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Logic or Emotion? Which Mental Faculty is Superior?


Introduction

Many people believe that rationality or logic is the supreme mental faculty and that it ought to be viewed as superordinate to emotion. This notion dates back to antiquity and was made most explicit in Plato’s famed dialogue, Timaeus. In this piece, Plato describes how humankind was first created by a supreme deity who crafted humans into spherical heads devoid of sub-cranial bodies. He argued that humans were fashioned in such a way because the head was considered the seat of rationality and logic, and that a head devoid of the rest of the body was the perfect human form. However, as these heads traveled along the earth’s jagged surface, their physical integrity became compromised, and they suffered ongoing disfigurement. As a remedy to such a problem, the subordinate gods, also known as demiurges, created sub-cranial bodies to attach to these heads, but these bodies were believed to have been imbued with instinctual appetites and emotions. Plato and his acolytes believed that such bodies were impediments to the rule of the idealized faculty of reason. This isn’t a surprise given that he was a philosopher, and traditionally, philosophers tend to elevate logic above all else. Given that emotion (i.e., anger, sadness, anxiety, grief, disappointment, etc.) and bodily appetites (i.e., hunger, sexual desire, etc.) were associated with the lower parts of the body, as opposed to the elevated head which was associated with idealized rationality, emotions and bodily states came to be viewed as lower human attributes and problematic annoyances. It was believed that humans would be better off if they could simply dispense with their emotions and bodily urges and operate as pure rationalists. Consequently, ancient people who subscribed to the platonic view believed that death was considered the preferred state. This belief was held because death, or the complete disintegration of the body, would enable individuals to divorce themselves from their lower nature, which was believed to be mediated by their sub-cranial physical forms. Ultimately, the idea was that after death, people would return to their original perfect form as disembodied rational souls.

Although most modern people don’t literally subscribe to Plato’s origin myth about the perfect human form, it would appear that they act as if they do when they say things like, “logic over emotions,” “mind over matter,” or they enjoin people to “think and not be so emotional.” Clearly, rationality can be helpful, as we all benefit from what is arguably the most laudable manifestation of rationality — modern science. Through science, we can divorce the objective world from subjective or emotional projections, and it’s why many modern people no longer view epilepsy as demonic possession, but rather the haywire misfiring of neurons. Thus, rather than attempting to exorcise people, medical professionals prescribe anticonvulsant medications or perform neurosurgery. I mention this because I am by no means a foe of rationality, but I contend that the notion that emotion is inferior to rationality is erroneous. I believe that emotion, bodily appetites, and logic are all necessary faculties that ought to be held on the same plane. Within this article, what’s to follow is a disquisition on how rationality and emotion are both of equal value, and I argue that people ought to aim at integrating these faculties into a united whole, as opposed to elevating one faculty at the expense of the other.

The Problems Associated with Pure Rationality 

For people that view rationality as superior to emotion, they ought to consider the fact that establishing a moral ethic devoid of emotions would be incomplete and result in nothing more than a shallow and cold utilitarianism. A paragon of this position is Sheldon from the show, Big Bang Theory. He is a cognitively astute hyper-intellectual but woefully devoid of social grace due to his underdeveloped emotional capacity. His social foibles and people’s disapproving responses to him suggest that the part and parcel hallmark of a sound moral ethic is the generation of correct feeling as opposed to correct thought. For example, one can act in an incredibly moral way without being able to articulate the “correct” reasons for doing so. 

Interestingly, neuroscientists and psychologists have actually found that when people enter the world, emotions are necessarily primary, and thoughts later become secondary mechanisms used to justify them (Heidt, 2012). I say that emotions are necessarily primary, because in the most rudimentary stages of development, children are not particularly rational thinkers or verbally fluent. This is why when a child enters the world, the right hemisphere of their brain is more developed than the left (McGilchrist, 2009). The left hemisphere is where the biological substrates for language develop (i.e., Broca’s and Wernicke’s area), whereas the right hemisphere plays more of a role in unarticulated emotional understanding. According to the neuroscientist Ian McGilchrist, compared to the left hemisphere, “the right hemisphere has by far the preponderance of emotional understanding. It is the mediator of social behavior. In the absence of the right hemisphere, the left hemisphere is unconcerned about others and their feelings” (McGilchrist, 2009, p. 58). For example, when rearing a child, the aim is to raise a well-socialized, compassionate, and socially interested person. In order to do this, parents attempt to foster the child’s understanding of the emotions of others at a tacit or felt level because they know that children have difficulty understanding these matters by way of rational speech. Allowing a child to witness a sibling cry when they have hurt them so that they have a felt experience of causing another pain, is an effective deterrent against future unchecked aggression. Additionally, putting such a child in time out so that they can associate social disapproval and isolation with unacceptable behavior is another means by which parents can create the right feelings within their rationally underdeveloped children. 

