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The Stress of Prejudice

The Stress of Prejudice

Whenever we encounter someone who we have an inherent prejudice against, whether conscious or unconscious, we begin to experience a degree of stress. When we are stressed we release the stress hormone cortisol, which limits our capacity for empathy while also causing repetitive negative thinking. If you have prejudices against several types of people it is likely that your cortisol levels will be consistently high. In addition to causing negative thinking excess cortisol also causes weight gain, inflammation, hair loss, breaks down muscle tissue, causes flabbiness, depression, anxiety and memory loss.

                           The Origin of Prejudice

Once you realize that we all have probably learned inaccurate views of others early in life we have the opportunity to change our perceptions from fear based to truth based. We live in a time where people are highly stressed, have low trust levels, fewer friends and prejudice in our society has reached significant heights.

When our perceptions are distorted stress becomes prevalent. One of the greatest achievements our minds can accomplish is to be able to perceive others and ourselves accurately.  Children idealize their parents and other authority figures early in life, if one of your parents, uncles, aunts, and older siblings repeatedly talks disparagingly about a particular race, culture or religion the likelihood that you will be influenced by these incorrect preconceptions is quite probable.

Not long ago, at the pleading of his mother, I interviewed her son who had become a white supremacist. As I entered my waiting room I was greeted with  “So you’re the WAP doctor my mother wants me to see”. He was obviously trying to provoke a reaction, and when he didn’t get the response he expected he began a rampage about how the blacks, Hispanics and Jews have ruined our country and if I had a brain in my head I would understand the truth about what is happening rather than being one of the liberals defending them.

It wasn’t difficult to observe that Chris is a quick reactor, and quick reactors are ruled by their emotions not by their thoughts. The key to understanding prejudice is using empathy to uncover the root of bias and the negative physical effects it causes.

                        Empathy-The Salve for Prejudice

Empathy is the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another. It is not an emotion or a feeling but a capacity that is innately present. Empathy is part of our genetic endowment; it is essentially our ability to read others accurately, to see beyond the surface into the soul of another human being. Empathy is often confused with sympathy. Sympathy, as opposed to empathy, occurs when we identify with another persons’ experience even if we do not know if our experiences are similar. You hear a neighbor is being transferred to Texas and you immediately respond and say how sorry you are that her family has to move. She responds by telling you that she is going to work for her sister’s clothing chain as a buyer and it’s the job of a lifetime, plus she and her husband will be near family and close to her old university and college friends. You realize, with embarrassment, that your quick reaction was not factual but emotional, projecting how you would feel rather than slowing down and gathering the facts.

The Story behind the Story

As I tolerated Chris’s aggression, and aggression is almost always a sign of insecurity and fear of vulnerability, he was able to tolerate my asking a few questions. As I asked a few historical questions he revealed that he grew up outside of Boston in a poor neighborhood. His alcoholic father left the family when he and his brother were in grade school, his mother worked two jobs and the boys were often left alone to fend for themselves. I mentioned that I sensed his hatred of Blacks seemed to run very deep. He told me that he and his brother were the only white kids riding the bus to school and they were taunted and bullied all through grade school. As we returned to the origin of old hurts, his anger and distorted view of African Americans became clear. His childhood pain-loss of his father, overwhelmed mother, being taunted on the bus and in school-led to the cognitive distortions of overgeneralizing, black and white thinking and emotional reasoning (being ruled by emotions rather than objective thinking).

Empathic Listening

My meeting with Chris proved revealing for several reasons. When Chris was in his aggressive mode, his intensity caused the release of the stress hormone cortisol, cortisol blocks our ability to be empathic and as I mentioned earlier causes repetitive negative thinking. When I was able to slow down the conversation, ask open-ended questions and get to the root of his prejudice we were relating in a much calmer, more open fashion. Empathy releases the hormone oxytocin, also called the love hormone, or the connecting hormone. While cortisol makes us fearful, oxytocin makes us feel comfortable, secure and in a position to give and receive empathy. Oxytocin reduces anxiety, reduces the release of cortisol, reduces addictive craving, and most importantly reduces aggression, fear and bias.

Empathic listening is slow listening, it is thoughtful and fact based. As Chris talked of his earlier traumatic experiences he was initially angry but when I pointed out how he seemed to be using anger to hold back tears he softened and began to talk more rationally. I complimented his intelligence and commented that I doubted that he truly believed Barack Obama was an unintelligent man, as he had stated earlier. I didn’t ask him to agree with our president’s views, but rather asked him to tell me what he experienced when he heard President Obama speak. After some back and forth he said, “ Ok I admit he’s not dumb but he is wrong about how to run this country”.  We agreed to limit the political discussion and we also agreed that one prejudice Chris had maintained most of his life was not true. And lastly we agreed that if one prejudice turned out to be based on old hurts, not facts, the possibility of other prejudices being in the same category were worth exploring.

My brief encounter with Chris was similar to many I have had with people who are plagued by prejudices. As indicated earlier prejudice increases stress, stress releases the hormone cortisol, and cortisol limits the ability to be empathic and also causes narrow, biased repetitive thinking. Empathic interactions release the compassionate hormone oxytocin, which in turn limits the release of cortisol, and creates a sense of safety and security, allowing for old hurts to be uncovered and resolved. Empathic CBT provides a formula for un-learning prejudicial thinking and restoring the ability to perceive accurately.

 

Arthur P. Ciaramioli, Ed.D. Ph.D.

   Author of The Stress Solution: Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience.         http://www.balanceyoursuccess.com

 

 

The Performance Addicted Professional: How a lack of Empathy can deteriorate Work, Love and Self-Care Effectiveness

Read my latest article
“The Performance Addicted Professional: How a lack of Empathy can deteriorate Work, Love, and Self Care Effectiveness” at http://www.soundmindz.org/​expert-articles/

A Crisis of Goodness in America

No society could survive—let alone thrive—without maintaining a minimum level of goodness. Unfortunately, there is evidence of a crisis of goodness, at least in the heavily industrialized and digitized West. We live in an egotistic moment in history where we seem unable to effectively train our children in restraint; where narcissism and entitlement are rampant and concern for social approval is at a record low; and where stress and anonymity are pervasive and deeply problematic .Our current culture has been chasing the elusive pursuit of happiness to no avail. We are the most affluent culture in the world and yet according to The World Health Organization have the highest rating of mood disorders, anxiety disorders and overall stress. 43% of American adults suffer from the adverse effects of stress, with the cost of anxiety disorders to our society estimated at 42.3 Billion dollars. Our collective mood is worsening despite five decades of becoming “better off”.  According to the World Happiness Survey Bangladesh is the happiest nation in the world with the United States sadly ranked 46th. The findings of University of Michigan political scientist Ronald Inglehart, director of the World Values Survey, indicate that overall happiness is related to benevolence and expressions of gratitude, while also being factors that possibly extend life. Other sources tell us that we have one third fewer close friends than 20 years ago and Americans trust in their fellow citizens has dropped 15% in the past 15 years.

These indicators of course do not amount to an entire picture of today’s state of goodness in the U.S., but they are proof of a malaise. Quite simply, we suffer from a deficit of goodness. In our egocentric and narcissistic society feelings of entitlement thrive and the disregard for other people’s claim to comfort and contentment is endemic. A recent study at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research found that college students today are 40% less empathic than they were in 1979, the largest decline coming in the last decade. It is all too commonplace for stress, anonymity or both to contribute to verbal and physical violence at home, on the roads, and at work. The quality of life in the schools has reached a point that news of rampant bullying finds us inured. It takes a bullied youngster taking his or her life to make us pay attention and express some dismay and consternation. Not only can on line verbal exchanges be dismally mean-spirited, the web’s low interaction standards are spilling over into the off line world. But there is hope: within this bleak landscape we perceive encouraging signs of a counter-tendency. A movement of rediscovery of goodness has begun in the United States. Today’s crisis of goodness is what prompted me to start the goodness renaissance project. http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Goodness-Renaissance-Project/104778329611615

Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D.,Ph.D.

What’s Good about Goodness?

The irony is that individuals who may think they are
interested only in their own happiness still need to contribute to a healthy
goodness society. When we engage others in an attitude of goodness, we
produce what we are biologically and spiritually programmed to do. Fascinating
research by psychologist Philippe Ruston of the University of Western Ontario
on the genetic basis for altruism has revealed that humans possess a “goodness
gene”. Dr. Ruston based his opinion on decades of analyzing data he collected
through the University Of London Institute Of Psychiatric Adult Twin Register,
the source for many studies about twins and genetics. Another poignant finding
from the Great Good Science Center, University of California, Berkeley is in
regard to the production of the hormone oxytocin, the hormone of compassion
elicited when we bond through the relational qualities that goodness embodies.
Oxytocin is a near magical neurotransmitter responsible for the following:

  • Reduces anxiety and release of stress hormone
    (cortisol)
  • Helps you live longer
  • Aids in faster recovery from illness, improves wound
    healing
  • Promotes a sense of calm and well-being, increases
    generosity and empathy
  • Protects against heart disease, modulates
    inflammation
  • Reduces cravings for addictive substances
  • Creates bonding and an increase in trust of others
  • Decreases fear and creates a feeling of security

Producing more oxytocin is just one of many benefits
conferred on those who practice goodness. Knowing how to express goodness makes
us more energetic and more resilient. We have more skills to manage daily
living. We are not limited in our pursuits of knowledge, and we are not
limited in the array of people we can befriend. Real wisdom consists not in
pursuing happiness directly, but rather in building a good life upon a
foundation of goodness. Happiness comes as a byproduct of that
process. If there is a shortcut to happiness, goodness is it.

                                                 Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D.,Ph.D.

                                                           http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Goodness-Renaissance-Project/104778329611615

We are Good by Nature

As humans weare genetically programmed to thrive by being empathic and altruistic. Neuroscientists
and psychologists have recently provided empirical evidence for Darwin’s
assertion that sympathy is our strongest instinct. Goodness has now been proven
to produce brain changes that make us happier and more resilient to face the
challenges of everyday life. People who volunteer their time and energy to help
others in need experience the pleasurable feeling known as “helper’s high”. The
release of endorphins that makes helper’s high possible has a positive impact
upon the helper’s health. Studies indicate that people who help on a regular
basis are ten times more likely to be healthy than people who do not. When we
give to others reward centers of the brain are stimulated with activity. In
addition researchers at the University of Western Ontario, through identical
twin studies, have identified what they believe are goodness genes. The vast
majority of scientists do believe that genes play a significant role in our
happiness and our survival. Being good also allows us to reap the reward of
intimacy, generous people are likely to receive more respect from their peers,
selfish people elicit lack of regard and are shunned. Being good induces others
to reciprocate. Bottom line-being and doing good both feels good and is good
for us.

Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D.,Ph.D.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Goodness-Renaissance-Project/104778329611615

 

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