Psychology and Workplace Culture

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In my most recent blog, I covered off on the psychological history or journey of an individual and how that journey impacts on them and how they enter the workforce. In this blog I want to focus on how the workplace culture developes and why key leadership skills at the top is so important to make sure the culture is a positive one.

A common definition of workplace culture is, “How things are done around here.” Having worked in a number of organisations as an employee and as a consultant, I have seen an array of good and bad ones, but none are alike, because each person in the workplace contributes in some way so they are essentially never likely to be identical, even though there may be some similarities. Naturally those in higher roles should and most often do, have a large impact on the type of culture that the workplace is going to have. I say workplace rather than organisation, because those larger organisations with multiple sites or workplaces will have different individual cultures within each workplace.

When I worked in the police force my role was to help with rehabilitation and injury management of officers and doing this I got to interact with a number of officers who had psychological issues, not from seeing horrible things as an officer, but because of how they were treated by their manager or other officers they worked with. When I would investigate I would find certain police stations had lots of cultural issues while others didn’t and in large ways the heads of those stations definitely either set the tone for the culture through deliberate management practices or through allowing poor behaviour to go unchecked.

Some of what I saw was managers who had a very aggressive management style, the classic, “my way or the highway” mentality. They would rant and rave and make up their own “rules” for the station, sometimes trivial things to make sure everyone knew who was the boss. The result? A station that hated when he was in and where the officers would talk about him behind his back. It was also a station with high turnover, officers would come and do their mandatory 2 years and they couldn’t wait to skip out of there. I actually did exactly that when I was an officer.

The troops themselves were great to work with but he always left a dark cloud over the station that affected the mood and had an effect on the culture which would have been a lot better if just that one person had left. In other stations you had Senior Sergeants who had a similar style to the one above, but they also had their favourites and this created even more issues because some of them would get greater opportunities for advancement even if they weren’t the most capable ones. This created a polarisation within the station as the favourites tended to have similar “aggressive undertones” and tended to pick on those who weren’t in the clique.

Once again the Fight or Flight reflex has a significant effect on us as individuals and this ultimately impacts the team culture. Fight or Flight or more appropriately Anger and Fear dominates in these cultures. Those in power use aggression (physical or psychological) to get their employees to do what they need done. This creates fear from those employees and they either comply or get punished. If you have long-term employees working in fear, you ultimately get compliance only and no discretionary effort. The morale is often poor and turnover can be high.

The importance of the leaders creating an environment where there is less aggression and greater psychological safety is paramount. It really is the difference between a mentality of playing NOT to lose and playing to WIN. How this plays out is like a sports analogy where you have a person or team that is dominating play and suddenly something happens and momentum swing a little and suddenly the other team comes back at them and you can see them unravel and this because “fear” comes into the equation and now instead of playing to win like they were earlier, they are playing not to lose and that mindset just doesn’t produce the best results in sport and in the workplace.

As leaders in organisation we need to help create that safety for our teams to feel comfortable to give good honest feedback when we calibrate the type of behaviour we are willing to accept and what we will not accept. Lots of organisations have come up with Core Values, Missions and Purposes, but it doesn’t mean a damn thing if the leaders in the organisation just give it lip service and actually do it to get greater output from their employees.

 

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Too often I have seen organisations do this and behind closed doors that is exactly their real purpose, which is to sell more and make more money. They expect their employees to follow the core values, but their own behaviour doesn’t fit in with that and they still rule with that fear undercurrent, so nothing changes, because the employees still feel unsafe and they act accordingly by continuing to do just enough to not get into trouble, they don’t want to stand out, they just plod along. They bring unions in to stand up for them, because they don’t want to be targeted individually.

The first steps to creating safety is about genuinely focusing on how we can grow our people and develop good genuine relationships. As leaders the first question we need to ask ourselves is what are we doing that makes our employees feel unsafe? How do we deal with people who underperform? Do we use fear to intimidate our employees to do what is required? Sometimes we do this accidentally with our rules or policies and we as managers can hide behind these to make our decisions.

In a number of manufacturing roles I would see that management have the view that they just want their employees to comply with a process and not deviate from that. Some even call it idiot proofing the process so anyone can do it. They are saying they don’t want an employee who thinks, they want compliance and amazingly that is what they get. They don’t get innovation or ideas from their employees and then they wonder why nothing gets better. Understanding the psychology of fear and anger is an important key for any leader, because it leads to a lot of areas of their team culture and the individuals at home.

