The Vulnerability Myth

The perception that vulnerability is weakness is the most widely accepted myth about vulnerability and the most dangerous. When we spend our lives pushing away and protecting ourselves from feeling vulnerable or from being perceived as too emotional, we feel contempt when others are less capable or willing to mask feelings, suck it up, and soldier on. We’ve come to the point where, rather than respecting appreciating the courage and daring behind vulnerability, we let our fear and discomfort become judgment and criticism. 

Our rejections of vulnerability often stems from associating it with dark emotions like fear, shame, grief, sadness, and disappointment—emotions that we don't want to discuss, even when they profoundly affect the way we live, love, work, and even lead. What most of us fail to understand and what took me a decade of research to learn is the vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotions experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual eyes, vulnerability is the path.

Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Regret is overrated

Regret is an emotion, and it is also a punishment that we administer to ourselves. The fear of regret is a factor in many of the decisions that people make (‘Don’t do this, you will regret it’ is a common warning), and the actual experience of regret is familiar. The emotional state has been well described by two Dutch psychologists, who noted that regret is “accompanied by feelings that one should have known better, by a sinking feeling, by thoughts about the mistake one has made and the opportunities lost, by a tendency to kick oneself and to correct one’s mistake, and by wanting to undo the event and to get a second chance.” Intense regret is what you experience when you can most easily imagine yourself doing something other than what you did.

Decision makers know that they are prone to regret, and the anticipation of that painful emotion plays a part in many decisions.

We spend much of our day anticipating, and trying to avoid, the emotional pains we inflict on ourselves. Susceptibility regret, like susceptibility to fainting spells, is a fact of life to which one must adjust.

You can take precautions that will inoculate you against regret. Perhaps the most useful is to be explicit about the anticipation of regret. If you can remember when things go badly that you considered the possibility of regret carefully before deciding, you are likely to experience less of it. You should also know that regret and hindsight bias will come together, so anything you can do to preclude hindsight is likely to be helpful. You should not put too much weight on regret; even if you have some, it will hurt less than you now think.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Falling in Love

Love is not simply a feeling of romantic excitement; it goes beyond intense sexual attraction; it exceeds the thrill at having "captured" a highly desirable social prize. These are emotions that are unleashed at first sight, but they do not constitute love. I wish the whole world knew that fact. These temporary feelings differ from love in that they place the spotlight on the one experiencing them. 'What is happening to Me? This is the most fantastic thing I've ever been through! I think I am in love!'

You see, these emotions are selfish in the sense that they are motivated by our own gratification. They have little to do with the new lover. Such a person has not fallen in love with another person; he has fallen in love with love! And there is an enormous difference between the two.

Real love, in contrast to popular notions, is an expression of the deepest appreciation for another human being; it is an intense awareness of his or her needs and longings for the past, present and future. It is unselfish and giving and caring. And believe me these are not attitudes one 'falls' into at first sight, as though he were tumbling into a ditch.

James Dobson, Emotions - Can You Trust Them?

Too Busy Feeling Bad

You’ve had an awful day—the cat peed on the rug, the dog peed on the cat, the washing machine is busted, World Wrestling has been preempted by Masterpiece Theatre—and you naturally feel out of sorts.

If at that moment you try to imagine how much you would enjoy playing cards with your buddies the next evening, you may mistakenly attribute feelings that are due to the misbehavior of real pets and real appliances ("I feel annoyed") to your imaginary companions ("I don't think I'll go because Nick always ticks me off").

Indeed, one of the hallmarks of depression is that when depressed people think about future events, they cannot imagine liking them very much.

Vacation? Romance? A night on the town? No thanks, I'll just sit here in the dark.

Their friends get tired of seeing them flail about in a thick blue funk, and they tell them that this too shall pass, that it is always darkest before the dawn, that every dog has its day, and several other important cliches. But from the depressed person's point of view, all the flailing makes perfectly good sense because when she imagines the future, she finds it difficult to feel happy today and thus difficult to believe that she will feel happy tomorrow.

We cannot feel good about an imaginary future when we are busy feeling bad about an actual present. But rather than recognizing that this is the inevitable result of the Reality First policy, we mistakenly assume that the future event is the cause of the unhappiness we feel when we think about it.

Our confusion seems terribly obvious to those who are standing on the sidelines, saying things like "You're feeling low right now because Pa got drunk and fell off the porch, Ma went to jail for whupping Pa, and your pickup truck got repossessed—but everything will seem different next week and you'll really wish you'd decided to go with us to the opera."

At some level we recognize that our friends are probably right. Nonetheless, when we try to overlook, ignore, or set aside our current gloomy state and make a forecast about how we will feel tomorrow, we find that it's a lot like trying to imagine the taste of marshmallow while chewing liver. It is only natural that we should imagine the future and then consider how doing so makes us feel, but because our brains are hell-bent on responding to current events, we mistakenly conclude that we will feel tomorrow as we feel today.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

Both Tough and Tender

In many parts of American society it is considered inappropriate for men to express any emotion save one--anger. When a man learns to express other feelings and not be so concerned whether as to whether others think he is strong or “manly” he takes a major step forward.

Sure, there’s a time and place to "come on strong and take no prisoners." But it's a denial of your humanity to oversimplify, hiding behind a narrow definition of manhood. Men must be both tough and tender. Maturity comes when when we understand which one is appropriate at what time.

Stephen Goforth

handling offensive behavior

Whenever possible, express your feelings about offensive behavior from a positive rather than a negative perspective. Negative expressions state your dislike, as in “I hate you when you do that,” “You make me angry,” “You make me feel insecure and unloved,” or “You’re insensitive and overbearing.” You can be more effective if you focus on the common goals and the shortcomings of the interaction, rather than your hatreds.

Goal oriented statements might be, “I think that your behavior and my reaction to it are preventing us from having a pleasant relationship.”

You might try new ways to express your feelings, using metaphors on describing the concrete aspects of your emotional reactions. Thus you might express embarrassment by the metaphor “I feel naked and exposed,” or express conflict by “I feel my head spinning in two directions at once.” Striking metaphors may produce a greater impact than the accustomed “emotional words” that have been worn out in your interchanges with others.

Sharon and Gordon Bower, Asserting Yourself

Other People are Responsible for the Way I Feel

A consistent characteristic of imperative people is the desire to persuade others to be just like them. When encouraged to look back to their childhoods, most imperative people can recall a history of strong persuasion. The parents have been so intent on keeping order that their behavior said, “If I can get you to behave in my world, there will be order.” Developmental years were full of relationships that featured arm-twisting, intimidation, or threats.

Jack told me that he had learned early on that it was not safe to be vulnerable. He told me, “I remember a scene when I was only five or six years old. I had just stepped onto the back porch of our home to set something outside when a very loud clap of thunder sounded. Scared to death, I ran indoors, where my father grabbed me and told me to quit acting so ridiculous. Then my mother scolded me for upsetting my father. I was immediately defensive and told them they were both mean. The next thing I knew, I was smarting from a spanking.”

“In a sense you were in school at times like that.” I said, “You witnessed how effectively they persuaded you to be what they wanted, so you eventually learned to do likewise with your family.”

While it is a good thing to express opinions (as opposed to repressing them), it is not healthy for us to become bossy or condescending or explosive in order to get our way.

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

Assertive v Aggressive

While aggressive behavior injures in order to win, assertive behavior focuses, not on winning as such, but on negotiating reasonable changes in the way both parties behave so as to equalize the balance of social power. The purpose of assertive speaking-up is usually to solve an interpersonal problem.

But assertiveness is not just expressing feelings, laying down the law to someone, and then walking away. In general, to solve problems you must do more than talk back or express feelings; you must be very clear about what you want to accomplish by asserting yourself. You must attend to your feelings, decide what you want, and then use some specific verbal skills to negotiate for the changes you want.

 Assertive problem-solving involves the ability to plan, “sell,” and implement an agreeable contract between yourself and the other person without sounding like a nag, a dictator, or a preacher.

In other words, an assertive person can express feelings in a manner that is both personally satisfying and socially effective.

Sharon and Gordon Bower, Asserting Yourself

How to know you're emotionally healthy

We are on a road to significant life disruptions when we cling to what we wish the world was like instead of what it really is like. As M Scott Peck wrote, “Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.”

Like it or not, we are all neurotic to some degree. If the wrong set of circumstances comes along, and if they are combined with unhealthy attitudes encouraged by poor parenting and genetic tenancies, any of us can tip over into the abyss.

Mental clarity is fundamental to emotional health. That's why, despite the biological component to mental illness, our therapeutic approach should be holistic and address cognitive issues. A cognitive-focused approach has a history of greater effectiveness than drugs (except when dealing with extremes psychotic breaks, schizophrenia, etc).

After an initial physical exam rules out disease and general illness, an eclectic approach that is focused on cognitive therapy, is the preferred direction. For most issues, drugs are best regulated to use as a tool allowing a person to find a place of stability in order deal with the fundamental unhealthy cognitive issues.

Stephen Goforth

open a book and get open

Want someone you know to get past their rigid thinking and increase their openness? Put a novel in their hands. Canadian researchers say it will help them become more sophisticated thinkers with greater creativity. University of Toronto students were asked to read either one of eight short stories or one of eight essays. Afterward, they each filled out a survey to measure the desire for certainty and stability. The short story readers had much lower scores on that test than those who read the essays. The fiction readers showed needed less order and more comfort with ambiguity. This was particularly true for participants who regularly read. Writing in the Creativity Research Journal, the researchers say, “Exposure to literature may offer a (way for people) to become more likely to open their minds.” Fiction readers will follow thinking styles that are different from their own—they can feel along with characters they may not even like—gaining a better understanding of the viewpoint. You can read the study here.

Stephen Goforth

Top five regrets of the dying

What would your biggest regret be if this was your last day of life? An Australian nurse who counsels the dying recorded the most common regrets she heard from people at the end of theirs lives. As the Guardian points out, there was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. Bronnie Ware put them in a book called The Top Five regrets of the Dying.

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.