As a related side note, people who develop psychopathy are often devoid of empathy and what civilized society has deemed the right feelings (Haidt, 2012). Such individuals lack the normative neuronal activity in the medial ventral prefrontal cortex (mvPFC) of their brains, which is a structure that gives someone the sense of what they should value when confronted with a dilemma (Hu & Jiang, 2014). The mvPFC also mediates the experience of gut feeling when making a decision (Hu & Jiang, 2014, p. 1). Additionally, psychopaths have an underactive amygdala, which is a neuroanatomical structure that mediates the experience of fear and anxiety (Hu & Jiang, 2014). For example, here’s what happens when a psychopath is asked what’s the correct choice to make when presented with the following dilemma: “There’s a scenario in which people are going to die, but you can save five lives if you murder an innocent person (a utilitarian position), or forgo murdering someone and let the five people die (a deontological view). Which option would you choose?” In this situation, the psychopath is more likely to choose the former option (utilitarian position) as the correct choice without much emotional anxiety. Such an individual would fail to feel the pangs of their conscience when murdering an innocent person, as they believe that it is more morally sound to save as many people as possible, despite having to murder an innocent person to so (Hu & Jiang, 2014). It has been reliably found that people who have damaged or underactive medial ventral prefrontal cortexes and amygdalas typically choose the utilitarian option, whereas people who do not choose the deontological one (Hu & Jiang, 2014). 

For most people, our emotions tell us what it is that we ought to value, and pure intellect fails to do this. When we are equipped with the correct feelings, our intellect or rationality can then be recruited to help us to satisfy our sense of what is most important. Moreover, what determines what is most important to us is facilitated by our emotions. For example, if one values not taking the lives of innocent people, one will utilize their intellect to ensure that this does not happen. However, if one is divorced from their emotions, taking the lives of innocent people might be considered a worthwhile means to an end if it results in the attainment of another seemingly valuable goal, such as securing additional money, for instance. 

Emotions Motivate Thoughts and Actions

In most people, it is their ostensibly rational thoughts that act in the service of their emotions (Haidt, 2012). Some people believe that they are acting out of pure reason when they are making decisions, but it is their emotions that are motivating their presumably sound articulated beliefs and actions. To put it another way, emotions mobilize people’s actions. For example, if a husband asks his wife to wash the dishes, but she fails to do so because she indicates that she was bogged down by other tasks, he might grow resentful. Unbeknownst to his wife, he becomes upset with her, but given that she is unaware of this, she then asks him to take out the trash. Although the husband has the time to do so, he chooses not to take out the trash for two days. When his wife asks him why he took so long to take out the garbage, he may then create a logical and plausible story for why he failed to do so. He might respond to her question by saying something like, “I was too tired after looking after the kids,” or “I wanted to wait until the trash bag was completely full before taking it out because I want to conserve the plastic we use in light of the plastic pollution problem that plagues our natural environment.” The latter explanation may be even more persuasive if his wife is an environmentalist, and thus she would be less likely to say anything else to him about it. However, if one scratches beneath the surface, we would come to find that in all actuality, he failed to take out the trash because he was upset with his wife for not honoring his request days ago, and he wanted her to know how he felt by not doing something that she asked. This is an example of his seeming rationality acting in the service of his emotions. Given that it’s very difficult to rid oneself of emotions, it would be in the husband’s best interest to honor his emotions and tell his wife that he was feeling disappointed that she did not wash the dishes, and that it’s really important to him that the dishes are washed before the next morning so that he doesn’t end up acting out his resentment. The aforementioned point is crucial because we know that helping people to articulate their emotions and the reasons for them, also helps them to tame their emotions and forestalls their unchecked or unfettered expression. I believe that logic and emotion are to be considered interoperable. I by no means look to romanticize emotions and devalue the intellect, or vice versa. Both processes can operate as a check and balance to the other. There are times when emotions need to inform reason, and at other times, reason needs to inform emotions. Both parts complete the whole, and wholeness ought to be the aim when it comes to living a satisfying and functional life.

Emotion and Rationality are Tools

According to the philosophy of pragmatism, the degree to which something is true is predicated on how well it works in the real world. Often, supposed rationalists attempt to persuade people of a particular view by using only their reason or logic. However, if this strategy fails to be successful, it may be an indication that the wrong tool is being used for the job at hand. Therefore, their position is not true enough to have any positive impact in the world according to pragmatists. In light of this, it may then be that the appropriate tool is an emotional one, as opposed to a logical one. Often, if you affirm someone’s emotions, it attenuates the potency of their feelings, and it makes the person more amenable to logical correction or instruction. For example, if a friend tells another friend that she recently discovered that her boyfriend cheated on her, and in an attempt to exact revenge, she’s going to flatten her boyfriend’s tires, it likely wouldn’t be helpful for her friend to say the following in an ornery tone: “I think it’s best that you calm down and not do that! I don’t think it’s going to solve anything, and you’ll probably have to pay hundreds of dollars for vandalism, which I think is just silly. It’s especially not a good idea given that you only work part-time, and you don’t really have the money to foot what will likely be a hefty bill.” Presumably, the confidant of the betrayed woman would be saying these things in an attempt to appeal to her friend’s capacity for reason or logic, but such a response would likely be met with resistance and may even make her friend angrier because the rational interventions that she was looking to employ was ill-timed. Given that this is the case, it would probably be more helpful for the friend to say the following in more of a calm and prosodic tone: “Hey, it makes perfect sense that you want to get revenge on your boyfriend. He hurt you deeply, and you have a right to be angry. Shoot, there’s a part of me that even feels like I want to help you slash his tires. With that being said, I’m worried about the legal ramifications of you vandalizing his property, so let’s think of something else. Tell me what’s been going on between you two, and maybe we can devise some other strategies for getting through this together, okay?” The likelihood is much higher that the betrayed friend will respond more favorably to this response because her emotions were understood, which had the effect of lessening their intensity. Due to this, she’s more likely to have a tempered and well-reasoned response to her boyfriend’s infidelity. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, most people who purport to be purely rational are a lot more emotional than they lead others to believe. However, it’s important to note that this is not a character failing of some kind, as emotions necessarily inform and motivate our articulate beliefs and actions. In light of this, it then stands to reason that if we want to change another person’s mind, we must first appeal to their emotions before we are able to make any inroads with respect to their beliefs and behavior. As the scientific literature concerning psychopaths illustrates, it is the correct feeling that leads to a civilized and harmonious society, not logic divorced from emotions. With this in mind, it behooves our society to encourage people to clearly articulate their emotions, and their reasons for them, if possible, so that people can communicate effectively with others who are looking to understand their viewpoint. As the clinical psychologist, Jordan Peterson, once poetically articulated – it is the logos or divine speech that created habitable order out of chaos at the beginning of time (John 1; Genesis 1). Given that humans have the ability to use language, we can participate in that sacred creative process by learning to clearly articulate our emotions to others by using our capacity for logical speech. Psychologically speaking, we can manufacture the way in which our world functions with our words. If this is done properly, like God at the beginning of time, we can look upon it and say that it was “good” when the task at hand has been completed (Genesis 1). 


