No Reservations & Psychology

by Ted Cascio

“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”
– Anthony Bourdain

In case you’re unacquainted, let me introduce you to Anthony Bourdain, of Travel Channel’s No Reservations fame. He’s a really interesting guy who’s perhaps at his best when offering up reflections like this, though also, come to think of it, in his darker moments when, for instance, he’s eating an unwashed warthog rectum, stumbling around wasted from overconsumption of the local brew, and spitting vitriolic aspersions in all directions, at the same time. (Any rival chef, most notably Alice Waters – or “Pol Pot in a muumuu” according to Anthony – will want to wash the pieces of warthog rectum out of her hair immediately. Little cooking tip.) Rough around the edges Anthony may be, but there’s no denying his truly exceptional wit and electrifying charisma. He’s a bold provocateur moonlighting as a bombastic black-market philosopher…of food…and life.

And indeed he appears to have much to teach us. His books are best-sellers for a reason. They each not surprisingly have their culinary side, but they also expose us to Anthony’s exhilarating mental and emotional universe. Many wish they could be as brave, open-minded, and free-spirited as him. His TV show No Reservations represents a vision of what life could be like for us if only we were a little more willing to pursue the types of new, unfamiliar experiences to which he so fearlessly exposes himself.

Impetuosity like Anthony’s can be facilitated by many factors, both external and internal. If Wikipedia is to be believed, copious quantities of chemical assistance (e.g., heroine) have assisted him in the past. And we all see how much liquid courage he imbibes on camera. These are some of the external factors. But in addition to these we can also safely assume that Anthony is much more internally predisposed to seek new sensations than is the average person. This internal factor is stable and consistently in evidence, even when the drugs and alcohol have presumably lost their effect.

The psychological concept that best captures this side of Anthony’s personality is called openness to experience. Its structure, origin, and correlates have been extensively studied. Here’s a tiny little primer on this immensely important variable.

Openness to experience is one of the “Big Five” personality factors, which means that it’s one of five fundamental aspects of human personality. Most people are about average on this dimension, but some people, like Anthony, are quite high, while others are low and considered closed to experience. These are the conventional folks who prefer routine and tend to dislike modern art. They regard as aversive most things that are new or unfamiliar to them. Fairly consistent with stereotypes, the highest openness scores are found in New York, Oregon, Massachusetts, Washington, and California; the lowest in North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Alabama, and Wisconsin (Rentfrow, Gosling, & Potter, 2008).

It has six facets which I’ll now list (and along which we’ll judge Anthony). 1. Fantasy – having a vivid imagination (check), 2. Aesthetics – appreciating art (check), 3. Feelings – having poignant emotional experiences (not sure), 4. Actions – pursuing new activities, places, and foods (double check), 5. Ideas – openness to new ideas (double check), and 6. Values – inclination to re-examine traditional values (double check). Based on this analysis, Anthony would probably score really high on openness. You can rate your friends in a slightly different manner. When you’re at one of their houses, look around and take note of a few things. If the décor is unconventional, you see books on a variety of topics, an eclectic music collection, and artwork displayed, your friend is likely to be high in openness (Gosling, 2008).

We can also look at openness in terms of its correlates. With what is openness associated? Some pretty good stuff, it turns out. It correlates positively with creativity, and some studies find the same link for certain forms of intelligence, like crystallized intelligence, and general intelligence. It’s also associated with lower ethnocentrism and right-wing authoritarianism. Hence, as you might expect, liberals generally score higher on openness than conservatives. Another shocker: openness is positively correlated with drug use, especially Assassin of Youth (a.k.a.,marijuana). (Yet another way in which Anthony embodies the openness archetype.)

Which begs the question: should we follow the example set by Anthony Bourdain, the enemy of conservative close-mindedness and religious for bearance, and the friend of all that is new, exciting, and stimulating? Given his checkered history with drugs and his somewhat vulgar disposition, should we regard him as a role model and be willing to, like him, “try anything once”?

