Saturday, August 27, 2011

Practical Theory to Resolve Procrastination

This article was written by a clinical psychologist who has been in private practice 27 years. It is one of a host of articles on procrastination, many of which should be on this blog. Please read the other articles to understand the basic terms of this one, specifically ambivalence and its relation to procrastination.
The trick with all forms of ambivalence is to make conscious the various out-of-awareness conflicts that gum up motivation and undermine behavior. Procrastination is not paying attention to something out of awareness, or making something be out of awareness that should be in focus, consciously.
The way you best do this is how you best master procrastination.
Some people just sit and listen to themselves, until the offending memory, association or blocked impulses surfaces. This is what I do whenever I'm ambivalent. Others are more deliberate in their search within. They meditate, or practice mindfulness, which is really not that complicated in theory, but hard for many to practice. Mindfulness is simply listening and watching your every thought, feeling, physical sensation and impulse, with an eye towards making all your internal activity fully conscious as you move through time.
When this occurs, associations to your experiences also surface, and
there is the link to what's in the back of your mind, causing the "pause." (Someone also said, this is also "pausing the cause."
Cute.) Regardless, the goal is to find the ambivalence, which is masked by anxiety. There is indecision somewhere in your mind, conscious or not, probably sponsored by the existence of some approach-avoidance or double approach-avoidance conflict. Your task is to examine yourself sufficiently to find this kernel, this hotbed of avoidance, suppression or repression.
When the source of the conflict is discovered, the anxiety shifts from one born of avoidance, to one born of having to deal with the conflict. Remember, ambivalence is a sign of indecision over some contesting ideas, values, feeling, memories or thoughts. By definition, it is not pleasant to have to deal with these "things," or else there would be no justification for suppressing or repressing them in the first place. Now, you have to deal with the forbidden, displaced, relegated material that caused you discomfort. The anxiety that emerges from this process is not that of hiding and having to discover the hidden material. The material is now in view, so now what do you do with it?
The answer is to be assertive; that is, to openly address the onflict, preferably by word first, not deed. The answer is to verbalize your conflict, whatever it is, whatever level at which it functions or whichever conflict it represents. The trick is to put words to your feelings and say them, out loud, expressing all the nuances of the ambivalence and resulting indecision.
Does this resolve the conflict? No. What it accomplishes is
changing your awareness from more suppressed or repressed to more open
and flowing. From the latter perspective, dealing with the underlying
dilemma is now possible, because it is no longer buried. But just
because it is in your awareness doesn't mean procrastination suddenly
disappears. You have to act on the feelings, thoughts, etc. in an overt manner, which was not possible before. In fact, because the hidden conflicts were not up front and in your face before, you were rendered incapable of dealing directly with them. Now, you can, but you still have to decide to do it. Usually, the pressure expressed by making such ambivalence conscious is sufficient motivation to deal with the issue.
It is not any more comfortable now that it is conscious than when it wasn't. Because you have a vocabulary to apply in expressing the conflicts (which seems to naturally follow when such items surface) externalizing them is more likely. This is when assertiveness seems to be most effective in resolving procrastination.
-Dr. Griggs

The Four-To-One Rule For Teenagers-Part II

This is the second part of an article about applying the 4:1 Rule to teenager's behavior. Please read the previous article first... Written by a psychologist.

To continue...

The critical ratio is 4:1. It's a subtle point, but one that took me a long time figure out. In this specific way, we are choosing which positive things to include in the "four" part. That's the shaping and changing of behaviors part. You are focusing on specific behaviors four times as often as anything else. Your child is getting lots of attention when s/he does certain things or at the very least is getting that attention because s/he did those things. You're just bringing it up. This changes behavior simply because you are bringing it up. Your teenager will start doing those things much more often. Why? Because it feels good. S/he gets lots of attention for doing those things. Why? Because your behavior changed. You are using the 4:1 technique.
And, here's the magic. When your teen behaves more positively (showing the behaviors on the left side of the list) s/he isn't showing the behaviors on the right list because they are incompatible, meaning the opposite of the good ones. The bad behaviors start to disappear! They are becoming extinct. The bad behaviors are replaced by the good (reinforced) behaviors, without punishment. Your teen "spontaneously" behaves better, showing the behaviors on the left side of the list.
You might wonder why it's 4:1, not 3:1 or some other ratio. Well, I've tried 3:1. That's when you make three positive statements to every "other" one. It works, but not as well. There's some positive rewards, attention, etc. It's just not enough because human beings need more. In my opinion we need more regular nurturing, especially by others in our clan. It's our genetic heritage and four positives to every one "other" seems to be the default ratio. I've tried 2:1. It barely works, sometimes not at all. I've tried 1:1. It doesn't work. I've gone overboard in the other direction and tried 5:1 or ever 6:1. That's when you deliver five or six "positives" for any one "other" communication. Both of these ratios produce changes in behavior but it starts to sound "syrupy" or disingenuous. That's a turn off; hence, a punishment in the making. That's bad.
You might wonder about a 1:4 ratio; that is, only one good comment (reward) for four "other" statements (neutral or even punishments). This system is found in the military and is fear based. In this behavioral format, you rarely get a reward because good (conforming) behavior is expected. In the military, it is not thought to be necessary to recognize a positive behavior every time (or four times in relation to "other" behaviors in my system). However, just mess up and the Drill Sergeant is on you like wet on water--in your face and not happy, at least by stereotype. He or she probably confronts you four times as often as he or she compliments you. This system works to get conformity when the consequences of not behaving well are severe (like when you get put in the brig, or worse, are at war) and when fear is followed by very strong, negative (punishing) reinforcers such as injury or even death. This system has its place, but not in raising children who are forming their very core beliefs. It doesn't work with young people who have evolving and as yet fragile self-esteems. It does not work with spouses or partners who are in "normal" relationships. If the 1:4 rule is applied to families, disaster results. This technique damages children. In general, using the 1:4 rule creates mad people who feel bad about themselves and act out a lot. This is one way I get long-term clients.

-Dr. Griggs

The Four-To-One Rule For Teenagers-Part I

I've been a kid psychologist for 27 years and write a lot of articles and ebooks on various psychological subjects. Here's one on a principle that everyone should know, not just parents.

It took me about a year to figure this out. When I first started working with families, I noticed that some families just "clicked." They worked better with each other, whereas other families only partially succeeded, or even failed. I didn't know why. It didn't seem to matter if they were positive--all of them tried speaking and acting positively because we are all know we should "think positively." When comparing the successful to the less-than-successful families, it didn't matter what was their socio-economic status. Race, education, religion and other factors
made no difference. What turned out to be the deciding factor wasn't
whether there was positive communication among family members because I saw that all the families did that.
It was the ratio of positive-to-negative messages that was different in the successful families. It turns out that we, as warm-blooded, nurturing-needing, social mammals just need a greater amount of positive feedback to feel good about ourselves, plus respond to changes in our environment, hence, survive. Positive feedback makes us feel good via experiencing positive reinforcers. ("Other" feedback is anything else--negative, or just neutral. These have "other" effects, as you might guess.)
The 4:1 rule is about the ratio of rewards or positive things we say
or do to our teenagers compared to the number of negative or other things we say or do. In all interactions, there should be four positive messages for every "other" (usually but not always negative) message.
A more general way to think about this is that there should be four
positive messages embedded in our conversations with anyone, anytime,
relative to any other statements. The 4:1 rule should be common to all these aspects of communication, because we seem to need that much to nurture our good behaviors. It's the way we are wired. This is where the rubber meets the road.
Create a worksheet of target behaviors, with positive behaviors on the left, and their opposite negative behaviors on the right. (Details of this procedure can be found in my ebook on How To Change Teenager's Behavior, which can be found as a link off of my website, below.) The idea is to pick the most important positive behaviors in the left column and work them into your conversation with your teen as you interact. You do this spontaneously but genuinely.
(Don't make up stuff because being fake will act as a turn off--subtle
punishment for interacting with you. Punishments are negative experiences
and will reduce the behaviors you want to increase.) Work into the
conversation four positive comments about real or past positive behaviors
for every one "other" comment you might make.
In general, it helps to do this when talking to anyone, anytime, regardless of whether you are trying to get them to change a behavior (or two or three), but for now, make sure to work these comments into the conversation referencing specific good behaviors you have witnessed in your teenager. You are putting a positive message into your teen's brain about his or her positive behaviors, or beginning positive behaviors, four times as often as you are mentioning anything else. Or, put more generically, you are speaking of his or her positive attributes in four out of five comments you make, no matter what, where, when or how you speak. You are reinforcing what you already like, thus strengthening the good behavior, or you are shaping what you see coming, thus encouraging the incipient positive behavior to become more robust.
The "four part" of the 4:1 rule is about building into the conversation natural aspects that are positive that you choose, thus influencing the extinction of old behaviors in your teenager by reinforcing the opposite, positive aspects of some "bad" behavior, or by encouraging or strengthening not-quite-fully-developed new behaviors (shaping, modeling, cueing).

