Therapy That Works...

Back To School Blues - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back To School Blues

August 20th, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

As North Texas children return to school next week, parents are hoping for a smooth transition from summer activities to a great school year. But instead of excitement and anticipation, many children are experiencing the “back to school blues” as summer transitions to fall.

Parents often ask me what factors help usher in a smooth transition from summer to the new school year. Here’s the truth:

In the mind of a child, summer should never end! The return of routine and responsibility will damper their moods temporarily but they must learn that school and hard work are a part of life. Here are the key factors to keep in mind as school begins.

  • New Experiences Create Anxiety: How your child handles change and the anxiety that comes with it determines how bumpy the reentry into school can be. A new teacher, new friends, a new classroom, and a new schedule all create anxiety because the child is confronted with novel circumstances that demand more of him. He’s got to think faster, better and more effectively as he navigates the new environment.
  • Temperament and Personality: Temperament (which is physiologically determined) has a lot to do with how kids handle change and stress. For example, children who have a shy, slow to warm up temperament are going to retreat the first few days of school making a quick adjustment more difficult. Extroverted kids are going to “dive” right in and won’t skip a beat. Effective parenting that “fits” your child’s temperament style is essential. Be more patient with the slow to warm up kid and coach your extroverted child to enjoy school but behave in the classroom.
  • Major Family Changes Predict School Transition: Major family changes are tough on kids. Events such as separation, divorce, financial setbacks or relocation can affect how a child handles the first days of school. If a lot of change has occurred in their lives recently, they may just be more distracted. Coping skills may be “maxed out” and they may have trouble calming down
  • Academic History: Last year’s academic history affects this year’s beginning beliefs about school. Returning to school can be daunting if your child had a hard time last year. Remind him that he can determine a better start during this new school year by trying harder and doing his best.

Rarely, children can turn school jitters into something more serious. If you’re concerned, here’s what to look for:

After a couple of weeks, if your child is continuing to resist attending school or has prolonged bouts of tears before or after school, he may have a problem that needs to be addressed. Remember that problems with kids are usually progressive and develop gradually over time. A bad day once in a while isn’t a big deal. However, we become concerned when there is a steady pattern of misbehavior, sadness and school resistance. Take behavior changes seriously since children are often unable to articulate what is bothering them. They rely on you to figure it out.

Here’s my advice for parents to help their kids enter the new school year:

  • Teach Calming and Soothing Skills: Parents are the most important teachers in the world and when school anxiety overwhelms your child, you must stand strong. Do not become irritable because your child is struggling. Your job as a parent is to coach your child by helping him to restore perspective and resist catastrophic thinking. Don’t dismiss his concern, but use logic to argue against his worst fears and restore a feeling of predictability and safety.
  • Rules are Vital--Be Clear and Concise: Many of us fail to communicate clear expectations and goals for our kids since we usually think those rules are obvious. Don’t assume anything! Discuss clear expectations regarding friends, grades, school behavior, homework and morning and bedtime rituals.
  • Focus and Organize: The new school year and the new challenges that come with it make most kids feel out of control. Organize your child to reduce his anxiety. Assemble his school supplies, clarify his schedule, find his locker and organize his first week of clothes. Eliminate the unknowns as much as you can.
  • Be a Participating Parent: Nothing helps a child to feel safer and more secure than to have a parent participate in getting the new year started. Remain upbeat during the morning rituals and talk about how great things will be in his new classroom. Walk through the halls to his new classroom, meet his teacher, greet his friends and their parents and assure him that all is well.
  • Resist Helicopter Parenting: Do not over parent. Helicopter parenting is becoming a national epidemic and this parenting style has disastrous effects for our kids. Frequent rescuing prevents the child from learning how to resolve adversity, accept consequences and navigate his failures. Setbacks are a necessary part of life and make us stronger. Please allow your child to experience frustration and the proud accomplishments that comes from self-discipline and persistence.

The Quarter-Life Crisis - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dealing With The 'Quarter' Life Crisis

August 13, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

The twenties have traditionally been a time of establishing careers, marriages and financial independence. But in the current economic climate, psychologists are now reporting that today’s 20’somethings are struggling with epidemic levels of anxiety and depression. You may be wondering why it is so difficult for twenty-somethings in today’s economy.

There are several reasons why it is so much more difficult.

