Tag Archives: Positive Psychology

Overcoming Fear.

‘Nothing has meaning except for the meaning we give to it ourselves’

T. Harv Eker

PERCEPTION AND FEAR – how we perceive something determines how we respond to it, including our behavioural response. This is true even if our perceptions are inaccurate, distorted and misleading.

When we fear something (even if, in reality, what we are afraid of presents no real danger to us) we will tend to avoid it.

Very often, avoidance behaviour, caused by fear, spoils our quality of life. For example, someone may be afraid of interacting with others and therefore avoid social situations and become reclusive and lonely.

One way to overcome such a problem would be for the individual to ANALYZE THE REASONS FOR HIS/HER FEAR ; the question needs to be asked : ‘is the situation I fear truly dangerous to me, from an objective and realistic perspective, or is my imagination inventing/exaggerating reasons to be fearful which have no real basis in reality?’

It is important to overcome fears which are spoiling our chances of living more fulfilled lives.

FEARS ARE LEARNED AND CAN BE UNLEARNED :

Our fears are not innate – we are not born with them. They are learned as we go through life and can be unlearned. Let’s look at an example :

Suppose an individual grew up with  parent/s who made him/her feel worthless and made him/her feel very awkward and uncomfortable. And let’s say, as a result, the individual grew up fearing social situations as s/he believed other people would also make him/her feel worthless  (even though, in reality, there is no reason to make such a supposition). How could such a fear be overcome? Two main psychological approaches that could be effective at helping the individual overcome such an irrational fear are :

1) BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY

2) COGNITIVE THERAPY

Let’s briefly examine these two approaches in turn :

1) BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY – if an individual fears social situations, behavioural therapy would approach the problem by gradually introducing the person, in small steps, to the feared interpersonal interaction. For example :

Stage 1 – meet up with old friend

Stage 2 – meet up with well known acquaintance

Stage 3 – meet up with less well known acquaintance

Stage 4 – attend a small gathering of old friends

etc…etc…

Obviously, the above is just an example, but the idea is to gradually build up to attending increasingly challenging social situations  (or, in more general terms, to gradually increase the individual’s exposure to the feared stimulus) – the individual can tailor the stages in any way s/he wishes, ideally under the guidance of a therapist.

Behavioural therapy works by indirectly challenging the irrational beliefs the person holds which are maintaining his/her fear. Over time, in our example, the individual will come to realize that social situations are not a danger to him/her in any real sense – slowly, s/he will become more comfortable and at ease.

2) COGNITIVE THERAPY – this therapy involves a therapist talking to the individual who has the irrational fear and helping that individual to diretly CHALLENGE THE VALIDITY OF HIS/HER FEAR. The therapy aims to dismantle the very foundations (ie the deeply held, irrational, underlying belief) that the fear is built upon.

Often, in order to achieve this aim, the therapist will use what is called the ABC model  which was originally devised by the psychologist Albert Ellis. Below I explain what the letters stand for:

A – activating event (ie the trigger that led to the sensation of fear).

B – belief (the person’s assumptions about the situation)

C – consequence (ie the feelings and behaviours which arise as a consequence of the above).

If C (consequences) is undesired and spoiling the person’s quality of life, cognitive therapy encourages the individual to move on to steps D and E. I explain these below :

D – dispute ie what are the more positive alternatives to the belief which is causing the fear? For example :’ just because I got on badly with my parent/s, this does not mean I will not get on with other people’ would be a preferable alternative.

E – energizing alternative ie what would be a more empowering belief to adopt? eg’ the more I interact with others, the better I will become at doing it’.

I hope you have found this post of use. Please leave a comment if you would like to. I’ll respond asap.

Best wishes, David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc: PGDE(FAHE).

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Traps to Avoid for a Contented Life.

Research carried out by experts in the field of positive psychology has led to the finding that there are several traps individuals fall into  which prevent them from living a contented life. These traps can also be described as PSYCHOLOGICAL OBSTACLES.

Of course, once we are aware of these, it is much easier to avoid them. In this article, therefore, I intend to list and give a brief explanation of four particularly important ones. These are :

– THE NEGATIVITY BIAS

– LACK OF SELF-CONTROL

– SOCIAL COMPARISON

– THE HEDONIC TREADMILL

Let’s examine each of these in turn :

1) THE NEGATIVITY BIAS –  this refers to the fact that research has shown that people concentrate and focus much more on what goes wrong in their lives than what goes right. For example, if someone insults us, we are likely to focus on it, and, indeed, take it more seriously, than if someone compliments us.

Also, if we experience a good event and a bad event close together, of about the same importance as one another, we will usually dwell much more on the bad event.

There are many other examples, but, to sum up, it can be stated that negative emotions reduce our level of contentment much more than positive ones increase it (there are evolutionary reasons for this which, regrettably, I do not have room to go into here). Because of the disproportionate effects on us of positive and negative events, psychologists have even put forward I formula ; it is claimed that the ratio of positive to negative events in our lives needs to be about 3:1 for us to retain a reasonable sense of contentment! (I’m sure you’ll share my view that this formula is very simplistic and shouldn’t be taken too seriously!!)

2) LACK OF SELF-CONTROL – Psychological research has shown that, all else being equal, the more self-control we have, the more contented we are likely to be. Also, encouragingly, self-control is a skill which can be developed (this is especially important news for sufferers of borderline personality disorder (BPD) as self-regulation is one of the primary symptoms of the condition). By exercising self-control in one life area, it becomes much easier to exercise it in others.

Research conducted by Muraven et al revealed that lack of self-control was a very significant factor in the causation of personal and social problems.

3) SOCIAL COMPARISON – In the UK, this is sometimes referred to flippantly as ‘keeping up with the Joneses’; however, it is a syndrome which causes a lot of unhappiness. Essentially, it involves comparing ourselves (in terms of what we own, our social status etc) with those we regard as socially ‘superior’. In countries like the UK, this tendency is becoming almost epidemic due to the near-worship of wealthy celebrities. There is a tendency to look at these lives of the rich and famous and to feel that life has ‘short-changed’ us (even though, in reality, many of these celebrities may be deeply unhappy, drug addicted, alcoholics).

This causes people to stop making purchases because they need the item, but, instead, to make them in the hope of elevating their social status, impressing others and gaining respect (which is usually futile, as, in fact, ostentatious acquisition is more likely to inspire jealousy, bitterness and resentment).

Indeed, acquiring more and more expensive material items is an empty and pointless strategy in terms of trying to improve one’s psychological well-being. This is due to a phenomenon which psychologists have termed THE HEDONIC TREADMILL.

4) The Hedonic Treadmill – When a person buys an expensive item, such as, for example, a new sports car, s/he quickly gets used to it (or, to put it in psychological terms, ADAPTS to it) and the novelty rapidly wears off. The same thing happens when a positive event occurs (eg a promotion at work). In other words, positive changes quickly become ‘the norm’ and our ‘happiness level’ returns to what is known as our SET-POINT.

Because of this phenomenon, individuals can get caught in a vicious cycle : they make a purchase to lift their spirits but any positive effect quickly fades away so they are driven to make another…and another…and another. In the UK, this has led to a syndrome which is informally termed  ‘shopaholicism’ – the hapless shopper becomes addicted to making purchases and is constantly on the look out for his/her next fix.

Let’s end end with a positive research finding. It is this : this process of psychological adaptation also applies when things go wrong in our lives : we feel worse for a while, but, gradually, our ‘natural happiness level’ returns to its set-point.

I hope you have found this post interesting. If you are interested in using hypnotherapy to overcome negative thinking, please click on the hypnotherapy blog and podcast category in the main menu.

Best wishes, David Hosier BSc Hons ; MSc ;PGDE(FAHE).

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What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is the scientific study (through research, experimentation etc) of how people can be helped to perform at their OPTIMAL LEVEL in life and to FLOURISH (to use the current buzz words).

Research is increasingly showing us that it is NOT so much what you HAVE in life that is important, but what you DO in life. The well known British psychologist Oliver James has written an excellent book on this called Affluenza, for those who are interested.

It seems that two of the main keys to becoming happier are :

a) changing how we spend our time

b) changing our outlook on life

Positive psychology is the scientific study of how best to implement these two changes.

The first requirement is to summon up the motivation to really want to make significant life changes. The second is to be prepared to make a consistent effort.

TWO CATEGORIES OF HAPPINESS :

Positive psychologists employ the use of two different terms to describe two different forms of happiness. I define them below:

1) HEDONIC WELL-BEING – this refers to short bursts of pleasure of the ‘wine, women and song’ variety. Many sources of this type of happiness can be paradoxically damaging over the long-term (an obvious example being , for instance, using a drug like cocaine recreationally).

2) EUDAIMONIC WELL-BEING – this is a much more SUSTAINABLE type of happiness and derives from having a life in which we find meaning and purpose and are able to fulfill our potential.

MARTIN SELIGMAN’S POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY WELL-BEING MODEL (PERMA) :

Marin Seligman is a well-known positive psychologist who proposed the ‘PERMA’ model of well-being. Let’s take a look at what the letters in the acronym PERMA stand for :

Positive emotion

Engagement

Relationships

Meaning

Accomplishment

Below I give brief descriptions of each of these 5 key elements :

1) POSITIVE EMOTION – this is self-explanatory

2) ENGAGEMENT – this is when a person becomes intensely involved in a task and is living entirely in the present, rather like a young child at play. Psychologists often refer to this mental state as’ FLOW’, whilst sports-people usually refer to it as being ‘in the zone’.

3) RELATIONSHIPS – close and supportive relationships seem to be essential in maintaining a person’s psychological well-being.

4) Interestingly, research consistently shows that pursuing activities in line with one’s values, which gives one purpose and direction in life, is much more strongly related to happiness than constantly taking part in pleasurable/hedonistic activities for only pleasure’s sake.

5) ACCOMPLISHMENT – Again, fairly self-explanatory : achievements, successes, mastery of skills etc, which help the individual move towards his/her life goals and fulfill his/her ambitions.

Future posts in this category will examine strategies, methods, etc, which research in the area of Positive Psychology has shown can significantly improve our psychological well-being throughout life.

 

I hope you have found this post useful. Please leave a comment or ask a question if you would like to. I’ll get back to you asap.

Best wishes, David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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