31 December 2007


Many of you are probably familiar with the ABC framework for analyzing behaviors. ABC stands for Antecedent, Behavior, Consequences.

The basic idea is that Behaviors are a feedback system, mainly between Behaviors and Consequences.

A possibly useful way of looking at our responses to our emotions is the other ABC framework laid out by Albert Ellis, which I found in the book, How to Be An Adult by David Richo. "A" stands for activation, "B" is Beliefs, and "C" is consequences. It has to do with the topic of "owning your feelings" and anger. From my perspective owning your feelings means to understand where those feelings come from and responding to them appropriately. Understanding where the feelings come from is the key.

If we take our communication diagram from a previous post, we can group this ABC quite nicely in that framework.

Consider a situation in which you are driving down the freeway minding your own business, when suddenly, someone zooms past you and cuts right in front of you (Activation). You're ticked off, angry that this guy would cut you off, so you make some naughty hand gesture (Consequence). You might say that you are mad because he cut you off. In the ABC framework, the anger is not caused by being cut off, but rather by your belief as to his motives. In your belief system, people who cut you off are jerks.

Would you see it differently if you knew that his daughter was bleeding to death in the front seat and he was rushing her to the hospiital? If that were the case, your feeling might be one of pity rather than anger and you would move out of the way willingly.

This is closely related to the Fundamental Attribution Error (a very common bias), in which we attribute bad motives to others when we do not know their motives. A nice definition from Wikipedia is that people have an unjustified tendency to assume that a person's actions depend on what "kind" of person that person is rather than on the social and environmental forces influencing the person. Overattribution is less likely, perhaps even inverted, when people explain their own behavior.

This is a variation on the standard communication flow. The difference being that the message is often sent by an action. So when you feel a strong emotion over what someone has done, try to examine your beliefs and preconceptions, then verify with feedback before you respond. People often have very different motives than we attribute to them.

30 October 2007

More on Communication

A cognitive bias that most people have is confirmation bias. When we see something that conforms to our beliefs, we think it is brilliant. When something doesn't conform to our beliefs, we think it's wrong.

I stumbled across this brilliant web page today. The title is "Relationship Fix: How to Tell Difficult Truths So People Thank You." I like it mainly because it is consistent with some of my previous posts on communication. They have a nice spin on it though. They say, "When you speak the unarguable people don't argue."

Stick with your emotions and feelings, not their problems. If I say "I feel sick to my stomach," you can't argue. If I say, "Your idiocy makes me sick to my stomach." you might have something to say.

They also put out the concept of "feeling zones." It's a way to link your feelings with physical manifestation of the feelings.

  • Zone 1 is made up of your neck, shoulders and mid-back. When you’re tense in this zone it’s because you’re holding onto anger you haven’t communicated.

  • Zone 2 is your throat and chest. This zone tells you when you’re feeling sad by signaling you with constriction (“lump in the throat”) and a sense of heaviness.

  • Zone 3 is your stomach and beltline area. Tension and racy-queasy sensations (“butterflies”) tell you that you’re scared.

So hold me guilty of confirmation bias, but I have yet to see any argument that makes the case that it is a good idea in a relationship to point the finger and blame.

27 October 2007

In Praise of Joy Toys - Asa Baber

Warning: The following is R-rated due to sexual content

Asa Baber was a columnist for Playboy magazine for many years. I used to read his "Men" column, as well as the stories he wrote. He wrote about many issues related to men: their rights, responsibilities, growing up, etc. His writing was always provocative and usually spot on.

He wrote a column in the June 1994 Playboy that had a huge impact on the way I think about sex. Not the mechanics of it or the squishy making love side, but more a philosophy of mutual pleasuring.

In summary, he says that men should remove the ego from lovemaking, and put the focus on their partner rather than using sex to prove their physical prowess or soothe their ego. He says it much better than I ever could, so I won't say more about it.

I'm not sure exactly how this ties in to Emotions for Engineers except to say that engineering is a predominantly male profession, sex is a part of many love relationships, so we might as well do it right. Besides, I wanted to have this as part of my own "FAQ."

I searched all over the internet for the article (I wasn't sure which month and year) and finally found it. It wasn't even available on Playboy's website (I would have preferred to link to them). So I have reproduced the article here.


In Praise of Joy Toys
by Asa Baber
Playboy Magazine
June, 1994

After you and your partner are through making love, and after she has complimented you on your sexual prowess and praised Mr. Happy for the way he has taken care of business, and after she has given your satiated weenie a final kiss and turned over and pretended to go to sleep, are you so foolish and naive as to have believed her terms of endearment?

I’ll bet you are. Admit it: You love I when a woman praises your talents. “Way to go dickmeister,” you say to yourself with a smile. The smile of a self-satisfied lover that is.

I don’t want to ruin your day Space Captain, but allow me to ask you a few questions:

• Once in a while, does the mattress seem to jiggle as you fall asleep after sex? And do you ever ask yourself, “If that’s not an earthquake, then what’s causing those mysterious vibrations?”

• After making love does she periodically go into the bathroom and take a long shower with that complicated showerhead she bought last year? And does she perhaps sleep a little late the next morning?

• After she has praised you and treasured you, do you wake up a few minutes later to find her gone?Do you then hear a subterranean hum emanating from the living room?

• When you turn on the light by the bed after she has gotten up at night, does the electricity surge, and are there cries of pleasure from the basement?

• When sorting through the mail, do you come across personal letters to her from your utility company that say: “Thank you for your excessive use of our services. We consider you one of our most highly valued customers.”

You get where I’m going with this, don’t you? If you really believe the gold dust that your lover sprinkles on your pillow at night, check your gullibility factor in the morning. Because you are clearly a self-deceived man who has forgotten one of life’s most important rules. I’m talking about the Always Three In Bed Rule, of course. Read it and apply it and your life will change for the better.

The Always Three In Bed Rule reads as follows: “You shall not make love with any woman without understanding that she will often be more orgasmic than you are. Therefore, you will have at least one vibrator in bed with you and your companion at all times to join the two of you while you play and to take over when you need a break. Furthermore, you shall not be embarrassed or threatened but shall instead adopt your vibrating ally as an equal partner and encourage your lover to use it on herself (and on you too if she remembers you are there) whenever and however she chooses.”

This rule applies especially during your downtime, when you can only lie there and and watch in amazement at the female capacity for numerous and continual orgasms. Remember, the central operating principle of the Always Three In Bed Rule: The couple that vibrates together stays together.

It is time for us to accept the fact that women are capable of more orgasms than we are. We think we’re hot stuff if we come a couple times a night. But on their hornier nights, women view their first orgasms as nothing but foreplay, and they are secretly looking around and wishing for more.

Given that fact, we should encourage women to bring their joy toys out of the closet and into the open bed. Let us offer praise to those pulsating love probes. They prove that while a man’s dick may sometimes droop, his ministrations can go on forever. They are our pinch hitters and friends. So roll over, red Rover, and let the vibrators take over.

Rare is the sexually sophisticated woman who does not have several types of toys to play with. These include:

The penis shaped vibrator. Be brave, be humble, be bold; take her to an adult bookstore and let her buy the size she wants. You’ll learn a lot about her when you do this, I promise. And if, as you leave the store she tries to reassure you by saying, “Size doesn’t count,” let her get away with that lie.

Clitoral stimulators. Known in some circles as the tired-man’s accomplice, these vibrators are small and handy. They are also great for her to use during intercourse. Snuggle up behind her, slip into her love nest and hang on for your life.

In response to demand, many stores now sell vibrators of all shapes and sizes. You can buy ultrasound vibrators, two-headed vibrators, infrared vibrators,. You can buy dildos that throb, and dildos that thrust. There is a cornucopia of joy toys for you and your lover to experiment with, and she will respect you in the morning if you allow her to satisfy herself at night. I have a theory about the nature of the lives of men and women. I can’t prove it, but I suspect that the anger some women have displayed toward us is, in part, a sexual anger. They are telling us that we have not taken the time to understand their bodies or their needs. And if that theory is true, it is also correctable.

Many years ago in the bedroom of a young woman in Berlin, I was making youthful love with what I thought was skill and abandon. My partner seemed to be enjoying herself, and after several orgasms, I lay back in a satiated state of mind and body.

“Ace, I have a machine that always lets me finish many times,” my partner said to me with some shyness.

“Be my guest,” I said. I watched while she played, and when I had my strength back, I joined her. It was one of the most exciting and educational evenings of my life.

“Be my guest,” you shall say. “Come. And come again All night long, if you choose. Because that’s what our mutual joy toys are all about.”

Online sex toy shops

Good Vibrations

17 October 2007

More on Free Will and "The Black Box"

In a previous post regarding whether or not humans have free will, I talked about what it takes for us to change our behaviors.

I said that you either need to reprogram the black box by taking good care of it or change the inputs to the black box. This page on "Priming and Contamination" from my friends over at Overcoming Bias supports the concept.

They say, "Once an idea gets into your head, it primes information compatible with it - and thereby ensures its continued existence."

This is why support networks are important. This is why it's good to have a disinterested party who can give you critical feedback. This is why reinforcing good thoughts leads to positive outcomes while reinforcing bad thoughts leads to negative outcomes.

If you are an engineer by training, there's a pretty good chance that you are a Myers-Briggs intravert--used to living and reasoning in your own head. But remember, your mental health, the "Commitment to reality at any cost" begins with being able to identify reality. If you do not first take care of yourself and actively collect disinterested points of view, you will bring biases and possibly flawed or distorted beliefs and values into the mix.

Cultivate close trusted relationships besides your immediate family. You will be better for it.

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09 October 2007

You're Just Oversensitive

"Oversensitive" and "too sensitive" have always sounded judgmental to me. It's an uncalibrated opinion. It implies that there's some line to another's feelings and that you are the judge of where that line is. For example, somebody implying, "if I call you a "big jerk," you shouldn't get angry; if I call you a "big fat jerk," you're justified in feeling angry" is judgment against arbitrary standards. Simply saying that someone is sensitive (without the additional qualifier) sounds less judgmental to me.

Calling someone oversensitive is often said by someone who has been insensitive and doesn't want to admit fault or accept blame.

Think about if you are designing a bridge. You wouldn't say that bridge is "superstrong." It conveys no real meaning without some sort of context. Saying, "that bridge can support 16 Sherman tanks driving 30 MPH and will last for 100 years with no maintenance" begins to have some meaning. It has specificity and calibration.

Even with some types of comparatives it is less judgmental and more factual. For example, "you react stronger to criticism than anyone I know" might hurt, but at least there is some calibration. I am not saying it is ever a good idea to give someone this kind of feedback or advice, but at least in might be a true statement. Saying that someone is "oversensitive" is practically false by definition because there is no standard.

I think it is also potentially ok to say something like "you are too sensitive to have the type of job where you have to deal with complaints." Again, a person may not want to hear it, but at least there is something to measure against that can form the basis for a discussion.

Bottom Line

Feelings are facts.

If someone is hurt by your remarks, the best path forward is to acknowledge the feeling, apologize, and move on. I believe that some people also use false claims of being hurt, but I suspect that those are relatively rare.

Don't say, but I was only... Don't make excuses. Intent matters, but later, once the hurt dissipates. All this assumes that you care about the relationship of course.

18 September 2007

Mental Health Is...

Mental health is a commitment to reality at any cost. -M. Scott Peck

Frame that. Always focus on what you know to be true. Do not kid yourself. Do not rationalize.

I don't suppose that is a good clinical definition of mental health, but it is useful. That quote has been an anchor for me in my recent life. I went for a long time, ignoring reality because it was less painful (in the short term) than accepting what I "knew" to be true. In the end, it is an immature, cowardly, foolish approach to life that will only hurt you and everyone around you.

Another quote on reality found on the Overcoming Bias (now Less Wrong) blog follows:

What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn't make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn't make it go away.
And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn't there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.
-- Eugene Gendlin


Rationalizing is a form of not facing reality. It consists of making up a reason or excuse to make the facts fit some preconception of what one thinks should be. An example from Wikipedia is, "...consider a person who bought one of the first home computers in 1980 primarily motivated by the excitement of playing with a computer. If he felt that his friends would not accept "having fun" as a sufficient reason for the purchase, he might have searched for other justifications and ended up telling them how much time it was going to save him in doing his taxes."

That for me is an example of rationalization that is fairly harmless, especially if he doesn't believe it himself. It's more a form of lying to protect oneself from ridicule. It's not good, but in my opinion, begins to be damaging when one starts to actually believe or accept obvious rationalizations.

When you receive a rationalization, you may experience cognitive dissonance. You know that feeling. It's where what you believe is not quite the same as what is happening or what you are being told. It's that "feeling in my bones," the "I knew something wasn't right" thing. Listen to those clues. Follow up on them. Try to understand whether your mental model is faulty or the external inputs are.

Why We Ignore Reality

Adlerian psychology believes that most psycholgical problems are attempts to overcome feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. Now just to keep things straight and objective, remember that feelings are facts (i.e. reality). So if you feel somehow inferior or inadequate, it does not mean that you are inferior or inadequate, only that you feel that way. The reality is the feeling, not necessarily the underlying opinion.

04 September 2007


Before I begin, I want to say that any addiction can be destructive to the addict and those around him or her. I'm not sure exactly where the line is betwen obsession and addiction lands, but if your obsession, whether with work, sex, or alcohol is having a negative impact on your life and relationships, Get Help!

The link in this post is not strictly about workaholism, but the last paragraph of a blog post really resonated with me.

It says, "Yeah, I know smart execs have delegated for centuries. But I can envision a world where sweating over your beepy electronic device starts looking about as “executive” and “pro-active” as sucking on a crack pipe in the break room."

The NPR interview with Stanley Bing referred to in the blog post talks about Crackberries and how they add to stress.

So here's my take on workaholics. I believe there are two basic flavors and all the combinations in between. So first, let's take a look at workaholic behavior. It is when a person is focused on his job for more hours than is required. In these cases, leisure and other outside enjoyable activities, get put on hold or take a back seat to work.

So I think that workaholism can either be a good thing or a bad thing for a person, depending on his motivation.

If your obsession is driven by factors on the top of Maslow's hierarchy, if it is love of the work, love of the stimulation, creativity, respect of others, achievement, etc., it can be a good thing. It could just be the way you are self-actualizing. However, as with any obsession, there still needs to be balance with your family and loved ones.

When the motivation is the items lower on the hierarchy, such as financial security, food on the table, etc. Work can be extremely stressful in a negative way.

Couple motivation with the strength of the obsession and you end up with a 2 x 2 grid. The upper left is a healthy place to be. You love your work, but it is not such an obsession that you lose balance in your life. But even if your work is your main source of self-actualization, too much (moving to the right) can be unhealthy for a person.

On the other hand, if you work only to put a paycheck on the table, and dislike your work, the environment, and the people, it is also unhealthy, even if you are putting in minimal effort.

This post started with a quote from another blog. "...a world where sweating over your beepy electronic device starts looking about as “executive” and “pro-active” as sucking on a crack pipe in the break room." So what is an executive or executive wannabe going to do?

First, recognize that it is seldom purely about the hours you put in. People who sweat over their beepy electronic devices are likely focusing on urgent matters vs. important matters. There was a funny saying that used to go around the workplace. It said, "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." Besides urgency and importance, it also stresses the importance of boundaries in a work or any relationship really. If you are continually finding yourself as the last man in a crack the whip scenario, you should do something to change that.

In the final analysis, perspective is important. It's a cliche that nobody lies on their deathbed and wishes that they had spent more time at work and less with their family. So if you question the amount of time you devote to work, or if your loved ones are complaining, take it as a sign.

Look into yourself. Is your work life controlled and manageable or are you unable to keep up--and not just temporarily. If it's the latter, it could be a type of addiction. If that's the case, you should consider a support group, e.g. Workaholics Anonymous, to help get your life into balance.

For balance, read Marty Nemko's excellent piece, "In Praise of Workaholics."

On to "Mental Health is... >>>>>

27 August 2007

More On Needs In A Relationship


In a previous post, I talked about Emotional Needs in a Relationship.
But what is a need? How do you distinguish that from a "want" or even a "like-to-have"?

It's all really subjective. Technically, all you "need" is food and physical protection from the elements.

But we all want more. In fact we need more to reach higher levels of fulfillment in our lives. A useful model for understanding needs is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It is usually pictured as a triangle. The bottom to top of the triangle is ordered starting with physical needs, and moving through , societal, emotional, and to "self-actualization."

The idea is that in order to reach the next higher level, you must first achieve the needs of your current level.

Anything beyond the physiological and Safety needs are not technically needs, in the sense of "you will die if you do not receive these." They are really wants and expectations--like-to-haves or want-to-haves.

So lets rearrange the emotional needs from a previous post and see if putting them on Maslow's Hierarchy makes any sense. Before going any further, position of the need on the hierarchy is not an indicator of the importance of the need to a person. Those are individual.
Clearly Financial Support is a primal need. Without that, survival may be at stake.

I put Domestic support into the Safety category, because of things like the importance of cleanliness, etc. I also put Financial Support into Safety because money is required for shelter, clothing, etc. Domestic support can also be an enabler of Financial Support. If the at-home partner can keep clothes clean and ironed, it may help the financial supporter achieve more.

Note that I did not include Sexual Fulfillment in the Physiological Needs. Obviously sex is required for propagation of the genes/species, but it is not a survival need per se. From this perspoecative, Sexual Fulfillment does belong in the Love/Belonging bucket where it speaks of Sexual Intimacy.

I put Recreational companionship, Conversation, Affection, and Family Commitment into the Love/Belonging category, although arguably Family Commitment could also be in the Safety category.

Three needs make it into the esteem category: Honesty and Openness, Physical Attractiveness, and Admiration. I believe that Honesty and Openness is a sign of respect. Lack of respect from one's partner can hurt self-esteem. Receiving words of Admiration is also in this category.

Hearing positive things from someone that you love and whose opinion you respect is very powerful.

Finally, I wasn't sure quite where to put physical attractiveness. In the Needs post I expanded that a little to include overall attractiveness (going beyond the physical and into things like intelligence, and ability to have a conversation in a social setting). So I think for many people having an attractive spouse is a symbol to the world that they have somehow "won."

I'm not sure how healthy that is, but I think it falls into the esteem category.
So what we see is that most of the "Needs" are not needs at all, (Financial Support and possibly Domestic Support being the only exceptions) but are requirements in some way for us to reach the next level of emotional fulfillment.

In today's world, we mostly tend to focus on moving into the higher levels of the hierarchy. One hundred years ago, or even more recently, before we had a social safety net, people had to focus on phyical and security needs. How the world has changed.

Are you stuck at some level of Maslow's hierarchy? What is preventing you from moving to the next level?

On to Workaholics >>>>>

16 August 2007

Emotional Needs In A Relationship

All people have emotional needs that must be met by other people. In a committed relationship, it is natural that some portion, often a large portion of them, would be met by your partner.

Steve Harley, a marriage and family therapist has a website called MarriageBuilders. He also runs MarriageBuilders seminars. I do not know anything about the efficacy of his approach, but one thing that seems pretty good to me is his list of the ten emotional needs that people need to have met. In alphabetical order, they are:
  • Admiration - "Many of us have a deep desire to be respected, valued and appreciated by our spouse. We need to be affirmed clearly and often." This one is easy to fulfill, but it is a two edged sword. Critical words can really hurt someone with this need.
  • Affection - Expressions of caring. Hugs, foot rubs, flowers, walks. For many people the defining emotional need. Affection need is often high for women.
  • Conversation - "Good conversation is characterized by the following: (1) using it to inform and investigate each other, (2) focusing attention on topics of mutual interest, (3) balancing the conversation so both have an equal opportunity to talk, and (4) giving each other undivided attention while talking to each other. "Conversation fails to meet this need when (1) demands are made, (2) disrespect is shown, (3) one or both become angry, or (4) when it is used to dwell on mistakes of the past or present. Unless conversation is mutually enjoyable, a couple is better off not talking to each other at all." Conversation need is often high for women.
  • Domestic Support - Financial Support and Domestic Support. Bring home the bacon; fry it up in a pan. These often carry gender biases, but they work both ways. The working spouse is expected to contribute at home. The arrival of children can place a huge stress on this one.
  • Family Commitment - Being "active in the moral and educational development of the children." I would include their physical development as well.
  • Financial Support - This one, like physical attractiveness, may seem a bit shallow. But here's a way to think about it. " It may be difficult for you to know how much you need financial support, especially if you were recently married or if your spouse has always been gainfully employed. But what if, before marriage, your spouse had told you not to expect any income from him or her. Would it have affected your decision to marry? Or, what if your spouse could not find work, and you had to financially support him or her throughout life?"
  • Honesty and Openness - "Those with a need for honesty and openness want accurate information about their spouses' thoughts, feelings, habits, likes, dislikes, personal history, daily activities and plans for the future."
  • Physical Attractiveness - Not just for Shallow Hal. It is important to have a spouse whose looks appeal to you. Perhaps the most important issue on this is that the couple is well-matched. I'm not sure how much I agree on this one. Maybe, your spouse has to have at least some minimum level of physical beauty.
  • Recreational Companionship - "The need for recreational companionship combines two needs into one. First, there is the need to be engaged in recreational activities and second, the need to have a companion." Recreation companionship need is often high for men.
  • Sexual Fulfillment - A need exclusively for marriage. This need cannot be ethically met outside. "When you married, you and your spouse promised to be faithful to each other for life. You agreed to be each other's only sexual partner. You made this commitment because you trusted each other to meet your sexual needs, to be sexually available and responsive to each other." Sexual fulfillment need is often high for men.
This seems like a pretty good list to me. Dr. Harley says that men and women tend to have five different needs as their highest ranked.

Men: Sexual Fulfillment, Recreational companionship, Domestic support, Physical attraction, and Admiration
Women: Conversation, Affection, Financial support, Honesty and Openness, Family commitment.
Your mileage may vary. (YMMV)
Each person has his or her priorities. Dr. Harley provides a questionnaire to help people ascertain their emotional needs.

The Five Love Languages

One fairly well know framework for defining those emotional needs is described in a book called "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman. The five love languages are:
Words of Affirmation
Quality Time
Receiving Gifts
Acts of Service
Physical Touch

His premise is that by doing things that are part of your partner's love language, you fill their "tank." In turn, they feel more loving and respond by filling yours. A lot of people really like this approach. I think it makes sense. It ties in neatly with M. Scott Peck's definition of love, which is that love is not a feeling but rather a choice. It is what you do.

However, the five love languages don't work very well for me personally. I think the categories are a little vague. I like a more specific set of needs that were set out by Steve Harley.

The Six Secrets

Another framework for the emotional needs in a relationship is CREATE: chemistry, respect, enjoyment, acceptance, trust, and empathy

From the book The Six Secrets of a Lasting Relationship, by Mark Goulston. I have not read the book, but here is what I think.

From Goulston's website:
KEEP THE CHEMISTRY - Chemistry is the passion that sweeps you away when you first fall in love.
Test yourself: How often are you turned on by the way your partner looks dressed and undressed?
Answers: 1/Rarely... 2/Sometimes... 3/Often.
EARN EACH OTHER'S RESPECT - This has more to do with how good a person you are -- and how good a person your partner is -- than how good each of you makes the other feel. You demonstrate respect by how well you listen.
Test yourself: How often do you listen to your partner and hear him/her all the way through without interrupting?
Answers: 1/Rarely... 2/Sometimes... 3/Often.
ENJOY EACH OTHER - This is about having fun being together. When you're with your spouse -- or think about him -- it makes you feel lighter and puts a smile on your face. Unpleasant people -- judgmental, easy to disappoint and difficult to please -- drain your energy.
Test yourself: How often do you and your partner dine alone together?
Answers: 1/Rarely... 2/Sometimes... 3/Often.
ACCEPT YOUR PARTNER AS IS - It is better to hope for change, rather than to keep acceptance contingent on changes being made. When acceptance is missing, partners feel judged and as if they can't do anything right.
Test yourself: How often do you feel you can be yourself with your partner?
Answers: 1/Rarely... 2/Sometimes... 3/Often.
BUILD TRUST - Trust makes it safe to confide fears and dreams without concern that what you say will be exploited, betrayed, trivialized or ridiculed. It takes seconds to destroy trust -- and years to rebuild it.
Test yourself: How often are you able to tell your partner things you feel embarrassed or ashamed about?
Answers: 1/Rarely... 2/Sometimes... 3/Often.
EMPATHY TO DEFUSE RESENTMENT - Empathy is about understanding and feeling understood by your partner. It's asking, "What's it like for my partner right now?" Don't presume you know.
Test yourself: How frequently do you feel understood by your partner?
Answers: 1/Rarely... 2/Sometimes... 3/Often.

HOW DO YOU RATE? If you and your partner scored 3's across the board, you have the basis for a lasting relationship. Congratulations!If, however, either you or your partner scored less than 3 in any of the six areas, you may want to improve.Set aside time to talk through when and why any of those areas deteriorated. Make every effort to have a dialogue instead of a debate... to talk with instead of at or over... to listen openly rather than defensively.Then decide what each of you specifically needs to do now to restore the chemistry, respect, enjoyment, acceptance, trust and empathy so that you can fall in love again -- and stay there.

My take on Goulston: It seems pretty reasonable overall. I am not sure that the chemistry is something you can control. All the recent research indicates that it is determined by levels of neurotransmitters in your body and brain. This gets back to the bag of chemicals concept. I think the other five are extremely important. However, like the Five Love Languages, this one is not specific enough in my opinion. It is at a higher level and not as actionable as the Ten Emotional Needs by Harley.

On to More Emotional Needs In A Relationship >>>>>

06 August 2007

The Nature of Love, Part 2, Staying in Love

If you did not read The Nature of Love, Part 1, please go there now. It's ok. I'll wait.

I have read a lot of books and done a lot of self analysis to understand emotions and especially the multitude of issues around love and relationships.

One of the most important books that I have found is "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck. I especially liked the first half of the book, where the author discusses the nature of love. The second half of the book, in which he talks about religion and spirituality, may have been a little beyond my grasp.

Peck divides what most people call love into two stages: the first initial feeling of love and the more considered, thought out acts of love that follow. He defines love as, "The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." Note that he does not label it a feeling, rather, it is a decision (The will to extend...).

Think of it like this. You know that feeling when you meet a new person and begin dating. The incredible energy, longing, discovery, and attention that you give to each other. That's the first stage. Really it is easy. You ignore incompatibilities and defects in each other. Life is easy. Everything is good.

Unfortunately, that is not what love is really about. If it were that easy, the divorce rate wouldn't be so high. This initial stage inv\evitably fades. Once it fades, and only then does true love begin.

Once the initial rush fades, Love is a choice--not an emotion or feeling. It is a decision that we make. We decide that we will give love to another, accept them for what they are. Only by recognizing that can we truly make a commitment to a relationship.

Another thing to note, is that Peck talks about "another's spiritual growth." He comes from a religious Christian background, so I am not sure what spiritual growth means. I don't think he means getting your partner closer to religion, but rather enhancing their emotional well-being. I interpret it to mean meeting each other's emotional needs within the relationship.

It is convenient to say something like, "I don't feel love for her, therefore I won't buy her flowers." That is a cop out. In fact, doing loving things is the essence of loving someone. Not just buying presents, but respecting that person and giving them your time and attention. It's about kindness, support, and doing the things that allow the person to feel valued in their role in your relationship. as Peck says, "Love is as love does."

I believe, and perhaps this is my dysfunctions coming through, that the high divorce rate in the US, stems from lack of understanding that love is a choice. When people "fall out of love" two things are really happening. The first is that the "chemical" attraction of falling in love fades. As stated in a previous entry, this is inevitable.

The next thing though is to choose to love. When the attraction fades (the honeymoon is over), that is when love must start. How often when people divorce do we hear something like, "I just didn't love him anymore." In the framework that I have described here, that is a reflection on the speaker, not the relationship.

In this chart, you can see that as the feeling fades, the choice has to replace it or you're left with very little. A few things to note in the chart. Notice that I put the low point at about seven years. Maybe there's something to that seven year itch thing (some studies suggest a three year itch). At that point, you can either make the choice to love, as depicted, or you don't and the orange area disappears.

Edit: Sept 5, 2007. I am thinking that perhaps I overstated the lack of feeling over time. I do believe that the feeling can continue. Not in the overpowering sense of an early relationship, but that by continuing to perform acts of love for each other it creates a virtuous circle that helps maintain the feeling.

All this does not mean that you should choose love over your own health. Do not stay in an abusive relationship.

The other thing to think about is that in a marital or long term relationship, you can give love to a person, but if the other person is not loving you back in the ways that you need, you may need to reconsider the relationship. Before you make this type of decision, I would suggest that you get couples counseling with someone who really understands that love is a choice. You love your partner by helping them to understand that "falling out of love" is natural and is only the beginning of the next and more important phase of the relationship.

Unconditional Love

We have all heard of unconditional love. I used to think it was a ridiculous concept. How could you continue to love a person despite the horrible things they have done.Thinking of love as an action verb, rather than an uncontrolled feeling puts this into a reasonable context.

All it means is that in a relationship, I will continue to give to my partner, despite that person's flaws (within reason). I am excluding from this the obvious exaggerations. The "within reason" part excludes unwanted and uninvited physical and emotional abuse. Those are issues that require you to first love yourself by putting up boundaries to prevent damage to yourself.

So suppose that your spouse is not meeting your emotional need of providing financial support. It could be that he has been laid off because of the bad economy, or he was surfing porn at work, or maybe he is just not motivated by work and career. You feel unloved because he is not meeting your need. How do you respond?

Too often people respond by withholding their love from the jobless spouse. Perhaps he has a strong need for affection and words of love. Instead, you withhold it, perhaps thinking that you can reward him once he gets a new job. This is conditional love. It bases your giving of love on someone else's performance in some arena. This kind of relationshi is manipulative, and will likely form a negative feedback loop, as each partner withholds more and more from the other.

A better response is to not withhold the things your partner needs. To love them with your actions. Continue to state your needs. Then trust them to do their best to fulfill those needs. It takes time and patience sometimes. That is the work of love.

But What If...

Sometimes, and I think much less than our divorce rates would indicate, mutual love is not possible. For example, a person may simply be unable to give his spouse what she needs. She continues to love him, but at some point, all she does is give. Again, I am leaving out the obvious abuses here.

We should not be accounting for every dish washed vs every present, or diaper changed, or lawn mowed, etc. Sometimes one of the people is putting the effort into the relationship, while the other will not, and will not seek help.

I believe that in these cases, and only once all reasonable avenues of assistance have been pursued, then the couple should pursue separation. If the couple has truly tried and done their work, the separation can possibly be reasonably amicable--both partners serene in the knowledge that they tried, did everything that they could without surrendering their own values, but were unable to make it work.

If the people have not worked, and harbor ill-will because all they know is that they did not get what they wanted, , there will be a bitter divorce that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and tears apart families and friends. Divorce can be ugly and nasty. Chossing to love is almost always a better course.

What Are These Emotional Needs

Higher up I talked about emotional needs in a relationship. I'll write more about that in a future installment (Emotional Needs in a Relationship), but if you want to do some reading on your own, try this link.

On to Emotional Needs in a Relationship >>>>>

27 July 2007

The Nature of Love, Part 1, Falling in Love

You meet someone for the first time. You immediately feel attracted. You're at your best witty, clean, as good as you will ever be. So is the other. Over time you find topics, activities, and friends of mutual interest. Everything seems right. It is right. You are in love.

You continue seeing each other, and your lives become more intertwined, and finally you decide to make it all official and form a lifetime bond based on love.

You would do anything for each other. Your emotions are incredibly intense. Your love knows no bounds.

In the book The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck devotes an entire section to the topic of Love. It's probably not what you think it is though.

He starts out by defining Love, then talks about what Love is not.

Many of us will be disappointed to know that it is not what we feel when we go through the scenario described above.

Here's what Peck says:
"Of all the misconceptions about love, the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that falling in love is love..."

He goes on to say that falling in love has two really important characteristics. First, there is a sexual attraction part of it; we don't fall in love with our children or our buddies, it has to be someone we are sexually attracted to. Second, invariably the feeling of being in love is temporary. The honeymoon ends. We stop idealizing our partner. This always happens. The "feeling" goes away.

I think that falling in love is a chemical and emotional response to the stimulus of being loved by another. Being the absolute center of their attention. It is amazingly powerful while it lasts. It's no wonder that when it ends, we break the relationship and move on to the next one.

Reality always intrudes on the unity of two people who have fallen in love. They begin to reassert themselves and do what it is that they need and want. They fall out of love. At this point, they either dissolve their ties, or they begin the work of real love.

In the graphic to the left, two people were on near parallel paths. They hooked up and "fell in love"--sharing their lives, goals, and hopes. What will happen when the honeymoon ends though? Will they continue on their previous sub-parallel courses or continue together in the same direction.

In many cases, maybe too many, the two people resume their original trajectories or perhaps something different, but, sadly, without the other.

It's Not Hopeless Though

If all couples lose that lovin' feeling, how do people stay together then? If falling out of love is inevitable, what can people do to stay together? What is love, if it's not that feeling? That is the subject of the Nature of Love, Part 2.

On to The Nature of Love, Part 2, Staying in Love >>>>>

15 July 2007


In my free will post, I mentioned that there are things you can do to keep your body in good shape in a strategic sense.

One way to try to manage that is to look for and learn to recognize signs of the following:

H - Hungry
A - Angry
L - Lonely
T - Tired

Hungry and Tired will have physical cues, whereas angry and lonely will have emotional cues as well.

When you feel any of the above, you are especially vulnerable to errors in judgment. This is when addicts fall off the wagon, or when you make other bad decisions. Those conditions effectively alter your programming, allowing you to rationalize inappropriate behaviors.

Lonely and Tired tend to be big drivers for me. When I am tired especially, I have a tendency to not exercise, and I notice that I am generally a little lackadaisical.

When you are experiencing the HALT conditions, try to be more deliberate, avoid important decisions, and most importantly, take care of yourself in a healthy way.

On to The Nature of Love, Part 1 >>>>>

07 July 2007

Contribution to Problems

Root cause analysis is an important tool for any engineer. It is about getting past the surface of things and finding what really happened to cause something to not work. People often thing of it as continually asking "Why?" until there is no more answer to that question.

Root cause analysis is also important in relationships, although it often does not happen. The book Difficult Conversations has a really good example. A man is preparing for a business trip. His assistant is putting together materials for him. She gives him the wrong materials and he botches the presentation. On the surface it seems clear cut. She gave him the wrong stuff. Her fault.

Digging deeper into the example, we find that she did not seek clarification, because he would tend to get angry and abusive when she asked questions. This doesn't make it his fault, but it is clear that he contributes to the lack of clarification by his responses to her questions.

You can argue that the assistant should have simply ignored the abuse and done her job, but remember, we are all human. nobody likes to get yelled at by their boss. She went through a process where she weighed the certainty of getting yelled at against the probability that she misunderstood the instructions. She was willing to take the risk. It is simply a marginal utility function.

This kind of dynamic plays out in relationships as well. Suppose a wife goes to her husband and tells her that she is not happy in their marriage. He gets defensive/abusive saying, "What's wrong with you? I make good money, we have a nice house, cars, and we go on a European vacation every year." She begins to think that she is defective, so she takes refuge in a bottle.

You might say that the problem is that she's an alcoholic. Maybe she is. She apparently does not have good skills to deal with abuse, so she medicates with alcohol. But alcoholism is not the only problem.

There are other core problems in the marriage. He has a tendency to be abusive. He is not the kind and understanding person that he was when they were dating. Perhaps he stopped buying her gifts once they got married. Or stopped complimenting her. Perhaps she put on a few pounds after the baby and he has contempt for her, thinking that if she would just drink less she would lose weight.

Now, because she's a "drunk," he treats her worse. So she drinks more. Negative feedback loops are a common pattern in addiction. One person needs to break the cycle, but both people need help. They have both contributed to the problem.

Some types of behaviors and attitudes that can indicate contribution are as follow:
High expectations, low expectations, preconceived bias against the other person, misinterpret something they have said or done and not to check out your perception, expect/demand the other person to change first (this is a blaming behavior), expect/demand your own way, silent treatment or some other way of withholding from the other person, misleading the other person (deliberately or not) as to your intentions or abilities.

Edit 8/29/2007

Isn't This a Blame-The Victim Mentality?
It can appear that way. It's subtle, but the intent is important. Consider a case where you are in an unfamiliar city late at night walking alone down a dark street. You get mugged.

You are not to blame for being mugged! Our society will punish the mugger if he is caught. What is the contribution then? Well you didn't make him mug you, but you helped to set up the situation in which he could. You're not to blame. But can you learn something? Might you do something different next time?

If you accept no contribution to the problem, you might say something like, "Well it was all him. He had no right to mug me." Then go out for a walk alone in the same area the next night. That's probably a losing strategy.

Accepting your contribution does not mean accepting blame. It would mean, in this case, recognizing that walking alone in an unfamiliar city can be dangerous, then learning from that by taking measures to not expose yourself. Perhaps you could walk with a friend or at least ask the concierge what a safe part of town would be.

In a sense, understanding contribution can be thought of as a continual improvement process. Finger pointing and apportionment of blame, in most cases, do not cause learning. Understanding most situations as part of a system can help facilitate that.

On to H.A.L.T. >>>>>

05 July 2007

The Importance of Vacations

I just returned from a 10 day trip to Hawaii with my family. It was not just a vacation, but a celebration of my sons' graduating from high school. It got me thinking about the importance of vacations in the scheme of things.

"Sharpen the Saw" is the seventh habit from Steven Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Successful People." He uses the analogy of a lumberjack who works hard, keeps cutting wood, but does not take the time to stop and sharpen his saw. Over time his productivity goes down.

The graphs on this page tell the story. Over time, your productivity tends to go down to some minimum level. If you do not take vacation, you will basically stay at that level. Taking vacation will temporarily drop your productivity to zero. However, it recharges your batteries (sharpens your saw) and you come back as strong as ever.

So even though, in the time you are away you lose some ground, in the long run, your total productivity is higher.

For me, I find that my productivity does not actually go to zero. Even though I did not do any work, I had a lot of things cranking away in the background. Down time allows me to get away from the tactical issues of any given day and focus on more important and strategic issues.

You may be familiar with Covey's Urgency and Importance grid.
Quadrant 1 is for the issues that are important and urgent. This is firefighting. there is an emergency and there are dire consequences if we do not deal with it.
Quadrant 2 is preparation and prevention. It is front-end loading to prevent things from reaching quadrant 1. It is taking a timeout to sharpen your saw.
Quadrant 3 is dangerous, because the urgency of those items makes them seem important. They are items that are important to someone else. Drop-in visitors, some phone calls, some meetings, striving for "perfection" when perfection is not necessary are examples.
Quadrant 4 is for activities that are neither important nor urgent. Sometimes, when we are smashed around by Q 1 and 3 activities, we fall into quadrant 4 as a refuge. Excessive mindless television or reading can fall into this quadrant.

There is nothing wrong with reading or watching TV per se. Those activities can be quadrant 2, but at some point they shift to 4.

In First Things First, Covey contends that we should be spending more time on the important things (quadrants 1 and 2) and less on unimportant things (quadrants 3 and 4). This may seem quite obvious, but many or most people spend their efforts on urgent matters that may or may not be important (quadrants 1 and 3).

In other words, while on vacation you are spending time away from quadrants 1 and 3 and living in quadrant 2. Vacation (re-creation time away from work) is not a quadrant 4 activity. As long as our batteries are still recharging, we are in quadrant 2.

Steve Pavlina gives some good advice for focusing on the important.

On to Contributions to Problems >>>>>

19 June 2007

Addictions - Alcoholism, Sex Addiction

Addictions are an interesting topic in our society. We hear people say they are addicted to chocolate or something and we laugh. We hear someone say they are addicted to coffee and we understand the headaches that come with withdrawal. But when we hear people say they are addicted to alcohol or sex, it is a little tougher. Those are real addictions and they carry a social stigma.

What Is Addiction

Drinking a lot or having a lot of sex does not necessarily make one an addict. They are signs that might be indicative. Most alcoholics drink a lot; not all people who drink a lot are alcoholics. See the Venn diagram, but "Don't get cocky." Even people who do not drink can exhibit behaviors typical of alcoholics. They are sometimes known as "dry drunks."

There are factors beyond sheer quantity that determine addiction. In 12 step programs they talk about powerlessness and unmanageability. Obsession and use of the addiction to relieve or avoid pain are other signs.

A really powerful definition that I have seen is, "Addiction is a form of insanity in which you are deluded about reality." This is from Facing the Shadow: Starting Sexual and Relationship Recovery by Patrick Carnes.

Powerlessness gets back to a previous entry on free will. People who are powerless over their addiction may have tried to stop using, but have not been able to despite negative consequences. They know they should stop, but cannot. This is not a failure of resolve. It is a function of chemical reactions in your body. Nobody can control those reactions in the moment. Many people judge others, saying "Gee why don't they just say no?" The answer is that they cannot do that.

Unmanageability can be thought of as the outward expression of the addiction. Family relationships falter, careers go in the tank, friendships dissolve, and health deteriorates. These are consequences of the addiction. You don't control them. If you drink too much your liver erodes. If you surf porn from work you get fired. If you have sex with prostitutes you may get a disease. Get caught driving drunk and you go into a special circle of hell.

According to M. Scott Peck, "Mental health is a commitment to reality at any cost." Losing touch with reality is a key sign of addiction. Addicts rationalize their behaviors and deny that there is a problem despite the wreckage that they leave in their wakes.

Often, addicts do not accept the reality of their addictions until they hit bottom, losing their spouses, jobs, or health.

Sex Addiction

Most people are familiar with alcoholism, so I want to talk a little about sex addiction (which is not yet recognized in the psychologists handbook, the DSM IV). Sex addiction, like overeating, can be difficult. Unlike with alcohol, going cold turkey is not a healthy thing to do, so the addict needs to find healthy ways to satisfy their needs.

Sexual addiction is defined as any sexually-related, compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one's work environment.

There have been a few (fictional) movies recently that dealt with the impact of sex addiction on young women. They are Black Snake Moan and Georgia Rule. I can't say much about Black Snake Moan because I didn't see it. What was notable to me is the press coverage and reviews of the movie. Most of them talked about Christina Ricci as the "town slut" or as a nymphomaniac. One review however, on Netflix starts with "After finding sex-addicted 22-year-old..." It is a more sympathetic and less judgmental view, which I find encouraging.

Georgia Rule is the story of a young lady (Lindsay Lohan)who is out of control in her life, which goes back to sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather. She too becomes seen as a "slut" in a small town. The pattern that she exhibits, starts with a distorted sense of how love is expressed. For her, sex is the way that one shows love. Abuse as a child is a pretty typical pattern in sex addicts.

A third movie "Blades of Glory," cast Will Farrell in the role of a macho figure skater. He was supposedly a sex addict, but it was used in the movie for comic relief. I really enjoyed the movie, but the comic depiction of a sex addict was inaccurate.

Sex addiction can be expressed by viewing pornography, frequenting "gentlemen's" clubs, extra-marital affairs, even masturbation can be an expression. Again, engaging in those behaviors does not make you a sex addict--look for powerlessness and unmanageability.

There is a view that Sex Addiction is a powderkeg with the fuse lit. As internet kids, who have grown up surfing pornography, mature and continue on to more blatant and dangerous forms of sex addiction, some therapists believe that there will be a rash of problems.

Different Levels of Addiction

Some addicts are abusers. Their use of the addictive substance is not the strongest draw, but they use the addiction to avoid other issues in their lives. People get drunk to drown their sorrows, or masturbate to ease the pain of rejection.

Next comes more serious forms. Regular drunkenness and contacting inappropriate live people in sexual ways (affairs, live pornography).

Finally the very serious issues, where laws are being broken or serious boundaries are being breached, e.g. DWI, blackouts, prostitution, exhibitionism, indecent groping and molestation of others.

Many addicts go through a binge-purge cycle, where the do something that they consider shameful, so they completely stop those behaviors for a while, until they go off the wagon again, oftentimes to soothe the shame that they feel about the original behavior...

Where To Go For Help

Several source of help for addictions are available. Twelve step programs have helped millions of people. Individual or group therapy can help.

I believe that these types of help are simply ways of altering the inputs to your body system--increasing positive inputs. See my post on free will.

Some selected twelve step programs
Alcoholics Anonymous AA
Sexaholics Anonymous SA
Sex Addicts Anonymous SAA
Overeaters Anonymous OA
Co-Dependents Anonymous CODA

On to The Importance of Vacations >>>>>

10 June 2007

Shame and Guilt

One of the books I have read that has had really strong influence on me is "How Good Do We Have to Be" by Harold S. Kushner. This book is about perfectionism, the toll it takes on us and how to get past it.

Kushner is a rabbi, so much of what he writes is in terms of God and the old testament. However, you don't have to be religious to understand the meaning behind what he says. He sums it up well near the end of the book where he says, "Life is not a trap set for us by God, so that He can condemn us for failing. Life is not a spelling bee, where no matter how many words you have gotten right, if you make one mistake you are disqualified. Life is more like a baseball game, where even the best team loses one-third of its games and even the worst team has its days of brilliance. Our goal is not to go all year without ever losing a game. Our goal is to win more games than we lose, and if we can do that consistently enough, then when the end comes, we will have won it all." I think it's a really powerful and important message.

This blog entry is about guilt and shame though, and one of my big takeaways from this book were his definitions and descriptions of guilt and shame.

First, guilt is feeling bad for what you do; shame is feeling bad for what you are. So you feel guilty that you kicked the dog in a fit of anger. You feel ashamed that you are a horrible person who would kick the dog.

But that's not all of it. My grandmother would tell me, "You should be ashamed of yourself for..." whatever it was I had done. And I would feel ashamed. So shame has a second dimension as well.

Not only does one feel shame for what they are, but there is often an external judgment or at least a belief that you are being judged by others that goes with it. The 2x2 matrix shows how shame and guilt relate to action, being, internal, and external sources.

Are Shame and Guilt Bad?

My take on it is the following. Feeling shame along the "What I Am" row can often have a negative impact on you. It causes you to hide yourself, even from people you love. It is what causes beautiful young girls to become anorexic.

Shame and guilt for what you have done can be very healthy, not just for you, but for society at large. Someone who feels no guilt for his wrongdoings is a psychopath; one who feels no shame for his wrongdoings is a sociopath.

That doesn't mean that Johnny Knoxville and his jackass crowd are a bunch of sociopaths. True, they are a really good example of people who have no shame, but the stuff they do is not fundamentally "wrong."

It reminds of a trip I made to Rio de Janeiro many years ago. This old guy (maybe my age now), with a pretty big belly (about like mine) was strutting down the beach wearing nothing but a speedo. I remember thinking, "Does this guy have no shame?" Then coming to the realization that in fact he did not have shame. He was what he was and was comfortable in his own skin. It made a huge impression on me. There were thousands of beautiful young people on Ipanema that day, but he's the one I remember. Go figure.

Bottom Line:

Feeling guilt or shame for things you do can be good. If you accidentally run over your neighbor's cat, feeling guilty is understandable. If you kill your neighbor's cat while driving drunk, shame is understandable, because you have broken one of our external codes and you would be judged. You may also feel shame in that case for what you think you are (e.g. an alcoholic).

Internally driven shame (shame for how you think others would view you), can lead to cycles of acting out through addictions (binge-purge cycles). On the other hand, if shame is being driven from external forces, e.g., someone telling you how stupid you are, or what a horrible person you are, it may be verbal or emotional abuse that you are experiencing. That's probably a relationship that needs to be fixed or exited.

On to Addictions - Alcoholism and Sex Addiction >>>>>

05 June 2007

Communication 201

Let's put the two blog posts together now. One post was that emotions are facts. The second one talks about the communication process.

First, you need to know what you are feeling. It's not always easy, but there are oftentimes physical cues. Some people say that there are five to eight primary feelings or emotions--joy, anger, sadness, disgust, surprise, curiosity, acceptance, and fear--and that all other feelings are simply combinations of those feelings--jealousy can be a combination of anger and sadness; excitement can be a combination of joy and fear. Once you get past those primary feelings (and their synonyms), you may be on thin ice.
Consider the following examples.

If you are telling someone how you feel based on some outside events, e.g. "I feel concerned (fear) that the president is risking nuclear war because he is putting missiles in eastern Europe." You are expressing a fact and the rationale for that fact. It's kind of like saying, "I know it is raining because I can see the rain through my window." You're expressing one of the primary emotions and doing it to a third party.

It gets trickier when you are communicating your feelings directly to the person who is "causing" those feelings. Consider a situation where the message you are receiving is strongly negative. Maybe you're getting chewed out for turning in a report late. When you tell your spouse about it that night, you might say, "I really felt attacked." That works because you are simply reporting a fact to a third party.

If you were to tell your boss, "I feel attacked." Even though you are reporting a fact to him, there is the implication in there "You are attacking me." In essence, you may be using your expression of a feeling as a form of attack or judgment.

So what do you say to your boss?

If you can frame it into one of the primary emotions, you will be in better shape than if you use a secondary one. Often, adjectives that end in -ed are judgments in disguise. Attacked, rejected, humiliated, and punished are some good examples of feelings that are probably judgments in disguise.

So what do you say to your boss? Probably your best bet is to say nothing at first. Process the feelings going through you. You may be angry, afraid, surprised, or curious depending on the circumstances. Keep a lid on your emotional, unthinking reaction. If the boss is genuinely angry, i.e. not putting on a performance to invoke fear, you might acknowledge his anger. "You seem really upset about this." Try to get a handle on what is driving his emotions. Rather than reacting to his words, respond to the emotion behind them. This is often easier said than done.

Once you understand what is going on there, try to deal with the circumstances, not the person. For example, you might say, "I feel surprised that the deadline was yesterday. I understood it to be tomorrow." rather than "You told me it was tomorrow." Say that and you're in for a urination contest that you don't win by being "right."

Stick to the format, "I" & "primary feeling" & "circumstance." and you will probably be ok.

But This Goes Against The Grain. It Is SO PC

Yes. As engineers, we are taught that black and white are the only two colors. Everything else is touchy-feely PC BS. Why not just tell the boss that he is full of something and let him know that he was wrong? The short answer is that, in most cases, it would be ineffective.

Your boss is just a bag of chemicals with fears and anxieties. Pointing out other people's errors, thereby making yourself "right," is seldom a winning move. It displays a strong lack of emotional intelligence, as well as poor judgment. Here's a link for more on emotional intelligence.

The other thing is that politically correct is not all bad. In most cases, it is a more objective, logical, non-judgmental way of stating things. For example, calling someone "black" is not PC. Now we call that person African-American or a person of African descent. Sure, it's more syllables and we feel some resentment (disgust plus anger?) at having to change (yet again) a way of saying something, but it is more accurate. Black is an inaccurate description of most African-Americans.

Summing Up
Stick to primary feelings when possible.
The format "I feel + primary feeling + circumstance" is usually an effective way of communicating.
Be careful of judgments hidden as feelings.
Politically correct is usually a more accurate, if perhaps cumbersome, way of expression.

On to Shame and Guilt >>>>>

27 May 2007

Does Free Will Exist?

Free Will is a slippery topic. We all think we have it and many social systems (e.g. laws, prisons) have it as a very basic assumption. Do we have free will?

One view is that, in the end, each of us is just a big bag of chemicals. The chemical reactions in our body determine our thoughts and actions. Therefore, the things we do are simply the inevitable result of our chemistry. I believe there's a lot of merit to that.

Any argument on whether free will exists degenerates into circular logic at some point, but there is some research now that is leaning towards lack of free will.

Does that mean that we don't have choices in life? That everything is simply pre-determined. I don't think so--not entirely.

I think the basic model is correct. We receive an input, it gets processed through the bag of chemicals and we react or respond. So in a "tactical" sense we do not have free will in that framework. However, I see two places that we can affect our responses.

First, perhaps we can reprogram the body. Things like taking care of yourself, getting good night sleep, proper diet, exercise, overall balance between work and family. Think about it. When you're tired your reactions are slower, you're more irritable, you make mistakes. Sometimes not taking care of ourselves can lead to addictions like alcoholism to escape the pain and reality of where we are in our lives.

The other thing we can do is alter the inputs. I believe this is a big part of why many "twelve step programs" work. The fellowship between the people in the groups the support, non-judgmental atmosphere, and support for the person provide strongly positive inputs. So even though bad things still happen, they are offset at least to some extent by the positive inputs from the groups. When you hear about people leaving those groups and regressing, it has something to do with the withdrawal of the support system that was helping keep their heads above the water.

Again, it gets tricky here. If your bag of chemicals is not predisposed to either get different inputs or stay healthy, then you can not change your responses. There is actually a feedback loop involved between our bodies and our ability to begin to effect changes in our lives. The fact that you are reading this blog means that you are willing to get alternate inputs. Some people will not find redemption through twelve step programs or by taking care of themselves.

Your feelings, emotions, and responses are predetermined by the quantity and quality of the inputs and by the state of your body.

Some Additional Notes:

Excellent Stanford site on Free Will.

From Wikipedia:
Arthur Schopenhauer put the puzzle of free will and moral responsibility in these terms:
Everyone believes himself a priori to be perfectly free, even in his individual actions, and thinks that at every moment he can commence another manner of life... . But a posteriori, through experience, he finds to his astonishment that he is not free, but subjected to necessity, that in spite of all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his conduct, and that from the beginning of his life to the end of it, he must carry out the very character which he himself condemns...."

In his On the Freedom of the Will, Schopenhauer stated, "You can do what you will, but in any given moment of your life you can will only one definite thing and absolutely nothing other than that one thing."

Some selected twelve step programs
Alcoholics Anonymous AA
Sexaholics Anonymous SA
Sex Addicts Anonymous SAA
Overeaters Anonymous OA
Co-Dependents Anonymous CODA

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19 May 2007

Active Listening and Feedback

Seek first to understand, then to be understood. - Stephen R. Covey, Habit 5 of the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People

An important part of communication is active listening.

Listening to another person is not a passive activity, like when you sit and watch television. Rather, it implies some degree of feedback. There are a several levels at which this can happen: acknowledgement of a message, feedback of the strict content, feedback of the underlying message.

Let's start with an example of poor active listening. I was recently telling a person how males of my generation were typically raised to be strong individualists. We were taught not to show weakness. Our fathers were like that, and so were our role models in the movies (think John Wayne). The listener sat there and stared at me. No response, no affirmation, no nodding head, no indication that I had even said anything. It was like talking to the wall, literally.

It was extremely disconcerting to me and I mentioned it. The listener (who should know better) made a defensive response about not having anything to say.

So level 1 of active listening is simple acknowledgement that you have received a message. At very least nod your head. or say "I hear you." or "I saw that too." or "OK." By saying these things you are not agreeing with the speaker, simply affirming that you are present. Anything beats the brick wall approach. Are you actively listening if you do these things? Not necessarily, but these are a minimum requirement to not discourage the speaker.

That take us us to level 2. Listening for meaning and giving content feedback. Very standard ways of doing that are to repeat back verbatim what the speaker said, or better, to paraphrase what the speaker said, being careful not to insert your own issues into it (one of my bad tendencies). So in the above example, the listener could have said something like, "So you're saying that boys in the 60s and 70s were raised as individualists." or "Is that how you were raised?" or "My family was like that too." or "I didn't really see that in my experience."

Level 3 is listening for meaning and giving emotional feedback around the underlying message. In my example, the listener could have gone beyond the words and given feedback along the lines of "It must have been hard to learn to be vulnerable."

Not all communication carries emotional content. Reporting news to someone, e.g., "The movie starts at 7:30 tonight." probably does not carry emotional content with it. Level 2 response is good in those cases--"7:30 tonight. Is that at the Paradiso?"

Avoid Giving Advice or Challenging At This Point
The first order of business is to understand the message being sent. Once you start to formulate your response or counter, you have stopped listening. Even if the speaker is, in your opinion, long-winded, you must stick with them through their communication.

It is ok to question for content. Be careful not to go beyond that and interject your own stuff. So in my example, if my listener had said something like, "So are you using your childhood environment as an excuse for your own sorry behavior?" that would have been an attack reflecting the listener's biases and opinions. Something like "Were your parents like that too?" or "Do you think that was a pervasive attitude?" or "Do you mean physical, intellectual, or emotional weakness?" would all Linkbe reasonable questions to help clarify the content.

Once you really understand the message it will be your turn, but not until you have absolutely heard and understood the basic content and underlying message.

The communication processes that I have laid out may seem overly involved with lots of unnecessary time and effort. Admittedly, it does go beyond what many people do everyday. As you get to know your counterpart better you can bypass some of the feedback steps. Repeating verbatim to someone every time they open their mouth can be really tiring for both of you. The important thing is to use these techniques as needed to ensure that good listening has occurred.

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