Clint Adams is a former Police Officer who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, Post Graduate Qualifications in Rehabilitation Counselling and Business Management. He has a Blog and Podcasts on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Below are instalments in the Full mental Jacket Series:
Instalment 1: Understanding Fear & Anger
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/19/full-mental-jacket-understanding-fear-anger/
Instalment 2: The Brain & Counselling
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/20/full-mental-jacket-the-brain-and-counselling/
Instalment 3: Creating Resilience
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/25/full-mental-jacket-3-creating-resilience/
Instalment 4: The Inner Story
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/02/full-mental-jacket-4-the-inner-story/
Instalment 5: Creating Safety
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/05/full-mental-jacket-5-creating-safety/
Instalment 6: You Are The Director
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/full-mental-jacket-6you-are-the-director/
Instalment 7: Directing Your Children
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/16/full-mental-jacket-7-directing-our-children-thanks/
Instalment 8: Shame & Guilt
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/full-mental-jacket-8-shame-guilt/
Instalment 9: Breaking the pattern
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/11/19/full-mental-jacket-9-breaking-the-pattern/
Instalment 10: Taking Control
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/11/20/full-mental-jacket-10-taking-control/
Full Free E-Book
https://clintadams21.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/full-mental-jacket-e-book.pdf

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The Psychological Cycle of an Employee: The Good vs The Bad

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When we think about employees, brand new  ones, experienced ones and those that have worked for other organisations and come to our organisation, we rarely think of the psychological journey they bring with them. Regardless of what a person brings, the organisation has some obligations and they are mostly responsible for the cultural environment the person comes into. Naturally some people have personal issues, maybe even “demons” they have to deal with when they come to that organisation and the organisation can either “drag” them up or “drag” them down regardless.

In my Full Mental Jacket series of blogs, I cover off how we as individuals unconsciously learn when we are very young and form some very clear thought patterns that can set an undercurrent for ourselves that can either enhance us or hinder us through our lives. I don’t want to revisit this process at great length, but a quick recap may help make some sense of the rest of this instalment. Dr. Joe Dispenza in his book “You are the placebo” describes how we think from a neuroscience perspective and how we develop patterns of thought. The process goes like this:

  • We have a thought.
  • We make a neurotransmitter in the brain.
  • The brain also makes a neuropeptide that sends a message to the body.
  • The body reacts by having a feeling.
  • The brain notices that the body is having a feeling.
  • In response to that feeling the brain the generates another thought matched to that exact feeling.
  • This produces more of the same chemical messages that allow you to think the way you were just feeling.

In short, thinking creates a feeling which then creates a thought equal to that feeling. So as a young baby growing up, our thoughts are mostly unconscious, and what is happening around us and the people and stimuli we are exposed to will determine our thoughts initially. The more we repeat this process the more we develop patterns of thoughts and feelings and the body also becomes a key part of how we later make decisions based on how we “feel”. While this process is going on, neurons in our brains also fire based on the thought and the feeling it elicits. As Dr. Dispenza says, “what fires together wires together“, so if we have a repeated pattern of thoughts, it will cause the same neurons to fire and wire together.

This wiring together means we are forming a thought “habit” and it creates a type of thought shortcut, where it is then an automatic response the more often we have the same thought pattern. As we grow up these thoughts might affect our mood in the short term. The more we have that same “thought experience” which has the same “body experience” and ultimately the same “feeling experience” and then the more it becomes part of our “personality” and it then leads to our beliefs over time. These beliefs and our personality sets a tone for how we experience the world and in turn future experiences will determine our ongoing beliefs, but it can be a vicious cycle.

Below is a simple illustration of how our experiences affects our beliefs or mental models and how our mental models will affect our experiences. If my initial experiences are negative and I am surrounded by people who consistently tell me I am worthless or no good, I start to have thoughts about that experience and the process above starts, with me possibly feeling quite negative and possibly sad, if this continues and I form the belief that I am actually worthless, then I can focus on the negative side of that and my experiences will be affected by my view of myself. I might choose not to interact with others because I am embarrassed by myself and assume they think the same about me, so no one approaches me either and then I believe that I am worthless even more and so this cycle can go.

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It is important to understand some of how this plays out when a person comes into the workplace. It is especially important to understand that when a young adult comes to the workplace, they do have some set thought patterns. A combination of those thought patterns and the way they are treated at work, especially in their early  weeks in the job will determine a lot about how they will progress.

