Batman Shooting in Colorado: Dealing With the Emotional Aftermath

Resiliency Following the Colorado 2012 Shooting and James Holmes (with his apparent Prescription Pill Abuse)

John L. Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide To Self, Inc.

I wrote an article following the 2007 slaughter at Virginia Tech on how to make sense of senseless tragedies. Unfortunately, it appears time to share these ideas again. This time it follows the horrific shooting at a Colorado movie theater during the new Batman: The Dark Knight Rises movie in July 2012.

James Holmes was on a large dose of prescription pain killers during his rampage.

The main question is how do we best respond to such unnecessary suffering and frightening tragedy?

While my work is in positive psychology, teaching clients to work towards greater happiness and contentment, there are many times during which I must teach others to address rage, grief and anxiety.

We are all pressed by the vicissitudes of life to confront humbling, depressing, horrifying incidents during our lifetimes. As we learn to become more resilient, we can bounce back from tragedy and restart in a positive direction.  To learn greater resiliency, to begin to experience post-traumatic GROWTH, you need a greater awareness of the emotions that are likely to arise in the aftermath of the the Colorado massacre. The human response to such unbelievable suffering is primarily emotional. We struggle to make rational sense of such insanity. Yet there are frequently no rational explanations. Many human acts simply defy reason, defy explanation. So we are left with intense, lingering emotional responses such as indignance, rage, sorrow, confusion, and fear.

Below is a brief breakdown of the major emotions that may follow a tragedy such as the Colorado Batman shooting:

  1.     Sadness and despair
  2.     Destructive anger
  3.     Constructive anger
  4.     Compassion

1.       Sadness and despair:

Following a tragic loss, sadness and grieving are normal responses. Both serve the purpose of lowering your energy level in order to keep you close to home where you are more likely to have the comfort of loved ones around you. Relationships buoy emotions in times of distress. Sadness acts to keep you in a safe place where you can take the time you need to recover and rebuild your internal, emotional reserves. If you were directly impacted by the Colorado murders and lost a loved one, recovery may take anywhere from 6 months to several years. With time, the feelings of sadness (which can arise suddenly and without warning) will slowly and gradually wash over you less frequently, last for shorter periods of time and become less intense.

2.      Destructive anger

Senseless violence often leads to feelings of anger – anger at the killer, anger at society, anger at God for allowing it to happen, anger at our own helplessness in the face of mindless brutality. Anger signals the fact that something or someone has come between you and a desired goal of yours. It is a call to action. The goal may be as simple as trying to get home through dense traffic or as basic as survival.

Destructive anger may be turned inward at oneself or outward at other people. Studies show that 90% of anger is turned inwards. You are most likely to bury your anger, to suppress it.  This is a normal attempt to control and contain the frightening emotion of anger, yet ultimately, it is doomed to failure, for anger cannot be contained. Given enough time, given no tools to release anger, anger frequently leads people to go volcanic – explode in anger.

It is better to become aware of your anger in the moment, label it (“I’m getting pissed off right now” or “I’m starting to be annoyed”), and release. Instead, most people I speak with, attempt to hold anger at a distance, bottle it up, contain it. Inevitably, this approach backfires. This stuffed anger is toxic and leads to all sorts of negative health outcomes (e.g., increased likelihood of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, etc.). It also leads to displaced anger where you get angry with the wrong person, at the wrong time, and to the wrong degree, and can even lead to extreme behaviors such as hurting innocent others.

The weapons James Holmes used for his psychopathic act.

3.      Constructive anger

Constructive anger is anger that is used as motivation to act in a positive manner towards an ethical end. In other words, it is using your anger to help you remove something which is keeping you from reaching a goal. Unlike destructive anger which is usually held onto, constructive anger is released in a short period of time, usually as a result of the positive action taken, such as writing a letter to the editor of the local paper or starting a non-profit organization to help survivors.  Constructive anger provides you with a persistent attitude which enables you to push forward to solve a given problem.

