OMG SMH

By Rev. Anthony Stephens, PhD, JD, LMHC, LCC Pastoral Counselor

There is a division of thought in the social media world as to whether SMH stands for “shaking my head” or “so much hate”. Let’s go with the latter for the moment. My question is why is there so much hate? What can we do about it?

 Here is my underlying premise. I have noticed, for decades now, the intense polarization associated with political figures. This polarization frequently rises to the level of hatred (or its antithesis adoration or lionizing). A political figure can either do nothing right or nothing wrong. This, clinically, in brain science, is driven by a dominance of “hot cognition” and over-categorization.

Hot cognition describes executive brain function driven by emotional arousal often based on long term memory. Cold cognition, in contrast, can be described as more ‘emotion independent’ and more analytical. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT); my practice mode, we make a distinction between reasonable mind and emotional mind.

To be clear, neither “hot” nor “cold” is bad. The lack of the ability to appropriately switch is however problematic. DBT champions a state called “the Wise Mind,” which is a mind optimally attentive to both reason and emotion. Dealing with passionate matters with a wise mind is a trainable skill, and our therapists teach such skills with individuals, couples and families.

Here are just two techniques that I will share, with a little back story. Recently my daughter “let” me use my vehicle again, which she had taken to college. My usual runabout has a small selection of radio channels limited further by range of signals in my commute. The other vehicle has satellite radio. Normally I arrive after my commute in a darkened mood, because I have been feeding the rage. With satellite radio I have a wide palette of stations and arrive in good spirits replete with classical music and wise comments. There is a difference between staying informed and feeding the rage.

Secondly, I encourage clients to have a [if necessary pretend] jar that they contribute to whenever they say such things as “always”, “never” (or when they “practice telepathy” or impute motives to another).  “S/he always does that to annoy me.” Talking about specific, observed and verified behaviors is a technique that leads to conflict resolution. Aggregated imagined Machiavellian plots only lead to deepened rancor and ill will. I assure you that when I fail to keep a receipt it is not part of a greater plot just to upset my wife!

Feeding the rage and tarring every action with the same brush (over categorization) are just two ways that we accumulate so much hate. The remedies for these are simple; don’t! This for many is easier said than done, and so therapeutic help is invaluable. Maladaptive behaviors based on faulty cognitions, which cause considerable distress, can seem “baked in.” In contrast they can be educated and coached out with counseling, learning to balance hot and cold cognitions and training in using the wise mind. 

Pastor Stephens counsels teens and adults at LCC’s Paul Qualben site in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He is a major with the US Army, serving as chaplain at Ft. Hamilton in Brooklyn, NY.
 

For more information or to set an appointment, please call the Lutheran Counseling Center (www.lccny.org) at 1-800-317-1173 or e-mail us at Center@lccny.org. LCC has nine counseling sites over the New York metropolitan and surrounding area. 

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