  • Affected by Economy: Young people in their twenties are experiencing brutal disappointment as they encounter a job market that is challenging for even the veteran employee. The economy is denying them access to entry- level jobs filled by more senior workers. Credit card debt, low pay, college loans and lack of opportunity are all common challenges. Such a collision of expectation with reality can lead to depression and disappointment.
  • Treading Water: Ambitious 20’somethings expected that their education would count for something. Those doors to greater opportunity are now remaining shut. Their twenties are becoming a series of disappointments rather than achievements or enlightening experiences. They move from job to job hoping for something better.
  • Longer Dependence on Parents: Today’s young person experiences a much lengthier transition from college to full financial and logistical emancipation due to education and financial hurdles. College typically lasts more than four years and may extend into six to seven years with graduate education.
  • Lack of Success Leads to Hopelessness: Such experiences build a sense of hopelessness, helplessness and even irresponsibility that can severely affect both their sense of effectiveness and their ability to activate in the present to achieve.

Parents often ask me if their 20’somethings have entered the working world with unrealistic expectations of success and why has it occurred? Here’s my usual response:

They absolutely have grown up with loftier expectations for themselves and the current economic logjam is an unwelcome challenge. Here are the core values of many members of this generation:

  • Mandated Happiness: Reared in a culture that taught them to feel good about themselves regardless of effort, fault or outcome, 20’somethings do not deal well with emotional discomfort. As a result, they tend to vacillate between two extremes – blaming everyone else and blaming themselves unfairly. Neither extreme is an accurate reflection of reality. Worst of all, such thinking does not allow them to improve. They remain stuck and indecisive.
  • Focus on Individuality: Individuality at any cost is a core value. Tattoos, piercings, and flattering pictures of themselves on social networking sites constantly update their fascinating lives.
  • Focus on Self Admiration: 20’somethings love to admire themselves. Eighty percent of recent college students scored higher in self-esteem than the average 1960s student. Worst of all, narcissism has risen as much as obesity and both are now epidemic. According to research, 10% of 20’somethings have already experienced symptoms of extreme self-centeredness. This trend is especially true for girls.

Those same parents then ask me if they had anything to do with why their children turned out this way.

Boomers definitely overshot the mark in their attempts to rear high self-esteem kids. “Over-parenting” and “helicopter parenting” are pervasive and this new generation has been cultivated, protected and praised too much. Suffering the consequences of your own bad decisions teaches you to be disciplined and to work harder. When kids are not taught the value of failure, sacrifice and altruism, they can develop unrealistic views of what life has to offer them. When they encounter a tough economy or even lose a job, they lack the psychological resources to deal with the setbacks. No one taught them the art of self-recovery and resilience. They become depressed, anxious and angry.

If you’re a parent of a twenty-something, here are some things you can do to help them in their time of need:

  • Cultural Overload: Realize that your child is “swimming” upstream against a culture that emphasizes instant gratification, connection and celebrity! Body image, body hugging clothes and achievement without earning it are values of our culture. Have some compassion for your struggling child but emphasize the lack of reality in our narcissistic culture.
  • Lessons of Failure: Emphasize in your own life and in your conversations with your 20’something your values of perseverance, self-discipline and the lessons of failure. Don’t lecture but build a bridge of disclosure and mentoring. Most of all stop rescuing and let them learn consequence.
  • Hardship is Temporary: Remind your 20’something that setbacks are rarely permanent and always manageable. The worst outcomes occur when people descend into negativity or simply stop trying. The choice to move forward against adversity is ever present and life determining.

Sources:

The Washington Post

“Emerging Adulthood” by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett

“The Narcissism Epidemic” by Dr. Jean Twenge, Ph. D. and Dr. W. Keith Campbell, Ph. D.

“Generation Me” by Dr. Jean Twenge, Ph. D.

Don't Worry, Be Happy - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Don't Worry, Be Happy: How Workplace Happiness Leads to Success

August 6th, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

Downsizing, job layoffs and a 9.7% unemployment rate have all lowered the morale of millions of working Americans. But what happens when the workplace blues affects your performance?

So why do we get so negative at work?

There are several reasons:

  • Brains Cued for Blues: Negative thinking has a life of it is own and is generated by a neurological circuitry that is reinforced each time you become negative. Even though you may have the best of intentions, your brain kicks into negativity with the first challenge. You experience a sudden startup of the blues without even thinking about it.
  • Emotional Contagion: Emotions are contagious and we are all vulnerable to the “infectious negativity” that dominates millions of offices, especially in a beleaguered economy. Negativity is catching and according to the Wharton School of Business, we see decreased cooperation, an increase of interpersonal conflict and a decreased sense of accomplishment.
  • Bullies, Divas and “Emotional Vampires”: Bullies, divas and emotional vampires dominate the workplace and are often in positions of power and influence. They love to ruin your day. They magnify the downside and minimize the upside. Cutting comments, worst-case scenarios and reviewing past injuries drag everyone down. We marinate in this pessimism and then wonder why we get so negative.
  • Cubicle Downers: The physical cues of the workplace can trigger you for stress. Just entering your office space makes your mood down a few points. Studies show that environment influence mindset in a profound way. Boring walls, industrial carpet and uncomfortable furniture trigger us to “go negative” the minute we walk in the door.

You may be wondering if there is a gender difference in this phenomenon and here it is:

Women are more susceptible to workplace negativity due to three factors.

  • Emotional Brain Overload: Our emotional memory capacity is twice that of a man’s so we are able to remember everything that others say and do, good and bad. Grudge holding is especially tempting for women.
  • Women Love Emotional Garbage: Women are especially vulnerable to picking up the emotional “garbage” of others and then wondering why they feel bummed out. In addition, we engage in too much gossiping which spreads negativity like wildfire.
  • Need for Consensus: Our overriding need for consensus is an asset and a liability. Too many of us grieve when there is dissension and worry about why things are negative at work. We blame ourselves and blame each other.

Here are some tips to shift your mood when you feel your negativity rising:

Quickly switching your mood is a discipline, not an event. It requires psychological “muscle” that you build over time by actively fighting against the downward spiral each time it occurs. Negativity reinforces negativity but the reverse is also true of positive thinking.

Here are some quick tips that work every time:

  • Don’t Deny the Negative: Do not deny the existence of negative events, just deal. You won’t solve your problem by ruminating. Worrying just makes you overestimate the problem. Remind yourself that this situation is not permanent, and that you will survive.
  • Disciplined Attention: Next apply a disciplined attention to the positives and to the possible. Redirect away from panic and focus on the small steps you need to take today to remedy the situation now. Then outline the remaining steps to resolving the problem. Break it down and keep it simple. Remind yourself that you can make a difference in improving the outcome.
  • Directed Mental Force: List your blessings, your advantages, and your strengths while expressing gratitude for all you have been given. Train your brain to appreciate the good things about work and the fact that you still have your job in a harsh economy.
  • Mood Stabilization: Sustainable happiness requires a constant shifting away from the negative and a disciplined embracing of the positives. You may have setbacks, but by remaining stable in your mood, your accuracy about reality will increase along with your job success.

Fiscal Attraction - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fiscal Attraction: Why Opposites Attract on Money

July 30, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

Frustrated by your partner’s spending habits? Well, those habits may be why you married your partner in the first place according to new research from the Wharton School of Finance and Northwestern University.

Money is a hot issue because it represents options, power, and status. Eighty four percent of American couples routinely argue about money. However, the contrast between what we say and what we do with money is stunning. For example, most singles say they are looking for someone who has similar spending habits. However they are often drawn to people with opposite financial philosophies. Tightwads seek more liberal spenders and visa versa. We are attracted to people who have opposing, but more desirable strategies with money because we may think we need to be more balanced. Unfortunately, partnering with someone who does not agree with you on money is risky and can lead to relationship disaster. The fact that opposites attract, especially on finances, explains why money is the top gridlocked issue in marriage.

  • Women Love Financial Independence: Money is highly symbolic for women. It represents our autonomy, our self-respect and our separate identity from the relationship. We will negotiate but we will not be dictated to. In one third of American households, women out earn men and we are seeing a huge shift in financial partnerships. Men are having to share decision-making.
  • Men Love Money: In a study of over forty countries, people from more affluent countries attach more importance to money and men are often more preoccupied with finances than are women. They love to accumulate it, they love to talk about it and they love to dictate how it is spent. Being a high wage earner increases the man’s social status and may even lead to more desirable partners.

Couples are terrible about communicating about money since it is so loaded with conflict. Here is where couples run into trouble with money:

  • More Similar Than You Realize: Your values and long term goals about money may be much more similar than your spending strategies. For example, a CNN Money poll found that only a quarter of men believes that their wives value investments. The reality is that fifty percent of women value putting money in investments (the same percentages as men).
  • Spouses Typecast One Another: We tend to divide financial tasks along gender lines. Men still do most of the big picture planning while women govern the everyday spending. Misunderstandings flourish with such separate roles.
  • Men Love to Discuss Money: The top topics in male conversations are about business and money. Half of men love to discuss it in social settings while only a fifth of women share that point of view. Such patterns lead to some boring conversations for women!
  • New Order of Female Independence: Leadership leads to financial decision-making and more women are getting promoted every day. Forty percent of women who are the primary breadwinner take the lead in investing. This is twice the frequency of families in which women earn less than the man.

Relax by knowing that money is difficult for just about everyone. However the following tips are essential:

  • Total Transparency: Do not sneak or hide money in a marriage. Financial infidelity is emotional devastating for a relationship.
  • Negotiate and Initiate a Shared Financial Strategy: Couples generally agree about long-term goals. The leading cause of dissention in relationships is disagreement about financial priorities.
  • Do It Together: In the new economy, most of us have fewer assets, less time and more debt. Work together as a team and compromise on finances while remaining dedicated to both partners achieving a “win.” Unresolved, chronically gridlocked issues are relationship poison.

Living Together Before Marriage May Hurt - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Living Together Before Marriage May Hurt

July 23, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

Although twelve million Americans live together before marriage, new research now reports that premarital cohabitation can actually increase the chances of divorce.

Let me tell you why you should care about this study:

For years, many people thought it was better to live together before marriage to confirm compatibility. This study now confirms that living together before marriage may introduce significant difficulties.

  • 1.) More Difficult Break Ups: People seem to have more difficulty breaking up when they are cohabitating than when they are dating.
  • 2.) Marriage Not Active Choice: Unfortunately, they transition into marriage more by default than by intention and complacency begins to define the relationship.
  • 3.) Routine and Habit: It is all too easy to drift into a companionable relationship and abandon the romantic aspects of relating.
  • 4.) Marital Neglect: All too often, marital neglect develops as the partners ignore the daily marital habits that are essential in maintaining romance and interest. Living together before marriage often causes partners to step past important rituals of connection.

You may be wondering how prenuptial cohabitation actually hurts a relationship.

Couples who cohabitate often live together for the wrong reasons including convenience, saving money and spending more time together. However, the chief reason most people live together is to test the relationship. However, “testing the relationship” may be based on faulty expectations since living together is fundamentally different from marriage. Knowing that there is a commitment to tomorrow shifts the relationship fundamentally. The partnership that has been formalized with marriage holds both parties accountable.

And what about the kids? Here’s how they affect these marriages.

A new study that followed couples for eight years found that ninety percent of the couples experience a decrease in marital satisfaction after the birth of the first baby. Couples who lived together before marriage seem to experience more problems when the first baby is born than those who postpone cohabitation until marriage. Apparently, they may not have made the best transition from dating to marriage.

Obviously, these kinds of issues come up in my practice all the time. Here’s a quick strategy I give people who want to make a successful transition from dating to marriage.

Expectations shift dramatically from dating to marriage and it is vital to keep two points in mind:

  • Moving Forward: For dating couples, the relationship revolves around whether things are moving forward. Happiness with the relationship depends on the belief that the relationship will develop and that the partner will support our dreams.
  • Fulfilling Obligations: After marriage, satisfaction is based more on the partner actually fulfilling responsibilities and obligations (which can include equality in childcare). Follow through is essential. The interwoven lives of today’s couples are based on “real time” strategies of mutual support rather than the theoretical hopes and dreams that are more typical of dating.

If you are determined to live together before marriage, here is some parting wisdom for you.

  • Reconsider that Decision: Protect the mystery of your relationship. Although it is prudent to be as certain as possible about marriage, there are better ways to assess marital potential. All too often cohabitation creates complacency, boredom and companionable relating too early.
  • Do Not Confuse Passion with Potential: Passion may lead you into decisions that feel good short term but may not be the best relationship sustaining decision.
  • Self Understanding is Key: The more self-understanding you can master, the better your assessment skills of a partner and the potential of the relationship. Give your relationship the time it needs to prove itself.

Right-Brain Advantages In The New Economy - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Right-Brain Advantages In New Economy

Jul 16, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

As the American economy continues to struggle, many of us are focused on performing at our maximum capacity in the workplace. The secret to your job security in the new economy may involve a new kind of thinking using your right brain.

What are the differences and advantages of each side of the brain?