-Dr. Griggs

The Dance-Part II

I've been a child psychologist for 27 years. This article is a continuation of the concept of "The Dance," which I developed to help parents understand their role in guiding their progeny. Please read the first article before perusing this one...
The Dance happens when you as the parent resist, then back up as the child proves his or her case. As you back up, your child advances. In this case, your child pursued and then demonstrated some constellation of traits that convinced you s/he was "ready," at which point you acceded. At other times, you would have said "No" to the pressure of some request, because your child was not ready. At that time, the child backed up and you remained fixed in your position. At other times, the child might have regressed; that is, reverted to less mature behaviors because of the influence of friends, misguided information, a momentary failure of maturity or irresistible temptation. At this moment, your child "backed up" so you retrenched, which means you temporarily treated him as if he or she was much younger ("retrogressive parental re-posturing"). Why? Because at that moment, considering the issue at hand, your child was NOT ready, and you, as the wise parent, knew it. You held the line.
One example I often see is when a teen comes home with a pierced lip, green hair, black clothing and is accompanied by three friends who look the same. Your parental reaction is predictable and your teenager knows what it's going to be. This is a test. But my experiences as a child psychologist suggests this is another normal stage teens create. And, it turns out the outward trappings of "degenerateness" are not predictive of much of anything in the future. Teenagers experiment with everything-dress, makeup, jewelry, behavior; you name it. They are still the same beings underneath the trappings and have the same values you inculcated in them from day one. Be patient and tolerant UNLESS there is "just cause." Just cause is when your teen comes home drunk with straight F's on the report card, still sporting the counterculture couture. THEN have the talk, but be careful to talk about the alcohol and grades, not necessarily the other stuff.
At each developmental step, The Dance changes because your child-come-teenager has different needs and the issues at hand become altered, expanded, extinguished, etc. Your task, now that the teenage years have arrived, is to be aware of your teen's needs and deal with whatever the issue is at the moment, assessing your teenager's competence, skill levels, needs, appropriateness of wants, etc. Your task is not to hold your teenager back from progress (you couldn't do this even if you tried); rather, your parental mandate is to give your offspring the tools to succeed.
Because you have been around the block more times than your offspring, you get to make the call about when and where to hold the line, or give in to the upward evolutionary pressure your child constantly applies. This is normal, but at any given time, when and where to draw the line may not be clear. It was easier to assess when your child was younger because his or her needs were more simple and concrete. However, with maturity comes complexity, adaptability, greater range of feelings and depth of thought.
So, The Dance becomes more poignant with teens. Teenagers seem to have greater intensity of needs or at least they are sometimes more vocal and persistent in their expostulations. And while their "issues" are every bit as important to them as the sleepover is to the seven year old, they also experience their "issues" as having greater scope, proportional to teenager's expanding vistas. What are different are the larger physical bodies these needs are housed in, and the greater intelligence (some parents say "cuning") wielded to meet those needs. The good news is that your teenager has grown into a more mature being. The bad news is that s/he has more resistance for you to circumnavigate. Negotiating with older teenagers is more intense because no longer can you send them to their room when you disagree. No longer can you give them a simple time out. At best, you can take away some of their toys if they are on the low end of the teenage spectrum, but as they age, even this works less and less. Increasingly, you have to deal with them as "almost" adults, which means you are nearing the end of The Dance.
As teens near adulthood, increasingly they demand you treat them as competent beings, granting them increased privileges such as having later curfews, the opportunity to take summer jobs and manage their own money. Your job is to acknowledge this, even encourage it by reinforcing the behaviors that are most desirable, as discussed above. Increasingly, this is done with less and less punitive feedback and more and more with collaborative approval. You are shaping the final chapter of your teenager's childhood. At this stage, the relationships become a cooperative, not a dictatorship.

-Dr. Griggs

The Dance-Part I

I've been a child psychologist for 27 years, and have developed
a system of changing both kid's and teenager's behavior. I've written lots of articles about children, many of which, hopefully, are on this website. The following article deals with a particularly poignant movement through time between parents and children. I call this "The Dance."
This is my term for the ever-changing interactions parents have
with their children, starting from age zero. When your child was born,
s/he could do nothing and you had to do and supply everything. At eighteen, your now-grown child can do most things by himself or herself, and you don't have to do too much. If you are the typical parent of a newly-minted adult (at least biologically), you supply more or less the basics of food, shelter and other resources (cars, money, time, etc.), while your now "older" teenager makes more executive decisions. What happened in between these extremes? How did things change?
The Dance is my term for the back and forth exchanges both you and your child go through at the exact moment of conflict over any given issue. Remember when your child was seven and wanted to attend his or her first sleepover? You thought s/he was too young and would be scared, have nightmares, call you at three in the morning to come get him or her, leave the friend's house and get lost, etc. Your child told you s/he was ready, had no fear and would feel left out of "the group" of kids that would be there this coming weekend if s/he couldn't go. Remember that dialogue? You, as the parent, were protective, resistant and cautious. Your child was brazen, headstrong, determined. Who was right? BOTH of you.
BOTH you and the child were acting normally. You resisted and the child persisted. At some point your child was ready and you backed off, but when? Your position was quite correct from an evolutionary point of view because prematurely sending children out into the real reduces the population of children. We parents know the horrors of the world "out there" and what happens when too young children are exposed to real-world dangers too soon. However, your child's position was also correct because without testing the waters, s/he would not have developed the skills necessary to deal with that real world.
The Dance is about going back and forth between parents and children. At any given moment, there is some amount of tension--a tug-of-war between the generations--resulting in micro-movements forwards and backwards by both or either. The overall trend is forward, through time, from age zero to eighteen and beyond. Like any dance, there is give and take, and there will be missteps, resulting in sometimes-forward movement, sometimes backwards movement, sometimes no movement. Ultimately, parents back up and back off as children grow and ever more assume greater responsibilities. Hopefully, this is in direct proportion to their developing skills.

-Dr. Griggs

Teenagers, Limit Setting, Emotions and Moods

Over-reaction to limit setting can occur in the context of any event that produces any emotion. Your teen will likely be sadder than usual when there is a frustration with a relationship. S/he will be more hurt than usual when there is personal injury involved, again, usually relative to peer interaction. Pick a feeling and pick a situation and put on your seat belt. The issue may be curfew, whether or not to have a cell phone, or attending a party with older teenagers. Your task as a parent is to set appropriate limits--do your research and
figure out what is "appropriate"--despite the turbulence to follow.
Why? Because teenagers actually need those limits. It's paradoxical. They feel safer and know that you really love them when you say "No" to something they are not ready for. Paradoxically, their anxiety actually goes down because they know in what areas and in what territory they are safe; also when to protest, but more importantly, when not to. On the surface, teens will like you less, but at deeper levels, they will respect you more, and later be able to return your love with conviction and certainty. Unless there is some underlying pathology, each phase will pass as skirmishes resolve.
How do emotions and moods manifest? Usually with noise. What are the kinds of behaviors to expect? Many teens will, on purpose, yell or otherwise act out their feelings by stomping off, grimacing, slamming doors or locking themselves in their rooms (until hungry). These are the normal variants of teenager moods. Back talking, making funny hand gestures are borderline "OK" behaviors, depending largely on the parent's temperaments. Breaking things, hurting self or others, withdrawing for extended periods of time, running away, leaving without permission, not
coming home at night, indulging in sex, drugs or alcohol are "Not OK." Remember The Dance? (See previous articles by this author.) When the latter maladaptive behaviors show up, we no longer have a waltz-we have a boogie woogie.
As with younger children, your challenge is to pick the behaviors to change. What behaviors should be on the "radar screen?" How many do you work on and which ones should come first? One hint, if you pick the wrong behavior or group of behaviors, you will get change but the change will not "stick." The old behaviors will come back sooner than you want. This tells you that something else might be the problem or that your focus is too superficial. Change your focus and apply the techniques to a different set of problems or level of behavior, e.g., need or mood, and see if that produces more positive results. For example,
with teenagers, you first have to get them to really listen to you. Then, you talk about issues. Maybe they don't clean their rooms. They could suffer from lack of motivation, especially for school projects. Not giving you respect can be troublesome. Acting bigger than their britches is a complaint I used to hear a lot; now we just call it defiance, oppositional or other names. But if addressing any of these problems "takes" for only a short while, consider looking deeper.
Most of the examples mentioned above could be symptoms of normal mood variations. In that case, parents ought to consider talking frankly about teenager moods-yes, with the teenager. Parents who verbalize their observations with their teens, in this case feeding back something about their own experiences with mood or observations about their teen's mood, help teens to more quickly come to terms with themselves. Teenagers don't always like hearing negative things about themselves, but then, who does? And, remember, your teenager is not a young child anymore, so consider the level of your approach. It has to be exactly at the teen's level of maturity and understanding--no more, no less. "Coming in" at just the right depth is crucial and presages greater success. And, when
communicating, consider your attitude. Presenting "information" to your teen as if your version is the truth and his or hers is not is asking for rebellion, even if you are right. The trick is to ascertain the real issues, and approach them at just the right level and tone. It might also help to teach your teenager a vocabulary of his or her feelings. In the literature, there are eight major feelings that we humans have. I think there is a ninth, so in my office, there are nine major feelings. Have your teen look up the nine and find as many synonyms as possible for each. Then, both you and your teenager start using these feeling words or their synonyms in assertiveness sentences. (BTW, I have compiled these ninefeeling words in the back of my ebook, "The Five Steps of Assertiveness." I also had fifth graders look up these and their synonyms, and the synonyms of the synonyms on I now have nearly eight hundred synonyms for the nine major human feeling words, all available for assertive use by both teen and parent, alike.

-Dr. Griggs

Teenagers, Emotions and Moods

Wikipedia has the common definition:

"A mood is a relatively long lasting emotional state.
Moods differ from simple emotions in that they are less
specific, less intense, and less likely to be triggered by
a particular stimulus or event."

Being more global, moods can mask feelings, which are sometimes more intense and often more fleeting. Feelings tend to come and go with greater rapidity and more visibility.
Either feelings or moods can be a problem for teens. My use of the term mood can be understood to reflect feelings that are both short and long term, embedded in or that occur separately from specific moods. I define these terms this way because with teenagers, feelings quickly become emotions, which precipitate out moods-but all this can occur more rapidly than in non-teen groups, hence they sometimes all start to look alike.
Parents have to deal with their teenager's moods, because we all know teenagers have exaggerated moods. This is a nice way to say sometimes teenager's moods are more intense than in "normal" people. The word "drama" comes to mind.
For all of us, at times, moods trample reasoning and compromise
behavior. When is a teen's mood out of the ordinary? The answer depends upon the parent's judgment, just as much as the teenager's experience. Normally, a little fluctuation of mood happens to all of us. In teens, the range of ups and down is slightly extended; that is, they sometimes are a little more "up" and sometimes they are a little more "down." But ups and downs, even if a little expanded in range, do not normally undermine function. Usually, this is your teenager's way of getting your attention, expressing feeling misunderstood, expressing
misunderstood feelings, etc. While slightly unstable moods make dealing with teens more challenging, eventually the moods subside, and "normal" functioning prevails. If this is the case, your teenager's moods are fine.
When teenager's moods deteriorate and stay that way, its time for intervention. Mood destabilization is a sign of pathology, which can be caused by many things. Teens experiment a lot at this age, that being another hallmark of individuation. If in their poor judgment state teens choose to use drugs, lots of very bad things might happen, the first of which are "flame outs." You will more than notice big changes in teen behavior, characterized by emotional volatility. But also beware of sudden withdrawal and excessive quiet. These signs are equally suspect.
The scope of this article is too narrow to warrant a discussion of teen drug use. But parents should not overlook this possibility and they should address it at its first occurrence. The same is true when
considering alcohol use, which is rampant among teens. I consider alcohol to be a "liquid" drug, but a drug nonetheless. Teenagers will put up quite an argument to justify their substance ab/use, debating the merits of smoking pot vs. drinking wine with dinner. Be prepared.

-Dr. Griggs

Teenagers and Needs

Teenagers and Needs
I've been a child psychologist for over two and a half decades. I've written hundreds of articles, this one on Teenagers and Needs. The overall theme is How To Change Teenager's Behavior, which is covered in depth in an ebook by the same title, linked to the author's website, below. In the present article, the concept of Need is
isolated and reviewed in the context of maneuvering around sometimes
difficult-to-understand teenager's behaviors, specifically changing
those behaviors...
When thinking about your teen's needs, you, as the acting parent,
actually have to be a bit of a psychologist. Accurately assessing and
addressing children's needs often changes negative behaviors more quickly than just reinforcing the opposite positive behaviors ("left column" behaviors, as described in previous articles by this author.). This is truer of teenagers than of younger children, the exception being if your kids (of any age) have a mood disorder, proper (see next series of articles).
I want the principles to be very clear. Like two year olds, teens have a strong need to individuate; that is, separate from their parents and be their own person. These needs are built into all human psyches in one form or another, and as developmental theorists state, they manifest themselves over and over at each developmental stage. So, the teen is actually expressing the same needs as the two year old, only through different more developed and complicated behaviors.
With teens, there is the added press from hormones, but the needs are the same. You deal with your teenager by giving him or her the outlet for his or her needs by reinforcing behaviors that highlight his or her many fine qualities, just like with two year olds.
Here are some categories of teen needs, disguised as wants. Not
coincidentally, these are the usual problem areas that cause teenagers
and parents to bump heads; in my terms "engage" in "The Dance." Also not
coincidentally, these behaviors can be used as rewards. These behaviors
are really only the grist for teenager's developmental mill, so to speak,
channeling their biological pressure and maturational imperative through
more superficial issues. But we parents have to deal with "something" to
get to the deep stuff, so in the next article in this series are twelve
commonly experienced teen "issues."


Sex and Teenagers

Sex is THE big subject parents avoid. The interesting thing is that
by the time teenagers begin dating, they already know way more about sex than parents imagined. Why? One reason is that elementary school children now attend sex-ed classes at earlier and earlier ages. Sometimes this occurs in the sixth or even the fifth grade. (Twenty years ago, sex-ed classes were not offered until eighth grade, but the social consequences of delaying have proved too big to ignore.) Another reason is that the Internet offers so many more sources of information than ever before. It is virtually impossible to withhold information from anyone who is Internet savvy. This is true for younger and younger people, despite parent's wishes to the contrary. Another reason--and this one is not new--kids talk. While they may have erroneous information, they communicate.
They communicate via networks that only a few years ago did not exist
(Twitter, Facebook, IM, Utube, Texting, etc.). These phenomena have
exploded, with mixed results. But one good thing is that teens are
instantly and constantly bombarded with information. Guess what subject
is most often entered into search engines. Sex.
Sex is going to happen. It is not a question of if, but when. You crossed this threshold, and so will your teenager. Relax and take a deep breath. You survived and so will they.
The way to deal with sex is the same as with driving, or makeup, or cell phones (see previous articles by this authors on these subjects), only your teen will likely not tell you when "the event" happened. It's too intimate and is too big of a transition event. In my experience
as a marriage and family counselor, I have heard of only one teenager who
voluntarily shared her first sexual experience with her mother. This was very rare. Usually, parents get wind of something happening because teens are careless and leave evidence behind. You can guess what kinds of things you will find.
Your task is to educate and train your teen. A sex-ed class is
generally a good place to start, but the real training and education should be in the home, conducted by the parents. If you don't do this, your teen will find out information about sex anyway, but it may not be the kind of information you want them to have, or worse, it may be wrong, which could be deadly, i.e., misinformation safe-sex behaviors, STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and pregnancy. Once informed, your teen will venture "out there," like with driving, and your influence will
diminish proportionately.
So, when do you have the talk? The answer is when your child is ready. This could be signaled by them asking sex questions. It could be signaled by puberty, the onset of which you will notice before they do.
You can always bring it up in a casual way, and then judge by their reactions whether or not they are ready. Usually, teens won't bring this up by themselves because it's too personal, too big and too embarrassing.
This is all normal. Be patient, but be watchful. The time will come and when it does, be real, relaxed and informative. Treat sex like any other topic. Your child will take his or her cue from you, hopefully dealing with the subject with the same demeanor modeled, shaped and cued by you.
If your child is a pre-teen when those questions are asked, provide answers at pre-teen depth, or more specifically answer only what is asked at the level asked. Some kids are precocious, so with bright teens or even pre-teens, be prepared. Don't be afraid to provide what is asked. My rule as a psychologist is that when a question is asked, the asker is ready to receive the answer. I'm much more wary of when it is appropriate to ask questions but instead there is silence.

-Dr. Griggs

"Open Phones" As A Technique To Ease Transition/Visitation Problems

In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I have worked with children of all ages for over twenty years. Usually parents drag their kids into my office complaining of a litany of bad behaviors, ranging from not cleaning up their rooms, to getting bad grades, hitting their siblings, or worse, stealing, fighting or doing drugs. I work with parents to change their children's behavior. It is very helpful for the parents to know their children's experiences, especially after a divorce. This article addresses what
the child thinks about the divorce and how they react, considering some fundamental needs.
To help your child of almost any age tolerate separation from either parent, try giving them "open phone" privileges. This simply means the child can call the other parent at certain times of the day, or maybe at any time to "touch base," "check in" or whatever. Please do not make this a control issue between the parent and child. Parents have a bad habit of curtailing or at least limiting the time their child talks
to the other parent because they feel the child should now be spending time with them. This is the receiving parent's controlling dynamics coming out, which in this case harms the child. It also completely misses the point.
"Open phones" is about allowing the child to feel connected and to give the child a way to reduce his or her discomfort because of artificial
separation from the other parent. Allowing contact with the other parent reassures your child that the other parent is still "there." This diminishes your child's anxiety by reinforcing constancy. To reiterate, the more anxiety your child has or the more the divorce itself remains an unresolved psychological issue for all parties, the more likely your child will sooner or later act out or have other mental health symptoms. To reduce anxiety without bearing the cost of acting out, help your child talk, using feeling words. Even if this is done via phone, it helps.
Here is the paradox. The more one parent allows and supports the needs of the child to telephone the other family, no matter how long or frequent the conversations are, and no matter how much time they take up relative to the amount of time the child has to visit that parent, the more the child will bond more deeply and faster with the current custodial parent. This is actually simple.
The child realizes the parent doing the "allowing" is a pretty good person, one who is supportive of the child's needs, despite having competing needs of their own. This communicates respect and empathy to the child, who then usually "connects" (forms better attachments) with this other parent because of the positive emotional experience. Like the old saying goes, one gets many more flies with honey than with vinegar.