Anger is frequently misunderstood. Anger is almost always thought to be negative and destructive, despite the fact that anger itself is merely a feeling. Anger, by itself, is instructive, not destructive. Anger can be a good thing. Anger is a step up the emotional ladder from sadness as it allows you to have the energy to act, to do something. However, for anger to be positive, you must first learn to manage your emotions. Then you have a choice as to how to respond to anger’s signal.

It may be early to ‘rejoice in the suffering’ but the sentiment is correct

4.      Compassion

When you are ready to get past your anger, start to think of the world as compassionate and nurturing. As such it is designed to reward compassionate, nurturing behaviors in individuals. Throughout the world, there are far more loving people who are committing acts of kindness than there are angry people committing foul deeds. The human mind is naturally inclined to overfocus on the negative – negative emotions, thoughts, self-definitions and actions by other people. This is the heart of media and news organizations.

Counterbalance this negativity bias with constant reminders of the good around you – positive emotions, supportive thoughts, good people, and kind deeds. The firm belief that humankind is primarily good, that the vast majority of people in the world are well-intentioned, lies at the heart of compassion.

Compassion occurs when you feel the suffering or distress of another person. Compassion is the identification with and the understanding of another person’s situation, feelings, and motives. It stems from an understanding that we are all interconnected, that our survival is dependent upon our peaceful coexistence. Compassion, the ability to “walk in the other person’s shoes,” is the antidote to anger. The goal is to understand the situation from the perspective of the other person. Often this involves interpreting the situation with a large degree of grace, understanding and forgiveness. It is an act that few of us have been trained to do.

Our lack of emotional management skills is, in my opinion, the greatest failing of our society. A heightened awareness of the power of emotional management may be the highest good that can arise out of the Colorado Batman shooting. Research has shown that better emotional management is related to longer lives, improved job performance, better grades, better management skills, greater resiliency and much more. As Aristotle said, “Educating the mind, without educating the heart, is not education at all.”

Tragic, difficult times demand that we look inward to see a different view of ourselves, our species and of life. This new view brings meaning to that which is unfolding. When you feel trapped in circumstance, when you are overcome with anger or sadness, try, try, and then try again to assume a new perspective. Tragedy masks the opportunity for growth. The surest way out of untenable situations is to change your perspective and view the situation as a challenge to which you are meant to rise.

Challenge yourself by asking, “What am I supposed to learn from this?” Your answer will usually involve a human strength or value, such as compassion, interconnectedness, gratitude, resiliency, gratitude, freedom, spirituality, or family.  Your answer will lead to a deeper connection with yourself, with your loved ones and with humanity.

Learn to manage your ‘Wild Thing’, the emotional mind, with constant reminders of the good around you

The challenge is to find meaning in the senselessness. Many times, a simple awareness of the lesson or value is all that is necessary to free you from the binds of sadness and anger. If not, the new connection with your core values will fuel your courage to help you find new ways to persevere, survive and eventually thrive. This meaning may be as simple as

“I survived this, I can survive anything” or

“I am resilient” or

“I must value my loved ones more.”

August Wilson once said, “Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing. Use the pain as fuel, as a reminder of your strength.”  Tragic situations remind you of your strength, for you are more resilient than you ever realized.  You always have the choice to focus your attention on the positive, such as compassion and forgiveness.  Do not give into your fear. Be courageous. Overcome your fears. Look your fear in the eye and move forward in spite of it, for that is the very definition of courage. Do not believe that we humans are, at heart, evil. Choose to believe in the good in humanity.

The Roman poet Horace put it well, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant.” Find your talents. Find your strengths. Use them to help others. Persevere.