I have worked in a number of different organisations, including the police (as a cop and a public servant), injury management, healthcare, multiple manufacturing organisations, as well as detention in Australia and overseas. I have seen good work cultures and poor work cultures, but to be brutally honest mostly bad. The ones that have been bad I can honestly say is based around an “undercurrent” of aggressive or what I call Red Brain behaviour.

Lets talk about someone, maybe a team leader who is a little aggressive at work, not violent, but quite aggressive and feels they need to demonstrate their “power” over others. Sometimes they have come up through the ranks and got given more responsibility, sometimes because they are actually good workers and sometimes because they knew someone and they got promoted without really earning it. How they got there is irrelevant, but the fact that their undercurrent of “aggressiveness” is.

Lets play out the journey of a young person coming into this work environment for the first time. If this aggressive person is the team leader, they will now be in charge of this new person. Lets pause and think of the newcomer. If they had a tentative or even a fearful view on life because of their upbringing and schooling to this point, then we have a number of risk factors leading to this being a poor likely outcome. If this team leader was to yell and swear at this person as they go through work, I can guarantee it will trigger strong “fight or flight” responses in this young person. For starters they won’t feel comfortable or strong enough to raise the issue, if they felt they have been poorly treated. A lot of old school parents still also think it is acceptable behaviour, because that was how they “copped it” when they first started work, so the person doesn’t feel they will get a sympathetic ear from the parent so that fear of being told to toughen up will prevent them talking about it.

If there is a pattern at the organisation of this type of behaviour it does 1 of 3 things.

  1. Those who won’t take that type of behaviour, will respond in an aggressive way themselves as it sets off their fight or flight “red brain” and will result in lots of arguments and butting heads with these individuals.
  2. The second is the timid, defensive type who won’t get into arguments, instead they will shy away from interactions and will try to minimise the aggression they are receiving. They see their best strategy is to not piss this person off, so they are usually compliant at work, do what they are told and don’t rock the boat with any ideas or innovation, because that is usually shut down anyway. These become the employees who do the bare minimum and add no innovation, usually become the disgruntled ones who complain all the time and generally will not leave.
  3. The third is the person who is actually prepared to stand up for themselves in a reasonable way and often the “bully” will try to make them look bad and generally will pick on them the most, because they often challenge their authority and possibly their knowledge. Unfortunately a lot of times these people leave the organisation of their own accord and go to better organisations if they don’t see things changing for the better.

I know these seem like sweeping generalisations but I have seen this repeated in a number of organisations, I also see that the Human Synergistics tools, which have measured how individuals and organisations with Passive Defensive and Aggressive Defensive styles  inhibit the company’s performance and also individual output and genuine personal happiness. These  are all common to how our natural survival fight or flight instincts form patterns of behaviour that not only hold us back, but can affect how others treat us, how we perceive ourselves and how we then treat others.

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When we think of “profiling” we usually associate it with serial killers, but we can use profiling to also predict likely outcomes of behaviour, which may not be at the extreme aggression of taking multiple people’s lives. There are certainly patterns that I think is better labelled as risk factors. An example would be, I am more likely to have a mental health disorder or be unhealthy or use drugs if:

  • I’m born into a low socioeconomic family.
  • I live in a single parent family.
  • My parents use drugs.
  • My parents have a history of mental illness.
  • My parents are on welfare.

The list can go and although these are not guaranteed outcomes it can give insight to how a young person might have increased risks of some mental issues or develop poor habits that inhibit their health and higher risk behaviour. Simple things like how nurturing a parent is to a child can have lasting effects on their ability to deal with stress, simply by the number of cortisol sites they develop. Those whose parents were less nurturing had a greater sensitivity to stress and this had an affect on which genes were expressed.

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If we genuinely want to help children develop properly we need to focus significantly on how we can minimise or eliminate these risk factors. This is for another blog episode, but to bring it back to the purpose of this blog, it is about us understanding how young people come into the workforce with some of these issues and some have had a number of these risk factors in their lives and all these have contributed to their self perception and how they are treated by others and how they think about treating others.

As a HR professional in a number of my roles and my work in the police I have certainly seen that people will react to protect themselves, whether by fight or by flight. I have also seen the ones that are able to deal with conflict well. One of the best articles I read on this is Silence Kills .

https://www.aacn.org/nursing-excellence/healthy-work-environments/~/media/aacn-website/nursing-excellence/healthy-work-environment/silencekills.pdf?la=en

In this article they look at various hospitals and find that most of the medical staff know of a lot of poor behaviour, some even dangerous to patients, but they are ultimately too scared to say anything. They do however show that a low percentage of people were able to have those conversations with the right people.  This is certainly the best place to start having better conversations, but ultimately we must do more to help young people also develop their “bravery.” I say bravery because fear is what is holding them back. the fear of not being accepted or fear of rejection plays a huge part in their development. Next Blog we will focus on ways to increase others bravery in the workplace.

Clint Adams is a former Police Officer who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, Post Graduate Qualifications in Rehabilitation Counselling and Business Management. He has a Blog and Podcasts on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Below are  instalments in the Full mental Jacket Series:
Instalment 1: Understanding Fear & Anger
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/19/full-mental-jacket-understanding-fear-anger/
Instalment 2: The Brain & Counselling
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/20/full-mental-jacket-the-brain-and-counselling/
Instalment 3: Creating Resilience
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/25/full-mental-jacket-3-creating-resilience/
Instalment 4: The Inner Story
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/02/full-mental-jacket-4-the-inner-story/
Instalment 5: Creating Safety
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/05/full-mental-jacket-5-creating-safety/
Instalment 6: You Are The Director
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/full-mental-jacket-6you-are-the-director/
Instalment 7: Directing Your Children
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/16/full-mental-jacket-7-directing-our-children-thanks/
Instalment 8: Shame & Guilt
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/full-mental-jacket-8-shame-guilt/
Instalment 9: Breaking the pattern
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/11/19/full-mental-jacket-9-breaking-the-pattern/

Instalment 10: Taking Control

https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/11/20/full-mental-jacket-10-taking-control/

Full Free E-Book

https://clintadams21.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/full-mental-jacket-e-book.pdf

10 Steps to Suicide Prevention: Full Mental Jacket 10: Taking Control

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In my previous posts in the Full Mental Jacket series I explain how we passively take information in when we are very young and how our thoughts and body intertwine to create a “feeling”. I also cover off on patterns of thought and gave some strategies on how to break these patterns by doing certain things that stop certain neurons wiring and firing together.

All those things are important, but the most important is when someone has the intent to change what is happening to them. The saying goes, “we get more of what we focus on.” So if that is true why do we “choose” to focus on the negative? Sure the unconscious is always scanning for anything that could be a threat and if it detects even a hint of it, then it starts our fight or flight response. But when there is no visible threat and the threat is in our thoughts, then you would think we could easily choose to not focus on the negative. Unfortunately we don’t and when we start that red brain response and it makes us feel fearful or ashamed or sad, we can get addicted to the chemicals that these responses illicit, especially if we have formed a habit of this type of thinking. This then brings repeated physical responses and that is how we can crave the response even though it is not good for us.

No matter how you look at it, destructive thought patterns creates destructive physical responses and this can lead to very dark places in the persons head. The keys are focus and intent. Firstly if we are not constantly focussing on the negative things happening, then we already can change which parts of the brain is being activated. That is why focusing on something like gratitude can help. By focusing on something or someone that you are grateful for, means you are focusing on something good and when we think of those things it does not stimulate the amygdala, it activates different parts of the brain. By being intent on where you focus becomes a key first step to moving from a dark place.

The reason things like the book “the secret” and goal setting works is because it is an intent. Once you decide you don’t want to be in that dark place. The focus needs to be to the future, because looking to the future uses that positive blue brain psychology and keeps you from focusing on the fear, sadness or anxiety. In my last post I write about naming and talking to your unconscious mind, in this instance when you have intent and you know what you want to happen, you can start to control that unconscious mind by planning what you want the end game to be. Once you decide to change things you can focus on setting goals for yourself and put together an action plan. The action plan needs to be activities based on helping with the changes, like the thoughts diary, or exercise, or volunteering to help someone else. They all need to be based around reducing the current destructive thought pattern and replacing it with healthier activities and thoughts. It is important to not be using drugs or alcohol, which only band aid the problem.

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Taking control is easier that we might think. When you know where you want to go and you plan for it and you put together that action plan, the key is to then start the activities and use the activities to interrupt when the bad thoughts come. Slowly but surely things will start to change. You will notice less negative thoughts in that thoughts diary and they will last less and less. Just like the destructive thoughts can form a pattern, so can the positive thoughts, we just need to practice them in a deliberate way. Remember you get more of what you focus on, so focus on the things you want to come into your life. Again you can plan for those things and put actions in place to make things happen. You really are the driver of your thoughts. 

One of the hardest things to deal with is the death of someone close to you. Nothing will ever replace that person and it is best to have a time to grieve and then celebrate the life they lived and the time you got to spend with them, which is why they are close to you, but in this instance again it is important to try to focus to the future and ask your unconscious some questions that is positively framed, as it pushes the focus to a positive space. Questions like, “what would that person want me to do with my life?” If that person was close to you, they would want the best for you and to go on and do great things, not feel sorry for them to the point that you don’t take care of yourself or leave the house.

We are all human and bad things will happen in our lives, that is guaranteed. We will all get sad, feel scared and have various other emotions that comes with being human, but we can dust ourselves off and move forward with intent no matter what life throws at us. Make sure you also keep in contact with friends and family because we can all help each other get through tough times. I’m hopeful these blogs can be used to get us thinking of how we can help each other more, be involved more and just try different things, because there are many ways to the top of the mountain, try things, something just might work for you.

 

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Clint Adams is a former Police Officer who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, Post Graduate Qualifications in Rehabilitation Counselling and Business Management. He has a Blog and Podcasts on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Below are the other instalments in the Full mental Jacket Series:
Instalment 1: Understanding Fear & Anger
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/19/full-mental-jacket-understanding-fear-anger/
Instalment 2: The Brain & Counselling
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/20/full-mental-jacket-the-brain-and-counselling/
Instalment 3: Creating Resilience
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/25/full-mental-jacket-3-creating-resilience/
Instalment 4: The Inner Story
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/02/full-mental-jacket-4-the-inner-story/
Instalment 5: Creating Safety
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/05/full-mental-jacket-5-creating-safety/
Instalment 6: You Are The Director
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/full-mental-jacket-6you-are-the-director/
Instalment 7: Directing Your Children
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/16/full-mental-jacket-7-directing-our-children-thanks/
Instalment 8: Shame & Guilt
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/full-mental-jacket-8-shame-guilt/

Instalment 9: Breaking the pattern

https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/11/19/full-mental-jacket-9-breaking-the-pattern/

 

10 Steps to Suicide Prevention: Full Mental Jacket 9: Breaking the Pattern.

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In order to break the pattern of repeated negative thoughts, we must stop the neurons in our brains from wiring and firing together in the same way. There are many different ways to do this, but it is important to understand that when we have a thought, certain neurons fire and when we repeat that thought the same neurons fire. When they repeatedly fire over and over, then these neurons wire together and create a “shortcut” which means it becomes easier and easier to fire together. This is how we create habits and is why habits can be difficult to break.

As children we can unconsciously create thought patterns that we don’t even realise. We can create thought patterns that we consider is our personality. Someone very shy or highly anxious may have an underlying thought pattern which they developed which involves an undercurrent associated with fear, of embarrassment or humiliation which I covered off in my previous post. This may have stemmed from the parents and it became a habitual thought pattern, now they look at the world from that point of view and when they are in social situations they “feel” uneasy. They then avoid those situations and this process keeps repeating itself and the same neurons wire and fire together when they are in that situation.

A single event can also create a pattern of thought. This is how PTSD can come about, where a person can experience an extreme event and the memory of that event becomes what they focus on. They will replay that event over and over in their heads and again the same neurons wire and fire together until they can automatically think of the same memory. They can also ruminate over what might have happened and this process if repeated multiple times can trigger the same fight or flight responses which can be destructive.

The key to “breaking” that cycle is to change the neurons firing that have wired together. There are many ways to do that. I mentioned using a thoughts diary in a previous post, which helps interrupt the thought continuing like it normally would, as it forces the person to use the analytical part of the brain, so it forces more blood back up into the brain rather than into the muscles to get ready for fight or flight. Over time I usually get them to add layers to that activity, so instead of just recording whether they had a negative or positive thought I get them to describe the thought a bit more, again the purpose is to reduce the times of those same neurons firing and wiring together.

The next steps is to then start “doing” something else when they catch themselves having those thoughts, so I get them to practice an activity, it can be anything really, but I use a  “centering” activity. They have to stop and think about their posture, so they have to focus on trying to lengthen their body by standing up straight, head as high as it can go, pin the shoulders back so they open their chest and then focus on deep slow breathes for 10 seconds. This again uses different neurons and helps interrupt the wiring and firing of the destructive thought pattern. Naturally they can do some other activity, but ideally we want to do something that makes them stop, think and then do something else. It is good to have them develop a positive thought and physical habit which they can use at anytime that the negative thoughts pop into their heads.

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In a previous post I write about being the Director of your own thoughts. With PTSD I also get the person to “freeze frame” the thoughts and play around with the thought in their heads and make some changes to it. This process causes them to not just interrupt the thought, but it forces them to use the imaginative side of the brain, which steers them away from any fight or flight amygdala generated thoughts. It also forces the blood again to pump back up into this large portion of the brain away from the muscles.