Guilt Quotes--Part II

I found some more good quotes on guilt…

“Guilt is the reason they put the articles in Playboy.”--Dennis Miller

“Food, love, career, and mothers, the four major guilt groups.”-- Cathy Guisewite

“No work for love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.”—Alan Watts

“The only things that I can tell you is that every case I have reviewed I have been comfortable with the innocence or guilt of the person that I've looked at. I do not believe we've put a guilty... I mean innocent person to death in the state of Texas.”--George W. Bush

“Never regret anything because at one time it was what you wanted.”--Unknown

“It's regret, I think that really is the worst kind of pain. Yeah guilt is bad, and sadness is bad, but regret is the sickly combination of both.” --Unknown

“Is it possible that all the horrible things you've done have been forgotten by everyone-except yourself?”--Unknown
“Alas! How difficult it is not to betray one's guilt by one's looks.”--Ovid
“Innocence does not find near so much protection as guilt.”--Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but guilt is simply God's way of letting you know that you're having too good a time.”--Dennis Miller

“Now, of course, the great thing about the solar system as a frontier is that there are no Indians, so you can have all the glory of the myth of the American westward expansion without any of the guilt.”--Sarah Zettel

“Repentant tears wash out the stain of guilt.”--Saint Aurelius Augustine

“Guilt is present in the very hesitation, even though the deed be not committed.”--Cicero

“Guilt is a spiritual Rubicon.”--Jane Porter floating around in our culture and our consciousness.
“Why don't Jews drink? It interferes with their suffering.”--Henny Youngman

“How tedious is a guilty conscience!”--John Webster hat we can do. It is greatly misunderstood and because of this it is rarely given in the truest sense of the w
“We prefer a meaningless collective guilt to a meaningful individual responsibility”--Thomas Szasz.

-Dr. Griggs

Guilt Quotes--Part I

In my wanderings about the literature on guilt, I ran across some quotes. Some are sprinkled throughout an ebook I’ve written on guilt. Here’s some I thought were good:

“Guilt is anger directed at ourselves.”--Peter McWilliams

“If I had my life to live over again, I'd be a plumber.”--Albert Einstein

“If you wind up with a boring, miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest or some guy on TV telling you what to do, then YOU DESERVE IT.”--Frank Zappa

“It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.”--Oscar Wilde

“Guilt is the price we pay willingly for doing what we are going to do anyway.”--Isabelle Holland

“The guilty think all talk is of themselves.”--Chaucer

“Guilt is absent when the act is justified.”--Anon

“For socialists, not just the wealth, but the guilt must be redistributed.”--Andrew Sandlin

“Guilt is the very nerve of sorrow.”--Horace Bushnell

“It is quite gratifying to feel guilty if you haven’t done anything wrong; how noble! Whereas it is rather hard and certainly depressive to admit guilt and to repent.” Hannah Arendt

“You can bear anything if it is not your fault.”--Katherine Fullerton Gerould

“Guilt is regret for what we’ve done. Regret is guilt for what we didn’t do.”--Unknown

“I have half a conscience to go ahead and do it, and feel guilty afterwards.”--Unknown

“Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.”--Erma Bombeck

“Fear is the tax which conscience pays to guilt”--Anon

“Whoever blushes confesses guilt, true innocence never feels shame.”--Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.”--Coco Chanel

“I have never smuggled anything in my life. Why, then, do I feel an uneasy sense of guilt on approaching a customs barrier?”--John Steinbeck

-Dr. Griggs

Dealing with Guilt--Part VII

This is the last in a seven-part series of articles on dealing with guilt. Please read the first six before reading this one. Written by a psychologist.

To continue…

There are some who will not abandon religion in their quest for a guilt-free existence. Unfortunately, religious people often suffer the greatest guilt.

“I’m an Irish Catholic and I have a long iceberg of guilt.”--Edna O’Brien

For you, the last option is to repent. Although guilt is not seen as a very positive emotion, repentance is seen as a very important factor to improve our ways of thinking and behaving. In this light, the positive/transforming aspect of guilt can be that we admit our mistakes, ponder over them and motivate ourselves to not repeat negative actions. If you are Christian, this means relief from sin and acceptance into Heaven. That is REALLY BIG relief. Freudians would say repentance is the ultimate experience of reducing superego pressure. I’d say, if this is the only way you can experience relief from the pressure of guilt and/or shame, go for it. While it binds you to the mechanism of self-denigration, it also gives you a way out--better that than being guilty, suffering and having no escape.
Because Christians do not have a monopoly on guilt, neither do they have exclusive rights to repentance. Here’s an affirmation from a traditional repentance verse from Buddhism:

“For all the evil deeds I have done in the past, created by my body, speech and mind, from beginningless greed, hatred and delusion, I now know shame and repent them all.”--Unknown

In the “East," the above is perhaps the simplest but most widely practiced verse of repentance. The practice of Buddhist repentance is not so much the asking for divine forgiveness; rather, the clear recognition of our unskillful actions done intentionally or unmindfully through our body, speech and mind, which are the results of our lack of compassion and wisdom, originating from our attachment, aversion and delusion. After recognizing our misgivings, we make resolutions to be as mindful as we can, to never repeat them under any circumstances. In this sense, Buddhist repentance is about forgiving oneself through expressing regret and turning over a new leaf, absolving oneself of unhealthy guilt while renewing determination to further avoid evil, do good and purify the mind with greater diligence.

-Dr. Griggs

Dealing with Guilt--Part VI

This is the sixth in a seven-part series of articles on dealing with guilt. Please read the first five before reading this one. Written by a psychologist.

To continue…

Can I make those irrational beliefs conscious and better deal with them, then? Here’s some techniques I sometimes use:

• Decide that if you must feel guilt, it will be for only five minutes. Guilt does have a purpose and if that purpose is to improve your behavior, legitimately, then yield, because you have learned something valuable. Feel the guilt. It won’t feel good, but it is instructive. This is deserved or healthy guilt. Then…
• Make amends. This is constructive behavior remedying healthy guilt. This is different from paying penance, which implies guilt but also hints that a guilt-free state of mind can be had for a price.
• Stop trying to be perfect. Nobody is perfect and don’t even try to be. Besides, imperfection is much more interesting. The world is not black and white. It is gray, and composed of wiggly, curvilinear, not straight right-angled lines. Get used to it and stop beating yourself up.
• After you’ve decided that you have suffered enough, get irritated with suffering and move on. For unhealthy guilt…
• Use an imagery scenario with "guilt" as an object you packaged in a nice box. Take it the top of a mountain and throw it off a cliff--for good.
• If you can’t do this, you still deserve to solve this problem. Value yourself, because…
• You deserve to be good to yourself. Repeat this out loud a few hundred times. (If this is a self-esteem problem, see The Four Powers of Self Esteem.)
• You deserve to have others be good to you, too!
• Develop perspective. Guilt and shame are obstacles because they keep us trapped in our self-centered melodrama entitled "How Bad I Am." They perpetuate suffering. Regret, on the other hand, realizes that we erred, leads us to purify, and motivates us to refrain from acting like that in the future. We improve while learning to feel better.
• Reflect on your motivation. An act done with a positive intention, especially without any self-interest is not necessarily negative, although other people may be harmed by it.
• Is your guilt more shame based? Think about the differences between shame and guilt.
• Think “externally” or “hyper-rationally.” Imagine a being from another planet came down to earth and reviewed your predicament from the perspective of a detached, disinterested alien. What would he think? Is it really such a big deal? Does this problem have more than one solution?
• Reframe. This is a psychological technique that allows one to look at things from the big picture, or to re-think the problem using a different perspective. Imagine that the person who did that (guilt-inducing) action no longer exists. That person is you, and you are different now. Is this person (you) who did that action five years ago the same person you are now? If s/he were exactly the same person, you would still be doing the same action. The present "you" exists in a continuum from that person but is not exactly the same as him or her. Look back at the person you were with compassion. You can understand the suffering and confusion s/he was experiencing that made her act in that way.
• Change or accept the circumstances. If you can change yourself or the situation, do so. Take charge (another form of assertiveness). If you can't change yourself or the situation for a good reason, accept it. Not acting when or where we can and could act can lead to frustration and guilt in the long run. Acting when and where we actually cannot or should not do anything can also produce guilt. Think ahead of the potential consequences when considering whether to accept what is vs. trying to do or say something to reduce guilt.
• The next-to-last antidote to guilt is forgiveness, which is the subject of the last of the three ebooks on ambivalences. Try to understand your motivations and to accept your limitations. Try to imagine another person doing the same thing you did (or didn’t do), who grew up thinking and feeling as you, thus behaving as you. You would probably “understand” such a person and have some empathy for his or her actions. Why not apply the same principles to yourself?

