The English Prime Challenge

English Prime

English Prime looks and sounds just like the everyday English language we use with family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers, with one major exception, the verb ‘to be’ and all it’s variants, i.e., is, was, am, will be, etc., are removed. By using English Prime, often referred to as E-Prime, one can communicate more clearly and realistically than otherwise. The verb ‘to be’ creates the illusion of absolute certainty and unequivocal truths. Sometimes, this is appropriate, such as the statement, the flower is planted in the pot, or when describing certain properties or qualities, such as the dog is hairy. Even then, the word ‘hairy’ can have many levels of meaning and as such is not terribly clear. When used in the context of identity, the word ‘is’ becomes very problematic. For example, the simple sentence ‘John is a troublemaker’ would appear to suggest that John makes trouble all the time everywhere. Moreover, it suggests that one’s own perception of the situation should be taken as truth, which it is not. Another person may perceive John as a goof off, but not a troublemaker.

A more accurate and realistic statement about John’s behavior might be something like, ‘the way I see it, John appears to behave as a troublemaker when at school.’ This conveys a point of view, in a given context, not an absolute universal truth; it presents an appearance of behaviors which are interpreted by the observer as being that of a troublemaker, in a particular setting; it does not imply equality between John the person and a specific set of behaviors, in a specific set of conditions. John may behave in a very helpful and compliant way with friends outside of school. John is very helpful would contradict John is a troublemaker. Which one true? Which one false? It depends on the observer, and on the context, the conditions under which those behaviors are being observed.

Let’s take another simple example: The sky is blue. Although this may seem the common experience, and does describe a property or quality of the sky, one would agree that the sky exhibits many shades of blue, at different times of the day; at night one would say the sky is black. E-Prime would remove the ‘is’ and replace it with something like ‘appears as.’ The sky does only appear as blue at some times, for many people, but not all people, at all times. By stating the sky is blue, the presumption becomes that it appears as blue for all people at all times, which it does not.

English Prime arose in the mid 1960’s out of General Semantics. Here is the main idea of General Semantics: ‘people can only know what they observe and experience when they see, hear, touch, taste, smell, think, and feel, and furthermore, that what they observe and experience can affect how they observe and experience in the future. Because each person has different experiences throughout their lives, they interpret their experiences differently’ (wikipedia.org). This way of understanding semantics (i.e., the science of meaning in language) aligns with modern quantum physics, in that the observer and the observed influence each other, that which we perceive becomes colored by the very act of perception itself. We don’t really experience an object as much as we experience our interaction with an object. Just about everything we call reality exists as a point of view, a perspective.

Another example, simple in structure and yet potent in effect, ‘I am depressed’ becomes ‘I feel depressed.’ There is a huge difference between being depressed and feeling depressed. In the former, we are identified as depressed; in the latter, we are experiencing a feeling or state of mind. Or, better yet, ‘I feel depressed when I make a mistake’ adding a context, a condition to that state of mind. And, even better than that, ‘I experience feelings I label as depressing when I make a mistake.’ The statement ‘I am depressed’ has an unrealistic absoluteness about it. Some proponents of E-Prime have stated that improper use of the verb ‘to be’ creates a kind of ‘deity mode of speech’ which allows “even the most ignorant to transform their opinions magically into god-like pronouncements on the nature of things” (wikipedia.org). Our point of view, our perspective, the ways in which we as an individual interact with our world, may appear to us as ‘our truth’ but, in fact, falls far short of Truth. Individual truth does not exist. Individual perception, interpretation, point of view and meaning does exist. Truth is; everything else: appears as. So, when you find yourself saying something like so and so is a such and such, or that I am such and such. Stop. Consider how you might phrase that using E-Prime. Take into account this idea of personal perspective, point of view, context and conditions, not an absolute, eternal fact. Up your game. Consider applying English Prime to your written and spoken words. It will require some rethinking, and rewording, of common phrases. The benefits include improved clarity of thought, speech and communication. It even has benefits in the realms of mental health. For some more information on the relationship of language and mental health, check out the blog posts Mental Health is Contained in Language, and Find The Meaning Of Your Life (In Simple Sentences).


 

The Insult Game

The Insult Game

A partial transcript from a therapeutic session around being insulted, the ‘insult game,’ and how to best respond to such verbal assaults.

Part I

Client:…So the argument got a little heated and one person in the group looked at me straight on and said you’re really very stupid, you know…and…I was dumbstruck…I didn’t know what to say…

Counselor: How did you feel?

Client: Not good. It was a bit embarrassing. All that afternoon I thought of nothing but punching them out, throwing them out the window, stomping them on the ground. I didn’t do that of course, but I was…angry. At one point, to try and overcome this feeling, I was telling myself that ‘sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ But, it didn’t really help.

Counselor: Yeah, well it’s more like ‘sticks and stones can break my bones and words can break my heart.’ Words have power. But, the problem as I hear it is not so much what they said to you and how that made you feel, but that you were not able to respond to them at the moment, to counter what they said to you at that time. You internalized what they said and that was disruptive to you.

Client: Well, what does one say at a time like that, what could I have said?

Counselor: There are lots of ways to respond. In a sense, if you are frozen at the time, from shock, which can easily happen when you are insulted like that, especially with others present, you are not able to respond. You lose your response-abilities. You would need to have some shock resistance, and then a repertoire of comebacks. Being insulted is not uncommon. It can be a form of bullying, of one-upmanship and it can become kind of a game to play, if you know how to play it.

Client: Okay, so how do I play it?

Counselor: The first thing you need to understand is that just because somebody says something to you that is negative or derogatory, that doesn’t mean its true, accurate or factual. Do you think you are stupid?

Client: No.

Counselor: If a little 5-year-old kid came up to you and said you were stupid, would you get angry with them and want to throw them out the window?

Client: No, of course not, they’re just a kid

Counselor: And so, if an adult, a peer, says you are stupid you take it more seriously?

Client: Yeah, I guess so

Counselor: It’s pretty common for us to give over our authority to others. Its something we learn growing up. As children, we almost have to defer to the adults, to the ‘other,’ as an authority. That can carry over into adulthood and, even though we are grown up, we may still tend to defer authority to the other person.

Client: Like thinking they know more than I do?

Counselor: Yes. But, of course, they may not. Now, in the case of being stupid, there are criteria, which determines stupidity. You can objectively determine whether or not a person is stupid. Stupid is not the politically correct term to use these days. It’s more appropriate to use terms such as ‘learning disabled’ or ‘mentally handicapped.” When someone calls you stupid, they are not saying you meet the objective criteria for being learning disabled. They are just trying to put you down, and in so doing, appear to raise themselves up. It’s mean. And, it happens. So, its worth some time learning how to respond to insults.

Client: Okay. I’m game…

Counselor: Well, let’s replay what happened. Let’s say were in a group of people and I look over to you and say ‘you sure are stupid.’ Respond to that, what would you say?

Client: ummm…I would say ‘no, I am not.’

Counselor: And they then say ‘yes, you are!”

Client: ummm…I don’t know what I would say back to them then.

Counselor: Okay. Don’t feel badly; we are not educated in how to respond effectively to insults. But, we can learn. The first thing is to not shy away but to look straight at the person and know that just because they said it does not mean it is true or factual. This is very important. What we hear from others may not be factual, or accurate. You need to remember this because the foundation of the strategy I’m going to suggest is based on the idea that what you hear is not factual or accurate and must be proved to be so. From there, you can begin to take the offensive by asking questions to clarify the statement, which will begin to prove that it is not so. Let’s reverse roles so I can give you an idea of what I’m talking about. You tell me that I’m stupid. I will be you and you will be this person who said you are stupid. Okay?

Client: Okay. So….ummm…’you sure are stupid.’

Counselor: How did you come to that conclusion?

Client: ummm…’you just are.’

Counselor: You have no evidence?

Client: ‘What?’

Counselor: ‘If you are saying that I am stupid, I want to hear you prove it. Anybody can say anything but that does not make it so without evidence. What is your evidence?’

Client: Ummm…I don’t know how to respond to that.

Counselor: Okay. I think you can see how you begin to turn this around by taking the offensive and asking specific questions. This is based on what is called ‘evidence-based thinking.’ You take the offensive, and in so doing defend yourself, by being very rational and logical, and calm about it. You ask questions to understand how they arrived at that conclusion, that you are stupid. They won’t be able to and it will become obvious that the statement is groundless, baseless. Another advantage to this approach is that you are not directly defying them. If you were to say ‘no I am not’ they would come back with more force. What we fight against can become even stronger. But, what we accept loses its force. So, by accepting their statement and then inquiring about it, we prevent them from escalating and getting stronger or more insulting.

Client: hmmmm…

Counselor: You can frame this kind of question for evidence in different ways. For example, you can ask something like ‘how stupid? On a scale of 1-10, ten being the most stupidest person in the universe, where am I on this scale, according to you?’ Let’s pretend they say ’10,’ which of course is absurd. You then ask, what is the difference between ’10’ and ‘4’? At this point, they might be getting upset because you now have the upper hand. You have asked a question which they likely cannot answer. From your side, it’s all about inquiring about the details, as if you are a detective, and you actually want to understand. You want evidence. You are not opposing what they have said, you are accepting it, and inquiring about it. And, in that strategy will be the demise of the insult.

Client: I see…that will take some practice.

Counselor: yes, it will and you can work with friends; you can play the insult game where you take turns insulting each other and practicing this kind of response which asks specific questions seeking details and evidence as to the validity of the statement as the response to an insult.

Client: Okay

Counselor: And remember that underlying this whole topic is the issue of how you perceive others to be an authority. Everybody has opinions and views on things; everybody has beliefs and perceptions. When those opinions, views, beliefs and perceptions are imposed upon you, you don’t have to agree with them. You can question them and then determine if they are valid or not. Consider this quote from American journalist Russell Baker, “An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious – just dead wrong.” Throughout our school years, we are rarely taught to think critically. But, that is exactly what is needed to respond effectively to insults, along with a good dose of self-esteem. Stand up for yourself. Do not accept what others say without investigation into the facts, the evidence. For your homework, I’d like you to practice responding to insults. You can write them out as if in a script. Let’s have you do this with two insults. Let’s say somebody calls you ugly, and let’s say somebody calls you fat. How would you respond to those? We will work on that at our next session. Okay?

Client: Okay. Thanks.

Part II

Counselor: Did you get a chance to practice responding to insults?

Client: Yeah, with my brother and sister. We actually had a fun time doing it, we were laughing a lot. They are both in sales and have some experience with being insulted, and having to deal with objections a lot so I got a lot of good ideas from them.

Counselor: Excellent. Once you get a handle on this approach, it can be fun and it can be empowering because you really do take control of the situation without fighting against it. You take the energy coming at you and you use it to your advantage. Okay, so let’s play. I will insult you and you will respond as you have practiced. Ready?

Client: Yes, let me have it.

Counselor: ‘You are one of the ugliest people I have ever seen!’

Client: Are you sure about that?

Counselor: Absolutely

Client: Would you be willing to change your mind if I showed you somebody more ugly than me?

Counselor: There is nobody more ugly than you

Client: How do you know that?

Counselor: I just know

Client: I want proof, give me some evidence; otherwise, I will conclude that you really don’t’ know what you are talking about.

Counselor: You want me to prove that you are ugly?

Client: Exactly, with substantial evidence.

Counselor: Well, I just think you are ugly; I don’t need proof

Client: Well, all that tells me is what you think, not what I am. You can think whatever you want, but that doesn’t make it so.

Counselor: Okay; that is really very good. How do you feel taking that position?

Client: Strong, confident. I feel free and light-hearted, like nothing can get me down. It took a lot of work though, we practiced for hours.

Counselor: Very good. Okay; let’s take the next one. Ready?

Client: Go for it

Counselor: You sure are fat; maybe I should start calling you fatso

Client: Hmmm…well, on a scale of 1-10, ten being the fattest person in the world, where am I on that scale?

Counselor: You’re a 9, fatso

Client: And how did you determine that I am a 9 and not a 6?

Counselor: I just know you are a 9

Client: Who is a 10?

Counselor: Your mother

Client: When did you last see my mother?

Counselor: What?

Client: Well, you seem to think she’s fatter than me, by one point, when did you see her last to make that determination?

Counselor: All right. I can see you have a handle on this approach. By this time, anybody who is insulting you would stop; they would have nowhere to go; they would be befuddled, and frustrated, and probably leave. You won. You did well.

Client: Thanks. I really got into this idea of evidence-based thinking and the idea of scaling.

Counselor: Good. But, what you really got into was standing up for yourself, not accepting what somebody else says as valid right off the bat, and questioning them. You now have a few tools to question them with. And, I’d like to suggest that for homework you now practice using this approach with compliments.

Client: What?

Counselor: Practice with your brother and sister giving compliments such as ‘you are very beautiful’ or ‘you are so smart.’

Client: Why?

Counselor: Consider; we feel great when we get compliments and terrible when we get insults. But, just as insults may not be factual and are based on the perception of another person, to whom we have given some authority, so it is with compliments as well. There is a saying that goes ‘credit and blame smell the same’ meaning that both insults and compliments are the same thing in that they come from outside ourselves. A compliment may be as untrue as an insult, but we like hearing it and it makes us feel good, even if it is not true. So, just for the fun of it, and to get some more practice, use your evidence based thinking approach on compliments. In real life, the best response to a compliment is a sincere ‘thank you.’ And, the best response to an insult is the inquiry as to its validity. But, ultimately, both insult and compliment, are coming from an external source and, in that regard, suspect. Make sense?

Client: Yeah

Counselor: You are your own authority. What others may say, positive or negative, can be accepted, rejected or questioned. Questioning is a very good practice. It is an intelligent thing to do. As the saying goes, ‘question authority;’ and you can do that in a rational and diplomatic fashion with this approach to evidence-based thinking. As an aside, I can also mention that this insult game can be a particularly healthy thing to do with couples, especially in the earlier stages of a relationship. During that time the compliments are plentiful, and they are important. But, it can also be fun to insult each other, in a playful fashion, and counter them in this way. This can become a kind of inoculation. That is, it can really hurt when somebody with whom we are in a relationship insults us. By playing this insult game with a partner or spouse, we can take the sting out of it, turn it into something more lighthearted. There are times when we are frustrated or angry at our partner or spouse and what better way to express this than to set up a mock insult scene and play it out as we have done here. If done well, it can help resolve tensions and might even bring about laughter.

Client: Interesting. I will definitely keep this stuff in mind. It has been quite helpful. Thanks.

Counselor: You are welcome.


 

The Critical Thinking Cheat Sheet

Critical thinking is an imperative in an active, functioning democracy. If the people are not informed, and able to sift through the bias, innuendo, false statements and fallacies of logic, they are easily swayed and manipulated by persuasive rhetoric. Critical thinking skills are not taught in public schools; even in lower level college course, it is not a required course. It is up to each individual to begin learning what it means to be a critical thinker. The image below is a cheat sheet and can help you ask appropriate questions to uncover enough information to make an informed conclusion from which an intelligent decision can be made.

 

critical thinking


 

About Emetophobia

emetophobia

I was recently alerted to the fact that emetophobia, the fear of vomiting, is the fifth most common phobia in America. Phobia, as a general category, is the most common disorder in America. There are lots and lots of phobias, hundreds and hundreds of them. Whatever conceivable behavior, emotion, situation, circumstance or event you can imagine, there is a fear about it. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the list of phobias.

Phobia is the old word for “fear.” But then, what is fear? A one-syllable word that represents a complex host of intense feelings and emotions…mental images and internal dialogues. Shakespeare’s Hamlet said it best when he uttered “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Fear is beyond bad, it’s the worst. And yet, that which we fear is made so by our thinking. At its extreme, fear is terror, a well-known concept in the political world today. At its best, fear is a moderate anxiety. Hundreds of millions of people experience anxieties and fears, and terrors. Some people are terrified of driving, others are deathly afraid of spiders. Social anxiety is a very common disorder as is the anxiety that comes from simply going to the dentist. We can be afraid of strangers, or of germs. There is even a fear of fear, which is actually called “phobophobia.”

Emetophobia is not just the fear of vomiting, which, though unpleasant, is not, in and of itself, anything to be afraid of – rationally. It’s actually a signal that the body is working correctly by ridding itself of toxin, poison or foreign material. Emetophobia, more generally, and symbolically, is the fear of throwing up, and out, stuff from the inside. Although we tend to think in terms of stomach contents, it could also refer to emotional content. Emetophobia, the fear of vomiting, can also be related to the fear of intensely emoting, of fully discharging, vomiting if you will, anger, rage, pain or sorrow; emetophobia, in addition to the fear of vomiting, can also be a fear of the cathartic wailing that can accompany intense emotional discharge, which is called ’emotophobia’ – as distinct from emetophobia.

Vomiting is generally preceded by feelings of nausea and just that alone can trigger a phobic response which then spirals out of control creating a debilitating terror of a physiological process that is though terribly uncomfortable, not in itself debilitating, or harmful, if done “properly.” The proper way to vomit is to let go and let it happen. The body knows what it needs to do and our thoughts about it often just get in the way. Attempts to not vomit only make the anxiety and discomfort more extreme and add to the fear. The intense, severe wrenching, heaving, spasms that accompany vomiting, is a purely cathartic, bodily response. If a person can adopt an attitude of trusting their body to do what it needs to do, the vomiting is completed without undue anxiety or fear.

In addition to the phobic response to nausea, and vomiting itself, there are additional thought patterns that are often attached. It’s not uncommon for people to view vomiting as meaning something is wrong with them, and the corresponding thoughts about that, when in fact, it may mean that something is right. As stated, vomiting is the body’s natural process to ridding itself of poisons, toxins or foreign material. There are times when it is actually advised to induce vomiting to help expel what has been ingested. Despite that intellectual understanding, fear of nausea and vomiting may persist for other reasons.

There are also issues of “control” about vomiting. With the exception of self-induced vomiting, it is something that is out of our control; it happens to us. Granted, we may have eaten bad food…. but, still, the nausea and vomiting come upon us unbid, even if it is to expel rotten food. We feel out of control, and that in itself can often cause high anxiety and panic attack, which can then lead to a phobic response. We may be less frightened of the actual vomiting than we are of being out of control.

The irony is that by letting go and letting it happen, one gains control. By choosing to stop fighting it and, so to speak, go with the flow, one takes command of the situation. By trying to control the situation, one is out of control because it cannot be controlled and the anxiety and panic only increases to phobic and debilitating levels.

Emetophobia may be an irrational fear, but it is nonetheless a palpable one and can, like any phobia, overrun one’s life. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt so astutely pointed out, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It’s not just the vomiting itself that we fear; we fear the fear of vomiting for it is that fear which translates a natural organic, albeit a very strenuous, process into a hideous monster to be frightened about.

Some of the common interventions for emetophobia are Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Systematic Desensitization, Exposure, Hypnotherapy and Neurolinguistic Programming. You can obtain more information, and support, at the International Emetophobia Society.


 

The Upside of Anxiety

anxiety

Anxiety isn’t all bad; there is an upside to anxiety. Anxiety can be viewed to have a functional use. It is not arising out of nothing for no purpose. Anxiety is a kind of low-grade fear; an apprehension. It is a form of caution. It is an awareness of possible threat, of potential danger. This wariness of our environment goes way back and may, in fact, be at least in part, responsible for our survival. The issue with anxiety is not so much about having it as it is about having it in a particular context, a specific setting, a time and a place. In some settings, anxiety would be a sign of natural intelligence; in other settings a symptom of cognitive distortions.

Cognitive distortions are those faulty chains of logic from which we build meanings about our experience. For example, if you were to see a coiled up rope but view it as a snake, you would be anxious, maybe even in panic. If in fact, it were a snake, the anxiety would be intelligent because historically, some snakes are a threat to health and well-being, they are dangerous. But, some snakes are not. One form of cognitive distortion is called ‘overgeneralization’ in which all snakes are interpreted as being dangerous. Another cognitive distortion is ‘illusion’ in which the perception is mis-interpreted, ie, we give it a false meaning. To see the coiled up rope as a snake is an illusion. A mis-interpretation of raw sensory data. But, the mind responds to the interpretation of sensory data, not the sensations themselves.

Anxiety arises from a perceived threat. That interpretation of that perception may be accurate, or it may be inaccurate. That perceived threat, whether factual or fabricated, may also depend upon context, ie, place, time, situation. Anxiety may arise when with certain people, but not with others, at certain places, but not at others. Anxiety becomes panic when this perceived threat is accompanied by further cognitive distortions of extreme danger such as ‘I’m going to die’ or ‘I’m going to fail.’ Of course, ‘dying’ and ‘failing’ must be associated with meanings which are extra-ordinarily frightful. So, a person who finds themselves in a situation which is perceived to be a significant threat, is rightly going to feel anxious. That anxiety is generally dissipated from the action which ensues from a threat, often fight or flight. But, if there is nothing to fight, and nowhere to run, that psychological, and biological, energy we call ‘anxiety’ tends to remain and run in circles.

Anxiety needs to be approached as having a functional role in our lives. We need to be wary, a bit cautious, somewhat skeptical. Interestingly, the phrase ‘be aware’ is just about identical to ‘beware.’ If we can be aware, and a bit beware, our critical thinking is employed and we make distinctions between factual and fabricated threats or dangers. We can begin to see that some of our anxieties are arising from memories, or imaginations, which are not realistic; some are far-fetched and outlandish, some are projections of our own subconscious insecurities and totally unfounded beliefs. We can become frightened of just about anything or anybody. We can become paranoid. Or, we can look at the object of our anxieties and question it, seek evidence of its validity, factuality or accuracy. Going way back, this was a rather spontaneous survival instinct. But, in today’s world of mass advertising, industrialized education and a proclivity towards emotionalism, there can be dozens of perceived threats to our sense of self, including our often overly conditioned beliefs, imprinted upon us from a very early age, by a culture and society in which conflict is all too common.

Certainly, conflict can be anxiety producing. But, it doesn’t have to be. Conflict need not be viewed as a threat or a dangerous situation, though it certainly can be. A person who knows how to interact well with conflict will be far less anxious about it than somebody who believes it is the worst thing in the world. But, what if there is no real conflict? What if the conflict is a fabrication of the mind? What if the threat or danger doesn’t really exist? There is no snake, its just a rope. Then, there would be no functional purpose of the anxiety, and there would be no anxiety.

If you are having experiences of anxiety, it is in your interest to examine the validity, accuracy and evidence of exactly how you are interpreting your experience, either within your environment, or within your mind. Are these experiences, which are being interpreted as dangerous, whether objective or subjective, a genuine, authentic threat? Once the factuality is determined, appropriate action can be taken, and then the anxiety will subside. Or, perhaps it will be discovered that there is no real threat, there is no real danger, and there is, then, no anxiety.

Look around. Look inside. Is there a real and immediate threat or danger? If so, do something about it. The anxiety is there to prompt you towards action which will increase your safety, and thereby free you from the anxiety. If there is no real or immediate threat or danger, the anxiety is based on illusion, and you can choose to dis-illusion yourself, and be freed from your anxiety.

for additional posts about anxiety, view A Philosophical Antidote for Anxiety and Dialing Down Anxiety