Another way they can break the cycle is to think of their unconscious as a character or person. I tell them to give it a name, something friendly. I call mine LJ and I will have conscious internal dialogue where I  consciously tell it what I want it to do and also what I don’t want it to do. A few years back I would have horrible mental images just pop into my head at random times and it would set off a fear response, where the hairs on the back of my neck or arms would stand up. In this case I started to really talk to LJ that I didn’t want those thoughts to come in. I would do that every time it happened for a couple of weeks and I noticed slowly but surely it got less and less and now it hardly happens.

If we can think our way into situations we can definitely think our way out of them. The key is to understand how thoughts work and how they cause us to “feel.” I won’t go over old ground but if you want to know more about that check out my previous posts they are all listed below. Once we know how thoughts work and how habits and thought patterns form, we can reverse engineer them to work for us in a more positive way. There is certainly a strong push for “Positive Psychology” approach and while I think is a good place to start, sometimes you can’t just think positively, you actually need to deal with the habitual thought first by making changes as I suggested above and this can slowly be replaced with more positive psychology including affirmations.

Another technique to help someone going through tough thought patterns is to get them to do something for someone else, like volunteering. This again is what I call a Blue Brain experience because it causes them to focus outside of themselves rather than focus on the negative thoughts and negative feelings it brings with it. Once you focus on wanting to help others it activates the frontal cortex which is associated with the social aspects of us as humans, which again helps with the interruptions.

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Also doing something physical and changing scenery are all other strategies to help with this process. Mindfulness and meditation are other techniques which helps change our focus and replace it with something more positive. This also changes our brain waves, which helps with relaxing and slowing things down. There are many ways to make these changes, but  if you know how you think and what these strategies need to do to be effective, which is to stop the wiring and firing of those neurons and replace with something else, then you will be more likely to get results.

Clint Adams is a former Police Officer who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, Post Graduate Qualifications in Rehabilitation Counselling and Business Management. He has a Blog and Podcasts on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

Below are the other instalments in the Full mental Jacket Series:
Instalment 1: Understanding Fear & Anger
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/19/full-mental-jacket-understanding-fear-anger/
Instalment 2: The Brain & Counselling
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/20/full-mental-jacket-the-brain-and-counselling/
Instalment 3: Creating Resilience
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/25/full-mental-jacket-3-creating-resilience/
Instalment 4: The Inner Story
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/02/full-mental-jacket-4-the-inner-story/
Instalment 5: Creating Safety
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/05/full-mental-jacket-5-creating-safety/
Instalment 6: You Are The Director
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/full-mental-jacket-6you-are-the-director/
Instalment 7: Directing Your Children
https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/16/full-mental-jacket-7-directing-our-children-thanks/

 

Instalment 8: Shame & Guilt

https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/full-mental-jacket-8-shame-guilt/

 

10 Steps to Suicide Prevention: Full Mental Jacket 8: Shame & Guilt

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When we think about how we learn and are taught to fit in with others we can see how sometimes those methods can be destructive, because ultimately we have an “inner voice” which is largely unconscious and non verbal, so it comes out in how we “feel”. I have covered off in previous posts how we think, learn and make decisions with our body a lot more based on how we feel and not use our “logical” brain like we might expect we do.

In a previous post I cover off how we often use “fear” (usually of punishment) to get citizens and family members to comply with certain rules for a number of reasons. In various societies over many generations we use shame, humiliation and guilt to teach people to either conform, fit in and become compliant citizens. In Japan, death is considered better than shaming your family. This is instilled in a growing child as they are taught the rules of that society and rightly or wrongly they have a high suicide rate as a result.

Let’s cover off on guilt and shame very briefly. One of the easiest explained definitions I can recall is this: Shame = “I am bad”. While Guilt = “I did something bad.” The reason these emotions exist is ultimately to help us fit in and develop relationships. Guilt in particular is linked to our interpersonal relationships and as we grow up we are calibrating to know and understand what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviour. This shapes what we say or do and also what we don’t say or do.

When we think of how we learn to feel guilty, it’s based on where we live and the key influencers in our lives, especially in our early childhood. The notion of “I did something bad” comes from those key influencers giving feedback, sometimes verbal sometimes through punishment, and this shapes some behaviour that we wouldn’t do again because of the fear of that reaction. We learn a lot of rules along the way. Ever hear, “Children should be seen and not heard?” These are ways we are shaped to behave. We are told that you can’t always tell someone the truth, because we don’t want to offend them. In Australian and British culture we are taught to be polite, to have manners and not be rude. In other cultures they may not be taught this politeness and then when people have different rules that they grew up with it can create issues when we expect someone to act a certain way and they don’t.

