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.

Stopping the Senseless Violence Before It Starts – Anti-Bullying and Jared Lee Loughner

The recent shooting that took place in Tucson, Arizona on January 8th, 2011 involving Jared Lee Loughner is an example of the deep pain, anger and frustration many Americans have suffered in the past few years. It is difficult to believe that anyone could walk into a peaceful gathering and open fire on a group of unarmed civilians which included children. It is apparent from his YouTube channel and his cowardly actions that Jared Lee Loughner suffers from a mental disorder. Which one is a matter of speculation at this point.

The violent actions of Mr. Loughner caused me to reflect on an article I wrote a couple years ago about the long-standing and deleterious effects of bullying on its victims. Interestingly, research has shown that it is not only punches that harm us, but malicious words as well.

New research from the Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education on 37 school shootings, including Columbine showed that almost 75% of student shooters felt bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others. Several shooters reported experiencing long-term, intense bullying and harassment from their classmates.

Police searching for evidence in East Hartford

I wonder to what extent Jared Lee Loughner suffered at the hands of bullies in his upbringing. On the other hand, to what extent did he bully others?

It is doubtful that any school-based program would have been sufficient to derail the heinous act of gunning down a federal judge, a congresswoman (Gabrielle Giffords) and several others. However, it is necessary to continue to get the message out that there is an undeniable wave of anger, frustration, stress and rage that is sweeping through the U.S. like a wildfire. 

It is our obligation to do everything we can to turn down the volume on this anger – angry rhetoric, bullying threats, intolerance, and all-or-nothing thinking. To that end, I am reprinting my article which an in depth look at bullies, their victims and what you can do to help out on either side.

Stopping Bullies Before They Wind Up Behind Bars

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide To Self, Inc.

A ten-year-old boy is told repeatedly that he is a “weakling” and a “girly man,” yelled at and teased in a tone of voice tinged with disgust and disdain. Is this bullying? What if it leads to a fist fight? How do you know when someone crosses the line between cruel teasing and bullying? Does emotional bullying have any “real” physical consequences? And perhaps, most importantly, if you are dealing with a true bully, what do you do about it? Let’s start by figuring out what bullying is and then move on to what the consequences are and the best ways to deal with it.

Bullying Defined

Bullying takes place when a one or more kids repeatedly harass, intimidate, hit, or ignore another youngster who is physically weaker, smaller or has a lower social status. Realize that adults can also engage in bullying, particularly what I call emotional bullying. However, today we’ll focus on young people.

Note that a single fistfight between two kids of similar size and social power is not bullying; neither is the occasional teasing.

Physical bullying is seen in both boys and girls, but it is more common among boys. Girls typically use emotional bullying more so than boys. Bullying can take a number of forms.

  • Bullying can be physical (hitting, shoving, or taking money or belongings) or emotional (Causing fear by threats, insults and/or exclusion from conversations or activities).
  • Boys tend to use physical intimidation (hitting or threatening to hit) as well as insults, and they often act one-on-one. Girls are more likely to bully in groups by using the silent treatment towards another girl or gossiping about her.
  • Kids are often bullied through putdowns about their appearance, such as being teased about being different than other children or for the way they talk, dress, their size, their appearance and so on. Making fun of children’s religion or race occurs far less frequently. 1

Bullying begins in elementary school and is most common in middle school; it fades but not completely in high school. It usually occurs in school areas that are not well supervised by teachers or other adults, such as on playgrounds, lunch rooms, and bathrooms. Much of it takes place after school at a location known to students and unsupervised by adults. When I was in middle school, there was a Christmas tree farm where all fights took place. When I was a psych at a middle school, there was a dry creek bed nearby where fights took place. There is always a certain spot that is well known to the students where altercations occur. One way to prevent bullying is to be aware of this spot and police it regularly after school. And realize that the spot will move as soon as the adults become aware of it.

Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intended to cause harm or distress, occurs repeatedly over time, and occurs in a relationship in which there is an imbalance of power or strength. Bullying can take many forms, including physical violence, teasing and name-calling, intimidation, and social exclusion. It can be related to hostile acts perpetrated against racial and ethnic minorities, gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual youth, and persons with disabilities.

Ninety percent of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of some form of bullying at some time in their past.  Boys are typically more physically aggressive (physical bullying), whereas girls rely more on social exclusion, teasing, and cliques (verbal or emotional bullying). Bullying can also take the form of cyber communication, e.g., via email (cyber bullying). It is estimated that one in four boys who bully will have a criminal record by age 30.

Who are the bullies?

Children who regularly bully their peers tend to be impulsive, easily frustrated, dominant in personality, have difficulty conforming to rules, view violence positively and are more likely to have friends who are also bullies. Boys who bully are usually physically stronger than their peers.

Moreover, several risk factors have been associated with bullying, including individual, family, peer, school, and community factors. With respect to family factors, children are more likely to bully if there is a lack of warmth and parent involvement, lack of parental supervision, and harsh corporal discipline. Some research suggests a link between bullying behavior and child maltreatment. Also, schools that lack adequate adult supervision tend to have more instances of bullying.

Psychological research has debunked several myths associated with bullying, including one that states bullies are usually the most unpopular students in school. A 2000 study by psychologist Philip Rodkin, PhD, and colleagues involving fourth-through-sixth-grade boys found that highly aggressive boys may be among the most popular and socially connected children in elementary classrooms, as viewed by their fellow students and even their teachers. Another myth is that the tough and aggressive bullies are basically anxious and insecure individuals who use bullying as a means of compensating for poor self-esteem. Using a number of different methods including projective tests and stress hormones, Olweus concludes that there is no support for such a view. Most bullies had average or better than average self-esteem.

Who is being bullied?

Children who are bullied are often cautious, sensitive, insecure, socially isolated, and have difficulty asserting themselves among their peers. Boys who are bullied tend to be physically weaker than their peers. Children who have been victims of child abuse (neglect, physical, or sexual abuse) or who have disabilities are also more likely to be bullied by their peers.

How common is bullying?

In 2002, it was reported that 17 percent of students reported having been bullied “sometimes” or more frequently during the school term. About 19 percent reported bullying others “sometimes” or more often. And six percent reported both bullying and having been bullied. However, in a 2003 study from UCLA, it was reported that almost 50% of sixth graders in two Los Angeles-area public schools report being bullied by classmates during a five-day period.

New research from the Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education on 37 school shootings, including Columbine, found that almost three-quarters of student shooters felt bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others. In fact, several shooters reported experiencing long-term and severe bullying and harassment from their peers.

What’s more, roughly 45% of teachers report having bullied a student in their past. This comes from a 2006 study which defined bullying “using power to punish, manipulate, or disparage a student beyond what would be a reasonable disciplinary procedure.”

The effects of bullying

Bullying exerts long-term and short-term psychological effects on both bullies and their victims. Bullying behavior has been linked to other forms of antisocial behavior, such as vandalism, shoplifting, skipping and dropping out of school, fighting, and the use of drugs and alcohol.

Victims of bullying experience loneliness and often suffer humiliation, insecurity, loss of self-esteem, and thoughts of suicide. Furthermore, bullying can interfere with a student’s engagement and learning in school. The impact of frequent bullying often accompanies these victims into adulthood. A study done in 2003 found that emotional bullying such as repeated name-calling has as much of a damaging impact on well-being as being beat up. Dr. Stephen Joseph, from the University of Warwick, states, “Bullying and particularly name calling can be degrading for adolescents. Posttraumatic stress is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a frightening event or ordeal in which physical harm occurred or was threatened, and research clearly suggests that it can be caused by bullying. It is important that peer victimization is taken seriously as symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety and depression are common amongst victims and have a negative impact on psychological health.”

As with smoking and drinking, youthful bullying can have serious long-term effects. Norwegian psychologist Dan Olweus, PhD, for example, reported in “Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do” (Blackwell, 1993) that 60 percent of boys who bully had at least one conviction by age 24, and 40 percent had three or more convictions.

Other studies found that about 20 percent of American middle school children say they bully others sometimes. Such youngsters tend to have multiple problems: They’re more likely to fight, steal, drink, smoke, carry weapons and drop out of school than non-bullies.

That said, recent research has exploded some common myths about bullies: in particular, that they’re isolated loners with low self-esteem. In fact, many bullies are reasonably popular and tend to have “henchmen” who aid their negative behaviors.

New and innovative research

A nationally representative study of 15,686 students in grades six through 10, published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 285, No. 16) is among the most recent to document the scope of bullying in U.S. schools.

This study found that:

* Bullying occurs most frequently from sixth to eighth grade, with little variation between urban, suburban, town and rural areas.

* Males are more likely to be bullies and victims of bullying than females. Males are more likely to be physically bullied, while females are more likely to be verbally or psychologically bullied.

* Bullies and victims of bullying have difficulty adjusting to their environments, both socially and psychologically. Victims of bullying have greater difficulty making friends and are lonelier.

* Bullies are more likely to smoke and drink alcohol, and to be poorer students.

* Bully-victims–students who are both bullies and recipients of bullying–tend to experience social isolation, to do poorly in school and to engage in problem behaviors such as smoking and drinking.

In the past, bullying behavior was looked at in an either/or fashion – either you are a bully or you are a victim. However, some children report that they’re both a bully and a victim at different times.

Bully-victims experience higher levels of depression and anxiety than the bully-only group or the victim-only group. Those who fall into the bully-victim subgroup are more troubled in terms of internal problems. They carry a great deal of anger, fear and sadness within them and don’t have any tools to release it.

Studies have shown that, despite thinking they know how to identify bullies, teachers aren’t all that good at actually doing so. Administrators and teachers in schools overestimate their effectiveness in identifying and intervening in bullying situations.

This can have troubling implications. For example, to contain costs, some schools hold intervention programs in group settings.  If bully-victims are in the group, they may cause problems for students who are solely victims. It’s more productive for bully-victims to be treated separately.

Mediation programs for bullies and victims are also problematic. Peer mediation may be appropriate in resolving conflict between students with equal power, but bullying is a type of victimization. Just as child abuse is a form of victimization between parties of unequal power, so too is bullying.  

Solutions for bullying

Many anti-bullying programs don’t use research and are thus are likely to fail. Those that work off the myth that the root of bullying is low self-esteem may produce more confident bullies but they probably won’t have a significant effect on any bullying behavior.

What’s more, the common approach of grouping bullies together for group counseling tends to increases their bullying. You’ve just put them in a peer group of bullies who reinforce their destructive behaviors.

And conflict resolution or mediation–which assumes equal power between bullies and their victims–may retraumatize those who have been bullied. Pop treatments usually fail because they focus on only one aspect of the problem.

Bullying is a complex problem. There are multiple reasons for bullying. Successful programs take a holistic approach to preventing bullying. This means that they create new school norms for acceptable behavior, involving all facets of the school–students, parents and teachers, psychologists and more.  

 Global buffers

Indeed, key to the success of any intervention is appropriate adult guidance and support, presenters agreed. Adults supervise their children about 40 percent less than they did 30 years ago, statistics show, and this and related phenomena have been correlated with problem behaviors. The trend, they added, occurs at a time when teens report wanting more parental attention and family time.

Research shows that parents can be effective interventionists. In a 2001 article, when parents learned to effectively communicate information on binge drinking to their precollege teens, the young people returned from their first semester of college significantly less likely to drink than a control group.

Teaching your children emotional intelligence, the ability to manage one’s emotions results in less illicit drug use and far less physical violence. Those with lower EI had more substance abuse problems and more frequent fights.  

The biggest challenge for teens is to develop the self-regulatory abilities implied by high emotional intelligence, and that adults can aid in that process. That’s why I’m always talking to you about how to identify your emotions, reminding you to breathe deeply, stressing the importance of journaling, prayer, exercise, yoga, meditation and so on. These are all ways to become more aware of your emotions, so you can in turn manage your emotions more effectively. It’s all about emotional intelligence folks.

Parents must also be involved in their children’s lives and intervene in a supportive and empathetic nature if they believe their child or another child is being bullied. To help prevent bullying, parents should enforce clear and concise behavioral guidelines and reward children for positive, inclusive behavior.  Furthermore, parents should seek assistance from the school’s principal, teachers, and counselors if concerns regarding their child’s or another child’s behavior arises.

Sometimes bullying is easy to spot–a child pushing another on the playground or shoving a classmate’s face into the water fountain. Other times bullying is less overt–children spreading rumors, teasing peers or excluding a classmate from games at recess. This veiled type of bullying–known as relational or covert aggression–can be harder for parents and teachers to see and prevent. What’s more, previous research suggests that relational aggression increases and intensifies as children get older and become more emotionally and socially sophisticated.

Studies report that the rates of aggression are rising in middle school girls. “It’s always been the case that we expect rates of aggression and delinquency to increase for boys, while girls were considered somewhat protected,” said Julia Graber, a UF psychologist who did the research. “In this study, it’s clear that the differences between girls and boys are diminishing.”

Unlike boys, girls in the study reported feeling increasing amounts of anger between sixth and seventh grades, she said. Both groups reported a decline in self-control.

The study of 1,229 students at 22 public and parochial schools in New York City found that the percentage of girls committing five or more aggressive acts in a month, such as “hitting someone” or “pushing or shoving someone on purpose” jumped from 64 percent to 81 percent between sixth and seventh grades. For boys, it rose from 69 percent to 78 percent.

“Girls’ entry into adolescence is generally thought of as a vulnerable time for depression, and studies tend to focus on girls’ emotional experiences with sadness and depressed moods,” Graber said. “What’s interesting about this study is that we see an increase in a different negative emotional experience, and that’s anger.”

Bullying among primary school age children has become recognized as an antecedent to more violent behavior in later grades. Statistics on violence in our country tell a grim story with a clear message. Some children learn how to dominate others by foul means rather than by fair, setting a pattern for how they will behave as adults (bullies). Other children are more easily dominated, suffer miserably, often in silence, and develop a victim mentality that they may be unable to over-come as adults (victims). Action is needed to end purposeful harassment, and bullying.

Signs that a child is being bullied

Children who are being bullied may be embarrassed to talk about what is going on. Parents (or other adults) may notice signs that point to bullying. Your child may:

  • Have scrapes, bruises or other signs of physical injury.
  • Come home from school without some belongings such as clothes, or money.
  • Come home from school quite hungry, saying they lost his or her lunch.
  • Develop ongoing physical problems, such as headaches or stomachaches.
  • Have sleep disturbances and nightmares.
  • Pretend to be sick or make other excuses to avoid school or other situations.
  • Change their behavior, such as withdrawing, becoming sad, angry or aggressive.
  • Cry often.
  • Become more fearful when certain people or situations are mentioned.
  • See a sudden drop in grades or have more difficulty learning new material.
  • Talk about suicide as a way out.

How to help the child who is being bullied

The key to helping your child deal with bullying is to help him or her regain a sense of dignity and recover damaged self-esteem. To help ward off bullies, give your child these tips:

  • Hold the anger. It’s natural to want to get really angry with a bully, but that’s exactly the response the bully is aiming for. Not only will getting angry or aggressive not solve the problem, it will only make it worse. Bullies want to know they have control over your child’s emotions. Each time they get a reaction from your child, it adds fuel to the bully’s fire – getting angry just makes the bully feel more powerful. Remind your child that anyone that makes you angry has control over you. Help your child work at staying calm through deep breathing and turning their attention to more pleasant thoughts while being picked on.
  • Never get physical or bully back. Emphasize that your child should never use physical force (like kicking, hitting, or pushing) to deal with a bully. Not only does that show anger, your child can never be sure what the bully will do in response. Tell your child that it’s best to hang out with others, stay safe, and get help from an adult.
  • Act brave, walk away, and ignore the bully. Tell your child to look the bully in the eye and say something like, “I want you to stop right now.” Counsel your child to then walk away and ignore any further taunts. Encourage your child to “walk tall” and hold his or her head up high (using this type of body language sends a message that your child isn’t vulnerable). Bullies thrive on the reaction they get, and by walking away, or ignoring hurtful emails or instant messages, your child will be telling the bully that he or she just doesn’t care. Sooner or later, the bully will probably get bored with trying to bother your child.
  • Use humor. If your child is in a situation in which he or she has to deal with a bully and can’t walk away with poise, tell him or her to use humor or give the bully a compliment to throw the bully off guard. However, tell your child not to use humor to make fun of the bully.
  • Tell an adult. If your child is being bullied, emphasize that it’s very important to tell an adult. Teachers, principals, parents, and lunchroom personnel at school can all help to stop it. Studies show that schools where principals crack down on this type of behavior have less bullying.
  • Talk about it. It may help your child to talk to a guidance counselor, teacher, or friend – anyone who can give your child the support he or she needs. Talking can be a good outlet for the fears and frustrations that can build when your child is being bullied.
  • Use the buddy system. Enlisting the help of friends or a group may help both your child and others stand up to bullies. The bully wants to be recognized and feel powerful, after all, so a lot of bullying takes part in the presence of peers. If the bully is picking on another child, tell your child to point out to the bully that his or her behavior is unacceptable and is no way to treat another person. This can work especially well in group situations (i.e., when a member of your child’s circle of friends starts to pick on or shun another member). Tell your child to make a plan to buddy up with a friend or two on the way to school, on the bus, in the hallways, or at recess or lunch – wherever your child thinks he or she might meet the bully. Tell your child to offer to do the same for a friend who’s having trouble with a bully. When one person speaks out against a bully, it gives others license to add their support and take a stand, too.
  • Develop more friendships by joining social organizations, clubs, or sports programs. Encourage regular play visits with other children at your home. Being in a group with other kids may help to build your child’s self-esteem and give your child a larger group of positive peers to spend time with and turn to.

Of course, you may have to intervene in persistent cases of bullying. That can involve walking to school with your child and talking to your child’s teacher, school counselor, or principal. Safety should be everyone’s concern. If you’ve tried the previous methods and still feel the need to speak to the bullying child’s parents, it’s best to do so within the context of the school, where a school official, such as a counselor, can mediate.

If your child is the bully
Learning your child is the bully can be shocking. But it’s important to remain calm and avoid becoming defensive, as that can make a bad situation worse. You may have a greater impact if you express disappointment – not anger – to your child.

Because bullying often stems from unhappiness or insecurity, try to find out if something is bothering your child. Children who bully aren’t likely to confess to their behavior, but you’ll need to try to get your child to talk by asking some specific, hard-hitting questions, such as:

  • How do you feel about yourself?
  • How do you think things are going at school and at home?
  • Are you being bullied?
  • Do you get along with other kids at school?
  • How do you treat other children?
  • What do you think about being considered a bully?
  • Why do you think you’re bullying?
  • What might help you to stop bullying?

To get to the bottom of why your child is hurting others, you may also want to schedule an appointment to talk to your child’s school counselor or another mental health professional (your child’s doctor should be able to refer you to someone).

If you suspect that your child is a bully, it’s important to address the problem to try to mend your child’s mean ways. After all, bullying is violence, and it often leads to more antisocial and violent behavior as the bully grows up. In fact, as many as one out of four elementary school bullies have a criminal record by the time they’re 30.

Helping your child stop bullying
Although certainly not all bullying stems from family problems, it’s a good idea to examine the behavior and personal interactions your child witnesses at home. If your child lives with taunting or name-calling from a sibling or from you or another parent, it could be prompting aggressive or hurtful behavior outside the home. What may seem like innocent teasing at home may actually model bullying behaviors. Children who are on the receiving end of it learn that bullying can translate into control over children they perceive as weak.

Constant teasing – whether it’s at home or at school – can also affect a child’s self-esteem. Children with low self-esteem can grow to feel emotionally insecure. They can also end up blaming others for their own shortcomings. Making others feel bad (bullying) can give them a sense of power.

Of course, there will be moments that warrant constructive criticism: for example, “I counted on you to put out the trash and because you forgot, we’ll all have to put up with that stench in the garage for a week.” But take care not to let your words slip into criticizing the person rather than the behavior: “You’re so lazy. I bet you just pretend to forget your chores, so you don’t have to get your hands dirty.” Focus on how the behavior is unacceptable, rather than the person.

Home should be a safe haven, where children aren’t subjected to uncomfortable, harsh criticism from family and loved ones.

In addition to maintaining a positive home atmosphere, there are a number of ways you can encourage your child to give up bullying:

  • Emphasize that bullying is a serious problem. Make sure your child understands you will not tolerate bullying and that bullying others will have consequences at home. For example, if your child is cyber bullying, take away the technologies he or she is using to torment others (i.e., computer, cell phone to text message or send pictures). Or instruct your child to use the Internet to research bullying and note strategies to reduce the behavior. Other examples of disciplinary action include restricting your child’s curfew if the bullying and/or teasing occur outside of the home; taking away privileges, but allowing the opportunity to earn them back; and requiring your child to do volunteer work to help those less fortunate.
  • Teach your child to treat people who are different with respect and kindness. Teach your child to embrace, not ridicule, differences (i.e., race, religion, appearance, special needs, gender, economic status). Explain that everyone has rights and feelings.
  • Find out if your child’s friends are also bullying. If so, seek a group intervention through your child’s principal, school counselor, and/or teachers.
  • Set limits. Stop any show of aggression immediately and help your child find nonviolent ways to react.
  • Observe your child interacting with others and praise appropriate behavior. Positive reinforcement is more powerful than negative discipline.
  • Talk with school staff and ask how they can help your child change his or her bad behavior. Be sure to keep in close contact with the staff.
  • Set realistic goals and don’t expect an immediate change. As your child learns to modify his or her behavior, assure your child that you still love him or her – it’s the behavior you don’t like.

