Category Archives: Life On Lifes Terms

Anger, Anxiety, Resentment, Stress and Basic Humanity

by Steven Stosny, Ph. D.
Anger In The Entitlement Age

After 30 years of work on problems of anger, resentment, anxiety, and stress, and half a dozen books on the subject, I still get sarcastic emails:
“I want to manage anger, anxiety, and stress, but I’m not interested in becoming a ‘better person’.”
Let me be very clear. Your chances of consistently managing anger, anxiety, resentment, and stress, without becoming a better person, are practically zero.
By the time we’re adults, most anger, resentment, anxiety, and reactions to stress are conditioned responses, usually caused by precipitous drops in self-value. That is, we feel devalued. To change conditioned responses, we must develop new conditioned responses, for example, conditioning behaviors that raise self-value to occur automatically when self-value declines. CompassionPower has techniques that, with practice, will build more beneficial conditioned responses. However, those won’t be enough. The only significant and lasting improvement in life and relationships results from becoming “a better person.” We become better persons by staying in touch with basic humanity, the survival-based capacity for interest in the well-being of others.
Basic Humanity and Survival of the Species
Early humans could not have survived competition from more plentiful and powerful predators without banding together in emotionally-bonded social units to defend and hunt collectively. Small, emotionally-bonded, cooperative communities became the natural order of human social organization. We’re so dependent on the consideration and cooperation of others that we condemn even minor deviations from them by other people, while ignoring or rationalizing our own lapse of compassion and cooperation. The “out-group” phenomenon, instrumental in racism, rises from the fear that “they” won’t be compassionate or cooperative.
Basic Humanity as Motivation
More important as a motivation than a feeling, basic humanity motivates respectful, helpful, valuing, nurturing, protective, and altruistic behaviors. In adversity it motivates sacrifice. In emergency it motivates rescue.
A Condition for Personal Growth
Basic humanity allows us to grow beyond the limitations of personal experience and prejudice. If out of touch with basic humanity for too long, we become locked in a prison of the self. The sense of self grows fragile, in constant need of validation by others, intolerant of differences, resentful, anxious, or angry. Other people matter only to the extent that they validate our (inherently biased) experience. We feel less humane.
In touch with basic humanity, we become smarter about the world around us and our relationship to it. There’s an intrinsic reward for this increase in vision; the more in touch with basic humanity, the more humane we feel.
The Prominent Emotions of Basic Humanity
Compassion – motivation to help relieve pain, suffering, discomfort, or hardship.
Kindness – motivation to help others be well.
Guilt – motivation to be true to personal values and community standards.
Shame – motivation to succeed or compensate.
Anxiety – motivation to avoid exposure to guilt or shame.
Violations of basic humanity automatically stimulate guilt, shame, or anxiety, to motivate humane behavior. But that natural motivation is subverted by the toddler coping mechanisms:
Blame, denial, avoidance.
Yes, these ways of coping begin in toddlerhood. Ask a two-year-old how the toy came to be broken, you’ll likely hear:
“He/she did it.” Or, “I don’t know.” Or the kid is preoccupied, ignoring you, or hiding.
Toddler coping mechanisms invoke the anger-resentment formula:
Anger = vulnerable feeling (guilt, shame, anxiety, sadness) + blame
Resentment = vulnerable feeling + blame, denial, or avoidance.
Blame, denial, and avoidance cut us off from basic humanity, which is why, to consistently manage anger, resentment, anxiety, and stress, we must become better persons.
The Modern Paradox of Basic Humanity
In general, cultures are more humane now than ever before in human history. (For example, see Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.) So why is it so hard for individuals to stay in touch with basic humanity?
The answer is simple: there are so many of us, and we’re all different. Basic humanity is easier for individuals to maintain in smaller communities of people who seem to be alike. The mammalian brain, a better safe-than-sorry organism, distrusts differences. The human bias is to distrust people who look different, believe different things, have different values. Yet our lives are clearly enriched by differences; sameness is boring, while appreciation of differences yields intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth.
How to Maintain Basic Humanity in Diverse Cultures
• Accept the complexity of human beings. When you’re sure you understand someone, you’re most likely oversimplifying, based on superficial observations through inherently biased lenses.
• Appreciate as many differences as you can; tolerate the ones you can’t appreciate.
• Focus on categories of values rather than specific values.
We tend to make invidious, largely error-prone judgments about people whose values are different. To obviate this unfortunate tendency, we must appreciate what we share with most others, value categories. The major value categories, which anthropological evidence suggests have been important to humans since our earliest time on the planet, are:
• The ability to form and maintain emotional bonds
• A sense of spirituality (desire for connection with something larger than the self)
• A sense of community (identification with or connection to a group of people)
• Appreciation of natural and creative beauty.
What makes me like myself better?
In general, feelings are not a good guide for becoming a better person, as they are always derived from past experience and acting on them runs the risk of repeating the same mistakes over and over. An exception lies in which behaviors or attitudes produce more positive feelings about the self.
Will I like myself better focused on:
How my values differ from someone else’s?
How the categories of our values are similar?
Do I like myself better:
When I’m devaluing other people?
When I’m in touch with basic humanity?

About the Author

Steven Stosny, Ph.D., treats people for anger and relationship problems. His recent books include How to Improve your Marriage without Talking about It and Love Without Hurt.

In Print:
Soar Above: How to Use the Most Profound Part of Your Brain Under Any Kind of Stress

Compassion Power

Website Link:

Home – Prayer of Desperation

Pleading prayer of desperation, “Please God, please God, let me come home from the wars.” As far as I know, I have never read that anywhere. It came out of a heart filled with despair and anguish and self-reproach and self-hatred. But I knew the minute I heard it that the key word was home … home. It was coming out of a guy who had never ever, in his life, felt at home.
A home is where the heart finds rest and renewal. That’s where coming home is. I am far enough along in the journey now to be able to see that there is only one ultimate coming home, and that is the final, total, complete, surrender of self to a Power greater than myself. I’m also brave enough today to believe that there will come a day, there will be a place sometime, somewhere, someday, there will be an altar or a confessional, a mountain or a valley … probably in all likelihood .. just a plain, everyday, run-of the-mill AA meeting, where I will finally no longer pull back and say, “Oh, my God, no, no, don’t ask that of me, don’t take that away from me too.”
And when that moment comes, then I know that I will have finally come home. In the meantime, I am more at home here than anywhere I have ever been in my life. I’m more at home here for a very simple reason … you have never, ever asked anything of me … therefore I have been able to give you what I could afford.
What I’m trying to do tonight is to tell you that I have made a return, for as T. S. Eliot said, “There will never be any end from exploring, and the end of all our exploration will be to return to the place where we started and to see it for the first time.”
That is why I tell you, it took something that almost killed me to return me finally to the place where I started, to see it for the first time, and to return to you tonight and tell you that this journey has been worth everything I have been asked to pay to make it.

by Allen Reid McGinnis
The Rest Of Your Life

All Humans Unalienable Rights

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

I have the right to be treated with respect.
I have the right to say no and not feel guilty.
I have the right to feel and express my feelings.
I have the right to change my mind.
I have the right to ask for what I want.
I have the right to express myself openly without concern for my well-being.
I have the right to move freely within my country not causing harm to others.
I have the right toattitudeiseverything make decisions concerning my health and my body.
I have the right to feel good about myself.
I have the right to behave in ways that promote my dignity, self-respect and self esteem as long as others are not violated or impacted negatively.


How God rules the universe… is a complete mystery. Maimonides

Our Parshat this week has much to think about and apply to our daily life. Two of the stories contain examples of faith and trust that impart the same message.

Speak unto the children of Israel that they bring you a red heifer… Numbers 19:2

This request and proclamation is widely considered the most inane request of our Higher Power. We are asked to purify a cow to protect those who have been defiled, yet the act of purification causes defilement. The wise King Solomon is believed to have said about this statute, “ If this is so, could it be that other commandments, whose purpose I believed to have understood, were more mysterious and profound than I thought?”

And God said”…speak to the rock before their eyes, that it give forth water…” And Moses lifted up his hand, and smote the rock with his staff twice… Numbers 20:8

Later in the same chapter Moses is instructed to speak to a rock so that water may spring forth to provide for the Israelites’ thirst and to demonstrate God’s power and love for the people. Moses became angry with the people’s’ complaining and instead strikes the rock. Consequently God proclaims that Moses will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land.

“… believe in Me to sanctify Me before the people” Numbers 20:12

In our quest for spiritual renewal it becomes clear that understanding or making sense of the journey, what our Higher Power has decided is best for us, is not always possible. Our imperfection requires acceptance and tolerance of others and ourselves. This design for living will result in peaceful existence in a world of good choices.

