Violence in the Forefront

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The pace of life has become faster and more frantic in recent years. Many people leave little time for thoughtful reflection or just sitting still. If you are older, you might remember when life was simpler and less hectic. If you are younger, you might have heard about more peaceful times from your relatives. How did we get from living in relative peace to being obsessed with anger and its expression in violence?

Many people lately have become alarmed by “senseless” violence around the world. Have you wondered whether there is a connection between the spate of suicide bombings in Europe and the mass shootings around the world, including those in this country? I have long considered a possible connection between these events and their relationship to fear and violence. Let’s take a closer look.

If you have ever studied psychology or even read about it casually, you are most likely familiar with the fight or flight response to fear. Depending on your circumstances, when faced with something fearful to you, you react by attacking the source of your fear (fight) if you think you can overcome it or avoiding it (flight) if it seems more powerful than you are. Fear and these responses to it follow a direct and immediate threat of attack such as by a wild animal or person. You don’t have time to think about it but automatically react almost immediately.

Anxiety is related to fear. The feared object might not be immediately present, but you might worry about what might happen or not happen in the future. You become anxious about your own welfare or that of your family. You might also fret about the possible behavior of other people or the course taken by the society in which you live.

If you are unable to find a way to relieve this anxiety, it builds and eventually leads to a sense of desperation or hopelessness. This can take place inside you and possibly remain invisible to others. You might find someone whom you trust with your concerns and share them or act on your anxiety by lashing out. Based on my experience and reading, it seems clear that everyone has a breaking point when  they feel forced to act in ways not typical of them. Perhaps some people turn to violence as a way to be taken seriously for once. Some commit suicide when they feel their life challenges are more than they can bear.

The result can also be a lashing out toward other individuals or society in general if you see others as responsible for your predicament. If you could understand the workings of others’ minds, much of the violence in the world might not seem quite so senseless. Violence often makes sense to people feeling overwhelmed by life burdens. Most people tend to react emotionally to such situations without giving their response much thought.

If you could step back from your emotions, you might see more constructive possibilities and be able to choose one of them. Once you are overwhelmed, it might be too late to step back. You could make a practice of learning to take a break from your daily routine even when you are not under pressure. Then you will have a better idea how to handle stressful life events when they arise.

But what can you do about that pressured feeling? Perhaps the best place to start is to realize that technology has resulted in amazing inventions allowing you to contact others around the world in a matter of seconds. Yet the overload of immediate communication has resulted in separating people rather than bringing them closer together. Here is what General Omar Bradley had to say, “The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we do about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”

In the process of becoming immediately connected, we seem to have forgotten the purpose of communication. It is to help us understand each other and learn to work together to find harmonious ways for us to exist together. Instead, we use our channels of communication to persuade others to think as we do. We use them for entertainment, validating ourselves and for advertising.

Although our technology to some extent helps us understand each other, we need to do much more to appreciate each other in our search for meaningful lives. People who tend toward violence may have goals not much different from our own. Yet they might have had their dreams crushed along the way. They no longer see any path toward a fulfilling life and look for a way to express their frustration.

Violence is seen as aggressive behavior with the intent to cause physical or psychological harm. Hostile aggression also fits our definition of violence for the purposes of this book. It is performed in anger for the purpose of harming another person. By constant exposure to it, we have come to be more accustomed to violence in our society, regardless of the presence or absence of a relationship between perpetrator and victim.

Mindfulness is a way you can come to understand yourself and your inner workings. It involves reflecting on your thoughts and emotions rather than acting on them impulsively. It is a form of meditation and involves making your body and mind still.

You do this by being in a place of serenity free of distractions. You pay attention to your inner state as well as the sounds, sights and smells around you while making no judgments about anything in your awareness. This is a practice where you can exist in just this moment without any concern for the past or future. You can practice mindfulness in order to take your mind and your body down a more constructive path than it might have otherwise taken. Rather than letting your emotions direct your whole day, you could step back from them and put them in context. We will look at this in greater detail later.

Do you usually react with immediate anger when something upsets your routine and then let it consume you for the rest of the day? Do you look for someone to blame for everything that happens to you, when you might be at least partially responsible? Do you let your mood take over your decisions and actions rather than trying to look at situations more rationally? Are you always on alert to find someone at fault? These are a few things to explore in a calmer mood once you find one, but it takes practice to set this mood.

Many people tend to look closely at another person’s behavior, decide what they don’t like about it and then think about how that person should act to make them happy. Yet you are not in charge of what everybody else does or thinks. If you want to understand someone’s inner workings, the closest person at hand is yourself. You can start by looking without judgment at your own thoughts, feelings and actions and work toward understanding them. Again I am referring to mindfulness. With a better understanding of yourself, you will be in a better position to understand and make sense of others’ actions. Maybe you and they can even find ways to work together on handling emotions.

 

 

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How Well Do Teens Like Themselves?

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Maybe being anonymous helps. It’s hard to brag about yourself. How many teens feel really good about themselves? One teen I talked with said she feels as good as possible for her. It is hard for most people to imagine feeling that good. She feels she has no room for improvement. Many people feel great, or GRRRReat like Tony the Tiger, at least some of the time. When you accomplish something special, when someone acts particularly thoughtful of you, or when someone tells you how wonderful you are, it’s easy to feel on top of the world at least for a little while.

It’s surprising to me how many teens can separate who they are and what happens around them. Even if people blame them for everything, if they make quite a few mistakes, or if they face more than their share of problems, many are still able to see that it is not necessarily their fault.

At one time I worked with children and teens whose parents were in the process of divorce. I worried about whether kids would blame themselves. Most of the time I heard them say they realized it was their parents’ problem. Some who were honest thought things might have turned out different if they were able to help their parents somehow. Maybe they could have prevented it, at least in their mind.

Another teen is a good example. He likes himself quite well but still sees his life as “full of ups and downs.” He sees his family as helping him feel good about himself even though they are going through a lot themselves. They don’t blame him for their problems and are able to love him despite their own struggles. A teen girl doesn’t like herself quite as well as most of the others I talked with, but she can still think of positive things about herself.

Even when there are many things you would like to change, you still have good in you and around you. Do you know what Oprah has in common with Henry David Thoreau, the guy who wrote Walden Pond in the nineteenth century? They both believed in taking time out every day to write down things for which they were grateful. Sometimes you have to work to find the good things in your life, but it’s not a bad habit to get into, especially during rough times. When you feel overwhelmed, you can look back over what you wrote as the bright spots in your life.

I was a little surprised that teens who have a hard time in life can feel good inside. I thought that the rough spots would make it hard for them to like themselves. Blaming yourself for what goes wrong makes it even harder to feel at peace. If you don’t blame yourself, you might find someone else to blame and stay angry for a while, or just decide you have bad luck. Try accepting your life as it is, just for now.

There is something about adolescence which makes it easier to like yourself. Teens haven’t had as much time to practice getting down on themselves as adults have and may find it easier to bounce back from tough times. What do you think?

While it’s sometimes hard to imagine that times will ever get better, there are so many things changing during adolescence that it might be best not to take them too seriously. Maybe you can accept that change is inevitable for everyone and that there will most likely be better times ahead.

(Excerpt from my book, Make the Best of Your Teen Years: 105 Ways to Do It)

 

Alice’s Story A Day in the Life of a Teen

I woke up at six-thirty this morning. My mother hadn’t yet popped her head into my room, but I heard her knocking and waking up my brother Pete and my sister Carrie. How does she manage to be so cheerful every morning? Does she get up and practice in the mirror before she wakes us up? I wouldn’t have it in me until I was up for a few hours.

My usual routine again today: toilet, shower, deodorant, the little makeup my mother lets me to wear to school, and then back to my bedroom to decide what to wear. Mom thinks I should pick out something the night before. She used to do this for me when I was younger. I couldn’t do it then and I can’t now. How would I know what kind of mood I might be in the next morning? Will I want to be part of the woodwork today, coordinated with my friends, unique, or part of the crowd? Will I want my teachers to notice me or leave me alone today?

I have to admit, this is hard to decide in the few minutes I have every morning. Sometimes I don’t really know what mood I’ll in until breakfast and then I have to run back upstairs to change. I might not know for sure until I am getting off the bus at school and then it’s too late.

Mom usually has an editorial review ready for me by the time I get down to breakfast. “That’s a nice top, Sweetie.” “Don’t you think you might be a little too warm with that sweater?” “Isn’t that skirt a little short, Alice?”  I never know what to expect, but at least she notices what I’m wearing.  I guess that’s good.
At least I get to climb on the bus by myself. My brother and sister aren’t old enough to take the early bus yet. I am the second one on unless my friend Jenny oversleeps and misses the bus. I don’t have much choice of who to sit with. I can either sit with Jenny and make her happy or sit by myself and make her sad.
Sitting by myself, I have to take my chances on who will sit next to me. Sometimes this is fun and sometimes it’s a pain if one of the goof-offs sits down next to me. I’m working on a way to let people know I don’t want them to sit with me without actually having to come out and say it. So far I haven’t figured out anything both subtle and effective.

Getting off the bus is a real sideshow. Boys try to look cool and end up looking goofy. Girls try a new hairdo or a combination of top and shorts to see if they can look glamorous or refined, unless it is a day when they don’t care what anyone thinks.

Alex tells me he likes my sweater on the way into class. Does he really, or is he just trying to be nice? He surprises me. I didn’t realize he even knew I existed. I wanted to talk to him for a long time and then he beat me to it. Is he just into sweaters, or does he like me? I should ask his sister Julie but she might tell him I asked. I guess that wouldn’t be so bad. At least then he would know he exists in my imagination at least.

Today none of my teachers notice my sweater or say anything else about me for that matter. I guess today is just one of those “fit in” days where teachers don’t notice me. Mrs. Holmes compliments me for answering a question in geometry class. I don’t usually volunteer an answer. I would hate to look dumb in my hardest class. I think she appreciates me trying though.

After school, Tina invites me over to listen to her new music downloads. I like going to her house. We can be honest with each other about things that bother us and not wonder if we will be laughed at. She offers to help me with geometry which for some strange reason makes sense to her. She must have a different kind of brain than I do. I take her up on her offer.

When I get home, my brother Pete is practicing free throws in the basket above the garage door. He throws the ball to me and I swish it. Basketball is the one thing we have in common. He even compliments me on my fine shot. I quit while I’m ahead.

My sister Carrie is playing a game on the computer when I walk inside the house. I have to look up some stuff for my global studies class. I guess I could let her play for a while before bugging her. Homework is always more important than games on our family computer. Maybe some day I will have my own. Carrie smiles at me. I guess she somehow knows I am giving her a break.

Before I got up this morning, Dad had to leave for an early meeting at work. I wonder how he does it. I find it hard enough getting up when I do. He’s home when I walk in the door and asks me how my day was and I tell him fine, even in geometry. He says he would help me if he could but he was never good at it either. I thought all boys were supposed to be good at math.

I help Mom with dinner and she thanks me as usual. It’s our little routine. She asks me if I have much homework and I tell her the litany of little assignments I have for the night. I get to it after dinner in my room. I enjoy having my own room. It’s like my castle. Everyone has to knock if the door is closed. Sometimes it is nice to be alone.

As I get undressed, I look at myself in the mirror. I still look fifteen. My breasts seem a little bigger than they were yesterday. Could that be possible? What if they get too big? What would the boys think of that? What would my friends think? What would I think? I guess there’s not much I can do about it right now.

I saw a show on the health channel about breast surgery. They can put implants in if your breasts are too small or cut some off if they are too big. I don’t like the idea of being cut up to look a little bigger or smaller. I guess I will just wait to see how I turn out.

Otherwise I think I look okay. I’m not glamorous like Katie. I’m not plain like June, although a makeover might help her look a lot better. There’s a lot more to me than how I look. My friends all like what they call my “personality.” Maybe I will find out more about that when I take psychology. I guess my friends mean that I’m nice to people. I try to be friendly to everyone I can. After all, that’s how I want them to treat me. Well, it’s time for bed. I’ll have another day to work on myself tomorrow, math as well as personality.

(Excerpt from my book,  Make the Best of Your Teen Years: 105 Ways to Do It.)