Bullying, The NFL and Mental Health – Is Anger in the Genes?

The recent story regarding a national football league player bullying another is no surprise, it happens every day in schools, the workplace and yes among professional athletes. 75% of Americans indicate they suffer from workplace bullying according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. Interestingly studies at UC Berkeley indicate that those in the upper class are more likely to cheat, cut people off, and endorse unethical behavior in the work place. Additional studies indicate Americans trust less, have fewer close friends and our ability to be empathic to others has decreased markedly.

The Roots of Bullying Begin at Home

Bullying and the terrorizing of others come to our attention when patrons at a mall are shot, and when someone enters a plane with a rifle and starts shooting. These occurrences are now commonplace, our morning papers and newscasts have deadened are senses to these horrific acts. We must realize that ending these cultural trends begins in our own homes. Lesser acts of cruelty go unnoticed in comparison, but unpredictable bouts of anger in and of itself are destructive to one’s soul, spirit, mind and heart. In addition we can profoundly influence the health of those around us by creating an angry household. I have treated many individuals who were damaged to the point of developing depression, anxiety, OCD, and addictions due to the fraying of their nervous systems as a result of being the object of anger, or simply being exposed to repeated bouts of anger. Random fits of anger can cause lasting brain deficiencies that make people more prone to psychiatric disorders.

Anger releases the stress hormone cortisol, which can kill neurons in the memory and emotional regions of the brain, which in turn causes communication breakdowns between neurons, making a person’s ability to think creatively very limited. In addition we know anger causes cardiovascular problems as well as insomnia, obesity, and a host of other medical and psychological deficits.

Being exposed to this type of family life is a form of familial bullying. This type of household usually produces unusual fear of anger in its members, or the creation of the bully occurs as aggression breed’s aggression.  Every bully I have ever treated eventually tells a story of being repeatedly humiliated by someone bigger and stronger.

Anger is often an expression of perceived vulnerability or powerlessness. If we come to believe that we are powerless, or if we feel undervalued or unappreciated, our response is to feel frustrated or, worse, humiliated. Those emotions then lead to anger, aggression and too often violence. In my experience angry or hostile behavior is almost always fueled by the perspective that we are not understood.

Is Anger a Genetic Problem?

Let me give you a recent example of how anger can fray the nervous system of all involved: Recently in a marital session a husband was apologizing to his wife for his angry outbursts when he comes home from work. “Doc, it’s in the genes, my father would take tantrums all the time, and my brothers are the same way”.

I asked him if he got angry with his boss, if he got angry with his friends, with his mother, with anyone other than his wife. The answer to each question was “no”.  He did say he got angry with other people but he didn’t express it, “I keep it to myself”. I commented that he apparently saves his pent up frustration for his wife.

He talked of how it just erupts, “it’s not like I plan to take it out on her, it seems like it has a life of its own”. I commented that it may seem this way because he “let’s go” with his wife, he lets his defenses down and he adopts unthinking behavior. He is careful with others, not wanting to offend them, he is conscious of being civil, and appropriate. Obviously the fact that he can contain his temper in most situations defeats his genetic argument. But when he comes home he lets his guard down, erupts at some point and then uses the excuse that he can’t control his genetic predisposition.

In our discussion I made it clear that I believed he could control his anger, that on some level he was making a decision. He was making a decision that it was permissible to be un-civil to his wife, akin to his father being cruel to his mother. Interestingly he hated his father bullying his mother, yet found himself duplicating this learned behavior.

We developed a plan to increase his awareness during the day, especially on his ride home. He needed to take inventory of his day, record his frustrations while making a plan to assertively address his suppressed concerns with other people. His fear of confronting his boss for fear of being humiliated caused him to internalize anger. As a result when he returns home his wife becomes the unfortunate receptacle of his daily, unexpressed conflicts.

I have observed over the years that individuals with the greatest tempers often have the deepest insecurities. They tend to have little faith in working out conflict with others, so they often learn from insecure role models that the way to “win” is to be overly aggressive. It works if you’re partnering with another insecure individual, but as soon as you encounter someone who has a stable sense of self this behavior will be viewed as offensive and intolerable.

The Salve For Anger

The way we treat others is, for the most part, within our control. We may not have learned clear ways of communicating distress, conflict, or differences of opinions. In fact many people have to un-learn ineffective patterns, change their old story, and discover a new set of skills that will prove far more attractive and effective than hanging on to old, defeatist patterns that harm oneself and others.

Contrary to what we have been taught for decades it is not the fittest who necessarily survive the best, as research has confirmed that those who survive with the greatest health and ease are the kindest, most empathic and most grateful. Genuine authentic relating enlivens the spirit and gives us the energy and tolerance to go into the world and absorb emotional blows, and come home with our self-respect and integrity intact.

When we bond and communicate with tact and grace we release the hormone oxytocin, the hormone of compassion. This hormone has the opposite effect of cortisol; in fact it reduces anxiety and the release of cortisol. It is known to extend life, promote calmness, reduce addictive cravings, increase trust and reduce fear while increasing feelings of security.

The greatest skill set we can possess is the formation of interpersonal abilities that foster closeness, respect, empathy and civil behavior.

Personal and professional success, meaning and joy in life, are all sustainable in ways few people ever experience when this unique skill set is developed and put into action. We could all contribute to a more compassionate society and world if we commit to try out best to relate empathically to those in our social world, but more important is to dedicate ourselves to relate empathically to those who share our homes.

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Dr. Arthur P. Ciaramicoli , Chief Medical Officer at www.Soundmindz.org.

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About Arthur Ciaramicoli

Dr. Ciaramicoli is a Clinical Psychologist with 35 years of practice, research, and publishing in the areas of human development and performance. He is author of the books Author of The Curse of the Capable, Performance Addiction, The Power of Empathy, and Treatment of Abuse and Addiction:A Holistic Approach. Also, in collaboration with Soundmindz.org, Dr. Ciaramicoli has developed several internet-based therapy programs for treating mental health conditions that includes an Anxiety Therapy Program and a program for Managing the Stress of Success. These programs are specifically designed to take advantage of the latest Internet technologies available to help people to manage and control their symptoms and to effectively cope with stressful situations. They include an online workbook, videos, a daily journal, a mobile app and supporting content to help people to access the best therapeutic practices for managing mental health. Presently, he is Chief Medical Director of Soundmindz.org; an innovative company that provides people with the latest in online and mobile on-demand mental health services that includes mental health diagnostic tools and self-administered screening tests, online treatment programs and self-help tools including online videos and workbooks, progress trackers to evaluate mental health symptoms, moods and activities, an extensive online database including over 50,000 Therapists worldwide complete with user reviews and rankings to help you find the very Best Therapists and Doctors, internet-based therapy services, and an extensive Mental Health Medications database, that includes ratings of the various drugs. To find out more about Dr. Ciaramicoli's work and professional background, please go to his professional website (www.balanceyoursuccess.com) or his author page at Soundmindz.org. Also, he regularly authors articles for Soundmindz.org under their mental health blog section (http://www.soundmindz.org/mental-health-blog).

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