Friday, June 7, 2013

Dismiss your Anger and Accept Your Mistakes--Two Useful Themes

I'm a huge fan of professor, writer and psychologist Carol Tavris. She's got two themes that help navigate life, every day. One of them aids when you're faced with difficult people and frustrating situations, and the other explains the way President Obama and his crew gets away with so many huge imbroglios.

On the personal level, here's a tip for when you get mad, from Dr. Tavris' first book (Anger, the Misunderstood Emotion): Anger builds on itself.

When I first started out in private practice, I accepted the idea that expressing one's anger was therapeutic. Get it all out there; let it fly. In graduate school, I learned that padded bats, bobo dolls, (those bounce-back sand-weighted inflatable figures), and pillows all helped clients cope with frustration, anger and stress. Primal Scream therapy was a famous modality (not a Scottish rock band), a way to tap deeply-seated rage from childhood. Past lives regression to repair soul damage from pre-birth experiences led to many hypnosis-enabled outbursts.

"We're mad as hell, and won't take this anymore!" righteously shrieked "Network's" character Howard Beale, the perfect icon for sensibilities of the era.

Then Carol Tavris actually looked at what researchers knew about anger. Oops: all those strategies for releasing rage actually backfire. Once you're angry, if you dwell on it, you just get angrier. If you and your spouse "share" your ire, it turns to fire rather than reconciliation. Each party increases the stakes and feeds off the other's intensity as fights escalate. My clients found this useful; they learned to redirect their anger or calm down.

Now we turn to another theme from Dr. Tavris that relates to recent headlines concerning Pres. Obama.

It's capsulized in the perfect title of her third book (2008, with Elliot Aronson), Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). The subtitle really isn't needed, but it's "Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts."  Everyone knows why we justify ourselves but just look at the news to see how cleverly the administration uses this technique to protect the POTUS from blame.
Some examples: The IRS targets only conservative groups for invasive scrutiny when they apply for nonprofit status; agency head Lois Lerner proclaims she did nothing wrong and then takes the Fifth Amendment. "Mistakes were made, but not by ME!" (Now left-leaning reporters are scurrying to show that non-conservative groups faced equally intense investigation.)

Requests for defense of the Benghazi, Libya consulate last September were ignored and four people die, covered up by UN Ambassador Susan Rice hitting Sunday Morning news shows swearing the attack was fueled by upset over a YouTube video. The President and Hillary Clinton shrug about their 24-hour "war-room" eye into the action there. "Mistakes were made, but not by ME!" Interestingly, Susan Rice, who appeared to be "thrown under the bus" a couple weeks ago when trotted out to quell outrage about Benghazi, is now rewarded by a promotion to advisor to the president on foreign affairs, and will ostensibly wield more power than before, "at the elbow of the president."

Dr. Carol Tavris

Editors' and reporters' phone records at the Associated Press were secretly collected by the Justice Department last month, in a frightening demonstration of government intrusion on press freedoms. US Attorney General Eric Holder claims no knowledge, passing the buck to his deputy, Eric Cole. In a perfect "Mistakes were made, but not by me!" statement, he said on May 15 he'd "recused himself" from involvement. How convenient.

The "mistakes were made, but not by me" response works. A couple weeks ago it looked like the president had, as Ricky Ricardo famously intoned about Lucy, "a whole lotta 'splainin' to do!" And now, all three stories are fading. Nothing of substance will result from these shocking revelations, and certainly nobody's recanting denials, claiming responsibility--or admitting hiding the facts. Instead, "...not by me!" keeps echoing as more information comes out and the administration mops up. Yes, it's an effective way to distance, using that passive, third-person voice. Keep that in mind when you need an effective diversion from the truth.

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