This post is not about these societal differences but to illustrate how the society we are brought up in and the parents or early caregivers you are exposed to can have lasting effects on how guilt and shame can shape our lives. Shame, guilt and embarrassment  are all quite closely related and it usually involves the presence of others, it is there for the social aspects of our lives and mostly in a healthy way to be able to fit and develop meaningful relationships with others. It can however also start a downward spiral if the person is not able to deal with deep shame.

In previous posts I write about getting stuck in negative thought patterns and if we get stuck in a pattern of shame, we start to convince ourselves and tell ourselves, “I am bad.” This type of thought pattern can be destructive because unlike, “I did something bad” we can easily believe that we can’t change being bad and we can start to feel worthless. If we get picked on about our clothes for example and people laugh at us and humiliate us in front of others we start to look at ourselves as worthless and not up to where others are and our internal dialogue come back into play. Those “unconscious thoughts” quickly turn into internal dialogue that reinforces that we are useless and we start to listen to the internal dialogue.

When you feel shamed and humiliated, it is difficult to share that experience with anyone because generally you are feeling ashamed and telling anyone can make you feel more ashamed, so most people internalise it and keep it silent. After a while they can feel ashamed of feeling ashamed, which creates even further internal dialogue and with social media these days other people can send stuff online to humiliate you even further. If the person is already vulnerable then it can lead to destructive behaviour including suicide.

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Often with people struggling with certain mental health issues, their reactions can make them feel more shamed and this can worsen their condition such as depression. I worked with a police officer suffering from PTSD and he was more concerned with how humiliated he felt because he was crying a lot as a result of the PTSD and this was not what he saw as what was expected from him as a man and as a police officer. He found that thought much worse to deal with because in his head it questioned the persona of himself that he identified himself with.

To help him with this a lot of work was done on getting him to realise that he was experiencing an illness like any physical one which affected the way he was feeling and the way he was thinking. I don’t mean to compare mental illness with having a bad cold, but to illustrate a point, when you have a bad cold where the physical symptoms are a sore throat, runny nose, coughing etc, this all affects our general mood and we don’t feel that great and in this case physical symptoms leads to some psychological distress and with mental health it can do the same. The key is calling on resilience and being able to work through using strategies that slowly break those thought patterns and change the neurons that fire and wire together.

As parents it is important to really think about how we reprimand and teach our children and it is important to focus on nurturing them in positive ways. Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina has found that positive emotions, like trust, curiosity, confidence and inspiration broaden the mind and help us build psychological, social and physical skills. While there will be times where the old methods of raising your child by using punishment will be used it is important that we think about how we use shame and humiliation.

This has ramifications for schools as well. I did my primary school years in South Africa and the teachers would put up everyone’s results in order highest to lowest. I was lucky I was actually a reasonably good student and now that I reflect back, it would have been extremely humiliating for those who had not done so well. It would be bad enough that you didn’t do well but then to have it made public, can’t be that helpful. I guess the rationale is to “motivate” them to do better, but ultimately in that type of scenario there will always be people at the bottom of that list and  it is important to think differently to change some this.

Why don’t schools promote each class as being a team and getting each one of their students to want to help their classmates and develop each other. It can be explained that just like a sporting team, not everyone is great at batting in cricket or bowling or fielding, but we can all do our bit and contribute to the team. High performing teams learn from each other, work together push each other and also develop good psychological safety, where they can talk to each other and have good conversations and dialogue about each others behaviour in a constructive way rather than one that makes someone feel shamed. If it is structured in such a way that students learn to do this well and actually are taught they aren’t against each other that their whole class and the school would benefit from them all doing well, then it’s a massive win/win. But, we must resist the urge to give everyone a ribbon for turning up, because life is not fair and they will need to deal with some disappointment while also developing overall resilience.

I honestly believe that if you have less structural components at school and at home that would result in shame and humiliation then that can only be a positive thing. If you received feedback done in the right way with the right intent even if it is negative the person can start to get that calibration with their peers and get a much better understanding of what is “healthy” interaction and then dialogue can also develop, which increases those relationships.

