Why Do Some Friendships Last A Lifetime?

Why Do Some Friendships Last A Lifetime?

Have you ever stopped to consider why some friendships transcend space and time and can last a lifetime, yet others seem to have an expiry date and fizzle out?

Friendship is an incredibly rich experience that connects us with the world around us. The connection that friendship fosters, allows us to grow and evolve as we travel through all stages of our lives. Our friends influence us, and we influence them - hopefully in positive, fruitful and meaningful ways.

From the second that we step foot onto the playground on our first day of school, we learn the importance of establishing friendships. Our friendships often hold more significance in our lives, sometimes, on occasions, more than our own biological families.

We absorb everything from our friends - our language, our mannerisms, ideas, values, and principles, as well as the odd questionable fashion decision. As we grow much of our personality builds from the characteristics and qualities of our friendships.

In terms of cognitive and social development, it is considered that much of our personality throughout all stages of our life is mirrored, and absorbed from our compadres. “Smarter friends make us smarter; more social friends make us more outgoing; healthy friends make us more health conscious. Who they are [our friends] becomes part of us” (Fishman, 2015).

Friendship offers frequent boosts of happiness and joy, as well enhancing your sense of purpose and belonging. Positive friendships reduce stress and anxiety and improve your feelings of strength and self-esteem. When times are tough, they help cope with trauma and loss, while decreasing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

How we establish a friendship is often as unique as the person we connect with. As eloquently stated by C.S Lewis, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!” What is equally unique is the nature in which relationships evolve or dissolve over time.

So, if we’re able to experience such a significant connection with a friend in the beginning, then why do some relationships continue to enrich our lives, while others slowly fizzle out?

Unlike our relationships with parents or siblings, our friendships are especially unique because they are completely voluntary in nature. Nothing binds us within a friendship and we make an active, conscious choice to establish them.

However, as we are drawn to a friendship because of the lack of formal structure that we experience in family or romantic relationships, the ‘voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life's whims in a way other relationships aren't’ (Beck, 2015).

Like any other relationship, friendships need active, conscious effort to keep them flourishing. “Whether people hold onto their old friends or grow apart seems to come down to dedication and communication” (Beck, 2015). When mutual reciprocation of needs and expectations are offered in a friendship, it is very possible for it to thrive, even when time and distance is present.

Research has found that people need to feel like they are getting as much out of the friendship as they are putting in, and that that equity can predict a friendship’s continued success. This means that if the right conditions are fostered, ‘long distance’ or ‘time challenged’ relationships can pick up where they left off with incredible fluidity.

These are the moments when, after years of not seeing each other in person, your able to enjoy a four-hour marathon meal, with accompanying conversation (as well as decent wine) and feel like only an hour and a half has past.

Yet, life dramatically shapes and tests our friendships. From our adolescent years where friendships are the core of our universe, across the lifespan to our retirement years, our ability to establish and preserve friends changes dramatically. The number of friends that we have starts to decline around the age of twenty-five.

There are a plethora of reasons why friendships fizzle out, some key reasons include various life events that distract us as well as failing to nurture our relationships. Other influences include changes in personal values or worldviews over time that challenge the compatibility and subsequent reciprocation between friends.

So, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on the friendships that you have in your life. Some friendships might be chugging along happily on their path, others might need some tender love and attention, others might need to start a new chapter. Determine what’s required to foster their continued success? What’s necessary for them to survive life’s varied chapters, or even transcend space and time itself?

- Simon


Fishman, T. (2015). Don't underestimate the power of friendship. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/06/07/friendship-science-human-needs-column/26633027/

Beck, J. (2015). How Friendships Change in Adulthood. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/10/how-friendships-change-over-time-in-adulthood/411466/

Bhattacharya, K., Ghosh, A., Minivans, D., Dunbar, R. I. M., & Kaski, K. (2016). Sex differences in social focus across the life cycle in humans. Royal Society Open Science, 3(4), 160097. http://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160097

Men at Work: The changing relationship between men and their work.

Men at Work: The changing relationship between men and their work.

In a previous career of mine, a work colleague described what his influential and high paying job meant to him.

He said, “Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my job. I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years and I’m extremely grateful of what it has provided. But, it’s not my true passion.”

I was somewhat surprised by his comment. Here was an accomplished leader and businessman, who was highly respected as one of the best in his field saying that he felt ‘OK’ about his job. This guy knew his stuff, he knew people, he was respected, he was a shaker and a mover.

He elaborated, “What this job provides me is the opportunity to get up early each morning and walk out from my house onto the beach and go for a surf. It also provides me with the means to go anywhere in the world on a yearly surfing trip with my son. That’s why I’ve worked so hard, for as long as I have. That’s why I honestly do what I do”.

He continued to say that it really didn’t matter what job he did, as long as it provided him with the means to achieve the things that were really important to him. To him, his identity as a man and as a father did not hinge on what his job was, or the direction of his career path.

His comments have stuck with me for all these years. It offered a new and very refreshing perspective towards the relationship between men and their work. It highlighted for me, that as important as men view their work, there is a lot of value in recognizing that a man’s job can be a valuable part of their masculine identity; without it being their entire identity. That men have options on how they view themselves, without placing all their eggs in one basket.

A common theme described by men is the significant amount of personal meaning that they derive from their work. “Men traditionally derive a huge amount of self-esteem and gender identity, and personal happiness from their work, even more so than other environments such as their home life or social interactions” (Galinsky, 2011). However, the idea of extending their identity beyond their job, has the potential to offer an enormous amount of relief for men.

Think about the last time you met someone new for the first time. What was the first question that you ask, or were asked?

“So, tell me, what do you do…”?

This is one of those all too common, but loaded questions we ask in social environments. Asking this question satisfies our need for social comparison, but more importantly, our reply allows us to reinforce our identity - if we associate ourselves with the work we do. However, the traditional narrative of a man’s identity being tied up in their job is changing. Not unlike my own discovery while talking to my colleague, a lot of men are asking the question, ‘is there more to me than what I do as a job?’

The author, Alain de Botton, stated that “we spend most of our waking lives at work - in occupations most often chosen by our inexperienced younger selves. And yet we rarely ask ourselves how we got there or what our jobs mean to us”. His book, ‘The pleasures and sorrows of work’ explores why people do what they do. How many men, find enjoyment in their work, but often have no idea how on earth they got there?

There are a lot of men that derive tremendous happiness and satisfaction from their work. The sense of purpose, challenge, the ability to provide, a sense of inclusion and belonging and structure, not to mention the creation of bonds with other men. These are all important elements that contribute to a sense of masculinity and self.

Yet, men are now starting to realize this redefined sense of self in other ways. What they are discovering is a masculine identity that is equally enriched beyond their current thoughts of what work means to them. For example, the number of men who are changing the balance between workforce and family roles or discovering meaning and purpose in life via alternate pursuits or interests.

It is absolutely realistic for a man to question the narrative of ‘a job maketh a man’. In exploring new and exciting ingredients in life, a man can rewrite his story that contains greater meaning and depth. A man’s job is simply one of many amazing elements of who he is - and who he can be. 

Cheers, Simon

Do You Know What You Need?

Do You Know What You Need?


If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there. - Lewis Carroll.

I had been working with a young bloke, (let's call him Alex), for several months, when he mentioned that he had been having difficulty making a decision about a promotion that he had been offered. Alex described that he'd been successful throughout most of his career and that the company that he was working for was extremely supportive. Furthermore, he was highly respected by his boss and his peers. He felt like he had everything going for him, however, he was troubled by his lack of ‘mojo' when he thought about this new opportunity.

 So, I asked him. "Alex, can I ask? What is it that you need?

Alex: "What is it that I need?".

After a long pause…

Alex: "Damn, I don't know, Honestly, I really don't know. I've never asked myself that… you know… I've just done what I thought I wanted at the time or did what I thought I should out of obligation or loyalty… but what I need… that's a tough one".

We spent the rest of the conversation exploring Alex's needs. We took the time to separate his needs as opposed to his wants and unpacked the meaning and association of each need that he had identified. Eventually, we ended up identifying a couple of very significant needs for himself. A week later Alex stated that he had a very clear understanding of his preferred path forward. As a result, he was able to make a very deliberate and authentic decision. Alex reclaimed his mojo.

The quote above by Lewis Carroll highlights that when we haven't taken the time to explore what our needs are and what they mean to us, we might just find ourselves on a path that contradicts who we really are.

Identifying our needs is the first important step to creating meaningful relationships, rich experiences, and purpose in our pursuits.

Our needs are unique to who we are as individuals. Needs come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes (see the list below) and that they constantly evolve throughout our lives. Needs range from basic existence needs (physiological and safety needs) to relational needs (intimate and social relationships and external esteem) to more complex personal growth needs (Internal esteem and self-actualization).

"A human need, or, more accurately, the object of a human need is something which a human being must have to live a recognizably human life." An important consideration is a difference between a need and want. "A want, or more accurately, the object of a want, is something which one desires to have, or the notion of preference" (Garett, 2004).

For example, an employer states "I ‘need' my employees to respect me and tell me when they need my help". This is an example of a want or a preference rather than a need. What is more aligned to the concept of a need is: "Being a trusted, efficient and relevant leader is an important need of mine".

When we are aware of our needs, it becomes easier to move towards their fulfillment. We learn to align our cognitions, emotions, and behaviors to effectively achieve them. Communicating our needs in an honest, open manner is critical. Recognizing an unfulfilled need is surprisingly relatively simple task – if we're being honest with ourselves we experience harmony with ourselves and positive connection with others. When we experience impasses or conflicts within our relationships or experience heightened emotions such as anxiety, anger or fear - it is typically an indicator that a need is not being satisfied.

Because of the heightened emotions that are connected to unfulfilled needs, it can be difficult to convey them to the people who we feel matter to us the most. We often fear what may (or may not) occur if we expressed our needs. While it does take courage to express our needs, it is also our responsibility to ourselves and to others to try.

So, how do we fulfill our needs?

  1. Recognize that having needs is not selfish, weak or dependent. It takes strength, to be honest, and attuned to our needs.
  2. Create space to explore, acknowledge and celebrate your needs. It takes time to connect with what's important to us. Give yourself permission to dig deep and when you find what you're looking for, honor yourself.
  3. Communicate your needs to yourself and to others. Convey your needs in a respectful, empathic manner that recognizes that others have needs too. Acknowledge similarities in needs and celebrate differences. Offer to help others fulfill theirs.
  4. Nurture and evolve your needs. Think of this as a life long journey. Attend to your needs as they develop.

To help explore your needs, take a few moments to reflect on the list below. This list is not all-inclusive, but it offers some ideas to get the creative ‘needs' flowing. 

If you struggle with fulfilling your needs or have difficulty communicating your needs with those in your life, then let's start a conversation. Click on the link below and schedule a free 20 min consultation. Who knows where it might lead you.

Cheers, Simon


Carroll, L (No Date). Retrieved from Brainy Quotes: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/l/lewiscarro165865.html

Garrett, J. (2004) Needs, Wants, Interests, Motives. Retrieved from: http://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/ethics/needs.htm

McClelland, D. (1961) The achieving society. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Need_theory



  • Acknowledgement
  • To be seen
  • To be known
  • To be heard


  • Integrity
  • Authenticity
  • Wholeness
  • Fairness


  • Belonging
  • Friendship
  • Companionship
  • Respect
  • Support
  • Trust
  • Cooperation
  • Mutuality


  • Competence
  • Contribution
  • Meaning
  • Growth
  • Learning
  • Challenge
  • Work
  • Discovery
  • Order/Structure
  • Efficiency


  • Expression
  • Passion
  • Sexuality
  • Creativity


  • Clarity
  • Information
  • Stimulation
  • Awareness
  • Focus


  • Freedom
  • Choice
  • Independence


  • Consideration
  • Compassion
  • Connection
  • Communication
  • Reassurance
  • Love
  • Warmth
  • Intimacy
  • Companionship
  • Acceptance


  • Touch
  • Affection
  • Caring
  • Preservation of life
  • Bonding
  • Comfort


  • Security
  • Safety
  • Food/Water/Shelter
  • Health
  • Rest/Sleep


  • Honor
  • Aliveness
  • Spontaneity
  • Mourning
  • Humor


  • Connection with something greater
  • Ritual
  • Healing
  • Harmony
  • Inspiration
  • Peace
  • Faith
  • Joy
  • Balance
  • Grounding
  • Serenity
  • Hope

The Importance of Relationships

The Importance of Relationships

The Importance of Relationships

As human beings, we are born with an innate biological and neurological need to establish connects or bonds with other human beings.

We are essentially the sum of the quality of our relationships with others. We are not hard-wired to be detached, free-floating islands, however, we can often find ourselves experiencing moments of utter isolation, even when we are surrounded by others.

We acknowledge that humans are social creatures and that establishing positive and reciprocal relationships are critical elements to our overall sense of wellbeing. As individuals, we are happier and healthier when we develop healthy bonds with others throughout all stages of our life.

Why are relationships important to us?

As eloquently described by Balfour and Vincent (2012) ‘The evidence now is clear: the quality of our relationships has profound implications from our earliest years, for the emotional, cognitive, and physical development of our children, to our latest years, in old age, affecting the likelihood of hospitalization, the rate of progression of disease in dementia, and even some mortality rates. In these materialistic times, we can say with some certainty that the apparent nebulous world of our close attachments to our partners [and relationships] has the most material, measurable consequence for our lives’.

The quality of our relationships and connections with others, such as our parents, siblings, romantic partners, friends, colleagues, mentors, and tribes, have the potential to directly influence our ability to create a prosperous, healthy and meaningful world for ourselves. Quality relationships assist us in dealing with life’s challenges and pain.

Human beings need connection and relationships when they are afraid, anxious, or unsure of themselves and want to compare their feelings with those of others. Relationships help people to confirm and validate thoughts, feelings and experiences as well as creating a foundation of self-esteem and self-worth.

What happens when we lack positive relationships in our lives?

In our technology-pervasive world that we find ourselves living in, a lot of us have seen a dramatic shift in our ability to connect. The world almost seems smaller. The elements of distance and time are no longer barriers to communicate and the volume of social connections has significantly increased.

Then why do so many people nowadays feel alone or isolated? It’s due to the quality of our connections or relationships. Not all relationships are meaningful, nor do they satisfy our most basics needs or yearnings for connection. Some relationships can be harmful, considerably impacting our health, our well-being and sense of self-worth.

How can we establish positive and nurturing relationships?

Relationships are fluid, evolving entities and they require ongoing care and attention. Comparable to the idea of self-care, we need to care for and nurture the relationships that in turn, support and nurture us. This reciprocal relationship takes time, patience and energy. Developing quality relationships also entails some basic proficiency in connecting with others and being open to the experience. Here are some interpersonal elements to consider when creating healthy bonds with others.

  • Define your relationship needs: what is a positive, reciprocal relationship to you?
  • Identify, establish and manage healthy boundaries.
  • Accept and celebrate differences in others.
  • Offer compassion and express gratitude.
  • Create space and time to connect.
  • Listen and be present.
  • Forgive and offer exoneration.
  • Develop effective communication skills.
  • Be open to offering and receiving constructive feedback.
  • Learn to trust and respect others.
  • Be open to the experience of connecting.
  • Manage conflict quickly and considerately when it arises.
  • Be real - as Oscar Wilde cited, ‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken’.  

Practical Exercise

Take a few minutes this next week to write down a short list of some of the more important relationships in your life.

Think of a relationship with another person who consistently recognizes you, acknowledges you and endorses your feelings and ideas? How important is this relationship to you?

Next, write down a short list of the relationships you would like to nurture. Take mental stock of why each of these are important and how you would like to enrich the relationship.

Over the next 4-6 weeks, connect with each person. After this period, sit back and reflect on how your life has been enriched.

If you would like to learn more about forming positive and reciprocal relationships then let's connect. Book a free 20-minute consultation below and let's start a conversation.

Cheers, Simon

Simon Niblock, MA is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping men, couples and families find peace, direction, and meaning in their relationships. Click on the button below to book a consultation.


Balfour, A., Morgan, M., & Vincent, C. (2012). How Couple Relationships Shape our World Clinical Practice, Research, and Policy Perspectives. London: Karnack Books.

Web, L. (2013) Developing positive relationships. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/content/8-tips-developing-positive-relationships

Flickr image by: Farhad Sadykov

The Mastery of Emotion: Fear

The Mastery of Emotion: Fear

A sudden loud noise that makes us jump, a swift movement in the corner of your eye that raises the hair on the back of our neck, or a moment of sheer dread when our heart rises into our throat and our stomach plummets. The universal experience of fear that serves a very distinct purpose: our basic survival. Yet the irony of this emotion is that we are often only aware of its presence after we have returned to a state of calm and reflect on our experience. We all experience fear, however, are we truly aware of its varying forms, states, and intensities? What does the emotion of fear mean to our sense of safety or personal well-being, and what can we do to manage fear that may seem unfounded and when it doesn’t serve us?


Fear is described as an intuitive and instinctive emotion that leads to adaptive physiological, cognitive and behavioral responses to either a real or perceived threat. Animal behaviorists (ethologists) define fear as a motivational state aroused by specific stimuli that give rise to defensive behavior or escape. Across human evolution, fear has allowed us to survive in the most adverse of conditions; for example, a wooly mammoth charging towards us, or a natural disaster such as flood waters or an earthquake. We can experience fear in a wide variety of intensities including trepidation, nervousness, anxiety, dread, desperation, panic, horror and terror.

Fear can also occur as either innate (natural) or learned (constructed). The fear of falling and the fear of loud noises are viewed as the only innate or natural fears that we are actually born with. We observe babies automatically reacting to the potential of either of these scenarios from the second they are born. In comparison, learned fear is established and reinforced throughout our childhood development as a result of relational, environmental and cultural influences. For example, we are not born with an innate fear of spiders or sharks. This fear occurs because we are taught to respond as a result of the association between a potential threat or cue (a spider) and a fear outcome (being bit and risk of falling ill). Depending on what and how we learn, a potential threat can be very real, anticipated or sometimes even imagined.


Fear serves as both physical and psychological information for us to determine an appropriate survival response. In other words, it is the psychobiological reaction to a given threat, that occurs automatically. This information has the ability to activate our body to respond even before we are cognitively aware of what’s occurring. It allows us to perceive a potential threat, regardless of whether we are aware or even familiar with the circumstance, by connecting our innate or learnt associations as a conductor on how to respond. For example, if we find ourselves in an unfamiliar setting or environment, we might experience trepidation or even nervousness, resulting in us proceeding cautiously or with hyper-vigilance.


How we experience fear is directly related to the nature of a threat. The nature of fear is a complex beast, often referred to as either real fear (an actual threat to physical harm) or psychological fear. Real fear triggers a series of physiological, neurological and psychological responses that result in the classic fight, freeze or flight behaviors. Psychological fear incorporates elements far more involved that our basic instincts. As described, we are conditioned to prepare for a fear outcome, which in some situations leads to the act of anticipation. The tricky part is, anticipation does not denote the existence of a real threat. This is when we describe the terms of rational or appropriate and irrational or inappropriate fear. It is a subjective expectation of an experience that may or may not occur, however, we are constantly initiating a fear response, there is an increased possibility of chronic physical, neurological and psychological problems.

According to contemporary theory; there are five tenants of fear:

  1. Fear of extinction: also referred to as the fear of death, annihilation or of ceasing to exist. The idea of no longer existing or being provokes an existential anxiety for most individuals. Some may experience this fear when faced with heights, or expansive spaces or other cues that stir feelings of our mortality.
  2. Fear of injury or mutilation: defined by the fear of losing any part of our precious bodily structure; the thought of having our body’s boundaries invaded, or of losing the integrity of any organ, body part, or natural function.
  3. Fear of loss of autonomy: the fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or otherwise controlled by circumstances beyond our control. In physical form, it’s commonly known as claustrophobia, but it also extends to our social interactions and relationships in the form of losing one’s self.
  4. Fear of separation or aloneness: this relates to an association of abandonment, rejection, and loss of connectedness with others; of becoming a non-person, someone who is wanted, respected, or valued by anyone else. Anyone who has experienced being shunned or rejected by a group or tribe may experience a significant, adverse psychological reaction.
  5. Fear of ego-death: a fancy way to describe humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the self; the fear of the shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness.


Similar to the various physiological, neurological and psychological responses experienced when we experience anger, our brain triggers the all too familiar fight or flight response. When we experience fear, two key parts of our brain are activated. The first part to fire up is the ‘amygdala’. The amygdala is the neurological center or sensory system for coordinating behavioral, autonomic and endocrine (hormone) responses to external stimuli (visual, sound and smell cues). Within milliseconds of the amygdala activating, the following physiological actions occur:

  • Increase of heart rate and blood pressure;
  • Pupils dilate to increase sight and input of light;
  • Blood is redirected to major muscle groups;
  • Blood-glucose level increases;
  • Muscles tense, adrenaline and glucose level increase;
  • Lungs increase oxygen intake;
  • Non-essential systems (digestion and immune system) shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions;

Another key player is the higher cortical center of the brain. This part references cue and memory. It will reference our experiences and knowledge of a potential threat and potentially override the amygdala, allowing us to control our sense of fear.


While we are no longer likely to be threatened by that beastly wooly mammoth, experiencing fear is a normal human emotional response. However, when we experience prolonged real or perceived fear it can become extremely debilitating. Because we typically recognize fear after the fact, managing fear can be difficult. How we care for ourselves, after the experience is imperative. According to DuPont, Dupont, & DuPont (1998), there are a number of options to help reduce the impact of a fear experience. The objective is to condition ourselves to identify and quantify a fear trigger or cue to reducing its impact. Here are some suggestions;

It doesn't matter why you're scared. Knowing why you've developed a particular fear doesn't do much to help you overcome it, and it delays your progress in areas that will actually help you become less afraid. Stop trying to figure it out.

  1. Learn about the thing you fear. Uncertainty is a huge component of fear: Developing an understanding of what you're afraid of goes a long way toward erasing that fear.
  2. Train. If there's something you're afraid to try because it seems scary or difficult, start small and work in steps. Slowly building familiarity with a scary subject makes it more manageable.
  3. Find someone who is not afraid. If there's something you're afraid of, find someone who is not afraid of that thing and spend time with that person. Take them along when you try to conquer your fear.
  4. Talk about it – more than once. Sharing your fears out loud can reduce the scale of the experience.
  5. Play mind games with yourself. If you're afraid of speaking in front of groups, it's probably because you think the audience is going to judge you. Try imagining the audience members naked, being the only clothed person in the room puts you in the position of judgment.
  6. Reduce reflecting on the grand scheme. Reflect on small, successive steps. If you're afraid of heights, don't think about being on the fortieth floor of a building. Just think about getting your foot in the lobby.
  7. Seek help. Fear is not a simple emotion. If you're having trouble overcoming your fear on your own, find a professional to help you. There are lots of professional treatment options available and it’s possible to overcome fears with the guidance of someone with training and experience.

Fear is the most primary of human emotions. It has served to protect us since the dawn of time and it can be both incredibly intense and profound. We often experience fear in a plethora of emotional experiences, such as fear of isolation, shame, guilt, embarrassment, etc. When we explore and acknowledge our fears, it is possible to reduce the impact that it can create. Fear can occur as either real or rational, or perceived or irrational.

We all experience fear in some capacity or form, almost daily. Regardless of what type of fear you may experience or struggle with, there is a wide range of practical strategies to lessen its impact. Fear serves a purpose, however, not at the expense of your mental and physical well-being and your relationships.

If you would like to learn more about the experience of fear or if you recognize that it adversely impacts your life then call me on 512-470-6976 to start a conversation.

Cheers, Simon

Simon Niblock, MA is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping men, couples and families find peace, direction, and meaning in their relationships. Click on the button below to book a consultation.


Image courtesy of Stefan Rheone (2016) on Flicker

Albrecht, K (2012) The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brainsnacks/201203/the-only-5-fears-we-all-share

DuPont, Caroline M., DuPont, Robert L., DuPont Spencer, Elizabeth. "The Anxious Brain." The Anxiety Cure: An Eight-Step Program for Getting Well. Wiley, 1998. ISBN 0471247014.

Gibson, E. J., & Walk, R. D. (1960). The visual cliff. Scientific American, 202, 67–

Kounang, N (2015), What is the science behind fear? http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/29/health/science-of-fear/

Sarhan, A (2013) Fear & Greed Intro and eight practical tips to deal with fear. http://www.globalmacroresearch.com/tag/fear-greed-intro-8-practical-tips-to-deal-with-fear/

Steimer, T. (2002). The biology of fear and anxiety-related behaviors. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 4(3), 231–249. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181681/

The Mastery of Emotion: Anger

The Mastery of Emotion: Anger

We’ve all experienced it. That bubbling up of frustration when something consistently doesn’t go according to plan, the sheer exasperation of the person cutting in front of you in traffic or the argument that goes around in circles, becoming increasingly heated by the second. We’ve all experienced anger in its varying forms. We’re often aware we have our own ‘hot buttons’ and pretty sure that everyone else knows how to push them. But how much do we really know about anger and what purpose it serves?

What is Anger?

Anger is the disruption or interference of personal expectations. It is a core human emotion, which varies from person to person in strength and frequency. It is experienced in a variety of states and intensity ranging from simple annoyance to frustration, exasperation, argumentativeness, bitterness, vengefulness, and fury (intense anger).

What purpose does anger serve?

Anger as an emotion, according to evolutionary psychologists, formed as individual response to interpersonal conflicts of interest and as a method to bargain and satisfy such interests. However, anger is far more than a cave man’s negotiation tactic. Experiencing anger allows us to identify when our needs or expectations are not being met. It highlights when our personal boundaries have been breached and can create an intention of purpose or action to overcome the deficit in what we want for ourselves.

Anger, like any of our core emotions, is impossible to eradicate from our emotional repertoire, therefore it should be acknowledged, respected and managed in a way that allows us to evolve personally and improve the quality of our relationships.

How do we become angry?

How we become angry depends on a number of elements. These elements include an event or circumstance that triggers an emotional response (triggers), who we are as a person, or our own individual disposition (emotional characteristics) and how we perceive  the situation (cognitive appraisal) and on what evidence we adopt and our method of reasoning.

A trigger may be an interference with our ability to move forward with an intended task or action, it may include rejection or criticism from someone we love, experiencing inefficiency or bureaucracy, encountering opposite beliefs, being belittled or humiliated by an employer or authority figure or worse case, being wrongfully accused.

Our own individual disposition includes the dominant qualities or temperament of our mental and emotional self. Are we sunny and cheerful by disposition or are we more cynical or irritable in nature? Our emotional outlook or attitude has the ability to create the foundation in which we respond in a given situation.

Cognitive appraisal is our own, individual interpretation of a situation. When a trigger occurs, we instantly make an intuitive evaluation of whether the situation or event is considered a disruption or interference of our personal expectations. In this process, we reference beliefs, values, expectations, hopes and needs. Essentially, we incorporate a whole range of evaluative constructions that allow us to create our own inference or perception of a given situation.

What happens to us when we get angry?

Without going into great depth into the various physiological, neurological and psychological responses, the simple explanation of what we experience when we get angry can be described as an ‘amygdala override’. The amygdala is the neurological center for coordinating behavioral, autonomic and endocrine (hormone) responses to external stimuli, especially those with emotional content. The amygdala responds to a variety of emotional stimuli, but mostly those related to fear and anxiety (Swenson, 2006).

When a threat is perceived, the amygdala bypasses the sections of the brain (the cortex) that typically provides logic, reasoning, and judgment, and switches on a mass dump of hormones. This dump subsequently activates the secretion of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol into the body. Essentially, the ‘amygdala override’ activates our flight or fight sequence that we’re all too familiar with and we find we’re flying off into a fit of rage.

How can we manage our anger?

It’s important to recognize that it’s ok to get angry. What’s not ok, is if anger leads to aggression and/or violence. When you are angry, it is our responsibility to express anger in a healthy and constructive manner. We are individually accountable for finding constructive ways to avoid losing control that could lead to aggressive, destructive or other maladaptive behaviors that may harm yourself and others.

1.     Take notice of your ability to calm down: How long does it take? 20 minutes, 40 minutes, or a good couple of hours? The various hormones that flood the body take to secrete out of our bloodstream, so the timeframe in which we need to regulate ourselves can vary from person to person.

2.     Take time out: yes, just like we do with our kids, the same strategy applies really well for angry adults. It’s important to take into account that your mental and physical tolerance may be impacted after an experience of activation, so do not re-enter a heated conversation if you’re still calming down. Remove yourself from the environment if you suspect you might be ‘re-activated’.

3.     Adopt a method of self-soothing: Ask yourself, do you release your anger out, or do you harbor it in? Explore ways to be able to find to calm and regulate your anger. What are your triggers? How does your temperament influence your anger? Are there different ways of assessing particular experiences? What resources can you utilize to positively shape your response?

4.     Practical tools: there are a wide range of tools and options to help ease the internal dialogue and physiological responce that swells up in the heat of the moment. Here’s an example of a series of internal dialogue points developed by the Anger Management Center of Toronto (2015), worth saying to yourself when the anger starts to heighten:

  • I do not need to prove myself in this situation, I can stay calm.
  • As long as I keep my cool, I am in control of myself.
  • What other people might say is their own opinion. Opinions are not facts. I am the only person who can make myself angry or keep myself calm.
  • I will allow myself to take time-out to de-escalate, if I feel that I am getting worked up or recognize my anger cues or signals.
  • In difficult or stressful situations, I do not need to feel threatened or fearful. I can relax and stay cool. This will allow me to make better choices.
  • I do not have to be strong and competent all the time. It is okay to feel unsure or confused at times. This will not make me less of a person.
  • It is impossible to control other persons and all situations. I can only influence these in a positive way if I choose to if they are open to the process.

Anger is a complex creature. As humans, we are naturally predisposed to the emotion of anger and poignant experience. Our perception of anger can vary. Some individuals avoid anger at all cost, while others express it explicitly. Anger, like each of our respective emotions, serves the distinct purpose of highlighting when we are presented with an impediment to satisfying an expectation or need, or if we are faced with a breach of personal values or boundaries. The psychological and physiological effects of anger are complicated, however, if we are aware of the dynamics that create anger we are able to manage and control this important emotion without resorting to ineffective actions that compromise the relationship with ourselves and the relationships with others.

If you would like to learn more about how to positively express your anger or have been told that you have an 'anger problem', then call me on 512-470-6976 to start a conversation.

Cheers, Simon

Simon Niblock, MA is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping men, couples and families find peace, direction, and meaning in their relationships. Click on the button below to book a consultation.


Image by Luis Marina n Flickr (2016) Grrr

Anger Management Center of Toronto (2015) http://www.angermanagementcentre.ca/programs-and-services/our-programs/anger-management-coaching

Center for Evolutionary Psychology (2016). http://www.cep.ucsb.edu/topics/anger.htm

Ekman, P., & Ekman, E. (2016) The Ekman Atlas of Emotions. https://www.paulekman.com/atlas-of-emotions/#actions:anger

Martin, R. (2011). Why we get angry. Psychology Today.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-the-rage/201110/why-we-get-mad

Swenson, R.S. (2006) The limbic system. Review of Clinical and Functional Neuroscience, Dartmouth Medical School. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~rswenson/NeuroSci/chapter_9.html

How to Avoid the Perils of Not Being Understood

How to Avoid the Perils of Not Being Understood

Anyone who's picked up and read the classic self-development book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Steven R. Covey, will recognize the habit of ‘seek to understand, to be understood'. This powerful paradigm shifts us away from trying to instantly gratify our needs when communicating with someone to a position where we take the time to listen and truly understand their needs first, before then conveying ours. "We typically seek first to be understood and most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they are listening with the intent to reply" (Covey, 2004).

Some folks might describe ‘seek to understand, to be understood' as active or reflective listening. However, it's much more than that. Stopping yourself from formulating a response when someone is talking is certainly a positive step in improving your connection. Listening with intent, to truly understand someone, their fears, desires, yearnings or disappointment is even more powerful. From a position of understanding, we can connect at an empathic level that forms deep levels of trust and respect. As a result, the other person is more likely to reciprocate and take the time to truly listen and understand our needs.

When there's a breakdown in communication, I often hear many couples express that "he/she just doesn't get me". When this is conveyed, I respectively check in with each partner and have them apply the principle of seeking to understand to be understood. It's not uncommon to have them turn to each other and say, "Oh! I had no idea that was happening to you! Or, I had it completely wrong, I thought you meant X, Y, Z". This common dialogue highlights the real impact when we really don't connect. As a result, the misperceptions that we create, then impact the way in which we subsequently interact with the other person, creating a cycle of miscommunication and potential conflict.

Seeking to understand to be understood, in the context of our relationships can be applied in a few simple and very practical steps:

1.     Create space to have an open, active conversation. Give yourself some breathing space and create a regular time to talk. It doesn't require hours of deep and meaningful conversation, but just make it consistent and uninterrupted so that you and your partner can connect.

2.     Be present and focused. Sure, I know it's hard to have a conversation after battling with the trials of the day. Sit together or talk a walk. Remove as many distractions as possible. Switch off the television, put your phone out of sight, whatever it takes to be present in order to create that empathic connection. 

3.     Be curious about your partner's world. Starting a conversation with a simple check in with your partner is a great way to start an active conversation. You'll be surprised at how many couples have fallen out of the habit of checking in with each other. However, once you start - listen. Listen with the intent of understanding them and their frame of reference. Be curious. It's your responsibility as a partner to understand all about their world and what's happening with them.

4.     Don't prescribe solutions. This is a classic symptom of listening to reply as opposed to listening to understand. If we jump into the conversation with suggestions or recommendations, then the other person is less likely to initiate a conversation or even seek help in future. If they want help they, hopefully, will ask for it. Then with the insight that you have about their needs, are able to offer solutions that are far more meaningful.

5.     Ask how you can complement your partner's life. This is a great alternative to offering solutions (gents, are you paying attention here?). Ask your partner ‘what can I do you make your day great? Or, what can I do to help you through the day?' These might sound a bit cheesy, but find your own language to ask these questions. The reply might be as simple as ‘can you rub my back or I would love if you could help me get the kids off to bed'. The key here is to extend an invitation to your partner to connect with them and offer support while respecting their needs.

The concept of ‘first seek to understand, to be understood' is based deeply in the power of empathic listening. It has the potential to create strong connections while respecting each others frame of reference. When individuals take the time to focus, be present and listen without formulating a response, it opens up the potential to convey needs and expectations without resorting to ineffective ways of communicating (defending positions, arguing, misinterpretation etc).

If you're unfamiliar with some of these ideas, it will take a bit of practice. Construct your own language, using these suggestions as a foundation. Experiment and take notice of what changes. The potential to deepen your connection with your partner is very real.

If you think it's time to explore how to improve communication in your relationship or struggle to express your needs and expectations with your partner or spouse, then call me on 512-470-6976 to start a conversation.

Arohanui, Simon

Image by kanegen on Flickr.

Simon Niblock, MA is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping men, couples and families find peace, direction, and meaning in their relationships. Click on the link below to book an appointment.