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Hungry Baby Syndrome

If you are a boss or in a leadership position at work please note that the anxiety from this economic downturn puts you in a difficult position with employees. The emotional aspect of economically induced stress needs to be understood. Whether the fear is real or imagined, it can impact you. Here is what happens. A boss is an authority figure, much like a parent. In our business programs we caution those in leadership positions to remember the chair they sit in dictates as much about how people will react as their efforts to do a stellar job. If your employees were discounted or abandoned by a parent you become the recipient of the “hungry baby” syndrome. The more the situation activates survival mechanisms in the brain, the stronger the fear reaction. Then employees want you to take care of them. To get your attention they become the super achiever, pleaser, rebel, martyr, or drama queen, patterns with history in the long ago past. It benefits all of us to see where parent issues are still being activated so we don’t glom onto the boss for attention beyond real work issues or pull away from the leader because of invisible trust issues still lurking around from long...

Shut up and Breathe!

Researching economically induced stress and behavior patterns at the core of anxiety is critical in our present fear based environment. There seem to be so many traps right in front of us; money worries, health concerns, not enough natural resources, and on and on. Please remember that the shadow of the past is always present in decision making and the more we can understand how old events shape today’s thinking the better off we are. Here is an overview of what happens: the amygdala is hardwired to trigger our primal coping skills. Fight or flight is basic and kicks in before we have a conscious thought. We have memories of what we or the grown ups around us did or did not do to keep us safe and there is an automatic reaction pattern that occurs. A rock climbing incident comes to mind. I like to put myself in fear inducing situations that have a limited risk factor. It is good practice for me since as a kid I was always told to “be careful.” On the side of a steep cliff I got stuck. One basic rule in rock climbing (applicable to much of life) is to keep moving. I began to freeze and the guide’s voice kept shouting for me to move. “Move where”, I shouted back. I looked around and it was sheer, smooth rock. The guide was being drowned out by my mother holding the back of my first two wheeler saying, “Oh, oh you’re going to fall!” Thanks mom! Finally the guide shouted with great intention, “Sylvia, Shut up and breathe.” Then he commanded, “Look to...

Emotional Turmoil: Everyday, Everywhere

Flying back from San Francisco yesterday was frustrating and fascinating. High winds delayed most of the flights and there was nothing to do but complain. So, that’s what we all did. First, we blamed the weather. Can’t it just be calm and pleasant? Next, the airline. Can’t they have better solutions? Then the seats in the waiting area got trounced. Too hard, too soft, nothing just right. TV monitors were a brief diversion. More complaints. The mantra was, “The economy, the economy, the economy”. Then a few of us started a discussion. Actually, I got bored and wanted to change the direction of the talk. So I asked a few folks sitting near me how they were feeling about the state of the union. Like shy teenagers at a junior high dance we initially began to talk in grand superficialities. Then we became a community of intimate strangers, sharing personal stories of fear and strength. I heard stories of cowardice and compassion. I heard stories of cop-outs and creativity. All the while I kept thinking that emotional turmoil has a bright side. Once the commotion dies down there are often new and energizing ways to tackle what needs to be done differently. Emotional turmoil is the “pattern interrupt” that forces alternatives, that shouts for us to adapt in a better way. We all smiled and became shy again as we entered the plane. And as I sat thinking about these people who had become nameless momentary friends I felt a surge of personal courage. I decided that I could dive in to the fear of “what if…” with a...

A Nation of Cowards?

Attorney General Eric Holder called us a nation of cowards because we do not talk enough with each other about race. The issue is bigger. We do not, as a nation, talk enough about much that really matters. Underneath race is a dialogue waiting to happen about the patterns of relationships that have been handed to us through the generations. The questions we need to ask are about the viability of the hierarchical and exploitative nature of the culture we perpetuate. Yes we do live in a black and white world, only the dichotomies are not just about race, they are about the dualistic nature we accept as fact. Neuroscience, for example, shows us how mirror neurons cause us to share emotional reactions. Thus, we are not the isolated units we once thought. The world we live in is interactive and everything impacts everything else. So, let’s begin the deeper dialogue. It includes and yet transcends race, gender, sexual preference, economic inequities and the like. Let’s talk about reciprocity, a word rarely used in our culture of red and blue states, good and bad people, right and wrong ideas. We are, in a sense, addicted to getting our points across in a world of winners and losers, persecutors and victims. It’s time to talk the language of relationships, ask what connects us, and what we need from each other. The Sankofa bird, a mythological symbol from Ghana on the cover of my book is an icon of these times. It means “clear the past to free the present” and challenges us to “look back, learn, move forward”. Then in...

Patterns of Denial Break Apart

Michael Phelps, the Olympic medal winner not only said, “Yes I did” to smoking pot, he also said, “I am sorry” and about the public controversy, “This is tough.” Comes at the same time President Obama said, “I screwed up” when talking about standing behind several of his cabinet choices. This is a far cry from Bill Clinton’s, “I never inhaled”, Rob Blagojevich’s “Did nothing wrong” or recently past Vice President Cheney’s variation of “We did good!” Deniers pretend that problems and uncomfortable situations don’t exist. They are fearful of looking at themselves too closely and have a major need to look good no matter what. In landmark studies about death and dying, psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross concluded that the first step towards coming to grips with a loved one’s, or one’s own mortality, is to deny the truth, then proceed to anger, bargaining and eventually acceptance. Some people become trapped in this early emotional stage and denial becomes their entire world. Deniers become “Not-Sees.” Working with deniers is espeically difficult because they hold up innovation and creative solutions to problems. Denial is one of the most pernicious patterns to address and its destructive face is readily obvious in today’s business climate. Yet, here is the good news: when deniers can transform their malfunctioning behavior to its healthy opposite they become trust builders. It only takes three words to begin the march toward health. So let’s applaud the trust builders who are looking difficult situations in the face and not burying them deep underground. These are the role models who give all of us the courage to say “Yes I...