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The Big Answer


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Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy

a book by David D. Burns

(our site's book review)

The book introduces the principles of Cognitive Therapy, which teach us that by changing the way we think we can alter our moods, deal with emotional problems, and get rid of depression without the use of drugs. Studies have shown that treating depression this way is superior to most other approaches.

Cognitive Therapy teaches us that by changing the way we think we can alter our moods and deal with emotional problems
Cognitive Therapy teaches us that by changing the way we think we can alter our moods and deal with emotional problems

Burns rightly asserts that emotional negativity often is generated from these ten thought distortion errors:

1. All-or-nothing thinking

2. Overgeneralization

3. Mental filter—dwelling on the negative

4. Disqualifying the positive

5. Jumping to conclusions

6. Exaggerating significance and/or insignificance of things

7. Emotional reasoning

8. “Should” statements

9. Labeling and mislabeling

10. Personalization—blaming yourself unfairly


Key to this therapy is that thoughts create emotion, so to improve the latter, improve the former. Much of the way one cures oneself of negative thoughts and emotions is the same as in the self-talk books by various people, especially Shad Helmstetter, and the self-parenting books of John Pollard.

He discusses the meaning of “passive-aggressive” behavior, a well-substantiated phenomenon that’s very common in our society, and is mostly due to the mistakes people make in child-raising. He seems to think that psychologists characterize this character disorder as always being about people intentionally “wanting” to frustrate others because of their internalized anger, but in truth, people often have repressed any anger or need to frustrate and there's no intentionality about it. Other passive-aggressives do feel the anger or need to frustrate and intend to disappoint people. The passive-aggressive character disorder, in the thinking of the therapists who know it best, includes both intentionality and non-intentionality.

Burns thinks that shrinks characterize passive-aggressives as intentionally 'wanting' to frustrate others because of their internalized anger, but in truth it's often not that conscious—he should reread Freud
Burns thinks that shrinks characterize passive-aggressives as intentionally 'wanting' to frustrate others because of their internalized anger, but in truth it's often not that conscious—he should reread Freud

Burns feels that the theory of passive-aggressive is incorrect as it applies to depressives because depressed people who display passive-aggressive behavior do not “feel” particularly angry. But if they've repressed the anger and the desire to frustrate they of course wouldn't feel it so the theory of passive-aggressive for depressives works fine—there isn't necessarily intentionality or conscious anger. He needs to reread Freud’s works relating to the unconscious and repression. The best psychologists do not feel that passive-aggressives necessarily feel angry and consciously intend to frustrate, although some do.

The best expert on the passive-aggressive disorder we've encountered is Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. In his depiction of any of us who have the disorder, we're afraid of showing our needs, since our parents' responses to them are negative and anything but need-filling, so "we keep them tucked away. . . . frequently, we go from suppressing the expression of these needs to repressing them entirely. Because experiencing these wants and needs can itself get connected in our minds with parental disapproval or rejection, we may well feel obliged to obliterate even the awareness that they exist. . . . we may forfeit all consciousness of our most basic needs just to avoid the anxiety linked to them."

"Yet our needs . . . persist. . . . So deep inside us we rage for that which we now feel deprived of. . . . So how does this unrelenting frustration—and this inexpressible rage—get resolved? . . . all of this could be unconscious—we're emotionally desperate to find a viable way of letting out our frustrations . . . our anger. Periodically, we must find a way of alleviating this negative emotional build-up. . . . This is where the loss of personal integrity—in a word, lying—enters the picture. And we lie to ourselves, as well as to our parents. In essence, this is what passive-aggression is all about: 'acting out' our grievances, behaviorally protesting what is experienced as unfair, while yet contriving to protect the relationship we really can't afford to jeopardize. Surreptitiously, we find ways to sabotage, undermine, deceive, betray. In a way, we retaliate against our caretakers by doing to them much of what we feel they've done to us. We disappoint, withhold, disengage, make up excuses, and blame others for our own mistakes and misbehaviors." (Source: Evolution of the Self; On the paradoxes of personality, by Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. "Afraid to Rage: The Origins of Passive-Aggressive Behavior")

The passive aggressive person won't throw things at people; she'll disappoint, withhold, disengage, make up excuses, and blame others

The passive aggressive person won't throw things at people; she'll disappoint, withhold, disengage, make up excuses, and blame others

To reiterate, often the needs and anger are unconscious—repressed. Other times, we feel these things and we seriously disappoint the parents as a way to express anger which we are very aware of. We don't dare risk overt aggression, so we opt for passive aggression: disappointing them rather than hitting them, screaming at them, or throwing things at them. And of course, this behavior pattern carries into adult life where it gets targeted at authority figures and/or those who care about us.

Feeling Good is a great book to empower the treating of depression as well as ridding oneself of negative thoughts and emotions resulting mostly from parenting errors
Feeling Good is a great book to empower the treating of depression as well as ridding oneself of negative thoughts and emotions resulting mostly from parenting errors

This Feeling Good book is a great book to empower the treating of depression as well as ridding oneself of negative thoughts and emotions resulting mostly from parenting errors. Few people would fail to profit from reading and applying this gem to their lives, since we ALL have negative thoughts and emotions. Highly recommended as an adjunct to therapy or even when used in self therapy. Above all, one thing is sure: this stuff works!