|ADHD Tip: How to Organize Your Family and Household
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|Take the 12 Steps and Sit Down
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|Borderline Personality Disorder: Open Letter to Emergency Department
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|When Does Familiarity Breed Contempt?
We’ve all heard the adage “familiarity breeds contempt.” But does it? A large body of research suggests that familiarity often breeds liking, but sometimes it does the opposite. So when does getting to know more about a person make us like them more and when does it make us like them less?
First, let’s define what we mean by “familiarity”. Typically, it’s defined as the quantity of exposure to someone, not the quality. In research terms, this can mean a number of things. Sometimes it’s how many times participants see a particular person’s face during a session in the lab. Sometimes, it can be how many traits they learn about a person. Other times it can be how much time someone has lived with a new college roommate.1
There is a lot of evidence that the more we’re exposed to something the more we come to like it.2 So if you keep seeing a particular painting in your office, you will eventually start liking it more. This can also affect how much we like people. In one famous experiment, the more often a young woman attended a large lecture class (without ever speaking to her classmates), the more likely her classmates were to rate her as likable when viewing her photograph at the end of the semester.3 But what happens when we actually interact with people, rather than merely being exposed to them?
Physical proximity does turn out to be a major predictor of whom we marry or befriend. Even small distances, like whether or not someone lives next door to you in an apartment complex rather than at the end of the hall affects how likely you are to become friends.4 In lab studies, the more strangers were asked to disclose to one another, the more they liked each other.5 But the same famous study that found that most off campus apartment-dwellers had best friends in the building also found that most people’s enemies were in the building too.4 And when strangers are paired randomly as college roommates, the longer they live together, the less they like one another.6,7
The type of information we get as we become more familiar with someone is likely to be a major factor in how familiarity affects liking. According to Norton and colleagues, ambiguity leads to liking because we often give people the benefit of the doubt when we first meet. However, once we get more information, we start to discover things we don’t like about the person.8 But sometimes that additional information could increase liking.
There are three general ways of understanding the link between familiarity and attraction.1 First, familiarity may increase liking due to uncertainty-reduction. That is, we’re not sure if we can totally trust the unfamiliar, and a certain wariness with strangers is an important survival mechanism, from an evolutionary perspective. Second, people may have greater fluency with familiar objects, places, and people, so they’re just more comfortable with familiar people and find it easier to deal with them. Finally, it’s possible that greater exposure leads to boredom, as we tire of things when we’re overexposed to them.
Recently, Finkel and colleagues suggested that the key to understanding when familiarity is good or bad lies in understanding the stage of relationship development and the situation in which people are interacting. They identified three relationship stages:1
Awareness. At this stage you know who the person is, but you haven’t actually interacted with them and you’re not sure if any relationship will develop. For example, you might see a fellow student in a college classroom and know she is enrolled in the class too, but you’ve never talked to her.
Surface contact. At this stage, you’ve interacted with the person, but you’re not yet in a relationship and you’re not sure what the future holds. So at this point, you’ve started talking to your classmate and interact with her during class on a regular basis, but you don’t know if you will ultimately become friends.
Mutuality. At this stage, you’re in an established relationship that is interdependent – That is what one person does directly impacts the other. Now you’ve formed a close friendship with your classmate and you decide to move in together in an off campus apartment.
The effects of familiarity may differ at different relationship stages. It will also depend on how appealing that new information is, and on whether or not you find yourself trying to cooperate or compete with the other person.1
At the awareness stage, you haven’t had much of a chance to interact, so at this point, you may be more concerned with whether or not the facts you’re learning about the person seem to add up to a coherent whole. As you interact more, you’re more focused on how well you get along with the person, so the specific bits of information you’re getting matter less. As you get to know the person in the surface contact stage, it’s possible that you could get bored if you stop learning new information, and things become predictable. Once you reach mutuality, there are more chances to cooperate and have important shared experiences (like taking a fun vacation together), but there are also more opportunities for conflict (like arguments over cleaning duties when you live with someone). That means that the reasons why familiarity sometimes increases liking and sometimes decreases it may depend on the relationship stage.1
Of course, this model only scratches the surface of really understanding the link between familiarity and attraction. Many questions are still unanswered. First, how familiarity affects liking may depend on what your expectations are for the type of relationship you could have with a person you’ve just met. Secondly, exposure to a person can make them more familiar, but that’s different than actually acquiring new information. Finally, there’s a difference between being around a person a lot over a short period of time and spending a lot of time with someone because you’ve known them for a long time, like a next door neighbor you’ve had for 10 years.1
So, does familiarity breed contempt? The answer isn’t simple – You need to understand the relationship stage, the situation in which people are interacting, and the type of information that is gained as familiarity increases.
Gwendolyn Seidman, Ph.D. is an associate professor of psychology at Albright College, who studies relationships and cyberpsychology. Follow her on Twitter for updates about social psychology, relationships, and online behavior. articles by Dr. Seidman on Close Encounters.
1 Finkel, E. J., Norton, M. I., Reis, H. T., Ariely, D., Caprariello, P. A., Eastwick, P. W., Forst, J. H., & Maniaci, M. R. (2015). When does familiarity promote versus undermine interpersonal attraction? A proposed integrative model from erstwhile adversaries. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(1) 3–19.
2 Zajonc, R. B. (2001). Mere exposure: A gateway to the subliminal. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 224–228.
3 Moreland, R. L., & Beach, S. (1992). Exposure effects in the classroom: The development of affinity among students. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 28, 255–276.
4 Festinger, L., Schachter, S., & Back, K. (1950). Social pressures in informal groups: A study of a housing community. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
5 Reis, H. T., Maniaci, M. R., Caprariello, P. A., Eastwick, P. W., & Finkel, E. J. (2011a). Familiarity does indeed lead to attraction in live interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 557–570.
6 Shook, N. J., & Fazio, R. H. (2008). Interracial roommate relationships: An experimental field test of the contact hypothesis. Psychological Science, 19, 717–723.
7. West, T. V., Pearson, A. R., Dovidio, J. F., Shelton, J. N., & Trail, T. (2009). Superordinate identity and intergroup roommate friendship development. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 1266–1272.
8 Norton, M. I., Frost, J. H., & Ariely, D. (2007). Less is more: The lure of ambiguity, or why familiarity breeds contempt. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 97–105.
Sometimes the more we get to know someone, the more we like them; sometimes not
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We’ve all heard the adage “familiarity breeds contempt.” But does it? A large body of research suggests that familiarity often breeds liking, but sometimes it does the opposite. So when does getting to know more about a person make us like them more and when does it make us like them less?
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|Do Comfort and Adventure Have to Be Mutually Exclusive?
||“Which do you prefer, adventure or comfort?” I was asked recently, matter-of-factly, as if the two were mutually separate entities, and I, given the option to choose only one. I closed my eyes and I wondered. Now, at the age of 53, I see clearly that my answer is remarkably...
|Estrogen-producing neurons influence aggression in both sexes
||A miniscule cluster of estrogen-producing nerve cells in the mouse brain exerts highly specific effects on aggressive behavior in both males and females, according to new research by UC San Francisco scientists. The cells in question, known as aromatase-expressing (aromatase+) cells, represent less than five one-hundredths of a percent of the neurons in the mouse [...]The post Estrogen-producing neurons influence aggression in both sexes appeared first on PsyPost.
|Humorous complaining: Funny online reviews get lots of attention but do they get results?
||Unless you’re just looking to entertain your fellow online shoppers, you may want to think twice about writing that funny Amazon or Yelp review. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, humorous complaints get a lot more attention from other consumers but may not be taken seriously by businesses. “Humor can [...]The post Humorous complaining: Funny online reviews get lots of attention but do they get results? appeared first on PsyPost.
|Sleeping after learning is important for infants’ long-term memory
||Sleep facilitates memory consolidation – not just in adults, but also in infants in their first year of life. This has been demonstrated by a team of researchers headed by Dr Sabine Seehagen at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, for the first time using an experimental design that assesses declarative memories, i.e. memories for facts and events. [...]The post Sleeping after learning is important for infants’ long-term memory appeared first on PsyPost.
“Through his powers of intellect, articulate language has been evolved; and on this his wonderful advancement has mainly depended.”
– Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1874 (p. 49)
We are in the midst of exploring development and its three pillars: affects (feelings), language, and cognition. We concluded our investigation of feelings in the December 2014 Newsletter with a focus on anger. We now move on to language.
However… before we leave feelings entirely, we are honored to have a guest columnist, Nancy Kobrin, Ph.D., continue our discussion of anger. Dr. Kobrin is an internationally-known expert on the relationships between development, hatred, and terrorism. Her column appears at the conclusion of our usual newsletter.
So, on to the second of our three pillars: language.
Language has been described as one of humans’ most important evolutionary advances. We will explore language with specific reference to individual development and its relationship to affects and cognition.
So what is language? Let’s keep it straightforward. Merriam-Webster’s says language is: the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community; the audible, articulate, meaningful sound as produced by the action of the vocal cords; and a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings.
Language and Geological Time
First, however, we must put language in the context of geological time. According to the “Big Bang” theory, the universe expanded from an extremely dense state about 13.8 billion years ago. The earth and sun were formed about 4.6 billion years ago. Let’s now put our species, Homo sapiens, into this context. As the evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr writes, Homo sapiens appears to have originated in sub-Saharan Africa about 150,000 to 200,000 years ago, deriving from African populations of Homo erectus (Mayr, 2001). DNA and fossil evidence currently suggests the following migration across the earth: “A wave of H. sapiens eventually broke out of Africa and spread rapidly over the entire world. They reached Australia some 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, eastern Asia 30,000 years ago, and North America reportedly about 12,000 years ago. There is, however, some evidence for an earlier colonization of America, possibly as early as 50,000 years ago” (Mayr, 2001, p. 250).
Animals, Humans, and Language: Darwin, Tomkins, and Mayr
Do animals express what we know of as feelings? As we discussed previously, Darwin, Tomkins, Mayr, and many others, argue that they do. “…it is now realized that many animals also show that they have emotions of fear, happiness, caution, depression, and almost any other known human emotion” (Mayr, 2001, p. 256).
But do animals have language? Here’s how Mayr addresses this question: “Even though we often use the word ‘language’ in connection with the information transmittal systems of animals, such as the ‘language of bees,’ actually all of these animal species have merely systems of giving and receiving signals. To be a language, a system of communication must contain syntax and grammar. Psychologists have attempted for half a century to teach language to chimpanzees, but in vain. Chimps seem to lack the neural equipment to adopt syntax. Therefore, they cannot talk about the future or the past” (2001, p. 253).
Darwin discusses the issue in more detail: “…all the higher mammals possess vocal organs, constructed on the same general plan as ours…” (1874, p. 92). Darwin also grappled with this issue in his wonderfully picturesque way by comparing other species to Homo sapiens: “The habitual use of articulate language is, however, peculiar to man; …That which distinguishes man from the lower animals is not the understanding of articulate sounds, for, as everyone knows, dogs understand many words and sentences. In this respect they are at the same stage of development as infants, between the ages of ten and twelve months, who understand many words and short sentences, but cannot yet utter a single word. It is not the mere articulation which is our distinguishing character, for parrots and other birds possess this power. Nor is it the mere capacity of connecting definite sounds with definite ideas; for it is certain that some parrots, which have been taught to speak, connect unerringly words with things, and persons with events. The lower animals differ from man solely in his almost infinitely larger power of associating together the most diversified sounds and ideas; and this obviously depends on the high development of his mental powers” (1874, p. 88).
There appears to be little data to help us understand the development of language during the approximately 200,000 years of Homo sapiens. How about writing? Writing involves the expressions of language by letters or other marks. Writing as we know it shows up about 5,000-6,000 years ago, and it was preceeded by various forms of numerical recording.
Before Children Talk, They Understand
“…infants, between the ages of ten and twelve months, …understand many words and short sentences, but cannot utter a single word.”
– Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1874, p. 88
“By the time babies start to talk they have already acquired a great deal of world knowledge…”
– Daniel Stern, M.D., The Interpersonal World of the Infant, 1985(p. 168)
“…some senses of the self do exist long prior to self-awareness and language. These include the senses of agency, of physical cohesion, of continuity in time, of having intentions in mind, and other such experiences…”
– Daniel Stern, M.D., The Interpersonal World of the Infant, 1985(p. 6)
When we talk about the importance of language, we almost automatically think in terms of when the child begins to speak. But long before the child speaks, s/he is listening—and understanding far more than we used to think. We are talking about language and infancy—roughly the period prior to 1-2 years of age. “Infant” means incapable of speech—but it does not mean incapable of understanding speech. In fact, psychoanalytic researchers and clinicians, who deal with early parent-infant interactions, have begun to ask if there is any “nonverbal” period of development (Vivona, 2013). Why? Because, the baby is immersed in words as well as sounds from pregnancy onwards. So the idea is that words and affects and meanings combine very early on.
Next month, we will continue exploring the notion that children know a great deal of language before they can talk.
References for Interested Readers
Darwin C (1871). The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. London: John Murray. 1st Edition. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. 2nd Edition. London: John Murray, 1874. Quotes from 2nd Edition, Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1998.
Mayr E (2001). What Evolution Is. NY: Basic Books.
Vivona JM (2013). Is there a nonverbal period of development? JAPA 60: 231-265.
Guest Column: Nancy Kobrin, Ph.D.
The Prologue to Jihadi Violence Begins in Childhood
This all began when Dr. Paul and I were classmates at the Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis in the early 1980s. To this day I find reading his Parenting and Child Resources Newsletter with Paul C. Holinger, M.D. enormously helpful for my work in counter terrorism.
In the last newsletter, attention was given to Anger. In terrorism, the affect of anger is known by its social equivalent as Hatred. The world renown psychoanalyst, Vamik Volkan, M.D., a Turkish Muslim who grew up in war torn Cyprus, stated that the need to hate and the need to have an enemy is learned behavior occurring in the home by age three. Some experts even believe that moral development occurs earlier, perhaps by age one, very similar to the acquisition of language. The mother is the cultural interpreter for the baby. See Prof. Aner Govrin, The ABC of moral development: An attachment approach to moral judgment, http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00006/abstract.
Prior to my training in psychoanalysis, I had become immersed in the coexistence of the three Abrahamic faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam in medieval Spain. I studied Arabic and Old Spanish written in Arabic script, along with Hebrew and Latin. I had wanted to read the Quran and understand the Muslim communities who had lived there.
When people hear about my background in psychoanalysis, it may sound odd—but actually these areas of study interrelate and enhance one another concerning individual and historical trauma, violence, terrorism, and communal identity. Group psychology helps us understand group behavior; for instance, how the west is more dominated by the individual mind as opposed to the group mind of more repressive cultures. During the Middle Ages, the group self was also more important than the individual self. This knowledge came in handy when I shifted to studying the Jihadis, where the group self remains more important than that of the individual. At the Chicago Institute we studied child development, identity, and trauma. My interest focused on trauma, especially victims of terrorist attacks.
However, when the Islamic suicide truck bombs went off in Lebanon in the early 1980s murdering American and French troops, I began thinking about the mind of the terrorist. They bond or attach themselves to others through violence. They are terrified of intimacy. I came to look at them as if they were "little toddlers emotionally," trapped in adult bodies in play therapy. Yet I remained fully aware that this was not play.
My work depends a lot on practical experience. I do prison interviews, teach law enforcement and the military, both in the U.S. and abroad, even Sri Lanka. I immigrated to Israel four years ago, which has deepened my understanding of the Middle East. My third book, The Maternal Drama of the Chechen Jihadi (Boston Marathon Attack), brought me to the Ukraine recently to learn about the Chechen terrorists who are fighting there. This on-the-ground experience, coupled with years of training and clinical practice, had been invaluable.
Each terrorist speaks a unique unconscious personal "pantomime," acting out their emotions funneled through radical ideologies. Terrorists harbor a rage which exceeds murder itself. They are like serial killers in that they are obsessed with people, with the infidels. Killing once is never enough. They must kill repeatedly and dismantle the body through beheadings, and body parts etc.
Terrorists do not have empathy nor do they care to think about the meaning of their actions from a psychological point of view. They lack insight into their behavior. This reveals to us that they have a cognitive deficit. My hunch is they did not have anyone to help them understand their affective emotional life. The maternal attachment was at risk. This is not to blame the mother because growing up in a shame honor culture, she was the victim of chronic rage and abuse living under a death threat. Yet the terrorists did not learn to put their feelings into words, something that we take for granted in the west.
All the terrorist groups which have spawned suicide bombing have arisen out of shame honor cultures. Shame is the most powerful crippling emotion which makes one feel defective and full of rage. In these cultures, shame has become ritualized as acceptable. Shaming behavior is based on humiliating the other. It becomes "normalized."
Yet, can my theory help explain those converts to Islam who become Jihadis? I believe so—because even though they may have grown up in the West, my research suggested that child rearing practices entailed shaming in their dysfunctional families.
In shame honor cultures and families, the female is devalued. She has no standing in her community until she has a male baby. The baby is her narcissistic object of honor. Because of this, the baby is treated as an object, not as a person in his own right. Further complicating the familial dynamics is the fact that the mother was also devalued. She endured years of being the chronic target of rage and abuse.
In shame honor cultures, one can not get their needs met in an appropriate way. Needs are considered "dirty." Even a simple need like going to the bathroom can not be met in an appropriate way. These dirty needs are split off from the shamed self and projected onto the external object of hate. Another need concerns sexuality. In shame honor cultures, you can not talk about sex. It is highly repressed. For example, the honor killing concerns any hint of sexual impropriety and entails the murder of the female. The mother unconsciously communicates her annihilation anxiety to her baby. She will be murdered by her own family if perceived as having "dishonored" them.
The ironic tragedy is that the devalued female-turned-mother is the one who builds the brain of the baby. She can be thought of as Intel, the computer company. She "makes the computer chip" for the brain of the baby. Maternal attachment is key to understanding what went wrong during early childhood for these terrorists, along with genetics and epigenetics. It is not solely maternal attachment, but we know that terrorists did not develop empathy during the crucial time frame from in utero to age three. Again, I do not blame the female, whatsoever. I highlight the hardship she endures to raise her child in a calm hate-free environment.
Furthermore, in these instances, religious ideologies are often used by parents to dissipate their own anxieties by manipulating and controlling their children. Ideologies act as a girdle for a fragile personality. The rage resulting from not being listened to and empathically understood is funneled through the "religious pipeline" of beliefs. The mounting rage is projected outward onto the feminized Other. Ironically, parents who hate reveal to us that they grew up being shamed. Hatred masks terror of the Other. The trauma repeats itself across generations.
In 2010, I was interviewed for a documentary called Body Language (2012). Its director, Doïna Harap, contacted me after reading my first book, The Banality of Suicide Terrorism. I had developed a theory of imagery to explain terrorism's unconscious nonverbal communication. Ninety-five percent of what we communicate, we do so nonverbally. Harap interviewed a series of neuroscientists and experts on autism whose findings corroborated my descriptive analysis that terrorists lack empathy. These specialists also believe that something went wrong for the terrorists during early childhood. I described their disorganized attachment.
Terrorists are not aware of how revealing their behavior is. They are like a patient on a locked ward in a psychiatric hospital, who sits frozen and shivering. This patient can not tell us in words that he is emotionally freezing to death. He communicates his terror of freezing to death to us nonverbally. The terrorist is similar. The terrorist becomes the terror, as my good colleague, Joan Lachkar, Ph.D., has so aptly put it. The terrorist then projects into us his terror, terrifying us. If we know and understand this, we can see that the terrorists are terrified and, in turn, we will be less terrified. We still must keep in mind that they are predators. If we understand that they lack empathy, we can be more effective in profiling, setting limits, and intervening earlier.
Understanding childhood development is key to dismantling the political violence of terrorism. I continue to be interested in the interlocking links of its violence arising in the home and playing out under the rubric of political violence of terrorism. The problem lies dormant, somewhat hidden from sight of the untrained eye and seen only when the violence is triggered years later during adolescence through radicalization. In fact, they were radicalized long before. The radical for radicalization is grounded in early childhood development.
We are still in the early stages of understanding all the aspects of political violence. It is probably a volatile mix of genetics, neurobiology, and environment, with the latter's key component being the "nest" of the maternal attachment. We must remember four things concerning political terrorism of Islamic suicide terrorism:
We are more alike than we are different.
All behavior is potentially meaningful.
Violence is violence. It does not care how we humans label it be it domestic violence or political violence.
Everyone has a mother.
If you are interested in learning more about terrorism, I invite you to read my third book, The Maternal Drama of the Chechen Jihadi. It is a free download made available through a special book project by the well-known publisher of psychoanalysis and psychology, Jason Aronson. He invited me to write on any aspect of terrorism. It was a big honor for me, just as it is to contribute to Dr. Holinger's newsletter. My book is available at www.freepsychotherapybooks.org. If you look to the right in the margin, you can see that people are downloading books from all over the world—Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia etc. The more we can educate and give people the tools to treat troubled children early on, the less violence there will be in this world. I hope you have found my contribution of interest.
Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin, Ph.D. is a fellow at the American Center for Democracy. She is a psychoanalyst, Arabist, and counter-terrorist expert. She has authored three books on terrorism. The Maternal Drama of the Chechen Jihadi is a free download at http://www.freepsychotherapybooks.org/. It contains an extensive bibliography on terrorism. Dr. Kobrin is at work on her next book, The Dictionary of Desperanto: How Terrorists Misuse Objects. She lives with her partner Professor Yitzhak Reiter, one of Israel's leading authorities on the Arab minority in Tel Aviv, and they have eight grandchildren.
References for Interested Readers
Strozier CB, Terman DM, Jones JW, Boyd K (2010). The Fundamentalist Mindset: Psychological Perspectives on Religion, Violence, and History. New York: Oxford University Press.
Pros and Cons: Controversy Follows The Elf on the Shelf
Have you read The Elf on the Shelf? Our colleague, Rick Herrick, points out the controversy which surrounds this book. Elphie reports good and bad behavior to Santa. Adherents of this book suggest this enhances positive behaviors. Others note that the feelings which cause the behaviors are neglected, resulting in a harsh rigidity and lack of ambivalence and decision-making. What do you think? Google has a lot of discussion about this.
There is also a parody of this book titled The Elf off the Shelf: Christmas Tradition Gone Bad (2011).
A Great Emotional Catch
The parents of Gail (4-year-old) and Susie (1-year-old) were out of town for five days, during which time the grandparents stayed with the children. When the parents returned, Mother asked Gail how it had gone. Gail responded it was fun, but she did scream a little because her parents were gone. Mother asked whether Gail apologized for screaming, and Gail said, “No.” Gail’s empathic aunt was there at the time and suggested that Gail probably screamed because she was distressed that her Mommy and Daddy were gone. Gail agreed, and Mother picked up on this, saying, “I’m sure you were upset and missed us, and we missed you very much!”
Dr. Holinger's Recommended Book of the Month
Faber A, Mazlish E (1987). Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too. New York: WW Norton
This is a useful book for understanding siblings and their conflicts. The authors stress the importance of focusing on feelings—labeling and interpreting feelings—in order to help deal with sibling issues.
About Dr. Paul Holinger
Dr. Holinger is the former Dean of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and a founder of the Center for Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy. His focus is on infant and child development. Dr. Holinger is also the author of the acclaimed book What Babies Say Before They Can Talk.
The evolution of articulate language
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Great Kids, Great Parents
Language has been described as one of humans' most important evolutionary advances. We will explore language with specific reference to individual development and its relationship to affects and cognition.
Mature Audiences Only:
Ethics and Morality
|Take This Gratitude Quiz, Then Assess Your Love Life
We know from a growing body of research that the benefits of gratitude include deeper love connections to happiness, and improved physical and mental health.
As people look at cards of hearts, flowers and love notes to send for Valentine’s Day, we might consider a gift for our own hearts -- an abundance garden.
This is as simple as planting seeds of blessings, compliments, forgiveness and the words “thank you.” As with any garden, to reap a bountiful harvest will require daily weeding, which is more challenging than it seems. It is difficult to weed out of criticism, snide remarks, and unkind words that slip from the tongue. Even the silent treatment has negative effects.
We often talk about gratitude, but here is a definition from a publication in the US National Library of Medicine, NIH:
“Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation. (1)
Whether or not you consider yourself to be a grateful person, there is always an opportunity for introspection and growth. You may be grateful during happy times, but what happens when you are sad? And how do you assess gratitude?
I’ve looked at many questionnaires including the Gratitude Resentment and Appreciation Test, but the following one is brief and poignant.
Gratitude Assessment Quiz:
The University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center, has a list of quizzes. This one, from the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC), University of California, Berkeley, helps us to assess our gratitude attitude.
Using the scale below as a guide, write a number beside each statement to indicate how much you agree or disagree with it.
1 = strongly disagree
2 = disagree
3 = slightly disagree
4 = neutra;
5 = slightly agree
6 = agree
7 = strongly agree
I have so much in life to be thankful for. ____
If I had to list everything that I felt grateful for, it would be a very long list. ____
When I look at the world, I don’t see much to be grateful for.* ____
I am grateful to a wide variety of people. ____
As I get older I find myself more able to appreciate the people, events, and situations that have been part of my life history. ____
Long amounts of time can go by before I feel grateful to something or someone.
You do not need a team of researchers to score this for you as your answers will give you a good indication and a close-up look at yourself. (Rating information in Reference 2)
If you happen to agree with #3 or #6, you may need a gratitude boost. Keep in mind that researchers find that gratitude is an attitude not a feeling. If you practice gratitude, you will eventually become more grateful. If gratitude eludes you at times -- Here is a link to 4 Steps to Gratitude in Happy Times or Sad Ones.
These three thoughts on growing gratitude might also be helpful.
The abundance garden: Buy a journal and upon awakening in the morning or before going to bed at night, make at least three notations of gratitude. Express thanks for birds singing, rain against a window, a peaceful day. In fact even be grateful for the difficulty you may have experienced and rise about it, accept it rather than turn to negativity.
A positive spin on negativity: When negative thoughts occur, instead of dwelling upon them, replace them with positive images. For example, those who keep gratitude journals know that it is healthier to say, “I wish that I can feel loving again,” rather than saying, “I wish I could get over this anger.” Feelings of resentment are roadblocks that may prevent you from receiving your good. "I'm always unlucky in love" is a roadblock statement.
The specifics of gratitude: It seems that being specific can create more genuine feelings between two people. In “10 Steps to Savoring the Good Things in Life” from the GGSC, Jeremy Adam Smith writes, “the really skilled grateful person will say: ‘I love you for the pancakes you make when you see I’m hungry and the way you massage my feet after work even when you’re really tired and how you give me hugs when I’m sad so that I’ll feel better!’”
At Victoria University in New Zealand and at Harvard University, researchers are now reinforcing the work of Loyola University social psychologist Fred Bryant, PhD, “Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience.” A key benefit to savoring gratitude is seen in strengthened relationships and improved people skills. (3)
Another benefit of gratitude is the way our bodies react. Grateful people often smile rather than frown. Researcher Matthew Hertenstein from DePauw University noted that nonverbal communication and smiles can help predict everything from IQ scores to marital success. Looking through yearbooks, Hertenstein’s photo-prediction experiment appeared to accurately determine marriage success just based on smiles. (4)
Gratitude is a powerful attitude to help strengthen relationships. Here is a thought from Christine Carter, PhD.
What I’ve learned about gratitude’s role in our love stories is this: It starts within our own self. When we consciously foster feelings of appreciation for our loved ones—whether by doing a gratitude mediation about them every morning or by deliberately focusing on specific things we love about them—our relationship improves.
We feel more in love. They feel more connected. We foster those love-story feelings we crave.
The grateful peson finds happiness in the everyday and it bubbles over attracting others into their joy, their loving-kindness.
1. Randy A. Sansone, MD and Lori A. Sansone, MD, Gratitude and Well Being, The Benefits of Appreciation, Psychiatry (Edgmont). Nov 2010; 7(11): 18–22.
2. McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The Grateful Disposition: A conceptual and Empirical Topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 112-127. Positive Psychology /Gratitude Questionnaire - GQ6
3. Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
4. Matthew Hertenstein, PhD: The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are (Also discussed in my post Love Connections: The Duchene Smile and Gratitude)
5. Carter, Christine, PhD: A Surprisingly Simple Way to Feel Madly in Love, Greater Good Science Center, November 14, 2011
Copyright 2015 Rita Watson
Have you assessed your gratitude today?
Blog to Post to:
With Love and Gratitude
As people look at cards of hearts and flowers to send for Valentine’s Day, we might consider creating an abundance garden in our own hearts, one that can attract love or strengthen love.
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