Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Archive for the ‘emotional intelligence’ Category

They Call it Narcissism

SOURCE:  /CCEF

It is always their “birthday.”

Today, tomorrow, and the next day are dedicated to their interests and desires, so don’t expect that you will be known or understood. No empathy here. No room for guilt either. If you interfere with the party, expect to receive their anger. That anger might come at you as a bully who wants power and control or one who doesn’t even have time for you, so they turn away. Expect lasting grudges. Perhaps, if you are penitent, you might be able to get back into an orbit that surrounds them but they will not move towards you in return.

It is always their birthday, but they never seem to grow up.

There are different versions of this self-absorbed style, commonly called narcissism. They are all maddening. Some are dangerous. And this very real problem is worth much more time than I will give it here.

As a catalyst for thought, I read Disarming the Narcissist by Wendy Behary¹. Though not a Christian book, I was helped by her kindness and insight, and she actually rekindled my interest in engaging those who fit the narcissist description. Rather than review the book, I will identify a few of the points that helped me rethink how to love those who show this level of entitled self-interest.

Say “no” to your angerYour anger will not help you or the self-absorbed person. If you expect the other person to actually be moved by your anger and change—you will be disappointed. In fact, your anger will be interpreted as further evidence that you are the problem. Instead, you need a calm and measured engagement that invites discussion.

If you are feeling great pain and rejection from the narcissist’s predictable outbursts, you also will be unhelpful, unless you are able to seek the good in that person, even in the midst of your pain. We believe God gives grace for this, and we expect that our own growth here will be hard fought.

Somehow, people who fit the narcissist description can make fools of us all in that they know how to irritate us and we begin to act like them. Instead, conversation will be more productive if there is at least one thoughtful person in the room.

See the other person as a child. I have found this helpful; it limits my expectations. It’s similar to how I view people who have a long-term history of addiction: the addiction essentially shields from the challenges of life that mature us, and the addict is easier to understand as a twelve-year-old rather than a forty-year-old. Though this could be an affront to most children, the image fits more than it doesn’t. The benefit is that you will be more patient with the person if your expectations have been adjusted.

Practice your own empathy skills. Empathy is the ability to step into someone’s world in a way that the person feels understood. It is not approval of that world, but it is an understanding of it. An apparent absence of empathy is what is most difficult about narcissist-types. They do not understand either your world or their own. In response, we redouble our efforts to grow in empathy, to which there are so many ingredients. Here are three:

  • Know their story. When someone is hard for us to understand, it is helpful to know something of the culture of their family. With narcissism, we might find a history of being spoiled or deprived, or parents who were preoccupied in their own selfish worlds and never affected by the good deeds of their children.

Don’t expect such discussions to help the person directly though. Those who lack insight are rarely enlightened by their past. More often, they see past hurts as no big deal and resist our attempts to suggest long-term patterns. But these insights encourage our own patience and kindness.

  • Assume that they are normal human beings. Amid all the boasting, entitlement, and “I don’t need you or anybody else,” expect to find people who would like relationship but act in ways that push people away (which confirms to them that they can never really have relationship). Expect people who fear failure and, in response, blame others when things go wrong. Expect people who don’t know how to deal with or express their struggles. This all comes out as meanness and covert behaviors. Sometimes addiction becomes a way to ward off the discomfort within. Expect people who are alone and living on that unsettling ground of the opinions of others.
  • Look for good. When someone is demanding or showing off their greatness for our affirmation, it is hard to offer anything good. But empathy looks for the good. If someone is often talking about their achievements, look for “unadorned” good such as an inadvertent interest in another or other kindness you notice. After hearing someone’s complaints about how the world is not serving them as it should . . . Sometimes it is hard to find the good, but if you pray for love that sees the good, you will see some good.

Among the helpful features of Behary’s book were words that someone could speak, which bring together empathy and wisdom. Here is a response by a wife, spoken with preternatural calm, to her fuming husband (not me, a different Ed).

“You know, Ed, I don’t believe a word of that. It’s not that I think you are lying. It’s just that I know you, and I know how difficult it can be for you to tell me that you miss me. When I’m distracted, like this week, you often feel as if you are unimportant to me. I can understand how upsetting that must be for you. But there is no need to put me down or blame my job. You aren’t giving me a chance to care about you when you speak to me that way . . . I’d like to start the conversation over. How about you?” (pp.158-159).

To speak to a self-absorbed person like this might not bring instant repentance, but you might have helped.

I am raising a number of issues and questions in this brief reflection. How do we help self-absorbed people? How do we help their family and remaining friends? And how might we be helped by secular literature? Secular literature is most helpful when its descriptions of difficult-to-understand behaviors are coupled with years of experience and when its practical suggestions come close to the wisdom and love we find in Scripture. With the behaviors that are called narcissistic, we know that the Spirit can change us and teach us more about how to love wisely, and we invite all comers to give their ideas on ways to love.