What versus How: We know that the brain is divided into two hemispheres, left and right. People with dominant left sides are better at analytical analysis and processing and language skills. Right “brainers” are global holistic processors, which means that they are great at inventiveness, empathy and emotional intelligence. To oversimplify, the left hemisphere handles “what” is said while the right hemisphere focuses on “how” it is said. The non-verbal emotional cues delivered through intonation, facial expression and silences are the province of the right brain. They have never been more important.

Whole Brain is Better: The work place will no longer exclusively reward the analytical, numbers crunching individuals and will now recognize right brain problem solvers who use their innovation and emotional intelligence to achieve the best outcome. We are basically looking at a new worker who marries their right brain innovative thinking with their left-brain skill sets. The keys to the future belong to a person who can be creative and empathic, can recognize patterns in business and see the big picture quickly while analyzing and critically thinking.

You may be wondering how this applies to you.

The complexity of business problems we all face now calls for a new type of intelligence that is not based just on academic abilities and information processing. Our advances in technology are eradicating the need for rote performance and recitation and many of these jobs have been outsourced. People who use their right brain thinking to solve complex problems are more difficult to outsource since you cannot have the creative, innovative and emotionally intelligent workers on the other side of the world.

Here’s how right brain thinking looks in the work place:

  • Emotionally Engaging: They are exceptional at creating emotionally engaging products. They understand motivations and emotions well and use them to solve business problems.
  • Persuasive Narratives: Our workplace is rife with information and too many facts. Right brainers are brilliant at communicating persuasively and are compelling presenters.
  • Analysis Versus Synthesis: No longer are we chiefly charged with the analysis of a problem but we are also charged with creating a big picture out of disparate parts.
  • Empathy Matters: Emotional Intelligence helps you to not only understand and accurately perceive your own emotions in “real time,” it also gives you the empathy to understand co-workers and clients.
  • Playfulness: The mind requires rest to re-boot and restore it’s creative processes. Right “brainers” are clever, humorous people who know how to “downshift” into a lower gear. They go slower to go further.
  • Purpose and Spiritual Fulfillment: Creativity originates in a mind free to explore, wonder and admire. Right brainers make their greatest discoveries when they are given the freedom to “play” with solutions and immerse themselves in novelty. Brilliant insights come at such moments.

Whenever this comes up in my practice, people always ask me, “Can I learn to use my ‘right brain’ skills?”

Without a doubt, people can learn to use both sides of their brains to achieve the most success. Neuroscience now tells us that emotions, moods and states such as compassion can be trainable skills. With mental training in visualization, meditation and accurate, rational thinking, an individual can literally create positive, performance enhancing changes in the brain. With increased emotional control, we can restrict the negative, inaccurate thoughts that cloud our mind facilitating a lot more effective “brain power.” You become an “attentional athlete” which allows you to focus on solution rather than on confusion. Suddenly, precise resolution appears within complexity and a mindset of well-being becomes pervasive.

Sources for this story include the following:

Dr. Richard Davidson’s work in Neuroscience

"Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain," Sharon Begley

"A Whole New Brain" by Daniel H. Pink

How Children Cope With Parental Death - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, July 09, 2009

How Children Cope With Parental Death

July 9, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

Millions of Americans were deeply saddened by the sudden death of pop icon, Michael Jackson. His daughter’s heartfelt words reminded us that such losses always involve two victims -- the parent and the child. Here’s the full story on childhood grief and what you can do to help a grieving child.

A loss of this kind can have many devastating effects including:

  • Safety and Security Threatened: There are few traumas as severe as losing a parent in childhood. We are at our most vulnerable as children and we rely on the stability of parents to guide us through a confusing and dangerous world. With parental death, the familiar guardian of safety, shelter and security has vanished exposing us to overwhelming anxiety. In some cases, that anxiety can transform into serious trauma conditions that last a lifetime.
  • Long Term Health Issues: Losing a parent in childhood causes a disruption in normal childhood development as the child grieves the parent and adjusts to a new normal. The long-term implications of parental loss are severe and include compromised mental and physical health, depression, substance abuse and even increased suicide risk.
  • Broken Hearts and Impaired Immunity: Cardiac issues in adulthood are correlated with the loss of a parent. In one study, a significant number of coronary patients had suffered the loss of a father between the ages of five and seventeen. Bereavement compromises the immune system and reduces resilience.

I am frequently asked if the age of the child is an important factor in their coping.

In reality, there is no good age to lose a parent but we know that the impact increases once the child really understands what they are facing -- a forever separation. Prior to age three, babies will miss a familiar presence but not understand the concept of permanent absence. A preschooler may talk about the death but expect the parent to return. By age 9 to 10, the child is completely aware. He has usually developed an understanding that death is permanent, irreversible and final.