We don’t have to understand how it works. It is enough that we can believe in it to work. Once our faith is strong, we can continue our spiritual journey.

Into your hand I entrust my spirit. Psalm 31.6

Finding Peace

Recovery is difficult at times, but with difficulty comes blessings: I am a human being again. I am finding peace.
My body, my mind and spirit have a new strength. The world looks good. I have respect for my family and friends. My work and co-workers are treated positively and productively.
I avoid places I shouldn’t be and people I shouldn’t be with.
If I am tempted towards relapse, my Higher Power is there to lift me up and carry me if need be.
The fellowship has become a home for me where I can always find peace, if I look for it and am willing to accept it.
This is what I always wanted; this is the life I love to live.

The Present

Recovery requires getting honest with yourself, your sponsor and your Higher Power. It is the cornerstone of the trilogy: willingness, honesty and openness.

There are reasons honesty, openness and willingness are often cited, as three must dos to be in recovery.

All three require letting go of the past, not projecting into the future and staying in the moment.

Openness is sharing about yourself, what you are feeling and how it is affecting your decision-making, relationships and overall mental health, probably physical health as well. We come to recovery out of desperation without any idea of how to do it, not even sure what we are doing here. We don’ know how to listen because we are so busy thinking. Openness is learning to listen and getting comfortable with what is uncomfortable, sharing our feelings.

Willingness is the action of wanting to do this, making a commitment. Often we are reluctant because just the thought of doing the uncomfortable makes us ambivalent. Once we realized that our willingness didn’t mean we had to jump in with both feet, it just meant that we are trying a new “design for living” and following the directions of others who have been down this path before us.

Honesty presents our most difficult hurdle, because we have not been honest about much. It has been said, ” for most addicts if our lips are moving we’re lying.” Unfortunately, it is mostly a true assessment. It has to start with our self and our relationship with our Higher Power and doing the first four steps gets us there. It is the total turning our life and will over to our Higher Power that from the beginning and continually keeps us being as completely honest as we can be.

There isn’t a principle of recovery that is one hundred percent at any time in our life, because just being human and living a spiritual life accepts that we will be imperfect.

Being in the present allows us to avoid the resentments of anger resulting from past actions, fear over what might take place and the guilt of what we may be doing or thinking now. We just have to “be”.

Restore Us To Sanity

“And you shall make boards for the Tabernacle of acacia wood…”—Exodus 26:15.

This week’s portion gives the guidelines for the construction of the Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary that the Children of Israel carried with them throughout their forty-year sojourn in the desert.

The walls of the Tabernacle were to be made from gold encased planks of wood taken from the acacia tree. In Biblical Hebrew, the term for this type of wood is “wood of shitim.” The word “shitim” is related to the word “shtut” which means stupidity or madness. This double meaning infers that the builders of the Tabernacle were to take- warped thinking – and make an abode for God from it. The antithesis of, and rectification for irrational thinking is not rational thinking, but faith.

Faith is a type of thinking which serves as a sanctuary for the Presence of the Power of The Universe. Reason is the middle path; Irrationality is a deviation from it.

As every navigator knows, once a captain has drifted off course, he will never reach his final destination merely by traveling in the proper direction from now on. The person who has strayed can get back on track only by veering in the opposite direction of past deviations. In other words, a person whose pattern of thinking has definitely diverged from common sense, cannot correct the error by merely trying to think “normally” from now on. Though even someone who has always been “normal” can strongly benefit from a leap of faith, those whose rational minds have become twisted must make a radical shift toward the other extreme—toward the irrationality of faith.

Faith is not rational. If it were, it could not rightly be called faith, but reason. Reason is the tool for grasping that, which is knowable, while faith connects us to that which is unknowable—the wonder and mystery of existence.

Spiritual renewal restores us to sanity, Terumah; so there are two types of irrational thinking – one that falls short of rational thought, and one that transcends it. Irrational faith – not reason – is the opposite of and, more pointedly, the antidote for absurd and illogical thinking. The seeker’s obsession with self-destruction is less than rational, to put it mildly. Treating it with conventional psychological means is often futile and the prospects for success are grim.

A quality design for living is only accomplished by a psychic change, which is irrational, and requires faith.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you my Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer