Category Archives: emotions

I Don’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry


Feeling a little stressed lately?  Time for a science lesson.

According to Dr. William Frey of the Dry Eye and Tear Research Center in Minneapolis, 85% of women and 73% of men reported feeling better after crying while under emotional stress.  The lacrimal gland in the eyes regulates tear secretion.  It also concentrates manganese, a necessary mineral related to moods, and tears remove this concentrated mineral from the body.

Dr. Frey’s research shows that the concentration of manganese is 30 times greater in tears than what is found in the blood.  The reason that is interesting is that autopsies of chronic depressives have revealed heavy concentrations of manganese in the brain that don’t appear in the brains of non-depressives.  As a result, manganese is believed to have a direct link to depression.  Tears clean the mineral out of the body, so tears are thought to be an effective, natural way of preventing depression from occurring.

Other studies have found that healthy people are more likely to cry and have a positive attitude toward tears than those with ulcers or colitis, two conditions thought to be stress-related.  And children who suffer from an inherited disease called familial dysautonomia have two things in common: they can’t produce tears, and they have an extremely low tolerance for emotional stress.

But if you don’t feel much like crying, try a good laugh.

Laughter helps to lower the potent stress hormone cortisol, which can cause bone loss and suppress the immune system.  Laughter also increases the production of endorphins, which combat fatigue and depression. Laughter can in the long-term reduce blood pressure and slow heart rate, as well, leaving you feeling calm and peaceful.

Adults tend to take things (and themselves) too seriously.  How often do you hear of a child with stress-related disorders?  Hopefully not too often.  Laughter may be the reason.  Studies show that children laugh on the average 400 times per day. Adults, by contrast, only laugh an average of fifteen times per day!  We’ve got some catching up to do!

So, if you want to reduce your stress level, run to the video store tonight and check out a movie that will make you laugh until you cry.

(S – Center for Traditional Medicine, 560 First Street, Suite 204, Lake Oswego, Oregon 97034, 503-636-2734, http://www.myctm.org/NP08.html)

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Filed under Attitude, brain, discomfort, emotions, fatigue, funny, health, humor, pressure, Sharpening the Saw, Suffering

Visuals, Verbals, Vocals


“What’s wrong, Honey?”  I ask.

“Nothing!  Absolutely nothing!” she says between gritted teeth as she slams cabinet doors in our kitchen.

I have a choice to make at this point.  I can believe what she says (that nothing is wrong) and go about my business, or I can believe what her tone of voice and body language are telling me (that something is most definitely wrong).  I’ve taken a few lumps in our marriage, and I’ve learned to disregard what she says if it doesn’t match how she says it.  Saying, “Okay, Sweetheart.  I’ll be in the garage if you need me,” only gets me in a deeper stew.

Professor Albert Mehrabian (UCLA) has done research that would have been useful to me a little earlier in our marriage.  He analyzed where our messages come from when we communicate, and his findings are surprising.

  • 55% of our message comes from nonverbals, or Visuals, (i.e. our body language, gestures, facial expressions, posture…).
  • 38% of our message comes from our tone of voice, sounds we make, our rate of speech…, or Vocals.
  • 7% of our message comes from the words we use, or Verbals.

Only 7%!  Seems unbelievable, but I’ll tell you why I believe it…because we lie.  We are expert liars.  My wife was lying when she said nothing was wrong, even though she really wanted me to know that something was.  We lie all the time to avoid facing unpleasant circumstances directly.  Our boss brings us a huge project Friday afternoon and asks if we have time for it.  “Oh, sure.  I’ll fit it in,” we sigh, knowing that our plans for the weekend have gone out the window.  We’re told that team meetings will now be breakfast meetings and start at 6:30 a.m.  “Hey, there’s a great idea!” we tell a peer sarcastically.  A friend asks us what we thought of his presentation.  “It was terrific,” we lie, because we don’t want to hurt his feelings.

We’ve learned from experience that you can’t always trust what people say.  However, Visuals and Vocals are much more reliable.  People send signals through their body language, tone of voice and other nonverbals.  Sometimes they do it intentionally (my wife, for example), and sometimes they just can’t help it.  We bring the team together and tell them about a new change that means doing more with less.  As the leader, you know you have to put a positive spin on it, but your fake smile and monotone voice quality give you away.  People put your words on a shelf and judge your sincerity by your nonverbal communication.

Often, we are telling the truth, but people misread our nonverbals.  We ask a simple and sincere question, but our arms are crossed at the time, and the other person goes away with the idea that we are totally against her proposal.  We were up late the night before, and some of our team members perceive that we are in bad mood because we didn’t sound cheerful when we greeted them.  We are fast talkers, and we find that slower talkers distrust our message because we seem “slick.”

The key is matching your verbals and your nonverbals.  If we want our message to hit home, Verbals, Visuals and Vocals all have to be marching in the same direction.  It may take practice in front of a mirror or with a tape recorder, but you can improve how you communicate by increasing the consistency of these three components.

On the flip side, don’t allow yourself to accept what someone says as the whole story.  Watch and listen to their nonverbals to determine if they match the message.  If they don’t, respond to the nonverbals rather than the verbals.  Back to my example with my wife…a better response to her would have been, “You seem upset.  Would you like to talk?”  Notice that I’m disregarding the words she used and focusing on the underlying message.  You may need to make several attempts at this before the other person is willing to be honest Verbally, but their nonverbals have been telling the truth all along.

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Filed under communication, conflict, culture, emotions, feedback, Interpersonal, listening, public speaking, Relationships, speaking

Soft Hands


During a Monday night football game a few years ago, the Dallas Cowboy’s were defending at their own three-yard line.  The quarterback for the opposing team dropped back and fired a bullet…right to one of the Cowboy’s defensive linemen.  To my disgust, the lineman dropped the ball even though it was right between the numbers and even though he got both hands on the ball.

At the time, it seemed unthinkable that he would drop a sure interception, but I stopped yelling at the TV long enough to hear one of the commentators (a former lineman himself) explain why we should give the guy a break.  As he explained it, linemen spend their entire careers pushing against three-hundred-pound gorillas on the other side of the line of scrimmage.  Every muscle in their body is invested in the struggle to push past the opposing lineman to get at the quarterback.  When a ball is thrown their way, they don’t have the “soft hands” required to catch the ball.

By that last comment, he meant that because the linemen were totally focused on the goal of overpowering their opponent, it was supremely difficult for them to switch goals in the middle of battle.  I can relate.  I remember countless times when I was insensitive to my wife when she called me at the office.  Her calls always seemed to come right in the middle of my battles with three-hundred-pound gorilla projects and three-hundred-pound gorilla deadlines.  Bruised from her own battles with the kids, all she wanted was a sympathetic ear.  What she typically got were short, curt responses indicating I had better things to do than to talk with her.

Because I was so focused on the battle, I didn’t have the soft hands necessary to respond to my wife appropriately, and I forgot we were playing for the same team.  Each time I dropped the ball, I regretted it the second I hung up the phone.  Realization of how important and unrecoverable the moment was always made me wish I had not been so single-focused.

If we are going to be effective leaders, we have to learn to develop the soft hands required when our team members come to us for help.  We have to be skilled at transitioning from driving the line, chasing down the goal, sacking the competition… to taking time out, being receptive and possibly moving in a whole new direction.

While success requires us to be totally invested in our work, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that teams are made of people, and we can’t play this game alone.

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Filed under Attitude, Challenges, Change, communication, conflict, determination, emotions, family, Fathering, Goals, habits, Interpersonal, leadership, management, marriage, mentoring, paradigm shift, pressure, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Relationships, Serving Others

Schadenfreude


schadenfreude \SHOD-n-froy-duh\, noun: A malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others

Feeling guilty already, aren’t you?  Who doesn’t have moments (hours, days, months…) of schadenfreude when our enemies and competitors get their come-uppins?  They deserved it, right?  What goes around comes around.  It’s even better when we didn’t do anything to cause their misfortune.  There are no fingerprints at the scene, so to speak.

I’m not going to try to tackle the rightness or wrongness of this feeling when it is derived from our enemies and competitors.  Lots of gray area there.  But what particularly interests me is how commonly this feeling is directed at people who are on the same team as us.  They have the same goals and objectives as us, but we want them to stumble.  Why?  The two most common reasons are competition and resentment.

Competition
While competition can be a positive and healthy thing for athletic teams, it’s not so great within the Body of Christ.  We often measure our worth by comparing ourselves with those around us.  This can lead to frustration, despair, envy, covetousness, bitterness and even sabotaging behaviors if we feel like we are on the losing end.  It can lead to pride, complacency and disdain for others if we feel like we are on the winning end.

Resentment
Holding a grudge about a perceived wrong done to us makes it difficult for us to see the “guilty” party succeed.  We want justice.  We want fairness restored.  They slighted us, attacked us, overlooked us, punished us…, and we feel that we are righteously indignant.  Failure, embarrassment or difficult obstacles in their path would make us feel like the scales had been returned to their proper positions.

Hopefully, it’s obvious that this isn’t healthy.  It leads to all types of passive-aggressive and aggressive behaviors, ranging from negative thoughts to gossip to rumors to Tonya Harding-inspired pipes to the knee.  Even at their most “innocuous” levels, these feelings lead us to withhold assistance and advice and prayer that might help the other person.  Schadenfreude is the equivalent of cancer to the Body of Christ.  It will destroy us from the inside out.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be diligent to spot the signs of schadenfreude when they surface, and we need to deal with them quickly and decisively.  When we see them in ourselves, we should be quick to pray for God to give us the ability to forgive and to have His love for the other person.  When we see them in others, we should lovingly point out the bitter root and help our friends forgive and love.

We’ve got enough enemies and competitors without adding them from inside the Body.  Let’s stop doing the devil’s work for him.

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Filed under Abundance, agape love, blame, Body of Christ, christianity, emotions, forgiveness, Interpersonal, justice, love, Relationships

Behind the Clouds, the Son!


My family is visiting the U.S. right now.  We have a six-week furlough before returning to Thailand, and we are most of the way through it.

Today, we had to say goodbye to some old friends.  It was painful.  As one of the families packed in their car to go, my youngest called out, “See you again in three years thanks to my dad’s stupid job!”  I was about to scold him but then noticed the tears in his eyes.  No one got his permission before moving everyone to Thailand and changing his entire life.  It seemed very unfair to him.

Hoping to cheer everyone up, we went out to lunch at Red Robin, a family favorite.  But as soon as we got out of the car, my daughter started to cry, and it took almost ten minutes to console her.  When the tears stopped, we made our way into the restaurant and had a seat.

A waitress came by and asked us how we were doing.  Looking around at tear-stained faces, I decided on honesty, “We’re a little sad today.  We live overseas, and we’ve come for a visit but had to say goodbye to some good friends.”

She didn’t seem to know what the appropriate response might be, so she took our orders and tended to us every so often.  During the middle of lunch, my youngest began crying again, and we couldn’t seem to raise his spirits with any talk about his friends in Thailand or the greater purpose that is being served by us being there.  He was low, and there was no picking him up.

But as soon as we finished eating, our waitress appeared again with a giant mountain of an ice-cream and brownie dessert.  She said that she and the wait staff had all chipped in to buy it for us to help us feel better, because she had spent years living in Aruba when she was a kid and knew how tough it could be.  My wife, not normally given to crying, had to fight back tears at the simple gesture.

You wouldn’t believe the change that dessert worked on my youngest son!  Instantly, he was excited and cheerful again.  Food is his love language.  Dessert is probably his most fluent dialect.  He was thrilled!  In fact, we all were.  We finished out lunch with smiles and laughter and left the restaurant in great spirits.

As my oldest son and I talked in the parking lot about what had just happened, he remarked that God sure knew how to cheer up my youngest son.  It was the perfect antidote to his gloomy mood.  While we talked, the two of us were staring at the storm clouds above us.  They were dark and foreboding, but behind them, you could see evidence of the sun.  It was producing a silver lining around some of the darkest ones.  And it got me to thinking…

Sometimes all we see are the dark and gloomy clouds.  We look at our problems and the circumstances of our lives and see only the storms.  But what we often fail to remember is that just behind the clouds of our current situation is the Son of God, who loves us and wants the best for us.  He’s always there; He never moves.  We are the ones who are spinning round and round, so even though we may not be able to see Him, we can trust that He won’t leave us on our own.

The clouds will come and go, but the Son will never change.  And just when we are in our darkest moments, the clouds will part, and the warmth of His light will shine through in the form of a chocolate icecream and brownie mountain.

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Filed under agape love, Challenges, emotions, family, Fear, Suffering, Valley

Matching Emotion with Concern


While sitting in one of the most boring seminars of my life, I was surprised to learn something that has added years (maybe decades) to my marriage.  It’s the principle of matching emotion with concern.

You see, for much of my early marriage, I had it all wrong.  When my wife and I would get into arguments, there would be lots of emotion.  Lots of yelling.  Lots of slamming things.  I hated it.  My teenage, drug-using years were full of these types of conflicts with my mom, and I learned that matching emotion with emotion just gets you more emotion.  Each person tries to increase their volume to get up and over the other person, and when yelling stops working, some people resort to physical displays and violence to make their points.  If they start at a “Level 6 Anger” on a ten-point scale, they will soon be at Level 8, 9 or 10 as they try to outdo the other person.  This is called “Escalation.”

 

Escalation

Matching emotion with emotion doesn’t work, so I learned over time to match emotion with lack of emotion.  Someone had to keep their head in an argument.  Emotional people say bizarre, exaggerated, unrealistic things.  Someone had to maintain logic and good sense.  That was the way to keep things safe, I reckoned.  For years, I tried this approach with my wife.  When she would get angry and emotional, I would take the “high road.”  Nothing she could say would bother me.  I stayed calm and rational during the entire argument.  But it didn’t work.

Emotion is about volume.  People use it because they want the other person(s) to recognize how important something is to them.  When I tried to match my wife’s emotion with my lack of emotion, she felt that I wasn’t hearing her…that I didn’t understand how crucial the issue was.  So in order to get her point across, she would increase her volume by getting even more emotional.  This is called “One-Sided Escalation.”

One-Sided Escalation

During one extended argument, I was proud of myself for keeping my cool during the entire ordeal, but I was tired and had lost hope of finding an easy end to our disagreement.  When my wife took a breath, I stepped in and said, “I’m tired and going to bed.  When you are ready to talk like adults, come and get me.”  Condescending, controlling, unfair.  Just because I was in control of my emotions didn’t mean I was above getting my shots in.

I headed off to bed and was in the early stages of sleep when I heard, “Thump! THump! THUmp! THUMp! THUMP!”  Suddenly, my wife, who had been stewing over my arrogant dismissal, came sprinting down the hallway to our room, leapt up on top of the bed and began to jump – up and down, up and down…narrowly missing my head with each landing.  This was a level of escalation I had never seen before.  In a panic, I remembered stories I had heard of wives who had been pushed too far and the things they had done to their husbands while they slept.  

Obviously, my calm, cool and collected approach was no better than matching emotions with emotion.  In fact, it was worse.  Unless they are willing to go to extreme lengths, emotional people are no match for logical people in an argument.  Emotional people say things they wouldn’t say during calmer circumstances.  It’s easy for logical people to identify exaggerations and discrepancies, and this often leaves the emotional person feeling frustrated and embarrassed.  A logical person can easily out-maneuver and even humiliate an emotional person (which tends to make emotional people even more emotional).  In short, matching logic with emotion isn’t a fair fight.

So, what’s the right answer?  It doesn’t work to match emotion with emotion, and it doesn’t work to match emotion with lack of emotion or logic.  Here’s what I learned in that boring seminar: You’ve got to match emotion with sincere concern.  It’s brilliant!  It’s simple!  But it’s not easy.  

When someone is emotional, the best way to respond is to show genuine concern.  If they are “Level 6 – Anger,” you’ve got to try to match it with a “Level 6 – Concern.”  It might sound like this:

My Wife: “I hate it that you are always coming home so late from work!  You’re never here for dinner!  I always have to take care of the kids all by myself, and I’m tired.  I never get anytime for myself!”

Me: “I’m very sorry, Sweetheart…I didn’t realize how difficult this has been for you.  I can tell you’re very upset.  Can we sit down and talk about it?”

Chances are, my response didn’t hit a “Level 6” for Concern.  Depending upon my tone and my body language (they have to match my words for my words to be believable), I may have only reached a Level 3 with this response.  But I shouldn’t give up.  This is a skill that takes patience and practice to learn.

My Wife: “Yes, this has been difficult for me!  And I’m not just upset….I’m exhausted!  You should try taking care of the kids for days on end without any help!  I need a break!”

Me: “Okay, I hear you.  This has been a lousy situation with my work, and it’s gone on longer than I thought it would.  You’re exhausted, and you need a break, and it doesn’t seem fair that you have to carry the full load at home.   Have you already thought of some solutions, or would you like to talk those out together?”

As I’m expressing concern, I’m using other tools to help my wife see that I understand.  I’m trying to reflect her emotions (i.e., “I can tell you’re upset.”), and I’m trying to summarize what I’m hearing, seeing and reading between the lines (i.e., “You’re exhausted, and you need a break, and it doesn’t seem fair that you have to carry the full load at home.”)  I’m asking clarifying statements (i.e., “Have you already thought of some solutions, or would you like to talk those out together?”)  

I have to be completely sincere at all times, or I’ll just make things worse.  But if I’m patient and keep trying, a wonderful thing happens.  When my wife feels like I have honestly heard and understood how important this issue is to her, she begins to let the steam out of her emotion.  It will typically take several attempts of matching emotion with concern at different levels, but if she believes me, she can lower the volume bit by bit.  There’s no need to continue to be emotional when the other person really understands what you are saying and how you are feeling.  Before too long, we will be able to have a rational discussion about the problem without the exaggeration and without the strong emotions.  This is called, “De-Escalation.”

De-Escalation

At the foundation of using this method for dealing with conflict are two essential practices: patience and kindness.  It won’t work unless you care enough about the other person to set aside your own personal agenda.  In short, it’s an act of love.  

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

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Filed under agape love, communication, conflict, emotions, grace, Interpersonal, love, marriage, Relationships, unconditional love