References
Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. Vintage Books.

Hu, C. & Jiang, X. (2014). An emotion regulation role of ventromedial prefrontal cortex in moral judgment. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, (8). doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00873. 

McGilchrist, I. (2009). The master and his emissary: The divided brain and the making of the western world. Yale University Press.

Better Than Before


We all want another chance to get something right, or to be granted a do-over.  The one question that continues to be paramount is: How do we get through this time?  A time that appears to have no set end.  Every report, conference, appointment has been completely refocused to include the impact of COVID-19 on our society, bodies, business, finances, families, churches, communities, race, culture and emotions.  Most Americans have experienced heightened anxiety, low mood, loneliness and isolation.

When I first started learning therapy skills, I learned the power of reframing.  I took a workshop that was about interventions. We had to describe the picture we saw as the presenter placed a different frame over each picture.  I started thinking about this exercise a couple of days ago and thought, in order to make this better, we have to think about this time differently.  We need to REFRAME this.  How can we not only survive this, but thrive through this so that at the end we are better than before?  I struggled to this of this differently.  This is only a reset, so that we can rest, so that we can recommit.  Let me explain what I mean.

Reset – Reset can be viewed as a re-entry to the state of zero, or to start over, or to be given another chance.  To start afresh.  I thought, the year has already started, that was our reset.  We made commitments to ourselves, we started new schedules, started a new journal and thought through the old.  We said farewell to Auid Lang Syne (Scottish for days gone by).  We let go so that we can enter in.  We embraced what could be and set our hearts to engage in new possibilities with great anticipation.  Our goals were set, our schedules were set, we were engaged and then all of a sudden it all came to a halt.  In Using a different frame:  We have been given the gift to reset again.  What a treasure and what a wonderful opportunity.  In resetting, we can clear out the last three months and try one more time.  What was not there prior, we can now add.  We can start anew and embrace the beginning once again.

Lexapro is my first medication when I was depressed and had various anxiety disorders. it only helped a little but since I was undergoing intensive therapy it was not enough in my opinion. Check out more info about Lexapro medication.

Rest –  During this period of time we have also been given the gift of rest.  I think about this more in terms of respite.  Although we were only in the 3rd month of the year, some of us were deeply engaged in completing our goals and well-set to move through to the summer with great anticipation of warmth and beauty.  We were running hard and moving fast. All of a sudden it all stopped.  In Using a different frame:  I picture respite as a little slice of joy.  I see myself resting near a pond with my toes in the warm water, the warmth of the sun on my back and the sound of beautiful birds chirping in the background. I lean back to get the full warmth of the sun as I listen to the most beautiful sound that only God can create – Birds chirping, the warm wind blowing and the thought that I’m in the best place ever.  This is what the scripture means in Hebrew about entering into His rest — His rest.  Everything about respite was created by Him. Even this small slice of time in which we are resting, and becoming comfortable with what is so odd, with what we cannot control.  Take a deep breath and enter into His rest. Hebrew 4:10 – For whoever enters into His rest, he also ceases from his own works, as God did from His.

Recommitment – The commitment we made at the beginning of the year, a couple of months ago seem so far away.  In Using a different frame:  This is an opportunity for a recommitment to self.  One of the promises that we don’t want to break is a promise we made to the self.  The promise of want to do better, be better and live better.  Some of us had already picked up bad habits.  We had fallen back into the late arrivals, the bad eating, the loss of sleep, the loss of connection with others.  In the 3rd month, this started to look like the old schedule we wanted nothing to do with.  This period of time gives us the opportunity to recommit to self.  To do what we said.  It also gives us the opportunity to recommit to family.  What a wonderful word.  It is always and has been complex but yet deep.  It has been layered, but yet beautiful.  Family is this amazing group of people that we all have been gifted with who teach us so much.  Family teaches us about how deeply we can love, and how often we can forgive.  This is a recommitment to our faith, as well.  The very essence of who we are and why we are.  It is a reassurance of what we stand for and who we are.

Yes, we will get through this.  What appears to be suffering, fear and sadness, we will get through it.  We will come out of this and we will be better than before as we use this time to reset, rest and recommit!

5 Mental Health Tips for Coping with the Coronavirus


1) Remember emotions are not good or bad. Each emotion serves a purpose to alert us to something important. Anxiety, in particular, can be helpful to help us “prepare” for a situation or perform during a stressful task. Ask yourself and label what emotion(s) you might be feeling. Labeling emotions in and of itself can be regulating to distress.

Siegel, D.J. & Bryson, T. D. (2012). The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. Bantam Books.

2) If your emotions are doing more harm than good try Dialectical Behavior Therapy’s (DBT) skill – taking opposite action. Find actions that might feel the “opposite” to the overwhelming emotion you might be feeling. For example, if you are feeling down or depressed, maybe that means you engage in things that might make you laugh, smile, or feel happy. That could mean listening to music that makes you feel this way, watching a comedian on Netflix/Youtube, or looking at old photos that make you smile. 

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Skills training manual for treating Borderline Personality Disorder. The Guildford Press.

3) Schedule “worry/anxiety/panic” time. This Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) skill suggests you schedule 30 minutes daily let yourself worry, maybe read news, or talk to others about it etc., just letting these emotions and thoughts be. Then limit your exposure to things that might increase anxiety/panic (i.e news, social media etc.) other times of the day. By scheduling time to worry, you can help yourself refocus the rest of the day to carry on with what you might need to do, knowing you have your “worry time” set aside for later. 

McGowan, S., & Behar, E. (2012). A preliminary investigation of stimulus control training for worry: Effects on anxiety and insomnia. Behavior Modification, 7(1), pp. 90-112.

4) This Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) skill, suggests you decide how you would like to live out your valuesin this situation. By focusing on your values, you can align what is important to you with your actions, creating meaning and purpose (in spite of a sense of chaos). For example, maybe you value social justice, so you can focus on addressing the Xenophobia that has been present in the news/social media. Maybe you value knowledge, so you focus on obtaining the best evidenced-based research and facts, or maybe you value your religious faith, so you focus on religious scripture and/or rituals.

Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

5) Self-care. Engage in activities that will reduce stress (exercise, yoga, meditation, hot shower/bath), etc.) daily. You can Youtube yoga classes (if wanting low-cost free or to avoid people 😉 ) or try some meditation/mindfulness apps:

Meditation/Mindfulness Apps:

Insight Timer

Over 30,000 free guided meditations, imagery, and mindfulness. Covers topics of sleep, anxiety, stress, etc. Faith-based guided meditation included. Option for payment for additional features.

Headspace 

First 2 weeks free. Guided simplified meditation app. Subscription covers guided meditation and mindfulness exercises that are great for busy schedules.

Liberate

Free meditation app made by and for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Includes topics on gratitude, body, micro aggressions, sleep, race, etc.

Breathe2Relax 

Free made by the defense health agency. Practice and learn diaphragmatic breathing. Can pair with Apple Watch and Health Kit to measure heart rate.

Calm

Free 7 day trial app with mediation, breathing exercises, and music and video scenery for relaxation and stress relief. Also includes sleep stories, with new stories added every week.

Relax Melodies: Sleep Sounds

Free download includes sleep background noises. 7 day free trial includes guided meditations, stories, and guided gentle movements.

Resolving Marital Conflict: A Roadmap on How to Fight Fair with Your Spouse


Introduction

Let’s face it, marriage can be hard! When two different personalities decide to intertwine their lives and establish an exclusive union that is expected to last into perpetuity, the potential for friction can be quite high. Case in point, studies have shown that on average, only 31% of marital disputes constitute solvable problems (Gottman, 1994). That means that issues will present themselves, the requisite solutions will be applied, and the problems will never appear again. That then suggests that a startling 69% of marital problems are considered perpetual problems, meaning issues arise, they’re temporarily resolved, and then they reappear again on an ongoing basis (Gottman, 1994). For example, it is an all-too-familiar occurrence for couples to argue because of their differences in orderliness, which is largely due to the contrast in how their personalities are constituted. Because the more orderly spouse may have a higher sensitivity to disorder, he or she may be more inclined to become agitated when an area of the house is in disarray. This spouse may then petition their partner to clean the area that was causing their unrest, only to find that a week later, there’s another area of the house that the less orderly spouse has left unkempt. This familiar scenario is evidence of how personality differences inevitably result in perpetual marital problems. Given that personality differences beset each and every marriage, it is then sensible that couples learn how to engage in tolerable conflict because disputes are bound to occur. In light of this, I will be discussing Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which are four relational patterns that ought to be avoided to increase the likelihood that one’s marital relationship will withstand the test of time. These horsemen include criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. Dr. John Gottman, a leading research psychologist in the domain of couple dynamics, first published his research on the four horsemen in 1994. In his investigation, he found that if couples employed the horsemen regularly enough, the probability was quite high that the marriage would end in divorce (Gottman & Levenson, 2002). Within this article for essay structure, I will explain what the four horsemen are and also review their more effective alternatives or antidotes. With this information in mind, you’ll be able to experience greater marital satisfaction and increase the likelihood of your marriage going the distance.

The Research

Decades ago, Gottman set out to determine what relational patterns were characteristic of marital relationships that remained together, and those that fell apart (Gottman, 1994). In order to assess this, he invited droves of newlywed couples to a bed and breakfast-like laboratory setting for a weekend, in which he outfitted the site with video cameras and physiological monitors so that he could examine their relational patterns and physiological responses to one another. Each couple participated in an oral interview in which they reported on their relationship history, they then completed a number of questionnaires and then they were video recorded engaging in neutral conversation, pleasant conversation, and conflictual conversation. The couples were then directed to review the video recordings, rate their emotional responses, and then expert coders categorized their behaviors. After several years had passed, the couples were invited to participate in follow-up interviews in order to discuss the state of their marriage. At the end of the longitudinal study, he dubbed the couples that stayed together and reported marital satisfaction, “Master Relationships,” and those that did not, “Disaster Relationships.” He discovered a number of interesting findings, but one of the most striking ones was that the “Disaster Relationships” regularly used the four horsemen when in the throes of conflict, whereas the “Master Relationships” used them minimally. Furthermore, the latter group was more likely to utilize the antidotes to the four horsemen. Naturally, you’re likely wondering what actions characterize the four horsemen and their antidotes, so without further ado, let’s get to it. 

Criticism vs. Complaining with a Softened Start-Up 

The first horseman is criticism, which is distinguished from the more effective alternative of complaining with a softened start-up. Criticism is characterized by attacking the character or personality of one’s partner and using absolute language such as “always” or “never” when expressing a gripe of some kind. For instance, after a wife asks her husband to take out the trash, and he fails to do so for two days, an example of criticism would be for her to angrily say something like, “Didn’t I ask you to take the trash out two days ago? You never do what I ask you to, and I’m so sick of having to tell you to do things over and over again all the time! It’s either you don’t care or you’re just lazy.” In response to this, the husband would likely become defensive or attack back. Furthermore, in reaction to his wife’s use of absolutes like “always” or “never,” the husband is likely to defend himself by expressing the exceptions to the overgeneralized mischaracterizations. This type of communication often doesn’t end well, and both partners end up hurt. With that being said, let’s take a look at the antidote to criticism. In the aforementioned scenario, an example of complaining with a softened start-up would be characterized by the following: 1) the wife leads with a term of endearment (i.e., sweetie); 2) she uses “I” statements rather than “you” statements; 3) she specifically describes the behavior that upset her, as opposed to her partner’s personality; 4) she articulates her feelings, and then 5) makes a positive request. So, she might say something like, “Hey, sweetie, so a few days ago, I asked you to take out the trash, and maybe it escaped your mind, but I just notice myself getting frustrated because it hasn’t been done yet. Do you mind taking out the trash tonight, please?” If she responds this way, the likelihood is much higher that the husband will happily meet her request. However, all-too-often, this is not how requests or expressions of upset are communicated, which often leads to the next horseman — defensiveness.

Defensiveness vs. Taking Responsibility 

Defensiveness is characterized by self-protective maneuvers that are meant to ward off a perceived attack. It often involves reverse blaming or excusing the behavior of oneself. For example, defensiveness in the aforementioned scenario would entail the husband saying something like, “You always talk about what I don’t do, you never talk about what I am doing for you. Sometimes I forget stuff, okay, but you don’t hear me breathing down your neck when you forget stuff, do you?” This line of conversation likely won’t go well; thus, an alternative is advised. The alternative or antidote to defensiveness is taking personal responsibility. In this case, the husband would be taking responsibility if he said, “You know what, sweetie, you’re absolutely right. I’m sorry, the trash escaped my mind. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, but that was my mistake. I’m going to take the trash out right now.” This response is likely going to lead to a lot more peace as opposed to war and it’s a lot easier to keep one’s defensiveness in abeyance when one feels as though they’re not being attacked. Most people are not as virtuous as Jesus or Gandhi, so when the majority of people are attacked, the natural response is defense. With this in mind, if you want to decrease the likelihood that your partner will become defensive, you will have to be careful not to attack their personality or character. Instead, it’s key that the complaints that are made are related to specific behaviors. 

Contempt vs. Creating a Culture of Appreciation

The next horseman is contempt. Contempt is described as the act of not only speaking disparagingly to one’s partner but speaking in a way that communicates disrespect. Moreover, it is often characterized by insults or abusive language. The following statement is an example of contempt: “Sometimes I feel like I’m not just raising one child, but two – our son and you! You’re so irresponsible sometimes. Didn’t your mother raise you better?” This horseman has been found to have the most damaging effect on marital relationships, both psychologically and physically. Being the object of contempt has been found to increase the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, which at high levels can undermine one’s immune system and cause a person to suffer from a greater degree of physical ailments. To avoid this, the antidote that’s advised is creating a culture of appreciation within the relationship. This is where one regularly expresses their gratitude towards their partner for the things that they’re doing well, such as taking out the trash, washing the dishes, cooking a meal, or running an errand. Often, partners do things that the other appreciates, but sometimes the requesting partner keeps their appreciation private and they fail to communicate their gratitude towards their loved one. It’s important to note that the expression of appreciation is not only crucial for the recipient but for the person doing the expressing as well, as it is a reminder to them that their partner is useful and worthy of fondness and thanks.

Stonewalling vs. Physiological Soothing 

The last horseman is what’s called stonewalling. Stonewalling is where one may be in the throes of an argument with their partner, but they’re disengaged and no longer giving the plaintive the cues that they’re listening. They’re not nodding their head, making eye contact, and their disposition is icy-cold. Although the listener may appear cool, calm, and collected on the outside, their internal physiological responses are often heightened. Interestingly, it turns out that if your heartbeat is around 100-beats per minute; your body is in a state called diffuse physiological arousal (DPA). This is when an individual’s body is in a state of threat protection or a mode known as fight-or-flight. When in this mode, the individual’s heart is racing fast, their breathing is shallow, and their adrenaline is pumping. It is challenging to accept influence from one’s partner when one is in a state of DPA, which is why being able to engage in physiological soothing is so important. Physiological soothing requires the listener to regulate their own emotions by breathing deeply from their diaphragm or taking a break for 20-minutes and then returning to the discussion. When taking a break from conflict, it is recommended that such breaks last no less than 20-minutes and no more than 24-hours if things are particularly tense. When both partners are calmer, they are a lot more capable of actively and civilly engaging in the dispute at hand.

Conflict as a Necessity 

As you’re taking stock of the horsemen and their antidotes, you may be worried that your marriage is headed for the dumps because sometimes you notice that you level criticisms at your spouse or become defensive at times, but Gottman discovered a finding that you might find encouraging. The couples that were considered master relationships were not perfect. Gottman and his colleague, Robert Levenson, found that the positive to negative interaction ratio for master relationships was 5 to 1 (Gottman & Levenson, 1999). This means that for every negative interaction, there were five positive interactions. However, the disaster relationships had a positive to negative interaction ratio of roughly 1 to 1, meaning every positive interaction was also coupled with a negative interaction (Gottman & Levenson, 1999). For most couples, the latter interaction pattern eventually becomes too chaotic, and the marriage ultimately dissolves. One might think that the best marital arrangement is one where there isn’t any conflict at all, but this isn’t true. Gottman and Levenson found that in relationships where the positive to negative interaction ratio exceeded 11 to 1, those relationships eventually dissolved too (Gottman & Levenson, 1999). This is likely because the partners in these couples avoided conflict and thus were not honest with one another. Consequently, these findings suggest that some conflict is necessary in order to keep a relationship going.

Verbal vs. Non-verbal Communication 

Up until this point, I’ve mostly discussed the impact that the content of one’s speech can have on a relationship. However, there’s another element to consider when relating to one’s partner and that’s implicit or non-verbal cues. Interestingly, the right hemisphere of your brain is specialized at deciphering implicit cues like the tone of one’s voice (McGilchrist, 2009). Conversely, the left hemisphere is adapted to attune to the content of one’s speech, which is why the brain areas which undergird one’s productive language faculty (Broca’s area) and receptive language ability (Wernicke’s area), are nested in the left hemisphere (McGilchrist, 2009). Put another way, the left hemisphere is more concerned about what someone says, whereas the right hemisphere is scanning the environment for how someone says it. If you find your heartbeat increasing or a rush of adrenaline because someone speaks in an ornery tone, it may not be that you’re overly sensitive, rather your brain is sensing subtle threats in the environment and is thus recruiting your biopsychological resources in order to prepare you for aggressive confrontation or escape. Compared to the left hemisphere, the right one is a lot swifter, which is largely because the right hemisphere is more densely comprised of a greater number of neurons (brain cells), dendritic spires (neuronal extremities that extend from and connect to other neurons) and white matter (fatty sheaths that coat neuronal axons and speed up neuronal transmissions) (McGilchrist, 2009). In other words, the way in which your brain is constructed enables you to have an unsettling feeling a lot quicker than you may be able to articulate it with your speech.  

Closing Remarks

In conclusion, the words that you use in a relationship and how you use them (i.e., tone of voice, facial expressions) will influence how your relationship will fare. No relationship is perfect, but it’s incredibly vital that you make sure that when you’re conversing with your partner, it’s marked by good-will as opposed to antipathy. Peace is always better than war, as life is certainly a lot more pleasant when you’re at peace with your spouse.


References

Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Gottman, J.M. & Levenson, R. W. (1999). What predicts change in marital interaction over time? A study of alternative models. Family Processes Journal, 38 (2), 143-158.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1545-5300.1999.00143.x

Gottman, J.M. & Levenson, R. W. (2002). A two-factor model for predicting when a couple will divorce: Exploratory analysis using 14-year longitudinal data. Family Processes Journal, 41 (1), 83-96. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1545-5300.2002.40102000083.x

McGilchrist, I. (2009). The master and his emissary: The divided brain and the making of the western world. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Eating Disorders 101


The term “eating disorders” refers to a group of disorders that are characterized by eating or eating-related behavior and significantly impairs someone’s physical health and/or psychosocial functioning. It is important to note that obesity is not considered to be an eating disorder, though it is associated with other mental disorders such as depression and binge-eating disorder. 

The main eating disorders outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) are anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED). AN is characterized by restriction of energy intake, intense fear of weight gain or becoming fat, and disturbance in one’s experience of body weight or shape. BN is characterized by binge eating, inappropriate compensatory behaviors (e.g., vomiting), and self-evaluation that is influenced by body shape and weight. BED is primarily characterized by binge eating (without compensatory behaviors) as well as distress regarding the amount, frequency, and/or pace of eating. 

There are many factors that can contribute to developing an eating disorder. These include genetic, biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. Treatment of eating disorders must therefore address the factors that contribute to or help maintain symptomatology. Treatment modalities include individual, group, and/or family therapy. There are also various levels of care based on severity of symptoms. Inpatient treatment tends to be effective for medically and psychiatrically unstable individuals. Residential is suitable for individuals who are medically stable but psychiatrically impaired. Partial hospitalization is helpful for individuals who are medically stable but need daily assessment of their physiological status as well as those who are psychiatrically stable but are engaging in disordered eating behaviors (e.g., restricted eating). Lastly, outpatient or intensive outpatient is an option for individuals who are stable and do not need daily monitoring. It is also effective for those who are psychiatrically stable and can function in day-to-day situations.

Lexapro is my first medication when I was depressed and had various anxiety disorders. it only helped a little but since I was undergoing intensive therapy it was not enough in my opinion. Check out more info about Lexapro medication.

With regard to treatment options and theoretical orientations, clinicians, therapists, etc. have used the spectrum of options, from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to psychodynamic therapy. There are some, however, that are shown to be particularly beneficial for individuals with specific symptomatology. For example, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) has been effective for individuals with a trauma history. Cognitive remediation therapy targets rigid thinking processes usually associated with individuals with AN.If you or someone you know is engaging in disordered eating behaviors or meets full criteria for one of the specific eating disorders in the DSM-5, it is beneficial to meet with a qualified health professional to address symptoms. Please feel free to contact us at 312-573-8860 to meet with one of our therapists or to receive additional resources for treatment.

Come As You Are: Examining Our Own Narratives Around Food, Health, and Body Image


Common assumptions around eating disorders often narrowly focus on an individual’s food intake and exercise. It’s time to examine how cultural norms directly impact all of us. A leading factor in the development of disordered eating is a cultural emphasis on being thin (Culbert, Racine, & Klump, 2015). When thinness is celebrated and equated with health, anyone outside of thinness is subjected to weight stigma and bias. One’s “discipline” and even morality is questioned. Weight stigma is a subsequent threat in and of itself as a risk factor for depression and anxiety (Andreyeva, Puhl, & Brownell, 2008). Rather than investing our time, money, and energy into a narrow and often impossible standard, what if our focus is to work against weight stigma and the idealization of thinness? 

This work begins with ourselves, in identifying the ways we have internalized messages of shame for our bodies, or perhaps in how we have pursued and been devoted to this standard of thinness. For parents and caregivers there is a compelling obligation to consider one’s own beliefs and actions around health, wellness, and eating patterns for the sake of their children. All children are currently composing their own narrative of what it means to “be healthy” and are modeling behaviors from those around them, for better or for worse. (Andreyeva, Puhl, & Brownell, 2008). 

This work is individual and collective. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is from February 24th-March 1st. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) theme for this year is “Come As You Are, Hindsight is 2020.” Let us take time, be it in conversations, prayer, or in counseling to reflect about our own narratives around food, health, and body image. Let us work toward a culture in our families and communities that speaks to each and every one: “Come as you are.”

References

Andreyeva, T., Puhl, R. M. and Brownell, K. D. (2008), Changes in Perceived Weight Discrimination Among Americans, 1995–1996 Through 2004–2006. Obesity, 16: 1129–1134. doi:10.1038/oby.2008.35

Culbert, K. M., Racine, S. E., & Klump, K. L. (2015). Research Review: What we have learned about the causes of eating disorders – a synthesis of sociocultural, psychological, and biological research. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 56(11), 1141-1164. 

Making A Plan For A Happy Holiday


Think About It

  1. What is one thing that you’ve experienced on a past holiday that you do not want to repeat this year?
  • Drinking too much / using drugs
  • Spending the holiday alone at home and feeling lonely
  • Conflict with family or friends
  • Feeling guilty or sad that I had nothing to give
  • Feeling depressed 
  • Wanting to hurt myself or someone else

Future Brighter Holidays

2. Can you avoid what you checked this holiday and commit not to do it?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Maybe

Check one box under each category that you would like to do this holiday:

Physical

  • Eat healthy foods (substitute fruit for sweets or vegetables for chips!)
  • Get exercise (bundle up and go for a walk)
  • Drink plenty of water (limit alcohol and caffeine)
  • Get enough sleep (7-9 hours each night)
  • Practice good hygiene (get out of your pajamas and put on something nice!)

Mental

  • Make a plan: Take action and decide fun ways to spend your Holiday Season with others. 
  • Don’t fake it: embrace both good and bad feelings.
  • Create a tradition for yourself: light a candle, talk with a friend, say a prayer, sing a favorite song.
  • Tell yourself that it doesn’t have to be the “best time of the year.”

Social

  • Plan your holidays ahead of time (where will you go for the meal?)
  • Plane to be with people you enjoy.
  • Talk about your feelings. Cry, laugh. Do not try to hide your honest emotions.
  • However, if you find yourself getting angry, take 3 deep breaths and remove yourself from the situation.
  • Put some effort into seeing that someone else has a wonderful holiday. Serve at shelter. Ask if you can help set up for a dinner. Find satisfaction in doing for others.

3. Now circle just one of the things you checked above that you will commit to doing this holiday. 

I _________________________________ (your name) commit to thriving and living with less stress this Holiday Season. 

Date: ____________________________

Can you mark yes to question #1 now?

If you want to discuss this further feel free to contact Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago (312) 573-8860 or cccoc@chicagocounseling.org

*Please note if at any time you feel overwhelmed or that you may hurt yourself, please call the Northwestern Crisis Hotline at: (312) 926-8100 or 911 or go to your nearest Emergency Room. 

On the Epidemic of Fatherlessness in the Black Community


In 1965, the Assistant Secretary of Labor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, commissioned a report on the state of the African-American family. The report was titled, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. This famed report, which was later commonly referred to as “The Moynihan Report,” resulted in a great deal of controversy, but it unequivocally illustrated the glaring familial disparities that have existed between white and black families. One of the most striking findings of the report was that in 1960, approximately 30 % of black children were being raised within a single parent household, which was a far cry from the 10 % of white children being raised within a single parent household (United States & Moynihan, 1965). Unfortunately, these statistics have continued to rise, and the most recent statistics indicate that roughly 65 % of black children are being raised within a single parent household, whereas approximately 25 % of white children are being raised by single parents (Livingston, 2018). Often times when the nuclear family structure dissolves, it is the mother that serves as the custodial parent, although it should be noted that there are indeed exceptional cases where the father is the primary caretaker. However, the unfortunate reality is that on the whole, fatherlessness is plaguing our society, and this epidemic has had the most pernicious effect on black children.

It is an unfortunate fact that if one is raised without a father, he or she is more likely to be rendered absent of sufficient guidance and discipline. This is in part because traditionally, fathers provide discipline, whereas mothers furnish nurturance and compassion. Of course, these are not strict rules, as it is certainly more advantageous for children when both of their parents properly exercise their capacities for discipline and compassion. However, generally speaking, the traditional paternal ethos is characterized by discipline, whereas the traditional maternal spirit is more tilted towards nurturance and compassion.

Being raised without a father is especially a problem for boys, as fathers play a major role in regulating the aggression of boys and teaching them how to properly harness their aggression. If one respects their father, who generally stands as a proxy for authority, this respect is likely to generalize to other purveyors of authority in the non-domestic sphere (e.g., school teachers, employers, law enforcement officers). In order for boys to develop into socially sophisticated, disciplined, academically astute, responsible, and professionally accomplished men that contribute to the welfare of society, they need their fathers to be a regular presence in their lives.

As for girls, they need their fathers to serve as proxies for authority and discipline too, but they also need them to affirm their value and to teach them what they ought to expect from men. Unfortunately, if such a paternal presence isn’t there, there’s a high probability that the girl may grow up with low self-esteem and accept untoward treatment from men, because even untoward treatment is preferred over not being shown any attention at all. As a general rule, attention is the preferred currency of children, and if a girl grows up without the regular attention of her father, she may settle for adverse attention from other men because her barometer for positive attention was never properly set.

There are many historical and contemporary factors which have contributed to the epidemic of fatherlessness with our society, especially within the black community. However, surveying all of these factors is outside of the scope of this article. Nonetheless, what is undeniably true, is that one of the antidotes to many of the societal ills that plague the black community, is present fathers. Surely, people can co-parent well without being married or romantically involved, but generally speaking, marriage increases the likelihood that fathers will remain tethered to their family and their children. Marriage certainly does not guarantee that one will exercise their paternal responsibilities wisely, but on the whole, it increases the likelihood that it will be the case. Fathers, or husbands for that matter, have been charged with the responsibility to be emotionally attuned to their wives, exhibit reliability, show genuine curiosity in the interests of their children, and to endow their children with guidance, discipline, and wisdom. If we desire a better future for our nation’s children, then society must promote the necessity for fathers and contribute to this endeavor by supporting and fortifying marriages.

References

Livingston, G. (2018). About one-third of U.S. children are living with an unmarried parent. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/27/about-one-third-of-u-s-children-are-living-with-an-unmarried-parent/

United States & Moynihan, D. P. (1965). The Negro family. The case for national action. Washington, DC. 

How Do I Know When I Have Actually Forgiven?


In my work with clients, it is not unusual for me to bear witness to confusion about forgiveness. One specific area of confusion arises in a client’s uncertainty about whether or not forgiveness has actually taken place. Examples of some of the comments I hear include, “I thought I forgave her for the betrayal years ago, so why does it still hurt?” “I told him I forgave him for mismanaging our finances and I thought I really meant it, but now I’m questioning whether I forgave him at all.” “If I forgive him, why do still feel triggered?” These statements are touching on the delicate, sensitive process that we go through when we bravely enter into the forgiveness process. 

One image I find that is helpful is imagining forgiveness as a mountain with a path circling it like a spiral from top to bottom. The closer and closer you get to the summit, the tighter the spirals. As you move up the mountain, you grow, develop insight, integrate old experiences with new ones, and generally tend to make meaning out of your life as time moves along. Somewhere along the way, someone hurt you. Let’s call that “Spot A” on your mountain. You continue on up your mountain and at some point later decide to forgive that person. Let’s call that “Spot B” on your mountain. Life continues and you move up your mountain along your forgiveness path and are surprised a while later on when you find yourself standing directly above Spot A, and find yourself confused by an onslaught of troubling emotions that might make you question what happened down there at both Spot A and Spot B. These emotions might sound like, “Wait, didn’t I forgive him?” “I thought I took care of this back at Spot B!” “Why does this hurt so much all over again?”

What you are experiencing may be the difference between decisional and emotional forgiveness. According to forgiveness researcher Everett Worthington, these two things are crucial, but separate processes within the larger experience of offering forgiveness to an offender. Deciding to forgive means choosing to offer forgiveness to someone who has wronged you. Emotional forgiveness means replacing the negative feelings you had toward that person or event with positive feelings such as compassion or empathy. Each type of forgiveness has different functions in our lives. Worthington’s research has found that emotional forgiveness is what helps us most to release those negative or painful emotions, while decisional forgiveness may promote repair in relationships[i]. As you progress through your own life experience on your forgiveness journey, let me encourage you to consider both the decision to forgive and the process of replacing the negative emotions with positive ones as parts of your own unique forgiveness process. Each are worthy of your attention and energy as you continue forward. Perhaps as you circle closer and closer to the summit of your own mountain, you will release more and more negative emotions and replace them with neutral or even positive emotions. Regardless of where you stand decisionally or emotionally in your forgiveness journey, perhaps instead of asking, “how do I know I’ve forgiven,” consider asking yourself, “Where am I in my forgiveness process?” 


[i]Worthington, E. (2004). Forgiveness and reconciliation: Theory and application. New York: Taylor and Francis Group.

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago