Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Measure of a Civilization

The measure of a civilization at war is
how it treats those who have hurt it;

The measure of a civilization in peace
is how it treats those who are
hurting in it.

- Mark Goulston

U.S. Military Dead in Iraq : 3,333

U.S. Military Wounded/Mutilated in Iraq: 24,314

Incomplete List Of Contractors Dead in Iraq: 393 (incomplete list)

Journalists Dead in Iraq: 117 (incomplete list)

Iraqi Civilians Dead: 62,281

Child Abuse: 2006 report from 2004 data: 3,000,000 alleged abused or neglected; 872,000 confirmed

Child Abuse: 2005 report from 2003 data: 2,900,000 alleged abused or neglected; 906,000 confirmed

Child Abuse: 2004 report from 2002 data: 1,800,000 alleged abused or neglected; 896,000 confirmed

2005 National Crime Victimization Survey: 191,670 victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assaults

The Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (February 2007): 754,000 homeless on any given night in the United States

Just how civilized are we?

Talk Out Your Grief and You'll Begin to Heal

The second longest wait in life
is the time it takes for angst from a tragedy
to turn into grief;
the longest wait in life is the time it takes for grief
to turn into wisdom.

-Mark Goulston

The tragedy at Virginia Tech is such a devastating loss to those closely and even not so closely affected by it and creates an emotional abscess that needs to be drained completely before it can begin to heal. To clean this wound to their hearts and souls, they will need to feel and express, then pause and feel and express again, until they have drained the pus completely.

This will not be easy. Once you begin to grieve a certain tragedy, you risk opening the floodgates to unfelt, unexpressed and unhealed inner angst from other traumatic events in your life.

Yet sharing your feelings with people who can relate based on their own similar experiences can be extremely valuable during the recovery process. This explains why women with breast cancer are so helped by "Reach to Recovery" groups, and why the group experience is the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous recovery programs.

To open the door to your own process of emotional excavation, healing and rebuilding, begin to talk in great detail with others about what you saw and heard, thought and felt, as you watched the tragedy of this awful event unfold.

Also use the following 10 signposts as a guide through the Valley of this Shadow of Death:

1. Cry
2. Scream
3. Shriek
4. Reach out to others
5. Reach into yourself
6. Sob
7. Take a deep breath
8. Whimper
9. Rest
10. Repeat the above as often as needed until you know that you'll make it through.
(c) 2007 Mark Goulston

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Mark Goulston is a partner at Los Angeles-based Ferrazzi Greenlight and the author of the upcoming book, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for Dummies (due November, 2007). Visit Mark at:

Monday, April 23, 2007

Getting an Upset Person to Listen to Reason

A person can’t actively listen and scream at the same time,
and when they don’t listen to you,
get them to listen to them.

- Mark Goulston

One of the key tipping points in calming an upset person down who you're having a conversation with is to repeat what they are saying to you in a calm and measured voice. This takes discipline and focus, because your tendency is to react to people who are venting, blaming, etc. and either become defensive, competitive or hostile back at them.

So if someone is saying to you: "I hate this job, it's a bunch of bullsh-t, and nobody gives a damn," wait until they completely finish and then say calmly: "It's very important (just using the word "important" in connection with a person who is feeling unimportant is calming in itself) that I heard you correctly (pause) so what you're saying is that you hate this job, you think it's a bunch of bullsh-t, and you believe nobody gives a damn, is that correct?"

When you do this, it forces the upset person to go from venting to listening. They will begin to listen at the speed you are talking and will be drawn to listening, because you're saying what they told you.

If they resist and say, “You’re just trying to make fun of me” or “I’m not going to listen to anything you say,” repeat back to them in a calm voice, “This really is TOO important for me to have not correctly heard what you said, because if I did, it will be more difficult to figure out what to do to make things better.” Persist with this approach until they begin to listen.

It's important not to have a "passive aggressive" baiting, or ridiculing tone in your voice, but to assume a true inquiring attitude to sincerely check if you have heard them correctly.

If they tell you that you didn't hear them correctly, ask them to correct what you said and then repeat the corrected phrase back to them.

After you have repeated it correctly and they have agreed with what you say, you have not only caused them to listen, but you have caused them to say, "yes" to you in their mind which begins to ease them away from the hostile and agitated "no" in their head.

From here there are a variety of places you can take them. Such as asking them: "Do you really believe what you are saying and if so why?" or "It's also very important for me to know what has caused you to feel and think that way so I can see what might be done to make things better, so tell me, you hate your job and you think it's a bunch of bullsh-t and that nobody gives a damn because ---------"

By the way asking someone to fill in the blank as in the last phrase, " tell me, you hate your job and you think it's a bunch of bullsh-t and that nobody gives a damn because ---------" validates there thoughts and feeling and is more inviting and less confrontational than asking a question such as: "why do you hate your job and why do you think it's a bunch of bullsh-t."

By using this conversation you have led the person away from their animal reflex attack mode into listening and then into thinking what they’re saying and when they do that, they will begin to calm down and if you're patient, they will begin to listen to reason.

(c) 2007 Mark Goulston

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Mark Goulston is a partner at Los Angeles-based Ferrazzi Greenlight and the author of Get Out of Your Own Way at Work...and Help Others Do the Same the upcoming book, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for Dummies (due November, 2007). Visit Mark at:

Friday, April 20, 2007

Triggers of Violence in Teens

Put Down + Pushed Away = Get In + Get Even

Nearly all the violence that we hear about in the media is triggered by rage--- and more specifically, impotent rage. Impotent rage results when someone is rejected and humiliated by real or imagined people and then feels powerless to do anything about it. Having few effective internal coping skills, they explode outward at the world.

