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Contributing Experts - Arleen Fitzgerald


Contributing Experts

Arleen Fitzgerald, L.I.C.S.W.

Behavioral Health

Invitation to the Party

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – June 24, 2013

You’ve just received a party invitation in the mail or email. You’re excited, right? Not necessarily. Approximately 7% of Americans have what is called social anxiety disorder.

People with this disorder commonly show these following symptoms*:

  • Intense fear or anxiety about social situations, especially ones where they may be observed by others.
  • Fear that they will act in some way that will be embarrassing or humiliating.
  • They will often avoid any social situations and come up with excuses as to why they cannot attend.
  • The fear and anxiety is persistent, usually lasting at least 6 months to a year or more.
  • Social anxiety may cause impairment in their daily functioning and may contribute to them being passed over for a job or an occupation they truly want.
  • The fear and anxiety they experience is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation.

Ways to cope with social anxiety disorder:

  • Take a lesson from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and “fake it until you make it” attend the party and pretend you are having a good time. You may find doing this may make you more approachable by others.
  • Keep up with world events read daily newspapers, magazines and websites so that you are ready with topics of conversation that would be of interest to others.
  • Keep a list of common conversation topics do you have children? Do you have pets? Are you married, single or have a life partner? What do you do for a living? Any travel plans coming up? Where are you from?
  • Attend as many social situations as you can and appreciate what you have done to make the disorder less uncomfortable for you.
  • Sign up for a local community class on public speaking or join Toastmasters, which is a non-profit organization that helps people develop public speaking and leadership skills through practice and feedback in a local club.
  • Take a class of interest to you learn a new language or a cooking class. This will give you a common topic of interest to discuss with others in the class.
  • A counselor or therapist may help you to talk about your shyness or dislike of social situations and help you develop more coping skills.

Be sure to check your medical benefits to see what your plan may cover.

* According to the new DSM V, which is the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

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Value of a Worry Journal to Getting a Good Night's Sleep

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – May 29, 2013

Will we have enough money to pay all our bills this month? Is little Susie working up to her potential in school? My son just got a new friend and I'm not too happy about his reputation as a troublemaker.

Worries...we all have them. For some, they may come and go while for others, they are never far from our minds.

An excellent way to express your worries and concerns is by keeping a worry/concern journal. That way they are not rolling through your mind as you're trying to get rest for the next day. Allot yourself no more than 10 minutes each day (and don't do this activity any later than three hours before bedtime) to solely concentrate on your worries and put them down in writing. For the first month, don't be concerned about solutions; just get in the habit of putting your thoughts into written words. The value of writing them down is it gives you a perspective you may not have had when worries were just floating around in your mind. You may find that as you review your journal, you may see your worries in writing, they might not be as big as you thought...or seeing your thoughts in words may provide a perspective of how serious or not so serious they truly are. After your 10 minutes are over, put your journal away until your time tomorrow.

As we try to get to sleep at night, we are transitioning from a waking state to a sleeping state. Just as you turn off your electronics, it's important to turn off our worries. Otherwise, we may find ourselves still awake hours after we try to get to sleep or they may wake us in the middle of the night.

As you get more comfortable writing in your journal, try to divide your journal page in half with worries on the left side and potential solutions on the right side. This requires more active participation on your part. But with more practice, you will become more successful in developing innovative solutions to your worries and apply them to your daily life. You may also recognize that some worries are out of your control and become more comfortable letting them go. It can be a very freeing experience.

Sweet Dreams!

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"Dealing with Difficult People" Follow-up Answers to Seminar Questions

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – April 12, 2013

Thank you to all who attended the Tuesday seminar on Dealing with Difficult People. You had a keen eye and picked up on that we only discussed four of the five types of difficult people. We thank you for pointing this out to us so we can now have some time to explore "The Negativist".

Dealing with the Negativist

  • Usually seen as the wet blanket in the family or work group.
  • Always sees a problem with any proposed solution.
  • Not forthcoming with any solution of their own.
  • Most famous words are "we've always done it this way" or "we tried that years before and it didn't work then".
  • Effect of the negativist on family and work group is strong-tends to zap the energy of the group.
  • Understand that you may be dealing with someone with underlying depression that is untreated.
  • They often become the biggest obstacle to work process and productivity in a work or family situation.
  • They are particularly powerful because they tap into the despair we all feel from time to time-they feel despair all the time and that things are out of their control.
  • They also tap into our fears of things in life we can't control-negativist focuses on those things in life that are out of their control, not on what they can control.

Coping with the Negativist

  • Consciously be aware of how easily one can get dragged into the same way of thinking.
  • Understand the power of contagion-don't play along.
  • Be prepared to "go it alone"-you may never get their cooperation or acceptance.
  • Look behind the emotions and look for the "substance" of what they may be negative about-is there a way to incorporate the substance in a positive way that would be helpful to the group/family?

Questions from Webinar Audience:

Q: What role should manager/supervisor play in work members who are difficult people?

Even though it may seem strange at first, always try to approach the difficult person with their behavior and the effect it is having on work operation/family cohesiveness. You want to separate out their behavior from them as a person. Sit down in a private place and discuss the issue with them and come up with some strategies of how to improve the working relationship. If the entire work group feels this way, there may be more power in numbers as they would be hearing about the difficulty they are causing from more than one person. If that is not successful, approach your manager/supervisor. Be sure to keep emotions out of the conversation and focus on the substance of the problem (not able to meet deadlines, etc.). Emphasize that the outcome you are looking for is a better working relationship or family relationship. The manager/supervisor has the ultimate responsibility of resolving this situation and may decide to bring HR into the discussion.

Q: It seems that the noisy wheel always gets the most attention. Should we take back the power by changing our response, not let them push our buttons and render the action as powerless?

You are right on track. You cannot control the outcome of the other person's behavior-that is their responsibility. You can only control your response to that person and by changing your response; you do render the action powerless. Be a role model for others in your group/family so they can also act accordingly. An engine that gets no gas doesn't run on power for very long.

Q: Can a person be a combination of all the difficult people types you discussed in the webinar?

Yes, some people make difficult behavior an art form. They may have seen these are the behaviors that allow one to cope in the world as they are growing up and they take them on as their own. The problem is that as an adult, these types of behaviors are more of an obstacle than a way to cope. It is often difficult to place any one person into a specific category and may exhibit difficult behavior in more than one way.

Q. Can you give an example of a mirror technique?

You are given poor quality customer service in a nice shop. The salesperson has a real attitude and barks out "what do you want" from the back room even before he/she sees you. A mirror technique could be confronting the salesperson telling them that you are a frequent customer of this store and that it has a very good reputation in the area. Yet when you re-enact in the same barking tone of voice "What do you want?" you are confronting the salesperson with the same response you received from her. Discuss how this made you feel as both a customer and a person and how surprised you were to be treated this way. Hopefully, he/she will be embarrassed to see the mirror reflection of how he/she treated you and will apologize.

Q. I've been dealing with difficult people for a long time and it's taken a toll on me. What else can I do to deal with the stress these people bring to my life?

Excellent question and I think you have answered the question for yourself in your statement "the toll they have taken on me". Realize that you are giving them the power to make you feel stressed and the only thing you can change is how you respond to these people. Once you change your response to them, you have de-escalated the power they have on you and you have re-gained it for yourself. Try deep breathing, relaxation techniques, yoga, and aerobic exercise as an overall way to deal with stress. Once you have changed your response to them, you may be surprised to find these others respond more respectfully to you because you have set the limit that you won't accept their behavior toward you anymore.

Q. Many of you had questions about how to use the unplug technique if the difficult person happens to be a co-worker or a family member. How to use this technique?

Remember that in the seminar we said that the unplug technique should be the coping skill of last resort. Be sure you have used all the other coping skills listed in the seminar along with general stress management techniques before resorting to the unplug technique. With some friends, you will be able to completely unplug from the friendship. With a co-worker or family member, this may be more difficult. Focus on working on what you can control. For example, set a time limit on how long you will interact with this person, determine which family occasions you will choose to attend, sit as far away from the other person as you can, and be aware of those personal buttons that this particular person pushes. Be on the alert so you see them coming before they take you by surprise.

Q. How can I make the jokester realize that their behavior is hurtful at times? What if they make racist or sexist remarks?

Confront that person directly by letting them know that what they think is funny is actually hurtful to you and others. There should be zero tolerance in the workplace for racist or sexist comments, but they still may occur. Give the jokester the opportunity to apologize for their remarks and let them know this is their "one chance" and that you will take this issue to a higher level of authority if it happens again. Document your interaction with this person, what they said, what you said in case it does occur again. Jokesters often have poor emotional boundaries and think everyone thinks the way they do-"just kidding". Be sure to call them on their behavior and set the limit/boundary.

Q. Tell me more about the technique of "showering them with love and kindness" and appealing to that vulnerable child aspect of the difficult person.

Find things about the person that are admirable-such as they give a very organized presentation and you admire their calmness in front of a group of people. Compliment them on the impact of their contribution to the group project and how the customer liked it. Tell a difficult family member you admire their great cooking and could they share some of their recipes with you so you can try them. When someone is abusive or abrupt with you, you could appeal to their vulnerable child by saying "That really hurt my feelings the way you talked to me . . . is that the way people talked to you as you were growing up?" Or if they act rudely under stress, saying "It must be difficult to cope with the stress of giving a presentation. Here are some things that I've found helpful. Would you like to hear about them?"

Q. I heard you saying that it takes two to make a difficult person-the difficult person's behavior and how I respond to it. Was that correct?

Essentially in every conversation, there are two people acting and reacting. You only have control over how you will react to another person's behavior. You set the limits and boundaries for what is acceptable communication between the two of you. Just don't take on the responsibility for the difficult person's behavior. That responsibility rests squarely on them, all the more so for them to change their difficult behavior.

Q. I've cried in front of a difficult person because of their bullying. How do you regain face or get stronger so that you don't cry in front of them in the future?

Years ago, I attended a seminar on women in the workplace and one of the most frequently asked questions was how to prevent crying when someone says something that sets you off. I learned a technique that I use to this day. Take your left hand and spread out the area between your index finger and thumb. Using the thumb from your other hand, squeeze that area as hard as you can. You would probably want to have your hands under the table or do it behind your back so others don't know what you are doing. I don't know exactly why this technique works, but it does. Try it next time you feel you are about to cry in front of others.

Great questions from all. Stay tuned for our next emotional health webinar in December on "Using Mindfulness as a Stress Management Tool".

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