August 24, 2009

Six Psychology Myths

Cracked doesn't exactly have a reputation for scientific journalism. But they hit the nail on the head with their six mistaken facts, therein referred to as BS, about psychology that people tend to believe. And spout off at cocktail parties when they don't know they're talking to an actual psychologist.

You can read the whole piece here and I urge you to do so because the writers at Cracked have a way with words that I can't duplicate here.

But I'll summarize:

BS #1: So angry you want to smash something? Think you'll feel better afterwards?

Fact*: Don't. It won't help and will probably lead to more anger down the road. We're better off managing our anger, controlling it, letting go of it, deep breathing and changing the way we think about the situation that is leading to our anger. Less anger is better than "getting it all out" in some kind of aggressive rage. Kind of undercuts one of the selling points of Sarah's Smash Shack. Sorry, Sarah. (But I still wouldn't mind giving it a shot.)

BS #2: You can do anything you want to do as long as you believe in yourself.

Fact: Better success can be had with learning self improvement skills. Take lessons. Practice. Practice some more. And yes, work on improving your self-image while you're at it. Drop negative self-talk. Give yourself affirming messages. But increasing your "self esteem" alone? Probably not gonna cut it, unless you already have a good skill set.

BS #3: People who join cults are naive idiots.

Fact: Cult members are no less smart, on the whole, than you or me. Cults target people who are in transition, vulnerable, feeling desperate, and in need of social affiliation.

BS #4: Subliminal messages cause us to buy things we don't want or need.

Fact: Nope. There's no conclusive evidence that it works.

BS #5: Lie detectors work.

Fact: Slightly better than flipping a coin, yes. Which means, too many times it says we're lying, when we're not. There are ways to beat polygraphs. There are variables that interfere with producing reliable results. They're not admissable in court and with good reason.

BS #6: All homophobes are secretly gay.

Fact: Again, no real evidence supports this widely circulated belief. People who hate or fear homosexuality report a range of reasons. Yes, there are some who are secretly harboring homosexual impulses and they are too ashamed to deal with it. But there are others who rant and rage for the effect or because they've grown up being fed a lot of negative messages about gays and lesbians, not because they're deep down attracted to same sex individuals.

*refers to what is widely believed in the psychological community at this moment in time.

Image source: John Malkovich in Burn After Reading (see it for his performance alone).

Sandy Andrews, PhD , Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist in Austin, Texas

August 4, 2009

Are you Shoulding on Yourself Again?

In the cognitive part of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) we look for thinking patterns that get in the way of healthy feelings and behavior. Thoughts associated with unhappy feelings.

Sad, anxious, angry, shameful, hurtful feelings.

One of the easiest thoughts to identify and change are those that contain the word "should."

Should statements, as they are called.

You should go check on your neighbor. He hasn't been out much lately.

I should
exercise more.

She shouldn't talk to her in that tone of voice.

Should statements are one form of automatic negative thoughts, or ANTS. Should implies that someone has done something wrong. Or bad. That someone behind you is shaking a finger, going, "tsk, tsk, tsk, bad person."

The shoulds are often immediately followed by subtle feelings of shame and guilt. Sometimes not consciously detected. But it's there. The essence of it. Building up throughout the day, if you happen to be a daily should-er. Many of us use should statements dozens of times a day, if not hundreds. Out loud or silently, to ourselves.

I should be able to figure this out.

She should be more careful.

You should buy the red sweater.

Shoulding on oneself. Shoulding on others.

The examples above aren't all that toxic, granted. But the effect is insideous. Disapproval. Judging. You're doing wrong. I'm unworthy. These feelings can add up. At the end of the day, we feel more stressed out. More hostile. More _____ (fill in the blank with an unpleasant feeling). Its cumulative. It adds up. I know this personally. I know this professionally.

Even the innocuous, commonly heard response to receiving an unexpected gift, "You shouldn't have!" It delivers an entirely different message when, instead, we say, "You are so thoughtful. Thank you."

How to remedy this common thinking error? In some cases, change should to want. Or wish. Or like.

I want to figure this out.

I wish she would be more careful.

I like the red sweater. I hope you buy that one.

The idea is to change the negative, judgemental idea to something with a positive message. Or more positive. More upbeat. More hopeful.

Below are a few examples that are a little more toxic. Try to change them yourself.

You should watch what you eat.

He should take better care of his car. We're not made of money!

I shouldn't be having these thoughts. She just died, afterall.

And how about the image at the top of this post. Vanity Fair cover of teen television star, Miley Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana, of Disney Channel. Does this image of a 15-year-old bring up a should statement or two?

I don't know about you, but I feel slightly better when I say, "I wish young stars (and their agents) didn't feel pressure to pose in such a sexually suggestive manner." Instead of, "She should not be posing like that. What were her parents thinking?"