At Virginia Tech Cho Seung-Hui was teased and taunted as much by the untreated and unmitigated thoughts and perhaps voices in his head as by other students, all of which pushed him beyond his breaking point and sought deadly retribution.

Teasing and mocking from others, from self-loathing or in the case of Cho Seung-Hui from thoughts and/or voices are nearly a universal part of teenage life and fairly common in many competitive adult settings. So why do the majority of people tolerate it, with at worst some blows to their ego, whereas others have hair-triggered personalities primed to explode at the next person who irritates them and is just in the wrong place at the wrong time?

As is often the case there are biological, psychological and social factors at work. When your biology, psychology and social functioning are strong, you can withstand insults from the world without becoming injured and incensed. If however any of these three personality-supporting pillars are weak, you will have less ability to tolerate upset.

Biologically some people come from a family of "hot heads" or have that extra Y chromosome that so many of the prison population possess or more rarely have the paranoia or paranoid schizophrenia that Cho is thought to have had. Or their physiology is off balance. All "testosteroned-up" and nowhere to blow, they view everything as a challenge to their manhood. Add to this the thirst for adrenaline rush excitement and the lowering of inhibitions by alcohol or drugs and you have a human Molotov cocktail set to explode.

From the psychological perspective, violent people possess little if any "object constancy." Object constancy is the ability to retain and feel some positive attachment (meager though it may be) to another person even in the face of feeling disappointed, hurt or angry with them. Violent people have an extremely low tolerance for frustration and lose all emotional and psychological connection with anyone that is upsetting them. When that connective link is broken, people become objects to be destroyed in the same way as one might smash a tennis racket or golf club on the ground following a lousy shot. When violent people are disappointed, they react by shooting from their hip with no regard for consequences instead of pausing to think and shooting from their head and making the best decision possible.

Social factors include learned "violence." Study after study show that most child abusers were themselves abused as children. Most teens or adults, who resort to violence, personally experienced or witnessed violence in their homes. This teaches them a rather unfortunate lesson--- violence and anger repeatedly wins over logic and reason.

The vast majority of people tolerate and survive the slings and arrows of their fellow human beings without resorting to murder and mayhem as long as either two or even one of their biological, psychological or social functioning is strong. But if they're batting zero for three in all of those areas, it will take very little to trigger them to become violent.

(c) 2007 Mark Goulston

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Mark Goulston is a partner at Los Angeles-based Ferrazzi Greenlight and the author of the upcoming book, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for Dummies (due November, 2007). Visit Mark at:

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Recognizing Potentially Violent People

Every time a child kills another child,
God thunders down at us:
"THAT is not why I gave you the gift of life!"
and then God cries...

- Mark Goulston

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to recognize potentially violent people. You just have to scrape away some of your denial and tune into what your stomach is trying to tell you.

Many potentially violent people make us feel physically nervous and we often experience this as uneasiness in our stomachs, necks or throats or we may develop a severe headache. We have built into us many early warning signals that tell us when a person or a situation is unsafe. Sometimes we can be fooled, but more often than not, when we feel in danger, there is usually something or someone to be frightened about.

Our general reaction when we feel unsafe around a person is to avoid them, look away from them, and try not to provoke them. We employ an "out of sight, out of mind" approach to them, because they make us feel so uncomfortable. We hope they'll just go away.

What are clues that you should LOOK and LISTEN for to tell you that you might be dealing with a potentially imminently violent person? (although women do commit violence, I will refer to the person as male, since the majority of violent acts are still perpetrated by men)

What to LOOK for:

  • loss of temper on a daily basis
  • frequent physical fighting
  • significant vandalism or property damage
  • increase in use of drugs or alcohol
  • increase in risk-taking behavior
  • detailed plans to commit acts of violence
  • enjoying hurting animals
  • carrying a weapon
  • agitated movement – difficulty keeping still
  • easily irritated – you walk on "eggshells" around him
  • very impatient when having to wait in lines or wait to speak
  • shifty eye movements – tends to look evasively to left or right as if hiding something, if looks downward this may be a sign of submissiveness, but may then incense him later on
  • change in usual routines in terms of hobbies or exercises, etc.
  • stays to self or starts associating with "marginal" people
  • drawn to violent movies, newspaper stories, internet sites, television and radio shows
  • less attention to hygiene
  • paradoxical calmness in someone who has been agitated (may signal that has come up with a violent solution to his problems)

What to LISTEN for:

  • announcing threats or plans for hurting others
  • argumentative
  • becomes defensive easily
  • takes things personally that are not meant that way
  • negative comments about most things
  • complaining done with underlying agitation
  • blaming – most of what he talks about is blaming someone or something
  • sullen more than sulking– he can be silent in an intense way that doesn't feel quiet, sulking means he's getting some frustrations out

And if you notice the following signs over a period of time, the potential for violence exists:

  • a history of violent or aggressive behavior
  • serious drug or alcohol use
  • gang membership or strong desire to be in a gang
  • access to or fascination with weapons, especially guns
  • threatening others regularly
  • trouble controlling feelings like anger
  • withdrawal from friends and usual activities
  • feeling rejected or alone
  • having been a victim of bullying
  • poor school performance
  • history of discipline problems or frequent run-ins with authority
  • feeling constantly disrespected
  • failing to acknowledge the feelings or rights of others
(C) 2007 Mark Goulston (including material from the American Psychological Association)

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