-Dr. Griggs

Dealing with Guilt--Part V

This is the fifth of a seven-part series of articles on dealing with guilt. Please read the previous four articles before reading this one. Written by a psychologist.

To continue…

How do you get “in touch” with these irrational beliefs and the inner feelings or reactions they create? How do you turn ambivalence and conflict outwards? Choose a current problem that induces guilt and ask yourself some pointed questions. Here are some prompts:

• What problem is currently troubling me?
• Who is responsible for the problem?
• Whose problem is it, really?
• Is this guilt due to an intrapersonal or interpersonal problem?
• Did I do something to make this problem worse for myself?
• Was “what I did” related to one or more of the irrational beliefs above?
• What are my feelings? (Articulate them specifically, by name…)
• How much guilt do I feel?
• How much does the guilt I experience exaggerate or exacerbate my problem?
• If I felt no more guilt what would my problem look like then?
• Is my guilt insurmountable?

Then try the following; keeping in mind, assertiveness is your best friend about now…
Reframe or redefine your problem without the presence of guilt. This will prompt you to see that guilt often prevents resolution of problems. Remember, guilt perpetuates anxiety by masking the underlying resentment of being judged; thus creating ambivalence, which when turned inwards is the dynamic defense against the feeling(s) involved in the conflict(s).
Try reducing judgment to simple evaluation. In other words, redefine your problem, by clarifying the relevant, but usually out-of-awareness issues. For example, is your guilt interpersonal? If so, can you help the other person and yourself set aside guilt and resolve this problem? If it is intrapersonal, can you set aside guilt or the fear of it and resolve this problem yourself? Can others and myself experience satisfaction, comfort and resolution with a minimum of debilitating guilt? Whose problem is it, really? Is it my problem or another(s)? Am I taking on another's responsibility? Am I am trying to keep another from experiencing pain, hardship or discomfort? If the problem is really someone else's, give the problem back to them. If the problem is yours, you must confront the real or imagined guilt or fear of guilt preventing you from either handing the problem back to the person(s) whose problem it really is or from handling the problem yourself. (Here comes assertiveness again.)
For now, ask yourself what fears are blocking you from taking the steps needed to resolve this problem? Which ones are rational and which ones are not? Rational fears probably are healthy and likely will be dealt with regardless of their relation to guilt. It would be healthy if you treat irrational fears the same, making them external and breaking them down into their component parts, reducing them to transactions and evaluations rather than lumping them all together, feeling judged and skipping this kind of analysis.

-Dr. Griggs

Dealing with Guilt--Part IV

This is the fourth in a seven-part series of articles on dealing with guilt. Please read the preceding three articles before reading this one. Written by a psychologist.

To continue…

Guilt-inducing ploys mislead or misdirect you. Because many irrational beliefs lie behind guilt, you may be unable to sort out the dynamic, much less your feelings. Speaking of feelings, the primary one underlying most of these manipulations will again, be anger, but be on guard for hurt, sad, and others. It is important to be objective with yourself when you are experiencing guilt. Be sure that your decisions are based on sound, rational thinking. In other words, make sure you are squarely aware of the ruse, your feelings and the alternative third standard.
What irrational beliefs or negative self-scripts are involved in guilt? Here are some examples. Beware of those who would try to elicit these to control you with guilt.

• I do not deserve to be happy.
• I am responsible for my family’s happiness.
• I am responsible if either positive or negative events happen to the members of my family.
• If my kids fail in any way, it's my responsibility.
• My children should never suffer in their childhood like I did in mine.
• My kids should have more material things than I did.
• There is only one "right" way to do things.
• It's bad to feel hurt and pain.
• It is my fault if others in my life are not happy.
• It is wrong to be concerned about myself.
• People are constantly judging me, and their judgment is important to me.
• It is important to save face with others.
• It is wrong to accept the negative aspects of my life without believing that I am responsible for them myself.
• I must not enjoy myself during a time when others expect me to be in mourning, grief or loss.
• I must never let down my guard; something I’m doing could be evil or wrong.
• I must always be responsible, conscientious and giving to others.
• How others perceive me is important as to how I perceive myself.
• No matter what I do, I am always wrong.
• I should never feel guilt.
• If I feel guilt, then I must be or have been wrong.

-Dr. Griggs

Dealing with Guilt--Part III

This is the third article in a seven-part series of articles on dealing with guilt. Please read the preceding two articles before reading this one. Written by a psychologist.

To continue…

To be assertive requires that we first choose to be assertive, consciously or unconsciously, and then have handy a vocabulary of our feelings. Then we need to have sufficient awareness of that vocabulary to pick just the right word(s) to express ourselves, out loud, regardless of how we may or may not doubt ourselves. Developing a little confidence helps, even if there may be reservations at first.

“I am who I am... and I am not ashamed of that... even though I should be.”--Unknown

It also requires that we have the ability to confront others, civilly, and bargain for our point of view. Assertiveness does not guarantee success, but it does increase the odds of getting what we want. Regardless, assertiveness is necessary if we want to penetrate ambivalence and ultimately undermine guilt. It means we have to conquer our fears of speaking out. To that end, here are some finer points to consider when speaking assertively:

• Use “I” statements. “I” don’t like this or that is better to say than “You” made me feel this way or that. These work well when paired with feeling words.
• Keep your voice calm. People interpret “volume” accompanying words to be negative. It could be a sign of enthusiasm but it also could be a sign of aggression. Screaming is a bad idea. If volume is interpreted as aggression, your recipient will cease to listen.
• Refrain from using physically aggressive gestures, like pointing. We can frown or smile or “emote” (express normal feelings non-verbally) in any congruent manner. But, don’t stare at the person. This is a “primate” signal of aggression. It’s best to keep our hands in our pockets when we talk. Don’t crowd a person. Give him or her some space. Expressing anger induced by guilt can be verbal without intimidating gestures. Paradoxically, anger, when channeled is very powerful and can be the backbone of successful assertiveness.
• Give the person time to respond before proceeding. If we deliver our message like a verbal machine gun, likely the recipient will put on his or her “bullet proof vest.”
• Use humor. I do this with children. If they make a mess in my office (a many times daily occurrence), I say something like, “Would you like to know how I feel about something? Good, I’m glad you asked.” Of course, they didn’t ask but this works to open up the subject. If they say “no,” I say something like, “Gee, why not?” I have ‘em. I confront them on their avoidance. I do this while gazing at the toys all over the office floor. Kids get the idea right away; usually start laughing and we start picking up.
• Keep the subject simple. Try not to make the discussion about two things. Just say something about one thing and give the person time to deal with that one thing before proceeding. Try to keep the focus on one behavior and one feeling related to guilt.
• Get to the point. Try to cut to the heart of the issue, problem, concern or feeling. If we fail, wait, if that’s OK. Sometimes we have to re-visit a point later. Just because we talked about something does not mean the problem was resolved or communication was finished. Be persistent up to the point of being obnoxious.
• Keep the subject in the present. Try to avoid bringing up historic and probably unrelated issues when communicating the content/process ideas/feelings. Talk about what makes you feel guilty now, even if the event happened earlier.
• Be considerate of the other person’s space and time needs. Don’t bring things up when there’s no time to talk. Bring things up when the person is available, or receptive, or in more rare cases, when it is necessary. This sets the stage for the reasonable resolution of guilt, versus coercion to alleviate or obfuscate the underlying dynamics.
• Listen with empathy without giving up your position. Assertiveness means speaking our minds. Muster some conviction. At the same time, make sure to really hear what is being said. “Joining the resistance” is giving credence to someone else’s point of view. It lowers their resistance and paves the way for greater receptivity to our ideas. This technique is used very effectively by counselors, but also by salesman. We need openness to other’s ideas and feelings to make this work. This does not mean “caving” and therefore continuing to feel guilty.
• Receive criticism without becoming defensive. We can do this even if we disagree with what’s said.
• Learn to say ‘no’ and set limits, but do so realistically, in the context of what is the issue or feeling. Don’t exaggerate or minimize to dramatize the point.
• Stop trying to control things.
• Finally, ask for what you want.

-Dr. Griggs

Dealing with Guilt—Part II

This is the second of a seven-part series of articles on dealing with guilt. Please read the previous article first. Written by a psychologist.

As has been said many times, guilt can be remedied through intellectual rigor or by changing cognitions of the dynamics; making conscious the understanding that the source of the guilty feelings was illogical or irrelevant. To do this, one has to conquer the ambivalence inherent in guilt. Remember, ambivalence is thinking two different ways and these two ways are in conflict, either at the same level (conscious) or at different levels (one conscious, the other not so conscious).

“Guilt once harbored in the conscious breats, intimidates the brave, degrades the great.”—Samuel Johnson

To conquer guilt, the guilty person has to take a stand, assertively employing the third standard to undermine the tyranny of the guilty ploy. This is done by penetrating ambivalence, thus reversing the tendency to turn conflicts and ambivalence inwards. We have to understand that the queasy feeling, that anxiety that something is just not right, is really a smokescreen, a cover for an insidious dynamic that usually is just below awareness. We are in conflict and anxious because we have yet to figure out what is happening to us. The trick is to externalize this process, to describe it out loud and to identify the components, the assumptions underlying the ploy and then to choose to do something else. That something else is now OUR standard, and is usually what WE want, not what our guilt-inducing brethren wants. This means we have to be aware of the ambivalence and all its parts, and then, speak up.
Assertiveness is the process of putting our inner experiences into words, and then asking for what we want. It is the process of making conscious, the unconscious conflicts, hence ambivalence, indecision and other more superficial avoidances we go through in order to avoid experiencing negative feelings. Unfortunately for the non-assertive, this is a difficult though necessary process, to discover our feelings and then say something about them, using actual words. Here are the top eight reasons NOT to be assertive, taken from another ebook. (For a complete explanation of the following and analysis of the fallacies underlying each assumption, read The Five Steps of Assertiveness by this author.)

1) I’m afraid people will get mad at me.
2) Bad things will happen to others.
3) People won’t like me.
4) If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
5) It’s no big deal.
6) It’s stupid. I don’t want to be assertive. I get what I want
7) People should know what I think or what I want.
8) Deeper psychological stuff. (Self esteem, fears of individuating, fears of differentiating, discomfort with feelings, personality disorders, irrational associations to past assertive people, confusion of assertiveness with other states such as aggression or passive-aggression.)

Dr. Griggs

Dealing with Guilt—Part I

This is the first of a seven-part series of articles on dealing with guilt. Written by a psychologist, it outlines the current approaches to resolving this thorny experience. These articles should be read in order.

Everyday, we interact with others and situations that can induce feelings of guilt. You might have the feeling of responsibility for negative circumstances that have befallen yourself or others. You might have the feeling of regret for your real or imagined misdeeds, both past and present. You might have a sense of remorse for thoughts, feelings or attitudes that were, or are negative, uncomplimentary or non-accepting concerning yourself or others. You might have a feeling of obligation for not pleasing, not helping or not placating another, or you might have a feeling of bewilderment and lack of balance for not responding to a situation in your typical, stereotypic manner. You might have a feeling of loss and/or shame for not having done or said something to someone who is no longer available to you. You may have guilt for accepting responsibility for someone else's misfortune or problem because it bothers you to see that person suffer. In your mind, you may have caused another’s suffering because of your failures—failure to control your impulses, mood, etc.
In these circumstances, guilt is a motivator to amend all real or perceived wrongs. It frequently involves some sense of right and wrong that inhibits you from choosing a "wrong" course of action, depending upon how you assign your own definitions to the words. How does this happen? Here’s a list of some of the common psychological principles, behavioral shenanigans and complaints I often see in the office. People will:

• Make you believe they will suffer greatly if you do not respond positively to their request(s).
• Call on your guilt to respond to their requests, even when it means violating your rights.
• Respond to your irrational self by reinforcing your irrational thinking, giving you a sense of blame, for past, present or future actions.
• Build up a verbal or imagined scenario that portrays you at fault for inaction, thus guaranteeing your sense of guilt and your willingness to do anything to alleviate it.
• Accuse you of misdeeds, words or actions to arouse your sense of guilt and make you believe you are the one with a problem in an interpersonal relationship difficulty. (This effectively takes the pressure off of them.)
• Reinforce your negative self-perceptions, encouraging you to be guilt ridden and self-judgmental for their benefit.
• Build a case with moral absolutes to convince you of THE standard, THE "right way" to do things, avoiding that negative feeling of guilt for themselves.
• Set up situations for you in which you will believe your alternatives are limited to that which results in the least sense of guilt.
• Feign or fake hardship, illness, discomfort, unhappiness, incompetence or other negative behavior to arouse your sense of guilt and have you take over those tasks or duties bringing imagined negative consequences for them.
• Threaten negative consequences, like going to jail, to the hospital, to the juvenile detention center, failing school, dying or divorcing you. This manipulation uses your guilt to benefit them.
-Dr. Griggs

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Introduction to Procrastination-Part II

As with all ambivalences (see below), procrastination pops up
when there are conflicts over values, ideas or feelings. We are aware
of some aspects of these; that is, we may have a conscious experience of
the conflicts. Or, the conflicts may be between what we are aware of
and what is out of awareness. Many a thought has come and gone, yet
still resides in our unconscious minds. Here, we find values,
preferences, hidden motivations, likes and dislikes; plus as Freud said,
here exists a whole pantheon of buried impulses, some good, some not.
I'm not talking about conscious choices that appear to be
procrastination, but really are expressing other dynamics, such as
planning. Examples of this are delaying a project because not enough
data are available to manage it, or proceed, so we wait. Another example
is when you are sick. If you are like me, when I'm sick, I manage my
resources much more intently and take on less and less until I feel better. When I'm sick, I don't feel like doing anything. If the sickness is protracted, my delays will be too. This isn't procrastination of the kind I'm talking about in this paper; its preserving resources, no matter how long it takes to recover and begin anew. The proof is that when I have enough data or I feel better, I actually start on something and the illusion of procrastination disappears. I'm not talking about illnesses or neurological conditions, like mood disorders or ADHD. Procrastination that causes problems, not problems that appear to be but are not procrastionation is the focus of this ebook.
In this article, I'm writing about the conflicts between what we are
aware of and what is in our unconscious minds. Worse, we can have conflicts between two values, ideas or feelings that are wholly unconscious. In this case, there will be procrastination but almost no understainding or awareness of the dynamic-just anxiety. Why?
As with all indecision, procrastination is experienced as an impulse to avoid something, or say "No" to something or to not pay attention to some part of our brain that is speaking, just not very clearly or perhaps loudly enough.

Introduction to Procrastination, Part I

Procrastination manifests everywhere, most of the time, in every
aspect or part of your life. You wait until the last minute to do
things, buy Christmas or birthday presents, visit the chiropractor or
dentist or file your taxes. You forget to make that hair or other
appointments or register to vote. The car needs an oil change.
The house is a mess but you haven't picked up the clothes or done the
dishes. The messes grow but you don't do much about them. Shouldn't
you do some of these things now so you don't have to waste a weekend or
vacation day cleaning or repairing everything you own? Sure, but do you?
The conflicts are about choices, which have different valences,
considering for the moment only the conscious ones. These can be relative to time or value. If the choice is between going to the gym or watching a video, you might choose the movie. You might make this choice because of the activity or whether it takes less time. At a restaurant, you choose a fatty entree over a lean one, perhaps because of taste, but perhaps because of price. The delays and poor choices continue, probably becoming more frequent, but you keep saying you'll "get around to" these things. Maybe you'll think about these things later, like next week. How about Tuesday? But next Tuesday turns into two Tuesdays from now, or even the week after you get back from vacation. Your intentions are good but your behavior suggests something else is going on.
The misconception about procrastinators is that we are lazy and can't
well manage our time. By definition, procrastination exist and functions
relative to time. You should do something now, but in reality, you will
approach it later, and probably not do it then, either. What we are not
managing causes conflict, bred by indecision, later anxiety. Our behavior is how we manage this chain of events at the end of the process, which is what distinguishes whether we are procrastinating, or whether we simply feel indecisive, or worse, guilty.
Procrastinators often have great difficulty in seeking help, or finding an understanding source of support, due to the stigma and profound
misunderstanding surrounding extreme forms of procrastination. In reality, procrastinators are neither lazy nor time-incompetent. But, we are told we are, so we "compensate." How? We fight back. We surround ourselves with instruments to make life more efficient. We buy a daily planner and a to-do list application for our phone. We write ourselves notes and fill out schedules. We buy books on procrastination. However, these tools add to the problem, because now they need to be managed, in addition to the things we should actually be doing. (You have to actually use the daily planner or open the phone application. You have to read your own notes and follow your own schedules.) There's a growing list of things to do, and now a growing
army of tools to do them. We think the tools will compensate our internal failures. Yes, we are bad managers of our time, but not because we are bad people. It turns out we are bad tacticians in the war inside our brains. Our tools reflect our feeble attempts to overcome the conflicts, but in the end, the tools also fail. Like the saying goes, we succumb to a "death by a thousand cuts."
-Dr. Griggs

Here’s What A Psychologist Says About Guilt--Part III

This is the third in a three-part series of articles on what a psychologist says about guilt. Please read the first two articles before reading this one.

To continue…

In guilt dynamics, there are only two patterns of thinking or behaving—rectifying something you did not do or rectifying something you erroneously did do. Either way you are stuck. In general, this is a no-win experience for the recipient. This is the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. In general, if we conform to the speaker’s manipulations, we have stuffed our anger and failed to be assertive. We feel crummy (anxiety on the surface, resentment underneath) and reinforce the guilt-inducing behaviors by not dealing with it directly. If we counter-manipulate at the level of the manipulation, we will have an argument and be further criticized by the speaker, again at the same level using the same standards, which in this case we are bucking. If we fail to respond; that is, do nothing, we are burdened with unresolved negative feelings. Strike three—you’re out!
I think of guilt as being on a continuum from the more local to the more global. Guilt can be induced by small events, like not coming home at curfew, especially if you happen to be a teenager. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, one can have “life guilt,” like Catholics and other Christians who were born in original sin.

“If you’re born on this world, you’re guilty, period. Screw you, end of report, next case. Your birth certificate is proof of guilt.”--George Carlin

From that point of view, humans are in a sorry state right out of the starting gate, and they didn’t even do anything, personally. The causes of guilt are failures in behavior, if viewed from legal, sociological or psychological perspectives, or sins, if viewed from a religious point of view. Both in the legal and religious arenas, there are lesser and greater transgressions. Thus, in law we have misdemeanors (petty theft, jaywalking) vs. felonies (burglary, assault). In Catholicism, there are intermediary “sins.” These are the venial sins. Then, there are the big ones, called mortal sins. (Catholics are my best customers because of all that guilt).
Guilt is intensified if the perception is that by our behavior, we have caused harm to another. Thus, getting drunk and running a stoplight causes us to crash into another’s car, which causes considerable harm to the other driver and car. However, guilt is diminished if there is no harm caused or if I don’t get caught. Consider this scenario. It is three in the morning, and I’m driving home on an old country road. I come to an intersection with a four-way stop, and there is no one around for miles. I slow down but don’t stop; instead, coast through the intersection after looking in all directions. Did I do something wrong? I didn’t hurt anyone and no one was there to remind me of the law, which I clearly knew; therefore, my driving must be OK.
The cause of guilt is to recognize that I have violated some standard of thinking, feeling or behaving. If I don’t appreciate or even know of the standard(s), then I don’t feel guilt. If I do, then I have a problem, mostly how to deal with my ambivalence. Ambivalence? Yes. Guilt, like procrastination and the inability to forgive are the three major forms of ambivalence. (An example of a minor form of ambivalence would be simple indecision, say at a restaurant, having trouble deciding which entrĂ©e is more appealing. Distrust can be a form of ambivalence, but some forms of distrust can just be distrust without ambivalence.)
In more ways than one, this is a treatise on ambivalence because guilt is one of three major forms of ambivalence. Why discuss ambivalence? Guilt rests on the foundation of ambivalence. Without a solid understanding of ambivalence, the three major manifestations of ambivalence make no sense. For a complete discussion on ambivalence and its relation to procrastination, guilt or forgiveness, see the author’s ebooks on these subjects.
-Dr. Griggs

What A Psychologist Says About Guilt--Part II

This is the second of a three-part series of articles on what a psychologist has to say about guilt. Please read the first article before reading this one.

To continue…

Because psychological pain is something to be avoided, the recipient is motivated to reduce his or her discomfort (conflict, indecision, anxiety). The speaker implies he or she can do that by conforming to THE standard (again, the speaker’s standard). The listener is “influenced,” albeit negatively. One of my many mentors over the years defined guilt as “any way I can control you.” Guilt is manipulative, and in this case more indirect, i.e., covert, but controlling.
Here is a short example. Suppose I come home from the grocery store and I bring several bags of groceries into the kitchen. My wife notices I forgot to buy milk. She says to me, “You forgot to buy milk. Don’t you love me?” Now I feel anxious because I failed at something. Worse, I have shown my wife I do not love her, at least by HER standards. What a failure I am. To reduce my guilt (anxiety, sense of failure), I “should” go back to the store, buy milk, bring it home, present it to my wife, who will then be assured that, in fact, I love her. My anxiety will be gone and she will be happy. Right? Not so fast!
The underlying feeling behind guilt—and this is what almost everyone misses—is anger, or one of its many subtler versions; resentment, frustration, annoyance, irritation, etc.

“Guilt is anger directed at ourselves—at what we did or did not do. Resentment is anger directed at others—at what they did or did not do.”--Peter McWilliams

No one likes to be criticized or judged or to be made to feel he or she has failed, or even just “fallen short.” The natural reaction to this kind of message; that is, to judgment or criticism, is resentment. The “control” aspect embedded in the communication that generates guilt is intended to covertly maneuver the recipient into behaving or thinking differently; in other words, to “fix” the problem as described by the speaker in the manner the speaker wishes, thereby acknowledging that THE standard as communicated is the right one. The anxiety motivates the recipient to “stuff” the anger. This is why we miss it. We are motivated by the speaker to conform to the speaker’s wishes, not to spell out how angry we are and why; rather, to conform to reduce our anxiety, thus feel better without experiencing overt conflict. This is the anatomy of guilt—pressure to accept some standard, resistance, anxiety and suppression of anger. So, what are we to do?
In the above example, I was motivated to return to the grocery store and buy milk, not to tell my wife I was irritated by her comments. My wife controlled me with guilt. She raised my anxiety on the surface and so to lower my anxiety, to rectify my “error,” I had to do what she wanted. She motivated me to do that with guilt, which I can only eliminate by going back to the store. She got what she wanted. I did not and was left with negative feelings.
-Dr. Griggs

Here’s What A Psychologist Says About Guilt--Part I

This is the first of a three-part series of articles on guilt, from a psychologist’s point of view. It focuses on underlying dynamics and is presented in a no-nonsense format.
OK, here’s my take. On the surface, guilt is another form of anxiety. It is an uncomfortable feeling. It tends to be a little vague, like that experienced with panic or phobia. Anxiety has been described as fear without an object; that is, we don’t always know what makes us uneasy. Guilt is a little like that. We don’t always have in our awareness the cause of what is bothering us. We just know “something is not right.”
“It is a sort of waking dream, which, though a person be otherwise in sound health, makes him feel symptoms of every disease; and, though innocent, yet fills his mind with the blackest horrors of guilt”--William Heberden
Guilt occurs when we either did something we should not have, or we did not do something we should have. These are “sins” of commission or “sins” of omission, and both involve our reactions to at least one of what I call the seven deadly words or phrases. (These are described in detail in my ebook, “Why Relationships Fail.”) “Should” or “Should not” are the most common offending deadly words but any of the seven deadly words or phrases can set up guilt. (The others are “Always,” “Never,” “Must,” “Have to” and “Need to.”) Should and Should Not are probably used more to do this, so I’ll use these two to generally describe how guilt works. This is the same as what is found in the dynamics of procrastination, only with guilt, there is more of a sense of right vs. wrong relative to our behaviors. We then feel judged, then criticized. Criticism is the primary vehicle of guilt and is a function of comparing something done with something that should or should not have been done. In this sense, guilt dynamics are similar but not exactly the same as in procrastination, even though both are a form of ambivalence. Procrastination is a function of comparing something not done with something that should have been done, usually more relative to time. Hopefully this is communicated with less personal criticism (but not always). Procrastination can have a judgment aspect, but usually it functions more at an evaluative or transactional level and can function all by itself without any consideration of judgment. One can have procrastination with or without guilt, but guilt more often occurs when there is a personal sense of inadequacy, regardless of whether or not there is a delay in completing tasks. Guilt is only slightly less likely to simultaneously occur with procrastination, and is slightly more convoluted. This can be confusing, so let me spell this out more concretely.
In guilt-inducing communication, one or more of the seven deadly words or phrases is used directly or indirectly to criticize. This means pointing out our failings, usually through more subtle means. If I say, “You should have cleaned up your room,” I am implying but not directly stating YOU are messy, inconsiderate or perhaps just a slob. If you respond to such a guilt-inducing communication, you feel “crummy” and are motivated to correct the situation to reduce your anxiety. While procrastination sometimes involves this, guilt almost always thrives on judgment and criticism. Think being a parent, scolding a child. In judging someone, the speaker evokes some standard, real or imagined, relative to some behavior(s) or values. The speaker who induces guilt judges the recipient to have failed to live up to some way of behaving or some way of thinking that the speaker believes to be THE (meaning, right) standard. Because of the conflict, the recipient then feels some amount of anxiety, which is a direct result of how much the recipient directly or indirectly accepts THE standard, stated or implied.
-Dr. Griggs

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Curing Procrastination

Curing Procrastination
While it is not a clinical syndrome; that is, a diagnosis found in a mental health manual, procrastination is still pernicious, psychologically. It can create mild symptoms or some that are chronic, even paralyzing. Regardless, procrastination is something that can be cured.
Procrastination is really a form of ambivalence. This is not widely recognized. Ambivalence is when part of you wants something and part of your doesn’t want that something. It doesn’t have to be two things that directly conflict. One of the "somethings" can be related to the other, just not the same, requiring a choice that is, at least partially, mutually exclusive. Ambivalence can be in awareness, partially in awareness or totally out of awareness. This doesn’t matter, because the subjective experience of it is uneasiness. It actually creates anxiety, but it is of the kind that is not usually associated with anxiety disorders, proper.
Procrastination happens when these conflicts occur in our lives and we don’t want to deal with them. For example, I’m supposed to clean my room but I want to go out to play. I’ll think about the former but want to do the later. The choices are about two things that are relatively mutually exclusive and sooner or later, I have to negotiate the choices. I have to pick one. Either one I pick will have consequences, and I know one of them will have unpleasant consequences.
I usually pick the more pleasant, self-serving behavior, which automatically means I’m putting off choosing the “other.” This appears to be procrastinating, because I’m not doing something, but in reality I’m avoiding a conflict. I am ambivalent, experiencing some level of anxiety and trying to get around the whole thing.
Like I said before, the things we procrastinate about can be big or little, in or out of awareness, and be short or longer term. Those are just the particulars, but the dynamic is the same in each case. We usually choose the more self-serving behavior in the service of either avoiding the conflict; that is, making it disappear from our awareness, or to just avoid the less pleasant of the two choices.
This latter dynamic is often a function of our impulsiveness. As can be seen, this quality has many manifestations, some of which are adaptive, like when we procrastinate in order to glean more information before acting on something. Some dynamics are maladaptive, like when we put off finishing a project for the boss, knowing the impact on our job security.
In order to solve procrastination, we have to penetrate the ambivalence. We have to “pull up” into awareness, the full import of our choices. But for most of us, to do that means we also have to do a little soul searching. You see, ambivalence doesn’t just occur in a vacuum. There are reasons we avoid certain things, other than they may or may not be more difficult to do than something else. Sometimes it’s about not wanting to express a feeling, such as anger. If someone asks you to do something and you feel slighted, it is unlikely you will comply with their request. So, you don’t, on the surface, which is about not dealing with your internal state, expressing yourself and later resolving ambivalence. The superficial behavior then looks like procrastinating, when in fact, its just about avoiding conflict (which is probably at the heart of ambivalence in most cases).
Questions can be directed to author, who is a clinical psychologist.
-Dr. Griggs

How To Think About Teenagers

I'm a child psychologist. This includes training about teenagers. Teens, by definition, are still children from the ages of thirteen to the day before they turn eighteen. Nineteen year olds, though technically adults, are still teenagers. On the low end of the teen spectrum, very mature twelve year olds will act like immature thirteen or even fourteen year olds. For this purpose, I treat mature twelve year olds like immature teens, even though the chronology doesn't exactly line up. The same is true in reverse for nineteen year olds. If they are immature, they will respond to the ideas that are aimed more at 13 to 18 year olds.
Teens are different "animals." They are transitional beings; neither really young, nor particularly mature. They are neither fish nor fowl. They sometimes look like adults, even though their nervous systems are not mature. They sometimes look like younger children, even if their
nervous systems are comparatively more mature. Their behavior changes from one to the other. For example, one minute your sweet child is begging you to come on the class trip or to lie down with him or her while s/he falls asleep. Then, seemingly overnight, s/he starts treating you like dirt, discounting everything you say and snickering at your suggestions. Some parents think of teenagers as just larger children, while other parents think teenagers are smaller adults. Technically,
they are still children, even though it's sometimes hard to tell whether they are acting like children or adults. They are both and they are neither.
Teens are beset by pesky hormones, which start earlier than you think. This hormonal shift actually begins between the ages of 8 1/2 and 9 1/2 years, depending upon whether your teen is a girl or boy, respectively. Hormones spark huge emotional and physical changes. Teens often look lanky, having just experienced one or more growth spurts, which usually means they are not well coordinated because, literally, their brains have not gotten used to their new physical dimensions. This and numerous glandular changes cause tremendous behavioral changes and concomitant self-consciousness.
At thirteen, parents become "aliens;" that is, thirteen year olds
typically withdraw from parents and overly bond with and seek refuge and
support from peers. Again, mature twelve year olds do this earlier and
immature fourteen year olds do it later, but this stage is one most teens
traverse in this age range. All of this is normal.
Over my many years of working with individuals and families, I have
developed techniques that profoundly influence behavior. Despite being in
that awkward stage, teens, just like little younger children and adults,
respond to these and other often simple, but well-understood treatments.
When I say simple, I do not mean that everyone knows these things--they don't. And, when I say profoundly, I mean they are powerful and work quickly--instantly in some cases. I developed one technique only after observing successful families for a whole year. Other ones I swiped from
minds greater than my own; for example, from B.F. Skinner (the "rat" psychologist) I use some behavioral techniques. Skinner never applied his findings and techniques to what I address in the articles to come. I put these and lots of other experiences I have had with kids over twenty-six years to form a system--a way to think about behavior and many ways to positively change it.
The best part is that my system is positive. The emphasis is not on
punishment even though there is a place for that, if needed. It's all based upon parenting techniques that are sort of good, then tweaked with hard research evidence of what really works and then applied warmly, with love--that makes them really good. I've been developing and using these ideas for years with very, very good results. Mothers leave my office shaking their heads after I've turned around "monster" children in a matter of minutes. Parents report a sharp increase in the quality of their relationships with their children. If you have younger children, these techniques are described in my ebook, How to Change Children's Behavior (Quickly), and are repeated in part, but modified (for teens) in this ebook. For the present publication, I use different examples because I'm talking about older children, for the most part. Younger children often will "change" in a matter of hours, even
minutes. Teenagers typically take longer, owing in part to their newfound independence, which predisposes them to resist older folks. The techniques still work, so be persistent and patient.

Guilt is a Four Letter Word

OK, I know I can't count, but this title gets people's
attention about this very debilitating feeling and the underlying
dynamics that set it up.
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I run into lots of conditions, many of which rest upon the deeper dynamic of anxiety.Relationships usually bring this experience up, as it is hard to feel guilty without having some relationship with some one, some time or in some meaningful way.
Guilt is a special form of anxiety, unlike the classic experiences of panic, phobia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It probably is closer to Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), but even that is not accurate. Guilt is what happens when we are judged to have failed in some way. We violated a standard by doing something we "should" not have or by "not" doing something we should have. I call these sins of commission and sins of omission, respectively.
On the surface, guilt is experienced as a form of anxiety. But that is not the entire story. There is another feeling that is embedded in guilt that is often not entirely in awareness. That feeling is resentment.
Resentment comes from being judged by having failed some standard.
The resentment comes because that standard is someone else's, not our own. When we endorse something and fail to behave according to some standard, the experience of anxiety is associated with having to deal with the difference between our behavior and that dictated by the standard. The magnitude of the guilt is related to the pressure of the standard or the consequence of failure. The bigger either is, the greater the anxiety.
Resentment follows the same logrhythm, but is largely out of
awareness. Because the standard against which we are being compared
is originally, and perhaps still is not ours, we, at some level resent
the psychological intrusion. The standard and our gut level reactions
control us. We may not have been aware of when we were exposed to the
offending standards or even if we were conscious of accepting them, but
if they exist in our minds, then there is the potential for conflict
when there are behavioral "violations." Guilt is the special anxiety
that is accompanied by resentment.
The basis of this is our ideas of what is right or wrong. These
are given to us as children, either directly through teachings or
exposure to the behaviors of many who act according to their own
teachings. Thus, we get values of what is correct or proper or moral
from the usual sources--parents, relatives, schools and churches. At
some point our individuality emerges and, being the naturally assertive,
even selfish core that it is, challenges the standards. Our core selves
generally want what they want, and then have to adjust as external reality " happens." The clash is classically Freudian (Id vs. Superego) and plays out in us all. The resolve is a little Freud but more Perlsian (as in Fritz Perls of Gestalt Therapy fame). Here's how.
To resolve the guilt, one has to express the resentment, to indulge
the split between what is shoved into our faces vs. what we would like to
shove back out. To resolve the guilt, one has to feel that resentment,
express it and then create a third standard. This means challenging
what "should" have occurred (wrongly committed or wrongly omitted) by
consciously extolling what is wanted. Freud would say this is how the
Ego resolves the tensions, and it appears he was correct. (I am not a
practicing Freudian). The third standard is what is appropriate to
reality and if I am functioning in a psychologically healthy manner,
I will express it assertively. I will challenge the implied standards
that others use against me to control me (Perl's definition of guilt)
and substitute my own, as I judge reality and the appropriateness of my
To conclude, guilt "should" not be what people use to manipulate
each other and "should" be treated like a four-letter word--avoided, if