Stockholm Syndrome

I140508_152220_173418oTextTRMRMMGLPICT000033349019oStockholm syndrome is a psychological condition which causes a hostage to develop sympathy and support for their captor’s plight after spending some time with the latter. Such hostages might not run away or ask for help even when they get a chance and rather exhibit negative feelings against those who try to save them. They form emotional bond with their captors and become protective of them, even to the point of foiling their rescuers’ attempts. The name “Stockholm syndrome” was derived from a bank holdup in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973 when four people were held hostage for six days by two robbers and each hostage seemed to be defending the robbers’ actions.

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The Bystander Effect

The bystander effect or bystander apathy is a phenomenon where a person in need is less likely to receive help if there are others present. The concept was popularized by two social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley. This happens as a result of diffusion of responsibility and social influence. When there are other observers present, the responsibility to take action is thought to be shared among all of them which makes individuals feel less compelled to act or help. This is referred to as diffusion of responsibility. Secondly, under social influence people tend to behave in socially acceptable ways. When others do not react to somebody’s distress, the individuals usually take this as a signal that neither a response is needed nor appropriate.

Childhood Anxiety Related With Later Alcohol Problems

A recent study published in Addiction has suggested that children and adolescents with higher levels of anxiety may be at a greater risk of developing alcohol problems.

Researchers of Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group at University of Bristol, U.K., conducted a study to explore whether early anxiety is linked to later alcohol use and alcohol use disorders.

The link between anxiety and alcohol use had been investigated in the past too but nothing conclusive could be found. While some studies showed higher anxiety linked to greater alcohol use, others demonstrated anxiety related to lower alcohol use, or not associated at all.

Researchers carried out a systematic review of 51 prospective cohort studies, for this study, from 11 countries including the United States, Canada, UK, Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Taiwan, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, and Norway.

On review, it was found that 46 studies comprised males and females; four had an all-male sample; while one had an all-female sample. The sample size of the studies ranged from 110 to 11,157 participants. The age of anxiety exposure ranged from 3 to 24 years, and alcohol outcome age ranged from 11 to 42 years.

alcoholic-slumped-next-to-glass-of-alcohol_crpAlthough some evidence of a link between child- and adolescent-anxiety and later alcohol use disorders had been found, associations of anxiety with later drinking frequency, quantity, and binge drinking were more inconsistent, the researchers reported.

Maddy Dyer, a Ph.D. student in the School of Psychological Science’s Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group and lead author of the study said, “Our findings indicate that young people with higher anxiety may have a greater risk of developing alcohol problems.”

According to the researchers, still further research needs to be undertaken to understand why there are differences in associations for alcohol consumption levels versus problematic use, and to ascertain which individuals with anxiety develop alcohol problems. This could bring marked improvements in personalized interventions.

How to be Assertive: Learn Standing Up for Yourself

Assertiveness is a skill that can be learned, and it is a communication that can help an individual express his or her thoughts, feelings, views, opinions, etc., without being inhibited or aggressive or without disregarding the thoughts, feelings, views, opinions, and ideas of others. The term assertiveness was introduced by Andrew Salter in 1949. Being assertive can help you in both personal as well as professional life. If you are an assertive person, it is likely that you are better able to cope with anger, stress, and other demanding circumstances.

So who is an assertive individual and how is he different from a nonassertive individual? To understand this we have to consider the behavior styles of people in relation to others along a continuum (Dennis Jaffe, 1984), where passive and aggressive behavior lie at each end of the continuum and assertive behavior is right in middle of the two. Passive individuals are too scared to express their thoughts and feelings. Such persons are often shy and surrender to the demands of others in order to feel accepted, especially they find it difficult to say ‘no’. Passive style of behavior is used by people with codependent personality. On the other hand, an aggressive individual often tries to intimidate others and try to gain control of their thoughts, needs, and feelings. Such individuals have complete disregard of others’ feelings. This type of behavior style is often employed by individuals who display Type A behaviors. Now comes assertive style of behavior, which is the preferable style where an individual is able to express his or her thoughts and feelings and protect his or her rights without belittling others’. Such people are more open, considerate, and are tolerant of the feelings of others; also, they have high self-esteem and confidence level.

Assertiveness recognizes that there are legitimate personal rights, which have been described by various therapists and include the following:

  • Being able to say no without feeling guilty.
  • Having the right to change one’s mind regarding anything
  • To ask for help with directions or instructions
  • To ask for what you want
  • Being able to express or experience feelings
  • Right to feel positive under any circumstance
  • Right to commit mistakes without feeling embarrassed
  • To have one’s own opinion and beliefs
  • To object to unfair criticism or treatment
  • Being recognized for one’s achievements or contributions
  • To be able to take time to develop a response to a question or comment

Not every individual is born assertive. We are often less than assertive in our conduct towards certain people especially of higher authority, such as parents and bosses. However, not being assertive can also occur when we deal with someone by whom we feel intimidated. These can be people of opposite sex, individuals who are perceived as more attractive than us, and every unfamiliar person. Since assertiveness is a skill it can be learned and with repeated practice it can become part of our personality. Following techniques help a great deal in developing assertiveness:

Woman-saying-noLearn to say ‘No’: Saying ‘no’ is perhaps the most difficult thing to do for some individuals so much so that they put other people’s need before their own. Saying ‘no’ is sometimes considered rude, which is a misconception. Saying ‘yes’ when it is impossible for you to say so can lead to feelings of bitterness and victimization. That is why being able to say ‘no’ when you don’t feel like saying ‘yes’ is a critical attribute if you want to be assertive in life. Equally important is to learn saying ‘no’ without letting the feeling of guilt creep in. Understand and accept your limits and don’t feel bad about them. In case of personal obligations, try to diplomatically refuse your help at that particular instant.

Learn to use ‘I’ statements: Being assertive means being able to express one’s feelings and emotions by using ‘I’ statements. Learn to own your thoughts, feelings, opinions, ideas etc. Also, using ‘I’ statements doesn’t make the other person defensive because ‘I’ seems less accusatory. For example, “you are wrong” seems more attacking than “I disagree.”

Use eye contact: Assertive people are comfortable maintaining eye contact while interacting or expressing their thoughts to others. Lack of eye contact makes a person appear as having less conviction in what he or she is saying. It also indicates dishonesty and insecurity. Start using eye-contact while interacting with a short time interval of about 1-2 seconds and then progress up to 8-10 seconds period. But, beware! just as lack of eye contact indicates lack of confidence continuous staring is often taken as violation of personal space. So try to avoid staring at people.

Improve body language: Being assertive without appropriate body language sends mixed message to the other person. The way you carry your body plays an important role. It is important to have an erect posture with body weight equally distributed between both legs along with good eye contact and tone of voice. The center of gravity should be directly above the feet.

couple-talkingBe open to criticism: Learn to accept criticism positively. You can disagree with the criticism and have the right to convey your difference of opinion but you must do it without getting angry or defensive. Take negative feedback as an opportunity to learn something new or improve yourself.

Disagree peacefully: This skill is employed when one has to express a differing view and want it to be acknowledged too. When ideas and opinions are expressed peacefully so that different viewpoints can be analyzed properly during a conflict or during the process of decision making, such disagreements are considered as healthy disagreements. Being able to remain comfortable during a confrontation is the hallmark of assertiveness.

Practice: Like any other skill, assertiveness too requires practice, a lot of practice, in fact. Stand in front of a mirror and imagine different scenarios where being assertive would be beneficial, and practice your response. Work on your body language, your tone of voice, eye contact, and communication. Use assertive communication like ‘I’ statements, and ‘No’ statements. And remember to start small. At first, try assertiveness skills in situations where the risk is low and then gradually apply them to tougher situations where the stakes are high. For instance, before applying those in work place with your boss, try them out first with your friends or spouse. Evaluate the results so that you can improve your skills. Remember it takes time and practice to learn a new skill whether it’s playing a guitar, or badminton or developing assertiveness.

Risk of Alzheimer’s May Rise Due to Stress

New research has shown that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease may be increased due to vital exhaustion, which is a marker of psychological distress.

Many factors such as age, family history, and genetic makeup may raise the risk of Alzheimer’s. Health conditions like cardiovascular disease or diabetes may also influence the probability of developing dementia as they impact the blood vessels. A new study has demonstrated that psychological factors especially psychological distress can also increase the chances of dementia. Vital exhaustion refers to a mental state of psychological distress that manifests as irritability, fatigue, and a feeling of demoralization and may be a response to certain life problems that are unresolvable and have been continuing for a long time. Vital exhaustion results when an individual is exposed to stressors for a prolonged period.

early-signs-of-dementiaEarlier studies have already indicated that vital exhaustion may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, premature death, and obesity, etc. The findings of this new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease have now suggested that vital exhaustion may raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well.

Data of almost 7,000 people who had participated in the Copenhagen City Heart Study between 1991 and 1994 was analyzed for this study. The participants were on an average 60 years at that time and were asked questions about vital exhaustion as a part of the survey.

Islamoska and her team clinically followed those participants until the end of 2016. The hospital records and mortality and prescription registers of those participants were examined in search of diagnoses of dementia.

The findings revealed a dose-response connection between vital exhaustion in midlife and the development of Alzheimer’s later on. Islamoska reported that for each additional symptom of vital exhaustion, they found that the risk of dementia rose by 2 per cent.

The study showed that participants reporting five to nine symptoms vital exhaustion had a 25 per cent higher risk of dementia than those with no symptoms, while those reporting 10 to 17 symptoms had a 40 per cent higher risk of dementia, compared with those not having the symptoms.

The team further added that the results are unlikely to be due to reverse causation, that is, it is improbable that dementia causes vital exhaustion, rather than the other way around.

The researchers opined that excessive levels of the stress hormone cortisol and cardiovascular changes could be the potential reasons for these findings. “Stress can have severe and harmful consequences, not just for our brain health, but our health in general. Our study indicates that we can go further in the prevention of dementia by addressing psychological risk factors for dementia,” said Islamoska.