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Volcanoes and Traumas!

11 Jul

It was pretty obvious when the tsunami hit Indonesia in the early 2000s that this horrific natural disaster would have far-reaching consequences — to the people who lived in this region, to their homes and economic well-being, and to the holiday visitors all taken totally unaware.

Like a tsunami or a volcano which remains dormant for years or decades, a trauma can “go underground,” with the trauma victim “carrying on as normal.” But the fact is that those who have suffered a trauma are severely handicapped in their ability to cope with life. The time between a trauma and the after-effects presented in therapy can be as short as one hour or as long as decades. There are innumerable events which can precipitate a trauma in anyone’s life:

  • an accident in which there is a loss of any kind, including loss of life, injury, loss or damage to property
  • any kind of natural disaster, including but not limited to fire, flooding, earthquake, volcanic eruption, mudslides, tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes
  • a war zone, including any violence experienced in an inner city environment
  • rape or incest
  • bullying, whether that be in person or in social media
  • numerous traumatic incidents during childhood and adolescence, including physical fighting or verbal abuse in the family
  • lack of emotional connection to others in the family
  • alcoholism or other addiction
  • a hostile work environment

Any and all of these experiences are of course experienced through an individual’s unique person — his/her personality type, psyche and physical constitution. A hallmark of PTSD is that the person feels that his/her very being is threatened by extinction. We can easily see this in the horrific events of war or in natural disasters. Yet when a person enters a hostile work environment most days of the week and remains there from early morning to late afternoon, he may feel that his inner being is being extinguished. He may have the same symptoms of post-traumatic stress as a survivor of an enemy attack. Let’s look at some of the symptoms:

  • flashbacks to the traumatic scene
  • hypervigilance and/or a startle response
  • triggers that reactivate the traumatic experience
  • dreams in which the distressing events recur
  • overreacting to others’ verbalizations
  • sleep disturbance
  • negative or depressive emotional state
  • inability to remember aspects of the traumatic event(s)

Counselors who have special training to help clients with post-traumatic stress usually employ EMDR and/or Brain Spotting. EMDR is an earlier technology developed in the early 1990s by Francine Shapiro. The letters stand for Eye Movement Desensization and Reprocessing. The client talks about the scenario which initiated the trauma, and the therapist gathers information, including

  1. What is the worst part of the scenario?
  2. What is the image (mental picture) you have of the experience?
  3. What thoughts do you have about it?
  4. What beliefs do you have about yourself in this situation?
  5. Where in your body do you feel discomfort as we talk about the trauma?
  6. On a scale of 1 – 10, where 10 is the highest imaginable discomfort, where are you right now?

The therapist then initiates eye movements or hand movements to begin release of the trauma from the client’s nervous system. After a series of biolateral movements, the client and the therapist debrief, noting if anything in any of the above modalities has changed. The therapist will then make an intervention and proceed with another series of eye or hand movements.

In Brain Spotting, the therapist will normally make use of biolateral sound delivered through headphones hooked up to an IPod or an IPhone. This is a newer technology developed by David Grand, who initially was an EMDR practitioner. In helping athletes overcome “mental blocks” which prevented them from achieving a new level in their sport, he discovered that if he lingered over a specific eye position, there was a release of trauma from the area of the brain associated with the eye position. After much research and study, he developed a course to teach therapists how to deliver brain spotting, which focuses on the body and specifically the nervous system as the “container” of trauma. Brain Spotting is truly an amazing and effective tool to aid trauma sufferers.

 

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“What Was That?”

1 Jul

“I don’t get it! What are you trying to say?” Sometimes when we are with a person we know fairly well, we are dumb-founded by a comment they make or a reaction they exhibit. We wonder where it is coming from. This is especially true when your friend seems to overreact to an event or a comment. Her reaction seems totally out of proportion.

You may not have thought that this was stemming from the other person’s nervous system. It can well be a psychophysiological response! Thus it’s not just attitude!

In the universe Earth is sometimes pommeled by an asteroid or a comet. Or the dust from a nuclear explosion obscures the sun so that there is no growing season for quite a while. Traumatic events like these occur from time to time. Some of them are man-made, such as the recent nuclear reactor failing to cool in Japan. Others occur naturally, such as a tsunami that hit Indonesia several years ago.

In the microcosm of our individual lives events of parallel proportions sometimes occur. And people are able to recover equilibrium to a greater or lesser degree. For example, following the death of his wife, John was unable to go back to the home they had jointly shared. He chose instead to stay with one child, then another, and finally stayed with a sibling for a while. After short-term counseling he was able to go home, get connected with a grief group, and begin his former activities. If all continues to go in that direction, he will reestablish connections with friends and community and once again have a satisfying life.

However, many individuals have a much more difficult time developing resiliency after a loss or trauma. Grief and trauma tend to “piggyback” — that is, we do not handle more grief and trauma better because we are used to it! Unless we actually do the hard work of grieving or of releasing our trauma, it will remain within our psyche and continue to influence how we think, how we feel, and how we interact with others.

Trauma, as opposed to “pure grief,” sets up the nervous system to overreact to everyday events. What is so insidious about trauma is that it becomes embedded in the nervous system and the person is no longer aware of the traumatic event or events. Most often this kind of trauma may refer to events that occurred decades ago! And trauma does not have to mean a single, unspeakable event. Thus trauma could be a one-time occurrence, for example, a molestation or rape by a previously well-loved and trusted individual OR it could be a series of horrific events. An example of this might be growing up in a home with drug and/or alcohol abuse in which there are nightly bouts between parents involving screaming and possible physical violence. This particular scenario might be likened to living in an inner city or even in a ghetto in Syria.

Often people come into therapy for their marriage, but what they are really dealing with is the trauma suffered by one or both spouses earlier in life. The nervous system has held onto this trauma, unbeknownst to them. But when a spouse makes a suggestion, all hell may break loose! The reaction may be totally out of proportion to the original comment, thus “What was that?” Partners are left dumb-founded and at a loss to understand what has happened in this interchange.  To an observer, it may become clear that there was a trigger, a word, a gesture, which set off the reactionary response.

Fortunately, for trauma survivors there is an excellent prognosis. There are several methods to help release the trauma from the nervous system. I will plan to tell you about two of them in my next blog!

 

 

You’ve Got Attitude!

27 Jun

Well, what is your attitude?! Today I am writing about Your Attitude, your stance, in everyday life. It seems to me that “attitude” is a rather complex phenomenon composed of Perception, Belief System, and Behavior.
How we perceive anything depends on our physical relationship to the object or person we are perceiving. It also depends on similar events we have cataloged in our memory bank, which obviously color what we are currently perceiving.
Our individual perception of an event or a person also depends on stored, unconscious memories which directly (not through a thought process) affect our current perception. In the unconscious are held all stereotypes, which of course we never examine via our prefrontal cortex — unless we are made aware of them.
Individual perception is also dependent on personality type to some extent. The Myers Briggs Personality Indicator notes two opposite classes of perception: Sensing (S) and Intuition (N). People who innately prefer Sensing (about 75% of Americans) perceive a reality composed of information coming in from all five senses in great detail. Those who perceive using Intuition have a more diffuse overview of the entire situation or gamut.

Your belief system is again often unconsciously held. It may be a combination of themes from childhood; that is, from experiences at home, at school, at church or in temple, and in the community. From our parents and care givers we may have adopted — or rejected — certain values which were important to them, including beliefs about the role of courage, compassion, persistence, work ethic, and not least about raising our own children.

Beliefs which are positive build up the individual, give him or her a strong faith in the universe and in herself. They also promote a sense of hope in how things will turn out and a positivity about himself in the world. They result in a strong character ready to take on all challenges which present themselves. On the other hand, people who grow up in a depressive or hostile atmosphere may demonstrate a negative belief system, comprised of cant’s and hopelessness.

We can see two types of attitudes in formation:

  1. the positive, can do attitude and
  2. the negative, glass half empty attitude.

Each of these attitudes brings with it certain behaviors, which affect everyone involved with the person with “the attitude.” Positive persons with strong, helpful belief systems energize and inspire others. Negative, depressive persons drain others’ energy. After having spent some time with a negative person, one feels exhausted. Perhaps one has proposed a number of options to “help” this person, only to be given a long list of why each wouldn’t work. The glass remains half empty for those with a negative attitude.

There are a number of excellent options in the world of therapy for these depressive individuals and not just medication. Cognitive behavioral therapists work directly and intently with negative thought patterns and belief systems to move perception to “the glass is half full”! There are affirmation cards, journals, written exercises, challenges to negative perceptions, and so on.

There are also deeper methods which help release from the nervous system traumas that have lain undisturbed to do their “dirty work” for years and sometimes decades. I will write more about them in my next blog on “You’ve Got Attitude!”

Develop Greater Consciousness as a Leader!

8 Jul

If you deal with employees in the capacity of supervisor or team leader, it’s advantageous to consider applying the concept of “shaping behavior” to your work. This term was probably first used by the humanist psychologist Scott Peck, author of many books, among them, “The Road Less Traveled.”
Peck used the metaphor of a gardener loving his plants and trees. If you love this living “being” in your garden you will do the following:
1. water your tree,
2. fertilize it, and
3. prune it
In so doing, you shape the growth of your tree and ultimately show it to its best advantage.
Whether caring about your employees or whether loving your children, this same metaphor applies. When an employee in your organization or a child in your family does something right, you want to reward that behavior so that you will experience more of it!
The greatest ‘reward” you can provide are words of legitimate praise for a task well done. Words of praise from a respected leader far surpass any monetary reward you can provide your employee. If the employee respects you for your work ethic, your fairness, and your appreciation of his/her situation, your words will mean a great deal to him/her. The employee will want to continue to do a good job for you, the leader.
Another reward that is often overlooked as a morale booster is offer of enhanced duties in the workplace (or at home, as the case may be). Offering the employee enhanced duties — with of course appropriate support in carrying them out — says that you trust this person and therefore entrust important tasks to him/her.
Rewards such as a bonus or raise, flexible hours or choice in holidays are also much appreciated and also convey the message that the employee and his/her work ethic is noticed. However, the psychological impact of words or praise or enhanced duties far outweighs any monetary rewards.
On the home front, monetary rewards such as an allowance can be a great teaching tool for young people. An allowance should be tied to the chores assigned and the level of completion. If the parent helps the child establish a savings account, the child can learn to save part of his/her earnings — not all, because there needs to be some “mad money” the child can use for whatever is fun.
As a leader one also has to consider the consequences of untoward behavior in the workplace (or at home). Here, two words come to mind: discipline versus punishment. In the metaphor of shaping behavior, which we used above, discipline would be likened to pruning the tree. When we discipline those in our care, we allow them to take the consequences of their ill-thought-out behavior. We come at the task of discipline with a calm and fair mind, so as to write an evaluation that is accurate but also extends to the corrective action which the employee can take. This calm mind is not influenced by any angry reactions to the situation. Instead the calm mind sees beyond the present moment into the future reparations which the employee (or child) will make, and ALL IS WELL.
Punishment by contrast usually emerges from an angry mind, intent on getting revenge or caught up in the leader’s own ego. If a leader thinks only about the impressions s/he will make on bosses and peers, such a person will be caught up in all the “dark green” emotions which emerge instantaneously from a difficult situation. Such a leader will be filled with anger, shame, frustration, embarrassment, etc.
If you are not just on earth to accumulate as much material wealth and power as you can, but feel a higher calling to help others reach their potential, while striving for this in your own life, then you will want to develop greater consciousness as a leader!

A Good Parent, a Good Leader?

25 Jun

What’s surprising is that the same skills are needed for both jobs!  Good leaders demonstrate the skills of supporting their employees and guiding them. This means that good leaders are present to employees who are either going through a difficult situation in their personal lives or are under great stress in the workplace. Enormous amounts of stress in the workplace can result from a hostile work environment with cliques or gossip among peers or with egotism displayed by supervisors. A good leader is aware of dysfunctional group dynamics and will seek to address this situation through mediation preferably by a third, unbiased professional. Egotism, on the other hand, is almost impossible to be aware of in oneself, and egotism — or narcissism — is a fairly common phenomenon in the workplace and in families. It would take the intervention of a person with higher authority to deal with a destructive narcissist.

However, supervisors can be open to allowing for some flexibility (even if it’s just 15 minutes of “flex time”) with stressed out employees. This bit of leeway plus having an open door and nonjudgmental attitude can go “yards” with helping employees feel understood. When an employee feels understood, s/he will demonstrate a “buy-in” for the current project and will experience a reward that may mean much more than a bonus! We at Beyond the Horizons Consulting would be happy to brain storm with you about the kinds of creative rewards which will result in a win-win outcome for leaders and employees!

Let’s now look at the skill of guiding employees. Guiding an employee can be applied to (1) skills sets necessary to the job; (2) proper ways of communicating, both in verbal and in written expression; and (3) the employee’s growth as a person. Nowadays skill sets are often learned through online courses or webinars. However, some skills are best learned hands-on or through demonstration by a supervisor. We need to remember that individuals learn on different channels — visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and so on. An apprentice chef, for example, may learn much more on the kinesthetic channel, checking out the texture of the foods s/he is preparing.

Teaching the proper way to communicate is likewise possible through online courses and webinars. However, we at BTHC also see that in-person workshops would have an important role. In these workshops the facilitator can demonstrate proper and improper communications through email, for example. Videos with actors demonstrating the verbals and nonverbals of person-to-person communication can also be powerful. What cannot be done in other learning formats is small group practice. Situations and roles are distributed to the participants, and their playing of the roles allows them to experience first-hand what is involved in a particular communication.

Probably the most difficult area in guiding employees is helping the employee grow as a person. Here the supervisor needs to hold the employee responsible to his or her job description. In addition,  a good leader needs to “hold an employee’s feet to the fire” in terms of making the employee accountable for behaviors the employee has agreed to. Guiding an employee also involves making available resources for them to learn new skills and encouraging them to take advantage of such opportunities.

In the workplace today we are faced with a new generation of employees — the millenials. The millenials are in their early twenties and have largely grown up with only a measured amount of support BUT little to no guidance in their lives. (This is the crucial connection between leadership in the workplace and leadership in the family!) Their parents have in most cases both had to work to provide for the family. After the age of 12, many of these young people have been “latch-key” kids with time on their hands after school and no parental supervision. They may have little self-discipline. Often they present as “bored,” and they surely do not have a clue as to what will be expected of them in the workplace. Unfortunately, many have been given many privileges, such as expensive electronic devices, at an early age, and they view such amenities as their right, not a privilege. Our upcoming generation has probably had few if any chores to complete in the household, again because the parents were too busy either working or dealing with their own “dramas” at home or in the workplace to make the children accountable for reasonable tasks within the family. This leaves us with a couple of intriguing questions: (1) Who will teach our future leaders? (2) Will these future leaders — supposing they will develop leadership skills — be able to motivate their millennial employees?

 

Some Little-Known Facts about Personality Type

11 Jun

We at Beyond the Horizons Consulting can’t overestimate the value of the MBTI personality type indicator to teams in the work place and in the lives of couples and families. We are close to concluding our series on personality type a la Carl Gustav Jung, and the mother-daughter team (Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers) who put the Myers Briggs Type Indicator together. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t share some information on personality type throughout an individual’s lifetime and also some statistics you, dear reader, may find interesting as you contemplate your own personality type.
Many people ask, “Doesn’t my personality change over the course of my life?” The answer is, Yes and No. If we look at midlife as being sometime around age 40, we can make the general statement that a person is usually “established” by this time in life. We can think of a person establishing him/herself in terms of creating a longstanding relationship; perhaps having children to raise; having a satisfying career; having a home and an extended family — i.e., a community — with whom to relate. These are the outward signs of having “deep roots” as a person approaching or already in midlife.
Some of the inward signs of establishing oneself are a comfortability with self; an acceptance of one’s strengths and weaknesses; an openness to relate to others of different temperaments; a willingness, indeed eagerness to grow beyond one’s limitations.
In terms of personality type, at midlife a person is clear about who they are. They use their dominant function in their work and personal lives, and are clear about their needs to relate to others and to have alone time. Their lifestyle preference (organized, planful and, goal-directed versus spontaneous, playful and in-the-moment) would also be clear to most individuals when the differences are pointed out.
What is not as well recognized is that ideally we are all on a path to incorporate some of the opposite qualities into our “self-portrait.” Thus Introvert and Extrovert each needs to incorporate some of the opposite way relating to the world. The Introvert ideally needs to begin to challenge him/herself to relate to more people as acquaintances and thus gain a larger circle of “friends.” The Extrovert needs to spend more time in self-reflection and thus bring a greater depth to personality.
In like manner, the Intuitive needs to make greater use of facts and figures and to state things in a simpler manner, more understandable by the large majority of persons. The opposite personality function — the Sensor — needs to begin to see the bigger picture, get a sense of the long-term effects of decisions, and so on.
Likewise, the Feeling person needs to begin to not take things personally, to look at events more with impersonal logic rather than his/her own feeling-determined values. On the contrary, maturity for the Thinking person will mean that s/he will begin to make decisions occasionally based on values that are personally important (e.g., based on compassion) over against values held to be universal by the dominant Western society (e.g., what action brings in more money).
Finally, if one has been a Judging type with strong organizational skills and clearly defined goals, midlife may bring an openness to being present in the moment, to doing things spontaneously, and to playfulness. A Perceptive type, on the other hand, may well find a goal to strive for, instead of just going with the flow.
Often when a person retires or switches employment at midlife, new aspects of personality emerge. A person who has had to put on an Extroverted persona for a customer service job, for example, may now discover an Introverted side which likes to go for a walk alone or sit and reflect with a journal.

Why Are Introverts Harder to Understand?

12 May

Is it just because Introverts are quieter that they are harder to understand? No, and it has nothing to do with the number of decibels of their voices either! Introverts don’t purposely keep information from their listeners. It’s a matter of using their considerable gifts in their private, inner life.
With an Extrovert, what you see is what you get. If they prefer to begin their decision-making process with Thinking, then that is what you will notice about them. You will hear the phrase, “I think …” and you will clearly see that they are using universally held principles and ideas to make their decision. Likewise, if Sensing is their primary process, you will hear them enumerate facts and figures effortlessly. Or if Feeling is an Extrovert’s primary way of making a decision, you will hear numerous feeling words and will experience a passionate commitment to their language. Finally, if intuition (N) is the Extrovert’s primary decision-making mode of operation, you will experience broad, visionary statements which present a panorama of the theme under discussion.
With an Introvert, however, that person’s modus operandi is “hidden” in the Introvert’s inner world. Here are some examples:
1. ISTJ: An Introverted Sensing, Thinking personality. This person appears to others as a Thinker, but while this is true, his/her primary function is Sensing. This person has a deep inner world of sense impressions, in other words, a great memory for all the kinds of details one can receive through the five senses. Until you know this person quite well, you will be unaware of the deep well of sense impressions s/he carries beneath the cool Thinking exterior.
2. INFJ: An Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling personality. This person presents a Feeling self to the world. People think of him/her as a warm, caring person. However, this exterior belies a deep Intuitive self, which operates on the inner plane.
3. ISTP: An Introverted, Thinking, Sensing type. This person presents as Sensing. What people notice about the ISTP is how s/he is readily able to pull up data to support any project. What they do NOT notice is that in this person’s inner world s/he is constantly planning and putting into motion logical plans of attack.
It truly is harder to get to know someone who is Introverted. But it’s not any planned deceit on their part. It is simply because they use their favorite process — Thinking, Feeling, Sensing, Intuition — in their Inner world. It will take time for you to get to know them on that Inner level, how they make their decisions, how they perceive things. But perhaps it will be well worth it in our world of frequent glimpses and surface impressions!