Here are the differences between the types of grieving:

Normal Grief

  • Tearfulness: Tearfulness is common at first but dissipates after a few weeks. However, 13% of kids still cry daily or weekly after one year has passed.
  • Sadness, anger, guilt about the death
  • Appreciation and Identification with Parent
  • Sleep and Appetite Problems
  • Withdraw from Family/Friends
  • Physical Complaints (headache, stomach ache, etc.)
  • Return to Earlier Behaviors (Bedwetting, Clinging to Parents, School Refusal)
  • Acceptance of the Death: They accept the reality and permanence of death and adjust to their new identity of their life without their parent.
  • • Continuing with Normal Development

Traumatic Grief

  • Intrusive memories About the Death: Nightmares, guilt, and obsessive rumination about the events that are intrusive and disruptive.
  • Avoidance and Numbing: Withdrawal, denying turmoil, avoiding reminders of the person, the way he died, etc.
  • Physical or Emotional Symptoms of Increased Arousal: Irritability, anger, difficulty sleeping, decreased concentration, increased vigilance, grades dropping, fears about safety for oneself or others.

You may wonder what the child is supposed to do if the other parent is grieving.

It is vital to remember that the child often loses the emotional availability of the other parent and of the relatives who are similarly devastated. Emotional neglect, whether intentional or not, is common. The parent’s loss can inflict untold suffering on the child who is struggling to regain his psychological “footing” in a world that has been rearranged. The remaining parent may cycle in and out of depression remaining unaware of his child’s agony. The child may conclude that he has emotionally lost both parents. The most startling statistic involves the risk of suicide. It is seven times greater among children who have lost both parents than for those kids where there is no such disruption.

Here are some tips to help kids going through this kind of situation:

Educate Yourself: Be aware of the difference between normal and traumatic grief. The entire community needs to watch the child and remain vigilant about symptoms Remember that the child needs safety, information and guidance in creating a new identity without the parent.

Model Emotionally Intelligent Grief: The child will take his cue from you so make sure your words are measured, thoughtful and calm. Assure your child that the departed parent is fine, that life will go on and that you are not going anywhere.

Provide Children with Emotional Support: Children at different ages may need different types of support. Younger kids may need more cuddling, attention, patience and understanding. Older kids will need reassurance of your stability, of the continuity of home and hearth, and of your dedication to creating a new family.

Who's The Fairest of Them All? - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Who Is The Fairest Of Them All?

July 2, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

Looks have inspired love affairs for centuries. Now a new study of over 4000 people reports that most men agree on what makes women “hot” while women have a much broader view of what makes a guy attractive. But the question remains, why are there such dramatic differences between the genders in how they perceive attractiveness?

According to this study, men have a much more narrow view of attractiveness than women do. They rate thin, seductive and confident women as the most attractive and almost always agree on the criteria. In general, men love the visual and a beautiful face framed by flowing glossy hair coupled with a curvaceous figure that catches their attention.

In contrast, women seem to disagree about male attractiveness across the board. Some guys are rated high in “hotness” while others are relegated to the non-preferred status. Over all, women emphasize romance, connection, stability and commitment. They are twice as likely to consider their partner’s emotional characteristics when choosing a mate. The bottom line is that men may have a tendency to narrow the number of women maintaining a broader array of choices for romance.

Psychologists account for these differences in men and women in the following ways:

Worldwide Trends: In a study of over 10,000 people in thirty-seven different societies, men were more interested than women in a partner’s physical appearance -- particularly youth and beauty. When men seek a partner online, they are three times more likely to seek a good looking partner rather than valuing other assets.

Socialized Differently: Men and women are socialized to view the opposite sex in vastly different ways. Men are rewarded for having an array of beautiful women around them and multiple partners are not always discouraged. On the other hand, society actively discourages women from promiscuity and we are encouraged to forge intense, long lasting, romantic relationships with men. Even with the inroads we have made in gender equality, women are consistently held to a much stricter standard of moral behavior.

Men Fall Faster: There is a downside to the male’s attentiveness to the visual. They generally fall in love faster due to their admiration for female looks. Women are more measured in their attachment decisions and are more likely to consider character, earning potential and loyalty as desirable attributes. Women are more likely to break up with men with up to 70% of divorces instigated by women.

Many people ask me in my practice if women are becoming more selective about men as our power in the world increases. Here’s usually what I reply:

Although we cannot seem to agree on the exact criteria of male attractiveness, women are much more vocal in their preferences and now consider relationships as optional, not required. Since we spend half of our adult lives outside of marriage, we are now partnering more for the sheer desire to be with our man rather than for either money or procreation. In fact 13 million American couples have declared their intention to not have kids.

As we have acquired more economic power, we also have more choices in acquiring younger mates who enjoy our power and seasoning. Although looks are not at the top of our lists, many women say that looks in a man are also important and they prefer men with a strong jaw (a sign of high testosterone), and tall men with a strong, well developed torso. Most importantly, we also prefer men who will talk to us about our feelings, our relationships and our children. Basically, our expectations of marriage and partnership are increasing along with our paycheck.

Here’s the elephant in the room and the answer that everybody wants to know: Are the standards of attractiveness shifting for both genders as the expectations of marriage are rising?

As expectations for relationships have become more stringent, both genders are relaxing on the physical standards of attractiveness. Having a beautiful persona may win attention initially, but the sustainability of a relationship depends on more substantial skills. Instead we are seeing these trends:

  • Emotional Intelligence: Ninety four percent of Americans will marry at some point and we are entering marriage later and we are demanding an emotional compatibility that is unprecedented in our history. Women no longer value the “strong silent type” but often prefer a man who at least has good listening skills. His ability to manage his moods successfully, respond empathically and help with the kids counts more than his ability to produce tons of money. Men are also growing tired of the pretty women who are emotional divas.
  • Rise of the Power Bride: We are seeing men value a woman’s brains as much as they value her beauty. Many men date highly educated, successful women after becoming bored with women with fewer interests and narrower experiences. Since the majority of bachelor and master’s degrees are awarded to women, men have access to the most highly educated, disciplined and dynamic group of women in the history of the world.

Here are some tips for the real secrets of attraction and getting the on you want.

Looks are just a small dimension of attraction and they fade with the years. It is important to remember that the real key to sustained attraction is similarity. People prefer mates who are similar in values, attractiveness, education and earning potential. Even if you different personalities and backgrounds, sharing the same experiences over the years can create a shared and similar understanding of life that is relationship sustaining.

Sources include:

"The Social Psychology of Gender" by Laurie Rudman and Peter Glick

David Buss’s work on Gender Politics

Woman Sense Rules by Dr. Sylvia Gearing

The Power of Loving Words - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Power of Loving Words In Relationships

June 25, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

The level of relationship conflict and tension has long been the best predictor of who breaks up. Now a new study suggests that the real secret to staying together may rely on how well you get along during the good times.

This study by Shelly Gable is a direct contradiction of what we’ve been telling millions of people for years. The level of fighting, anger, contempt and frustration have been the best predictors of break ups in almost every study done since the 1980s. Literally, entire careers in psychology have been built on the study of arguments and conflict. However, this new study redefines what is most important in the sustainability of love—the positive powers of loving words and gestures in everyday communication. Showering your partner in support is relationship gold.

You may be asking yourself, “Why are the positives so powerful?”

Although responses to negative words and actions are important, how you relate in the good times is much more indicative of where the relationship will ultimately go. Here are a few new facts:

  • Memorable Moments: Essentially, positive reactions are much more likely to be remembered by each partner. If you are lukewarm when triumph is announced, your partner will be deflated. Such rejection is remembered in startling detail and withdrawal from the relationship is a natural outcome. They will tell someone else their good news next time!
  • Trust and Vulnerability: Trust originates in the daily details of living between partners. Kindness, compassion and consistent interest are powerful elixirs of love. Positive reactions reduce self-protection and fortify a cohesive couple identity that is rock solid.
  • Celebrate Good Times: Feeling close to your partner flourishes in an atmosphere of shared joy. People replay these shared triumphs repeatedly and these memories are on constant replay.

Wondering where you fit in? Dr. Gable has defined the top four response patterns as:

  • Active--Constructive: Being enthusiastic and warm is the best way to go in loving language. Celebrating, endorsing and cheerleading are central tenants of this approach.
  • Passive-Constructive: Very understated, underwhelming support resulting in marginal benefits. Examples include “That’s great!” or “I am sure you’re pleased.”
  • Active—Destructive: This approach introduces doubt, anxiety and distrust by being actively undermining of the partner. Examples include “Why did you make that decision?” or “What were you thinking when you said that?”
  • Passive-Destructive: Relationship neglect is one of the cardinal sins of marriage. Ignoring and turning away from your partner is the most destructive relationship response. Silence and withdrawal are key examples of this pattern.

Finally, here are some tips to keep the fires burning in your romantic relationships:

  • Focus on Loving: Pay strict attention to how you respond to your partner. Watch your words, but most of all what your actions. Make it your mission to provide full and total attention when he or she is talking. Mute the television, turn off the computer and put your cell phone on vibrate. Focus like your love affair depends on it (because it does!).
  • Create Loving Language/ Plan Ahead: Pick one or two enthusiastic comments and “work them.” Do not ever feign affection but do reach out with your words and your gestures. Establish an array of loving, endorsing comments such as “Honey, I am so proud” or “You are amazing.”
  • Belief in One Another: Your belief about your relationship determines how you frame interactions. Watch what you think since it determines both feelings and behavior. When you practice positive and endorsing habits in your thinking, you create loving communications as a result. When you choose to believe in your relationship you inoculate your love affair against future conflict, disagreement and most of all, from the intrusion of third parties. Love one another deeply from the heart!

Sources include:

Dr. Martin Seligman

Dr. Shelly Gable and the World Congress on Positive Psychology

Is Spanking A Good Decision? - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is Spanking An Healthy Parenting Choice?

June 18, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

Reality TV’s Kate Gosselin has made national news with the on-camera spanking of her daughter. Such behavior raises the question as to which was worse for the child—the spanking or the constant public exposure.

Spanking is not the first discipline choice I ask parents to make, since it is so unreliable in changing child behavior. All spanking does is to stop the immediate behavior. Judicious spanking in certain situations that are dangerous can be effective, but only if used very sparingly and only until the child is three to four years old.

The media over-exposure these kids have experienced from the reality show has far greater potential to harm them negatively.

This type of overexposure does the following:

  • It’s All About Me: Constant exposure to television cameras encourages exhibitionistic tendencies, especially at an early age. Belief systems are formed early in life, and such experiences can have a dramatic effect on a child’s evolving view of the world.
  • Risk of Becoming Entitled: Because such media emphasizes immediate and grandiose attention, kids are at risk of developing a sense of entitlement. The downside of entitlement is the accompanying rage that ensues when disappointment or frustration is introduced.
  • Performance Versus Learning: Effective discipline flourishes in a private environment in which the child is able to think about her actions and to integrate what the punishment means. With a camera positioned on her, it is doubtful that the five-year-old learned anything, or she may have misinterpreted the lesson.
  • Fuzzy Boundaries: Opening your home and life up to a camera crew for round-the-clock coverage is a serious interruption of family boundaries for a child. Things need to be simple and well-defined in a young child’s life. Cameras everywhere are deeply confusing.
  • Many parents really have a hard time controlling their kids, and spanking is frequently used by millions of parents.

    Ninety-four percent of American parents spank their kids between the ages of three and four. After that age, there is a sharp drop in spanking for one good reason—the kids can reason with parental coaching and input. We strongly discourage parents from a continued use of spanking.

    A comprehensive review of over 62 years of data found that corporal punishment is associated with ten negative childhood responses that include increased aggression. The single positive benefit was immediate behavioral compliance. However, it is doubtful that the child learns to reason better when they are spanked. As a result, I ask parents to choose other, less physical acts of discipline that emphasize self-control, logic and reasoning skills. The child will learn more with less effort from other disciplinary methods than he will learn from spanking.

    The best parenting choices for discipline include the following:

    • Never Dismiss Emotions: In general, parents must first be willing to deal with bad behavior and negative emotions when they occur. Ignoring or dismissing negativity prevents the child from learning how to handle himself effectively in the world around him.
    • Provide a Road Map: If kids grow up without a road map of good behavior, then they will have little idea of how to control their thinking and emotions effectively throughout their lives. Model the behavior you want to see in your child and do not deviate from being a consistent and compassionate example.
    • Set Limits and Don’t Feel Guilty: I prefer time out and other behavioral restrictions that emphasize emotional control over physical punishment. Remember that it is your job to teach your child the basic rules of socialization—verbal and behavioral controls. Do not feel guilty for doing your job.
    • Love Your Child to Better Behavior: Explain, coach and consequate your child when you are disciplining. Being emotionally close to your child gives you even greater influence on his thinking, his emotions, and his behavior.

    Sources include:

    The American Psychological Association files and journals


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