About the Author

John Schinnerer, Ph.D. is in private practice teaching men the latest ways to turn down the volume on painful emotions such as anger, anxiety and stress. He also helps individuals discover successful, more meaningful lives via the latest in positive psychology. He has consulted with and presented to cutting-edge companies such as Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, RAMS, and Pixar. John’s offices are in Danville, California 94526. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology.  He has been an executive, speaker, entrepreneur and coach for over 14 years.  John is Founder of Guide To Self, a company that coaches men to happiness and success using the latest in positive psychology.  He hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area.   His areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to anger management.  He wrote the award-winning, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought.”  His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recently recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web (http://drjohnblog.guidetoself.com ). His new video blog teaches people concrete steps for anger management (http://drjohnsblog.wordpress.com). His latest project is an eMagazine entitled, Happier, aimed at teaching positive psychology tools to laypeople. It is expected out in September of 2012.

Going Through Divorce? Learn Self-Compassion for Best Outcome

As an individual who is currently going through divorce, I know firsthand the emotional distress that divorcees experience. Divorce brings up feelings of loss, sadness, anger, jealousy, grief, guilt, shame, embarrassment, and anxiety (to name but a few!).

How do I survive divorce?

All of these are normal feelings for one muddling through a divorce. While I have struggled at times with my divorce, overall it has gone better than I ever could have imagined. Yes, there have been days filled with depression. There have been moments of hopelessness. There are the occasional bouts of anger. Yet, on the whole, I greatly misjudged just how difficult the experience would be.

Self-Compassion is the Key to an Easier Divorce

Partly, this success is due to my having taught and practiced self-compassion for the past five years.

Self-compassion is basically being kind to yourself when things go badly. However, this is a greatly watered down version of self-compassion.

The goal is to treat yourself with the same type of kindness and compassion that most people extend to loved ones when they fail. When someone else makes a mistake, most people will react with some degree of kindness and understanding. Self-compassion turns down the volume on anger typically associated with huge mistakes while still maintaining your sense of personal responsibility. A 2007 study at Duke University found that ‘inducing self-compassion may disengage the relationship between taking responsibility and experiencing negative affect.’ This allows you to still take full responsibility for your mistakes while minimizing the amount of time that you spend beating yourself up as well as reduced the intensity of those ubiquitous destructive emotions I mentioned earlier.

The way in which you do this is to speak to yourself as if you were a three-year-old child. This allows for mistakes (which is a major path for learning), screw ups, and errors. Self-compassion is related to greater resiliency (the ability to bounce back from difficulty) which every divorcee can use.

New Study on Self-Compassion and Divorce 

A study is coming out this month in Psychological Science on the importance of self-compassion for those in the midst of a divorce. The authors, David Sbarra, Hillary Smith and Matthias Mehl, state ‘Self-compassion can promote resilience and positive outcomes in the face of divorce.’

The study compared self-compassion to other major traits, such as self-esteem, resistance to depression, realistic optimism, or social intelligence. The findings?

Self-Compassion Accurately Predicted Quickest Positive Outcome Following Divorce 

The only trait that consistently predicted positive outcomes following a divorce was self-compassion. That is amazing!

The study involved 105 participants (38 men and 67 women) with an average age of 40. They’d been married, on average, for 13 years and had been divorced for 3-4 months. The researchers had the participants call to mind their ex-spouse and then talk for four minutes about their thoughts and emotions related to the break up. This was done at three time points – initial visit, three months later and six to nine months later.  The researchers looked at the frequency of intrusive unpleasant thoughts, negative emotions related to the divorce and their ex and how well they were getting on with life since the break up.

Those participants with higher levels of self-compassion recovered from divorce faster and were doing better after the nine month period.

Dealing with Divorce Using Self-compassion

Self-compassion, according to my former Cal classmate, Kristin Neff, is a combination of mindfulness (being aware of feelings of jealousy and anger, for example, without getting stuck in them), an awareness of the interconnectedness of humanity (we all suffer at times), and self-kindness.

Self-compassion, in my opinion, is an integral part of positive psychology in the sense that it is rapidly showing itself to be an instrumental tool in any happy, thriving, meaningful life.

To find out more, check out my award-winning self-help book, Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought which is currently available for free at www.GuideToSelf.com.

If you are angry about your divorce, please visit my new video blog (vlog) at AngerGeek.com for free tips on how to turn down the volume on anger!

To life, love and laughter,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self, Inc.

Award-winning author, award-winning blogger, national speaker, emotion expert

Mental Illness Will Hit 1 Out of 2 Adults in U.S. – Anxiety Not Well Tracked

I have spent nearly a lifetime trying to understand, manage and fix the human mind. The mind fascinates, torments, inspires, belittles, loves, and elevates. So it was with great interest that I read that the CDC came out with a new report on mental illness, including anxiety and depression.

Mental illness, anxiety, depression affect 50% of US Adults

The Center for Disease Control just released their report, Mental Illness Surveillance Among Adults in the United States (September 2, 2011), outlining  the tremendous reach that mental illness has into my life, your life and every other life in the United States of America.

Some highlights from the report

In the United States, the economic impact of mental illness  is enormous, roughly $300 billion in 2002. No more recent numbers are available, but the cost is rising.

Approximately 25% of adults in the U.S. have a mental illness. That means one out of every four individuals are dealing with some form of mental illness (e.g., anxiety, depression, other mood disorders, psychosis, OCD, ADHD, personality disorders, etc.). The report defines mental illness as all diagnosable mental disorders. Effects of mental illness may involve chronic abnormal thoughts, moods, or behaviors associated with distress and impaired  functioning. The effects of mental illnesses include disruptions of daily function; incapacitating personal, social, and occupational impairment; and premature death. The most common ones are anxiety and mood disorders (e.g., depression and bipolar disorder).

Almost 50% of American adults will experience at least one mental illness in their lifetime.

Mental illness leads to more disability than any other group of illnesses. More than even heart disease and cancer!
Anxiety disorders anger management classes
The Mental Impacts the Physical and Vice-versa

Most mental illnesses are fundamentally intertwined with chronic medical disorders like heart disease, addiction and obesity. So the manner in which our mind works dramatically impacts how well your body works.

Mental illness is a massive public health problem. Check out these facts from the World Health Organization…

  • ‘mental illness is associated with increased occurrence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, epilepsy, and cancer;
  • mental illness is associated with lower use of medical care, reduced adherence to treatment therapies for chronic diseases, and higher risks of poor health outcomes;
  • mental illness is associated with use of cigarettes, chewing tobacco and abuse of alcohol;
  • rates for both intentional (e.g., homicide, suicide) and unintentional (e.g., motor vehicle) injuries are 2 to 6 times higher among people with a mental illness than in the population overall;
  • many mental illnesses can be managed successfully, and increasing access to and use of mental health treatment services could substantially reduce the associated death rate and
  • many chronic illnesses are associated with mental illnesses, and it’s been shown that treatment of mental illnesses associated with chronic diseases can reduce the effects of both and support better outcomes.’

Interestingly, there are currently no efforts at the national or state level to track anxiety disorders. Yet, anxiety disorders occur just as frequently as depression.
What’s more, anxiety disorders are similar to depression in that they

  1. negatively impact daily functioning as much as depression,
  2. are closely tied to the stress response system in the body,
  3. have similar negative effects on physical health, and
  4. are frequently found to exist together with the same physical illnesses as those that exist in folks who suffer from depression.

In conclusion, it appears that we are lagging in monitoring the prevalence of anxiety and providing assistance for those who struggle with anxiety. Mental illness is just beginning to get adequate exposure so that we can continue to develop cutting-edge tools and technologies to help those who suffer from it. We can no longer afford to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the compounding costs of mental illness. It is time to bring mental illness into the light where it can be appropriately identified and treated without shame.

What are your thoughts on this CDC report?

How have you been affected by mental illness in your life?

Please leave a comment below to get the conversation started!

All the best,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.

Award-winning author of Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought (for a free PDF version, visit http://www.GuidetoSelf.com and enter your name and email address)

Award-winning blogger on The Shrunken Mind – a top 3 blog on positive psychology

Free online anger management classes which incorporate humor and positive psychology at WebAngerManagement.com

 

Less Criminal Activity and Drug Use in Happy Teenagers

In my private practice, I see a number of angry teenage boys. Intuitively, I knew that teaching them to turn down the volume on negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and depression, WHILE teaching them to turn UP the volume on positive emotions would have a powerful impact on their lives. The results in my practice have been astonishing – reduced drug use, less illegal activity, more compassion, improved academic performance and less anger in the home.

Today, I came across a study that just came out from UC Davis which supports this approach. Take a look and let me know your thoughts!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self Inc.

A Positive Psychology Approach to Anger Management

Happiness Can Deter Crime, a New Study Finds

From ScienceDaily (Aug. 23, 2011) — Happy adolescents report less involvement in crime and drug use than other youth, a new UC Davis study finds.

The paper, “Get Happy! Positive Emotion, Depression and Juvenile Crime,” is co-authored by Bill McCarthy, a UC Davis sociology professor, and Teresa Casey, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis, and will be presented at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 22 at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in Las Vegas.

Happy teens less likely to use drugs

“Our results suggest that the emphasis placed on happiness and well-being by positive psychologists and others is warranted,” McCarthy said. “In addition to their other benefits, programs and policies that increase childhood and adolescent happiness may have a notable effect on deterring nonviolent crime and drug use.”

The authors used 1995 and 1996 data from nearly 15,000 seventh- to ninth-grade students in the federally funded National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the largest, most comprehensive survey of adolescents ever undertaken.

They found that about 29 percent of the youth surveyed reported having committed at least one criminal offense, and 18 percent said that they had used at least one illegal drug. The researchers then correlated these reports with self-assessments of emotional well-being.

Consequences of happiness are rarely examined by sociologists, and no previous studies have investigated its association with juvenile crime, the authors said.

Many explanations of adolescents’ decisions about crime focus either on reflective thought that discourages offending, or negative emotions — such as anger or rage — that contribute to it.

McCarthy and Casey argue that positive emotions also have a role. “We hypothesize that the benefits of happiness — from strong bonds with others, a positive self-image and the development of socially valued cognitive and behavioral skills — reinforce a decision-making approach that is informed by positive emotions,” they write in their study.

Their research finds that happier adolescents were less likely to report involvement in crime or drug use. Adolescents with minor, or nonclinical, depression had significantly higher odds of engaging in such activities.

The study also found that changes in emotions over time matter.

Adolescents who experienced a decrease in their level of happiness or an increase in the degree of their depression over a one-year period had higher odds of being involved in crime and of using drugs.

Most adolescents experience both happiness and depression, and the study finds that the relative intensity of these emotions is also important. The odds of drug use were notably lower for youth who reported that they were more often happy than depressed, and were substantially higher for those who indicated that they were more depressed than happy.

University of California – Davis (2011, August 23). Happiness can deter crime, a new study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2011/08/110822091859.htm

For your free PDF copy of John’s award-winning self-help book, Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought, on the latest tools to turn down the volume on negative emotions (like anger) and techniques to turn UP the volume on positive emotions, visit http://www.GuidetoSelf.com and click on the yellow book icon. Just enter your name and email for instant access to your copy!

For more info on John’s revolutionary online course on the positive psychology of anger management, visit http://drjohnsblog.wordpress.com. There are

four free anger management videos you can check out right now!

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Are You Rational When It Comes to Money?

I just read a great blog post by Ben Hayden on Psychology Today. I tried leaving a comment but was enable to due to website difficulties. Instead I’ve reprinted the post here with my comment below. Click on the article title below to go to the original blog post on Psychology Today…

The Decision Tree

Decision-making from all perspectives.

by Ben Hayden, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester.