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If children are able to have opportunities to raise issues daily about anyone else in their classes behaviours and it is facilitated well by the teachers, it helps build their confidence, increases that calibration and improves relationships, which is a great outcome. If teachers then implemented strategies that also fostered team work from them all, where they would focus on helping each other, this also helps relationships build and develops a less selfish culture. Long term this means that they have support from the class and teacher and they are developing skills that make them more resilient and less likely to “shy” away from crucial conversations when they are required.

As mentioned above throw in some strategies which foster positive emotions, like trust, curiosity, confidence and inspiration to broaden the mind which help us build psychological, social and physical skill then we are on a much stronger road to developing intelligent, socially good and highly resilient people who actually work as a team and take care of each other. I would like to think this would lead to less health (physical and psychological) issues, better school retention and ideally less criminal activity and reduced suicide.

Clint Adams is a former Police Officer who has a Bachelors Degree in Psychology, Post Graduate Qualifications in Rehabilitation Counselling and Business Management. He has a Blog and Podcasts on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

Below are the other instalments in the Full mental Jacket Series:

Instalment 1: Understanding Fear & Anger

https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/19/full-mental-jacket-understanding-fear-anger/

Instalment 2: The Brain & Counselling

https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/20/full-mental-jacket-the-brain-and-counselling/

Instalment3: Creating Resilience

https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/09/25/full-mental-jacket-3-creating-resilience/

Instalment 4: The Inner Story

https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/02/full-mental-jacket-4-the-inner-story/

Instalment 5: Creating Safety

https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/05/full-mental-jacket-5-creating-safety/

Instalment 6: You Are The Director

https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/full-mental-jacket-6you-are-the-director/

Instalment 7: Directing Your Children

https://clintadams21.wordpress.com/2018/10/16/full-mental-jacket-7-directing-our-children-thanks/

10 Steps to Suicide Prevention: Full Mental Jacket 7: Directing our children.

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In the last instalment I covered how I would help my clients in counseling by becoming a Director of their own thoughts and thought patterns to help them get out of patterns that were doing them harm.

In my view we can use a similar approach, but a more structured and proactive one to help our children as they are developing. It is obviously important for parents to understand the basics of what has been covered in the previous instalments. With some of that knowledge they really can help prevent some negative patterns from forming, and with better knowledge they can actually focus on how they and their children can direct the thoughts they want to form.

Understanding how a child develops thoughts and how it is hardwired into patterns, which form moods, then personalities and beliefs. We can actively put good thought habits in place by questioning them better around how they feel and what they are thinking.

The key on this is them knowing they have conscious control over how they react even when things don’t go their way. I think a lot of parents don’t have these kind of discussions and they don’t give much thought to ‘planning’ what they would like their children to learn from them, so it just happens by osmosis and we hope they turn out OK.

I recently went to my 30 year school reunion so it has been a while since I was in school other than my tertiary studies, but I don’t recall anyone really teaching us anything about how we think and how we become the people we end up being.

In my Police days and my HR roles I see so much wasted potential in so many people who are stuck and it plays out in them being, bitter and quite nasty people to be around. They have poor relationships at work and at home and they generally make others around them miserable too.

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Structural coupling is when someone comes in the room and brings energy or takes it away from others in the room. We need to help our children to not end up being the energy takers. There are certain skills that can help with dealing with problems. As Dr. Stebbins says in his book the Stress Surfer, if you have a problem you can do something about then it requires problem solving but if it’s something you can’t do anything about then it requires coping skills.

Knowing how you learn and think and feeling comfortable to have conversations and asking for help when you are feeling down are  important skills we should be teaching them at home and in schools. As parents and educators we should be actively looking at the research and consistently look at life skills as well as the rest of the curriculum. Long term studies should be used to try to find what strategies may impact on creating more resilient, more confident and capable adults for the future.

Examples like the Stanford Marshmallow experiment conducted in the 70’s where young children were offered a marshmallow, but if they delayed eating it for a certain period of time they could get a second one. In a nutshell they found years later that those who were able to delay the gratification of eating the marshmallow the longest appeared to be more successful at life in general and they had much higher activity in the pre-frontal cortex, which correlates with the Blue Brain activity I covered off in a previous blog.

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The point being that there is some skills and strategies we can explore further and look at influencing the children at an earlier age in a structured way, while we consider how they learn how they interact and how they develop relationships.

Below is a link which explains the Stanford Marshmallow experiment.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment

Clint Adams is a former Police Officer who has a Bachelors Degree in Psychology, Post Graduate Qualifications in Rehabilitation Counselling and Business Management. He has a Blog and Podcasts on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention