From Dr. Jane's Notebook

Excuse Me, I'm Contagious!

In a time when we are quite health conscious and responsible for the shape of our bodies, it seems appropriate to recognize our ability to care for our psychological states as well. I am always amazed by the contagion of emotion.

On a perfectly lovely day, a boss in a growling mood can trigger a domino effect of hostility among the staff. I am reminded of the cartoon where Dad yells at Mom, Mom yells at son, son yells at little sister, and sister then punishes the dog and refuses to feed him dinner that night. Why? Becasue somebody tripped the dominoes on bad feelings and feelings are contagious!

Other "catchy" plagues may be mannerisms and gestures adopted from friends or foes, speech habits (phrases like "thaaatttt's dis-guuusttting") and even nervous activities. Like the common cold, they may be invisible to the conscious eye, but the unconscious mind takes impressive notes...and before you know, these component parts may show up in your very own personality. What to do? Well...

To remove unwanted emotional states, it is important to first become aware of the origin of the "bad vibes," acknowledge their "owner," and decide consciously if you also wish to claim them. If indeed, you feel similarly and want to join in the feeling, the opportunity is available. However, if you do not wish to become depressed, moody, angry, irritated or otherwise disturbed, then allow the feelings to remain with their "owner" and simply take care of the task at hand. Sometimes an imaginary metal breastplate is helfful!

To remove unwanted mannerisms, it is again useful to trace these back to their origin. Habits such as nail biting, nostril flairing, facial expressions and the like, have usually been "learned unconciously" and "adopted unconsciously." To rid yourself of these plague, it is helpful to recall the moment of learning and imagine "giving them back to their owner." Many of the diseases in this category tend to be hereditary...but that too can be changed.

It is most important to remember however, that whenever we wish to delete a behavior, we must unconsciously decide what to replace it with, and then rehearse and practice the substitue behaviors! So for example, if you no longer want to have temper tantrums when you reach a busy signal on the phone, and you trace the origin of this behavior back to your father and give it back to him with all due respect, it is still important to decide how you now wish to handle using the telephone. Then you must rehearse various reactions in your mind and practice the new responses next time you pick up the phone to dial. Don't be surprised however, if the old behavior happens to "kick-in." Simply stop yourself mid-tantrum and "try-on" your new options.

Ridding ourselves of subtle behaviors is only possible if we desire to do so. It's a tricky business, but not impossible. Last month, I had my first run-in with "maternal kinestetic spread." This phenomenon came as a result of my son being injured in a scooter accident. Before I knew it, I was so concerned, that I began absorbing his pain. Any further insults to his body, I could actually feel in my own. When the ball went sailing by his head at ball practice, I ducked! Then this disease began spreading to "other people's children." I stared worrying about them all!

As parents, we are susceptible. As children, we were susceptible! To preserve our integrity, we must be aware of the many absorbable emotions out there, and carefully check only "those which apply."

ęCopyright 1995, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.

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Last Updated October 24, 1998 by Gary M. Grandon, Ph.D.