsh, always right, superior, know it all, interrupts, talks over others, critical, put-downs, patronising, disrespectful of others

 

“This is what we’re doing, if you don’t like it, tough”

Beliefs You’re okay, I’m not

Has no opinion other than that the other person/s are always more important, so it doesn’t matter what they think anyway

I’m okay, you’re okay

Believes or acts as if all the individuals involved are equal, each deserving of respect, and no more entitled than the other to have things done their way

 

I’m okay, you’re not

Believe they are entitled to have things done their way, the way they want it to be done, because they are right, and others (and their needs) are less important

 

Eyes Avoids eye contact, looks down, teary, pleading Warm, welcoming, friendly, comfortable eye contact

 

Narrow, emotion-less, staring, expressionless
Posture Makes body smaller – stooped, leaning, hunched shoulders

 

 

Relaxed, open, welcoming Makes body bigger – upright, head high, shoulders out, hands on hips, feet apart
Hands Together, fidgety, clammy

 

Open, friendly and appropriate gestures Pointing fingers, making fists, clenched, hands on hips

 

Consequences Give in to others, don’t get what we want or need, self-critical thoughts, miserable

 

Good relationships with others, happy with outcome and to compromise Make enemies, upset others and self, feel angry and resentful

 

Why love is important

 

 

love photo

 

Why Love is Important

Feeling connected to others is one of life’s most fulfilling experiences, research has shown this repeatedly, yet in the manufactured world we live in, love seems to take a back seat to status, power and money.

I used to work in an old age home and when we get down to basics, the important things that remain are friends and family. I never saw a degree up on the wall or a photo of a house or car. It was all about the people.

A lack of social support and human connection can have long-lasting negative effects such as , depression, lowered immune function, and higher blood pressure.

Sustaining good connections protects our health and happiness far more than many of us realise. Love gives us the strength to cope with the tough times.

A survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research, as Roshan D Bhondekar shared in Love – The Key to Optimism: Path Toward Happiness, found that 5,000 agreed that doubling your group of friends has the same positive effect on your well-being as a 50% increase in income!

Love makes more of an impact than money does and far outweighs the material things we chase in terms of long term fulfillment. Hugs release a chemical oxytocin that releases a feel good factor.

It makes sense to spend time with people you love and to nurture friendships – this truly is where contentment lies.

Mandy X

Ask for what you want

ask for what you want

 

Ask for what you want

Personal responsibility means making it your job to let others know what you want without expecting them to automatically know. You might hint at what you really want and feel the other person should ‘get the message’ but the reality is, if you haven’t put your wishes out there and expressed them, you cannot expect the other person to mind read.

Getting into the habit of expressing yourself and being assertive is incredibly empowering. Asking for what you want does come with the risk of being told “No” but isn’t that better than never having the chance to get your needs met?

I have a brilliant personal example of when I failed to clearly ask for what I want:

I was 7 months pregnant and I had just returned from a week in hospital with a lung infection. The day after I returned home, my partner had planned to go with this parents on a bush safari for one week. We were living in South Africa at the time and his parents were visiting South Africa for the first time (they lived in Europe). My partner said that they didn’t speak English that well and although they had one of their other adult sons with them, my partner felt they needed his guidance.

Instead of asking for what I want and letting my partner know that I would like him to stay with me, I didn’t say anything all the while hoping he would choose me over his parents. He had, to his credit, said he would stay if I really wanted him to and I had given a vague answer.

So, he chose to go with his parents and I ended up resenting him for the whole week that he was away. Asking for what you want isn’t always that clear cut – If I had asked him to stay and he did, I probably would have felt guilty about his parents not having time with him. So, it is a toss up between the lesser of two evils. The point I am trying to make is that if you don’t ask and the other person doesn’t do what you’d like, you only have yourself to blame.

Learn to ask for what you want more often, see what happens. If you don’t ask you will never know and you will be amazed at how often others will try to meet those needs if you express them clearly.

Mandy X