Friday, September 30, 2011

Examples of Guilt--Part III

This is the third of a six-part series of articles on guilt, emphasizing specific examples, and how to deal with them. Written by a psychologist.

To continue…

The trick was to “unbundle” one or more different dimensions that were embedded in one guilt-inducing level of communication. The principle is to deal with the different dimensions separately. Do so by making them conscious and then describe them out loud, preferably articulating each separately. This excavates the underlying ambivalence, exposes the anger and weakens the foundation of guilt. Unfortunately, still there might be some anxiety, but it will be more conscious. Now we have to speak up, which, for many of us, is another cause of anxiety. While this is still not entirely comfortable, it is a step away from verbal manipulation and towards psychological health.
Another thing I tried to do is in this example was to reduce comparisons to evaluations, not judgments. When we compare two “things” (ideas, beliefs, values, behaviors, etc.), we look at their merits. In my terms, that means looking at whether or not they work, or, whether they are effective; that is, accomplish the intended results. Something is superior or inferior if it does a better or worse job. This is an evaluation. That’s it. In the example, I created an Adult-Adult communication. This is good.
Judgment adds a different dimension, one of right or wrong. It tends to be more personal. Because it is personal, the judgment dynamic wreaks havoc at personal levels. It creates anxiety, depression, lowered self-esteem and is the chief player creating resentment. This would be a Parent-Child communication. This is bad. In the example, I failed to buy milk. That was not personal, but my wife made it so to maneuver me, to change my behavior using guilt. I separated the two dimensions, restoring the failing-to-buy-milk part to being just transactional; that is, a behavior without personal sequelae (referring again to anxiety, depression, etc.). I made it Adult-to-Adult, not Parent-to-Child communication. I challenged the judgment part (“Don’t you love me?”) by eliminating the personal association implied by failing to buy milk. Failing to buy milk had nothing to do with loving my wife. It had to do with my absent-mindedness. I feel the same about my wife, regardless of my memory problem. In real life, sooner or later, judgment is likely to creep into almost any communication. Small and mild judgments will not do serious damage and can be dealt with in the above manner; that is, by separating the dimensions, then using process-level communication to expose the ruse via assertive communication.
A more blunt example is the adult parent being “guilted” into supporting his manipulative progeny. In this case, assertiveness might have taken the form of “tough love.” The parent might have turned the argument around by saying “Was I abandoning you when I was paying your rent all these years?” “Who’s the bad guy when you don’t succeed and I have to bail you out, at my expense?” “How about you get it together and pull your own weight and stop using my support to mask your lack of initiative?” This teases out all the levels and “powers up” this parent. Now, the parent is focused on THE standard—his!
-Dr. Griggs

Examples of Guilt--Part II

This is the second of a six-part series of articles on guilt, emphasizing specific examples, and how to deal with them. Written by a psychologist.

To continue…

In most cases of guilt, the antidote is to create another (meaning, your) standard, other than that implied by committing or omitting something, or by conforming to the speaker’s wishes or arguing on the speaker’s terms only, or by conforming to the expectation (laws, values, norms), or worse, by just holding it all in and saying or doing nothing. We also have to challenge, and then negotiate the “rightness” or “wrongness” of THE standard. To do this, we have to become aware of the underlying forces acting upon us from the outside and our internal reactions. In common language, to reduce the guilt, we have to ask ourselves what it is WE want, not what is being imposed upon us. We have to think independently of the implied or real manipulation of the guilt-inducer. If we are paying attention to guilt-inducing communication, we will immediately “get” that we have been judged and that some set of standards has been or is about to be imposed upon us. If we are in tune, we immediately and consciously feel anxiety because there is conflict, and likely frustration, resentment or anger underneath. Now we know our feeling and if we are assertive, we can put our feelings into words and say something. In addition, when we speak, hopefully there will be something in our communication about the attempt to manipulate us (the cause of the anger); thus, we will defuse the indirect controls inherent in the guilt ploy. This is also articulating some process, not just the underlying feelings. (If you are not skilled at introspecting and then speaking up, see this author’s ebook, The Five Steps of Assertiveness.) The ambivalence is made conscious and we begin to think of “handling” the underlying conflicts and judgments through a different behavioral mechanism, most often employing simple assertiveness.
In the example when I went to the store to buy groceries, I might have interrupted the guilt-inducing comments with my own, more assertive and direct retort. “Yes honey, I see I forgot the milk. I am sorry. By the way, where did you get the idea this means I don’t love you?” I have exposed the manipulation. Then I might have said, “I’m sorry. If you need milk right away, I’ll go back to the store and buy some. If not, I’ll stop by a store later when I go out again. Is that OK?” Now, I have stated what I want, or in this case, what I am willing to do to fix the problem. I am willing to take care of the problem because it was my forgetfulness that led to my wife’s complaint. But, I am also standing up for what I want by suggesting a solution that better fits my needs, and in this case, better fits reality. I am functioning on MY terms. While my wife and I may debate which “plan” is better, at least I was assertive. I created an “alternative” behavior. I created the third standard—mine, which, I believe, is equally right. I teased out the irrationally linked concepts, separated and dealt with them overtly by saying something. In this instance, the transaction was about buying milk, while the interaction and dynamic were about being loved, or not. These are two entirely different dimensions. So, the first thing I try to do, and did in this example, is to separate the two dimensions, which in this case I accomplished by asking my wife how she “figured” I didn’t love her just because I forgot the milk.
-Dr. Griggs

Examples of Guilt--Part I

This is the first of a six-part series of articles on guilt, emphasizing specific examples, and how to deal with them. Written by a psychologist.

In its most healthy and appropriate sense, guilt is an emotional warning sign that most people learn through their normal childhood social development. Its purpose is to let us know when we’ve done something wrong, to help us develop a better sense of our behavior by being aware of how our behaviors affect ourselves and others. It prompts us to re-examine our values, principles and ideals so that we don’t end up making the same mistake(s) twice. This thinking, as should be obvious by now, has an upside and a downside. Here’s some every-day, down-to-earth “situations,” and then discussions about how to deal with each by creating a third standard, not necessarily accepting the one mandated by the guilt-perpetrator. The response to some of these examples is in subsequent articles, so be sure to read all six in this series. (Also, see the previous articles on ambivalence and guilt, the psychology of guilt and dealing with guilt by this author.)
We speed on the freeway and rationalize the behavior. We tell ourselves, “I’m just keeping up with traffic.” There is ambivalence because we know we are driving faster than the speed limit, but at the same time everyone else is doing it, so it must be OK. This rationalization works to reduce the anxiety in our own minds, until we look in the rear view mirror and see a flashing red light. The cop shows us the number on his radar gun, and “now” we not only acknowledge guilt but also experience it acutely in the form of an admission of wrong doing, often followed by pleading our case to the policeman. We also experience anxiety. We imagine the price of the traffic ticket, think of the inconvenience of attending traffic school and paying higher insurance premiums. If we are lucky, the officer lets us off with a warning and we go our way, vowing not to speed again, or at least until the cop disappears.
Your mother tells you to always wear clean underwear when leaving the house. Why? “Because if you get into an accident and are taken to the hospital, the doctors will think you are a slob.” Ambivalence occurs because you know the doctor might think this but you also don’t want to give in to your mother’s demand. So, you don’t change your underwear just to spite your mom, but you drive extra carefully that day.
Your husband treated you badly, ignored you and thought only of himself for years. You had an affair because you no longer could stand the neglect and because you were angry to the core. You didn’t tell anyone and never got caught. Yet, you felt guilt, even though at deeper levels you justified your behavior. You had needs and they went unmet way too long, and even though your needs were legitimate, your behavior gave you “pause” (hence the ambivalence).
Your doctor said to stop eating fatty foods and to lose weight. That night, you are out with your best friends, celebrating graduating from college. The menu arrives and there are lots of yummy choices, plus a few calorie-restrictive ones (that taste like cardboard). You may feel guilty tomorrow, but not tonight. Will power is overruled by other powers. You know the correct thing to do (THE standard) because somewhere in the back of your mind are your doctor’s words. Yet, you order steak and lobster, butter, sour cream, chives, and a cheesecake chaser. (There were a few side vegetables somewhere on that plate, weren’t there?) Yum.
You got an “A minus,” not an “A” on your term paper, because you used a few incorrect forms of words. You beat yourself up. “Why didn’t I see that ‘their’ and ‘there’ are not the same? And, I used ‘to’ instead of ‘too.’ I wasn’t perfect and I ‘should’ have known better.” Ambivalence in this case might stem from knowing THE standard but also not caring sufficiently to use the right words at the time because of competing interests, or just laziness.
-Dr. Griggs