Are you rational?

What do economists mean by rational and irrational?

Published on June 26, 2011 by Ben Y. Hayden, Ph.D. in The Decision Tree

My last post raised a lot of questions about rationality. Rather than reply to them individually, I decided to devote this column to the topic.

I talk to the public a lot about economic discoveries that violate assumptions of rationality. And one thing that always surprises me is just how pleased people are to hear about these violations of rationality. Gleeful even. Relieved to not be the only dummy out there.

It’s surprising that people are so excited because, when it comes to economics, violations of rationality are pretty darn recondite.

An economically rational individual is someone whose preferences obey certain formal rules that insulate them from economists’ bugbear: intransitive preferences. Intransitive preferences means I prefer an apple to an orange, an orange to a pear, and a pear to an apple. This pattern of preferences is distressing to economists because some opportunistic evildoer could come along and offer to trade me an apple for my orange plus a small fee, and then offer me a pear for that same apple plus an additional fee, and then offer me an orange for the pear plus another small fee. Then that evildoer winds up with a free lunch from me. And there’s nothing economists hate more than a free lunch. (Economists would say that this evildoer has turned me into a ‘money pump’).

Bottom of Form

But the real reason this bothers economists goes much deeper than their annoying perennial reminders about free lunches. In the early 20th century, economics struggled to establish itself as a formal and rigorous science. Economists craved respect. (Anyone who has heard economics called the dismal science knows it’s been an uphill battle). Many brilliant economists built the field a solid foundation that was axiomatic – based on a few simple and obvious rules – the same way Euclid did with geometry and Peano did with arithmetic. And to make these axioms, economists had to come up with an economist’s equivalent of mathematically true and false. And they chose the terms rational and irrational.

Aristotle and Plato

Aristotle and Plato Discussing Reason and Emotion

These words were not intended to describe what people do. Humans are not robots; most (but not all) economists know that. Even if we were, our brains are finite. We have to take mental shortcuts. We are approximately rational and even that only sometimes. We economic psychologists love the phase ‘bounded rationality’.

Economics 101 is one of the most popular undergraduate courses in the United States, and it often gives rationality a central place. But we all have money anxieties, so we are predisposed to hear personal judgment coming from our economics professors. Every year, a new crop of students thinks their teachers are criticizing them about how they manage their personal finances.

But that’s not it at all.

Violations of rationality are nothing to be ashamed of. They are like optical illusions in vision: they are universal and they provide clues to how the visual system works. We study irrationality because it gives us essential clues to help us learn how the brain makes economic decisions. And we do that because it leads us to solutions for the real irrationalities: depression, addiction, schizophrenia, and so on.

Invite your local economists to the bar, buy them a round of beer and ask them about it. They’ll admit (in my experience, cheerfully) that when they go to the store, they make the exact same mistakes as the rest of us do. Because we are all human. We are all irrational.

          Ben

 ——————————————————-

Dear Ben:

Thanks for the insightful blog post! I have this difficulty with clients frequently – they want to believe the illusion that they are primarily, if not solely, rational individuals. This would be great if it were so, but as you point out, it’s not the case. And I find individuals vary on a spectrum as to how much of the time they spend being rational vs. emotional. My challenge, for years, has been to decipher how to become aware of and train the emotional mind.

 

Different emotions can increase or decrease our rationality, reasoning and focus. Anger, for example, makes us more focused and rational – to a point. Think of anger on a 1 through 10 scale with 1 being calm and 10 be enraged.  Anger can  be useful below a 5. Once you go above a 5, the emotional mind is in charge, rationality goes out the window and we become atavistic and primal.

 

Thank you for pointing out our ubiquitous illusion of rationality.

Best regards,

John L. Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self

Award-winning author, blogger and anger management coach

For a free copy of John’s award-winning book on reason and emotion, visit GuideToSelf.com, click on the yellow book icon and enter your name and email.