As much as I might like to, I’m not going to attempt an answer here. “It depends” is probably the best anyone can do. However, if you’re certain that for you the answer is “yes,” and you’re wondering whether it’s possible to increase your level of openness, then the news for you is pretty good. Like most things, openness has a genetic component, but it also seems to be partly constructed, something we can change about ourselves if we really try. If you want to become less inhibited and narrow-minded, more like Anthony, the key is the situation. Put yourself in situations which facilitate openness. Try to meet and befriend other open people. Read books and watch TV shows like No Reservations that depict openness in positive ways. In no time at all, you’ll have tasted every type of unwashed rectum there is. And that, friend, is my sincerest and most fervent hope.

Ted Cascio is co-editor of “House & Psychology” (Wiley, available Spring 2011).

Please participate in this study:

Personality Survey:


Controlling Angry People

by John R. “Jack” Schafer, Ph.D.

Controlling Angry People

Anger is a powerful emotion. Remember back to the last time your friend, boss, or colleague became angry with something you said or did. How did you handle the situation? If you are like most people, you defended yourself and launched a counterattack. The verbal exchanges continued to the point where either you or your antagonist walked away vowing to never speak to the other person again. In more dangerous situations, what would you do if you came face-to-face with an angry person who wanted to harm you or someone you care for? Controlling angry people is challenging, but there are several effective anger management strategies you can use to avoid verbal confrontations and protect yourself or the people you love from angry people.

I developed these strategies during my 25 year career in law enforcement dealing with angry people on a daily basis. These techniques saved my life on several occasions. The strategies are simple, yet effective techniques to control angry people. However, as with all skills, mastery requires practice. Practicing on angry people is not practical, so I used BrainX to develop a free online training tutorial so you can practice these anger management techniques.

Fight/Flight Response

Anger triggers the fight/flight response, which mentally and physically prepares the body for survival. During the flight/flight response, the body automatically responds to a threat without conscious thought. As the threat increases, a person’s ability to reason diminishes. Angry people experience the same phenomenon because anger is a reaction to a real or perceived threat. Angry people talk and act without thinking. The level of cognitive impairment depends on the intensity of the anger. The more angry people become, the less likely they are to logically process information. Angry people are not open to solutions when they are angry because their ability to think clearly is impaired.

Fight/Flight Recovery

The body takes about 20 minutes to return to normal after a full fight/flight response. In other words, angry people need time to calm down before they can think clearly again. Angry people will not completely comprehend any explanations, solutions, or problem solving options until their body returns to normal again. Allowing for this refractory period is a critical part of any anger management strategy. The important thing to remember is that you must remain calm in the face of anger. If you remain calm, your cortex will send a signal to your limbic system to dampen the fight/flight response allowing you to develop well thought out survival strategies. When the fight/flight mechanism is fully engaged, it takes about 20 minutes to regain the ability to fully process information again. Therefore, the first strategy for breaking the Anger Cycle is “Never try to rationally engage angry people.” Anger must be vented before offering problem solving solutions.

Breaking the Anger Cycle

Breaking the anger cycle allows people to vent their anger and provides them with a course of action which they have a hard time refusing. Three component parts comprise breaking the Anger Cycle: empathic statements, venting, and presumptive statements.
Empathic Statements

Empathic statements capture a person’s verbal message, physical status, or emotional feeling, and using parallel language reflects that verbal message, physical status, or emotional feeling back to that person. The basic formula for constructing empathic statements is “So you…” This basic formula keeps the focus on the other person and away from you. We naturally tend to say something to the effect, “I understand how you feel.” The other person automatically thinks, “No, you don’t know how I feel because you are not me.” The unique features about empathic statements are they do not fuel anger, and you do not have to agree with the angry person, you merely reflect their message back to them. With practice, mastering the construction of empathic statements becomes second nature.

The following exchange between an angry customer and a sales manager demonstrates the basic empathic statement.

CUSTOMER: The salesperson just sat there talking on the telephone and ignored me.

SALES MANAGER: So you felt the salesperson ignored you when you needed help.

The sales manager captured the essence of the customer’s complaint and used similar language to reflect the same message back to the customer. The reflected message lets the customer know that the sales manager is concerned about the problem without adding fuel to the customer’s anger.

When the basic formula to construct empathic statements is mastered you can construct more sophisticated empathic statements by dropping the “So you..” To people who are not angry, empathic statement might seem patronizing, but this is not the case for two reasons. First, the angry people’s fight/flight response is engaged and they not logically processing information; they are on automatic response. Second, people naturally think that the others should listen to them and they do not see personalized attention as unusual.


Venting is a critical component to breaking the Anger Cycle because venting reduces frustration. Empathic statements portray the target of the anger as non-threatening, which reduces the impact of the angry person’s flight/fight response. Once angry people vent their frustrations, they become more open to solutions because they think more clearly when they are not angry. Venting is not a singular event, but, rather, a series of events. The initial venting is typically the strongest. This allows angry people to “burn off” most of their anger at the onset of the exchange. Subsequent venting becomes increasingly less intense, unless fuel is added to reignite the anger. This is especially true if angry people are allowed to expend most of their anger during the initial venting.

A natural pause occurs after each venting event. During this pause, you should construct an empathic statement. Since empathic statements encourage venting, the angry person will likely continue venting, although with less intensity. After the next natural pause, you should construct another empathic statement. You should continue constructing empathic statements until the customer’s anger is spent. The following example illustrates the combined use of empathic statements, and venting.

CUSTOMER: I didn’t appreciate the way that sales person treated me. She was so rude. She acted as if I wasn’t even in the store. (Anger)

SALES MANAGER: So you felt as if the sales person ignored you when you needed help. (Basic empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: Yeah, she was talking on the phone and trying to ring me up at the same. I didn’t want to hear about her social life. I wanted to make a purchase. (Venting)

SALES MANAGER: The salesperson should not have been talking on the telephone and ringing you up at the same time. (Sophisticated empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: When I talk to salespeople, I want their entire attention.

SALES MANAGER: Salespeople should be attentive to customers. (Sophisticated empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: Yeah. (Sigh)

Nonverbal gestures typically accompany the completion of the venting process. These nonverbal gestures include: slumping of the shoulders, deep exhaling, and sighs. These nonverbal gestures signal spent anger. At this point, you should introduce a presumptive statement.

Presumptive Statements

Presumptive statements direct the angry person to take a course of action that leads toward conflict resolution. Presumptive statements are constructed in such a fashion that angry people have difficulty not following the directed course of action. Constructing Presumptive Statements requires critical listening skills and practice. Notwithstanding, Presumptive Statements can be rejected. The following example demonstrates the acceptance of the presumptive statement.

CUSTOMER: I didn’t appreciate the way that sales person treated me. She was so rude. She acted as if I wasn’t even in the store. (Anger)

SALES MANAGER: So you felt as if the sales person ignored you when you needed help. (Basic empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: Yeah, she was talking on the phone and trying to ring me up at the same time. I don’t want to hear about her social life. I wanted to make a purchase. (Venting)

SALES MANAGER: The salesperson should not have been talking on the telephone and ringing you up at the same time. (Sophisticated empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: It’s common courtesy. (Sighing)

SALES MANAGER: I’m sorry you had a bad experience in our store. I will remind the salespeople that they are not suppose to be talking on the telephone during their shift. In fact, I want you to help us meet your shopping expectations by letting us know right away if you have any problems in the future. We rely on customer feedback to keep our high level of customer service. Would you be willing to do that for us? (Presumptive Statement)

CUSTOMER: Of course. I’ll let you know if anything like this happens again. Thank you. (Acceptance of the Presumptive Statement)

The customer would have difficulty not agreeing to the sales manager’s directed course of action because it addressed the source of the anger. The customer would sound insincere if she did not agree with the sales manager’s directed course of action. The presumptive statement in this instance presumes that the customer will continue to do business with the store. This ensures repeat business.

If the person’s anger has not been completely vented or fuel was intentionally or unintentionally added to the anger, the likelihood increases that the presumptive statement would be rejected. In the next example, the customer rejected the Presumptive Statement.

CUSTOMER: I didn’t appreciate the way that sales person treated me. She was so rude. She acted as if I wasn’t even in the store. (Anger)

SALES MANAGER: So you felt as if the sales person ignored you when you needed help. (Empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: Yeah, she was talking on the phone and trying to ring me up at the same time. I don’t want to hear about her social life. I wanted to make a purchase. (Venting)

SALES MANAGER: So you think the salesperson should not have been talking on the telephone and ringing you up at the same time. (Empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: Of course I do.

SALES MANAGER: I’m sorry you had a bad experience in our store. I will tell the salespeople not to text while they are working. In fact, I want you to help us meet your shopping expectations by letting us know right away if you have any problems in the future. We rely on customer feedback to keep our high level of customer service. Would you be willing to do that for us? (Presumptive Statement)

CUSTOMER: Nobody ever listens to customers any more. (Rejection of the Presumptive Statement)

The customer rejected the Presumptive Statement even though the sales manager listened to the customer’s complaint and offered a solution. The customer did not listen to the sales manager because her flight/fight mechanism was still engaged. The salespeople should reenter the Anger Cycle by constructing another empathic statement. A second Presumptive Statement should be attempted when the customer once again displays cues that indicate spent anger. Sales people should not pursue a resolution until the customer accepts the Presumptive Statement. The acceptance of the Presumptive Statement indicates spent anger and the customer will be more open to a resolution. A paper titled Controlling Angry Customers presents additional strategies to control angry customers and encourage good will and repeat business.

The techniques presented are simple, yet effective methods to control angry people. Mastering these techniques allow you to maintain control of verbally charged exchanges or prevent verbal assaults from spiraling out of control. These techniques also provide a directed course of action to resolve the conflict while, at the same time, maintain full control of your emotions and behaviors.

Source Article: Psychology Today

The Year of Living Anxiously

by Henry Emmons, M.D.

The Anxiety Resolutions

There are sure-fire ways to make yourself anxious, if you wanted to do so. No one would do this on purpose, yet without knowing it that is exactly what many of us do every day. How do we do it? Here’s my list of some of the most common mistakes that aggravate the condition we call anxiety. But first I’d like to comment on stress.

In my opinion, stress has gotten a bad rap. Life is stressful, and always has been. Yet when we feel like ourselves, we are naturally resilient. We adapt to stresses remarkably well, often finding ourselves stronger or more skilled by having confronted life’s unavoidable challenges.

Stress alone is not the problem. Instead, we become our own enemy. The common mistakes that follow will reliably turn everyday stress into overwhelming anxiety:

1.) Keep thinking about what is wrong.
Neuroscience has confirmed what we already know: when we replay worrying thoughts again and again, we strengthen the neural pathways for those thoughts, so that they become ingrained in our mind like bad habits. It is as if we are rehearsing worry and anxiety. As with anything, we get better and better at it with practice.

2.) Keep talking about what is wrong.
Pop psychology has given us the notion that it is good to express our feelings. That can be true, but many of us take that to mean that we should “vent”. If someone is willing to listen, we often share our stories of woe. Repeated unloading keeps our anxious feelings alive and may even strengthen them.

3.) Over-stimulate yourself.
Caffeine, tobacco, loud noise, driving fast, working without breaks, skipping meals-there are so many ways to keep the body and brain on overdrive and keep the anxiety levels high.

4.) Don’t allow for time to refresh and renew.
After a stressful experience, it is normal and healthy to take time to rest and recover. That lets the body’s stress response system calm down, reset and get prepared for the next challenge. Our ancestors ran and then they rested; we stay on the treadmill. Not allowing for downtime differentiates our response to stress from every other time in human history.

5.) Stay constantly busy.
This is a variation on the last point. It is not only during the stressful times in life that we overdo. Most of us do too much every single day. You may have heard the phrase: “We are human beings, not human doings.” We are simply not designed to be on the go 24/7.

6.) Give in to your cravings.
Most of us reach reflexively, without thinking, without deciding, for something to soothe ourselves when we feel stressed or anxious. We often eat comfort food like sweets or other food laden with carbs and fats. Whatever we crave, we crave it because it makes us feel better-for much too short a time. Unfortunately, the comfort is brief and we almost always end up feeling worse in the long run.

7.) Short-change your sleep.

If there were a single sure-fire way to break a person down, it would have to be too little sleep. Lack of sleep is an accelerator toward most mental illness, and anxiety is no exception. Getting an average of 7-8 hours per night is not only helpful, it is essential.

8.) Stay sedentary.
Think about what happens in nature: the “fight or flight” reaction means that stress hormones flood the body, priming it for some kind of physical action. Sitting most of the day means the stress hormones have nothing to do but re-circulate. Moving your body helps to discharge the effects of all of those stress hormones and reset yourself back to a normal resting state.

9.) Isolate yourself.
It is a wonder that so many have become isolated and alone when we are clearly wired to connect. As the Dalai Lama has said, “We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.” Meaningful connection doesn’t solve everything, but it goes a very long way toward helping us endure the difficult side of life.

10.) Believe that you’re in it on your own.
The spiritual traditions give us a consistently reassuring message: “All will be well.” But when our brains get locked into anxious patterns, we can’t believe that. We see our small, individual selves as being solely responsible for our lives without any support. It is an illusion. If we can see through it, we can tap into a deep well of reassurance and hope.

11.) Watch the news daily.
You’ve heard that we are what we eat. We may also be what we take in through our eyes and ears. A study in Scandinavia showed that watching the evening news, filled with stories of tragedy, violence or other bad news, had a strong effect on rates of anxiety and depression. Does that mean that we should keep our head in the sand? No, but it may be wise to pay attention to what we are feeding ourselves through our minds, especially when we are going through personally hard times.

12.) Play video games.
It should come as no surprise that a game that simulates trauma and violence would put the brain into a state that is similar to the real thing. Researchers have found that common video games do just that. They may even create lasting brain changes so that things don’t go right back to normal when the game is done. The news is not all bad for video games, though. Soldiers in Iraq who played an absorbing game like Tetrus shortly after witnessing a trauma were able to protect themselves from developing post-traumatic stress symptoms.

13.) Become addicted to stress.
Some people appear to thrive on stress. They choose to remain overly committed, or constantly create high drama in their lives, and they seem to do fine. But if the stress stops, things begin to crumble. It is as if they have become addicted to stress and the high level of stress hormones that flood their body. Take the stress away, and they go into a form of withdrawal. Since no one can remain stressed forever without consequences, they should heed the warning signs and get a handle on their stress level.

We would do well to avoid what we can of the above pitfalls, but we won’t do it perfectly any more than we can keep all of our resolutions to do the right things. If we are in the game of life, stress cannot be avoided. That is all the more reason to become better at dealing with it.

Fear of Success

by Susanne Babbel, Ph.D., MFT

“Why are some people afraid to succeed but not to fail? Why are some more afraid of failure? How can one learn to embrace these two fears? What is the difference between them?”

A young Canadian woman wrote to me recently with these inquiries. I thought they were excellent questions, and decided to share my thoughts and findings here.

We are all so complex, and the way we react to situations and anticipate results is based on many physiological and psychological factors. So many, in fact, that it can be difficult to generalize why different personality types might handle success versus failure in such drastically polarized ways.

As a psychologist specializing in trauma and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) I’ve had firsthand experience coaching clients whose past experience feeds their current fear of success. For them, the excitement of success feels uncomfortably close to the feeling of arousal they experienced when subjected to a traumatic event or multiple events. (This feeling of arousal can be linked to sexuality, in certain cases where trauma has been experienced in that realm, but that is not always the case.) People who have experienced trauma may associate the excitement of success with the same physiological reactions as trauma. They avoid subjecting themselves to excitement-inducing circumstances, which causes them to be almost phobic about success.

There is another layer to the fear of success. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that the road to success involves risks such as “getting one’s hopes up” – which threatens to lead to disappointment. And many of us-especially if we’ve been subject to verbal abuse-have been told we were losers our whole lives, in one way or another. We have internalized that feedback and feel that we don’t deserve success. Even those of us who were not abused or otherwise traumatized often associate success with uncomfortable things such as competition and its evil twin, envy.

In order to have a healthy relationship with success (and it’s flip side, failure, or disappointment), the first step is to learn to differentiate between feelings of excitement and a “trauma reaction.”

Here is an easy exercise:

  1. Recall an event where you were successful or excited when you were younger, and notice what you are feeling and sensing in your memory. Stay with the sensation of for 5 minutes. 
  2. Recall an event where you were successful and excited recently in your life, and notice what you are feeling and sensing. Stay with this sensation of for 5 minutes.
  3. Now tap into the sensation of a memory of an overwhelming situation. I suggest not to start with a truly traumatic event, at least not without a therapist’s support. Start with something only moderately disturbing to you. 
  4. Now, go back to visualizing your success story. Do you notice a difference?

While corresponding with the young Canadian woman, I asked her to do look up bodily response to fear and excitement and let me know what she found. This is what she wrote back:

“I was looking up how the body responds to fear, and it said that when we sense fear the brain transmits signals and our nervous system kicks, in causing our breathing to quicken, our heart race to increase… we become sweaty, and we run on instinct. When we get excited or enthusiastic, doesn’t our nervous system work the same way?”

I assured her that, yes, the physical reactions to stress and to excitement are very similar. So, when we experience a traumatic event—such as a car accident or a school bullying incident—our body associates the fear we experience with the same physiological feelings we get while excited. Once we have been through enough trauma, we start to avoid those types of situations that trigger memories of fear. For this reason, trauma victims can tend to avoid excitement, and that can lead them to avoid success.

I work with trauma victims to get past their fears and associations and help them embrace and follow the path to success and healthy recovery.

Depression Thwarts Attempts to Quit Smoking

By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on January 3, 2011

New research suggests diagnosed or undiagnosed depression can hinder an individual’s efforts to stop smoking.

In the study, published in the January 2011 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. scientists determined approximately 24 percent of surveyed callers to the California Smokers’ Helpline currently suffered from major depression and 17 percent of callers had mild depression.

Over half the surveyed callers, depressed or not, made at least one attempt to quit after calling the helpline.

At the two-month mark, however, the success rate of those with major depression was much lower than that of mildly depressed or non-depressed callers. Nearly one in five callers with major depression reported success, but of others, nearly one in three was able to remain smoke-free.

Most quit-lines do not assess smokers for depression, even though mild depression already is known to reduce the success of quitting. This study suggests that major depression reduces the success rate even farther.

That is important because the California quit-line receives a high number of calls from heavy smokers and smokers on Medicaid – two circumstances associated with depression. Since more than 400,000 smokers call U.S. quit-lines every year, the authors believe that up to 100,000 depressed smokers nationally are not getting the targeted treatment they need.

“Assessing for depression can predict if a smoker will quit successfully, but the assessment would be more valuable if it were linked to services,” said lead study author Kiandra Hebert, Ph.D., of the University of California at San Diego.

Hebert said an integrated health care model is a potential solution. Depressed smokers could have better quitting success if they receive services that address both issues. Quit-lines, which are extremely popular, are in a good position to offer such services to a large number of depressed smokers and to pass on the services they develop to quit-lines across the country.

Treatment programs, including quit-lines, report that a growing number of callers have other disorders, such as depression, said Wendy Bjornson, co-director of the Oregon Health & Science University Smoking Cessation Center, who was not involved in the study.

“The results of this study are important. They show the scope of the problem and point to the need for protocols that can lead to better outcomes.”

Source: Health Behavior News Service