————————————————

¹Wendy T. Behary, Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed, Second Edition, New Harbinger, Oakland CA, 2013.

Advertisements

Emotions: Four Ways to Defeat Hijacking

SOURCE:  Ken Sande

In last week’s blog, we considered a neurological/emotional process known as “hijacking.” This week we will look at four steps to defend yourself from this problem.

But first, let me illustrate the behavioral signs of hijacking with a short clip from the movie, Cinderella Man.

In this scene, Mae Braddock is struggling with a deep fear that her husband, James, is going to be killed in an upcoming boxing match with Max Baer, who has reportedly killed two men in the ring. Watch how Mae’s emotions overpower her in this scene (click here to view the clip).

Mae’s outburst at her children demonstrates the three classic signs of “amygdala hijacking”: (1) the sudden onset (2) of an intense emotional reaction (3) that is later regretted.

Part of this dynamic can be traced to tensions between different parts of the brain, which no longer function as seamlessly as God originally designed them.

Competition in the Brain

Last week we noted that because of the way the brain is wired, sensory impulses arrive at the limbic system, where emotions are centered, a few nanoseconds before they get to the neocortex, where rational thinking is located. This means that our emotions can get rolling before we are able to rationally process critical information.

Using functional neuroimaging, a team of neuroscientists led by Matthew Lieberman discovered another competing relationship between the amygdala (a central part of the limbic system) and the neocortex.

Picture1 - CopyThey found that when the amygdala is highly stimulated with intense emotions, it utilizes more blood and oxygen than normal, leaving less of both for the neocortex. This deficit causes a corresponding decrease in our capacity for reasoning, problem solving, and impulse control. This can lead to a temporary loss of 10 to 15 IQ points!

Yes, you really do get dumber when you’re highly emotional.

So when someone asks, “What were you thinking?” after an emotional outburst, part of your answer can be, “I was thinking with a lot less brain power than I normally have at my disposal.”

Practical Defenses Against Hijacking

Realizing that emotional hijacking makes it difficult to think clearly, our ministry has developed a few simple acrostics to make it easier for you to manage your words and actions wisely in stressful situations.

One of these acrostics is set forth in this principle: “To become more self-aware and self-engaging, READ yourself accurately.” This acrostic summarizes four key steps that can help you resist hijacking:

  • Recognize your emotions
  • Evaluate their source
  • Anticipate the consequences of following them
  • Direct them on a constructive course

Recognize – What am I feeling?

Neuroimaging, as well as practical experience, have shown that labeling emotions can help to reduce their intensity and shift more of their management back to the prefrontal cortex.

For example, in a study conducted by Dr. Lieberman, when people attached a word like “angry” to an angry-looking face, neuro-activity in the amygdala, which processes fear, panic and other strong emotions, decreased significantly. This dampening effect was accompanied by a corresponding increase of activity in the neocortex, which controls impulses.

Recognizing and labeling emotions also helps us to pull them out of the shadows and identify those that pose risks to our relationships. Just as pneumonia is a more dangerous illness than a common cold, bitterness is more dangerous than disappointment, self-pity can lead to more problems than sadness, and fear can be more crippling than concern.

So it is important to practice looking into our own hearts and accurately applying labels such as sad, discouraged, depressed, angry, lonely, embarrassed, rejected, bitter, jealous, and self-pity, to name a few.

If you’re not used to doing this, a way to practice identifying emotions is to read a novel or watch a movie and constantly ask yourself, “What is that character feeling?” As you get better at reading emotions in others, you’ll get better at reading them in yourself.

Evaluate – Why am I feeling this emotion?

The next step is to ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” Asking these kinds of questions helps to move your thought process from the amygdala to the neocortex.

When I’m attempting to override a hijacking, I actually visualize grabbing my thoughts with both hands and dragging them from the back of my brain to the front of my brain, where my prefrontal cortex (and reasoning capacity) is located.

That’s also where all my sermon applications, memorized Scriptures, and lessons learned the hard way are stored, which is exactly what I need to draw on in order to defeat emotional hijacking.

More importantly, asking yourself why you’re feeling certain emotions helps to identify the circumstances and desires that are driving them, which is a crucial step toward controlling them (see James 4:1-3; Matt. 15:18).

The process looks like this: “I’m feeling angry. Why? Because Corlette just questioned my judgment. Why does that bother me so much? Because I’m proud and want her unqualified trust, respect, and support. Why else? Because I’m busy and I’m lazy and don’t want to spend more time explaining myself to her.”

Or, “What am I feeling? Self-pity. Why? Because I work my tail off for my family and make all sorts of sacrifices for them. And here when I needed just a little bit of support from them, they say they’re too busy. It’s just not fair. Really? So why have you been serving them all along, to put them in your debt?” Ouch!

As we dig into the depths of our own hearts in the middle of intense emotional times, we will often find that God is using the situation to free us from the grip of sinful desires and passions that have become controlling “idols.” (For more guidance on overcoming desires and emotions that seek to rule your life, see Getting to the Heart of Conflict.)

Anticipate – What are the likely consequences if I give in to this emotion?

Here again we are making a conscious effort to move our brain activity from the emotional zone to the reasoning zone. We draw on memories, experience, and learning by asking, “What is likely to happen if I give in to these emotions?”

It looks like this: “If I give into my anger, I’ll become defensive and say harsh things to Corlette, which will make her feel guilty and disrespected, and reluctant to voice questions or concerns in the future, which would not only hurt her but also undermine our ability to work as a team.”

Or, “If I give into self-pity, I’ll withdraw from my family and give them the cold shoulder. I’d like to label that as a defense mechanism, but the hard truth is that it’s simply a way to punish and manipulate them for not treating me the way I want. That will only build walls and distrust between us.”

“But worst of all, these reactions will offend my loving God who sent his Son to free me from these very sins.”

You’ll find equally uncomfortable but course-changing mental conversations when the emotions in question are bitterness, envy, jealously, depression, or hopelessness.

Direct – How can I channel my emotions onto a constructive course?

Although emotional hijacking can be almost instantaneous, these defense mechanisms take time. So what do we do to gain this time?

Buy some time. As I mentioned last week, one of the simplest anti-hijacking techniques is to always have a bottle of water or cup of coffee in front of you in any meetings or conversations that could become emotionally volatile. Make a firm resolution that you will not respond to an irritating or offensive comment without first taking a sip of water or coffee. The six seconds it takes to do so will usually give your neocortex time to catch up with your amygdala.

Another way to buy some time is to simply ask for it. “You know, this is really important to both of us, so I’d like to take a few minutes to walk around the block and think about our options.” Or, more simply, “We’ve been talking quite a while, and I need to take a bathroom break.”

Oxygenate. Slow down the conversation and breathe deeply. In emotional situations your brain is working intensely and using up a lot of oxygen. Be deliberate in replacing it. Your mother probably never heard of neuroimaging, but somehow she knew that counting to ten was always a good thing.

Rejoice in the Lord … and remember that he is near. This is a discipline the apostle Paul urged the Philippians to practice when they were wresting with a conflict: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:4-5). It’s difficult to have two strong emotional experiences simultaneously, so rejoicing in God—remembering his character, works, and promises—is an excellent way to counteract strong negative feelings about another person.

Pray. Paul goes on in Philippians to teach, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). In addition to appropriating God’s grace, prayer moves your thoughts off of what is provoking you and centers them on God himself … which should put worldly issues in a clearer context.

Be thankful. Since it’s difficult to entertain competing emotional experiences at the same time, being thankful is another way to counter a hijack (see Phil. 4:6). While it’s especially effective to be thankful for the person you’re talking with, other kinds of thankfulness can be helpful … whether it’s thankfulness to God for his many kindnesses to you, or thankfulness for other people he’s placed in your life. As Paul told the Philippians:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things … and the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:8-9).

Do a 180. If you realize that our emotions are trying to lead you in a direction that is contrary to the love and character of Christ, ask him for grace to “do a 180,” that is, to do exactly the opposite of what you feel like doing (Luke 6:27-36; Rom. 12:20-21; see this blog for more specific guidance).

Learn from your mistakes. If you are hijacked, get a benefit from it. After your emotions cool, spend some time reflecting on what happened and why. Identifying the trigger for that event can help you be better prepared when you face a similar situation in the future.

There are no panaceas. Since we live in a fallen world, we will always be faced with the challenge of mastering our imperfect minds and emotions. But if you practice the spiritual principles that are summarized in the READ principle, you can steadily improve your ability to head hijacking off at the pass, and channel the power of your emotions into constructive words and actions.

This truth is beautifully illustrated in another clip from Cinderella Man, after Mae has spent time doing the kinds of things described above (in real life, Mae Braddock was a devout Christian). Watch what happens when she uses all of her mental and emotional gifts to bless her husband before he heads into the ring (click here  to view the clip).

What an excellent illustration of the simple but life-changing relational wisdom summarized in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

[Emotionally] Hijacked

SOURCE:  Ken Sande

Peter, James, and John were hijacked. So was Paul.

The same was true of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rachel … even David, the man after God’s own heart.

Chances are that you’ve been hijacked too. Probably within the last week.

It has nothing to do with being on an airplane. It has everything to do with having a marvelously complex and yet defective brain.

In simple terms, hijacking occurs when the emotional part of your brain (the limbic system) overpowers the rational part of your brain (the neocortex) … and gets control of your whole body along with it, including your mouth.

Think, for example, of a time when you hit your thumb with a hammer and blurted out an expletive … only to remember a moment too late that your five-year-old daughter was standing by your side.

Or a time when someone said something that offended you, so you threw a sarcastic comment back at him … only to wish later that those words had never left your mouth.

It’s bad enough when this happens in private; it’s so much worse when it’s done during a congregational meeting.

Hijacking Can Be Humorous

Sometimes hijacking is funny. Like the time my daughter wrote all over a wall and her own face with lipstick. Although the evidence against her was conclusive (and a quick confession would have been wise), when asked how the wall got all red, fear of admonishment led her to say, “I don’t know.”

We also smile when we read the account of a servant girl named Rhoda in the book of Acts. Peter had just been miraculously released from prison and was knocking on Rhoda’s door. Note how her emotions overpowered rational thinking: “Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate” (Acts 12:14). So Peter kept on knocking …

Hijacking Is Often Harmful

Unfortunately, hijacking is usually not funny. When we are overtaken by sinful emotions like anger, jealousy, lust, or fear, we often respond impulsively and say or do things that hurt other people, damage our relationships, trigger long-lasting shame, and weaken our witness as followers of Christ.

Like James and John when their anger flared and they sought to bring down fire on the Samaritans because they would not welcome Jesus (Luke 9:51-55).

Or Joseph’s brothers, when jealousy drove them to sell him into slavery (Gen. 37:11; 27-28).

Or David, when lust led to seduction, pregnancy, manipulation, and murder … and eventually to civil war (2 Sam. 11:1-17; 2Sam. 12:11-15).

Or Peter, when fear compelled him to deny Jesus three times … which he deeply regretted within moments as he wept outside the gate (Luke 22:54-62).

Sin-Damaged Brains

When we read these biblical narratives, we typically explain them by simply saying, “They sinned.”

That’s true, but painting with such a broad brush robs us of a full understanding of the problem and an effective plan of action.

Sin is definitely central to these harmful dynamics, but its impact is far more nuanced than most of us realize. Let’s look at this from both a theological and neurological perspective.

At creation, God made us in his image (Gen. 1:26). Among other things, this means he designed our minds to function perfectly in every situation, no matter what kind of stress we might be feeling. The limbic part of our brain, where emotions and motivations are centered, was designed to work in perfect harmony with our neocortex, where rational thinking and decision making takes place.

But sin threw this beautifully designed system out of whack. Instead of meshing smoothly, the various parts of our brain sometimes get out of synch. Emotions, desires and passions can get so intense that they compel us to do things we know are wrong and will soon be regretted (see Rom. 7:18-19; James 4:1-3).

A Matter of Nanoseconds

Part of what goes wrong in these situations (and this is only one part) has to do with the wiring of our brains, which no longer works as perfectly as God initially designed it. So here’s what happens …

Data from our senses enter the brain through the thalamus, which relays impulses to other parts of the brain. Due to small differences in the distances to be traveled, impulses arrive at the limbic system a few nanoseconds before they get to the neocortex. This means that our emotions can get rolling before we are able to rationally process the information.

Simple illustration. My wife is terrified of snakes. If we were walking along a high mountain cliff and she saw a small garter snake beside the trail, she would probably scream and leap ten feet out into thin air before her neocortex reminded her that she can’t fly. But by then it’s too late.

Saved by a Water Bottle

Next week we’ll look at several ways to use the READ principle to guard against hijacking. But let me leave you with a simple illustration today.

I once counseled a man who frequently got himself into trouble at work by speaking impulsively during business meetings. If he was irritated, surprised, or simply wanted attention, he would throw out little sarcastic comments that steadily eroded his credibility and relationships. He wanted to stop but the little jabs just kept on coming.

Although a thorough solution would require a prayerful examination of his heart (Matt. 15:19), I gave him some immediate help simply by advising him to always take a water bottle or cup of coffee into his meetings … and to never say a word until he had raised the bottle or cup to his lips and taken a sip.

The six seconds required to take a sip gave his brain time to work around his emotional impulses and get a message up to the neocortex, where his higher reasoning powers had time to evaluate the situation and send an overriding message to his mouth: “I really don’t need to say this.”

Not very fancy, but it worked. And that little bit of progress motivated him to pursue the more comprehensive solutions we’ll look at in next week’s blog: Four Ways to Defeat Hijacking.

Tag Cloud