Life Ain’t For Sissies*


Most posts are observations, derived from my work as a clinical psychologist, teacher, writer, and aging adult.  Please join the dialogue.

*a nod to Bette Davis, who is reported to have said, “Old age ain’t for sissies.”

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Bright Light Heats Your Emotions

Turning on the light can turn on your hot emotional system!! Across six studies, these researchers showed that ambient brightness made people feel warmer,

Chicago Botanic Gardens

Chicago Botanic Gardens

Fearing the light of reasonFearing the light of reasonsmiles faces groupsmiles faces groupwhich increases the intensity of their emotional response. This includes sensation seeking from spicy-hot foods, perception of aggression, and perception of sexiness (“hotness”) in others. Strong lighting generated more extreme emotional reactions toward positive and negative words or drinks. The researchers suggested that these effects arise because light underlies perception of heat, and perception of heat can trigger the hot emotional system. Thus, turning down the light, effortless and unassuming as it may seem, can reduce emotionality in everyday decisions, most of which take place under bright light. To feel quieter, you might want to lower the lights. To get more emotional, make them brighter. 

The authors said, “Bright light usually correlates with heat, and heat is linked to emotional intensity…This psychological experience of heat turns on the hot emotional system, intensifying a person’s emotional reactions to any stimulus…Thus, in bright light, good feels better and bad feels worse.”

Source: Journal of Consumer PsychologyVolume 24, Issue 2, April 2014, Pages 207–216. Incandescent affect: Turning on the hot emotional system with bright light. Alison Jing Xu, Aparna A. Labroo

Soulmates vs Journey-mates

How do you think about your relationship? Are the two of you on a journey with ups and downs,High mountains treking group


are you soul mates, bound by perfect unity?dreamstimefree_438058

The authors of a brand new study suggest that we tend to think of relationships in one of these ways, and that framing love as perfect unity can hurt relationship satisfaction when conflicts arise, although not during peaceful times and celebrations.

Thinking of your relationship as a perfect union is troublesome when there are conflicts, and there are bound to be conflicts, because  it hurts more deeply if you have imagined a soul mate. You are unprepared. You are fine in togetherness but not ready for the solitariness that comes with disagreements. Wanting unity, you will judge the situation differently from someone who thinks about love as a journey where some difficulties are expected.

I like this study because it gives us a way to think about love in realistic ways (expecting that 2 people will differ and can figure it out) without negative evaluations and harsh judgments.

source: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, V 54 Sept 2014 Spike Lee and Norbert Schwarz

Chinese vs American Leadership Qualities

I doubt whether these findings would be the same if the study was done in the U.S.  Three hundred twenty-eight members of top management teams and 645 rise and fallmiddle managers from 63 private Chinese companies were surveyed. The researchers examined the concept of humility among chief executive officers (CEOs) and the process through which it is connected to top management teams and to middle managers. They found that the CEOs’ humility was positively associated with empowering leadership behaviors in others. In turn, top management feels integrated, and that flows down to  middle managers’ perceptions of having an empowering organizational climate, which is then associated with their work engagement, affective commitment, and job performance. In a nutshell: humble CEOs connect to top and middle managers through collective perceptions of empowerment at both levels.

source: Amy Ou et al in Adminstrative Science Quarterly, June, 2014 V 59 (2). 


7 Steps To De-escalation Of Conflict

Have you ever been caught in an upward spiral of arguing? It seems to get worse and worse, no matter what you try. Here are 7 excellent ways to reverse that dreamstimefree_186042spiral of anger and frustration. You can begin to bring the level of conflict down by doing the following.

  1. Listen – Showing a desire to understand signals that you are open to hearing his/her point of view. Listening (without jumping in to respond) can calm down the atmosphere.
  2. Show tact and concern for his/her feelings – Be careful about sensitive issues. Don’t jump in with attacks on his/her vulnerable areas.
  3. Appeal to reason – Suggestions that you both ‘stop and think’ can help. Also, noting that inflamatory talk isn’t going to get you anywhere can help. Suggest that you both return to the topic at hand and not bring in the past may help you get back on track.
  4. Show goodwill – Making a small concession can show goodwill and encourage more of the same.
  5. Accept his/her feelings – Often anger has to be expressed before it can quiet down. If you shut him/her down, get defensive, or attack as soon as you sense anger, the conflict will continue to escalate.
  6. Stick with the problem at hand – Don’t bring in the past, his/her family, old grievances. Stay on topic.
  7. Take a break – If you aren’t getting anywhere, and even if you are, set a time limit. Stop and continue at another designated time, never in the middle of the night.

How To Handle Passive-Aggressive People

People throw around the term ‘passive-aggressive’ without really knowing what it means. So, let’s take a look. Just because your friend/husband/wife/cat Hook and Eyedoesn’t do what you want, that doesn’t make him/her/it passive aggressive.

Passive-aggressive behavior can be demonstrated in different ways but the roots are the same: the passive-aggressive person has a fear of conflict, will do a lot to avoid direct confrontation, and feels powerless.  So, their behaviors are attempts to fix these dynamics – to not feel fear, to avoid direct conflict, and to feel power. The result is generally power struggles with others that will leave both parties angry and frustrated.

When you are the target (he ‘forgot’ to pick you up, he says you never told him that your mother was visiting, she ignores you, she sabotages you, and more), it will make you enraged and feeling pretty crazy.  It seems like hostility, but he/she says, “Oh no, it isn’t; I just forgot.”  Don’t be fooled; it is hostility, just wrapped up in a colorful package with a deceptive bow. Here are the features of passive-aggressive people taken from the DSM.

  1. Personality features of: negative attitudes, sullenness, complaining, argumentative, resentment.
  2. Behavioral features of: passive resistance to demands as shown through procrastination, stubbornness, forgetfulness, and intentional inefficiency.

Sometimes these passive-aggressive behaviors are intentional, but other times, it’s not. What can you do?

  1. Observe and name the behavior.
  2. Don’t be aggressive, but be firm.
  3. Set boundaries for yourself, for example, how long you will wait when you are supposed to meet for dinner.
  4. Keep the boundaries.
  5. When discussing the behavior, don’t let the conversation get vague; stick with the specific act.
  6. Trust yourself. Stay strong, have confidence, maintain boundaries, and you won’t need to be aggressive.

6 Tips For Staying Focused

In this world of constant cell phone ringing, email pinging, TV, interruptions, and noise, it isn’t easy to say focused.  Here are 6 tips from a variety of studies.IMG_0987oko_1oko_1oko_1oko_1

Cultivate better attention:

  1. Take a short break at regular intervals.
  2. Attend to one thing at a time when the task is worth doing well. Easy tasks like folding laundry that don’t require all your brain power can be accompanied by music, conversation, etc.
  3. Set aside periods of time for the task that needs your attention and protect that time. Break down the job if it is big and do one piece at a time, for example, give yourself a designated hour to clean a closet, pay bills, make build a house.
  4. Stop, breathe, take a few minutes to meditate and relax if your attention is flagging.
  5. If your task is moveable, consider leaving your usual place and trying a new spot (library, coffee shop) that might allow for fresher attention.
  6. Set a goal. It almost doesn’t matter what the goal is – just set one!


Shattered: How Parents Cope With The Death Of Their Child

IMG_1935Shattered: How Parents Cope With The Death Of Their Child is now available on

I am pleased at the reception of my new book. If you know anyone who might benefit from reading it, please pass along the information.

I Don’t Want To Hear About Your Job !!!!

I’ve noticed that people fall into 2 categories when it comes to talking about work. One group wants to hear about their partner’s work, the people, and the details about the job. They want to dreamstimefree_238735(1)feel involved. The others do not, I repeat, do not want to hear about work and feel like screaming, “Leave it at the office!” Which is healthier?  Here is one way to think about it……..

When 131 employed men and women answered questions about the topic, “Do you talk about work at home?” the results were clear. Those who shared a positive work experience with their spouse or partner at home had created positive feelings and higher life satisfaction. I don’t know about the grumps. The researchers didn’t report on people who complained about work. Did they feel better? Maybe they felt heard, maybe they were able to come up with ways of solving the work problems, or maybe they ruined the evening for everyone.

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Unconsciously Knowing When Someone Lies

Studies have found that we are not very good at detecting lies. We think we are, but we are not. In experimental conditions, we guess right about half the time – Radiated Ratsnake, Copperhead Racer - Elaphe radiataoko_1oko_1same as flipping a coin.  I’m sure the odds go up when you know the person very well, but when you don’t, it’s guesswork on the conscious level.  Anyway, back to the unconscious.

Researchers at Berkeley tried tapping into the unconscious with an experiment that went as follows:

  1. Subjects were shown videos of liers and truth tellers.
  2. Subjects guessed whether they were told the truth or a lie.
  3. Subjects were shown an image of the person from the tape, but the image was flashed so quickly that it was not discernible consciously. Then, they were asked to do a work task which involved clumping words together, i.e. truth words such as honest or valid, and lie words such as dishonest. When they had seen quick pictures of truth tellers, they were more likely to go to truth words and choose them.  When they had seen pictures of liers, they gravitated toward the lie words. The researchers conclude that we unconsciously pick up cues. Maybe this is what people really mean when they talk about ‘my gut’ or ‘my instinct’.  Hmmm, I’ve always been a believer in the unconscious; accessing it is the problem, but this is a nice study.

So, I’ve been flashing pictures of my books as you read this. I’m sure you are headed directly to to stock up on all of them.

Source: L Brinke. Psychological Science

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