Be aware that bullying also takes place between adults, as well as between adults and children. Anywhere there is a power imbalance; there is the risk of bullying. Athletic coaching is a fertile ground for bullying young athletes. As more is learned about bullying and the serious consequences of it, more and more zero tolerance policies will be adopted. Until then, stay aware of subtle cues of bullying in children and teens. The first step is awareness.  With greater awareness, bullying can be nipped in the bud.

About the Author

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

John Schinnerer is President and Founder of Guide To Self, a company that focuses on coaching clients to achieve their potential using the latest in psychology, psychoneuroimmunology and physiology. Most recently, John hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show, in the San Francisco Bay Area. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in psychology. John has been a coach and psychologist for over 10 years.

John’s areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to anger management to sports psychology. He is a noted speaker and author on topics such as emotional intelligence, sports psychology, and executive leadership.

John wrote the award-winning book, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,” which was awarded the “Best Self-Help Book of 2007”. He writes an award-winning blog on positive psychology, Shrunken Mind.  He has written articles on corporate ethics, anger management, bullying, positive psychology and EQ in the workplace for Workspan magazine, HR.com, and Business Ethics. He has given numerous presentations, radio shows and seminars to tens of thousands of people for organizations such as SHRM, NCHRA, KNEW and KDIA.

Student Rehab – 12 Step Program for the Digitally Addicted

It’s August 12th! Less than 2 weeks left before school starts!

You know what time it is!

Time for Back to School Rehab!

Teacher: ‘So students, did everyone have a wonderful Summer?

Okay, glad to hear it.

Now I know you’ve spent the past 3 months playing video games, tweeting and texting on your phones, and fondling the remote control mindlessly, so it’s time for some brief solution-focused group therapy.

How many of you can focus on one thing for longer than 3 seconds?

How many of you have heard of a handheld wireless tool called a ‘book?’

Award-winning book Guide To Self: The Beginners Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought

Let’s see a show of hands please….hold them up. Okay, 2 of you.

In that case, let’s talk about addiction.

Johnny, I need you to stop moving your thumbs.

 

Yes, just use your thoughts, dear. Really, you can stop fidgeting using your mind!

I know it’s difficult, dear. Just give it a try.

The withdrawals from your iPhones, video games and laptops seem just as bad as nicotine detox.

Addiction is when you can’t stop thinking about where your next fix is coming from. So if all you can think about is getting home to fire up WOW or COD, you just might be addicted!

Call of Duty (COD)

Addiction is when you spend all your energy focusing on how your going to get your next fix. So if you are counting the seconds from first period to the end of the school day while worrying about playing Angry Birds on the iPhone, you just might be addicted!

Remember, quitting technology cold turkey can be brutal.

So if you need a fix during the school day, we were just got in some brand new Kindles. You can use them in the meantime to quiet those nasty eye twitches and finger tics.

Alright. I’m glad we had the chance to have this little chat. There’s the school bell.

ON YOUR MARK…

GET SET…

LEARN!’

Enjoy!

John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Anger Management Training Continues Play in Media

On the CBS “Early Show” this morning, there was a piece on anger management training. The focus was on the prevalence of anger at work. This seems to be a timely topic given the angry outbursts of folks such as Mel Gibson and others. I can’t imagine being on set with him.
While most of the tools discussed looked at stress management, brief mention was made of emotional intelligence. Emotional IQ is a key comoponent of any anger management training worth it’s salt.

In all anger management programs I’ve constructed consist of several key components:

Anger Management (ways to turn Down the volume on anger and tools to turn up the volume on positive emotions to replace the anger)

Stress Management (proven methods to turn down stress and pressure)

Communication Skills (tools to become more appropriately assertive) and

Emotional Intelligence (teaching ways to instantly identify and manage emotions in self and others).

For the best in anger management training, check out a free video series at http://www.GuideToSelf.com, along with a free copy of  my award-winning eBook ‘Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought.’

To life, love and laughter,
John Schinnerer Ph.D.

How to Get What You Want: Get More Frikkin’ Assertive!

 The boss’ face is red with rage as he screams obscenities at the subordinate. The boss yells out words he will later regret. The subordinate focuses on breathing deeply and staying calm as he watches his boss spin out of emotional control. In the face of his boss’ fury, the subordinate is unruffled and able to think clearly. When the manager finishes his tirade, the 25-year-old subordinate asserts himself, “I understand you are upset. It frustrates me when you yell at me. I need you to speak to me in a calm tone of voice.”

Assertiveness is the courage to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right manner, despite a known risk of negative consequences. Assertiveness basically comes down to courage – the courage to do what you know is right, in your heart, despite the possibility of negative consequences. Assertiveness exists on a continuum between the poles of docile and aggressive.

Think of assertiveness as a matter of degree; it exists on a 1 through 10 scale where 1 is meek and 10 is overly aggressive. For most people, assertiveness varies according to the situation. For example, the hard-nosed, results-driven executive may be highly assertive at work, yet be quite meek when it comes to dealing with his wife and teenage daughter at home.

So assertiveness is environment-specific. Usually, your degree of assertiveness is couched within a role that you play – parent, spouse, boss, friend, and so on. The goal is to learn how to be appropriately assertive without being a bully. If you are assertive at work, you may roll over at home. If you are assertive at home, you might be a pushover at work. Or perhaps you could be more assertive in both settings!

Stop Being a Wimp

Most of us are wimps (at least in some situations like work OR home). Wimps are people who cannot or will not say ‘No.’

Some of us are ubiquitous wimps (which mean that you are wimpy in every situation… with everyone).

Others are situation-specific wimps. These wimps can be a tyrant at work and a pushover at home, forceful with strangers yet completely spineless with friends.

Wimpiness can vary according to the situation. Some people feel more comfortable being assertive in some areas of their life than others.

Please understand that I use the term ‘wimp’ with respect and understanding. I am a recovering wimp myself.

Being a wimp often works well in the short run because you don’t risk upsetting anyone. You let others have their way and no one’s knickers get in a knot.

However, in the long run, your anger and disappointment get buried deep within you. And you may not even realize it!

As you try to stuff more and more anger inside your emotional gas tank, the tank eventually overflows resulting in irritation, outbursts of rage and passive aggressive behavior. You get angry at the wrong people, people who don’t deserve your wrath.

These repressed emotions also lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks. In short, wimpiness is bad for you and destructive to your health and happiness.

KEY: For a meaningful, happy and healthy life, you must learn to be appropriately assertive.  

So what can you do? How do you stop being a wimp?

Identify your most cherished values

What do I value?

With what degree of certainty?

Which values am I willing to publicly declare?

What ones am I willing to die for?

And most importantly, what values am I willing to live for?

Once you’ve identified your values, then you must figure out how consistent your words are with your actions. In other words, do you act in a manner that’s consistent with your values?

The more authentic you are, the better life you lead. Authenticity means that your values are consistent with your words, feelings and actions. The greater the consistency between your internal world and your external world, the more authenticity you have.

Values guide the whole thing, your whole life.  Values give you a decision-making framework.

KEY: Values are MOST important when you are under duress.

Values are critical when you are stressed out, depressed, irritable and under the gun. However, in order for them to be any use to you at all, you have to know your top 5 values by rote. Values have to be automatic, unconscious, repeated over and over until they are known by heart. It’s not enough to look at them once or twice a year. Infrequent value visits are not enough to sear them into your long-term memory.

To get you started, a list of the top  35 values that exist throughout the world is available free of charge at the Articles page at Guide To Self. This is a list of values drawn from work by the top values researchers on the planet!

Figure Out How You Want Others to Treat You

If you want other people to treat you differently, you need to know how you want to be treated. Do you want your wife to stop yelling at you? Do you want more respect from your husband? Do you want your boss to speak to you in an indoor tone of voice? Do you want your children to help pick up the house?

The first step is to figure out exactly what it is you want. Look at what is making you angry or irritated throughout the day. Make a mental note of each thing. Then figure out what you’d like to change in each relationship in your life. Where are you being taken advantage of?  What are you tolerating? What are you putting up with? The first step is to unearth the answers to these questions. This is easier said than done for many of us!

Ask for What You Want

After you have figured out how you want to be treated, then ask for it. This step takes courage, yet it gets easier the more you do it. And it’s really not as hard as you believe it is. You must learn to express yourself, the real you; what you truly want; how you truly feel, if you want to be treated with more respect. When you learn to state how you feel and what you want, your whole life will begin to change for the better. When you are asking for what you want, be as specific as possible. Keep it as short as possible and hold that thought in your mind, that way you can hold onto it even in the midst of an emotionally-charged conversation.

To stop being a wimp, act with courage. It may feel awkward at first. Every new behavior feels a little strange at first. Most new behaviors take roughly 8 weeks to take hold. After eight weeks, the authentic communication of your thoughts, feelings and needs will fit like a glove and you’ll be wondering why you hadn’t done it sooner.

Practice Saying ‘No’

Many of us have gotten in a dangerous habit of saying ‘yes’ to everyone and everything. However, it’s merely a bad habit which can be changed. If you have trouble with saying ‘No’, if that is too uncomfortable, simply use the phrase, ‘I’ll think about it.’  This is just a temporary stop-gap. It buys you time. Using the phrase ‘I’ll think about it’ will hold off the other party for a time, but it raises your anxiety because you are only delaying giving a final answer.

So realize that the ultimate goal is to be able to say “No” with a clear conscience. You have a right to say “No” to any request that comes your way. You have an obligation to take care of yourself first and foremost.

Learn to Love Change

The next step in becoming more assertive is to learn to love change. As you begin to live by your values and become more assertive, your relationships will change. You are going to make some changes to your life and the way in which you interact with other people. In addition, the only unchanging thing in this life is the fact that change will be constant. The best you can do is learn to love it.

Identify What Makes You Afraid – Then Go After It

Many of us wimps have created massive fears over what will happen if we DO say “No.” We get into catastrophic, all-or-nothing negative thinking. Most often, these are irrational fears that have been blown up to monstrous proportions. Odds are that none of these things will actually happen if you stand up and rightly assert yourself.

Remember to challenge your fears, your negative Gremlin thinking. Don’t let them go by without speaking back to them. Check them against reality. Check your thoughts out with other people. Find out what people you trust have to say about the matter.

Assertiveness is NOT the same as aggressiveness. You don’t have to be rude or impolite to be assertive. You don’t have to attack someone to let them know of your thoughts and your feelings. You have the right to stand up for your rights. You have the God-given right to say “No” and to take proper care of yourself. Each and every one of us has rights. And you have the right to stand up and ask for what you want and need. The worst that can happen is that they say “No. You can’t have that.”

In any case, you need to know what makes your life worth living. And THEN you have to stand up for it. Ask for it. Fight for it. Work towards it. Pay attention to it. You have to know what you want before you can be assertive. If you don’t know, you can’t ask.

In closing, keep in mind that assertiveness requires some courage.

Courage only exists when you feel some degree of fear.

The act of overcoming your fear is known as courage. 

Assertiveness is the courage to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right manner despite possible adverse consequences.

Think of assertiveness on a 1 to 10 scale where 1 is meek and 10 is overly aggressive. Assertiveness usually varies by situation. It is environment-specific.

The ultimate goal is to learn how to be suitably assertive without using intimidation to get what you want.

About the Author
John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

 John Schinnerer Ph.D. is in private practice helping men master their emotions in the beautiful San Ramon Valley in California. His practice is located in the Danville-San Ramon Medical Center at 913 San Ramon Valley Blvd., #280, Danville, CA 94526. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in psychology (so he’s smart!). He has been an executive and psychologist for over 14 years.  John Schinnerer is President and Founder of
Guide To Self, a company that coaches clients to their potential using the latest in positive psychology, mindfulness and attentional control (so he’s no longer an emotional idiot!). He has hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show, in the San Francisco Bay Area (so he has a sense of humor!).  He has served as President of Infinet Assessment, a psychological testing company to help firms select the best applicants (so he’s been successful in business!). His areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to moral development, to sports psychology. He wrote the award-winning, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,” which is available at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com and AuthorHouse.com (so he’s highly regarded – at least by some!).