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Literature on Guilt—Part IV

This is the fourth in a four-part series of articles on the literature on guilt. Please read the first three before reading this one.

To continue…

Clinical Aspects

On a more clinical level, guilt has many correlates with mental illnesses. Anxiety is associated with major depression in about seventy-five percent of cases, and guilt, being a form of anxiety, often is how anxiety presents. In these “biological” or endogenous cases, guilt is a secondary symptom of a primary mental illness. While there may be many guilt-like phenomena (negative thinking, self-deprecating comments), these generally improve when the depression is lifted. In these cases the treatment is not primarily to reduce guilt; rather, to lift the depression, often using medication, cognitive behavior therapy or a combination of both. When the depression resolves, guilt usually subsides.
Major depression is not the only mental illness associated with guilt. Guilt can co-exist with bipolar disorder, addictions, poor self esteem and primary anxiety disorders such as panic attack, phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Guilt is often associated with difficult life decisions that may precipitate more minor forms of mental illness, like initiating a divorce or moving a family to accommodate a better job. These latter cases are referred to as Adjustment Disorders—normal though potentially life stressing events.
There also is the absence of guilt, which is not normally considered in ebooks on guilt. This condition is thought to be found in psychopaths, who in common parlance lack any true sense of guilt or remorse for harm they may have caused others. Instead, they rationalize their behavior, blame someone else, or outright deny their behavior or its consequences.

“I don't feel guilt. Whatever I wish to do, I do.”--Jeanne Moreau

This is seen by psychologists as a failure to develop moral reasoning, an inability to evaluate situations in a moral framework, and an inability to develop empathy and to subsequently emotionally bond with other people. However, there is a rival theory of psychopathy in the developmental literature. My early training in this area suggested that antisocial personalities (the new name for psychopaths) actually are quite sensitive to other’s feelings; in fact, they may be so sensitive they cannot integrate their feelings into their also equally poorly formed ego-identity. This overload “causes” psychopaths to act selfishly in defense of their fragility, violating the rights of others in the service of self-preservation. This implies the sociopath also suffers from underlying narcissism. Regardless, on the surface, antisocial personalities are to be avoided because surely they will take advantage of someone. They will not appear to be impacted, i.e., to feel guilt.
-Dr. Griggs

The Literature on Guilt—Part III

This is the third in a four-part series of articles on the literature on guilt. Please read the first two articles before reading this one.

To continue…

In this case Shame is to Guilt what Sociology is to Psychology; that is, the bigger, more social version of the smaller individual experience. Shame also suggests moral decrepitude whereas guilt suggests either error in judgment or some form of misdeed. The latter also highlights etiquette over ethics, i.e., focusing on behavior rather than principle, though in reality, it may impossible to totally separate the two. Shame seems to use poor self-esteem to amplify the effect of guilt. Others emphasize social feedback as one crucial factor in differentiating guilt and shame. Here is a quote from someone who sees the distinction in another light, altogether.

“Shame is closely related to guilt, but there is a key qualitative difference. No audience is needed for feelings of guilt, no one else need know, for the guilty person is his own judge. Not so for shame. The humiliation of shame requires disapproval or ridicule by others. If no one ever learns of a misdeed there will be no shame, but there still might be guilt. Of course, there may be both. The distinction between shame and guilt is very important, since these two emotions may tear a person in opposite directions. The wish to relieve guilt may motivate a confession, but the wish to avoid the humiliation of shame may prevent it.”--Paul Ekman

Guilt can result from errors committed by normal or healthy people; whereas, shame results from personal or group intrapersonal deficit, possibly also because of a faulty act, but not necessarily. For example, original sin is the result of birth status, not deed. However, there can be shame just as much in individuals. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous will frequently tout shame as their core personality experience when attending “AA” meetings. They frequently talk of always recovering, never being recovered because they are internally flawed, in this case by “character defects.” This is shame experienced individually, even though brought to the surface by a group. In short, shame seems to add the dimension of personal grieving for the loss of a bigger, deeper ideal (flaws in the sense of self or integration of aspects of self); whereas, guilt usually is more specific to action, not state (but again, not always).
Additionally, the social consequences of "getting caught" are seen as more important than the individual feelings or experiences of the agent. The Latin word for guilt is culpa, a word sometimes seen in law literature, for instance in mea culpa meaning "my fault (guilt)," again, referring to the smaller, not the larger experience.

Lastly, an individual has to believe the actions caused by the ingroup were unjustifiable, indefensible and unforgivable. If an individual can justify the actions of the ingroup, this will lessen collective guilt. Only when an individual views the ingroup actions as reprehensible will that individual feel collective guilt.

“Where all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.”--Hanna Arendt

Collective guilt is not only a result of feeling empathy for the outgroup, it can also be caused by self-conscious emotion that stems from questioning of the morality of the ingroup. The opposite is also true. If the actions of the ingroup are just, particularly if paired with equally reprehensible actions of the outgroup, then no collective guilt occurs, despite the possibly egregious acts the former perpetrates upon the latter. Witness the actions of so many righteous “warriors of religion” during the four, maybe five Crusades (depending upon which source is consulted). And, don’t forget what the Nazis did during the Holocaust, etc. (An indirect term sometimes used to express guilt is “denazification;” meaning, to rid the influence of the Nazis.) In each case thousands, even millions of lives were lost in the name of some higher value “exclusively owned” by the perpetrators.
-Dr. Griggs

The Literature on Guilt--Part II

This is the second of a four-part series or articles on the literature on guilt. Please read the first article before reading this one.

To continue…

Social Processes

Guilt often is assigned by social processes, such as a jury trial. In this case, it is more of a legal concept. Thus, the rulings of a jury that O.J. Simpson or Julius Rosenberg were "guilty" or "not innocent" are taken as an actual judgment by society. Accordingly, we then have to act against the condemned. Conversely, the rulings that such people are "not guilty" may not be so easily accepted, due to the asymmetry in the assumption that one is assumed innocent until proven guilty. In this case the judicial system prefers to take the risk of freeing a guilty party over convicting innocents.
Others, particularly those in the philosophical or religious camps, believe the origin of guilt comes from violating universal principles of right and wrong. In most instances, people who believe this also acknowledge that even though there is proper guilt from doing 'wrong' instead of doing 'right,' people endure all sorts of guilty feelings which do not stem from violating universal moral principles. Again, we see this in the legal arena. If a criminal shows guilt and remorse, he is said to have learned his lesson, and likely will receive a reduced sentence in court. This is especially true if the crime is “understandable;” for example, stealing food because of hunger. This latter example illustrates how empathy mitigates our tendency to punish the guilty. Lastly, empathy in the convicted theoretically reduces the likelihood that the guilty will re-offend.
Academia intellectualizes traditional or social process guilt and calls it other names, such as Collective Guilt or Collective Responsibility. Collective guilt is the unpleasant emotional reaction that results among a group of individuals when it is perceived that the group illegitimately harmed members of another group. It is often the result of sharing a social identity with others whose actions represent a threat to the positive polarity of that identity. Different intergroup inequalities can result in collective guilt, such as receiving unearned benefits and privileges or inflicting more extreme forms of harm on an outgroup (including genocide). Individuals are generally motivated to avoid collective guilt in order to maintain a positive social identity. There are many ways of decreasing collective guilt, such as denying harm or justifying actions. This probably functions in religious discrimination by one group to another. But, collective guilt can also lead to positive outcomes, such as promoting intergroup reconciliation and reducing negative attitudes towards the outgroup, especially if the outgroup is perceived as benign.
There are several causes of collective guilt; salient group identity, collective responsibility and perception of unjust ingroup actions. In order for an individual to experience collective guilt, he must identify himself as a part of the ingroup. This produces a perceptual shift from thinking of oneself in terms of “I” and “me” to “us” or “we.” Only when an individual is salient with the ingroup can he or she experience responsibility for the harmful actions of the group, past and present. In addition to ingroup salience, an individual will only feel collective guilt if he or she views the ingroup as responsible for the harmful actions done to the outgroup. For instance, racial inequality in the US can be described as either “black disadvantage” or “white privilege.” When the term “black disadvantage” is used to describe racial inequality, white participants feel less collectively responsible for the harm done to the outgroup, which lessened collective guilt. In comparison, when “white privilege” was used, white participants feel more collectively responsible for the harm done, which increased collective guilt.
One also finds collective guilt manifesting in Traditional or Cultural Guilt, such as found in Japanese, Korean and Ancient Greek societies, which are sometimes said to be "shame-based" rather than "guilt-based.”

“Successful guilt is the bane of society.”--Marguerite Osward

-Dr. Griggs

The Literature on Guilt—Part I

The following is the first in a four-part series of articles on the literature on guilt. It is written as an introduction to the topic and should be read in order.
In the literature, we find guilt to be the main theme in John Steinbeck's East of Eden, Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, William Shakespeare's play “Macbeth,” Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat,” and in many other works. It is a major theme in many works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and is an almost universal concern of novelists who explore inner life and secrets.
The literature on guilt, like that on procrastination (see the ebook, Procrastination by this author), is theoretical, abstract and academic. I won’t dwell on too many details, but following are the general areas one can find relating to guilt. To keep it simple, I’ve divided the available information on guilt into loose and somewhat arbitrary categories.

Evolutionary causes

Some evolutionary psychologists theorize that guilt and shame helped maintain beneficial relationships, such as reciprocal altruism. If a person feels guilty when he harms another or fails to reciprocate kindness, he is less likely to harm others or become too selfish. In this way, he reduces the chances of retaliation by members of his tribe, and thereby increases his survival prospects, as well as those of the tribe or group. As with some other emotions, guilt can be manipulated to control or influence others. As a highly social animal living in large groups that are relatively stable, we need ways to deal with conflicts and events in which we inadvertently or purposefully harm others. If someone causes harm to another, and then feels guilt and demonstrates regret and sorrow, the person harmed is more likely to forgive. Thus, guilt makes it possible to forgive, helps hold the social group together and reduces the risk of retaliation through violence.

Neurological causes

Guilt is founded on our neurological system. We call this mechanism, mirror neurons. When we see another carrying out an action, we carry out the action ourselves in neuronal activity, though not in overt action. Their behaviors are replicated in our own nervous system, literally. When we see another person suffering, we can feel their suffering as if it is our own. This constitutes our powerful system of empathy, which motivates us to do something to relieve the suffering of others. If we cannot help another, or fail in our efforts, we experience bad feelings, one of which is guilt.
From the perspective of group selection, groups that are made up of a high percent of co-operators do better than groups with a low percent of co-operators when comparing between-group competition. The down side is that people who are more prone to high levels of empathy in general, or who specifically experience empathy-based guilt likely suffer more anxiety and depression. The upside is that they are also more likely to cooperate and behave altruistically. This is another way guilt-proneness is not always beneficial to the individual, or within-group competition, but highly beneficial in between-group competition. This brings into focus how guilt works in specialized groups.
-Dr. Griggs

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What Terms We Need To Understand When Changing Teen's Behaviors--Part III

Another term is Classical Conditioning. Remember when Pavlov
(the Russian physiologist) rang a bell, and then gave a dog some food
(meat powder), which made the dog salivate? Pavlov did this over and
over with the same dog and pretty soon the dog would salivate just to the
sound of the bell, anticipating the food. Well, I'm not going to do much
of this, because it's hard to get teenagers to sit still long enough to
listen to bells and search for food. But the principle is good and
illustrates that when good or bad reinforcers follow stimuli, the behaviors
increase or decrease, respectively, no matter what the time, place or event.
Telling or showing people what's coming before it occurs is training them to react positively to the anticipated event. As it turns out, it also increases the effectiveness of the reinforcers and their contingencies.
Operant Conditioning is similar to classical conditioning, only it
happens in real life, everywhere, not just in a lab. The difference is that operant conditioning doesn't have some of the obvious signs to alert us that a reward is coming, like in classical conditioning (modeling, or the bell ringing). In real life, while we are "out and about," most of the rewards follow our behaviors, sans forewarning. These behaviors are called operants or responses. In real life, the good things that follow our behaviors increase our behaviors, whereas the bad things that follow our behaviors decrease our behaviors. The difference between Classical and Operant Conditioning is mostly that in the latter, conditioning takes place in an open, usually less structured environment without formal cues preceding the rewards.
From the above, there are, so far, two ways to increase good
behaviors--positive and negative reinforcement. To refresh your memory,
you either "present" a positive reinforcer (reward) after a behavior or you take away a threat of an impending punishment after a behavior. Both increase a behavior. Conventional thinking is that there is only one way to decrease a behavior, and that is to follow it with punishments. Well, that's the traditional thinking.
It turns out there is another way to think about changing behavior, and that is to make a negative behavior become extinct by increasingly positively reinforcing an appropriate positive behavior that is incompatible with the negative behavior. Huh? This means positive reinforcers amp up good behaviors that are then used to make "extinct" negative behaviors, without punishment. You positively focus on behaviors that are the opposite of bad behaviors and reinforce them four times as much. The idea is to use this positive approach a lot more than any negative strategy. Use it enough and the need for punishments sharply decreases and in some cases, disappears. (See other articles by this author for a further discussion of punishments, their place and
--Dr. Griggs

What Terms We Need To Understand When Changing Teen's Behaviors_Part II

To Review, there are three contingencies of reinforcers; immediacy,
consistency and constancy. These are the aspects of reinforcers that
create change. I've related all of them to increasing positive behaviors
by applying the contingencies to each behavior you want to increase.
The same arrangement works to decrease negative behaviors, if the
contingencies are applied using punishments. Immediacy means applying
punishment after a behavior, right away, not in five minutes. It will
decrease the frequency and intensity of the behavior. Consistency works
on decreasing negative behaviors by following them with a punishment,
in this case every time, not every other time. And, constancy also
applies to punishments, just like immediacy and consistency. You apply
the same kind of punishment each time to decrease behaviors. But at
this point I'm not focusing on punishments--on purpose. Keep reading.
Another term is Shaping. This is when you reward a behavior that
is sort of close to what you want, just not all the way there. If I
want a pigeon to learn to do pirouettes, I'll start by giving it food
when it makes only left turns, which pigeons randomly do. It doesn't
get anything for right turns. Pretty soon, the pigeon is turning just
left and not long after has made a complete turn, or circle to the
left--a pirouette! I shaped it into making a complete turn by rewarding
just one (small) behavior that ultimately led to a complete turn.
I didn't worry about the final behavior--just the little steps that were in the correct direction.
Another term is Extinction. It doesn't mean a species died out.
It simply means a behavior went away. If a behavior stops occurring,
it is said to have become extinct (stopped). This happens all the time.
How many behaviors do you not do anymore? If you are an adult, you
probably no longer stuff things under your mattress (like kids do when
they don't want to take the time to clean up their rooms). If you still
do that, then your spouse is probably the one reading this e-book and will
apply these techniques to you. In the past, did you yell at your friends
but later learn to talk quietly? Good. Yelling became extinct. You want to make extinct some of the behaviors in your teenager or else you wouldn't be reading this article. People grow and change. Old behaviors yield to new ones. You get the idea.
Another term is Modeling. This is when you show off good behaviors,
hoping others will copy you. At the dinner table, you use your silverware
to eat, not your hands. Right? Your teens will (sooner or later) do the same, partly because you do, partly because you praise them after they
finally pick up a fork (positive reinforcer, in this case using shaping).
Another example is driving the speed limit--a good behavior to model,
especially when teenagers first get behind the wheel. Getting a driver's
license later is a good, though it is a delayed positive reinforcement.
A subset of modeling is Cueing. That just means you provide a hint
that something is coming, good or bad, and that usually stops the teen long enough to think first, then behave. You are prompting your teenager that other, better behavior should follow, which resembles modeling. It's just not as formal as modeling. For example, your teen starts to reach for food with his hands (vs. using silverware). You clear your throat loudly while raising your eyebrows and looking at the silverware. He or she gets the idea even though you are not yet eating with silverware (which would be modeling, formally).
--Dr. Griggs

What Terms We Need To Understand When Changing Teen's Behaviors--Part I

This is the first of a three-part series of articles introducing an approach to changing teenager's behavior.
I've been a child psychologist for twenty-seven years. During that time, I've evolved a system for dealing with children. It involves some basic reinforcement strategies, but it also has some new ideas. People tell me they want the nuts and bolts or, "How To's" about various subjects and they want it fast. So, here's my "to the point" version of how to change teenager's behavior. This and many subsequent articles will explore teenager various subjects, but first there needs to occur a discussion of some introductory terms.
The first one is Reinforcer. A reinforcer is anything that follows a
behavior that either increases or decreases some aspect of the behavior.
I write about three kinds of reinforcers. The first kind is a positive reinforcer. Ever get a dollar for studying? Ever get a dollar for each night you studied? The dollar is the reinforcer because it reinforces (in this case encourages or increases) the behavior studying). The dollar is a positive reward because it is pleasant. When it follows a behavior, the behavior gets associated with the positive reinforcer and voila! We see more of the behavior. In short, a positive reinforcer increases either the frequency or intensity of the behavior it follows. You want many potential positive reinforcers when selecting teen behaviors to change.
The second kind of reinforcer is punishment. We all know about
punishment. This is an aversive reinforcer. Follow a behavior with
punishment and you get less of the behavior in the future. Ever get grounded because you watched TV instead of studying? Then you got an "F" and got grounded some more? Getting grounded is the punishment and it slowed down the TV watching. Getting grounded is unpleasant and probably took the fun out of not studying and getting a crummy grade. Notice I didn't say that punishment is a negative reinforcer.
The third kind, or a negative reinforcer, actually increases positive
behavior by not having a punishment occur. I'll explain. You think you're going to get punished if you get an "F" in a class. But instead, your parents give you a second chance but warn you that if you actually get an "F," you will get punished later. You breathe a sigh of relief and start studying! You didn't get punished and it increased a positive behavior (studying)! It increased the frequency of studying (more often) and the intensity (studying harder to avoid the "F").
Another term is Contingency. This has to do with the qualities or
aspects of the reinforcers. There are three contingencies of reinforcers
that I use. These are the important ones; the ones that most quickly
produce changes in behavior.
The first contingency is immediacy. It means how soon the reward
occurs after the behavior. It's best to reward a behavior right away.
Don't wait. The sooner the reward follows the behavior the better and the more likely the reward will positively change the behavior (in this case increase the quantity or quality of the behaviors). The longer you wait to present the reward after a (good) behavior, the less strength the reward will have to change the behavior, to motivate the person to repeat the quality or quantity of the good behavior. In real life you might miss a few chances to reward a good behavior, but try your best to do it every time. That's the goal, even though it's not going to happen that way all the time. The same applies to both punishment and to negative reinforcers. Apply them right away!
The second contingency is consistency. This has to do with how often
the reward occurs after the behavior. Try to present the reward every time you see the positive behavior, not every other time or every third time. The more consistent you present the reward following a good behavior, the better. Get as close to "every time" as possible, and that will be good enough. Again, the ideal is to do this every time, but real life gets in the way, so do the best you can. And again, the same applies to punishments and negative reinforcers.
The third contingency is constancy. This just means how big or little, important or unimportant, significant or insignificant the reinforcers are. It's really about the magnitude of the reinforcer. Giving kids a nickel after cleaning up their rooms is a small magnitude (yet positive) reinforcer. Taking them to Disneyland for doing the same thing is a huge reward, hence has a great magnitude. The idea is to present a positive reward following a good behavior that has approximately the same magnitude each time. Try to not vary the magnitude of the reinforcers too much or teens will start expecting the bigger magnitude
rewards and won't change their behaviors for the little ones. Again, constancy applies to punishments and negative reinforcers.

--Dr. Griggs

Monday, September 5, 2011

What To Do First When Changing Teenager's Behavior-Part III

This is the third in a three-part series of articles. Please read
the first two and have your list of behaviors handy before reading this
To continue, these are some of the many complaints and categories I
hear about from parents. There are a lot more categories and infinitely
more negative behaviors to be put in the right column. All have a
positive opposite variant that goes in the left column.
Now, what do you do with "the list?" First, we're mostly going to
work with the list on the left side. Rank order the list; that is, think
about which of these positive behaviors you most want or is most important.
Or, you can look at the list on the right side and pick those negative
behaviors that you really want to "go away." Either will tell you which
of the many behaviors in either column are most important. Figure out
which behavior is number one and rank it accordingly (put a "1" next to it...).
Choose another to be number two; that is, which behavior is not quite as
important as the number one behavior, but presumably is still important
enough to be number two. Work your way down the page, creating a ranked or prioritized list, ending with the positive behavior that is still positive, but relatively speaking, least important.
Remember the terms first described in previous articles? Go back and re-read the definition of "Reinforcer." What we're going to do is start "reinforcing" only the positive behaviors, starting with the top three that you prioritized in the left column. When I say reinforce, I mean to provide a positive experience or reward after you see the positive behavior. Right about here some parents say, "I don't see any positive behavior--that's the problem!" I know, I know. But in actuality, there are always some positive behaviors to work with. Parents are usually so frustrated they don't admit it. If you don't see the full-blown behavior, don't worry. Go back and review the meaning of the term "Shaping," also described in a previous article. What you want to do is positively reinforce only the positive behavior, or its' precursor; that is, the very beginnings of the behaviors, to start training your teenager to eventually produce the full-blown behavior. Here's an example. Let's use yelling again. When you see your teen talking quietly, you're going to provide some positive reward. S/he never stops yelling? Not likely, even though it sometimes seems like this is the case. Sooner or later every person, no matter how young or old will
wind down and actually speak in civil tones at a respectable volume. It might take a week, but watch and be patient. When s/he does, you got 'em! (Chance favors the prepared mind...) Your job is to be ready and reinforce the behavior with something positive. From another previous article, re-read the description of "Contingencies." We want to be very aware of your teen's first attempts at good behaviors, then present some kind of reward--right away (immediacy), to do it every time (consistency) and with the same kind of reinforcer each time (constancy). Start with small examples of the positive behavior and keep at it.
Now, what will work as a positive reinforcer? Usually this should be a compliment, or hug, or touch. For very immature twelve year olds, you can also use a sticker or star and place it on a chart. This ebook is not about younger kids; so, if this is your situation, refer to my other ebook, How To Change Children's Behavior (Quickly). For most teenagers, the rewards will have to be different, because they are no longer younger children. The idea is to figure out what is positive for your teenager and deliver that after you see a good behavior. You can do this in a classical conditioning sense; that is, by telling your teen, "If you do this, you will get this," then delivering the reward as promised, right away (immediacy), every time (consistency) and with the same kind of reward (constancy). Your teenager knows what's coming because you set up a positive expectation and then you deliver. Classical conditioning! Pretty soon you promise and your teen changes the behavior without yet getting the reward (in anticipation), just like Pavlov's dog began to salivate in anticipation of the meat powder when Pavlov rang the bell beforehand. I know we're not animals, but the principles work with everyone--you promise, they change behavior, you provide the reward.
Or, you can apply the same principles without forewarning, just after the behaviors have occurred. This is when you look for one or more little behaviors that are in the right direction and then apply the reinforcers as described above under "contingencies" (immediately, consistently and constantly). Again, because it's not foreshadowed and occurs in real life (outside of the Pavlov's laboratory), it's called operant conditioning--same reinforcement principles, different venue, no experimenter in a white coat.
--Dr. Griggs

What To Do First When Changing Teenager's Behavior--Part II

This is part II of a three part series on What To Do First When Changing
Teenager's Behavior. Please read the first article before tackling this

What To Do First When Changing Teen's Behaviors-Part II

Here are some examples to help out.

Positive (+) Behaviors Negative (-) Behaviors

Talks Quietly Yelling

Cleans room Doesn't clean room

Cooperates Doesn't obey (Defiance)

Listens Ignore me or talks back

Acknowledges what I say Disrespectful (might be too
general, So...

break it down)
-Talks with respectful tone
-Talks to communicate
-Talks genuinely

Sits quietly Runs around too much (Hyper)

Tells the truth Lies

Communicates clearly Verbally manipulates (too
-Talks about things
-Articulates what's really
on his or her mind
-Means what is said

Communicates assertively Whines

-Uses a normal or pleasant
tone of voice

Compliments others Critical of others

-Accepts others' viewpoints

Studies Plays too many electronic games

-Spends time with family members

Earns good grades Poor grades

Respects property Destroys things

-Treats things nicely
-Repairs broken objects

Uses words to solve conflicts Physical fighting

-Talks in a calm voice
-Uses reasoning vs. acting out

Waits, thinks, then behaves Impulsivity

Stays focused Distractible

Uses civilized language Curses
Initiates things on own Lazy (might be too general)

-Stays organized
-Finishes projects
-Stays focused
-Initiates activity

Manages mood Temper tantrums

-Gives self a time out
-Stays calmer when stressed

Thinks of others first Selfish

Does things quicker Dawdling

Tells the truth Isn't trustworthy

(too general)

-Does what he or she says
will be done

Comes home on time Ignores curfews

These are some of the many complaints and categories I hear about from parents. There are a lot more categories and infinitely more negative behaviors to be put in the right column. All have a positive opposite variant that goes in the left column.
Now, what do you do with "the list?" First, we're mostly going to
work with the list on the left side. Rank order the list; that is, think
about which of these positive behaviors you most want or is most important. Or, you can look at the list on the right side and pick those negative behaviors that you really want to "go away." Either will tell you which of the many behaviors in either column are most important. Figure out which behavior is number one and rank it accordingly (put a "1" next to it...). Choose another to be number two; that is, which behavior is not quite as important as the number one behavior, but presumably is still important enough to be number two. Work your way down the page, creating a ranked or prioritized list, ending with the positive behavior that is still positive, but relatively speaking, least important.
In the next article, I'll explain more about this process..
--Dr. Griggs

What To Do First When Changing Teen's Behaviors-Part I

I've been a child psychologist for twenty-seven years. I also work with younger children, but the principles are the same for changing behaviors. But first, there needs to be a little preparation.
Here's an exercise and a description of thes process that we can
use to change teenager's behaviors. Take a sheet of typing paper and
draw a line down the center, separating it into two vertical columns.
On the top of the right column, write "Negative Behaviors." These are
behaviors you don't like in your teen and want to change. In the right
column, on each line, write down one negative behavior. Take your time
and think about each behavior. Try to be specific. Put only one
behavior on each line. You could have only three, or fifty-three lines,
but each line has only one separate behavior. When you have finished,
we'll work with the left column. Take your time and think only about
the right column--only negative behaviors. Try to pick concrete, real
time examples, like "yells," "leaves a mess," etc. Stay away from bigger,
less clear behaviors like, "isn't trustworthy," "is depressed," etc.
Don't go on until this part is done.
Now, in the left column, put the opposite of each negative behavior
BUT first read this paragraph before you do. Most people put the word
"not" in front of the negative behavior listed in the right column when
they consider what to put in the left column. For example if the
negative behavior in the right column is "yelling," then "not yelling"
seems like the opposite behavior to put in the left column. But wait a
minute! Not yelling is not really a good behavior. It is the absence of
a bad behavior. It could be sleeping, which technically, is not yelling. But from this too-general-a-perspective, sleeping might be considered the opposite of lots of behaviors,
not just yelling. I'm looking for a specific, real time, present and
positive behavior that still is the opposite of the negative behavior in the right column, in this case, "yelling." I want to find a concrete behavior that is positive yet incompatible with yelling. That behavior is something like "talks quietly" or "talks normally." It has to be the opposite of "yelling" but also a real behavior--a positive, present behavior, not the absence of some negative behavior (yelling). This is the behavior to put in the left column.
This point is crucial and should be kept in mind as you go down the
page, converting each of the negative behaviors in the right column into
the opposite (but present and positive) behaviors in the left column.
Convert each behavior like this until you finish the list and have an
entry in both columns. The more specific and concrete the behaviors
are in the right column, the easier it will be to find the positive
opposite behavior to put in the left column. If the concepts are too
big in the right column (like "isn't trustworthy") then break the behavior down into its component parts until it is simpler. Then, it will be easy to pick the opposite positive variant.
Now, go on to the next article...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Psychology of Guilt—Part III

This is the third in a three-part series of articles on the psychology of guilt. Please read the previous two articles first.

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.

To find the cause of guilt, I have 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.)
This is really an article 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. So, forgive the apparent diversion to follow, but from my point of view, a discussion of ambivalence is necessary to properly understand guilt.
-Dr. Griggs

The Psychology of Guilt—Part II

This is the second of a three part series of articles on the psychology of guilt. Please read the first article before reading this one…

Here’s another perspective, from psychology:

“In this definition, guilt is a negative, paralyzing emotion, based on non-acceptance of oneself or the situation, and it leads to depression and frustration rather than change or improvement. Guilt is usually a negative focus upon oneself: ‘I am an evil person. I can't bear myself. I am unworthy.’ While this response may appear in a religious guise, it often turns out to be a form of self-deprecating laziness. This can even lead to self-hatred, and certainly contributes to lack of self-confidence. Instead of recognizing that one’s actions are incorrect, one gets the feeling as if one is unworthy, as if ‘I’ am intrinsically bad.
In Buddhism such type of guilt is categorized as a... "disturbing attitude: one doesn't see the situation clearly and may well be a tricky form of self-centeredness associated with anxiety, and sometimes depression.”

In other words, guilt has a notorious down side; a rotten underbelly that manifests as conflict, while at the same time obfuscates awareness of underlying feelings. Because it is painful, guilt can be a powerful motivator of behavior.
For example, guilt can make you overly socially sensitive. This is true if you are too willing to do anything in your attempt to make everyone happy. In this case it makes you overly conscientious. You fret over every action you take, overly consider the possible negative consequence to others, even if this means that you must ignore your needs and wants. Because it is less guilt-inducing to take care of others first, instead of yourself, you hide behind the mask of self-denial. You honestly believe it is better to serve others first, unaware that "guilt" is the motivator for such "generous" behavior. You see decisions about right and wrong in every aspect of your life and become obsessed with the tenuous nature of all of your personal actions, words and decisions. You are most sensitive to the cues of others when any implication of your wrongdoing is intimated. In extreme cases, guilt can immobilize you. You can become so overcome by the fear of doing, acting, saying or being "wrong" that you eventually collapse, give in, and choose inactivity, silence and the status quo. In this case, guilt neutralizes both initiative and assertiveness.
Here’s another dark side of guilt; it can interfere in your decision-making. It is so important to always be "right" in your decisions that you become unable to make a decision lest it be a wrong one. This is when guilt clobbers insight and reinforces suppression. Guilt makes you downplay the full array of your feelings. When guilt rules there is less of a subjective pay off to look deeper. There’s just conflict and pain “down there.” Overcome by guilt or the fear of it, you can become emotionally blocked or closed off. You are able neither to enjoy the positive fruits of life nor experience the negative aspects.
-Dr. Griggs

The Psychology of Guilt--Part I

This is the first in a three-part series on the psychology of guilt. It is written by a clinical psychologist who has been in private practice 27 years.

The Psychology of GUILT
(Ambivalence Turned Inwards)

From etymology (the study of historical linguistic change, especially as manifested in individual words)…

“Guilt stems from gylt ‘crime, sin, fault, fine,’ of unknown origin, though some suspect a connection to O.E. gieldan ‘to pay for, debt,’ but O.E.D. editors find this ‘inadmissible phonologically.’ The mistaken use for ‘sense of guilt’ is first recorded 1690. ‘Guilt by association’ is first recorded in 1941. ‘Guilty’ is from O.E. gyltig, from gylt.”

From wikipedia…

“Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation. It is closely related to the concept of remorse (which adds the dimension of sadness, shame or responsibility).”

In psychology, as well as in ordinary language, guilt is an affective state in which one experiences conflict at having done something that one believes one should not have done, or conversely, having not done something one believes one should have done. It gives rise to a feeling which does not go away easily, usually driven by conscience. Freud described guilt as a state, resulting from the struggle between the ego and the superego. Specifically, guilt was thought to occur because of overbearing “parental imprinting.” Freud rejected the role of God as punisher in times of illness or rewarder in time of wellness. Thus, while removing one source of guilt from patients, he described another. This was the unconscious force within the individual, and Freud thought this contributed to illness. In a more general but still Freudian sense, the victim of someone else's accident or bad luck may be offered criticism; the theory being that the victim may be at fault for having attracted the other person's hostility. Guilt was the factor that created the calamity, albeit the process was out of awareness. The punishment of suffering confirmed the fault of the sufferer. Guilt and its causes, merits, and demerits are common themes in psychology. The use of guilt here is not referring to the mere fact of being guilty of something, but refers to seeing or projecting one's mistakes, while not knowing what to do about them or refusing to correct them.
-Dr. Griggs

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Top Thirteen Teenager Problem Areas-Part II

I've been a child psychologist for 27 years. This is the
second in a series of articles on how to deal with teen's behaviors.
Please read the first article by this same title (Part I) before
reading the below...
Parents have to negotiate most of the aforementioned areas, not just once but regularly. This is the nature of individuation. With teenagers, there is a constant, chronic and inevitable pulling away from authority and routine. Teens like regularity when it comes to meeting needs, but they also love novelty, especially when it destabilizes the predictable, engenders novelty-all breeding grounds for individuation. Parents represent the "state of limitations," and most teens live with at least one of their parents, so naturally, the drive for independence focuses on and "opposes" parents, who are seen as the "forces of evil." Built into separating from the status quo is conflict, at the very least tension. How you and your teenager handle astriction depends upon the skills either
brings to "The Dance" (the concept I discussed in earlier articles on
As is the case with younger children, the single most important
variable parents should consider when negotiating these issues is the
teenager's level of maturity. This means parents must consider things
like capacity to understand consequences; meaning, the ability to anticipate and appreciate the future. Impulsivity, intellectual
availability, susceptibility to social pressure, ego strength, self-esteem and mood fluctuations are other considerations. Most of these fall under the category of judgment, but the latter ones, if out of order, can bleed over into psychological or psychiatric conditions.
Parents have to make a determination, and then communicate their
"findings" in some form to the teenager. This usually takes the form
of verbalizations, but is usually quickly followed by acts. The Dance
continues when the teenager counters with his or her own "contrary"
reasoning, some of which may or may not have merit. The more mature the teen is, the less parents need to dispute, and the less teens need to "present their case." The opposite is also true; that is, the less
mature the teen is, the more reasons the parents have to dispute, and the more the teen's argument fails to "hold water." Paradoxically, the less merit the teen's argument has, the more persistence there seems to be to prove it valid (often accompanied by noise and other distractions to either obfuscate the point of just distract the parent).
A good example is when a teen wants a cell phone. Because this
is probably the most salient teen crisis point, this subject will be the
topic of a separate and longer article. This is the subject of a
separate article in this article source.
--Dr. Griggs

The Top Thirteen Teenager Problem Areas-Part I

I've been a child psychologist for twenty-seven years. Here's
the top thirteen teenager problems areas I see every day.

1) Out of home activities. Teenagers frequently want to "hang out"
with other teens, usually away from the house, or if at home, out of
parent's earshot or eyesight. Who they hang out with and how far away should they be allowed to roam are things teens prefer to decide, not parents.
2) Curfews. Teenagers want to stay out later at night, especially
after school functions, especially with their peers. They also want
to decide when not to come home.
3) Privacy. If a girl is visiting your home (if your teen is a boy),
should there be any "visiting" behind closed doors? Teens want privacy
like everyone else. They usually also want something else, or at least
are thinking about it.
4) Safety. If your teen goes home after school, does s/he go directly
home (no "dilly dallying") and stay there if the parent has to work?
After school, does the front door stay closed and locked and should there
be "friends" arriving before the parent? Should your teenager call you
when s/he arrives at home?
5) Electronics. What are healthy activities? Video games? How many? How much time spent on them? This includes cell phone and
computer time.
6) Comparative Age. At what age should a younger child or teenager
have a cell phone? You'd be surprised at the range of ages I encounter. At what age should a teenager be allowed to take care of a younger child, either a sib or baby sit?
7) Makeup. When can a girl wear makeup?
8) Dating. At what age should dating be allowed?
9) Driving. When should your teenager begin driver's instruction?
Whose car is s/he going to drive? DOES s/he drive?
10) Grades. What is the minimum GPA (grade point average) necessary
to have some of these privileges? What is the minimum GPA, period?
11) Criminal Behaviors. Truancy is a lesser crime, but it does bring
up the issue of how to deal with a teenager who refuses to go to school?
At the "kid" level, other criminal behaviors are: fire setting, fighting
to the point of seriously hurting others (sometimes associated with gang
membership) or destroying property (e.g., "tagging"). Lesser "crimes"
are plagiarizing, or copying other's answers on tests.
12) Drug and alcohol experimentation. As parents, you may not recognize
when this first starts, but it likely will, and you will have to have some
policy and approach.
13) Visitation. In divorce cases, usually there is supposed to be
visitation with the "other" parent. What are the parameters of the visits? What if your teen refuses to go? (Theoretically, this is often regulated by the legal system, but practically, it is anything but...)

--Dr. Griggs

Friday, September 2, 2011

Teens, Moods and Psychiatric Conditions

I'm a child psychologist and have been in private practice over
twenty-seven years. This latest brief article outlines some things to
watch for in teens when their behavior becomes a problem. This is one
of a series of many articles recently published online about teenagers
and their behaviors...

To continue...

Another cause of erratic moods is the onset of normal physical
changes. Menarche troubles lots of girls, for a while, until their
bodies and psyches adjust. Some girls/women never get used to their
periods. While this is normal, at first and possibly on a cyclical basis, moods may be compromised. Check with a medical doctor for
things like hormone levels if you suspect this to be behind cyclical and more extreme mood swings.
There are physical (probably genetic) conditions that make moods
worse. Some of these are considered to be mental health disorders, while others are thought to be genetic conditions that have mental sequelae. These include Asperger's Syndrome or Autism in general, Developmental Disorders, psychotic states and sometimes Personality Disorders.
Psychiatric conditions almost always "trash" moods. Major
Depression, Bi-polar Disorder, Mania, Cyclothymia and Dysthymia are terms that describe different characteristics and aspects of mood disorders. Anxiety disorders also make mood management very difficult. While anxiety, per se, is not always considered to be a mood "proper," it is sufficiently mood like, often painful and both indicative of and
influential over underlying moods. At a clinical level, anxiety presents
in many forms, including the following disorders: Panic Disorder, Phobias,
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
These states require the intervention of a licensed mental health
professional. (Sub-clinical manifestations of anxiety are guilt,
procrastination and other forms of ambivalence, such as the inability to
forgive, or even grief.) The idea is to get down to the cause of behavior problems, either using your own resources, or by enlisting the aid of others. (For a more thorough discussion of anxiety, see How To Diagnose and Treat Your Anxiety, which is linked to the author's website, below).
To say that teen's moods vary more than others is probably an
understatement. But to say they are too extreme relative to their internal state is an overstatement, and clinically incorrect. Teenagers react to their environments because they have newly minted perceptual and emotional machinery that are, unfortunately, neither grounded in experience, nor fine-tuned or adjusted to reality. As with most human behavior, emotion-driven behavior runs its course until it hits a wall, then corrects.
Hormones drive dramatic physical expansion in the body, and feelings come along for the ride. During the teen years, bodies and emotions explode, expanding in all directions, until stopped, usually by some form of external limit. Then, especially feelings "re-set;" meaning, adjust to the parameters within which they can safely function without jeopardizing their host. In concrete terms, your teenager will cause you great emotional grief until one or more of three things happen. One, you understand them and they come to feel you are an ally, hence less of an "object" to resist. Two, they get used to themselves and more spontaneously "adjust." Three, you set limits and boundaries. In all cases, they have to "test drive" their emerging adolescent psyches before they settle down. Be patient.
--Dr. Griggs

Teens, Driving and Dating

Teens, Driving and Dating
I've been an outpatient child psychologist for over twenty-seven years, and have recently completed a ebook, How To Change Teenager's Behavior. Below is an excerpt, summarizing some thoughts on teen driving, followed by dating (next article).

To continue...

Your task as the parent is to shape your teenager; training them,
little by little, coaxing them into developing the characteristics of
responsible drivers. What does that mean? List them: responsibility,
good judgment, unselfishness, controlled impulsivity, farsightedness and respect. Take them one at a time, and shape them by rewarding behaviors that are close, at first. Use modeling, cueing, etc. Do this until you see enough of these traits emerging and stabilizing to warrant trusting your teen on the road. Its a huge judgment call on your part as the parent, but you know your teenager better than anyone else, and can instinctively make this decision based upon your daily interactions.
"The Dance" (see previous articles on teenagers by this author) is about your teen showing you what they are made of, how mature they are, how in control of their impulses they are, how respectful they are in all areas of home, school and social life. These are the yardsticks parents use to assess the likelihood of their teen's driving well. Why is this important?
Remember, when they drive off for the first time, probably in your car, without you in the passenger seat, you will no longer control what happens. They, in all their immaturity, now "present" all their characters to the world of fellow drivers. They will transfer through the car onto the real world whatever level of judgment and self-control they have. The bad news is that they will also act out immaturity on the road, just as they did by not cleaning their rooms. Those same attitudes don't exist solely in one domain.
The good news is that most of us make it through this rite of passage. It is the enormity or scope of the consequences that gives we parents pause, but it is this same salience that motivates teens to "step up to the plate," to prove to themselves and to us that they are ready. Thus the reward is in the accomplishment to the teen, and to the relinquishment of withholding to we parents.
Another example is dating. Before dealing with the onset of dating
behaviors, let me digress and define dating. It used to be that dating meant going out with at least one other person, who we would treat as special, at least for the night. It also implied having possibly but not necessarily having more than just casual feelings for that person, or at least having sufficient interest in that person to give them individual attention around some unique event--dinner with only them, a movie with only them, etc. Double dating was just an expansion of these ideas, applied to another couple occupying the same space, participating in the same activities. Serious dating implied being more exclusive, later monogamous; meaning, being with only one person in a dating capacity, excluding others. Dating implied greater intimacy, which opened the door to the possibility of sex. (Drugs and rock and roll activities could happen anywhere along the way.)
"Nowadays" dating is much more loosely defined. I recently talked with an eleven-year-old girl in my office, who had been "dating" for two years. That begged the question, so I asked what she meant by dating. She said, "You know, meeting at recess behind the bungalows." Then I asked, "What do you do behind the bungalows?" She said, "Well, you know, talk and stuff." I persisted. "Stuff?" "Well, we give each other stuff, like something we found, or we hold hands or just hang out." This seems innocent enough, but later I found out this "dating" also involved some pretty intimate touching and some exchange of drugs (marijuana, in this case). Adult behaviors start somewhere at some time. It appears to be the case that "dating" and all its machinations starts earlier and earlier. It used to be that dating used to involve travel, usually by car. Now, travel means walking a few hundred feet at school.
At what age should teens be allowed to fraternize with others in this way? The adumbrations of this class of behavior are starting to wear makeup (usually but not always girls) and shaving (both genders) and body-building (usually but not always boys). These are all normal, but the ages at which they occur vary. In my outpatient private practice as a child psychologist, I have seen the portents of dating start as early as eight in girls and nine in boys, or as late as sixteen or later in either gender. It depends upon more variables than the scope of this article allows. Regardless, when (usually not if) this happens, "The Dance" accelerates. (See other articles by this author for an explanation of The Dance.) Teens start to push the talk-on-the-cell-phone time limits and later the curfew limits. And, not coincidentally, when they are violating the here-to-fore established "standards," they often "just happen" to be interacting with another teen in "dating" mode.
Dating, by itself is not terminal; that is, teens will not self-destruct the minute they discover more intimate attachments to another. But the onset of dating does cause parents alarm, because it brings up the specter of sex and other dreaded behaviors, e.g., alcohol use. The emergence of dating causes parents to think about "the sex talk," which by the way, has usually already been addressed, at least from the teen's point of view, by their sex-ed class.
--Dr. Griggs

Procrastination and Assertiveness

What is assertiveness? Simply defined, according to
Wikipedia, which is actually pretty good at defining this term,
assertiveness is:

"...a form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof; this affirms the person's rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one's rights or point of view."

Further, assertive people have the following characteristics:
"They feel free to express their feelings, thoughts, and desires.

They are...

"also able to initiate and maintain comfortable relationships
with [other]people. They know their rights. They have control over their anger. This does not mean that they repress this feeling; it means that they control anger and talk about it in a reasoning manner."

Assertive people ..."are willing to compromise with others, rather than
always wanting their own way ... and tend to have good self-esteem"

Assertive people enter friendships from an 'I count my needs. I count
your needs' position".

The most important trait in this last list is the first one, "They
feel free to express their feelings, thoughts, and desires." This is the
state which allows for the expression of those recently excavated feelings, values, ideas, memories, associations and thoughts that previously weren't in awareness. Now that they are, the task is to use the appropriate words and say them, out loud, to decrease the tension inherent in the procrastination dynamic. Notice that I did not say that externalizing your thoughts got you off the hook or that it even reduced tension. It shifts attention from procrastination to assertiveness, which for some, is equally uncomfortable. (This is secondary procrastination-fear of dealing with it because of trouble being assertive.) But the demand now is to face the issue with assertiveness, which may cause another kind of anxiety, that of speaking up, This has to be mastered sufficiently or the dynamic of procrastination, even though exposed, will still not change.
You, the reader, are probably thinking, "Great, now I have to be
assertive when I haven't yet mastered procrastination." The short answer
is "yes" but assertiveness doesn't have to be so arduous, if that is the way you think about it. In my ebook, The Five Steps of Assertiveness, I describe three levels of assertiveness, "Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced." You only need to master the first level, which is very simple.
All you have to do is find the right words to describe your thoughts and/or feelings and say them. That's it! That takes the edge off the underlying or buried thoughts and feelings, because now they are no longer buried (it takes energy to contain energy and we experience this phenomenon mentally in the form of fatigue, distraction and overall tension). You've taken the lid off the bottle, so to speak, and let out some of the pressure. The next easy and logical step, is to state your position on something and then ask for what you want, this time directly. This is Beginning Assertiveness, and it is not hard. This is the simplest direct way to clear the air and get more of what you want.
Procrastination probably is the most indirect way of creating what you want, but it causes all kinds of problems inside your head and in your social environment because people are not pleased with procrastinating behavior. When you overtly state your wishes, people react to you differently. While they still might not like what you say or agree to give you what you want, they will see and appreciate the normal approach
you are now taking to resolving a situation. (Assertiveness does not
guarantee you will get what you want, but it does increase the odds.) You will get feedback that assertiveness is much better than "that other behavior" and the secondary benefits to you will be things like lowered anxiety, increased self-esteem and greater social matriculation.
So, follow me as I describe some situations in future articles that embody all the dynamics I've talked about.
-Dr. Griggs

Other Causes of Procrastination-Like Behaviors-Part II

Other Causes of Procrastination-Like Behaviors-Part II
This is a continuation of the previous article, which was Part I. Please read that article first.

To continue...

Mental health is often an underlying factor. Think depression or bi-polar illness. Think anxiety disorders. These are serious conditions that clearly compromise an individual's ability to negotiate even simple, daily tasks, much less tackle big projects. Think about Frank (example of procrastination in a previous article). If he is depressed significantly more than he knows, Frank will be unable to muster enough energy to complete projects, again until the tension builds and overrides the resistance caused by the mental illness. Depression, and mood disorders in general, take the motivation out of behavior because they require such a great effort to overcome the effects of the mental illness. If mental illness is suspected, consult with a behavioral health professional.
Another possible cause of procrastination is drug or alcohol use.
Drugs are everywhere and teenagers are exposed to them every day at high
schools and colleges. I've had kids as young as seven in my office
asking question about funny looking weed-like stuff in plastic bags. When asked where they saw this, one child said, "Some big kid was selling it outside my school." Whoa! This was just marijuana. There are more
drugs "out there" than parents realize, and if Jim is taking these, his
behavior is going to be compromised. In the world of using drugs, motivations change, intensity of moods change, ability to concentrate
changes. From the drug experience mind set, cleaning rooms and doing
homework are not appealing and even if they were, the ability to complete
such tasks is compromised because the brains needed to wield attention are
polluted. If drugs are an issue, seek a behavioral health professional.
Lastly, personality disorders wreak havoc on behavior and can mimic
procrastination. A personality disorder is a long term, maladaptive
pattern of behavior that is not a mental illness, strictly speaking
(although they are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Illnesses). We have all heard of the psychopath (now called
Antisocial Personality), and more in the news and literature are
Narcissistic and Borderline Personality disorders. There are others, and their nature is too far afield from the scope of this article on procrastination. If you suspect a personality disorder, go to Google
and type in "Personality Disorders" and do a little research. This
category really does require professional training to diagnose, especially
to tease out from simple procrastination. If in doubt, consult with a
behavioral health professional.
-Dr. Griggs

Other Causes of Procrastination-Like Behaviors-Part I

These two articles are part of a group of articles about procrastination, all written by an outpatient psychologist. Previous articles explain the relationship between conflicts, ambivalence, anxiety, avoidance, etc.; all of which might be read in order to fully understand the content of the current article.

To continue...

Sometimes, people go through lots of therapeutic steps and still procrastinate. They understand the conflicts, the ambivalence, the anxiety and everything else and still procrastinates. Then what?
The answer is that we missed something. There is some dynamic or other behavior that is not visible, still gumming up the works. In one of the previous articles, Jim (an adolescent) didn't want to clean his room or do his homework. What other issues might there be that could explain. It turns out there are several major possibilities.
One is ADHD. This is Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and is a neurological disorder that manifests as the inability to pay attention to consistently low stimulation activity. Other symptoms are distractibility, disorganization, usually impulsivity and often some hyperactivity (fidgeting, constantly moving or climbing, etc.). The ADHD mind set does not easily lend itself to cleaning rooms and paying attention to homework. Paying attention and being still for ADHD kids is actually painful and is usually avoided by self-creating stimulation, usually not of the parent-approved kind. If this is the underlying cause of procrastination consult with a behavioral health professional. While ADHD behaviors look like procrastination on the surface, they are really reflective of an underpowered braking system in the brain. In Jim's case, he couldn't stop distracting impulses from taking him off task. This looks like procrastination because "things" aren't done on time, but the culprit is not so much suppression of underlying conflicts, but faulty wiring.
Another possible cause of procrastination is ODD. This is
Oppositional Defiant Disorder. ODD is also a behavioral condition,
characterized by excessive negativity, non-cooperative behaviors other
than those normally ascribed to certain ages (think "terrible two's," or
teen rebellion, which are normal). ODD, like ADHD, is frequently seen
as a co-morbid condition; that is, one that co-exists as a separate
disorder alongside another disorder such as ADHD or depression. In this
case procrastination-like behavior might really be the expression of a mood disorder, or some chronic, deep-seated environmental stressor, like a pesky younger sister who lives to frustrate her older brother, or parents who prefer such a sibling over Jim. If this is the case, see a behavioral health professional or read "How To Change Children's Behavior (Quickly)."
-Dr. Griggs